Scotland Church Records
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For information about records for non-Christian religions in Scotland, go to the Religious Records page.
Church records are an excellent source for accurate information on names, dates, and places of birth, marriage, and death. Since civil registration in Scotland began in 1855, church records are a major source for genealogical research in Scotland before 1855.
Understanding the Records[edit | edit source]
Church of Scotland[edit | edit source]
The Church of Scotland (a Presbyterian church) has been the recognised national church of Scotland since 1690. It is not a state or "established" church (although that latter description has found its way into various official documentation such as marriage registers); that independence from the state was eventually acknowledged in the Church of Scotland Act 1921. The organization of the Church of Scotland is as follows:
- The General Assembly is the highest organizational body and serves as the final ecclesiastical court of appeals.
- A Synod is made up of several presbyteries and serves as the court of appeals for those presbyteries.
- A Presbytery is made up of several parishes and serves as the court of appeals for those parishes.
- A parish is the lowest governing body.
- A chapelry or chapel of ease is a small church which serves a distant part of a parish.
The two main types of records are Old Parochial Registers (OPR) and Kirk Session Records. OPR's list baptisms, marriages and burials. Kirk Session records are the records of the Church Courts. They often list information relevant to genealogy. Additional records to utilize can include Blotter Registers and Neglected Entries Register (considered to pertain to civil registration, but many entries start well before C.R. even began--1809-1860).
- Descriptions of parishes can be found at:
- Lists of neighboring parishes can be found at:
- Parish outline maps are also available online at:
- Atlas and index to parish registers can be found at:
- Printed Resources:
- Books detailing the overall dates of old parochial records in civil parishes or counties in northeast Scotland (by the Aberdeen & North-East Scotland Family History Society) (FHL Map Case 941 E7c pt. 4)
- Parish Maps of Scotland. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991. (FHL Book 941 E7ch)
- Phillips’ Handy Atlas of the Counties of Scotland 1881. London, England: G. Phillip, 1881. (FHL Book 941 E7p)
Other Religions[edit | edit source]
Churches which are not part of the Church of Scotland are often referred to as nonconformist. By the 19th century a majority of the population was non-Conformist. There were two categories of so-called nonconformist churches in Scotland:
- Dissenters or sometimes called seceders or seccesionist -- Those who seceded from the main church but were still Presbyterian in form. Such dissenting churches included Associate, Covenanters, Burghers, Anti-burgher, Free church, Reformed Presbyterian, and later in the 1800's the United Presbyterian and others.
- Nonconformists -- Those who were not Presbyterian in form, such as Episcopal, Methodist, Quaker, Baptist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), or Catholic.
Nonconformists had their own congregations, with different boundaries to the Church of Scotland and kept their own records. However, before 1834, nonconformist ministers were not authorized to perform marriages as clergyman; after 1834 they could perform marriages if the banns had first been read in the parish church. Total authority was granted in 1855. In the context of Scots Law as it applied until 1939, this affected, only in practice, the mode of marriage because until then any declaration of marriage in front of witnesses was valid although many might have failed to be recorded.
For more background information on churches in Scotland, including a historical timeline, read the article Scotland Church History.
Accessing the Records[edit | edit source]
OPR[edit | edit source]
- All Church of Scotland OPRs can be accessed on the ScotlandsPeople's website. There is no fee to search for names, but there is a fee of about $2 (US) per original image. The original images can also be browsed for free at FHCs and Affiliate Libraries through the FamilySearch Catalog
- Microfilm and microfiche indexes are also available. See the article Scotland Old Parochial Registers (OPR) to learn more. Some records are also available in various collections on FamilySearch.
- Search: Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950
- Search: Scotland Marriages, 1561-1910
- To learn more about Scotland births and baptisms, see: Scotland Births and Baptisms - FamilySearch Historical Records
- To learn more about Scotland marriage records, see: Scotland Marriages - FamilySearch Historical Records
- FreeReg.org is a site that transcribes records from across the UK. A few Scotland Church Records are included. No images are available.
- Findmypast.co.uk has two databases (obtained from FamilySearch.org) as well, with no attached images. They pertain to baptisms and marriages; click on either one to search for ancestors of the Church of Scotland. Bear in mind that these are transcribed entries and these (Church of Scotland) records hardly cover half of Scotland's population. Recourse must be taken in all the other church registers of the different religious denominations of the township/parishes if or when you do not find ancestors in the Church of Scotland parochial registers.
- 1560 - 1949 - Church of Scotland Ministers 1560-1949
Kirk Sessions[edit | edit source]
Scotland's kirk session records play a vital role in researching Nonconformist and non-subscribing church ancestry. Most of the original Kirk Session records have recently been digitized and can now be accessed in person at many regional archives across Scotland and abroad via FamilySearch's Family History Centers in many countries. Only a very small number have been indexed and which can be found on FamilySearch and by other websites. Many of the kirk session records contain the names of many parish inhabitants affiliated with churches outside of the Church of Scotland. Also see this - a government guide to church court records.
- Scotland Church Records and Kirk Session Records, 1658-1919
- Oldscottish.com has some non-parochial (Seceder church) register transcriptions, kirk sessions, and more ($)
- ScottishIndexes has some court and church register transcriptions for non-OPR (Old Parochial Registers)
Nonconformists[edit | edit source]
In 1855, the government officially called for all non-parochial church registers (of all religions outside of the Church of Scotland) to be turned in to the official government archive, then called the Public Record Office. ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, now the government archive, has indexed most of the Roman Catholic parish registers throughout the country. These collections can be accessed on their Advanced Search page. See this page for more information: Catholic Parish Registers. A slight majority of the other surviving non-Church of Scotland denominational registers are available for searching in person or by record agent at the National Records of Scotland. A list of what is available is here. Sources out of Scotland suggest that there are in "the final stages", plans to make more of the non-subscribing and Nonconformist register entries available online.
For one of the most comprehensive List of search strategies and online church registers available for Nonconformist and non-subscribing religions, click the first link below (under "Research Guidance"), for your research purposes.
Research Guidance[edit | edit source]
FamilySearch Wiki Help for Non-Church of Scotland Church Records Research
Online Tutorials on FamilySearch:
- Scotland's Old Parish Registers: How to Access, Use, and Interpret - Parts 1 and 2
- Using Church of Scotland Parochial Registers to trace Scots Ancestry
- British Resources on FamilySearch.org - Parts 1 and 2
- Scotland's Lost Other Half: Tracing Difficult Ancestral Lines in Scotland's Non-Parochial Register