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Overheard in GenForum: Kirkpatrick/Kilpatrick 1800 Scotland
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

March 23, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I need help finding info on the Kirkpatrick/Kilpatrick family when they were still in Scotland. -- Ashley

A: Very often when we find ourselves working in a new country, we forget about the standard methods and practices that we have been using for all the rest of our research. Other times there are new and unfamiliar record types that we are now faced with.

Scotland is one of those countries that offers us a little of both. There are some of the familiar record types and then there are some new ones. There are also some familiar records with an unfamiliar name.

Genealogists are constantly learning, especially when tracing ancestors back to another country.

Understanding Vital Records

Vital records in Scotland are referred to as "civil registration." This is because they are the records of the civil administration as opposed to the ecclesiastical or church administration. It is often hard for those who have been researching in the United States to understand this almost complete involvement of churches in the ongoing daily living of the community. However, at one time it was the ecclesiastical body that governed the inhabitants of the towns and cities.

Civil registration for Scotland was begun in 1855. Prior to this it is necessary for the researcher to pay attention to the church records, which are described below. However, to work with the civil registration there are indexes that can be accessed on microfilm that can be of help. These records can be accessed through your local Family History Center.

Church Records

Prior to 1855, the researcher must turn to church records when trying to find information about the births, marriages and deaths of their ancestors. These records differ as well in availability. Unlike some other countries, Scotland is one of those that has generally had a recognized "state" religion. As such, you may sometimes find yourself having to determine if you are looking for conformist or nonconformist records.

Nonconformist means that the religion was not the recognized state religion. For the researcher, this can mean that the records needed may not exist or that they may not have survived. However, the researcher will want to search the Family History Library Catalog, as many of those that have survived can be found on microfilm through the Family History Library.

Conformist records are for the Church of Scotland and can often be traced back to the 1500s and before. These are the records most often used by researchers, and they are indexed.

OPR Index

The index for the Church of Scotland records is referred to as the Old Parish or Old Parochial Registers Index. For many years, the only index available required that the researcher know the shire, or county, at the very least. However, with the currently available CD-ROM version of this index, that is no longer necessary.

This index is available through the Family History Library and therefore through its branch Family History Centers. It is part of the CD-ROM set known as the FamilySearch system.

Once you have used this index, you are encouraged to then order the microfilmed church records. You will want to look through the pages of the records for ten years before and ten years after the birth of your ancestor to see what else you can find for that family. Also keep in mind that in some churches the births are separate from the marriages.

In Conclusion

It is a good idea to become familiar with these and other records available to the researcher of Scottish ancestry. A good way to do that is to read a book on the subject. You will find such books available through Genealogical Publishing Company.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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