Scotland Church Records

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Church records are an excellent source for accurate information on names, dates, and places of birth, marriage, and death. Most people in Scotland before the mid-nineteenth century are listed in church records. Since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until 1855, church records are the best source of family information before that date.

Understanding Church Organization

The Presbyterian Church (Church of Scotland) has been the 'established' or state church of Scotland since 1690. The organization of the Church of Scotland is as follows:

  • The General Assembly is the highest governing body.
  • The Synod governs several presbyteries.
  • The Presbytery governs several parishes.
  • The parish is the lowest governing body.

Each local parish (pairish, parochin) keeps records. The two major record types are parochial or parish registers and kirk session records(see details below under Searching).

It may be necessary to know the parish where your ancestor was born, married, or died so you can search parish registers. If you do not know the parish but know the name of a village or town, you may use a gazetteer to locate the parish. For more information, read the article Scotland Gazetteers. The gazetteers provide:

  • Maps show parish boundaries to help determine which parish records to search
  • Identify neighboring parishes


Any church that is not the established or state church is referred to as nonconformist. There were two categories of nonconformist churches in Scotland:

  • Seceders -- Those who seceded from the established church but were still Presbyterian in form.
  • Dissenters -- Those who were not Presbyterian in form, such as Baptist, Methodist, or Catholic.

Nonconformists had their own congregations and kept their own records. They could go to church whereever they wished and were not confined to parish boundaries. However, before 1834, nonconformist ministers were not authorized to perform marriages. After 1834 they could perform marriages if the banns had first been read in the parish church. Total authority was granted in 1855.

For more background information on churches in Scotland, including a historical time-line, read the article Scotland Church History.

Identifying Churches

The following books contain maps that show parish boundaries:

  • 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-]. (FHL Map Case 941 E7c pt. 4)
  • The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, 2nd ed. Chichester, England: Phillimore & Co. Ltd, 1995. (FHL Book 941 E7pa)
  • Parish Maps of Scotland. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991. (FHL Book 941 E7ch; Fiche 6036350)
  • Phillips’ Handy Atlas of the Counties of Scotland 1881. London, England: G. Phillip, 1881. (FHL Book 941 E7p; Film 423175)

Parish outline maps are also available online at

1851 Census of Places of Worship

Popularly called the 1851 Religious Census, this is a resource for identifying what churches existed where in 1851. Read more...

The Union List of Church Records

The staff of the Family History Library has compiled a resource called the Scotland Church Records Union List which strives to identify all pre-1855 churches in Scotland and whether they have surviving records. It also contains brief parish and congregation histories. This information, arranged by county then parish, is available through the Wiki by searching for a county or parish of interest.


The term Old Parochial Registers refers to parish registers kept by the Presbyterian Church (Church of Scotland) from the time the church began keeping registers up to the year 1855. The amount of information in registers varies from parish to parish. Later records generally give more complete information than earlier ones. Some early parish registers may be in Latin. Scotland has its own version of English, so you may need to use a dictionary to understand some words. Read more in Scotland Language and Languages.

Most parish registers begin after 1650. Some kirk session (parish court) records begin earlier than the parish registers. Kirk session records may have some christening, marriage, and burial records in them.

Before searching parish registers, the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and ScotlandsPeople should be search. These serve as indexes to the records.

Christenings (Baptisms)

Children were usually christened (baptized) within a few days or weeks of birth. Christening records give at least the infant’s name and the christening date. You may find:

  • Father’s name and occupation
  • Mother’s first name and often her maiden name
  • Child’s birth data and legitimacy
  • Family’s place of residence or street address
  • Witnesses

Church officials recorded christenings in the parish registers. Therefore, it is necessary to know what church the person belonged to and in what parish the church was located.

Records of civil parishes and a listing of counties of Scotland, including the overall dates of old parochial records, are held in Edinburgh.


Marriages usually took place in Scotland in the parish where the bride resided. Marriage records usually give:

  • Marriage date
  • Name of Bride
  • Name of Groom

The records may include:

  • Marital status (i.e., single, widow, or widower)
  • Parish of residence of both parties
  • Groom’s occupation
  • Bride’s father’s name

Church officials recorded marriages in the parish registers. Therefore, it is necessary to know what church the person belonged to and in what parish the church was located.

Records of civil parishes and a listing of counties of Scotland, including the overall dates of old parochial records, are held in Edinburgh.

Additional Information:

Some records show a couple’s “intent to marry,” also called the proclamation of banns. Usually the intent to marry was proclaimed in the parishes of both the bride and groom. The marriage was usually recorded only in the parish in which the marriage actually took place.

Caution: The proclaiming of banns is not proof that the couple married.

Another acceptable practice acknowledged in early Scotland was that of the Handfast.


Few burial records were kept before 1855. It is important to know that many women, when their husbands died, reverted to their maiden names and were buried under that name. Burial records usually give:

  • The deceased’s name
  • Burial date

The burial records may provide:

  • Age at the time of death
  • The name of the spouse
  • The names of the parents
  • Witnesses

Additional Information:

Instead of actual burials, the parish registers often list people who paid mortcloth dues. The mortcloth was a cloth used to cover the body during the burial ceremony. These lists do not mention everyone who was buried. They mention the rich who donated the cloths to the church and the very poor who could not pay to use the mortcloth.

If you cannot find burial records, try to find tombstone inscriptions. Read about tombstone inscriptions in the Scotland Cemeteries article.

Note: Quoad sacra parishes are those set up for ecclesiastical purposes to take care of those people who could not conveniently attend the parish church. To find records of people living in quoad sacra parishes, you must search the surrounding parishes.

Accessing Records

The Church of Scotland sent all of its known registers up to the year 1855 to the General Register Office (GRO) in Edinburgh For more information, go online to the GRO website and click on the link for Family Records. The registers have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and are available at the Family History Library, or can be ordered through Family History Centers worldwide.

Click here for a list of Scotland's counties, with links to parishes and their records including Family History Library microfilm numbers. To find numbers in the Family History Library Catalog, and click Place Search. Type the name of a parish and county of interest and click Search. From the list of topics, click Church records. Finally click the title of the parish register.

The Parish List for Scotland shows all of the parishes in alphabetical order, giving the parish number, county in which it is situated, and the date when the Old Parochical Records (Presbyterian Church records) began. 

Additional Information:

Scottish parish registers were microfilmed twice. In the first filming, some information in the margins of the registers is not readable on the film. The second filming corrected this problem. The second filming also has frame numbers to help you find an entry that was extracted. For more information, read the section below for Indexes.


Before searching the original records, search an index.

After the registers were microfilmed, the baptism and marriage information was extracted from the records. The information is available in two places:

International Genealogical Index (IGI)

This database is available online and can be searched by name. The IGI was produced by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


The baptisms and marriages indexes and images are on a Scottish government website known as ScotlandsPeople. Read more about ScotlandsPeople

Additional Information

Birth and marriage records in the old parochial records of the Church of Scotland were produced on microfiche before the data was added to the IGI. For more information about the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland, read Old Parochial Registers Index for Scotland.

Records of civil parishes are held in Edinburgh:

Registrar General

Search Unit

New Register House

Edinburgh EH1 3YT



Additional Web Sites

National Archives of Scotland:

Part of the National Archives of Scotland:

Access to British archives/catalog/documents:

[Go to the Scotland Research Strategies page.]