Scotland Church Records

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Church records are an excellent source for accurate information on names, dates, and places of birth, marriage, and death. Most people in Scotland before the mid-nineteenth century are listed in church records. Since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until 1855, church records are the best source of family information before that date.

Understanding[edit | edit source]

The Presbyterian Church (Church of Scotland) has been the state church of Scotland since 1690. The organization of the Church of Scotland is as follows:

    • The General Assembly is the highest governing body.
    • The Synod governs several presbyteries.
    • The Presbytery governs several parishes.
    • The parish is the lowest governing body.

Each local parish (pairish, parochin) keeps records. The two major record types are parochial or parish registers and kirk session records (see details below under Searching).

It may be necessary to know the parish where your ancestor was born, married, or died so you can search parish registers. If you do not know the parish but know the name of a village or town, you may use a gazetteer to locate the parish. (See the “Gazetteers” section of this outline). The gazetteers provide:

    • Maps show parish boundaries to help determine which parish records to search
    • Identify neighboring parishes

Finding[edit | edit source]

The following books contain maps that show parish boundaries:

Civil Parishes and Counties of North East Scotland Showing Overall Dates of Old Parochial Records: Held in Edinburgh and Available Worldwide on Microfilm [Scotland]: Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society [ 198-]. (FHL Map Case 941 E7c)

The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, 2nd ed, Cichester, England: Phillimore & Co. Ltd, 1995. (FHL Book 941 E7pa)

Parish Maps of Scotland, Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991. (FHL Book 941 E7ch; Fiche 6036350)

Phillips’ Handy Atlas of the Counties of Scotland 1881, London, England: G. Phillip, 1881. (FHL Book 941 E7p; Film 423175)

Searching[edit | edit source]

The term “Old Parochial Registers” refers to parish registers kept by the Presbyterian Church (Church of Scotland) from the time the church began keeping registers to the year 1855. The amount of information in registers varies from parish to parish. Later records generally give more complete information than earlier ones. Some early parish registers may be in Latin. Scotland has its own version of English, so you may need to use a dictionary to understand some words. (See the “Language and Languages” section of this outline.)

Most parish registers begin after 1650. Some kirk session (parish court) records begin earlier than the parish registers. Kirk session records may have some christening, marriage, and burial records in them.

Before searching parish registers, the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and the Scottish Church Records databases are important sources to use as well as  These serve as indexes to the records.  (For more information, see Indexes below.)

Christenings (Baptisms)[edit | edit source]

Children were usually christened (baptized) within a few days or weeks of birth.  Christening records give at least the infant’s name and the christening date. You may find:

    • Father’s name and occupation
    • Mother’s first name and often her maiden name
    • Child’s birth data and legitimacy
    • Family’s place of residence or street address
    • Witnesses

Church officials recorded christenings in the parish registers. Therefore, it is necessary to know what church the person belonged to and in what parish the church was located.

Records of civil parishes and a listing of counties of Scotland, including the overall dates of old parochial records, are held in Edinburgh.

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Marriages usually took place in Scotland in the parish where the bride resided. Marriage records usually give:

    • Marriage date
    • Name of Bride
    • Name of Groom

The records may include:

    • Marital status (i.e., single, widow, or widower)
    • Parish of residence of both parties
    • Groom’s occupation
    • Bride’s father’s name

Church officials recorded marriages in the parish registers. Therefore, it is necessary to know what church the person belonged to and in what parish the church was located.

Records of civil parishes and a listing of counties of Scotland, including the overall dates of old parochial records, are held in Edinburgh.

Additional Information

Some records show a couple’s “intent to marry,” also called the proclamation of banns. Usually the intent to marry was proclaimed in the parishes of both the bride and groom. The marriage was usually recorded only in the parish in which the marriage actually took place.

Caution: The proclaiming of banns is not proof that the couple married.

Another acceptable practice acknowledged in early Scotland was that of the Handfast.

Burials[edit | edit source]

Few burial records were kept before 1855. It is important to know that many women, when their husbands died, reverted to their maiden names and were buried under that name. Burial records usually give:

    • The deceased’s name
    • Burial date

The burial records may provide:

    • Age at the time of death
    • The name of the spouse
    • The names of the parents
    • Witnesses

Additional Information

Instead of actual burials, the parish registers often list people who paid mortcloth dues. The mortcloth was a cloth used to cover the body during the burial ceremony. However, these lists do not mention everyone who was buried. The rich who donated the cloths to the church and the very poor did not have to pay to use the mortcloth.

If you cannot find burial records, try to find tombstone inscriptions. (See the “Cemeteries” section of this outline for more information on tombstone inscriptions.)

[Note: Quoad sacra parishes are those set up for ecclesiastical purposes to take care of those people who could not conveniently attend the parish church. To find records of people living in quoad sacra parishes, you must search the surrounding parishes.]

Accessing Records[edit | edit source]

The Church of Scotland sent all of its known registers up to the year 1855 to the office of the Registrar General in Edinburgh. (See the “Archives and Libraries” section of this outline for the address.)

The registers have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and are available at the Family History Library, or can be ordered through Family History Centers. To find microfilm numbers for the registers, click here, or look in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog online at under SCOTLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] – CHURCH RECORDS.

Additional Information

Scottish parish registers were microfilmed twice. In the first filming, some information in the margins of the registers is not readable on the film. The second filming corrected this problem. The later filming also has frame numbers to help you find an entry that was extracted (see Indexes below).

Indexes[edit | edit source]

Before searching the original records, it is good to search an index.

After the registers were microfilmed, the christening and marriage information was extracted from the records. The information is available in three important indexes:

    • Index to the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland
    • Scottish Church Records
    • International Genealogical Index (IGI)

Index to the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland

The index consists of two parts:

    • Main Index. The main index is organized by county. Within each county are separate indexes for christenings and marriages. The christening and marriage indexes are organized once by surname and once by given name.
    • Addendum. The addendum contains entries that were missed when the original index was created. It is not organized by county. It has countrywide indexes for christenings and for marriages arranged alphabetically by surname.

Each index entry contains the event date and place. It also contains a reference you can use to find a microfilm copy of the original parish record. This reference consists of a batch number and possibly a frame number.

    • Batch Number. The batch number will help you identify the microfilm that contains the original parish record. Look up the batch number in the Batch Number Index to find the number of the microfilm that contains the parish register you want.
    • Frame Number. Some index entries have a frame number listed in the Miscellaneous column. The frame number identifies the exact frame on the microfilm that contains the page of the parish register you want. If the index entry contains a frame number, it means that the record on the microfilm is not in chronological order. Therefore, be sure to note the frame number, or you will have to search the entire microfilm frame by frame to find the page you want.

      If the entry does not contain a frame number, the record on the microfilm is in chronological order. You can find the page you want by finding the date the event was recorded.

A microfiche copy of the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland index is available at the Family History Library, Family History Centers, and at the Scottish Record Office.

To see what parishes and records are included in the index, go to the Parish and Vital Record List. For an explanation of this list, see the publication Parish and Vital Records List (Film 33702). In addition, you can look in the Family History Library Catalog online at under:



Scottish Church Records

This DOS database version of the above index is available on computers in the Family History Library and Family History Centers.  It is not available online.


International Genealogical Index (IGI)

This database is available online at and contains much of what is included in the other two versions of the index.

If you do not find the people you are looking for in these indexes, consider the following possibilities:

    • Your ancestors were not baptized or were not recorded in the records.
    • Your ancestors did not belong to the Church of Scotland.
    • Names of your ancestors were misread or misspelled when copied from the film.
    • The records for the time period you need are missing.

[edit | edit source]

Additional Information[edit | edit source]

For more information about the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland, see the publication Old Parochial Registers Index for Scotland (Film 349311).

Records of civil parishes are held in Edinburgh:

Registrar General
Search Unit
New Register House
Edinburgh EH1 3YT

Additional Web Sites[edit | edit source]

Free Web Sites

National Archives of Scotland:

Part of the National Archives of Scotland:

Access to British archives/catalog/documents:

Paid Web Site

Censuses, church records, civil registrations: