National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Church Court Records Online

Church Court Records Online

In partnership with several local authority and university archives in Scotland, National Records of Scotland (NRS) look after the records of Scotland's presbyterian church courts.

The records consist of the minutes and accounts of kirk sessions, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. They also contain a wide variety of other documents, providing a picture of everyday life in Scotland from the sixteeenth century onwards and amount to more than 25,000 volumes, about 5 million pages of information.

Local archive access in Scotland

Until recently researchers in many parts of Scotland found it difficult or expensive to travel to the archive where the records are physically held. NRS and archives which hold church records under charge and superintendence of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland offer a service opens up access to records throughout Scotland. The following archives currently offer the service in their search rooms:

Please contact the relevant archive for details of opening times and access.

Plans for wider online access

We plan to begin making church court records available online in 2017, following the re-launch of the ScotlandsPeople website in 2016. We anticipate that it will take a significant time to upload the full range of kirk session, presbytery, synod and General Assembly records for the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which amount to more than 20,000 volumes. Researchers will have the choice of accessing the records free of charge in various Scottish archives, or using the subscription service.

What the records contain

The Scottish Reformation saw the introduction of a new system to run church affairs: the General Assembly, synods, presbyteries, and kirk sessions. Presbyterians who later broke away from the Kirk also adopted a church court system.

The records created by church courts are very useful for family history, local history and academic research. Of most interest for genealogists and local historians are the minutes of the kirk sessions, which typically contain a detailed and often colourful record of the discipline the minister and kirk elders handed out to errant parishioners for offences such as drunkenness, swearing, breaking the Sabbath, quarrelling and sexual misdemeanours. Other records include proclamations of banns, communion rolls, seat rent books and poor relief accounts.

Deposited in NRS in 1960, church court records are cared for by the NRS and by local archives under charge and superintendence of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland. They include the records of other presbyterian churches which united with the Church of Scotland.