Monday, November 1, 2010

Kirk Session Records via Scottish GENES & Family Chronicle

While doing my dissertation research, I had a love/hate relationship with Kirk Session Records. Don't know what they are? It's just Scots' speak for Church records. But they aren't just lists of who brought cookies to the bake sale. No, the official Scottish church was Calvinist - which means they had a mission to make sure that everyone in the parish behaved in a Godly-manner. Blasphemy and fornication and other "bad behaviors" were right out. Not only were these activities discouraged, but if you were caught you were brought before the Kirk Session, witnesses called, and judgment brought down upon your head and you were expected to do penance before the congregation.

What makes the Kirk Session Records great for social history is that many of them are written in amazing detail with witness statements, defense statements, and lists of punishment and penance. Many people weren't very sorry for what they had done and had to be coerced into performing their act of penance. Parents of illegitimate children were often brought before the Session too, which is good gossip and a goldmine for genealogists.

So why did I have a love/hate relationship with them. Well, the parish I was most interested in was Moy and Dalarossie and their Kirk Session records do exist for the 18th century.  I was very expectant when I requested them on a trip to the NAS (call number CH2/684/1).

The first entry I wrote down from the minutes was very exciting: “The Troublesome Times has destroyed many Minutes of Session from the above date {15 September 1745} till September 1746 and from that till May 22d 1748 Stollen.” I wonder what was recorded in the Session minutes during the '45? If it was worth stealing, it must have been something worth reading.

Then: Moy 16 September 1753
“… Ann Davidson in Tullochclury, threw down the Child got in fornication by Andrew Noble with her sister Katerine Davidson upon the Kirk floor, The session ending after Enquiry that the said Andrew Noble had left this Country and no Accounts could be had of him, So that the Child was now left as an orphan and a Burden upon the Parish, Janet Davidson in Moybegg was with great Difficulty prevail’d with to take care of the Child, till the first meeting of Session.”

This was not the only record of "non-paternal' events in the parish. There were a few cases where a couple was brought before the Session for fornication and included in the minutes are descriptions of what the witnesses saw. Reading the minutes of these trials was a bit like reading a racy romance novel. A fact which has lead some historians to question the motives of those who held these trials.

Then my expectations were cruelly dashed!  By the time I turned the pages to the 1780s - NOTHING.  All there is a mention of which church the minister was at and whether the sermon was in English or Gaelic; then it became a record book for distributions to the poor. And I was so looking forward to gossip about Scotch Settlement emigrants.

Why this sudden interest in Kirk Session records? Well, because there is an article about the current NAS project to index and abstract them in the current issue of Family Chronicle; which I learned about courtesy of Scottish GENES.  Happy Reading!


Jo said...

Oh, Amanda, I do love a Session with the Kirk Session Minutes - all that intrigue and gossip, it's such a shame they're not available to all just yet. I have had successes proving relationships within families this way, and a great read in between :-)

Amanda E. Epperson said...

Yes, they are great fun. I now wish I had copied down more of "the good stuff," even if the people involved weren't connected to Scotch Settlement. I couls have had some very lively posts.

Brenda said...

The NAS project is very encouraging! Will take a while, though. FYI, on my blog I've cited a few KS extracts for the Isle of Coll where fornication more or less flourished (no signs of babies being thrown around. Yet). Not attending kirk on the sabbath was apparently almost on a par with a tumble in the hay.


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