Scotland Church History

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Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor’s religion and the events that led to the creation of church records.

Historical Timeline[edit | edit source]

The following major events affected Scottish church history and records:

1552 Roman Catholic parishes are ordered to keep a register of baptisms and banns of marriage.

1560 Protestantism is established and the authority of the pope abolished.

1592 The Presbyterian Church is formally established.

1600 Scotland began using January 1 as New Year's Day.

1610 James VI establishes the Episcopal Church.

1638 The Episcopal Church is abolished by the General Assembly of Presbyterians at Glasgow. Although the government did not recognize this move, Episcopalians were persecuted. They sometimes hid or destroyed their registers or did not keep them at all.

1640 An estimated five percent of the parishes of the Presbyterian Church are keeping records by this date.

1641 Charles I and the English Parliament acknowledge the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

1661 The Episcopal Church is reestablished under Charles II.

1690 The Presbyterian Church is permanently restored and becomes the Church of Scotland.

1700s During the eighteenth century, particularly after 1730, many nonconformist groups form. Many preachers come from England, but they usually keep only personal records of conversions, and many conversions are not recorded locally. Prominent among these groups are the Baptists, Methodists, and Congregationalists (Independents).

1733 Four ministers break away from the Presbyterian Church and set up the Secession Church.

1745 The Secession Church divides. The new denomination is known as the Anti-Burgers Church.

1752 Three ministers secede from the Presbyterian Church and form the Relief Church. By 1790, this church has about 150,000 members. The Relief Church keeps its own records. Scotland adopted the Gregorian calendar.

1783 The government imposes a tax on every christening, marriage, and burial entry recorded in church records, causing many entries not to be registered.

1792 The laws against Episcopalians are repealed, allowing them to worship and keep records.

1820 Parishes are required to keep register books.

1829 Roman Catholics are permitted by law to buy and inherit property and keep records.

1834 many non-Church of Scotland ministers were allowed to perform marriages

1843 Ministers break away from the Presbyterian Church and form the Free Church.

1847 The Secession and Relief Churches combine to form the United Presbyterian Church. At that time, the Free Church had five million members (some settled in Ontario, Canada), and the United Presbyterian Church had two million members.

Historical Sources[edit | edit source]

Church Histories[edit | edit source]

For more information on church history or the history of a particular denomination, see the Scotland Church Records page or look in the FamilySearch Catalog under:



Parish Histories[edit | edit source]

Histories written about individual parishes can provide information on the:

  • parish
  • churches within the parish
  • schools
  • population of the parish.

Histories of parishes are found in the wiki. Go to the Scotland Counties wiki page, click on the link for your county of interest, and then click on the link for your parish of interest.

The following book contains brief parish histories:

For other parish histories, look in the FamilySearch Catalog under: