The Burgar/Burgess families in Shetland

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The Burgar, Burger, Burgher and Burgess surname.

The original surname seems to have been written as variations on Burgar, Burger and Burgher.  A single person in these early records might have all these name variations in different documents, since the spelling of the surname in these early and subsequent records depended on the person writing the records. It is probable that the earliest Burgar persons would have been unable to write their names. 

After about 1850 the surname in Shetland changed to Burgess, although this surname was virtually unheard of before about 1830.

The list below shows the records that have been used in this story and the spelling of the surname in those documents.

List of surnames found in different documentary sources.

The earliest written surnames in Shetland are spelt as Burgar (James and Magnus Burgar) were in Yell in 1572.

Magnus Burgar was still there in 1581 and Magnus Burgur was in Fetlar in 1582.

James Burgar was present in 1586 and 1615 and James Burger were was there in 1605.

The Wills of the 1600s have the name Burgar exclusively.

Court cases in 1678 have George and David Burger.

Court Cases in 1687 have Laurance Burgar

The surname Burger (and Burgar) occurs in Court records dated 1694 and 1700.

In the Quendale Estate records of 1713 the name is spelt as Burgar

In the Gifford Rentals of 1716 the name is spelt as Burgar.

The surname Burgar is commonly used in the Court Records of 1731-34.

The surnames Burgher is used extensively in the Communicants List of 1749 drawn up by the Rev. John Mill.

The baptism records starting from 1754 are exclusively Burgher until about 1780 and after that become mostly Burgar (but with some Burger and Burgher ) until about 1850.

The Marriage Registers in Dunrossness  from 1794 - 1850 are a mixture of Burgar, Burgher and Burger.

The Census returns show that the Burgar surname had virtually died out by 1841.  However, the Burger surname in the 1861 comprised 51% of the recorded name and 16%  in 1871.  Thereafter the surname was recorded as Burgess or Burges.

See Table of names in Censuses

The Scottish Civil Registrations of Births, Marriages and Deaths starting in 1854 contain equal numbers of Burger and Burgess for the first 10 years but then change almost exclusively to Burgess.

On a recent visit to Shetland we were told by Robbie Burgess that he is still referred to as Robbie Burger.

As a result of of the variation of the surname I have adopted the following method:

1.    In transcribing documents I have tried to use the surname that was used in the documents. 

2.   Many person are recorded in different documents with all variations of the surname.  For simplicity, I am therefore going to give persons born prior to 1850 the surname Burgar, if they had that name at all.  After 1850 I will start to use the surname Burgess.  This is rather arbitrary, but has the advantage of clarity.

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