Erskine United Free Church
Kirk Session Records

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Burntisland's Erskine United Free Church has a long and distinguished history, which is described in detail in a separate article on this website. Briefly, the Church began as Burntisland's "Associate Congregation" which seceded from the Church of Scotland in 1738. Over the years, a series of splits and mergers saw it become the United Secession Church in 1820, the United Presbyterian Church in 1847, and the United Free Church (which it still is) in 1900.

In 2013 the Erskine Church allowed Burntisland Heritage Trust to digitally copy the church's older records and all of its newsletters. We are very grateful to the Rev Alexander Ritchie and the Kirk Session for supporting this project. Over 1,300 images, representing about 2,500 pages of records, have now been added to the Heritage Trust computer and are available for public viewing.

The images which are available for viewing are:

Family history researchers will be interested in the Baptismal Registers. In particular, the baptisms from 1837 to 1854 (the last year before civil registration began) may well be the only records of birth/baptism for most of the people concerned.

The newsletters contain much of interest, including obituaries and advertisements for local businesses.

Serious researchers will also find interesting family stories in the Kirk Session minutes. The Kirk Sessions of all the Presbyterian churches took a keen interest in the conduct of their members. In this respect they were in effect local courts which regulated the behaviour and morals of their congregations. The minutes record details of relatively minor matters such as lapses in church attendance, swearing, brawling, drunkenness, "unseemly carriage", consulting a fortune teller, and guising. Of greater concern were cases of theft and irregular marriage.

However, the main preoccupation at many of the meetings was sexual immorality, and a great deal of time was devoted to examining alleged transgressions - most frequently, sexual relations before marriage. These examinations usually continued over long periods and are frequently recorded in great detail. Potential transgressions often came to light via local gossip. Evidence was taken from the alleged offenders themselves, from other witnesses, and from church elders who often acted as roving investigators. Those found guilty would typically be given a long lecture by the Minister, followed by public rebukes at as many as three subsequent Sunday services. Family history researchers have found such records invaluable when trying to discover information about events such as a suspected illegitimate birth.

The minutes also record many instances of donations in cash or kind to named local individuals who found themselves in extreme poverty.

One of the most interesting of the old documents is a renewal of the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant. 169 church members subscribed to the document in 1749. The first to sign were eight elders - John Forrester, Robert Kirk, James Wilon, Alexander Lyle senior, John Piers, John Stocks, Alexander Lyall (sic) junior, and Henry Cant. The Session Clerk had to subscribe on behalf of the 80 members who could not read or write.

We have digitally enhanced the images to make them easier to read, but please note that some of them are still quite difficult to interpret because of poor or unusual handwriting, or the fading of ink over time.

There is no index, but the images are arranged in date-labelled batches.

The images can be viewed at Burntisland Heritage Centre during exhibition opening hours. Full instructions for using the computer are provided. Printed copies of the images can be supplied for 25p each.

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