Scotland Church Records Union Lists

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This is a brief description of the purpose, format, content, and sources of the Union List that was created for patron use in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The information from the union list for each individual parish is found in the Wiki by doing a search for a parish or county of interest.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The purpose of the union list is to bring together and list all known church records of Scotland (particularly pre-1855), regardless of denomination, to briefly tell their history when possible, and to identify their existing records of genealogical interest.  The information provided has come from sources available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and online.

Format of the Information Included in the Union List[edit | edit source]

Under each parish is listed the following church records information:

  • Parish number – helpful when using census, civil, and other records.
  • A very brief history of the parish.
  • The registers of the Established Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). These are commonly referred to as the Old Parochial (or Parish) Registers.  
  • The Family History Library microfilm number(s) for the registers.
  • Notes on the condition of the original records.
  • The Kirk Session Records which are the business and court records of the parish. These records can include valuable information on the members of a parish. Very few of these are currently available at the Family History Library. They are available at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh and in regional archives in Scotland.
  • The histories and records of the nonconformist churches (including the break-away Presbyterian congregations). These are any church other than the Established Church of Scotland. Most records are available at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.
  • The microfilm number(s) for nonconformist church records available at the Family History Library.

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Established Church[edit | edit source]

In the 1560's, Catholicism was replaced by Presbyterianism as the Established Church in Scotland.  Catholic properties were seized and Catholic Church records and materials were destroyed. This was the Scottish Reformation, led by Calvinist John Knox. After James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, an Episcopalian form of government of church and state was established in Scotland. But later attempts to bring the Scottish churches more into line with the Church of England were resisted and the National Covenant (a declaration of independence from England and the Crown and of loyalty to the Presbyterian religion) was signed in 1638. However, in 1661 Episcopalism was again forced upon the Scottish Kirk, and the Covenanters were greatly persecuted, tortured, and even put to death if they dared to worship by the Presbyterian form. In 1687, James the II’s Declarations of Indulgence, securing toleration for the Catholics, also brought persecution of Presbyterians to an end. When James II fled and William of Orange was established king of England in 1689, William allowed Episcopacy to be abolished in Scotland and the following year Presbyterianism was firmly established as the Church of Scotland, with church and state united under that form. These events are known as the ‘Scottish Revolution Settlement.'

In 1712, Presbyterians were outraged by the Crown grant of toleration to the Scottish Episcopalians and the restoration of patronage to the Scottish Church. (See the discussion of patronage in the following paragraph.)  Many Episcopalians in Scotland became Jacobites (supporters of James III/VIII’s attempts to regain the throne of England and Scotland) and were greatly repressed and persecuted, and did not again obtain some of their religious freedoms until after 1788.

Nonconformity, Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Here is a simplified explanation of the break-away groups within the Presbyterian faith.

Cameronians/Reformed Presbyterians:

At the time of the Settlement, there was a group of Scottish Covenanters who followed the religious teachings of a man named James Cameron, who espoused neither the usual Presbyterian nor Episcopalian forms of worship. They were called Cameronians and they met together for religious worship. In 1743, they formed their first presbytery and were constituted as the Reformed Presbyterians.

Secession churches:

Though Presbyterianism has been the established form of worship in Scotland since 1690, all has not been well within its ranks. Much of the disagreement was over the question of patronage, i.e. who had the right to choose a new minister when a previous one died or departed for another position. Oft times the local patron (land owner and supporter of the minister) had the right but chose not to exercise it. The members of the congregations felt they had the right to select a new minister. When the issue was referred to higher authority, the General Assembly of the Church often granted the right only to the elders of the church or to the local land owners called ‘heritors’ (because they inherited their property). Many disagreements arose. Members of congregations often refused to accept the decision of the General Assembly. The first great secession from the Church occurred in 1733 over this question of patronage.  Four ministers of the established church left and formed the Associate Presbytery, also known as the Secession Church. 

In 1746, a division arose among the ministers and members of the Secession Church over a religious clause in the oath taken by burgesses (tradesmen and citizens) in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth. The oath required them to accept the "true religion presently professed within this realm." Opinion differed as to whether this referred to the Protestant religion in general or to the Established Church. Those who understood the oath in the first sense came to be known as the 'Burghers.' Opposed to them were the 'Anti-Burghers' who refused to take the oath. In 1747 the church split into two synods: The Associate (Burgher) and the General Associate (Anti-Burgher) Synods. This occurrence is known as the ‘Breach.’

In about 1800 both of the synods had divisions again over the question of the role of secular authorities.  Those who held that secular authorities should uphold the actions of the church came to be known as ‘Old Lights.’ Those who believed that secular authorities had no power in matters of religion were known as ‘New Lights.’ In 1820, the New Lights from both the Associate and General Associate synods came together and formed the United Secession Church. In 1839, most of the General Associate Old Lights rejoined the Church of Scotland. There were some in each case who did not accept the decisions of the majority, but their history is too complicated to discuss in this brief outline. A more detailed history is given in Don Steel’s Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History (FHL book 942 V26ste vol. 12). Much of the information in this background overview is taken from this source.

The Relief Church:

In 1761 others who disagreed with the Established Church over the question of patronage formed the Relief Presbyterian church. However, they never fully considered themselves as having seceded from the Established Church and repeatedly sought reconciliation, never successfully. In 1847, 118 out of 136 Relief Church congregations came together with the United Secession Church to form the United Presbyterian Church.

The Free Church:

Within the Established Church the patronage question came to a head in the years 1833-1843. At the General Assembly of 1843, and due to decisions by the Assembly which could not be supported by many of the ministers present, over a third of the total ministers (452 in all) left the Established Church and formed the Free Church of Scotland. This occurrence is known as the ‘Disruption.’ Within four years there were more than 700 Free Church congregations. By the time the Scottish government began civil registration in 1855, two-thirds of the inhabitants of Scotland no longer belonged to the Established Church.


In 1876 many of the ministers and membership of the Reformed Church (Cameronians) united with the Free Church. In 1900 the United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church joined together to form the United Free Church of Scotland.

In 1874 patronage was finally abolished in the Established Church of Scotland. Since the main cause of secession was removed, intermittent negotiations for re-union were held for several years between the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church. They finally bore fruit in 1929 when the two churches were reunited. Minorities of the Free Church and the Reformed Church which did not participate in the re-union still exist under those names.

Other nonconformist groups[edit | edit source]

The Independent movement was briefly introduced to Scotland in the late 1600s by Commonwealth soldiers but declined when the soldiers withdrew. It was reintroduced in 1725 by John Glas in Tealing, Angus, and again in 1768 by David Dale in Fifeshire, but these groups eventually became extinct.  Congregationalism, as the Independent movement became known, was not permanently established until Robert and James Haldane (wealthy brothers who built and financed churches) formed a society in 1797.  The Congregational Union of Scotland was formed in 1812 and the Evangelical Union in 1843. The two united in 1897.

Baptist congregations were formed starting in 1652 but also declined after the Commonwealth soldiers withdrew. New congregations were formed in 1751 at Keiss, Caithness, and in 1768 at Edinburgh. The church grew rapidly after the Haldane brothers were converted from Congregational to Baptist views in 1807. The Scotch Baptist Association was formed in 1835, and in 1842 the name was changed to the Baptist Union of Scotland. There were ninety congregations throughout Scotland at that time, most of which eventually joined the union.

Between 1698 and 1792, Scottish Episcopalians suffered greatly due to the Penal Acts. The last of the Acts were not abolished until 1829. Lochhead (see below) states: “In 1689 [the church] held two-thirds of the people of Scotland with six hundred clergy; [in 1792] it had four Bishops, forty priests, and only a twentieth [5%] of the people.” By 1851 that last figure had dropped to 3%. One hundred years later it stood at 2%.

In 1560, Roman Catholicism was abolished in Scotland by Act of Parliament. However, it survived in the Highlands and islands and in some areas in the South. Throughout the 17th century there were periods of great persecution and many priests fled abroad. After the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, all Catholics were declared rebels and outlaws and many were killed or banished. Some fled to Canada. The Catholic Relief Act was finally passed in 1793, and the last of the Penal laws were abolished in 1829. The 19th century saw extensive immigration of Irish Catholics into Scotland. Few pre-1793 records survive.

Methodism began in Scotland in 1751 when John Wesley visited Musselburgh. Four circuits were formed by 1765. By 1790 there were eight chapels, several preaching rooms, sixteen ordained preachers, and a membership of 1179.  The church’s peak year was 1819 when membership stood at 3786, but there were only twenty-five preachers and some small societies suffered and died from lack of attendance. By 1856, official membership had dropped to 2143, though the number of persons attending meetings may have been considerably higher. At that time the circuits were deeply in debt and the work in Scotland was almost abandoned.

Accessing the Records[edit | edit source]

To access the Union List through the Wiki, go to the list of counties, choose a county of interest, then choose a parish of interest -- OR, in the search field above, type in the name of a parish of interest and do a search for its page. 

Records of some of the nonconformist churches listed in the Union List are available on microfilm at the Family History Library, and they are noted in the parish Wiki articles. Most are available at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh or at county archives. Some are available at church archives or are still in the hands of the ministers of individual churches.

Sources Used to Determine Availability of Records[edit | edit source]

Sources used to determine the availability of records include:

  • The repertories of the holdings of the Scottish Record Office [National Archives of Scotland] in Edinburgh  (Family History Library books 941 K23sc, CH2-15 and Rh21), and the National Archives' online catalogue.
  • Steele, D. J.  Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History, pub. 1970. (Family History Library book Ref.942 D27ste, vol. 12.)
  • Gandy, Michael.  Catholic Missions and Registers, 1700-1880: Scotland, pub. c.1993. (Family History Library book Ref. 942 K24gm, vol. 6),
  • FamilySearch Catalog.

For availability of records not mentioned in these sources, addresses have been supplied for either the headquarters of the various denominations or, in some cases, for the churches themselves.

Sources for Parish Histories [edit | edit source]

Histories of the individual parishes of the Established Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) have been drawn from sources in the Family History Library. Chief among these are the series known as:

  • The Statistical Account of Scotland (compiled in the 1790s),
  • The New Statistical Account of Scotland (compiled in the 1830-40s)

The sources for the information in the series were the Established Church ministers. (Family History Library book 941 B4sa). These are also available online through the University of Edinburgh. Click on 'Browse scanned pages' on their page. 

Sources for Nonconformist Histories[edit | edit source]

A very good general source for the history of the nonconformist churches in Scotland is:

  • Steele, D. J.  Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History, pub. 1970.  (FHL book 942 D27ste, vol 12.)

Histories for Presbyterian Nonconformist Churches[edit | edit source]

In addition, sources for histories of the individual Presbyterian groups and their congregations include the following:

Seceding Presbyterian Churches (Associate, Relief, and United) -

  • MacKelvie, Rev. William.  Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church, pub. 1873.  (FHL film #0477618.  Also available on Google books.)

Free Presbyterian Churches -

  • Ewing, Rev. William, ed.  Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, pub. 1914.  (FHL film #0918572.)

Reformed Presbyterian Churches -

  • Couper, W. J.  The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland: its congregations, ministers, and students, pub. 1925.  (Family History Library book 941 K2c.)  Also known early as the Cameronians, the majority of the congregations united with the Free Church in 1876.

Histories for Other Nonconformist Churches—[edit | edit source]

Information is also provided in this list for other nonconformist churches.  Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, published in 1846 and reprinted in 1989 (Family History Library book 941 E5), has been used as the source to determine where nonconformist churches were located.  These include Congregational, Evangelical Union, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, and Methodist.

Except in the case of the first three groups, histories have not been found for the individual congregations.

Congregational and Evangelical Union Churches:

1. Escott, Harry.  A History of Scottish Congregationalism, pub. 1960; part seven – A Chronicle of the Churches with List of Ministers.  (FHL book 941 K2es)

2.  McNaughton, Rev. Dr. William D.  The Scottish Congregational Ministry, 1794-1993, pub. 1993.  (FHL book 941 K2mwd)

Baptist Churches:

1.  Yuille,  Rev. George, ed.  History of the Baptists in Scotland: from pre-reformation times, pub. 1926;  Chapter VII,‘Chronicle of the Churches’ and Appendix 1, ‘Churches and Their Ministers.’  (FHL book 941 K2hi)

2.  Bebbington, D. W., ed.  The Baptists in Scotland: a history, pub. 1988.  (FHL book 941 K2bs)

Scottish Episcopalian Churches:

1.  Lawson, John Parker.  The Episcopal Church of Scotland from the Revolution to the Present Time, pub. 1843.  (FHL fiche 1068246.)  The appendix contains brief histories of the churches.  This book is also available online at Google books.

2.    A general history is:  Lochhead, Marion.  Episcopal Scotland in the Nineteenth Century, pub. 1966.  Includes background history also.  (FHL book 941 K2L)

A list of early registers is found in:

  • Steele, D. J. Sources for Scottish Genealogy and Family History.  (FL book 942 D27ste, vol. 12, pp. 244-248.)

Roman Catholic Churches:

The following source gives very brief notes on the existence of parishes and parish registers.

  • Gandy, Michael.  Catholic Missions and Registers, 1700-1880: volume 6, pub. 1993.  (FHL book 942 K24gm, vol. 6.)

Methodist Churches:

  • Swift, Wesley F.  Methodism in Scotland: the first hundred years, pub.1947.  Includes lists of chapels both surviving and those which did not survive past 1844.  This includes a brief history of the first societies and chapels in Chapter IV.  (FHL book 941 K2sw)