Kirk Session records can be a very fruitful source for family history, but they can also be immensely frustrating. As well as the usual bugbears regarding erratic survival of records, sometimes the session clerk was less than assiduous in his work. Handwriting problems can usually be overcome, but that's not the only problem. Some clerks were plainly not keen on doing a thorough job - perhaps understandably, given that they generally weren't paid well for their efforts.
Clearly, though, some clerks were more conscientious. The following instructions come from St Cuthbert's Kirk Session in Edinburgh, and although not specifically dated, the relevant volume covers 1696-1700.
The instructions make clear that there was concern not just for properly recording relevant events, the session were also thinking of people looking through the records in future. (Although granted I very much doubt they would have anticipated me reading their comments on a computer over 300 years later!). If only all session clerks were as considerate ...
Kirk Session records are a fantastic resource, not just for family history, but for Scottish history more generally. Along with the information more generally sought by genealogists - interrogations of unmarried mothers as to the paternity of their children (which we've written about here) - and the occasional panic about witchcraft and Sabbath breaking, they sometimes contain snippets of more general interest.
The following appears in the West Calder Kirk Session minutes on 1 September 1678 :
A communication from the Privy Council being read for a voluntary contribution for the relief of Robert Williamson skipper in Montross [Montrose] and the rest of his company captives with the Turks in Algiers, the Session ordains a collection to be made through the several houses of the Parish & intimation publickly to be made before the collection thereof.
This was a reference to what are known as the Barbary Pirates - privateers operating from North Africa, attacking European shipping and mounting coastal raids in the Mediterranean and further afield (Baltimore in County Cork had been raided in 1631, and even Iceland had been attacked in 1627). The purpose of the raids was to acquire captives, either to be sold as slaves or, for the lucky ones, to be ransomed. Presumably the Privy Council were hoping to pay a ransom for Robert Williamson and his crew.
England had sought relief from pirate attacks through a series of attacks and gunboat diplomacy in previous years. In 1675 Sir John Narborough, commanding a Royal Navy squadron, had negotiated a treaty with Tunis, and also - following a bombardment - with Tripoli, in modern-day Libya. The next year, peace followed with the Republic of Salé (opposite Rabat in Morocco). A peace deal had been negotiated with Algiers in 1671, but this was broken in 1677 and a large number of ships from Britain were captured by corsairs operating out of Algiers. Janeway  lists over 80 ships captured by Algiers corsairs in 1677-1679.
Evidently the men appointed to raise a collection for Robert Williamson were not particularly assiduous in carrying out their task, as seven weeks later we again read in the session minutes :
October 22 1678
We hear nothing more about the collection until finally, three months after the initial call to raise a collection, we read :
December 8 1678
Although it's not explicitly stated, it seems reasonable to assume the intention was to pay a ransom to recover Robert Williamson. Sadly, Janeway notes that it was not to be, recording that the ship (the Isabella) was lost, with all twelve crew having died. It's not clear what happened to the money raised, evidently not just in West Calder. It may well have been paid to the families of the unfortunate crew of the Isabella, but there is no mention of that in the West Calder records.
 By Workshop of Willem van de Velde the Younger - Christie's, LotFinder: entry 5080190, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18420790
 Kirk Session of West Calder, Minutes, September 1 1678, CH2/366/1, Records of Church of Scotland Synods, Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions, National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh
 A list of ships taken since July, 1677 from his Majesties subjects, by the corsairs of Algier. With their names, masters names, and places to which they belong'd, and time of taking : with a modest estimate of the loss. London: Printed for Richard Janeway, 1682.
 Kirk Session of West Calder, Minutes, October 22 1678, CH2/366/1, Records of Church of Scotland Synods, Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions, National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh
 Kirk Session of West Calder, Minutes, December 8 1678, CH2/366/1, Records of Church of Scotland Synods, Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions, National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh
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