Scotland Church Records
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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, they are a major source for genealogical research in Scotland before 1855.
Understanding the Records
Church of Scotland
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) and 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.
- Descriptions of parishes can be found at:
- Maps showing parish boundaries to help determine which parish records to search
- Lists of neighboring parishes can be found at Genuki.org.uk.
- Civil Parishes and Counties of North East Scotland Showing Overall Dates of Old Parochial Records: Held in Edinburgh and Available Worldwide on Microfilm [Scotland]: Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society[ 198-]. (Family History Library Map Case 941 E7c pt. 4)
- The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, 2nd ed. Chichester, England: Phillimore & Co. Ltd, 1995. (Family History Library Book 941 E7pa)
- Parish Maps of Scotland. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991. (Family History Library Book 941 E7ch; Fiche 6036350)
- Phillips’ Handy Atlas of the Counties of Scotland 1881. London, England: G. Phillip, 1881. (Family History Library Book 941 E7p; Film 423175)
- Parish outline maps are also available online at http://www.scotlandsfamily.com/parish-maps.htm.
Churches which are not part of the Church of Scotland are often referred to as nonconformist. 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 and kept their own records. They could go to church wherever they wished and were not confined to parish boundaries. 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 only in practice affected the mode of marriage as until then any declaration of marriage in front of witnesses was valid although many might have failed to be recorded.
The National Archives of Scotland maintains these types of records under the following references: CH4-CH16. A detailed description of the record types is available online at the University of Glasgow (Archive Services).
For more background information on churches in Scotland, including a historical time-line, read the article Scotland Church History.
- All Church of Scotland OPRs can be accessed on the website of ScotlandsPeople. There is no fee to search for names, but there is a fee of several pounds per original image. The original images can also be browsed for free through the FamilySearch Catalog. You must be at a Family History Center or Affliate Library.
- Microfilm and Microfiche indexes are also available. See the article Scotland Old Parochial Registers (OPR)records can be searched at the FamilySearch.org "Search" page, or in its Historical Records page where numerous database collections are located name entries have been included in the its databases. See:
- FreeReg is a site that transcribes records from across the UK. A few Scotland Church Records are included. No images are available.
- Hardly one half of Scotland's population aligned with or were members of the Church of Scotland. See below for guidance on discovering and tracing non-subscribing ancestors
Very few of the records are available online. ScotlandsPeople are in "the final stages" of making more of them available online.
- Scotland Kirk Sessions - at FamilySearch Historical Records Collections
- Oldscottish.com - some non-parochial (Seceder church) register transcriptions, kirk sessions, and more ($)
- ScottishIndexes: has some court, and church register transcriptions for non-OPR (Old Parochial Registers)
- The main way to access Kirk Sessions remains in person at regional archives throughout Scotland.
Non-Church of Scotland
- ScotlandsPeople has indexed most of the Roman Catholic parish registers throughout the country and these name entries can now be accessed at their main "search" page. A slight majority of other non-Church of Scotland denominational registers are available for searching in person or by record agent at the Scotlands People Archives, in Edinburgh. A list of what is available is here. Note that many records are not yet online.
- See "Research Guidance" below for important steps to take, to trace non-Church of Scotland ancestry.
- FamilySearch.org and its Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and some of it's satellite Family History Centers possess the OPR or Church of Scotland Records database (an old DOS-based index). Note: FamilySearch.org many years ago obtained on microfilm collection of about 5-10% non-conformist/non-subscribing church registers. These church registers were indexed along with the Church of Scotland parochial registers and the data is included in this DOS database.
- 1647-1875 - Scotland Non-Old Parish Registers Vital Records at findmypast.com - Index ($)
- Gretna Green, Scotland, Marriage Registers, 1794 - 1895 ($)
- Scottish Deaths, 1747 - 1868, index, ($).
- Some Catholic Registers are held at the National Archives of Scotland with the identifier of NAS REF: RH21.
FS Wiki Help for Non-Church of Scotland Church Records Research
Research Tutorials at FamilySearch:
- Scotland's Old Parish Registers: How to Access, Use, and Interpret - Parts 1 and 2
- Using Church of Scotland Parochial Registers to trace Scots Ancestry
- British Resources on FamilySearch.org - Parts 1 and 2
- British Resources on Ancestry - Parts 1 and 2
- Scotland's Lost Other Half: Tracing Difficult Ancestral Lines in Scotland's Non-Parochial Register