I have been looking online for the death record of a Charles Ormond from Forfar born circa 1780. He was living in Prin Cottage, Forfar in 1841 but isn't present on the 1851 census, which shows his wife as widowed.

However, I can't find a parish burial record. Why might this be? I acknowledge that the civil death registration didn't start until 1855 so there won't be one of those records.

  • 1
    If he died betwen 1841 and 1851, why do you not expect there to be a civil death record? Also, what do you mean by 'parish burial' -- do you know what (type of) church he attended -- Church of Scotland or other Presbyterian church, Catholic, etc.) nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/old-parish-registers/… is relevant.
    – user6485
    Dec 24, 2017 at 20:51
  • Because the death record system had only just been implemented in 1837 and no formal penalty was administered until later in the 1800s hence a lot of people simply didn't register deaths.
    – Charlie
    Dec 24, 2017 at 20:58
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    Charlie – Civil registration did not start in Scotland until 1855. See nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/…
    – Harry V.
    Dec 24, 2017 at 21:28
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    Charlie, death and marriage registrations were the most complied with -- you couldn't get legally buried without a death certificate, and marriage registrations were done by the person officiating. It's only birth registrations that are really affected by the lack of a penalty in the early days.
    – user6485
    Dec 25, 2017 at 11:52
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    You can be legally buried without a death certificate (in England/Wales at least) however, that is not relevant to this question which appears to predate civil reg in Scotland.
    – AntonyM
    Dec 26, 2017 at 10:45

1 Answer 1


My general advice on finding records in a particular area is in this answer: What records are available in a particular locale?

My checklist looks like this:

  1. Learn what records might have been created in a particular time and place.
  2. Research which of those records might still exist, and which records are accessible to the public (not subject to privacy restrictions).
  3. Research what repositories might hold those records.
  4. Research which online repositories might hold those records.

To answer a particular question, it also helps tremendously to understand what kind of record might hold the information you want to know. You might be asking the wrong research question. Asking When did Charles Ormond from Forfar die? might be an easier question to answer.

You may be able to answer that by looking at other record types besides civil registrations of death or parish records -- a record finder like the one at the FamilySearch Wiki (see Resources list) can suggest other records you can search if you have negative results from a search of civil or parish records.

Whatever locality or subject you're looking for, it helps tremendously to look for finding aids or research guides written by others who are already familiar with the place and topic.

One caution: you say the 1851 Census reports your research subject's wife as widowed. That indicates that she or someone else said that she is a widow, but the information might not be accurate -- consider the possibility that she might be a grass widow, someone who is separated from her husband, or whose husband has been away for a long period of time.

If you haven't done so already, it can help to work up a timeline of all the information you already have about your research subject, noting what sources the information comes from. This may reveal clues that you may have missed, and it helps narrow the time frame and establishes the geographical scope for your searches.

Gather information about both the locality and the types of records that were created in that time and place, paying particular attention to issues of coverage. Maps are especially valuable if you need to do a radius search of parish records.

The FamilySearch Wiki's Research Strategy article (see links at end) has an overview of ways to find records of someone's death. You may not be able to find a burial:

Church of Scotland parish registers are often missing burial records. Sometimes mortcloth dues (a fee paid for use of a funeral cloth) were recorded instead of burials.

Do you know for sure that your subject was in the Church of Scotland? Might he be in Non-Conformist records instead? Have you searched for a burial in the non-OPR records at Scottish Indexes?


When you are ready to widen your search, try:

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    Note the comment that Church of Scotland registers are often missing burials. This isn't just a possibility, it's a major probability. The CoS did not regard burial records in the same fashion as the Church of England and records were seldom made. Many of the records that do exist are not burial records per se but records of hire of the mort cloth to cover the coffin (as above). I don't know the link on the new site but ScotlandsPeople has lists of what is available for each parish and you can see there the thin coverage - you should check your parishes of interest.
    – AdrianB38
    Dec 28, 2017 at 11:57
  • I know the people behind Scottish Indexes via Twitter. See their about us: scottishindexes.co.uk/aboutus.aspx
    – Jan Murphy
    Dec 28, 2017 at 21:26

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