National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Private Papers

Private Papers

Our gifts and deposits series (reference GD) consists of more than 500 large collections of papers (GD2-GD525) and over 1400 smaller ones (GD1/1-GD1/1410). These range in size from the massive Seafield Papers (GD248) with almost 10,000 volumes, boxes and bundles, down to the smallest GD1s, containing single letters or charters.

Royal letter under the Signet bearing the signatures of Mary Queen of Scots and her secretary, Sir William Maitland of Lethington, ratifying infeftment of Alexander Irvine of Drum in lands in the barony of Strathbogey in Aberdeenshire, 18 June 1565 (Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland, GD105/83A)  The GD collections include the family and estate papers of landowners from all over Scotland as well as the records of businesses, societies and institutions. They contain documents from every part of the world to which Scots have gone as travellers, traders, settlers, soldiers or administrators and relate to every aspect of the political, social, economic, cultural and intellectual history of Scotland since the 12th century. You can see examples of items from our private record collections in our image gallery.

Fasciculus temporum omnes antiquorum cronicas complectens by Werner Rolewinck, printed at Strasbourg, circa 1487 (Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland, GD45/31/1)The records can be searched on our catalogue and consulted in the Historical Search Room.  Please note that many are out-housed and that we require 24 hours' notice to ensure that they are available in the search room on the day of your visit.

This guide provides further information about:

Major collections in our holdings

Most GDs have been gifted to the nation or deposited with us on long-term loan. The second half of the 20th century saw a great increase in the number of collections of private papers taken in to the national archives. The sale of many long established family estates, the need to preserve papers in proper conditions and a desire to make them available for historical research, encouraged many owners to deposit their records with us.  At the same time, the amalgamation of law firms has stimulated the deposit of their collections of papers. We have also purchased a number of collections and individual items.

The following is a selective list of some of the major collections in our holdings with their covering dates:

Family papers
  • Marquess of Ailsa 1290-1940 (GD25)
  • Earls of Airlie 1161-1954 (GD16)
  • Earl of Balfour 1839-1954 (GD433)
  • Earls of Breadalbane 1306-1914 (GD112)
  • Dukes of Buccleuch 1165-1947 (GD224)
  • Clerk of Penicuik 1373-1966 (GD18)
  • Earls of Cromartie 1257-1960 (GD305)
  • Earls of Dalhousie 1127-1965 (GD45)
  • Douglas of Strathendry 1477-1883 (GD446)
  • Earls of Dundonald 1585-1993 (GD233)
  • Earls of Eglinton 1363-1931  (GD3)
  • Dukes of Hamilton 1543-1858 (GD406)
  • Earls of Leven and Melville 1200-1853 (GD26)
  • Marquesses of Lothian 1140-1987 (GD40)
  • Macdonald of Clanranald 1531-1864 (GD201)
  • Earls of Morton 1250-1940 (GD124)
  • Viscounts of Melville 1343-1940  (GD51)
  • Earls of Morton 1250-1940 (GD150)
  • Dukes of Montrose 1175-1941 (GD220)
  • Earls of Perth 1197-1880 (GD160)
  • Dukes of Richmond and Gordon 1357-1903 (GD44)
  • Earls of Seafield 1215-1939 (GD248)
  • Earls of Stair 1358-1955 (GD135)
  • Steel Maitland of Sauchie 1489-1954 (GD193)
  • Stewart-Mackenzie of Seaforth 1467-1939 (GD46)
  • Marquess of Tweeddale 1166-1792 (GD28)
Hospitals, charitable schools and institutions
  • Carnegie (United Kingdom) Trust 1890 (GD281)
  • Dean Orphanage and Cauvin Trust 1641-1959 (GD417)
  • Edinburgh Children's Holiday Fund 1887-1959 (GD1/909)
  • George Heriot's Trust 16th-20th centuries (GD421)
  • Dr Guthrie's Schools 1854-1986 (GD425)
  • King James Hospital, Perth 1322-20th century (GD79)
  • Royal Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children  1884-1985 (GD409)
  • Society for Relief of the Destitute Sick 1844-1962 (GD1/781)
  • British Fishery Society 1773-1877 (GD9)
  • Edinburgh Caithness Association 1862-1954 (GD394)
  • Edinburgh Musical Society   (GD113)
  • Royal Scottish Forestry Society 1806-1976 (GD1/1214)
  • Scottish History Society 1886/1989 (GD401)
  • Society of Antiquaries 1358-1929 (GD103)
  • Scottish Rights of Way Society 1847- (GD335)
  • Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers 1688-1781 (GD1/896)
  • Tarbolton Curling Club 1814-1933 (GD1/822)
  • Scottish Amateur Athletic Association 1885-1979 (GD370)
  • Scottish Hockey Association 1901-1980 (GD389)
  • Scottish National Ski Council 20th Century (GD415)
  • Scottish Women's Bowling Association 1936-1985 (GD426)
  • Scottish Women's Hockey Association 1900-1977 (GD355)

A games, sports and gambling source list is available in our search rooms.

Theatre and cinema
  • Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh 1746-1946 (GD1/377)
  • Palace and Playhouse Cinemas, Edinburgh 1927-1973 (GD289)
Craft and trade incorporations
  • For information about these collections please go to our crafts and trades research guide. 
Business papers
  • Baillie Gifford & Co, investment managers, including Abbots Investment Trust 1909-86 (GD378)
  • Balfour Group, chemical engineers, Leven 1834-1976 (GD410)
  • James Bertram & Son Ltd, papermill owners, Leith  1847-1972 (GD284)
  • Bertrams (Sciennes) Ltd, paper machinery manufacturer 1821-1980 (GD419)
  • BP Oil UK Ltd 1688-1970 (GD454)
  • British Bakeries (Scotland) Ltd  1894-1955 (GD414)
  • Caledonian Insurance Company 1805-1939 (GD294)
  • Canonmills cooperage, Edinburgh 1862-1970 (GD287)
  • Carron Company 1478-1982 (GD58)
  • A and T Constable, printers, Edinburgh 1878-1944 (GD222)
  • James Currie and Co, rag, bone and scrap merchants, Dundee 1874-1889 (GD1/563)
  • Dobie and Son, painters and Decorators, Edinburgh 1849-1987 (GD1/1190)
  • Dobbie McInnes Ltd, instrument makers 1893-1972 (GD1/780)
  • Granton Harbour Ltd, Edinburgh 1841-1967 (GD290)
  • Hawthorn Leslie (Engineers) Ltd 1863-1959 (GD369)
  • Inveresk Paper Company 1876-1965 (GD269)
  • Invergarry Iron Works 1726-1838 (GD1/168)
  • Leith Dock Commission 1799-1967 (GD229)
  • Lochleven Shipping Co Ltd 1907-17 (GD447)
  • Morton of Darvel, textiles 1873-1978 (GD236)
  • Muirkirk Iron Company, in the Seaforth Muniments (GD46)
  • Palace and Playhouse Cinemas, Edinburgh 1927-73 (GD289)
  • New Zealand and Australian Land Co 1862-1963 (GD435)
  • Parsons Peebles Ltd, motor and generator manufacturers 1900-78 (GD349)
  • Sandeman & Sons Ltd, wine and spirit merchants 1860-1914 (GD408)
  • Scottish Agricultural Industries Ltd  1837-1957 (GD270)
  • Sun Alliance 1775-1921 (GD354)
  • United Biscuits, including the records of Macfarlane Lang & Co and McVitie & Price 1878-1980 (GD381)
  • Victoria Rubber Co Ltd 1876-1979 (GD404)
  • Wright and Jobson Ltd, yarn spinners, Galashiels 1882-1976 (GD1/852)

For more information about shipbuilding companies please go to our shipbuilding records guide.

Sources for locating private papers

A persons index to correspondence in older GD collections is available in the Historical Search Room.

Published Sources

Please note that in older publications our holdings will be listed under Scottish Record Office or National Archives of Scotland.

  • 'Lists of gifts and deposits in the Scottish Record Office' (two volumes) provides details of collections GD4 to GD96.
  • 'Tracing your Scottish ancestors:  the official guide' and 'Tracing Scottish local history' provide advice about use of the records for family and local history.
  • 'List of American documents' includes references to American material in private records.
  • 'Historic Manuscripts Commission (HMC) guides to sources for British history: Principal family and estate collections' (London, 1999)
  • Chris Cook, 'Sources in British political history, 1900 - 1951', volumes 1-6 (London, 1975-85). Volume six contains a guide to papers of organisations, societies and pressure groups.
  • J M Hartley, 'A guide to archives and manuscripts relating to Russia and the Soviet Union' (London, 1987)
  • N Matthews and M D Wainwright, 'A guide to manuscripts and documents in the British Isles relating to Africa' (London, 1971)
  • N Matthews and M D Wainwright, 'A guide to archives and manuscripts relating to the Far East' (London, 1977)
  • J D Pearson, 'A guide to archives and manuscripts relating to South and South East Asia', vol.2 (London, 1990)
  • J W Raimo, 'A guide to archives relating to America in Great Britain and Ireland' (USA, 1979)
  • P Walme, 'A guide to manuscripts sources for the history of Latin America and the Caribbean in the British Isles' (London, 1973)
  • B G Wilson and A Burdett, 'Manuscripts and government documents in the United Kingdom and Ireland relating to Canada' (Ottawa, 1992)
  • Anne Thurston, 'A guide to archives and manuscripts relating to Kenya and East Africa in the United Kingdom' (London, 1991)
Business history
  • J Imrie, 'National archive sources for business history' in 'Studies in Scottish business history', edited by P L Payne (London, 1967) provides an overview of business records in the National Archives, with a useful, if out of date, summary of business records tucked away in family collections.  Records of businesses are also described in chapter 14 of 'Tracing Scottish Local History'. A source list of business records in private collections is available in our search rooms.

  • 'Dictionary of Scottish business biography, 1860 - 1960', edited by Anthony Slaven and Sydney Checkland in 2 volumes covering the staple industries and the processing, distribution and service industries (Aberdeen, 1986 and 1990).

  • Historic Manuscripts Commissions' 'Records of British business and industry 1760 - 1914: textiles and leather' (Guides to Sources for British History 8: London, 1990). 
Restrictions on access

Some depositors have placed restrictions on what can be consulted or reproduced and this is highlighted in the catalogue record.  Historical Search Room staff will notify you if the collection you wish to consult is affected in this way and you may be asked to sign an undertaking to contact the owner if you wish to publish or use the records in another way.  There may also be legal reasons for the closure of some parts of collections.

Please note that the owner of the collection may not be the copyright owner.

Please contact us for information on restrictions on specific documents.