National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Church Records

Church Records

We hold records of the Church of Scotland and other churches. Several key dates affect the survival and nature of the records, especially the Reformation in Scotland (1560), the Disruption (which led to the formation of the Free Church in 1843), and the transfer of poor relief and education from church to state control (under legislation in 1845 and 1872).

Church of Scotland

National Records of Scotland (NRS) is the official place of deposit for the records of the Church of Scotland's kirk sessions, presbyteries, synods and General Assembly that are more than 50 years old and not still in use. For information about depositing Church of Scotland records see our guidance for depositors.

We are also the official place of deposit for most heritors' records. Heritors were the landowners in each parish responsible for the upkeep of Church of Scotland churches and graveyards until 1929 and they were also responsible for poor relief and education until the late-19th century.

Church court and heritors' records are the subject of a large digitisation project. To find out more about this read about church court records online.

The main series of Church of Scotland records are:

  • General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (NRS reference CH1), 1560-1994
  • Church of Scotland kirk sessions, presbyteries, synods and other bodies (NRS reference CH2), 1569-2006
  • Records of other presbyterian churches which united with the Church of Scotland at various times, but mostly (after several amalgamations) in 1929 (NRS reference CH3).
  • Old Parish Registers of the Church of Scotland (NRS reference OPR), 1553-1855
  • Heritors' records (NRS reference HR), 17th century-20th century
  • Churches and Universities (Scotland) Widows and Orphans Fund records (NRS reference CH9), 1712-1994.
    This was the earliest actuarial pension fund and the local records relating to it were kept by presbyteries, in the form of presbytery separate registers, and these can be found in presbytery records (CH2).

Pre-Reformation Church and the Secularisation of Church Property

We hold some records of the pre-Reformation Church and records of church property acquired or compiled during the 15th and 16th centuries, when church lands and revenues were taken into crown or private hands. The main series of records are as follows:

  • Pre-Reformation Church (NRS reference CH5), 1513-1555
  • Cartularies (NRS reference CH6), 1144-1715
  • Papal Bulls (NRS reference CH7),  about 1146-1713
  • Register of Presentations to Benefices (NRS reference CH4), 1567-1648
  • Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records (NRS reference CH8), 1274-1843

Other Churches

Along with local authority and university archives, we also hold some records of other protestant churches. The main NRS collections are as follows:

  • Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) (NRS reference CH10), 1569-1983
  • Methodist Church (NRS reference, CH11), 1661-2002
  • Episcopal Church (NRS reference CH12), 1549-2003
  • United Free Church (NRS reference CH13), 1901-1986, including some records of predecessor churches back to 1792
  • United Reformed Church (NRS reference CH14), 1726-1993
  • Unitarian Church (NRS reference CH15), 1792-1975
  • Free Church (NRS reference CH16), 1843-1977, including some records of predecessor churches back to 1823

For more information on church records in local archives use the online catalogue of the Sottish Archive Network (SCAN) website.

Charge and superintendence

Some local authority and university archives hold records from particular areas with the agreement of NRS. This is known as holding records under the charge and superintendence of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland. In the case of church records this applies to records of Church of Scotland congregations within certain presbyteries. Where a record is held in a local archive, this will be stated in our online catalogue.

Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials

The Church of Scotland was responsible for recording the births, deaths and marriages in its parishes before the introduction of statutory civil registration on 1 January 1855. The records of this ecclesiastical registration system are known as the Old Parish Registers or Old Parochial Registers, and they were transferred to the care of the Registrar General for Scotland in 1855. For more information see our guide on Old Parish Registers.

In partnership with the Scottish Catholic Archives, we make copies of the records of baptisms, marriages and burials for Roman Catholics before 1855 available for research. For more information see our guide on Roman Catholic parish registers.