National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Key moment in church history goes online

Key moment in church history goes online

Tuesday, 25 Jun 2024

The moment the Church of Scotland defied King Charles I is among a vast number of historical documents now available to view on the ScotlandsPeople website.

As part of a wider release of almost 4,000 volumes of church court records, National Records of Scotland has added papers from the church’s governing court, the General Assembly, for the first time.

This includes the minutes of the meeting held in Glasgow in November 1638 when delegates representing Scotland rejected the monarch’s rules for worship.

NRS archivist Jessica Evershed said: 

“The 1638 meeting of the General Assembly is a turning point in Scottish history. 

It sees the ministers disobey the King to remove the bishops and the new common prayer book he had introduced.

As part of the wider Covenanters’ movement, this led to 50 years of war and upheaval. 

This is just one item among the church court records available on ScotlandsPeople. The latest release includes approximately 300,000 digitised images of mostly handwritten historical records dating from the 1500s to 1900.

These records are a treasure trove for professional historians and amateurs working on their family tree. The records of local church courts contain details of parish work such as grants for the poor, mediating family disputes, payments for services and issuing punishments for minor offences.” 

Reverend Fiona Smith, Principal Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: 

“I am delighted that National Records of Scotland are making further Church of Scotland records available in a digitised format, providing a unique window into the history of Scotland itself, as well as aspects of daily life in our parishes, unfolding over the course of hundreds of years.

We hope it will allow many more people to access these meticulously written documents, which tell the stories of local communities from across Scotland.”

ScotlandsPeople is run by National Records of Scotland. It offers access to a wide range of official records including births, deaths, marriages and census records from the 16th century to modern times. Modern records are restricted but older records can be searched free of charge and viewed online on payment of a fee. Church court records are among those available to search and view free of charge.