One of the important features of Dr. David Dobson’s new book, Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, is a comprehensive chapter on Scottish church and other religious records. In addition to the Church of Scotland, the author covers more than a dozen denominations and smaller sects, explaining the historical origins of each church or sect and the nature and whereabouts of surviving records. Following is an excerpt describing Kirk Session records of the Church of Scotland.
KIRK SESSION RECORDS
A feature of the Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian churches is the Kirk Session, which is the lowest court of the church. This is formed by the parish minister and the elders of the congregation. Its function is to maintain order, thus acting as an agent of social control. Kirk Session Records are invaluable for family history research. Parishioners were brought before the local Kirk Session for various reasons—for example, practicing archery or golfing rather than attending church. Probably the most useful data recorded in the records pertains to illegitimacy. Unless the man responsible was identified and persuaded to marry or financially support the child, the cost of maintaining the child would fall on the parish. The Kirk Session was also responsible for raising money to support the poor and needy.
Some minutes of the Kirk Sessions have survived from the late sixteenth century, but they are more likely available from the seventeenth century. They can be consulted at the National Records of Scotland, though some have been returned to local archives. Edinburgh Kirk Session Records from 1573 to 1882 are in the Edinburgh City Archives, and Alva Kirk Session Records from 1666 to 1984 are in the Stirling Archives. The National Records of Scotland has begun releasing church court records for access online on the ScotlandsPeople website (www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk). As of this writing, baptism, marriage, and burial registers from Kirk Session Records for congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Original Secession Church (and subsequent Secession churches), the Relief Church, and the Free Church have been made available.
Publications. One of the few Kirk Session Records to have been published are those of Galston from 1568 to 1595 (Margaret Sanderson, Edinburgh, 2019), which include baptisms and marriages. Another publication dealing with Kirk Session Records is The Register of the Kirk Session of St. Andrews, 1559-1600, transcribed by D. H. Fleming and published by the Scottish History Society in Edinburgh in 1890. The following excerpt is not untypical of much of the activities of the Kirk Sessions of that period:
Wednesday the xvj of Januar, 1600….The quhilk day, Jonet Cluny, now in this citie fugitive fra the discipline of the kirk of Forgund in Fyiff, being callit comperit, and being accusit fornication with Alexander Bruce, son to Robert Bruce of Pitlethy; and confest carnall copulation with Dauid Dury hir maister, quhilk wes adultrie; and thairfoir is remittit to the discipline of Forgund kirk, the adulterie being committit in that parrochin.