Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland Genealogy

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Parish #706

This is a guide to the history and major genealogical records of Scotland as they pertain to the parish of Dunbar. To learn more about how to use these records to search for your ancestors, go to the Scotland: Research Strategies.

History[edit | edit source]

DUNBAR, a burgh, market-town, and parish, in the county of Haddington; containing the villages of East and West Barns, 11 miles (E. by N.) from Haddington, and 28 (E. by N.) from Edinburgh. This place is of remote antiquity, and appears to have derived its name from the situation of its castle on a high and rugged rock, forming a conspicuous landmark. The parish is situated in a richly-cultivated district, extending along the shores of the Frith of Forth. The collegiate church, a handsome cruciform structure partly in the Norman and early English styles, was taken down in 1819, and the present church was built, and opened for divine service on the 20th of April, 1821; it is conveniently situated, and contains 1800 sittings. There are places of worship for the Free Church, the United Associate Synod, and Wesleyans.[1]

The New Statistical Account of Scotland (pub. 1834-45) offers uniquely rich and detailed parish reports for the whole of Scotland, covering a vast range of topics including history, agriculture, education, trades, religion and social customs. The reports, written by the parish ministers, are available online at http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/. Click on ‘Browse scanned pages’ then search the parish reports for your parish of interest. Also available at the Family History Library.


Census Records[edit | edit source]

A census record is a count and description of the population, taken by the government, arranged by locality and by household. Read more about Scotland Census Records.

Here is a list of the Family History Library microfilm numbers for the census records of Dunbar, as well as the library numbers for any surname indexes available.

The 1901 census of Scotland is indexed on www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. To use it, you must register and pay a small access fee. All available censuses, 1841-1901, are indexed on this website. It may be easier for you to pay to use the website rather than access the separate indexes through the library.

Church Records[edit | edit source]

The Established Church of Scotland was Presbyterian. Read more about Scotland Church Records.

Here are the pre-1855 records that exist for this parish.

Established Church—Old Parochial Registers[edit | edit source]


Event Type Years Covered FHL Film Number
Births: 1672-1819 - baptisms 1067796 item 2-5

1820-1854 1067797 item 3
Marriages: 1737-1854 1067797 item 2-5

1737-1854 1067797 item 1-4
Deaths: 1737-1854 - burials 1067797 item 2-4
Condition of Original Registers—[edit | edit source]

Indexed: For an index to these records, see Scotland’s People website, a pay-for-view website. The Scottish Church Records Index is also still available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Some records may also be indexed in other FamilySearch collections for Scotland. 

Births: Lower portion of leaves prior to 1676 have been destroyed, rendering entries imperfect. Record is blank August 1676–January 1678, and May 1700–January 1710. After January 1719, there is what appears to be a supplementary record from 1688, which is continued as the principal register. After the 19th of April 1767, a separate page contains nine entries of baptisms by seceding minister 1747–1765.
Marriages: Record is blank January 1654–July 1668, and December 1717– January 1737.
Deaths: The entries record the date of death and the fee paid for the “Mortcloth.”
Source: Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. British Book 941 K23b.

Established Church—Kirk Session Records
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The Kirk session was the court of the parish. The Kirk session was made up of he minister and the land owners and business men of the parish, chosen to serve on the session. The Kirk session dealt with moral issues, minor criminal cases, matters of the poor and education, matters of discipline, and the general concerns of the parish. Kirk session records may also mention births, marriages, and deaths.

Here is a list of the surviving Kirk session records for this parish:

Minutes 1659–1662, 1709–1713, 1718–1728 - register of discipline, 1728–1770, 1779–1788, and 1821–1864
Accounts 1718–1728, 1728–1728, 1748–1892
Letter Book - Poor Relief 1832–1835
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH2/647.

Nonconformist Church Records
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A nonconformist church is any church that is not the Established church. Read more about nonconformity in Scotland in the article on the Scotland Church Records Union List.

In 1835, the Dissenters and Seceders in the parish numbered 294 families, of various denominations. The congregations within the parish also drew members from neighboring parishes.

Dunbar Associate Burgher Church, later First United Presbyterian
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Unhappy with the settlement of a new minister in the parish church, a number of the elders and members of the parish applied for and obtained supply of sermon from the Associate Burgher presbytery of Edinburgh in 1766. They met for a time in a barn near the town. Their first church was built in 1767, the second in 1813.
Source: Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church, by Rev. William MacKelvie, D.D., pub. 1873. Film #477618. More details may be given in the source including a list of ministers.

                                                                              FHL Film Number
Session Minutes             1767–1820, 1844–1847        1484192 item 6
                                     1847–1862                          1484193 item 1–2, 4
Baptismal Register          1846–1924                          1484193 item 1–2, 4
Communion Roll              1848–1875                          1484193 item 1–2, 4
Managers’ Minutes 1771–1840 - with accounts
Missionary Society Accounts 1842–1908
Note: Available at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh, record CH3/85.

East Barns Associate, later Dunbar Second United Presbyterian Church
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This congregation originated with members of the second congregation of Haddington, resident in Innerwick and adjoining parishes who applied to the General Associate Anti-burgher Presbytery to be formed into a separate congregation, which was done in 1760. They erected a place of worship at Eastbarns, a village 3 miles east of Dunbar, where they continued until 1820, when, finding most of their members’ resident in the town of Dunbar, they erected a place of worship in Dunbar and removed there.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source including a list of ministers.

                                                                           FHL Film Number
Session Minutes            1762–1812                       1484432 item 2–3
Baptismal Register         1762–1809, 1817–1828, 
                                    with register of discipline    1484432 item 2–3

Dunbar Belhaven Free Church, later Abbey United Free Church
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The minister of the quoad sacra church at Belhaven, and his entire congregation, adhered to the Free Church in 1843. They continued to occupy the church, under the name of ABelhaven Free Church,” until it was claimed by the Established Church in 1849. Then they moved to Dunbar, where they built a church in 1850. Membership fell with the decay of the rural population. Dunbar, however, became a popular seaside resort, and an influx of visitors increased the work in summer.
Membership: 1848, 370; 1900, 234.
Source: Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, ed. Rev. William Ewing, D.D., 2 vols. pub. 1914. Film #918572. More details may be given in the source including a list of ministers.

                                                                                                           FHL Film Number
Deacons’ Court Minutes            1844–1881                                            1484193 item 3
Baptismal Register                   1846–1924 - loose sheets, 1844–1859     1484193 item 3

Dunbar Methodist Church
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A chapel was opened in 1770. Though attendance may have dropped off at various times through the years, the chapel was apparently suntil in use as late as 1947.

The extent of records is unknown. For information write to:
Methodist Archives and Research Centre
John Rylands University Library of Manchester
150 Deansgate
Manchester M3 3EH

Civil Registration Records[edit | edit source]

Government or civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths (also called Statutory records) began on January 1, 1855 in Scotland. Each parish has a registrar's office and large cities have several. The records are created by the registrars and copies are sent to the General Register Office in Edinburgh. Annual indexes are then created for the records for the whole country.
See the article on Scotland Civil Registration for more information and to access the records.

Probate Records[edit | edit source]

Dunbar was under the probate jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of Edinburgh until 1823, and since then has been under the Sheriff's Court of Haddington. Probate records for 1513- 1901 are indexed online at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. You must register on the website but use of the index to probate records, called 'Wills & Testaments,' is free. You may then purchase a copy of the document or, if the document is before 1823, it will be on microfilm at the Family History Library. To find the microfilm numbers, search in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of East Lothian and the subject of 'Probate records.' Then click on the link to the records of the Commissariat of Edinburgh.

The library also has some post-1823 probate records for East Lothian. Look in the library catalog for the 'Place-names' of East Lothian and the subjects of 'Probate Records' and 'Probate Records - Indexes.'

Read more about Scotland probate Records.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Lewis, Samuel A., A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 310-320. Adapted. Date accessed: 04 April 2014.

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