National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Genealogical Gems

Genealogical Gems

The Old Parish Register birth, death and marriage entries recorded between 1553 and 1854 are invaluable for serious family history research but some make for entertaining reading.

We have arranged some interesting register extracts under the following headings:

  • Keeping the registers
  • Births and baptisms
  • Naming
  • Marriage
  • Deaths
  • Miscellaneous

The entries have been transcribed exactly as they appear in the register volumes - we haven't forgotten to spell-check!

Keeping the registers

Let us start with a quotation from the Psalms:

'The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people that this man was born there.' (Psalm 87, verse 6)

However he hadn't reckoned on the vagaries of the Session Clerk:

'Any person that wants a child's name in any of the three preceding pages may scarcely expect to find it in the proper place. They being wrote by Mr King, late schoolmaster depute here without any regularity or order.'

And, in different handwriting and ink:

'The above ill natured ungentlemanlike observation was written by Mr James Whyte and stands as one mark of his own distinguished Idiotism.'
(Dunning, 1764; OPR 350/1, Fr 119)

'N.B. Let not Posterity be surprised that this register is not complete. It is and has been the custom of the Revd. Mr Peter Campbell ever since the Incumbency of the present Clerk to baptise Children: without a certificate of their names being registered. In consequence of which, it may safely be averred that one third if not one Half were given in.'

(Glassary, 1768; OPR 511/1, Fr 5)

End of 1773

Totalling up of Births Total 37 - " ym 20 years Total 640 or 32 each at an average".

(In beautiful script) "Mr Wylie's remarks in our volumes in an abominable hand - writing".
(Dumfries 1773 OPR 821/5 Fr 83)

14th May 1797

The Schoolmaster having resigned His charge of this date, the Register is continued by J. Anderson minr.
(Kingussie and Insh, 1797, OPR 102/2, Fr 70)

Sept. 2nd 1797

'Having found many Inconveniences resulting to the poor owing to the names of their Children not being regularly inserted; & having been put to a great Deal of Trouble in Consequence of this Neglect, at the Time of raising The Militia; I have resolved in future to keep the Register myself; & to allow the Schoolmaster a Yearly Salary for officiating at Session Clerk meetings.'
(Kingussie and Insh, 1797 OPR 102/2, Fr 70)

From Dundonald Kirk Session:

A committee appointed to examine the Register of Baptisms 1836 - 1839. Comment - "a mass of confusion". A very slight inspection of this record convinced the Committee that the entries had not been made with a degree of care proportional to its importance ... The faults observed in these entries may for the sake of brevity be reduced to the following heads.
1st Interlineations of which there are 16
2nd Corrections of which there are 15
3rd Imperfect of which there are 4
4th Wrong name of place and person of which there are 3
5th Wrong dates of which there are 2
'In one of these cases a child is represented to have been baptised about a week before birth, a circumstance not likely to have occurred.'
(Dundonald, 1839)

1744 Febry. 4th

'By an unlucky Accident the Session Clerk's House was burnt; By which the Records of Marriages and Baptisms were lost.'
(Stoneykirk,1744 OPR 898/1, Fr 214)

Some, of course, were less understanding...

'Forgetfulness is no Excuse' - 'Amen' [in different writing]

[Written sideways in margin beside a squeezed-in entry for the previous year]
(Duffus, 1755; OPR 131/3, Fr 88)

Births and baptisms

Luckily not all our ancestors have remained in oblivion - their coming into the world being recorded in a variety of ways and styles.

Deskford, 1740

''Alexander MacHattie in Ardoch had a Child by his Wife who was born with a wooden leg. It is supposed the child has been got by a Chelsea Pensioner with a timber heugh [in different writing and crossed out].
(Deskford, 10 January 1740; OPR 151/1, Fr 209)

Torthorwald, 1773

Andrw. /S/ Samuel Murrah labourer Torw. Born Jany. 26 Baptized Decr. 31
Note: 'Andw Murrah was born with an eye tooth come a considerable length but disappeared afterward in the Gum.'
(OPR 850/1, Fr 32)

1809 11 May

'Born per Letter and Exposed 5th June found at 2 o'Clock a.m. at Mr Potts's Door Wester Breich Dyke and baptised on the 22d Nov. - a son named Jas. Russell Livingstone died Friday 24th Novr. 1809.'
(Livingston, 1809, OPR 669/1, Fr 352)

Livingston, 1807

Born to Hellen Baxter in the Village of Livingston on 28 Decr 1805 and Baptized on the26th Feby. 1807 named Helen Baxter
'N.B. This Child at the time of its Baptism could not find a Father. Her Mother gave it to a Packman which she said came up to her on the road from Edinr. though the Father was suspected to be nearer the doors. But a confession from the time it was born to this day Could not be extorted from the Mother.'
(Livingston, 1807, OPR 669/1, Fr 345)

Edinburgh, 1830

'Andrew Young's daughter Abigail born with 2 teeth'.
(Tolbooth Church, Edinburgh, bap 26.2 1830, kirk session records, CH2/140/3 (formerly Miscellaneous Record MR 6/7)

Middlebie Parish, Dumfries

GRIEVE: Robert & his wife Mary Thomson had a son born at Alfornothing on the 16th October 1835 & baptized James. Registered on 31st December 1855 by Chris Borthwick, Registrar.
(Middlebie, OPR 841/2, Fr 167)


June 24, 1754 - John Thomson, Bluegown in the 87th year of his age & Elizabeth Marshall had a son bap. called: WALTER. Wits: Walter Christie & Andrew Forbes.
(Dysart, OPR 426/4, Fr 84)
[Bluegown was a class of licensed beggar in Edinburgh]

Description of father's character or local rivalry?

'Septr 29th to George Anderson in Swannyside (a scoundrall a knave a scrub a rascall a villain a cheat) a son called Andrew'. NB he has been in the Northwest & has been there three years in Wasera [and in a different hand below the entry].

'The above George Anderson is as honest, just obliging man as any other man in the parish to the master, minr & school master and to all others. Attested by John Louitt Session Clerk'
(Birsay, Orkney,1751, OPR 13/1, 59)


And as today, naming was a matter of personal preference.

9th April 1769

'James Paterson and Jean Frazer in Thornhill had a daughter baptised before the Congregation called William-All-Mina.'
(Morton, 1769; OPR 843/1, Fr 90)

Or how about this for a name:

Something - George Something lawful son to what-ye-call-him in Mains of Barskimming was baptized April 9th 1704.
(Ochiltree, 1704, OPR 609/1. Fr 367)

Waterloo Wellington lawful son of James Kennedy Junior Seedsman and Elizabeth

Hayne Dumfries - Baptised by Dr Wallace (Born 11 Feb/Bapt 22 Feb)
(Dumfries, 1853, OPR 821/8, Fr 237)

'1774 June 15th BALDY Lawll. Son to Archd Buchanan and Jean Buchanan at Ridyate [or possibly Kidgate?] was baptized before these witnesses: John and Walter Buchanan Elders'
(Killearn, Stirling, OPR 482/3, Fr 5)

And with great expectations:

22nd February 1818, Glasgow

'Duncan McIntyre Mason & Mary McIntyre [had]a Law. Son [called] Saint Mark Bo. 31st January Wit: James Laird & John Gilmour'
(Glasgow, 1818; OPR 644.1/220, Fr 17)

4th July 1819, Glasgow

'Archibald McPherson Weaver & Elizabeth Forsyth [had] a Law. Son [called] John Baptist Wit: John McPherson & James Douglas.'
(Glasgow, OPR 644.1/220, Fr 210)

Some, of course, had it made from the start...

15th July 1690, Dunfermline

'The 12th day bout nine hours in the morning being a Saturday, John Christie [Chrystie] precentor had ane manchild born to him of his wife [Jean] Finlay, baptised ye 15th instant by Mr Simon Cowper and called James The godfryes was James, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland defender of ye Faith and James Finley grandfather to the child.'

(Dunfermline, 1690, OPR 424/3, Fr 427)


But as the testaments remind us, nothing is more certain than death, and nothing more uncertain than the time and manner thereof...

Death by 'stupidity'

'James Robertson born January 1785 died 16th June 1848 aged 63 years. He was a peaceable quiet man; and to all appearances a sincere Christian. His death was very much regretted which was caused by the stupidity of Laurence Tulloch in Clotharter who sold him nitre instead of Epsom salts by which he was killed in the space of 3 hours after a dose of it.''
(Esherness, Shetland)

A sordid tale of adultery and murder

'About the beginning of this month there was a child born by an Barbara Hervie a malefactor who about Martinmas last had given poison in a drink of warm small ale to her husband John Tod who lived in Balchristie at that time and the said Barbara having been taken in the act of uncleaness with an Robert Reid who when he was servant to the said John Tod had contrived the busines betwixt him and the said Barbara Hervie that they might the more freely enjoy an another by a marriage after his death: it was not above 3 or four days after the death of her husband when they were taken in this abominable act and the man dying in a sudden not being sick above two days and dying by a great swelling in his body which he was not subject to before and the womans too familiar carriage with the d Robt Reid befor her husbands death, all this gave a great suspition to all the neighbours that she had somway murdered him and given him some kind of poisonous dozz or another, this report being spread abroad at length came to the minr. of Newburn Mr James Hay, be name, his airs, who assigned the sd Barbara befor his session and having posed her upon all the above written circumstances, she confessed ye whole and that she had lyon in adulterie half a year before her goodmans death with the sd Rot. Reid and declaired that she was with child but could not tell whether it was to her husband or to Rot. Reid, upon which they were both seized on and brought to Dunfermline where the both were keapt in prison while the child was brought forth, where it was baptized by an of our own mins. called: ISOBEL, after which the man and the woman both were by ane assyse found guiltie of death and the man ordained to be hanged att the towr hill the 22 instant and the poor infant to be sent to the parish of Newburn to be brought up, after that the sd Robert Reid had lyon a considerable of time in the prison att length he brock through the wall of it, being the lymhous and in the night time made his escape and was away upwards of eight or ten days in which time he might have easilie been out of the kingdom but accidentilie he was taken by an Gilbert Robertson who was assisted by William Eson, a Sclatter at Newtyle in Angus and brought in to ye town that same day that the woman was brought to bed which is a notable instance of god almighties justice that he will not suffer such notorious sinners to go unpunished even in this world whatever shift they may make to escap justice.'
(Baptisms. Dunfermline, March 1689; OPR 424/3, Fr 409-410)

Rathen, 1798

'Thomas Ogilvie born 2nd January 1798 died 21st September. 5th son, 10th child of George Ogilvie by Rebecca Irvine his wife. This infant is the only descendant of his maternal grandparents that is yet deceased, all their 6 children, 24 grandchildren being still living, whose joint ages amount to upwards of five hundred and twenty two years.'
(Rathen, Aberdeenshire)

Collessie, 1793

Janry' 10 Thomas Garrick a poor man in Colessie aged 108 - . He was in the practice of walking to Rossie and the other adjacent houses within a few months of his death - Was a soldier in the Duke of Argyle's Regiment in 1715. Married his second wife, a stout woman of about 50 years of age, in his 99th year, who died about 2 years ago.'
(Collessie, Fife, OPR 416/1, Fr 197)

Lethnot & Navar Parish Mort Roll, Forfarshire, 1755

March 25th Agnes Tod aged near a hundred a Cottars wife in Witten whose sight even on her death bed continued so strong that she could see to thread a needle, also retained memory & other senses unimpaired to the last.
(Lethnot and Navar, 1775, OPR 300/1 Fr 161)

Inveresk Parish, 20 July 1725

PATRICK SPENCE Workman & Margaret Dickson his spouse their son named: JAMES was Born the Twentieth day of July and Baptised the --- thereof. Witnesses: William Cass & Andrew Hay Bap. Privately in their house by Mr R.B.
(Inveresk, OPR 689/7, Fr 95)

Written in the margin later

"This Marg. Dickson was executed in the Grassmercat of Edr. the 2d of September last for murdering her own child."

(Inveresk, OPR 689/7, Fr 95)

And so to Marriage

Banchory Devenick, 1827

Marriage of Andrew Wood & Agnes Twig [And they branched out] (not in book)
Andrew Wood and Agnes Twig both in this parish having been contracted and orderly proclaimed were married on the 4th day of October
(Banchory Devenick, 1827, OPR, 251/3, Fr 205)

(24 July 1828 son George)

Andrew Wood and Agnes Twigg in Seahouse of Dindon had a son called George
(Banchory Devenick, Kincardineshire;1828, OPR 251/3, Fr 27)

A gentle recommendation for getting married:

Marriage is honourable in all things and the bed undefiled. But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. And marriage was institute for the procreation of children in a lawful way. Better Marry than Burn' (Edinburgh, 1721)

Clearly little changes and marriage has always been an uncertain state:

Donald Camerone (Woodend) to Mary Cameron (Aharkile)
N.B. There has been something very odd about the above parties. They fast contracted and then split. Then agreed and with much regularity married, were not married passing 5 days when lo the weaker vessel set sail and steered her course for her mammy.'
(Strontian, February 1833, OPR 505/2, Fr 61)

'25 June. Patrick Cheyne, Schoolmaster at Echt & Mrs. Sophia Garioch, Daugtr. of Alexr. Garioch Farmer in Glack in the Parish of Kinernie were contracted in order to Marriage but by the mutual consent of both Parties.[the match was broke off]. Ha ha ha ha! He he he! [in different writing]
(Wm Blair's Transcript - Midmar, 1720, OPR 222/1, Fr 219)

'Married 24th June James Dobie in the parish of Lochmaben to Jenny Cannon lately in the Moss from Lochrutton, both out of this parish, being the first pair married in the New Kirk. She was next year condemned to be hanged for stealing cattle but got a reprieve and afterwards a full pardon.'
(Lochmaben, 1786, OPR 840/1)

'Hugh Thomson and Jean Greenlies both in this Congregation. She Rewed'.
(Campbeltown, December 26 1723, OPR 507/1A, Fr 434

Parents didn't always approve of their child's choice of partner:

'Alexander Blair, weaver and Eliza Russell both of this Parish have been three several times proclaimed in the Parish Church here.
Objections to the said Marriage betwixt the said Alexander Blair & Eliza Russell have been made by James Blair father of Alexander Blair as father.
1) That the said Alexander Blair is not of the age nor can he without the consent of his parents enter into a Matrimonial alliance.
2) That the said Eliza Russell is not the person he can recommend as a wife to his said son. She having had several illegitimate children.
3) That the said James Blair considers that his said son is scarcely of the age of puberty, at least he is not eighteen years of age.'
(Dunfermline, OPR 424/17, Fr 5048A)

And in Longforgan in 1685 we find the somewhat ambiguous statement:

'It is also ordered that no brydegroom kiss his bryde before the Minister under the pain of ten merk.'


No collection of quotes from the Old Parochial Registers can be complete without some references to the "miscellaneous, heterogeneous and (to others) trivial things" , as the Minister of Kirkmahoe described them before launching into a long description of the weather and crops in the parish, which are to be found intermingled with the records of baptisms and proclamations and burials including:

'Cure for the bite of a Mad Dog either in Man or Beast

Take rue small shorn, garlick stamped, mithridate or Venice Tryacle, syrup of tin or pewter. Boil all these in 2 quarts of stale ale in a pot close covered for an hour. Then strain it and give this liquor in the morning fasting and warm to a man or woman nine spoonfuls, to a beast cold, to an horse or cow eleven spoonfuls, to a sheep eight spoonfuls, to a dog four spoonfuls.'
(Dunning, Perthshire)

25th November 1779

'Being a day appointed by the synod for publick Thanksgiving in Commemoration of 1st - the goodness of divine providence in granting us a favourable season and a plentiful harvest: 2nd the Internal peace and tranquility which we in this part of the country enjoy in time of publick danger while war wages abroad and the sea coasts of this island have been threatened with Invasion: 3rdly the removal of our late fears for the repeal of the laws in being against property.'
(Dunning, 1779, OPR 350/4, Fr 368)

To find the age of the moon

'Add the Epact for March 1st for April 2nd, for May 3rd, for June 4th and July 5th for August 6th, for September 8th, for October 8th, for November 10th, for January 10th and February 2nd. Having added to the Epact the number for the month according to the rule foregoing, add thereto the day of the month for which the moon's age is required, these three sumes add thereto if less than 30 is the moon's age, if more than 30 then: divide it by 30, the Re.....
(this dessertation was never finished ...)
(Eckford, 1790, OPR 787/1, Fr 105)

To ease the afflictions of Man

'Sold by George Reid, printer at bottom of Fisher's Land Close, Lawnmarket, first door of the stair, sells tincture of sagge and Canada balsam for curing in women one of the most afflicting disorders to which human nature is subject and in Men disorders from the passion of Diogenes.'
(Scoonie, July 27th 1775, OPR 456/2, Fr 204)

Even in the 18th century, fallout was a problem...

'20th October 1755 On a Monday a very dark sky and yet the sun was seen mostly all day and there fell a Black heavy Dust upon the earth
(Sandsting and Aithsting, 1755, OPR 9/1)

And global warming was affecting the weather

1811 Decr Sunday Dairy
I preached at home today. Psalm 43 - 5 v
1. - Why art thou cast down o my soul - 35 mins
2. Strive to enter in at the strait gate Luke 13 c 24 v 35 mins. do This was the day of the sact at Holyrood. For the scat is celebrated twice in the year in that parish. It was a raw and windy day threatening rain, few in church - collection 5s. 2d. Mr Ewin, schoolmaster at Dalswinton village dined with me. I lent Mr Lancaster's book on education - It now begins to rain heavily (6 o'clock p.m.) and is likely to rain much. We have had a week or two of very fierce winter weather after two months of the most rainy and floody weather I have ever witnessed. The comet seems to me to have been the cause of the uncommon warm weather in the month of August and beginning of September (about 6 weeks) and of the consequent very wet weather, and of the virial days immediately past, and the earth being so heated by the approach of this body little frost may be expected till the new year be arrived.'
(Kirkmahoe, 1811, OPR 835/1 Fr 132)

Last thoughts

And having given you such seasonal thoughts on the weather, we will leave you with these two gems - in the words of a Frenchwoman who wrote saying
"I want to search for my family trunk."

Please search for B Henry Steward Wishart 7 July ? 1872 (Statutory records at Silas Low ? - client's info)

(Glasgow, 1872, 644/7, 1282)
NOTE : Silas Low = GLASGOW!