Book Review: Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry through Church & State Records: A Guide for Family Historians by Chris Paton

Scottish Research Church and State Records
Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors through Church & State Records: A Guide for Family Historians by Chris Paton

Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry through Church & State Records: A Guide for Family Historians. By Chris Paton.  Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: Casemate Publishers 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $26.95. 2019. 162 pp. Illustrations, Index Softcover.

Since 1707 Scotland has been united with the rest of Britain, leading to a more homogeneous approach to worldwide affairs as the British Empire flourished. However, in three important ways Scotland remained independent, first with its own legal system, heavily influenced by Roman Law and the feudal form of land tenure, long abandoned by the rest of Britain. Second, Scotland kept its own state church, which differed markedly from its Anglican equivalent and fought within itself frequently over the issue of control between patrons and members. Third, Scotland kept its own education system, with its own challenges created by rapidly changing demographics during the Industrial Revolutions and the aftermath of the Irish Famine in the mid-nineteenth Century.

All of these issues, and their effect on the records, are addressed in this excellent guide. The material is presented in nine chapters. The first examines the research resources, i.e. where the records are kept and issues researchers will run into, like handwriting and language. The next three chapters focus on birth, marriage and death, examining civil registration, Church of Scotland records, and then other churches. Chapter five, titled “Where Were They?” examines records showing where people lived, covering topics such as census, electoral registers, valuation rolls, burgh assessment rolls, tax records, forfeited estates, maps and more. Chapter six addresses land tenure, where Scots Law is based upon a system established from Celtic, Norse, Roman and Norman practices in place long before the union with the rest of Britain, yet is paradoxically continually evolving to meet current needs. Land tenure is closely connected with the following chapter on inheritance, which clearly addresses the different procedures and records associated with ‘moveable estate’ and ‘heritable estate’ until 1868. The final chapter examines law and order, explaining the various court systems in place and how different crimes were handled.

Mr. Paton writes clearly, based on experience with the records, providing lots of practical guidelines on how to find what is needed in them. He also provides the political or legal background to make the records and their contents understandable. The book itself is laid out for the ease of researchers. The table of contents provides the chapter titles and all the sub-headings, making finding a topic easy. The index itself is more extensive and thorough than most indexes to books in this series, adding value to its usefulness. The book also highlights what can be found online and what researchers will need to research in Scotland.

The scope of the book includes records of the Church and the State, the primary producers of records in Scotland. Researchers at all levels of experience with Scottish ancestors will find easy to follow suggestions and guidance in this book. It is thus highly recommended for anyone doing Scottish research.

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