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
The book is available from the Internet Archive.
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 Wigtown. (pages 155 to 157) 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 to the minister of every parish that did not report on the condition of their register.]
"No register of deaths has been kept in the parish"
"No parochial register has been preserved here of an earlier date then 1775. In that year a register of births and baptisms, but with many omissions, commenced; a register of proclamations commenced in 1791, and soon after, a record of the ordinary business of the kirk-session; a register of burials commenced in 1706. Since the beginning of the year 1822, the births and proclamations, except in the case of dissenters, have been pretty regularly recorded. Burials are entered as given in by the kirk-officer to the session-clerk; and this register, as kept at present, appears to be nearly correct."
"The earliest birth recorded in the parochial register is August 27, 1694. At times the register seems to have been very ill kept, as in some years there are very few names inserted. The marriage earliest recorded is November 2, 1694. This record continues to July 13, 1742; but there seems to have been none kept from that date till the year 1779. There is no register of deaths kept in the parish."
"The earliest of the session records commences in 1699. From 1716 to the present time, the session records, and the register of births, deaths and marriages, are continuous. They are, in some instances, written by the minister, but generally by the session clerk."
"The session books were destroyed by fire about fifty years ago. Hence the comparatively recent date of the commencement of those now exist. Births, marriages, and a list of communicants are regularly kept."
"A session record has been kept in this parish since the year 1731, containing a registration of births, marriages, &c., from that time till the present."
"The oldest parish register is dated 1695. Until about twenty five years ago they were not regularly kept."
"In the register of this parish, births, marriages, and matters of church discipline are recorded; but until 1822, there were no parochial registers regularly kept."
Vide Luce, (New)
Vide Luce, (Old)
"Parochial registers of births, baptisms, and proclamations for marriages, with the exception of a short period in last century, have been kept with considerable regularity. The oldest entry is 17th October 1696. There is no record of deaths."
"The only parochial registers are those kept by the session-clerk, in which, however, there are several minutes of the meetings of heritors and kirk-session. Besides the volume now in use, the records of the kirk-session consist of four volumes; the first, extending from 7th May 1727 to 23d November 1766, has been regularly kept: 341 small quarto pages are devoted to the minutes of kirk-session, and 88 to the registry of marriages and births. The second volume (a folio) consists of 270 pages, of which 56 are occupied with minutes of kirk-session, extending from 31st October 1773 to 20th November 1791. The remainder of the volume is occupied with the registration of marriages, births, and few burials. The third volume (a folio) has 52 pages near the middle devoted to minutes of kirk-session, from 29th October 1797 to 10th May 1818. The remainder of it is occupied with registry of marriages, births, and the sale of burying ground in the churchyard. The fourth volume (a folio) has 29 pages onward in the volume devoted to minutes of kirk-session, and of heritors and kirk-session, from 8th November 1818 to 28th April 1833. The remaining pages are devoted to the registry of marriages and births, and are at present in use only for this purpose. No record of deaths."
"The parochial registers are not voluminous. The date of their earliest entry is 1700. They were properly attended to some time at first, but afterwards not so carefully attended, Of late, however, they have been regularly kept."
"There is a register of baptisms and marriages kept, which contains also the accounts of disbursements and the minutes of the session. There is no register of deaths; and the births are by no means regularly entered."
"A register of births and baptisms, but none of deaths kept in the parish."
"The earliest parochial register, containing births, baptisms, marriages, poor-roll, and funds, goes no farther back than 1796. The register of births and baptisms has been very irregularly kept, owing to the negligence of parents."
"The earliest bears date 1701, and is brought down to 1740. After this period, it has been irregularly kept and much neglected until 1800."