Casting stones

So when they continued asking him, he lifted himself up, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone … — John 8:7. King James 2000 Bible (©2003)

Abbotshall Parish Church, Kirkcaldy. Photo:

I’ve been browsing a Fife Family History Society publication (No. 21); Abbotshall Kirk Session Minutes 1793-1812* looking for anything that might help me find out more about my 3x great grandfather David Forbes.

I know that he was christened in Abbotshall Church on the 4th October 1807, so presumably his family lived in the parish.

The Minutes provide a record of the Kirk Session’s activities. The Session ‘comprised the minister and elders of the parish, and it was concerned with (in addition to the business of the parish) the morals of the parishioners.’ (source: Find my Scottish Ancestors blog

I had no particular reason to believe that David’s parents  – John Forbes and Susan Foulis (or Fowlis, or Fowls) – might have been hauled in front of the Kirk Session, but I have so few sources of potential information about them, it seemed worth trawling through the publication – just in case.

Well I didn’t find my ancestors, and for their sakes I’m glad. The Minutes make for depressing reading. It seems that apart from electing new school-masters, pretty much all the Session did was pass judgement on parishioners’ lives and give them a bollocking for their transgressions. These seem mainly to have involved adultery, bearing illegitimate children and running off to Edinburgh to get married.

Here are a few examples from the record:

31 July 1798, Benjamine Adams, Sailor on HM gunboat Rattle. Irregular marriage to Jean Mitchel. Clandestinely married 26 February 1798 in Edinburgh.

17 October 1805, John Moise, Mason, “(young man)”, child begot. The mother is named as Agnes Balflower.  The notes say “Child begot Feb 1805 – he denied guilt.” On the 4th November 1810, there is another entry for John Moise which says Restoration “Church privileges restored after upwards five years.” Presumably he’d continued to deny paternity.

31 March 1811 and 21 April 1811, John Chalmers and Ann Clark begot a child in adultery. She confessed she had brought forth child at the March session, and then in April she appeared and was rebuked for fornication.

7 June 1812, William Ferguson, Resident of Kilire. Sin of fornication with Ann Brodie. The Minutes say “she appeared – rebuked – to appear again next Sunday.” Interestingly, in November 1807, the same William Ferguson had been elected by the Session as Schoolmaster.

I wasn’t familiar with the terms irregular or clandestine marriages, but found the following at The Gen Guide: 

In Scotland a marriage was considered ‘regular’ after the reading of banns and if the marriage ceremony was conducted by a minister of the established Church of Scotland. The 1834 Marriage (Scotland) Act extended ‘regular’ marriages by permitting dissenting clergy to conduct marriage ceremonies. If these requirements were not adhered to the marriage was deemed ‘clandestine’ and illegal but crucially could be valid in the eyes of the state. Under Scots Law a marriage was considered valid (but not legal) under certain conditions as follows:

§  Both parties declared themselves married in the presence of witnesses.

§  Marriage ceremony followed by sexual intercourse.

§  Simply living together with the status of man and wife – by habit and repute.

According to FamilySearch, at around the time these Minutes were being recorded, the population of Abbotshall was about 2100 (although growing, to over 4000 by 1831). For the 19 year period  covered by the minutes I counted 59 cases of irregular marriage (43 clandestine), 35 cases of fornication and/or adultery and 14 illigitimate children born or baptised in the Parish.

That’s starting to read like a day-time soap, and I can’t help wondering if the Minister and Elders of the Kirk were themselves without sin – or just deft at not being caught.!

My family history hasn’t been enriched by the Abbotshall Kirk Session Minutes; but for you Adams, Bruntons, Fergusons, Galloways, Greigs, Hendersons, Hepburns, Kilgours, Padges – and especially Steedmans – with a Kirkcaldy connection, I’d recommend you take a look.

* Fife Family History Society Publication No. 21. Abbotshall Kirk Session Minutes 1793-1812 indexed by Ewen K Collins and Kirkcaldy Old Church Burials 1855-1972 compiled by Stuart Farrell.

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