Sunday, 19 August 2012

Church Record Sunday: Scottish Church Records

One of the most important considerations when research a Scottish ancestor is the religious denomination they belonged to. Scotland was traditionally a Catholic country until the Reformation in the 16th century, at which point a split in the Christian church occurred. From this time onwards the Protestant Church of Scotland has been the majority faith, although Catholics have remained a sizeable minority due to immigration from Ireland and Italy in particular. It is also important to be aware of other religious minorities in Scotland, such as Jews and Quakers.

In general, however, most of the historical records that are available relate to the Church of Scotland Kirk Sessions, with separate records for Catholic ancestors. Records have been kept officially by the General Register Office since 1855. Before this some records exist dating back to the 16th century, although some parts of the country are better served than others. In addition, some Old Parochial Registers provide greater amounts of information than others. 

The handwriting of original documents is often very difficult to decipher. Great care has to be taken when viewing transcriptions, as they are not always accurate.

Scottish church records can provide a large amount of useful information relating to birth, marriages, and deaths. They can also provide a fascinating insight into the ways of the past, particularly in terms of the Kirk Sessions. The Church previously had a much greater control over the lives of parishioners. There are many instances of people being summoned before the Kirk Session to explain undesirable behaviour, and to be punished for it. My own research uncovered one of my ancestors in the north of Scotland being born out of wedlock, for example.

Regardless of the religious denomination of your Scottish ancestors, you will no doubt be intrigued researching their lives.

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