Scottish Genealogy

Old Parish Registers

From ScotlandsPeople web site

The Old Parish Registers (OPRs) comprise the records of births & baptisms, banns & marriages and deaths & burials kept by individual parishes of the Established Church (Church of Scotland) before the introduction of civil registration in 1855. The parish minister or the session clerk usually assumed responsibility for maintaining the registers, but since there was no standard format employed, record keeping varied enormously from parish to parish and also from year to year. As a result, the information may be sparse, unreliable and difficult to read. The oldest register dates from 1553 (baptisms and banns from Errol, Perthshire), but although there was a requirement from 1552 that parishes record baptisms and marriages, many did not commence until much later, and some more remote areas only have registers from the early 19th century. Some registers have been lost or destroyed and the condition of the surviving 3500 is variable. The General Register Office for Scotland holds the surviving original registers.

Registration in Church of Scotland's registers was costly and unpopular, so many people did not bother to register events at all. Although details of some non-conformists can be found in Established Church registers, many members of other religious denominations chose to have events registered in their own churches. In addition, rapid urbanisation during the 19th century contributed to the diminishing influence of the Church and a decrease in registration in these areas. It was estimated at the time that as few as 30% of events actually occurring were being recorded for some urban parishes.


The census records information on the country's population and has been taken every ten years since 1801, with the exception of 1941. The returns of most use to the family historian are those from 1841 onwards. From 1861, the gathering of Scottish census material has been the responsibility of the General Register Office for Scotland. Records may only be inspected after 100 years, so the census returns presently available for public scrutiny are 1841-1901.

The census is essentially a snapshot of the people in a household on a given night and as such can provide details of a particular family and anyone else who happens to be in the house at the time, for example, servants, lodgers, or visitors. Census records can be used, not only to further your search for direct ancestors, but also to broaden your knowledge of the wider family and to bridge the gap between statutory and OPR records. They can also give an indication of how the family lived. Geographic mobility can be tracked through the given birthplaces, and social mobility through addresses and occupations.

The General Register Office for Scotland holds the census records for all Scotland. Online access to the indexes for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 and images of the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1891 and 1901 census returns is available on ScotlandsPeople . You may also view transcripts of the 1881 census.

Statutory Registers

The statutory registers comprise the official records of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland from 1 January 1855 when civil registration replaced the old system of registration by parishes of the Established Church (Church of Scotland). From 1855, registration became compulsory, regardless of religious denomination, and followed a standard format for each record type. More information was required in order to register an event, particularly at the start of the new system.

The General Register Office for Scotland holds statutory births, marriages and deaths for the whole of Scotland from 1855 to present.

Indexes of Scottish births, marriages and deaths (1855-2006) and images of births(1855-1907), marriages (1855-1932) and deaths (1855-1957) can be viewed on ScotlandsPeople .

See North Lanarkshire list of records

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