Sheriff Court Paternity Cases - Help Page


Overview

Why have you undertaken this project?

Help with searching/Why can’t I find my ancestor?

Why are you not indexing all the decrees in the Register?

What courts/years have you indexed?

My ancestors lived outside the indexed area, is it still worth searching?

Why bother indexing the years after 1855?

Who has indexed these records?

What is a decree?

How can I find out more about my ancestor’s case?

How can I see the full entry?

Can you give me more help?


Overview

We cannot begin to estimate the volume of paperwork generated by the Sheriff Courts of Scotland and now held by the National Records of Scotland. These fall into two main categories, criminal records and civil records. We plan to make more and more of this material accessible by means of indexing this vast and underused resource. Although we have only just begun indexing criminal records, our related prison indexing project can provide a key to locating Sheriff Court criminal records, until such times as our indexing project progresses. With regard to civil cases, for the time being we are indexing the paternity cases in the Sheriff Court Decree Books, which is the project discussed below.

Why have you undertaken this project?

One of the most common genealogical brick walls is illegitimacy, and the records of these paternity cases will help you overcome the problem simply, cheaply and quickly. They also help you add interesting details to your tree. For example, did your great-great-grandfather have a child to another woman before he married your great-great-grandmother? These records could provide an answer to this question!

Help with searching/Why can’t I find my ancestor?

We have given a number of search boxes but you don’t have to fill them all in. Less is more. If there are no results try reducing the amount of information you give.

A possible reason you may not be successful is that they are not in the index. It could also be that we have not yet indexed the relevant court or year. Click here to see the current coverage of our online indexes. The case may have been recorded much later than you expect, so widening the timeframe could be helpful.

It should also be noted that not all volumes of these records have survived. There may still be other court papers that can be searched, however, and if you contact us with details, we would be happy to advise.

Use wildcards: The wildcard * can represent any series of characters, and the wildcard ? can represent any single character.

Both can be used in any field. Let’s say your ancestor’s surname was Blyth. In Victorian records, though, spellings were very inconsistent, and the surname may have sppeared with our without a final ‘e’. To get around this, try a search of Blyth* and this will bring up all Blyths, with or without a final ‘e’.

Perhaps is a first name is causing some difficulty, for the same reason. Helen, for example might be ‘Hellen’, ‘Helen’, ‘Ellen’, ‘Elen’, ‘Elinor’ or ‘Eleanor’. Searching for *el*n* will bring almost all variations of the name up.

Why are you not indexing all of the decrees in the Register?

At present we our efforts on the golden nuggets of genealogical data found in the Sheriff Court Decrees, the aliment or paternity cases. Perhaps in time the indexing can be expanded to include the other cases, many of which relate to business and financial matters.

Why bother indexing the years after 1855?

Civil registration began in Scotland in 1855. When a case was raised at the Sheriff Court and the identity of the father of a child was confirmed by a decree of the court, the name would be added to the child’s birth certificate. In the margin of the certificate a reference to the ‘Register of Corrected Entries’ (or RCE) would be made. In the RCE the date of the decree and the name of the Sheriff Court would be noted and also the name of the father. This information is almost always more limited information than that recorded in a Sheriff Court decree and we have found that it is not always enough to identify the father with certainty. I would therefore always recommend looking at the paperwork of the Sheriff Court. This index gives you an easy way to find the reference you need and an inexpensive way to get a transcription, which may be particularly useful if you don’t have access to the NRS (National Records of Scotland).

Whilst following the paper trail from birth certificate to RCE to Sheriff Court is quite easy, it is only possible if you first have the birth certificate. What if you do not know a child was born? By searching by mother (normally the pursuer in the case) or father (usually the defender in the case) you can often find children you knew nothing about - all without spending a lot of money searching birth certificates!

What courts/years have you indexed?

An up-to-date list of courts covered and years can be found here.

My ancestors lived outside the indexed area, is it still worth searching?

Yes! Firstly it is free so it is surely worth a try. Secondly, only one of the parties may have been from the county covered by the court that has been indexed. Frequently one of the parties was from another county. Dumfriesshire, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, Peeblesshire, Berwickshire or the Lothians, and even Nortumberland are mentioned. It is therefore worth searching wherever your ancestor may have lived in Scotland and the north of England.

Who has indexed these records?

We are very grateful to Margaret Hamilton who has helped us to index these records: without her help we would be a long way behind and may not have been able to make the index freely available at this time. The index has been checked by Graham Maxwell, a genealogist with many years experience in the field.

What is a decree?

A decree is a decision made by a court. In the case of the paternity cases we are indexing it gives details of the details of the amount of aliment to be paid by the father. This was legally binding, if the father did not pay the mother could take further action. A decree will identify the individuals concerned and give their address, if it was known. Relatives of both parties are often named. Here is an example of a decree transcription.

We are indexing the Registers of Decrees of the Sheriff Courts. Not all cases which reached decree were recorded in these volumes, which might seem surprising. The decrees were only copied into the register if and when a legal extract of the decree was required. Although a legal extract was made in many paternity cases, this did not always happen. We are working on a means of indexing these cases which were not ‘extracted’, but meanwhile if you believe one should exist, please ask us for assistance in tracing any surviving records (see the next section).

How can I find out more about my ancestor’s case?

Before 1860 in most Sheriff Courts you can expect to be able to locate the original case papers, known as a “process”. These often include the testimony of witnesses and other evidence presented to the court. We are working on a way to provide easy access to these records. After 1860, unfortunately almost all of these processes were destroyed. We are working on a structure to let you know what remains and how it can be consulted. In the meantime feel free to email me about your specific case, we may well be able to help.

We are indexing the Registers of Decrees of the Sheriff Courts. Not all cases which reached decree were recorded in these volumes, which might seem surprising. The decrees were only copied into the register if and when a legal extract of the decree was required. Although a legal extract was made in many paternity cases, this did not always happen. We are working on a means of indexing these cases which were not ‘extracted’, but meanwhile if you believe one should exist, please ask us for assistance in tracing any surviving records (see the next section).

How can I see the full entry?

When your search results appear you will be given enough information to identify the individuals you are looking for. On the right hand side of the search results click the corresponding link: ‘Full Record’. This will take you to a new page where you will see a reference number, for example SC62/7/9 p360. This is a National Records of Scotland reference. You can either go to Edinburgh and view the original yourself, or click ‘Add to Cart’ and follow the on-screen instructions. We charge £10 to transcribe the decree and email the transcription to you. We transcribe them on request, and we try to send them out within a few hours, depending on the time of day they are received. Here’s an example of what you will receive.

We are indexing the Registers of Decrees of the Sheriff Courts. Not all cases which reached decree were recorded in these volumes, which might seem surprising. The decrees were only copied into the register if and when a legal extract of the decree was required. Although a legal extract was made in many paternity cases, this did not always happen. We are working on a means of indexing these cases which were not ‘extracted’, but meanwhile if you believe one should exist, please ask us for assistance in tracing any surviving records (see the next section).

Can you give me more help?

If you have an obstacle in your family tree and you need some help, contact us directly, explaining your problem and we will try to assist. Often with our experience and the resources we have to hand, it is possible to solve your problem in an hour or two. What we offer is that we will have a look at your problem for about half an hour with no obligation. We will then then tell you if we can solve the problem and how much it will cost you, and it will be up to you to decide if you would like to proceed.

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