Registers of Sasine record the transfer of land in Scotland between 1617 and 1981, when the system was replaced by a new system called Registration of Title. These are useful records for tracing the sale of land and properties, but do not generally contain information about specific settlements or rented properties (with the exception of some larger rented properties, which may be included).
The NAS holds a complete set of registers for the whole country. Registers for individual counties are also held by local libraries and archives. There are indexes for the whole country from 1781 onwards, but before this date, indexing is more piecemeal.
Church records are a surprisingly interesting and varied source for local history research.
Baptism, marriage and burial records can be used with census records to build a more complete picture of communities changing population patterns. They are available in General Register Office in Edinburgh and on-line via the Scotland's People website. You may also find microfilm copies in your local studies library or archive.
The Church of Scotland's Kirk session and parish poor law records are also fascinating resources to explore, from which you can discover more about the moral, social and economic lives of communities. They are held at General Register Office in Edinburgh, but are not available on-line.
From 1855, it has been compulsory for all births, marriages and deaths in Scotland to be registered with local registrars. Indexes to this information are available on-line via the Scotland's People website. You can also make an appointment to visit the General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh, or your local registrar.
Local photograph collections are excellent sources for finding historical images of landscapes, townships, farmsteads and rural life.
Local studies libraries, archives and museums often have very good photograph collections, but you may also know of others still held in private hands. Many of the larger collections have been digitised and are available on-line. Some of the best sites to try are:
Many large estates were divided up and sold during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and in some cases very detailed sales schedules were prepared. These contain descriptions of buildings, land and farming practice and may also include plans and photographs.
Sales schedules will be found in local studies libraries, archives and museums. Some are also held in the NAS and RCAHMS.
Local agricultural societies were established by landowners and academics in the eighteenth century to share ideas about agricultural improvements. Their records may include treatises on new and experimental farming techniques, as well as minutes and membership lists (see, for example, the Journal of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society). By the nineteenth century, most agricultural societies had a much wider membership and whilst their minutes will still contain information about new agricultural developments, they also include details of social events and competitions such as ploughing competitions and agricultural shows.
Most archives hold a small selection of farmer's diaries, which may contain information about farming practices, weather, landscapes, rural traditions, families and even current affairs. Some diaries are extremely detailed and may have been kept over a period of many years, giving you an extremely good understanding of the farming year and how it has changed over time.
Travel journals can also offer fascinating insights into rural life in the past. They normally contain descriptions of landscapes, people and farming practices, and may also be illustrated with sketches. Some of the best-known travel journals relating to Scotland include Thomas Pennant's A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772, Samuel Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) and James Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785). However, there are still many unpublished journals awaiting discovery in archives.
Records of the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department (AF)
These include agricultural censuses, parish summaries, from 1866 (AF39-41, AF78, AF84, AF88); Royal Commission on Highlands and Islands (Napier Commission), 1875-84 (AF50); Emigration, 1885-1956 (AF51); Crofting files (Crofters Commission), from 1847 (AF67, AF81, AF83, AF42); Congested Districts Board, 1897-1924 (AF42).
Land Court (LC)
Not strictly a government department, the Scottish Land Court superseded the Crofters Commission in dealing with disputes between landowners and tenants, 1912 - present. The Court Rolls (arranged by county) are held by the Land Court, but can be made available to the public by prior arrangement. Contact the NAS for further details.
Records of Highland Destitution (HD)
These include registers of meal distribution, 1840-52 (HD1); Highland Emigration Society, letter books, 1852-59, and lists of emigrants to Australia, 1852-57 (HD4); Correspondence and accounts, 1846-51 (HD8-16).
An index to HD4/5, the Highlands and Islands Emigration Society passenger lists, 1852-1857, is available in the Research Tools section of the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) site.
Forfeited Estates (E)
Records relating to the administration and management of those estates which were forfeited by the government following the Jacobite uprisings of 1690 (E58), 1715 (E601-663) and 1745 (E700-788). A useful background to the forfeited estates and their records is given in Reports on the Annexed Estates, 1755-1756 and Statistics of the Annexed Estates, 1755-1756.
Register of improvements to entailed estates
Under the Montgomery Act of 1770 (c.51), owners of entailed estates were allowed to charge their estates with three-quarters of the cost of improvements which they made. Intimation of intended improvements and a record of expenditure on them had to be registered in sheriff courts and these useful records may be found amongst the papers and court books of the Sheriff Courts.
Division of Commonties
Commonty refers to land held in common between several landowners - often where the boundaries of their estates meet. Landowners shared the rights to hunting, grazing, turf, peat and wood on the commonties and often extended some of these rights to their tenants. By the nineteenth century, most were divided up amongst their respective landowners and enclosed. Records of this process are held amongst the records of the Court of Session. A useful printed source on this subject is Ian H. Adams' Directory of Former Scottish Commonties.