When family historians think about the Kirk Session, and more specifically Kirk Session minutes, we tend to think about scandal: interrogations of unmarried mothers as to the paternity of their children, parishioners being rebuked for drunkenness, or Sabbath-breaking, or a lack of due reverence in church. But the Kirk Sessions had a wider remit than social control.
Sessions were also responsible for supporting the poor of the parish. This was usually done with a mix of genuine concern and obvious judgement: the phrase "deserving poor" is often found in the minutes. Poor relief was usually minimal, and often involved payment in kind - food and coal, or payment of rent, a precursor of today's housing benefit.
Sometimes, though, you will find more unusual forms of relief given to local paupers. We found the following example in the minutes for 1692 from the Kirk Session of Aberdalgie in Perthshire:
Septe[mbe]r the 11th  After sermon sess met. This day Issabell Firskin in the Milton of Aberdalgie shewing that through ane extraordinary swelling in one of her fingers she was in hazard to lose her whole hand if that finger was not cut off and that a person had undertaken to cut off that finger and remove that trouble for a certain summ of money and she being poor and indigent desired the help of the sess for that effect. The sess considering this desire did out of sympathy wt their petitioner appoint a collection to be given her and intimatione to be made the nixt Lo[rd's] Day thereanent.
(Aberdalgie Kirk Session Minutes, 11 September 1692, CH2/1613/1/1)
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