Using Virtual Volumes


How to use Virtual Volumes
What records are available now?
What are we planning to add?
What should I do if records are not available?
Copyright and ownership of records on Virtual Volumes


Virtual Volumes is the online service designed to allow the National Records of Scotland (NRS) to make thousands of its historical records available to the public. This includes born-digital records (which were originally created in digital format), as well as digitised copies of original paper/parchment records held by the NRS. These records are made available without intensive indexing of their contents by personal name, place or other subjects. This page gives you guidance on how to use Virtual Volumes and what records are available. It also provides information on copyright relating to records in Virtual Volumes.

How to use Virtual Volumes

Virtual Volumes allows you to view records in the form of volumes of digital images. You can search for records relating to a place, records created by a specific record creator (such as a court of law or public body), records created between certain dates, or a specific record by its NRS catalogue reference.

Searching by place

Use the place search to look for records relating to a civil parish, county, city, burgh, island or a legal jurisdiction. The results are derived from a gazetteer of civil parishes, counties, burghs, cities, islands and other places in Scotland. Variant names for places are included but link to the main place entry in each case. Examples of valid searches are ‘Aberdeen’, ‘Kilmarnock’ and ‘Lanark County’.

Place search, Aberdeen

You can filter your results by different types of places on the results page. You can also browse a list of places that are included in the place search gazetteer.

Place search, Aberdeen results

Searching by record creator

Use the record creator search to look for records created by a specific court or body (such as a kirk session, presbytery, or some other civil, criminal or ecclesiastical court, or for records created by the Scottish Government). Examples of valid searches are: ‘Ayr kirk session’, ‘Peebles presbytery’ and ‘Argyll synod’. You can also browse an alphabetical list of record creators that are included in Virtual Volumes.

Record creator search

If you are unsure which record creators relate to a specific place, it is better to use the place search. For example, if you want to know which kirk sessions produced records for a parish, but do not know the name of the specific kirk session, it is better to search for the name of the parish using the place search.

Searching for a volume or by date range

If you know the reference number of the volume (for example, from the NRS online catalogue), you can use the volume search to look for that specific reference. You can also use the ‘Search for’ field to search using a keyword or phrase such as ‘school’, ‘poor relief’ or ‘communion’. You can leave the ‘Reference’ field empty when using the ‘Search for’ box in order to return the best results. When using this field it is important to select the type of record you are looking for, such as ‘Church court records’ or ‘Scottish Cabinet records’, to make sure you return the most relevant results.

Reference search
Keyword search, communion

You can also use the volume search to look for any available records in Virtual Volumes within a date range.

Image viewer

The Virtual Volumes image viewer is different from the image viewer for indexed records on the ScotlandsPeople site, in that you can view images free of charge within the image viewer and then, if you decide you want a copy for personal research, you can purchase and download this (as long as you have first purchased credits in the normal way).


The contents list on the right-hand side of the image viewer is a rough list of contents in the volume, similar to chapter marks. If the volume is arranged chronologically, like the minute book of a court, the contents list shows the first image for that year. If the volume contains a mixture of things, such as minutes, accounts and lists of people, the contents list will at least mark the start of each section in the volume and might also go further by giving starts of years or some other detail on sub-divisions. This allows you to jump into a volume at a relevant point.


The contents list appears when you first open a volume but you can close it at any point and bring it back into view by using the contents button on the navigation bar.

Image viewer functions


Screenshot of image viewer navigation bar

Within the image viewer there are a number of functions to help you navigate your way through the volume and to manipulate the image within the viewer.

  • Previous/Next: The arrows enable you to move forwards and backwards through the volume.

  • Zoom in/Zoom out: The ‘Zoom in’ icon magnifies the image which is a useful tool for reading older records. The ‘Zoom out’ icon will return an image back to its original size.

  • Fit height/Fit width: This icon will fit the image to the height or width of the parameters of the online viewer.

  • Rotate: There are two icons for rotate: 'rotate right' and 'rotate left'. To see which is which, use your mouse or keyboard to hover over the options. Please note that you can rotate the image 360 degrees by simply clicking either of the rotate options four times which will then turn the image full circle.

  • Invert: Select this icon to make the image appear as a negative. To return to the original image, click the 'invert' icon a second time.

  • Contrast: When you select this icon a bar will appear above the image: ‘Adjust image contrast’. This allows you to adjust the contrast of the image by sliding the bar from left to right.

  • Brightness: When you select this icon a bar will appear above the image: 'Adjust image brightness'. This allows you to brighten or darken the image by sliding the bar from left to right.

  • Contents: This icon enables you to open or close the contents list of the volume.

Purchasing and downloading an image

When you decide to save a copy of an image for personal research, you can use the purchase button to buy a copy of the image. See our charges page for the current fees for saving images. Once you have bought a batch of credits, you can use credits to purchase an image (which will be saved to the ‘Saved volumes’ area of your account) and download a high quality jpeg of the image to your own device.

Save Virtual Volumes image

Once you have purchased an image, the ‘purchase’ button on the navigation bar changes to a ‘download’ button.

Adding to timeline

You can add Virtual Volumes image to timelines. For more information see our guide to timelines.

What records are available now?

Virtual Volumes currently contains more than 10,000 volumes from the courts of the Church of Scotland. The records are mainly those of kirk sessions, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly between 1560 and 1900. To see what is available for a parish, presbytery, synod or the General Assembly, use the volume search page or the place search. NRS is grateful to the Church of Scotland for their participation and support in this endeavour.

Virtual Volumes also contains the Scottish Cabinet records for 2005-2008. Additional records are added on an annual basis. The Scottish Cabinet is the group of senior Ministers, including the First Minister of Scotland, which is responsible for Scottish Government policy. Further information about these papers can be found in our guide to Scottish Cabinet records.

What are we planning to add?

You can sign up to our newsletter to hear about any significant additions. Subscribe to the ScotlandsPeople newsletter by going to 'My account' and in the 'Your preferences' section updating to 'Subscribe' against the newsletter.

What should I do if records are not available?

A relatively small number of records are currently available to view online in the Virtual Volumes area of ScotlandsPeople. Additional records are gradually being added.

Users are advised to search for records on the NRS online catalogue. The catalogue provides details of all the records held by the NRS, including those not currently available online, and of how to access them.

Copyright and ownership of records on Virtual Volumes

  • NRS uses the Virtual Volumes area of the ScotlandsPeople site to provide researchers with access to thousands of historical records. Researchers can save and download digital copies to their own devices at the NRS’s normal charges for obtaining copies for personal private research.

  • Some of these records are in the care of the NRS but are privately owned. Others are owned by NRS or by Scottish courts and government bodies. They contain some records which are in or out of Crown copyright, and some that are in or out of private copyright.

  • NRS has made reasonable efforts to find rights-holders for records that have been digitally imaged and made available online. Before making digital copies of records available online, NRS endeavours to reach an agreement with the owner of the original records and to check the copyright status of the records concerned. Where practicable, we will contact rights-holders to seek permission to make copyright material available. We also carry out risk assessments to identify sensitive and/or personal data, in accordance with the NRS policies on privacy and Data Protection. 

  • We are not always able to identify and trace rights-holders for the content of records. In some cases we may make them available online where the rights-holder cannot reasonably be identified and where, following NRS policies and procedures regarding copyright, we believe the records can be made available under exemptions to copyright restrictions.

  • If we are contacted by a potential rights-holder who objects to records being made available online, we will remove the images in question from Virtual Volumes until we have been able to assess the case.

  • Where material is removed for valid reasons of copyright, its removal will be considered as lasting until copyright in the material expires, or until the rights-holder agrees that the material can be reinstated. If you have an enquiry regarding the removal of records from the site or their re-use, please contact us.