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, church records 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); 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:
- Lists of neighboring parishes can be found at:
- Parish outline maps are also available online at:
- Atlas and index to parish registers can be found at:
- 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)
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
- All Church of Scotland OPRs can be accessed on the ScotlandsPeople's website. 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 at FHCs and Affiliate Libraries through the FamilySearch Catalog.
- Microfilm and microfiche indexes are also available. See the article Scotland Old Parochial Registers (OPR) to learn more. Some records are also available in various collections on FamilySearch. To learn more:
- FreeReg.org is a site that transcribes records from across the UK. A few Scotland Church Records are included. No images are available.
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.
- Scotland Church Records and Kirk Session Records, 1658-1919
- Oldscottish.com has some non-parochial (Seceder church) register transcriptions, kirk sessions, and more ($)
- ScottishIndexes has some court and church register transcriptions for non-OPR (Old Parochial Registers)
- Kirk Sessions can also be obtained in person at regional archives throughout Scotland.
Non-Church of Scotland
- ScotlandsPeople has indexed most of the Roman Catholic parish registers throughout the country. These collections can be accessed on their Advanced Search page. See this page for more information: Catholic Parish Registers A slight majority of other non-Church of Scotland denominational registers are available for searching in person or by record agent at the National Records of Scotland. A list of what is available is here.
- Other nonconformist databases include:
- Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms ($)
- Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Marriages ($)
- Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Burials ($)
- Scotland Non-Old Parish Registers Vital Records 1647-1875 ($)
- Scotland, Extracted Parish Records, 1571-1997 ($)
- Gretna Green, Scotland, Marriage Registers, 1794-1895 ($)
- Scottish Deaths, 1747-1868 ($)
- See "Research Guidance" below for important steps to take, to trace non-Church of Scotland ancestry.
FamilySearch Wiki Help for Non-Church of Scotland Church Records Research
Online Tutorials on 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