Tales of the Scots who faced the wrath of the Kirk come to life as one million records go online

The stories of those who faced the wrath of the church in Scotland - from those drunk on the Sabbath to parents of children born out of wedlock - are being brought to life after hundreds of years.

More than one million pages of minutes form the Kirk Session of the Church of Scotland have gone online
More than one million pages of minutes form the Kirk Session of the Church of Scotland have gone online

More than one million pages of minutes form the Kirk Session of the Church of Scotland have gone online as a major project by National Records of Scotland comes to fruition

They show how the 'morality police' punished ungodly behaviour as well as how the Church was involved in supporting the poorest and most vulnerable in the country.

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The records, which date from 1559 to 1900, have been added to ScotlandsPeople, NRS’s online research service, for the first time.

Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said he was “delighted” by the development.

He added: “This will allow many more people to look into Scotland’s past through the eyes of those in the Kirk who carefully recorded the everyday life of our parishes and wider communities”.

One case from 1675 shows an accused of drunkeness on the Sabbath – then a very serious offence – against three men in Mauchline, Ayrshire.

George Campbell, John Millar and Mungow Gib were accused of begging for money to pay for an evening on the drink with another man assaulted after handing over a merk.

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Records show that "George Campbell John Millar and Mungow gib being convict of drukennes and sabbath breaking are appointed to be rebuked publiquely the nixt Sabbath”.

As punishment, the men were to stand on the stool of repentance and be admonished by the minister. But when the time, they deliberately broke the stool and were excommunicated.

In 1856, the search for the father of a baby girl born in Crieff was included in the minute book as the kirk sesison sought to establish if the parish was responsible for financially supporting the mother and child.

Ann Boyd, a domestic servant, gave birth to Jemima on August 20, 1865 with the girl later documented as “illigitimate” at birth. The mum late told the session that a Peter Kemp was the father .

Ann appeared before kirk sessions in Crieff and Madderty where ‘she resided when the guilt was contracted’.

Peter refused the charge against him. It was recorded in Crieff on 8th June 1857 that following a declaration that her statement was true, Ann was ‘solemnly admonished of her sin and expected to lead a virtuous life…[and] was restored to the privileges of the church’.

Peter never took responsibility for his child or the relationship, it is understood, but it is not clear if he faced sanction.

Individual records of women accused of witchcraft in Scotland between the 16th and 18th Century are due to be included in the onlin records in the near future.

The newly added records also include accounts of how the kirk responded to war, epidemics, crop failures and extreme weather events.

Paul Lowe, NRS Chief Executive and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: “We are delighted to make the kirk session records available online for the very first time, bringing ScotlandsPeople users closer than ever to our past."

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