Scotland Church Records

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Church Records

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

United Presbyterian Church at Stonehouse, Scotland.jpg

Church of Scotland

See also: Scotland Established (Presbyterian) Church Records

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.

  • 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)

Nonconformists

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:

  • Seceders -- Those who seceded from the main church but were still Presbyterian in form.
  • Dissenters -- Those who were not Presbyterian in form, such as Episcopal, Methodist, 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

OPR

Kirk Sessions

Very few Kirk Sessions records are available online. ScotlandsPeople are in "the final stages" of making more of them available online. See this guide Church Court Records for more information.

Non-Church of Scotland

Research Guidance

FamilySearch Wiki Help for Non-Church of Scotland Church Records Research

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