Nearly 4,000 new volumes of records from the Church of Scotland, equating to around 290,000 digital images, have been added to the ScotlandsPeople website. This release complements the upload of kirk session minute books and accounts in 2021 and is the latest instalment in an ongoing programme of making church records available online.

This new upload, including over 3,000 kirk session records, also provides online access to records of presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly, all of which have been made available on ScotlandsPeople for the first time and are ready to be explored.

Covering almost 350 years of Scottish history, from the 1560s to 1900, digital images of a vast array of church court records can now be searched and viewed for free. Images can be saved at a cost of two credits per image. Available records include minute books, accounts and cash books, communion rolls, seat rents, poor relief and education records, as well as a wide variety of other records created by church courts.

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Detail from a page from the Kilwinning Kirk Session recording seat rent accounts,1723-1724. NRS, CH2/591/15 page 3

Detail from a page from the Kilwinning Kirk Session recording seat rent accounts,1723-1724
NRS, CH2/591/15 page 3

Unlike other genealogical records on ScotlandsPeople, church court records are not indexed by name. Instead, you can browse the volumes using the Virtual Volumes search by reference number, the name of the kirk session or other court, or by place name. It is also now possible to undertake a keyword search from the volume search page. Try using terms such as ‘school’, ‘diary’, or ‘poor’, to return matching results.

These records can help to unlock a treasure trove of information for anyone researching church, family, local or social history. Details about the lives of ordinary Scots are captured through kirk session minutes, which often document local events – weather, famine, war – and parishioners' behaviour through their notes on illegitimate births, irregular marriages, or poor relief in times of hardship. Communion rolls and seat rents unveil the names of some of the inhabitants in different parishes. School records, ministers’ diaries and journals all throw light on information not found elsewhere on ScotlandsPeople.

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Page from a population list from Dalkeith kirk session, 1811.  NRS, CH2/84/41 page 27

Page from a population list from Dalkeith kirk session, 1811.
NRS, CH2/84/41 page 27

For more information about these records, please see the guidance on church court records, kirk session records, and using Virtual Volumes on ScotlandsPeople. Our article about the General Assembly sets out details about the history and the role of the supreme court of the Church of Scotland.

If you are new to reading and interpreting church court records, you can find help in our guide to reading older handwriting, the Scottish Handwriting resource and a glossary of abbreviations, words and phrases.