“Eagerly anticipated” Scottish kirk sessions records added to ScotlandsPeople

Over one million church records of our Scottish ancestors' lives are now available to view online

1707 Drainie Kirk session records

Images of over one million kirk session records have been released on ScotlandsPeople, the Scottish government records website.

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The kirk session records are a key source for uncovering the lives of Scottish ancestors covering a range of parish activities recorded in minutes and accounts books, from payments to teachers and local traders to admonishments and fines for misdemeanours.

Paul Lowe, National Records of Scotland (NRS) Chief Executive and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: “We are delighted to make the kirk session records available online for the very first time, bringing ScotlandsPeople users closer than ever to our past. This release has been eagerly anticipated by many who use our services.”

After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the Presbyterian-based Church of Scotland established a court system to run church affairs, education and poor relief. These kirk sessions also served to settle issues within the community, such as adjudicating on the paternity of illegitimate children and disciplining parishioners for behaviour such as drinking, cursing and breaking the Sabbath. They also include accounts of how people dealt with exceptional historical events such as wars, witchcraft trials, epidemics, crop failures and extreme weather.

Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, said: “The kirk session records are a wonderful free resource for amateur and professional historical researchers. Spanning almost 350 years and including both notable historical events and incidents from the everyday lives of ordinary people, they offer a great insight into Scotland’s past.”

The newly-launched records date from 1559 to 1900. They were previously only available to view at the NRS building, which is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the records cannot be searched by name, they can be searched by a place or volume reference or by the kirk session, presbytery or other court or institution that created them.

If you locate the records for where your family lived, you can then search them to see if their name appears. The images of the records are free to view, while downloading them costs two ScotlandsPeople user credits.

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Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine