Tuesday 7 November 2017

History and Care by the Church in Local Parishes

Many of the records we can find listing our ancestors, especially prior to civil registration, come from church records, at least in the British Isles. The churches were central to the local societies and, in many respects, governed the habits and deportment of the residents.

Comments can often be found in parish registers, about historical events as well as concerning the behaviour of parishioners. Ministers did not generally hold back when commenting on moral issues in particular. What family researcher has not found a reference to an illicit romance evidenced by a note in the baptism register about pre-marital relations?

The child might well be tagged with the label of bastard, if born out-of-wedlock or before the parents were married. Even the date of conception might be highlighted by clergymen. Such was the case for a 2nd great-grandmother of a friend of mine where a note was inserted into the 1790 baptism register for Lintrathen, Forfarshire, Scotland, saying the child was “begat in antenuptial fornication.”

I was reminded of the role of the church as well in looking at documents and publications for a course I have just started on Scotland 1750 to 1850: Beyond the OPRs (Pharos Teaching and Tutoring). I found a write-up on Campsie Parish, Stirlingshire (birthplace of my 2nd great-grandfather), in The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1845 describing the church, its history and its activities, the author, Rev. Mr. James Lapslie, recorded how the church was involved in the formation and adjudication of all manner of the parish’s social structure:

I have all along been accustomed to consider these public religious meetings as beneficial to the manners of the country. The ecclesiastical discipline of this parish is still kept up. As for discipline against fornicators, two days doing public penance in the church, are required, besides a fine of a crown, for each guilty person, to the poor. There has been an opinion entertained, that this public penance has been productive of very bad effects in society; so far has an idea gone forth of this sort, that, for this reason, some writers have pretended to say, that so long as doing public penance was permitted, no person should be put to death for child murder; I am inclined to believe, that it would be much more the interest of the community, in a political light, that the laws of discipline should be more rigidly adhered to; for if once the vulgar of any country, consider incontinency as a venial fault, they are almost ready for the commission of any crime; and as l can easily see, that the shame of doing penance operates to deter others; in this point of view, it is to be considered as answering the ends of edification.

Publications like the Statistical Accounts of Scotland are great sources of information about areas of Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. The report on Campsie had a lot of information about the weaving and printing industries which employed many of my ancestors.

There are many historical and genealogical publications available now to download. One of the great sites I go to often is Archive.org. A quick search of the site for “Parish of Campsie” in the text of books resulted in 3,378 hits, 281 of them under the sub-category of genealogy. Many were family genealogies.

If you are doing research for your Scottish lines, as I have done recently, don’t forget to look for historical information that can give you important background to how and where your ancestors lived. And do check sites such as the Statistical Accounts and Archive.org for relevant material.