Scottish Parochial Registers: Memoranda Of the state of the Parochial Registers of Scotland
Whereby it is clearly shown the imperative necessity for a National System of Regular Registration
By William B. Turnbull, Esq. Published: Edinburgh, Thomas George Stevenson, 1849
Introductory Remarks by William Turnbull: Most parishes have also records of births or baptisms, marriages, and deaths. From these, and these only, this work could derive the elements of its important section of vital statistics; but how far were they fitted to serve that purpose? It is certain that they nowhere form a complete register of these occurrences, and that for the most part, they are very defective. Baptisms appear to have been entered in the parish register, regularly till the year 1783, when the imposition of a small tax first broke the custom of registration; and, when that tax was removed, dissenting bodies were unwilling to resume the practice. The proportion of registered baptisms to births, for instance, is at the present time not more than one-fourth in Edinburgh, and on-third in Glasgow, The marriage register is also unavailable to statistical purposes, by reason of the practice of double enrolment -- in the parish of each party. In many parishes, no record of burials exist; in others, those of paupers are omitted, In short, there is scarcely a country in Europe that does not, by proper arrangements, furnish better information on these important points, and no industry of individuals can remedy that defect. It is, therefore among the postulates of such a work like this, for Scotland, that its vital statistics should be imperfect.
Yet, after all, admitting - as one is bound to do - the inevitable difficulties that hedge round a publication so planned, it is annoying to find that no fewer than 130 parishes appear in the Statistical Account, to which no return on the head of Parochial Records has been made by the imcumbents. In order, as nearly as possible, to compensate for these blanks, I addressed a card of enquiry to the clergyman of each parish, where the omission occurs - with the exception of the three or four at ultima Thule of Orkney and Zetland. The information received, in consequence of this application, I have duly inserted; and I here beg to return my thank to the reverend gentlemen who have so kindly responded to my queries. It may be, that the strict attention paid to their duties has placed it beyond the power of the majority to accede to my request. I am also, in several instances, under similar obligations to the session-clerks.
And now, when on the head of Parochial Records, the palpable inconsistencies of " the New Statistical Account of Scotland, by the Ministers of the respective parishes, under the superintendence of a committee of the Society for the Benefit of the Sons and daughters of the Clergy,"are freely admitted, not only by the Committee itself and its worthy publishers, but attributed by them to " the want of a system of accurate registration throughout the country." -- when this "crying evil" is--as will be perceived in the text-- repeatedly most strondgly insisted upon by the very clergymen who drew up the reports, and who saw no other remedy for the disagreeable consequences arising from the defects of the registeres, but "the necessary interference of the Act of Parliament:" -- How, let me ask, can any synod, or presbytery, or kirk-sesion question the propriety, or reasonably demur to a measure so righteous in itself, and so essential to the welfare of the community?
Notes: Every county in Scotland is recorded in this work. It refers only to Church of Scotland Parish Registers. I have extracted the county of Kirkcudbright. (pages 97 to 101) The information about the parochial registers is taken from the New Statistical Account. (1840's) When 'no return' is recorded after a parish it means that no mention of the condition of the registers was made by the Minister of the parish when the Account was created or written by the Minister.
William Turnbull wrote the minister of every parish that did not report on the condition of their register. The clergyman for the parishes of Borgue, Carsphairn, and Kirkpatrick Durham responded.
"The parochial registers have not been regularly kept, and are not voluminous. The earliest entry was made in 1747."
"In regard to the parochial registers, it may be mentioned that, prior to 1804, but little attention appears to have been bestowed on this particular. Since that date, a register of marriages, births, and baptisms has been regularly kept."
"No return. - The assistant clergyman informs me that: "the records of births commence in 1742; of marriages, 1741; of deaths, in 1764; and have been kept regularly, with a few omissions."
"The registers consist of minutes of the kirk-session, and of the records of marriages and baptisms. They commenced in 1736, and were regularly kept till 1780. From 1780 to 1807, the date of the baptisms is somewhat defective. From 1736 to 1807, the date of baptisms is always entered, that of the birth only occasionally. Since 1807, the date of both the birth and baptism is recorded. -- The register of baptisms is not so complete as it ought to been, owing to dissenters not choosing to enter the births of their children in the parish register, The entries are chiefly made by parents belonging to the Established Church."
No return. - The clergyman writes: -- "I sorry to say that our system of registration has been, and still is, very defective. There has been a register of births since 1758, but it is very imperfect, and there are no registers of marriages or deaths. On coming to the parish in 1833, I was disappointed in finding such a deficiency in the records; but I have not been able to make any improvements."
Colvend and Southwick
"The earliest date of the parochial registers is 1716. They have not been regularly kept."
"The parochial registers are imperfect. The first entry is in 1693. The register of baptisms does not appear to have been kept with any regularity previous to 1750. No register of deaths has been kept."
"It is to be hoped that there are few parishes in Scotland, the registers of which have been so carelessly kept as those of Kelton. The session records extend no farther back than the year 1715. For the next eleven years from that date, the proceedings of the session are regularly minuted, and the register of births is also complete; but from 1726 down to 1762, neither record no register can be found. For the next twenty-two years they have been regularly kept; but from 1794 down to 1839, no regular records appear to have been kept, and the register of births has been quite neglected. The transactions of the session are now regularly minuted; but so inveterate has become the habit of neglecting the register, that not one parent in ten can be persuaded to record the births of his children"
"The parish register do not extend farther back then 1714, and, till 1824, have been very irregularly kept"
"A parochial register is regularly kept by the kirk-session. The oldest record commences in 1692."
"The parochial register was begun in 1705, and has been very irregularly kept. Meetings of session, births, marriages, and collections are all jumbled together. The first volume of the record comes down to 1770; and from that period to 1800 the record has been lost or mislaid. It has been regularly kept since that time."
"There are three volumes of parish registers. The first volume embraces the time that elapsed between 1703 to 1739, they have been kept with great regularity; from 1740 to 1756, no entry whatever; 1756 to 1792, kept imperfectly. Some of the intermediate years have no entry, others only one; but towards the middle, and onwards to about the end of the above period, they were kept with great regularity. These records are almost solely confined to sessional matters. The second volume of the parish register commenced with May 1823, and carried on with great regularity till May 1834, though in one instance it is rather mutilated. The third volume begins June 1834, and is carried on to the present date with great regularity."
No return. - The clergyman writes to me: "It can scarcely be said that there has been a register of any thing kept in the parish. The only thing of the kind that I have seen since I have come to the parish, in the end of the year 1843, is a sort of register which begins with baptisms only, the first entry in which is 15th May 1769; afterwards both births and baptisms are entered, but it has been so long imperfectly kept, that I do not think it could be received as evidence in any court. The few entries that it contains have been made without any discoverable rule or order. You will find one entry perhaps in the year 1823, and the very next and subsequent to it will be the year 1810. Whole families are often entered at once, and upon the same page, and thus the only way to discovering whether any particular person's birth or baptism has been entered, is to begin at the beginning and read the whole book. Since it came into my hands, I have endeavoured to keep it a little better, but as I have always been expecting the proposed Registration Bill to pass into law, I have not got a new book, and even now it is not kept as it ought to be. Although I charge nothing for registering, unless I ascertain a child's birth when I baptize it, the parents never think it worth their while to give me a note of it, and with one or two exceptions none of the dissenters have asked me to enter any of their children."
"The parochial registers are pretty voluminous. The date of the earliest entry is 1691. From 1694 to 1756, they were very accurately kept."
"The parochial registers date one hundred and thirty six years back. They are not voluminous, but have been pretty regularly kept."
"The earliest existing register of births commences in 1694, there occurs a blank from July 1696 to December 1699, and again from October 1709 to June 1718, from which period it has been kept to the present time, though a great portion of its contensts have been very meagerly recorded. The register of marriages also commences in 1694; a blank occurs from 1696 to 1699, and from 1709 to 1736; from the latter date to 1771 it has been kept with more or less regularity. From 1771 there is a blank of thirty eight years; from 1809 to 1821 it has been very irregularly kept. After an interval of seventeen years, the registration of marriages was resumed in 1839, and there is every probability of the register being now faithfully kept. There is no record of deaths. The record of the transactions of the kirk session commences 1694; the previous records appear to have been destroyed during the incumbency of Mr. William Maxwell, the Episcopal curate. A blank similar to those in the other registers occurs after 1696. From 1696 to 1710 they have been faithfully kept. There is a blank from 1710 to 1718, from which date to 1740, the transactions have been regularly recorded. From 1740 to 1795, there does not exist any record; from the latter period, with the exception of six years after 1803, they have been regularly kept to the present time."
"The parochial registers of baptisms, marriages, and church discipline commenced in May 1691, and have been kept with considerably regularity. The register of burials has been less attended to, but not altogether neglected."
"A register of births and baptisms, commencing in the year 1714, has been kept in this parish, but not with much regularity, until the year 1744, when a complete register of marriages, births, and deaths commences, and extends to the year 1783; and from that to the present time, a register of births and baptisms only appear to have been regularly kept."
"The register of births and marriages commences 22d December 1736, and the minutes of the kirk session of the parish 18 December 1751. The former has been very correctly kept since 1806, but very irregularly previous to that period."
Southwick and Colvend
"The registers of the parish go no further back than the year 1714, and generally speaking, have been very imperfectly kept."
"The register of baptisms extends as far back as 1693. For fifty years afterwards, they appear to have been kept with great care, and are in tolerable preservation; but of marriages no entry is made till 1712, between which year and 1753 there appears to be a considerable regularity in the record. There is then a blank till 1807, from which year till 1826 both marriages and baptisms are regularly recorded. For the next six years, there is again a blank in the marriage register; but from 1832 both that and the baptismal one continue to be duly kept. There is no register of deaths."
"The register of proclamations begin April 1713; that of baptisms, 14th June 1734. The parish records begin about the same time. All of them are, for a long period, extremely meager and scanty."
"The parochial records and registers have been by no means regularly kept, and part of them were consumed by fire. The oldest volume in existence contains the records of the kirk session, mixed up with a register of births and marriages, from 1693 till 27th October 1703. In this volume of records, there are many entries that are interesting and valuable, as showing the state of the people at that time. From 27th October 1703 till 14th June 1730, there is a blank in the records. From this last date, there are occasional entries till May 21st, 1741. There is then another blank, with the exception of a few loose leaves that appear to have been the scrolls of the session clerk, till 4th April 1762, and the entries are continued at intervals till 29th April 1804. The register of births and marriages commences in 1763, but does not appear to have been regularly kept. For four years back, the session records and the register of births, deaths and marriages, have been regularly and correctly kept."
"The ancient parochial registers, and the session records of Urr, are in a very imperfect, mutilated, and almost illegible condition. All the volumes, to the year 1813 are more or less in this condition. There is one volume from the year 1640 to 1660, another from 1701 to about 1712, another from 1736 to about 1769, and another from 1770 to 1813. From 1813 downwards, the session records have been kept with great accuracy."
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