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Old Parish Registers-Marriages & Proclamations (OPRs) (Scotland)

Nature of Source

Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) registers of baptisms, marriages proclamations and burials collectively known as Old Parish Registers (OPRs).

The Presbyterian Reformed Church of Scotland or the 'Kirk' was formed in 1560 with the Kirk Session administering the parish presided over by a minister and 12 elders with the session clerk in charge of the registers and other session records. Until the early 20th century the local landowners known as heritors held considerable power and influence within the parish structure. In 1567, the Kirk became the established Church of Scotland. Therefore the Kirk assumed sole responsibility for registering baptisms, marriage proclamations and burials apart from events involving Roman Catholics. Parishes were organised into presbyteries and then several adjacent presbyteries into synods with the ultimate authority residing with the General Assembly.

When researching OPRs, it is important to recognise that the church underwent a number of secessions and schisms which resulted in a number of breakaway factions such as the Secession Church in 1733, the Relief Church in 1761, the Free Church in 1843 and the United Presbyterian Church (Secession Church and Relief Church combined) in 1847. The cause of these divisions were not over dogma but revolved around the issue of who controlled the parish especially with reference to the power of the heritors. The great schism of 1843 saw about 40 per cent of the established Church of Scotland ministers walk out of the General Assembly to establish the Free Church of Scotland. In 1899 the United Presbyterian Church merged with the Free Church to form the United Free Church and in 1929 the great majority of the congregations of the United Free Church re-amalgamated with the established Church of Scotland.

The result of these upheavals has led to difficulties for genealogists especially for the period from 1843 to 1854 as many of these new Free Churches failed to rigorously keep parish registers and many registers have not survived at all. Many names are missing as some vicars failed to officially register those not of the Church of Scotland. It is also of importance to remember that the registers of dissenters and non-conformist sects are not included in the OPRs.

Further difficulties may be experienced as some parish registers only start in the 17th or 18th century and for some parishes no registers were taken or have simply been lost. Some people chose not to register an event especially during the imposition of a stamp duty between 1783 to 1794. Also be aware that the coverage for marriages is patchy and sometimes the entries are not in chronological order and most start in 1690s. OPR marriage entries mostly consist of the proclamations and will only include limited information with no set format. In some cases a marriage could be registered by the bride and groom in two parishes if they came from different parishes. In a record of marriage, additional information will be included such as witnesses or a "cautioner" (guarantor or sponsor) which refers to an individual, usually a male relative, who acted as a sponsor for the marriage paying a security to ensure the forthcoming marriage met the correct conditions. One register may record the proclamation date and the other the date of the marriage itself. Occasionally the actual date of birth, marriage or death might be recorded. Local family history societies should hold parish indexes and maps to help identify places.

The poor record keeping by the parish authorities in the years preceding the introduction of statutory registration in 1855 meant that many vital events went unregistered. The Registrar General attempted to rectify this by providing the public with the opportunity, throughout 1855, to retrospectively register proven births, deaths and marriages in the relevant Old Parish Register that had occurred before 31 December 1854. In 1860 the Registrar General set up an official Register of Neglected Entries covering the years from 1801 to 1 January 1855. For a fee a vital event could be entered into the register after the applicant first gained a sheriff's warrant which validated the evidence of the event having taken place. The register is available to view at the ScotlandsPeople Centre and online at the ScotlandsPeople web site. However the fee did deter many from retrospectively registering a vital event.

As in England, the authorities in Scotland had become increasingly concerned with the issue of 'irregular' or 'clandestine' marriages. In England, Hardwicke's Act of 1753 outlawed 'irregular' marriages by stipulating that a marriage could only take place after the publication of banns and if performed by an Anglican minister. The only exceptions applied to Jews and Quakers. As the Act did not apply in Scotland, English 'runway' couples were able to obtain a valid marriage certificate in the border towns such as Ayton, Chain Bridge, Coldstream, Gretna Green, Halidon Hill, Ladykirk, Lamberton, Mordington, Norham and Paxton. Less well known areas for 'irregular' marriages were the coaching inns in the Canongate district of Edinburgh and South Leith marriages which are transcribed in Marshall' s Calendar of Irregular Marriages in the South Leith Kirk Sessions Records 1697-1818. The English Episcopal Chapels in Scotland during the 19th century also married English runaways.

Please note that the term 'handfasting' is simply another way of describing a wedding ceremony and does not signify a temporary marriage arrangement or refer to a Celtic/pagan ritual.

In Scotland a marriage was considered 'regular' after the reading of banns and if the marriage ceremony was conducted by a minister of the established Church of Scotland. The 1834 Marriage (Scotland) Act extended 'regular' marriages by permitting dissenting clergy to conduct marriage ceremonies. If these requirements were not adhered to the marriage was deemed 'clandestine' and illegal but crucially could be valid in the eyes of the state. Under Scots Law a marriage was considered valid (but not legal) under certain conditions as follows:

§  Both parties declared themselves married in the presence of witnesses.

§  Marriage ceremony followed by sexual intercourse.

§  Simply living together with the status of man and wife - by habit and repute.

Irregular marriages were abolished with the passing of the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939 which introduced civil marriages with marriages only becoming legal and valid on production of a certificate proving publication of banns or a notice of intended marriage and if celebrated in an office of an authorised Registrar. Irregular marriages were unrecorded in the statutory marriage registers. Consult Kirk Session Minutes for the possible record of a an irregular or clandestine marriage.

In the absence of an OPR entry try looking for a name in Land records (including sasines and services of heirs), Wills/Testaments, Monumental Inscriptions, Apprenticeship Records, Obituaries/Biographies, Newspapers/Journals and Occupational Records.

It is important to note that up to 1600, the new year began on 25 March (Lady Day) and from 1 January 1601, the year began 1 January. Events that took place between 1 January and 25 March pre-1601 are often referred to as old style and new style dates.

Other Scotland Resources
Census Returns
Clan & Tartan Records
County & Local Histories
Court Records
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Electoral Registers or Burgess Rolls
Emigration Records
Hearth Tax
Heraldic Coats of Arms & Seals
Kirk/Church Sessions
Land Tax Assessments & Returns
Maps & Gazetteers
Militia Lists
Monumental/Memorial Inscriptions
Newspapers, magazines & journals
Old Parish Registers-Baptisms (OPRs)
Old Parish Registers-Burials (OPRs)
Passenger Lists
Pedigrees and Family Histories
Poor Law Records
Registers of Deeds (Books of Council and Session)
Retours of Services of Heirs
Sasines, Registers of
Statistical Accounts of Scotland
Statutory Registration-Birth
Statutory Registration-Death
Statutory Registration-Marriage
Surname Origins and Distribution
Valuation Rolls & Stent Rolls
Wills/Testaments and Inheritance

Where Found

ScotlandsPeople Centre (The ScotlandsPeople Centre is the official government resource for family history research. Holdings include indexes and digital images of surviving Old Parish Registers, 1553-1854. ScotlandsPeople Centre is a partnership between the National Records of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland and General Register Office for Scotland)
Mitchell Library Glasgow (Microfilm copies for counties in the west of Scotland from the 17th and 18th centuries)
LDS FamilySearch Centers (Filmed copies of OPRs)
Scottish Genealogy Society Library (Old Parish Registers: The original in microfilm for every parish in Scotland with indexes to baptisms and marriages)
National Library of Scotland (Microfiche index to the Old Parish Registers for Scotland)
Society of Genealogists (Filmed copies of OPRs)
National Records of Scotland (Records and registers of the non-established church. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
Local Studies Libraries
Family History Societies

Some registers remain in the custody of the churches themselves.

Period Covered

1553 - 1854

Genealogical Value

Marriage or proclamation date, names of bride and groom, place or parishes of residence (address) of bride and groom. Occassionaly the groom's occupation & the name of the bride's father.

Further References

Parish Specific  
Baptie, Diane (comp). Parish Registers in the Kirk Session Minutes of the Church of Scotland: The Scottish Association of Family History Societies
Burn, John Southerden. The History of Parish Registers in England: Also of the Registers of Scotland, Ireland, the East and West Indies: J.R. Smith, 1862 (Available to view online or download at Google Books or the Internet Archive. Also available to buy on CD at Archive CD Books) Buy Now on Amazon
Sheila M, Spiers. The Parishes, Registers and Registrars of Scotland: The Scottish Association of Family History Societies, 1993 Buy Now on Amazon
Turnbull, William Barclay. Scottish Parochial Registers. Memoranda of the State of the Parochial Registers of Scotland: T.G. Stevenson, 1849 (The book contains lists of parishes and the whereabouts of the registers. The book is available to view online at Google Books) Buy Now on Amazon
Family History Guides  
Adolph, Anthony. Tracing Your Scottish Family History: Collins, 2008 Buy Now on Amazon
Bigwood, Rosemary: The Scottish Family Tree Detective: Tracing Your Ancestors in Scotland: Manchester University Press, 2007  Buy Now on Amazon
Clarke, T. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: The Official Guide: Birlinn, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Cory, Kathleen B. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009 Buy Now on Amazon
Durie, Bruce. Scottish Genealogy: The History Press, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Durie, Bruce. Documents for Genealogy & Local History: The History Press, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald. In Search of Scottish Ancestry: Phillimore, 1983  Buy Now on Amazon
Holton, Graham & Winch, Jack. Discover Your Scottish Ancestry: Internet and Traditional Resources: Edinburgh University Press, 2009 (Preview available from Google Books)
 Buy Now on Amazon
James, Alwyn. Scottish Roots: From Gravestone to Website: The Step-By-Step Guide to Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: Luath Press, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Maxwell, Ian. Tracing your Scottish Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword, 2009  
Paton, Chris. Researching Scottish Family History: The Family History Partnership, 2010  Buy Now on Amazon
Stewart, Alan. My Ancestor was Scottish: Society of Genealogists, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Tovey, Helen. My Scottish Ancestry: Lomond Books, 2011  Buy Now on Amazon
Concise Scots Dictionary: Edinburgh University Press, 1999 (Preview available from Google Books) Buy Now on Amazon
Lynch, Michael. Oxford Companion to Scottish History: OUP Oxford, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon
Moffat, Alistair & Wilson, James. The Scots: A Genetic Journey: Birlinn, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon
Richards, Eric. The Highland Clearances: Birlinn, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Scots Dictionary: Collins, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Timperley, Loretta R, (ed). A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland c 1770: Scottish Record Society, 1976 Buy Now on Amazon
Torrance, Richard D. Scottish Trades, Professions, Vital Documents & Directories: Scottish Association of Family History Societies, 1998 Buy Now on Amazon

Websites (National Records of Scotland: Coverage of the Old Parish Registers: List of Old Parish Registers. This search room guide, first produced in 1975, provides covering dates for each parish and is based on the 'Detailed list of the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland) (ScotlandsPeople Guide: Parishes and districts) (ScotlandsPeople Guide: Church registers) (National Library of Scotland guide to births, deaths and marriages) (Scottish Way of Birth and Death: The Old Parish Registers) (Maps and descriptions of the historic counties of England, Scotland and Wales) (Listing of free resources) (Parish descriptions from the Statistical Accounts of Scotland) (Christians Together: Presbyterianism - Scottish style: Brief History of the Presbyterian Christian Church in Scotland) (Scotland's churches after 1700)
(Church of Scotland and some other churches: Brief History) (TravelScotland: The Great Disruption of 1843) (Scottish History Online: The Scottish Roots of the Episcopal Church) (Period Approximation Chart, adapted from "Basic Course in Genealogy," Vol.II, by Derek Harland. Use to calculate the approximate date of a birth, marriage or death) (The Dictionary of the Scots Language: Electronic editions of the Older Scottish Tongue [DOST] and the Scottish National Dictionary [SND]) (Scottish Language Dictionaries: The nation's resource for the Scots language) (Translate from Scots to English)

Online Databases (The ScotlandsPeople website is the official Scottish Government site for searching government records and archives including indexes and images of OPR Births & Baptisms, Deaths & Burials and Banns & Marriages)
(ScotlandsPeople: Presbyterian Church Records, 1744-1855: Online access to presbyterian births and baptisms, 1744-1855; marriages and proclamations 1729-1855; death and burial records, 1783-1855) (Historical Record Collections: Transcripts of baptisms, marriages and deaths extracted from OPRs and non-parochial/nonconformist registers. The site incorporates the data formerly known as the International Genealogical Index and also data formerly sold on CD as the British Isles Vital Records Index. The former Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File can be found under the heading of 'Family Trees') (Parish Records: Scottish parish transcripts and images. County coverage includes: Aberdeenshire, Argyll, Banffshire, Caithness, Clackmannanshire, Dumfriesshire, Dunbartonshire, Fife, Kincardineshire, Kinross-shire, Kirkcudbrightshire, Lanarkshire, Midlothian, Perthshire, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, Shetland, Sutherland, West Lothian, Wigtownshire)
(Scotland, Marriages 1561-1910. Each record consists of a transcript of the original document that includes references to film and batch numbers to assist in obtaining copies of original documents held at a variety of repositories including courthouses, churches etc)
(Scottish Indexes: Non-OPR Births/Baptisms, Banns/Marriages and Deaths/Burials Indexes. The records indexed are taken from Kirk Session material of the Church of Scotland, other Presbyterian churches, and also the registers of the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers]. They are not part of the Church of Scotland Old Parish Registers or OPRs)
(Graham Maxwell Ancestry: Parish Register Search. Searchable database of indexed parish registers taken from Kirk Session material of the Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian churches) (Births Deaths and Marriages Exchange for Scotland)
(Birth, marriage and death notices and death-related newspaper articles from 1849 to 1854) (Scotland Marriages 1561-1910: These records are not intended to be a comprehensive collection of all marriages that have taken place in Scotland over the period. The transcripts refer to batch and film numbers. Both of these refer to material held in the Family History Library in the States) (FreeREG. Volunteer project of transcribed baptism, marriage, and burial records extracted from parish and non-conformist registers of the U.K.)
(Graham Maxwell Ancestry: Paternity Case Search. online searchable database for paternity cases in Sheriff Courts in the south of Scotland) (Scotland Non-Old Parish Registers Vital Records, 1647-1875. The dataset consists of registers of births, marriages, and deaths created by churches outside of the established Church of Scotland. The original records are held by the National Records of Scotland and have been diligently transcribed by Graham and Emma Maxwell)

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (Fife, Dunfermline Parish Registers 1561-1570; Melrose Parish Registers 1642-1722; Restalrig Parish Registers 1728-1854; West Lothian, Torphichen Parish Registers 1673-1714; Aberdeenshire, Bairnie and Tillydesk Parish Registers)