Steps For Tracing Scottish Ancestry Outside of The Church of Scotland

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

For many researchers of Scottish ancestry prior to 1855, the Church of Scotland parochial registers do not provide answers for constructing their genealogical lineage. Their parochial registers hardly covered one-half of the Scottish population. Many of our ancestors chose church attendance in churches outside of the Church of Scotland, so their names will normally not show up in searches on ScotlandsPeople! ScotlandsPeople has only a small proportion of records from these non-conformist churches, though some non-conformists married in the Church of Scotland (especially 1754-1837) or were buried by the Church. By 1851, well over half of all Scotsmen chose to affiliate with, marry in, and took their children to be baptised in a non-subscribing church outside of the Church of Scotland. After 1853, many were buried in public town cemeteries or in churchyards (where extant) of the non-subscribing local church.

Listed below are some alternative research steps and record sources used to find non-Church of Scotland ancestors in other church registers and sources. These important steps and records will help counter the problems associated with their names missing in and the problems of under-registration in the parochial registers of the Church of Scotland.

What Records Exist[edit | edit source]

Researching non-conformist Scottish ancestors before 1855 largely depends on church records. These records date back to late 17th century for non-Catholics, but were not always kept as far back or to the same thoroughness as records of the Church of Scotland. Catholic records go back to 1703 but the vast majority date back only to the 1790s to 1820s when prosecution against Catholics was lifted.

Typically births, marriages and burials were recorded. For more information about what details they usually recorded see Scotland Church Records. In addition a few other records exist for Catholics, such as confirmations, confessions, seat rents and lists of parishioners.

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Online[edit | edit source]

All surviving Catholic records are now on ScotlandsPeople. See here for a list of parishes. These records are also on FindMyPast ($).

Only a few records for other non-conformists can be found on ScotlandsPeople. A list of parishes can also be found here.

Other sites to search are:

Offline[edit | edit source]

  1. Search for Local/Regional archives, such as Dundee City Archives or Strathclyde Regional Archives, etc. Check their online catalog(s) to see what holdings they possess for all nonconformist and non-subscribing Presbyterian church registers in their archives. (Hint: You can Google to find a list of all Scottish Regional or local archives with links to addresses; or, search their online catalogs and use their email addresses to contact them)
  2. For Church registers not in above archives: write to the local congregation (must Google to find the chapel and look for a "Contact Us" link or find a church email address); willingly make a generous donation when you request a “look-up” in their church records and/or kirk session records (where extant); or, when a local congregation clerk won’t answer your query, then contact the nearest local archive for names of hire-able record agents to perform the search for you at the local church/chapel.

Research Guides[edit | edit source]

Here are research guides to the church records available at the National Records of Scotland and regional archives: