Steps For Tracing Scottish Ancestry Outside of The Church of Scotland

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

For many researchers of Scottish ancestry prior to 1855, the Church of Scotland parochial registers do not provide answers for constructing their genealogical lineage. Their parochial registers hardly covered one-half of the Scottish population. Many people chose to attend churches outside of the Church of Scotland, so their names might not show up in searches on ScotlandsPeople! ScotlandsPeople has a significant yet partial proportion of records from these non-conformist and non-subscribing denominational churches, though some non-conformists married in the Church of Scotland (especially 1754-1837) or were buried in the Established Church. By 1851, just over half of all Scotsmen chose to affiliate with, marry in, and took their children to be baptized in a non-Church of Scotland religion. After 1853, many were buried in public town cemeteries or in churchyards (where extant) of the non-subscribing local church.

Listed below are some alternative research steps and record sources used to find non-Church of Scotland ancestors in other church registers and sources. These important steps and records may help counter the problems associated with their names missing in and the problems of under-registration in the parochial registers of the Church of Scotland.

What Records Exist[edit | edit source]

Researching non-conformist Scottish ancestors before 1855 largely depends on church records. Occasionally these records date back to late 17th century for non-Catholics, but were not always kept as far back or to the same extent as in the records of the Church of Scotland. Catholic records may go back to about 1708 but the vast majority date back only to the 1790s or merely to the 1820s when sanctions against Catholics were lifted following the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829.

Typically births and marriages were kept but only rarely were burials recorded. For more information about what details they usually recorded see Scotland Church Records. In addition other records exist for Catholics, such as confirmations, confessions, seat rents and lists of parishioners; the Episcopal Church held other church registers such as church warden and vestry accounts, and a number of parish record account books for the administration of the poor among them.

It should be emphasized that records of Kirk Session (the elders of a parochial council), may provide baptisms, marriages and occasionally burials of non-parochial Scottish ancestors which often may duplicate those similar entries found in some of the Nonconformist and non-subscribing church registers. Additionally, and with at times considerable frequency, it is not unusual to find duplicate baptismal entries in both the non-parochial as well as in the Church of Scotland church registers.

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

29 Resources For Finding Non-Subscribing Scots Online[edit | edit source]

Most surviving Catholic records are now indexed on ScotlandsPeople. See here for a list of parishes. These records are also on FindMyPast ($).

Some other non-subscribing church members can be found on ScotlandsPeople's website. To see a list of which parishes are included in the index, click here. Other steps to take and/or sites to search for online non-subscribing church register indexed entries for Scotland include the following ones:

  1. Scotland Church Records and Kirk Session Records, 1658-1919 - contains 302,864 entries of some baptism and marriage records
  2. FamilySearch Catalog has many images of Scottish church records and recently digitized the kirk session records. Visit the nearest Family History Center because access restrictions apply.
  3. Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 - contains less than 5% of extant Scotland non-parochial church registers overall
  4. Scotland Marriages, 1561-1910 - this online database contains some marriage records for churches other than the Church of Scotland
  5. Scotland, Extracted Parish Records, 1571-1997 ($) - has 247k nonconformist church record entries
  6. Scotland, Non-OPR Births and Baptisms Index, 1666-1874 ($)
  7. Scotland, Non-OPR Banns and Marriages Index, 1656-1875 ($)
  8. Scotland, Non-OPR Deaths and Burials Index, 1673-1855 ($)
  9. Scotland Non-Old Parish Registers Vital Records 1647-1875 ($)
  10. Scotland Presbyterian & Protestant Church Records, 1736-1990 - 109,064 entries
  11. Scottish Indexes - non-subscribing Presbyterian church records (indexes) for 7 counties
  12. Scotland's Family - some transcribed Nonconformist (esp. Methodist) and some non-subscribing (Presbyterian) church baptism records - 5 counties; marriages - a few records from 7 counties
  13. Gretna Green, Scotland, Marriage Registers, 1794-1895 ($) - records of clandestine marriage registers at Gretna Green, Renfrewshire. For further guidance on conducting a thorough search in these, see the Irregular Border Marriage Registers Research Guide on the National Records of Scotland's website.
  14. Search online images for your ancestors in the target parish. If not found, expand search to surrounding parishes
  15. Neglected Entries - civil registration records for approximately 130 parishes in Scotland. The records are located on the FamilySearch Catalog on microfilm #103538 and have been digitized. They are also available on ScotlandsPeople. For further guidance, see the Register of Neglected Entries on the National Records of Scotland's website
  16. Search for marriage registers in the target parish and surrounding parishes.
  17. Old Scottish - an excellent website has downloadable baptism registers for 52 non-subscribing Presbyterian church congregations (1835-1855) & 94 Presbyterian Communion registers (non-Church of Scotland) from congregations throughout Scotland available for PDF download (all for £3 each). These come from Free Church, Associate, Reformed, Antiburgher, etc. Presbyterian chapels/congregations!
  18. Search for marriage registers of the Church of Scotland in a large city. Many couples preferred to get married in the larger or more fashionable churches rather than in their own local church.
  19. Search for church burial registers (where extant). See: #Burial and death registers of other protestant churches
  20. Search FamilySearch.org's Family Tree has early to ~1920 Scottish ancestor converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thousands can now be found online. See the online catalog for original branch (church) records, which may contain baptisms, membership records showing parentage, deaths and marriages, and where migrated.
  21. Scottish Deaths 1747-1868 ($)
  22. Deceasedonline.com
  23. The local Church of Scotland parish churchyard/registers (if extant)
  24. Search for monumental inscriptions (MI’s) where they exist (i.e. the Mitchell Collections); search the FamilySearch.org/catalog for other more local (parish) collections; see parish name "Cemeteries"
  25. Search for civil registration records of deaths and marriages
  26. Search the Scotland Record Society publications - vols 1-50 (free) online at Electric Scotland;
  27. Search Sasines (a type of land record). These records sometimes include marriage contracts
  28. Search Register of Deeds. These records sometimes include marriage contracts after the husband’s death
  29. Google to find online transcriptions of some church registers; search terms could include i.e., "Presbyterian" "baptisms" (or "marriages" or "cemetery", etc), i.e. "Glasgow" or your target [place-) name.

Offline[edit | edit source]

  1. Search in records held at Local/Regional archives, such as Dundee City Archives or Strathclyde Regional Archives, etc. Check their online catalog(s) to see what holdings they possess for all nonconformist and non-subscribing Presbyterian church registers in their archives. (Hint: You can Google to find a list of all Scottish Regional or local archives with links to addresses; or, search their online catalogs and use their email addresses to contact them)
  2. For Church registers not in above archives: write to the local congregation (must Google to find the chapel and look for a "Contact Us" link or find a church email address); willingly make a generous donation when you request a “look-up” in their church records and/or kirk session records (where extant); or, when a local congregation clerk won’t answer your query, then contact the nearest local archive for names of hire-able record agents to perform the search for you at the local church/chapel.

Research Guides[edit | edit source]

Here are research guides to the church records available at the National Records of Scotland and regional archives: