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Old Parish Registers (OPRs)

For those trying to trace their ancestry back to Scotland prior to 1855 the main source of information are the Parish records. The Old Parish Registers (OPRs) comprise the records of births & baptisms, banns & marriages and deaths & burials kept by individual parishes of the Established Church (Church of Scotland) before the introduction of civil registration in 1855. The parish minister or the session clerk usually assumed responsibility for maintaining the registers, but since there was no standard format employed, record keeping varied enormously from parish to parish and also from year to year. As a result, the information may be sparse, unreliable and difficult to read. The oldest register dates from 1553 (baptisms and banns from Errol, Perthshire), but although there was a requirement from 1552 that parishes record baptisms and marriages, many did not commence until much later, and some more remote areas only have registers from the early 19th century. Some registers have been lost or destroyed and the condition of the surviving 3500 is variable. When Statutory Registration began in 1855, the Old Parish Registers of the Established Church of Scotland were put in to the care of the Registrar General's Office in Edinburgh.

Registration in Church of Scotland's registers was costly and unpopular, so many people did not bother to register events at all. Although details of some non-conformists can be found in Established Church registers, many members of other religious denominations chose to have events registered in their own churches. In addition, rapid urbanisation during the 19th century contributed to the diminishing influence of the Church and a decrease in registration in these areas. It was estimated at the time that as few as 30% of events actually occurring were being recorded for some urban parishes.

The information contained in the OPRs can vary immensely.

OPR Births & Baptisms

At best: name of the child, whether legitimate or not, date of birth and/or date of baptism, father's name, mother's name and maiden surname, place or parish of residence, occupation of the father and names (and sometimes occupations) of witnesses. Occasionally, as in, for example, Dundee, witnesses' relationship to the child (if any) may be recorded.

At worst: the mother's name is not recorded at all between certain years (as in Alyth parish between 1742 and 1786), or that the entry does not record the sex of the child and the name is ambiguous.

OPR Banns & Marriages

At best: date(s) of the proclamation of intended marriage and/or date of marriage, names of bride and groom and their parish of residence, sometimes the occupation of the groom and occasionally the name of the bride's father.

At worst: the names of the bride and groom recorded along with the fee paid in caution.

OPR Deaths & Burials

Of all the OPR records, those of deaths and/or burials are acknowledged to be the most sparsely kept. Since there was no requirement to record these, a great many parishes simply did not bother and of those that did, many have not survived. Often the only record that a death has taken place will be implied in the payment of a fee to the parish for the hire of the mortcloth or pall which was draped over the coffin or the body itself for the funeral.


ScotlandsPeople is the official government source of genealogical data for Scotland. A partnership between the General Register Office for Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland, The Court of the Lord Lyon and brightsolid (formerly Scotland Online), ScotlandsPeople is the official online source of parish register, civil registration, census and wills & testaments records for Scotland. Their website has more information on the Old Parish Registers.

Images of OPR births & baptisms,  banns & marriages, and  deaths & burials are available on ScotlandsPeople.


Microfilm copies of the OPRs can also be ordered through most LDS Family History Centers (LDS-FHC).


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