This guide deals with the records held at National Records of Scotland (NRS) relating to the military. The first part deals with army personnel records while the second part covers more general sources for military history.
The medieval Scottish army
There are no surviving lists of the ordinary Scottish soldiers who fought in the wars of independence 1296 -1329 or in the subsequent Anglo-Scottish conflicts between the 1340s and 1603.
Scottish soldiers 1603 to 1707
The main record of individuals in the Scottish army before 1707 that we hold is the series of muster rolls (NRS reference E100). These are arranged by regiment and companies or troops. Most are dated after 1680, although the earliest dates from 1641. They name all the officers and men in a troop or company at a certain place and date. Ranks are also stated, other than for troopers. Without knowing which regiment your ancestor served in, however, any search through the muster rolls will prove to be an arduous and time-consuming task. Of some assistance may be the fact that many regimental recruits came from the estate owned by the colonel or his family. Therefore, if you know the estate or even area where your ancestor lived, and can match this to a likely regiment, a search through the muster rolls may prove to be less problematic. Some of these rolls are also printed in C. Dalton's 'The Scots Army, 1661-1688' (republished in 1989 by Greenhill Books) although only officers appear in his index. Private family papers held by us or other archives may also provide details of individuals who had been granted a commission to be a colonel of a regiment. Our military source list is one of our published sources and will help you to identify specific documents.
If your ancestor was an officer then the chances of finding a record of him are better. Commissions in the army were granted by the Crown and from 1670 some were recorded in the warrant books of the Secretary for Scotland. A sift through the state papers series of records (NRS reference SP4) covering the relevant dates might bear fruit. The volumes are indexed or at least contain a contents page. The commissions supply only the name, rank, company and regiment of the officer and give no other personal details. The SP4 commissions are indexed in Dalton's book (above) and also in his book 'English Army Lists and Commission Registers, 1661-1714'. Finally, there is also a small series of commissions from 1643 and 1689 -1827 in a miscellaneous series of records (NRS reference RH9/9). Again, commissions can occasionally be found in private family collections and so a trawl through the NRS military source list might be worthwhile.
Scottish soldiers in the British army after 1707
After 1707 the army was controlled from London and most British army records are held at The National Archives, London (TNA). Their website has a comprehensive section on military records.
Remember that many Scottish regiments have their own museums and these will often have collections of information about past units and the men who served in them. You may also want to contact the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle. The museum has a copy of the published Army Lists, a microfiche index to the roll of service medals for the First World War, and a small collection of regimental casualty lists.
We also hold the following armed forces records which are part of the Registrar General for Scotland's Minor Records series: the Army Returns (births, deaths and marriages of Scots at military stations abroad from 1881-1959); Service Departments Registers (births, deaths and marriages from 1959 outside the UK relating to Scots serving in or employed by HM Forces); and marriages by Army chaplains outside the UK since 1892. The War registers also record deaths of: Scottish soldiers during the South African War (1899 -1902); Scots serving as Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers or Men in the Army (but not officers) and also Petty Officers or Men in the Royal Navy during World War I (1914 -1918), and Scots in the Armed Forces during World War II (1939 -1945).
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website has a searchable database covering service personnel who died in the First and Second World Wars.
The Veterans Agency website contains information on how to access service records post-1920.
The Scots at War Trust is concerned with Scots and those who served in Scottish regiments during the 20th and 21st centuries.
The only large group of post-Union military records held by us are those for the militia and, more recently, the territorial army. These run mostly from the late 18th to the mid 19th centuries, but are concentrated around the Napoleonic War period (1800 -1815). These records are discussed in more detail in 'Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: the Official Guide' (for information about the latest edition please go to our Shop page).
As conscription was by ballot, only some men were actually made to serve. A militiaman had to be healthy and (until 1802) aged between 18 and 30. Thereafter conscripts could range between 18 and 45. Certain categories were exempted (or example apprentices and poor men with more than two children). Many people whose existence might not otherwise have been recorded can be found in the lists of those put forward to be balloted. Information includes names, profession and place of abode. Ages are also sometimes stated and, more rarely, birthplaces.
The principal militia material we hold is to be found in the catalogues for the sheriff courts or county councils. The relevant records, if they survive, will be catalogued under the lieutenancy/militia or miscellaneous sections, which generally appear at the end of each catalogue.
Many militia records may also be found in private collections in the NRS, usually in the papers of the local landowners responsible for compiling lists of men able to bear arms in a particular area. Our military source list will identify records of this sort.
A militiaman's family could be eligible for assistance and claims for this money can sometimes be found in the militia records noted above. There is a record of government payments to the wives and children of militiamen in and around the Edinburgh area for the period 1803 -1815. This is in the NRS Exchequer records series (NRS reference E327/147-158).
Records relating to volunteer and territorial forces, 19th to 20th centuries, can be found among the Ministry of Defence files (NRS reference MD).
Local archives in Scotland may also have militia records, perhaps as part of the records of former county councils. You can find listings of local archives on the SCAN website and on the ARCHON section of TNA's website.
You may also wish to read 'Militia Lists and Musters, 1757-1876' by Gibson and Medlycott (Federation of Family History Societies, 4th edition, 2004) which cites the whereabouts of military sources both in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have a copy of this in our search rooms, and it will also be available in many local libraries and archives.
Other military records
Many of the records of central government prior to the union, such as the Registers of the Privy Council, have been published and are an essential source of information on military matters. Army accounts, 1639 -1659 (NRS reference PA15) have partly been published in C S Terry's 'Papers relating to the Army of the Solemn League and Covenant, 1643 - 7' (Scottish History Society, 1917).
Exchequer records (NRS reference E): including salaries, pensions and army pay in the Treasury sederunt books, 1667-1708 (NRS reference E6); treasury vouchers concerning garrisons and regiments, arms and ammunition, late 17th century (NRS reference E28); 17th century muster rolls (NRS reference E100), some printed in C Dalton's 'The Scots Army, 1661-1688' (Edinburgh, 1909, reprinted 1989).
Private Papers (NRS reference GD): Private collections are a rich source for military history and can include anything from letters on the war in Flanders, 1695 (NRS reference GD112/39/171/2-5) to the thoughts of the Duke of Hamilton before the Battle of Worcester, 1651 (NRS reference GD45/26/126). They can be accessed through our Military Source List, Part One, and through our electronic catalogue. For collections still in private hands, consult the surveys of the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) available in our Historical Search Room, with some catalogues searchable electronically in our search rooms.
Official army records after the Union of Scotland and England are held by The National Archives (TNA) in London. Among the records held by us are the following:
Records of the estates forfeited after the Jacobite rebellions of`1715 and 1745 sometimes include papers relating to the settlement of soldiers (NRS reference E600 - E687 and E700 - E788)
Private papers (NRS reference GD) may contain anything from the diary of Lt. William Boyd, 46th division, RAMC, written on the Western Front during the Great War (NRS reference GD433/2/258/2) to a plan of the order of battle at Culloden (NRS reference GD61/118). Material relating to the Jacobite campaigns of the 18th century can be found in our Jacobite Source List.
First and Second World Wars
While TNA holds most official documentation, the files of the various departments of the Scottish Office contain the following:
- NRS reference HH31: war files, 1914 -1918 covering recruitment and conscientious objectors;
- NRS reference HH50: war files, 1939 -1945 covering evacuation, emergency powers, civil defence and the Clydebank blitz;
- NRS reference AF: regulations regarding control of the supply of food appear in the records of the Agriculture and Fisheries Department;
- NRS reference NSC: files and photographs relating to the War Savings and Tank campaigns of 1918 are preserved in the records of the National Savings Committee;
- HH30 and SC33/62: Military Service Appeal Tribunal records 1916-18, for which see our guide on Military Service Appeal Tribunals.
TNA holds most papers relating to army barracks. We have the following:
- NRS reference E28: Treasury vouchers relating to garrisons, 17th century;
- NRS reference E37: Building works carried out at Stirling, Edinburgh and the Bass, 1671-1679 (see also the NRS publication 'Accounts of the Masters of Work')
- NRS reference E886: King's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer's Office War Department papers covering the 18th and 19th centuries;
- NRS reference MW: Ministry of Works files contain information on Edinburgh and Stirling Castles and arrangements for military occupation of a number of properties during the 1939-1945 war.
For links to information about military records and museums please go to our useful websites - military page.