New indexed genealogy resources for Canonbie now available at

Picture : Canonbie Kirk – The Carlisle Kid Creative Commons Licence

Last time I talked about the value of Kirk Session records and how they can help to fill the gaps in the information provided by more conventional resources that we know like Old Parish Registers and Monumental Inscriptions. One of the drawbacks of the Kirk Session records is that they require computer access to the imaging network of the National Records of Scotland either in Edinburgh or in one of the satellite hubs in heritage centres elsewhere in Scotland. With these centres having now been closed for many months, we can see the deficiencies in current provision very plainly. And don’t even mention access for those further afield outside of Scotland !

However, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve completed indexing of Canonbie kirk session records and am making full indexes available on this site. Three indexes will be available – one covers 975 illegitimate births between 1708 and 1855 and the name of the father is almost always included. The kirk session records show that most of the named fathers do acknowlege their ‘guilt’ to the church. A few do initially dispute the fact that they were in fact the father but after a de facto trial process which the kirk session invoked, most do in fact finally agree (and were thus liable to pay some maintenance to the mother).

There were around 250 so-called ‘irregular marriages’ – marriages which were legal in the eyes of the law but frowned on by the church. Canonbie was in an ideal location for irregular marriages to happen. In the early 18th century, runaway couples from Canonbie just had to cross the border into England and there were clergymen who could marry them there in front of witnesses without all the palaver of a Church wedding. However, with the introduction of Hardwicke’s Act of 1753 in England, it was no longer possible to get married there without residence requirements and banns being read. Very quickly, Scottish marriage law suddenly became exceptional in not requiring residence and nor did it need a clergyman to perform the service. A whole industry came to be set up in the neighbouring parish of Gretna targeted at eloping couples from England. However, it was also very simple for couples from Canonbie to find a suitable marriage ‘celebrant’ there and continue to defy the kirk. Time and time again we find reference to Gretna irregular marriages within Canonbie Kirk Session records.

The third classification singled out for rebuke and fine by the kirk session was ‘ante-nuptial fornication’. This was encountered when a couple conceived a child out of wedlock but then got married, normally before the child was born. Over 250 instances of this occurs in the records between 1708 and 1855. In reality, there would have been many more but records don’t survive for that entire period – there are some gaps. A particular value of these records is where they indicate a marriage prior to 1768. There are no OPR marriage records for Canonbie parish prior to 1768.

Along with the Kirk Session records, a number of indexes of farm rental records for Canonbie are also being made available covering different rental years between 1630 (the earliest available Buccleuch rental document) and 1815.

Download documents are variously available for free, or for a small charge of £5 or £10. This will help support further transcriptions for this and other parishes. Visit the Canonbie Download page here

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