National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Coverage of the Old Parish Registers

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Coverage of the Old Parish Registers

The Old Parish Registers cover the period from 1553 to 1854 but the standard of record-keeping varied considerably from parish to parish and from year to year.  Registers for some parishes start in the early 19th century and in a few no records survive. It's unlikely that any parish achieved 100% coverage. There are a number of reasons for the defects and gaps in the registers:

  • No standard format for recording the information;
  • Registration was not compulsory and in some places was slow to become established;
  • Carelessness on the part of the session clerk or minister and lack of supervision;
  • Some members of non-conformist churches (“dissenters” ) objected to registering with the Established Church although the Old Parish Registers do include people of other denominations who were resident in Church of Scotland parishes;
  • The Stamp Duty Act of 1783 (23 Geo III c 67) introduced a fee of three pence on ‘the registry of burials, marriages, baptisms and christenings’ with a penalty of five pounds for those who refused to pay - it was repealed in 1794;
  • Rapid urbanisation in the 19th century saw the role and influence of the Church diminishing in the large towns and cities - evidence of low registration rates in these areas was a key factor in the introduction of compulsory civil registration;
  • Damage to volumes or pages caused by, for example, damp storage conditions, rodents or fire.
Post-1854 Entries in the Old Parish Registers

Although civil registration was introduced in 1855 you will find some entries for that and later years in the Old Parish Registers. Most are also recorded in the statutory registers of births, deaths and marriages - a few are not.

Detailed list of the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland (1872)

In 1872 the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages produced a guide to the Old Parish Registers that had been transferred to his custody and those held locally at the time. It is made available as a portable document format with bookmarks to the first page of each county and the index of parishes.

Detailed list of the Old Parochial Registers of Scotland (8.8 MB pdf file)

List of Old Parish Registers

This search room guide is based on the 'Detailed list'. It was compiled in 1975 and is kept under revision. Please note that it provides covering dates only. To check for any gaps in the records for a particular parish you should consult the 'Detailed list'.

The 'List of OPRs' records the number of volumes of the Register of Neglected Entries (1801-1854) or RNE per parish. It also provides cross-references to appendix one which lists kirk session records containing pre-1855 birth, death and marriage entries.

The old names of some counties are given in brackets.

The list is published as a series of portable document format files (100-260 KB pdfs) below.

Reference Counties
OPR 1-56 Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland
OPR 57-119 Ross and Cromarty, Inverness
OPR 120-167 Nairn, Moray (Elgin), Banff
OPR 168-249 Aberdeenshire
OPR 250-322 Kincardineshire, Angus (Forfar)
OPR 323-398 Perthshire
OPR 399-459 Fife
OPR 460-491 Kinross, Clackmannan, Stirling
OPR 492-551 Dunbarton, Argyll
OPR 552-575 Bute, Renfrew
OPR 576-620 Ayr
OPR 621-660 Lanark
OPR 661-673 West Lothian (Linlithgow)
OPR 674-701 Midlothian (Edinburgh)
OPR 702-725 East Lothian (Haddington)
OPR 726-757 Berwick
OPR 758-811 Peebles, Selkirk, Roxburgh
OPR 812-854 Dumfries
OPR 855-901 Kirkcudbright, Wigtown

Appendix 1: kirk session records (our reference CH2) containing pre-1855 birth, death and marriage entries

Appendix 2: kirk session and other material found in the Old Parish Registers

Appendix 3: miscellaneous records containing entries from non-conformist churches relevant to the Old Parish Registers

Index of parish names