Wigtownshire Pages, Glossary and Explanations
  Glossary and Explanations

Counties Churches 1841 Census 1851 Census
W.F.P. Directories Valuation Roll IRC

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General Research in Scotland
For those new to genealogy in Scotland, go to Genuki's Introduction to Scottish Family History, to read more about the General Register Office, Old Parish Registers, census, and b/m/d certificates.

Definitions on subjects as sasines, and poor relief can be found at Ayrshire Roots

Counties, Countries and Other Mysteries
Great Britain, the main island of the British Isles, today comprises three countries, Scotland, England and Wales. Scotland and its neighbor England have been divided into administrative areas known as counties, or shires, since the early Middle Ages.

The counties are further divided into civil parishes, which are generally the same as the parishes of the Church of Scotland in Scotland, and the Church of England in England. These parishes also once had a substantial civil government function but that gradually eroded to almost a nullity over the years. However, during the latter part of the last century, the time-honored county divisions were also abolished in both countries, and modern maps often no longer show the traditional boundaries. New districts or regions often combine smaller counties, or break up larger counties, and are not often useful yet for genealogy.

Other district names have long histories too. In our area, Galloway today comprises Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbright, but in times past it has also included the Carrick district of Ayrshire and at least part of Dumfries.

Adjoining to the East are The Borders, a group of former counties which held the much disputed border with England for many years. Across the Solway to the South in England is Cumbria, formerly the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland and a small part of Lancashire.

The Churches in Scotland
The forerunner of all Scottish Christianity was the monastic Celtic Church, likely starting with Ninian in Whithorn about 400 AD, and acknowledging only its own direct link with Rome. From about 1100 AD, as community with other Western churches came about, bishops played an increasing role in church government. But from the mid 1500s the Reformation in Scotland moved the Church away from its Roman connections. Now individual "heresies" were replaced by widespread informed dissent.

From 1560, Calvinist and presbyterian forms came to the fore. While bishoprics were restored in 1610 and again from 1662, after the Settlement of 1690 the Scottish Reformation was the most complete in Europe, though far from unanimous, except against Rome. Especially in our area, the South-West, throughout the 17th. century, Covenanters strove for more puritan ideals. As a principle, Presbyterianism was now entrenched, and it was 'guaranteed' in the Union of Scotland with England in 1707.

Nonetheless, internal disagreements continued. Some favored state support, and the Relief Church, opposing it, separated in 1761. Evangelicals, with once again a more puritan approach, disfavored patronage. This had been restored by the Westminster government in 1712, local magnates choosing ministers instead of congregations. The culmination was "The Disruption" of 1843, when 470 ministers, some two-thirds of the total, left the Established Church of Scotland with their elders and laity, and formed the Free Church of Scotland, the "Wee Frees". Although patronage was abolished in 1874, no major reconciliation was achieved until 1929. As a practical and genealogical matter, the Disruption resulted in gaps in many parish records -- often very difficult to bridge -- between 1843 and the start of Civil Registration in 1855.

Old Parish Records or OPRs
Prior to 1855, registration of births and marriages was carried out by the Church of Scotland. Most parishes started register books in the 1690's. This was not compulsory, and the keeping of records varied from parish to parish, from minister to minister, and from session clerk to session clerk. It also varied from family to family. Some did not feel it important to have events recorded. Not all families belonged to the Church of Scotland. (Sometimes families from other churches were still recorded, regardless of this, but often not.) Thus, lots of events were never recorded in the OPRs. (There were some other church records, but those that have survived are not included in the OPRs.) Of those records originally made, not all survived, and some were not passed on to the GRO. Very few death records were made in this period.

1841 Census Booklets
These are indexes of the census taken June 7th, 1841. Each parish is printed in a separate booklet, containing census data for that particular parish or district as identified. The detail contained in them is in strict alphabetical surname order, with no attempt to gather together everyone at a given address. It needs to be realised that the ages are only approximations, as ages of adults were apparently rounded down. A point for anyone looking at the 1841 census transcripts: if a birthplace isn't specified, the person was born in Wigtownshire.

The many booklets are available for purchase from the Dumfries and Galloway Family History Society for a nominal amount.

To read an explanation of the differences between the booklets, and the actual film, please click here.

1851 Census Films
There are indexes for very many Censuses throughout Scotland, but most of them are only available in print format, and some of those are unpublished. This leaves most amateurs with two possibilities - view the film at your local LDS Family History Center and carefully work your way through it, or use a professional searcher. A lookup request for the census taken March 30th, 1851, requires considerable effort on the SCT-WIGTOWNSHIRE volunteer as they need to scroll slowly through the film, frame by frame, until they find the target family. This can take half to one hour, depending on the population of the parish, the speed at which they can read, the clarity of the original writing, the quality of reproduction on the film, the state of the original records when filmed. They will perform this lookup for people in need, but request that you can be specific in your request, and be aware of spelling variants for your surname, as volunteers will normally be aware of spelling variants for their own surnames, but not necessarily for someone else's.

Volunteers would not normally have films of their own, but possibly are members of a society or work at an LDS FHC which has some films. A next day response will not be common - more likely a week or two.

Wigtown Free Press Index
The Wigtown Free Press was the local newspaper for Wigtownshire (it included limited news from Kirkcudbright and Dumfries). There are four volumes in total for the Wigtown Free Press Index, covering years 1843-1925. They contain details of birth, marriage and death announcements placed in the paper together with, on occasion, obituaries, adverts and other information that local newspapers usually contain. The indexes give the year, month and date of the issue where the information is located which then enables the relevant microfiche to be checked. Birth/marriage/death notices are usually not much longer than the abstract given in the index. Additional information is generally limited to the actual event date, rather than the index's publication date. Obituaries are very good, but these are only found for prominent citizens. The fiche of the actual newspapers are available for viewing and copying at the Ewart Library in Dumfries and also the regional libraries at Stranraer, Newton-Stewart, Wigtown, Dalbeattie, Lockerbie, Georgetown (Dumfries) and Annan.

A typical directory of the 1800s would contain a listing of residents, usually only head of household, by street, or alphabetically, or both. It would also often have a listing of trades and professions and their practitioners, and a listing of local institutions and societies with their officers.

Valuation Roll
A property listing for a parish or other civil division, useful mainly for establishing names of heads of households, but also often will include exact locations.

IRC or International Reply Coupon
An IRC, or international reply coupon, is purchased at your post office, and used whenever a foreign source requires an self addressed stamped reply envelope. Instead of buying hugely expensive IRCs, consider ordering foreign stamps through a philatelic society. Canada, the U.S., Britain, and Australia all have societies who you can join for free, where you can purchase their stamps by either mail or internet. Visit our links page for philatelic society urls. Not only is it considerably cheaper, but in the end, it's really convenient to open your desk drawer and pull out the right stamp rather than hiking to your postal office when you're eager to send the letter on its way.
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