by Sherry Irvine, CGRS, FSA (Scot)
The first part of this article appeared in Missing Links on April 23rd 1999. It provided an outline of Scottish church history and suggested researchers bear in mind that their ancestors might have belonged to a congregation outside the Church of Scotland.
Aware of this possibility, and unable to find one or more events in the registers of the Church of Scotland, it is time to consider how to discover if nonconformity is the problem, and how to address it.
Whether you have been following a family in the registers of one parish or making preliminary searches in the various indexes to the birth/baptism and marriages of the Church of Scotland, I shall assume for the purposes of this article that you have come to the end of references to your family. At this point, if you have not done any of the following already, take the time to do them now. These are presented from the perspective of someone who does not live in Scotland.
1. Understand what you have been working with: how complete is the register you have been reading? Are there gaps? If you are still at the stage of using indexes, what years for baptism and marriage have been included in the International Genealogical Index(tm) (IGI, fiche or CD-ROM), the Old Parochial Register (OPR) Index (on fiche) or Scottish Church Records (CD-ROM)? All of these are in the Family History Library(tm) (FHL) or in Family History Centers(tm). You can check for completeness of records and inclusion in the IGI in several ways: (a) for a specific parish, look at its entry in the Locality section of the Family History Library Catalog(tm) (FHLC); (b) check its listing in the Parish and Vital Records List (available on fiche in Family History Centers); (c) look up the parish in either the Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland (Bloxham & Metcalfe, 1977) or the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers (Humphery-Smith, 1995). The Parish and Vital Records List, the Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, and the FHLC give an indication of what is included in the IGI for individual parishes.
2. When working with a specific parish, research the history well enough to identify the names of all local churches and when they were built. There are a couple of excellent starting points for this. One is the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (Groome, 1884-85) and the other is the Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1790s and 1845). The Gazetteer is likely to be among the microfiche in your nearest LDS Family History Center, and the Statistical Accounts are in reference libraries, and in the FHL in Salt Lake City. Another useful book is The National Index of Parish Registers Vol. 12, Scotland (Steel, 1970) because it describes the strength of various forms of worship in different parts of the country and it lists pre-1855 registers of seceding Presbyterian Congregations and of Episcopal churches.
3. If there are gaps in the records, or they are completely missing, look for alternative sources. Are there, for example, kirk sessions records? Some kirk sessions are in the FHL collection, some are in the National Archives, and some are in regional archives.
4. Where there is a good run of old parochial registers at the right time (i.e., it seems possible that your ancestors did not attend the Church of Scotland), first verify whether you are looking in the right time and place. Assuming this is the case, search for the records of secession congregations or nonconformists.
Considering what is most accessible for a distance search, begin with the FHLC looking at the entries for the appropriate burgh or parish. There are some records of other congregations in the LDS holdings, but, if nothing is found, do not assume that such records do not exist. They may be in the National Archives in Edinburgh, in the local archives, in a church repository, or still in local control. The National Archives received the registers of seceding churches which were subsequently reunited with the Church of Scotland. In recent years some of these have been sent to the appropriate local archives, but the National Archives has usually kept microfilm copies.
There are some registers of other denominations, among them Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Quaker, and Congregational. If the National Archives does not hold what you need, an inquiry to the National Register of Archives is a good idea. This agency keeps a record of the location of important documentary collections. At the end of this article there is a list of addresses and Web sites where you can either find information or direct an inquiry.
Keep in mind that even if your family was outside the mainstream, traces of them may turn up in the records of the Church of Scotland. Before the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1840, social welfare in a parish was the responsibility of the kirk session of the local Church of Scotland; so, a poor ancestor may be listed as the recipient of relief, whether or not he was a member of the church. A few Church of Scotland ministers conscientiously recorded the vital events of nonconforming families. It is also possible that a family went in and out of the Church of Scotland -- these are all good reasons to encourage you to continue to check its records.
This two-part article is an introduction. Turn to the books listed below for more information. Some of you will need to begin with information on the registers and indexes of the Church of Scotland, and once again the books listed here will help. The primary purpose of this short account is to encourage interest in details of local history and in the history behind records; and, to emphasize the importance of understanding exactly what you are working with.
The National Archives and the National Register of Archives (Scotland) are at the same postal address: [HM General Register House OR General Register Office (Scotland), New Register House], Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY, Scotland.
United Kingdom (UK) Archival Gateway
The National Register of Archives for the UK
General Register Office for Scotland
National Library of Scotland
Indexes of the General Register Office, available for civil records and the Old Parochial Registers. Fees apply.
LDS indexes and resource guides
Bloxham, V. Ben and D. K. Metcalfe. Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland. Provo, Utah: Stevenson Genealogy Supply, 1979.
Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: A Bibliography for Scotland. London, the author, 1996.
Gandy, Michael. Catholic Parishes in England, Wales and Scotland: An Atlas. London, the author, 1993.
Groome, Francis H. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography. Edinburgh: T.C. Jack, 6 volumes, 1884-85.
Humphery-Smith, Cecil. Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Chichester: Phillimore, 2nd edition, 1995.
Irvine, Sherry. Your Scottish Ancestry: A Guide for North Americans. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997.
New Statistical Account of Scotland. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1845.
Old Parochial Registers (OPR) Index for Scotland. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1994.
Parish and Vital Records List. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1988, 1997.
Parishes, Registers and Registrars of Scotland. Aberdeen: Scottish Association of Family History Societies, 1993.
Scottish Church Records. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995.
Sinclair, Cecil. Tracing your Scottish Ancestors. Edinburgh: HMSO, 1990.
Sinclair, Sir John Bt. The Statistical Account of Scotland. (orig. pub. 1791-99) Wakefield: E.P. Publishing, 1979.
Steel, D. J. National Index of Parish Registers, Vol. 12, Scotland. London: Society of Genealogists, 1970.
Written by Sherry Irvine, CGRS, FSA (Scot), previously published by Julia M. Case and Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, Missing Links: RootsWeb's Genealogy Journal, Vol. 4, No. 27, 30 June 1999.