Scotland Established (Presbyterian) Church Records
The Scottish government did not begin general registration of births, marriages, and deaths until 1855. Prior to that date, church records are the prime source for family information. If you have Scottish ancestry, you must become familiar with, and learn to use, Scottish church records.
A local church unit is called a parish. There are three main types of parish records:
Parish registers, also known as “Old Parochial Records,” contain records of:
- Births or baptisms
- Marriages or proclamations
- Deaths or burials.
Children were usually baptized within a few days or weeks of birth. Births/baptisms may include:
- Name and surname of the child
- Birth and/or baptism date and place
- Parents’ names, including the maiden name of the mother
Births/baptisms may include:
- Child’s placement within the family and indication of legitimacy
- Father’s occupation and residence
- Names of witnesses
Marriages usually took place in the parish where the bride resided. Marriage records usually give:
- Names of the bride and groom
- Date and place of marriage/proclamation
Marriages may include:
- Proclamation of intent to marry
- Residences and groom’s occupation
- Marital status
- Names of fathers
- Names of witnesses
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.
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.
Deaths/burials generally include:
- Date and place of death or burial
Deaths/burials may include:
- Age at death
- Names of relatives
- Mortcloth dues (fee paid for the use of the funeral cloth or pall draped over the casket or body during the funeral ceremony)
Instead of actual burials, the parish registers often contain only a list of the mortcloth dues that were paid--which could be either a list of the names of the deceased or of those who paid the fee. However, these lists do not account for every burial. They often do not mention the rich, who may have donated the cloth to the church and were therefore exempt from the fee, and the very poor who could not afford to pay the fee and were also exempt. Furthermore, the morcloth was not used for children under ten years of age.
If you cannot find burial records, try to find tombstone inscriptions. Read about tombstone inscriptions in the Scotland Cemeteries article.
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.
The Church of Scotland sent all of its known registers up to the year 1855 to the General Register Office (GRO) in Edinburgh For more information, go online to the GRO website and click on the link for Family Records. 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 worldwide.
Click here for a list of Scotland's counties, with links to parishes and their records including Family History Library microfilm numbers. To find numbers in the Family History Library Catalog, and click Place Search. Type the name of a parish and county of interest and click Search. From the list of topics, click Church records. Finally click the title of the parish register.
The Parish List for Scotland shows all of the parishes in alphabetical order, giving the parish number, county in which it is situated, and the date when the Old Parochical Records (Presbyterian Church records) began.
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 second filming also has frame numbers to help you find an entry that was extracted. For more information, read the section below for Indexes.
Before searching the original records, search an index.
After the registers were microfilmed, the baptism and marriage data was extracted from the records. The extracted data is indexed on two websites:
- the Scotland baptism and marriage databases found at www.familysearch.org.
- the Old Parish Registers indexes at ScotlandsPeople. This includes an incomplete index to deaths or burials. Read more about ScotlandsPeople.
Before the indexes to baptisms and marriages were available online, an index was first available on microfiche. The microfiche indexes are available at the Family History Library and some family history centers. For more information about the Old Parochial Registers Index on microfiche, read Scotland Old Parochial Registers (OPR) Index.
Blotter registers are draft copies of parish registers.
Kirk Session Records
Kirk session records are the business records of the parish and include records:
- Matters of discipline
- Other things the parish officers dealt with
If your ancestors are not in the records
If you do not find your ancestors in the Established Church of Scotland registers, this may indicate that:
- Your ancestors were members of the Established Church but their events were not registered.
- They were registered but the records have been lost over time.
- They were nonconformists (members of other religions).
- They had what was known as an "Irregular Marriage" which were forms of marriages recognized by Scottish law. ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk provides an explanation of these types of marriages.
- Steel, D. J. Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History. Phillimore: London and Chichester, 1970, p. 82.