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 sixteenth 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.

Wider Access

NRS has begun releasing church court records for general access online. The first releases of records (on the ScotlandsPeople website) have been baptism, marriage and burial registers from kirk session records for congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Original Secession Church (and subsequent secession churches), the Relief Church, and the Free Church which re-joined the Church of Scotland. A list of the congregations concerned can be found in the Church Registers guide on the ScotlandsPeople website.

Further releases of church court records are in preparation.

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.