Sources for Scottish Church history in the NAS

Sources for Scottish Church history in the NAS

Virginia Russell, National Archives of Scotland

(First published in Dunaskin News, November 2003)


The holdings of the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) cover a wide variety of research subjects, and are a major source for researchers into the history of the Scottish Church.

Church records

The Church collections form a significant proportion of the holdings of the National Archives of Scotland, with dates ranging from the 16th Century onwards, including a small number of records from the pre-Reformation era. The National Archives of Scotland is the recognised national repository for records of the Church of Scotland, and its constituent predecessor Churches. We also hold on deposit a small proportion of the records of other Protestant denominations, including the Methodist, Congregational/United Reformed and Scottish Episcopal Churches, the Unitarian Church and the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Records of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland are held by the Scottish Catholic Archive, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow Archive, and individual parishes of the Roman Catholic Church. However, we do hold copies of Roman Catholic Registers (NAS Ref: RH21), catalogues for which are available in the Historical Search Room.

Indexes are available for the main Church of Scotland collections and printed catalogues for all collections. In addition to these printed versions, catalogues of all of the Church records collections are now available on the NAS online catalogue, which can be accessed via our website at

CH1, CH2, CH3: Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian Churches

The CH1 collection spans the whole range of records created by the General Assembly, including minutes of the annual Assembly meetings, committee and board minutes, etc, with regular additions each year. The CH2 collection includes the records of the Church of Scotland at Synod, Presbytery and Kirk Session level. The majority of the congregations covered by the CH3 collections have now been incorporated as Church of Scotland congregations, although the collections originate in the breakaway Presbyterian congregations of the 18th and 19th centuries, including the Original and United Secession congregations, Relief Church, United Presbyterian Church, Free Church, and United Free Church. The CH3 collections also include records of these dissenting Churches at Synod and Presbytery level.

CH4-CH16: Other Church collections

The remaining series in the Church collections include surviving records of the Pre-Reformation Church (CH4, CH5, CH6, CH7); a collection of miscellaneous ecclesiastical documents of unknown provenance (CH8); records of the Churches and Universities (Scotland) Widows’ and Orphan's Fund Records (CH9); and the records of other Christian denominations as follows: CH10 Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); CH11 Methodist Church; CH12 Scottish Episcopal Church; CH13 United Free Church of Scotland; CH14 Congregational/United Reformed Church; CH15 Unitarian Church; CH16 Free Church of Scotland.

In the case of CH16, this is very small collection of records relating to the Free Church of Scotland as it continued in existence following the union of the Free Church with the United Presbyterian Church, to form the United Free Church, in 1900. The records of those Free Church congregations which entered into the union of 1900, and subsequently the union of the United Free Church with the Church of Scotland in 1929, are mostly recorded in the CH3 series. Similarly, the records in CH13 are of those congregations of the United Free Church of Scotland which remained in existence following the 1929 union.

Charge and superintendence

The National Archives of Scotland has set up agreements with a number of Scottish Local Authority Archives, whereby records of particular local significance are held in local archives under the Charge and Superintendence of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland. In the case of Church Records this tends to apply to records of congregations within particular Presbyteries, especially in the larger conurbations such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. Indication of where records are held in local archives should appear in the catalogue entry for the individual congregation.

Scottish Church history in other NAS collections

One of the largest record groups within The National Archives of Scotland is the Gifts and Deposits series (GD). Collections within this group include the records of Scottish landed estates, as well as of private individuals and organisations. Since the history of the Scottish Church has strong links with the landed classes, especially in relation to patronage, it is very common to find records relating to local parishes within the GD collections.

For example, in at least one estate collection there is reference to the Duke of X, as patron of the parish Church, making it known to the local landowners that he would look favourably on their suggested candidate for the vacant ministerial charge. Equally, there are several examples of references to the conduct of the local minister or schoolmaster, and to matters concerning the heritors of the parish within the papers of individual estates. Such records not only help to illustrate aspects of local, family and social history, but also go some way to giving insight into parish life in post-Reformation Scotland.