National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

New records bring history to life on ScotlandsPeople

New records bring history to life on ScotlandsPeople

Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021
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Thousands of volumes of historical records from the collections of National Records of Scotland (NRS) are now available online for the first time.

Images of more than a million pages from the kirk session and other court records of the Church of Scotland, containing details of key events in communities across the country between 1559 and 1900, have been added to ScotlandsPeople, NRS’s online research service.

These records offer remarkable insights into the everyday lives of ordinary Scots, recording important moments such as births, marriages and deaths. The church also adjudicated on paternity of children and provided basic education, as well as disciplining parishioners for what could be called anti-social behaviour – drunkenness, cursing and breaking the Sabbath.

The newly added records also include accounts of how people dealt with exceptional historical events such as wars, witchcraft trials, epidemics, crop failures and extreme weather.

Paul Lowe, 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. It is part of our ambitious and ongoing programme to use digital approaches to provide access to more of our historic records for the people of Scotland and indeed audiences across the world.”

Fiona Hyslop, 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 addition of these records to ScotlandsPeople is an opportunity for anyone who has an interest in Scottish history to delve into NRS records and discover more about our fascinating heritage.”

Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said:

“I am delighted that National Records of Scotland are making available Church of Scotland material in this digitised form. This will allow many more people to look into Scotland’s past through the eyes of those in the Kirk who carefully recorded the everyday life of our parishes and wider communities.”

The new record set is digitised and unindexed, presented as individual volumes for users to browse. The images are free to view with a small charge for users who want to save images.

The records of kirk sessions and of higher church courts, such as presbyteries and synods, are the first in a series of digitised record sets NRS will make available via ScotlandsPeople throughout 2021 and beyond.


A new system was introduced to run church affairs, education and poor relief following the Scottish Reformation in 1560: the General Assembly, synods, presbyteries, and kirk sessions. The records created by church courts are very useful for family history, local history and academic social history research.

Deposited since 1960, church court records are cared for by NRS and by local archives under charge and superintendence of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland.

The ScotlandsPeople website is administered by NRS, which cares for Scotland’s national archives. These records have been digitised and added to the site in partnership with the Church of Scotland.