D is for Dissenters
Monday 1st January 1855 is a key date in Scottish genealogy research. That was when the system of statutory registration was introduced, covering - in theory at least - every birth, marriage and death in Scotland. However, if you want to research back before 1855, things get a little trickier. The most commonly used records for tracing Scottish ancestry before statutory registration, are the so called OPRs, or Old Parish Registers. These have been indexed, and are available - for a fee - on the Scotland's People website. However, they only cover the established Church of Scotland. You may have a marriage record (often inaccurately referred to as a certificate) for your ancestors, showing that they were members of a dissenting church.
Scotland's fractious religious history means that historically, many Scots did not belong to the Church of Scotland. There have been numerous schisms over the centuries since the Reformation, as a result of dissent over Church doctrine and practice.
In 1733, Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff and James Fisher led what became known as the First Secession, forming the Associate Presbytery. A Second Secession led by Thomas Gillespie followed in 1761. In 1820, several of the dissenting groups combined to form the United Secession Church, initially with 261,000 followers in 361 congregations. By 1830, around one in three Scots were members.
But the largest secession from the Church of Scotland came with the Disruption of 1843, when a long-running dispute over patronage (triggered by the 1834 Veto Act of the General Assembly: see our parish records pages for 150,000 free records of heads of families created as a result of this Act) within the Church of Scotland led to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. Over a third of serving ministers in the established church joined the Free Church, leaving the Church of Scotland as a minority church for the first time.
Most of these various denominations kept registers of the baptisms of the children of members. Many of these registers survive today in Scottish archives. Unfortunately, for the most part they have not been indexed at all, and the registers are not available online, so finding your ancestors can be challenging.
Over the last few months, we have been extracting the pre-1855 entries from many of these registers, and making them available online. These extractions are not just indexes, but full extracts of all the information contained in the registers - not just names and dates, but often home addresses, father's occupations, and in a number of instances additional notes added by the church officers. Many of these registers continue past 1855, but as there are statutory registers from that time on, we have not extracted them. So far, we've extracted the registers listed below. Click on a link to see what names these registers contain - perhaps your ancestors were dissenters?
Aberdeen St Paul Street United Presbyterian, Aberdeenshire
Aberdeen Bon Accord Free Church, Aberdeenshire
Newhills Free Church, Aberdeenshire
Arbroath Erskine United Presbyterian Church, Angus
St George's Free Church Montrose, Angus
Ardrossan St John's Free Church, Ayrshire
Coldingham United Presbyterian Church, Berwickshire
Langton Free Church, Berwickshire
Canisbay Free Church, Caithness
Lybster Free Church, Caithness
Pulteneytown Free Church, Caithness
Johnstone and Wamphray Free Church, Dumfriesshire
Innerwick Free Church, East Lothian
Edinburgh St Luke's Free Church, Edinburgh
Portobello United Presbyterian Church, Edinburgh
St Georges Free Church, Edinburgh
Gorbals United Presbyterian Church, Glasgow
Shamrock Street United Presbyterian Church Glasgow, Glasgow
Strachan Free Church, Kincardineshire
Milnathort United Presbyterian, Kinross-shire
Auchencairn Free Church, Kirkcudbrightshire
Dalbeattie Free Church, Kirkcudbrightshire
Tongland and Twynholm Free Church, Kirkcudbrightshire
Blantyre United Presbyterian Church, Lanarkshire
Cambusnethan Associate Church, Lanarkshire
Hamilton St. John's Free Church, Lanarkshire
Roberton United Presbyterian Church, Lanarkshire
Wellwynd United Associate Congregation Airdrie, Lanarkshire
Musselburgh United Presbyterian, Midlothian
Sandwick United Presbyterian Church, Orkney
Stromness United Presbyterian, Orkney
Aberfeldy Free Church, Perthshire
Alyth Associate Congregation, Perthshire
Blackford Free Church, Perthshire
St Leonards Free Church Perth, Perthshire
Alexandria United Secession Church, Renfrewshire
Erskine Free Church, Renfrewshire
Paisley, Reformed Presbyterian, Renfrewshire
Bowden Free Church, Roxburghshire
Kelso United Presbyterian, Roxburghshire
Denny Free Church, Stirlingshire
Tongue Free Church, Sutherland
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