Historical records

The Church of Scotland does not have an archives department, however below you can find information on researching and tracing these historical records:

Birth, marriage and death certificates

ScotlandsPeople at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk is the official online source of parish registers, civil registration, census records and wills and testaments for Scotland. The website is a partnership between the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS), the National Archives of Scotland (NAS), the Court of the Lord Lyon and Scotland On Line.

ScotlandsPeople is one of the world’s largest resources of genealogical information and one of the largest single information resources on the web. With almost 80 million records to access it provides an index of Scottish births, marriages and deaths from 1538, census data, and an index search of wills and testaments from 1513.

The ScotlandsPeople website also hosts full colour images of the registered testaments of Scots up to 1901. Among the testaments free to view in the ‘Famous Scots’ section of the website are those of John Knox, David Livingstone and Thomas Guthrie.

Baptism certificates

If you are looking for a copy of a baptism certificate, the first place to try is the parish where the baptism took place. The more recent baptismal records are usually held by the minister.

For records of baptisms earlier than those held by the minister in each parish, the records are divided into:

  • baptismal records before 1855, which are held by the General Register Office for Scotland; and
  • baptismal registers among kirk session records, which are held by the National Archives of Scotland

All records which exist should be available on the ScotlandsPeople website.

Should you wish to buy a hardback copy of the Baptism register, you can do on the following websites:

Burial records

Historically, the Church of Scotland, in the form of kirk sessions and heritors in each parish, was responsible for the maintenance of burial grounds within churchyards and kept records of burials. In 1925 responsibility for the maintenance of Church graveyards was transferred to local authorities (or councils) in Scotland and from then burial records were no longer the responsibility of the Church.

Graveyard

The location of burial records is not as clear cut as that for baptismal and marriage records, but in most cases any surviving burial registers will be among kirk session records at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) or at the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS).

You can visit the GROS online at www.gro-scotland.gov.uk

Over the last 20 years the inscriptions on gravestones and monuments in many Scottish burial grounds, or at least those which are legible, have been surveyed and indexed by local history, family history and antiquarian societies, and the results published. Usually these can be consulted at local studies libraries and archive services of the relevant local authorities in Scotland.

Historical ministers' details

A comprehensive account of the register of ministers of the Church of Scotland since the Reformation of the 16th century is provided in the volume of books entitled Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae. Historically published by Saint Andrew Press, this series provides an invaluable guide to genealogists as it records in detail the family, career and writings of the lives of ministers, chaplains, secretaries, clerks and university staff associated with the Church of Scotland. The first volume was originally completed in 1866 by editor Hew Scott. This book was later published in a new edition over seven volumes between 1915 and 1928, edited by the Rev W. S. Crockett, and later editions have followed. These publications should be available through your local library or archive service.

Records of kirk sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly

The National Archives of Scotland (NAS) is also the place of legal deposit for the records of the Church of Scotland's kirk sessions and presbyteries which are earlier than those in current use. The NAS also holds the historical records of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the records of synods, which were abolished in 1993. In some cases, the NAS re-transmits the records to local authority archives under special conditions laid down by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland.

The records of kirk sessions, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly together make up a major part of Scotland's written history, and they are used by a wide range of academic, professional and amateur researchers, especially genealogists and ecclesiastical historians.

To preserve the records and make access to them much easier for future generations, digital surrogates of surviving church records from 1500 to 1901 are being made for public use, involving the digital capture of more than five million pages of information.You can visit the National Archives' website at www.nas.gov.uk/

For more information about the historical records of kirk sessions, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly, visit the Scottish Documents website on www.scottishdocuments.com

Queries

If you have any other queries about how to obtain archived documents or certificates, please use the comprehensive help facility on the ScotlandsPeople website.