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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree January 2018 > Understanding marriage laws in Scotland

Understanding marriage laws in Scotland

If you’ve discovered ancestors who tied the knot north of the border, it’s worth getting to grips with the Scots laws that led to the creation of a different set of historical records from the rest of the UK. Family historian Chris Paton leads the way, explaining the legal infrastructure surrounding marriage in Scotland, and how it may further your family history research

ESSENTIAL SCOTTISH KNOW-HOW

An 1804 map of Scotland and a 1790 marriage record from the ScotlandsPeople website

Ahuge historic difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK has been the law surrounding marriage. In this article I will provide an overview on how things were done north of the border, both before and after the introduction of civil registration in Scotland in 1855, and show what to look for in the marriage records on the ScotlandsPeople website and elsewhere.

Like other UK countries, Scotland historically had marriages that were ‘regular’ or ‘irregular’. A regular marriage was carried out by a Church of Scotland minister after the prior calling of banns in one or both spouse’s parishes on three successive Sundays. From such weddings the Kirk would earn ‘proclamation money’ or ‘pledge money’, an important contribution to parochial funds. Although marriage registers are included, the Old Parish Registers (OPRs) on the ScotlandsPeople pay-per-view website at www.scotlandspeople.co.uk may show the payment of this sum as the only evidence of marriage, but just because the banns were called, this does not necessarily mean the wedding happened. If their first child was subsequently shown to be ‘lawful’, however, that provides confirmation. For some weddings the session could ask for someone to stand as ‘cautioner’ (pronounced ‘kayshoner’), essentially to act as guarantor, and to pay a deposit to ensure that the occasion would be solemn. A real worry for both the Kirk and local landowners was that festivities might be undertaken via a ‘penny wedding’, in which folk would turn up, pay a penny, and then get drunk for several days to celebrate, with potentially all sorts of outrageous activities undertaken such as ‘promiscuous dancing’!

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About Family Tree

Make the most of hibernation indoors this winter with our January 2018 issue. It’s full of family history tips and stories, plus a masterclass guide to essential church records. In addition, there are this issue’s Family Tree Academy challenges for our genealogy learn-along. If you have a new smart phone or device, you’ll love our new series with technology tips for family historians (don’t miss a trick that the web or your mobile can help you out with!). There is so much to enjoy, there’s no time to waste! Wishing you a very Happy New Year of family history to come.