An In-Depth Look at Scottish Marriage Records 3

Let's take an in-depth look at the Scottish marriage records. Prior to 1855, we get the crying of the banns recorded in the Old Parish Registers.  are recorded in the Old Parish Registers (OPRs) The intention of the couple to marry was proclaimed from the pulpit for three consecutive Sundays prior to the marriage. This was standard practice in the Church of Scotland. The Banns were generally proclaimed in the parish church of each partner, which might result in you getting two entries. Note that this is not indicative of two separate marriages, but the proclamation of the Banns in each church.  Remember this is the intention to marry. It is not a guarantee that the couple went through with the marriage.

Again, these are fairly scant entries. Generally you will get the name of each partner, the date of the entry and the parish that the entry was recorded in.

From 1855, we get the marriage registration where you will find the names for each partner’s parents, the occupation of each partner and the occupation for each partner's father. The maiden name of each mother of the couple will also be listed. Accessing marriage records always gets you one generation back by providing the information on the couple's parents. 

About Scottish Marriages 

Unlike the rest of the UK, Scottish marriage laws were much more lenient. Under Scots law, there were three forms of "irregular marriage". The key factor for a Scottish marriage to be legal was consent. An irregular marriage could result from:

  • mutual agreement,
  • a public promise followed by consummation
  • cohabitation and repute

These were valid forms of marriage under Scots law, legal in terms of inheritance and any children born to the couple were considered to be legitimate.

Old Celtic Wedding Traditions

Celtic heritage is rife with traditions and customs. Hopefully we will continue to pass these along to future generations so that they won't be lost.  Let's have a look at some of the traditions and customs associated with wedding celebrations and have a look at the meaning behind some of these rituals.

The luckenbooth brooch is a Scottish love token, often made of silver and sometimes engraved or encrusted with glass and crystals. The brooch was exchanged by a couple when they became engaged, symbolising their promise to marry. The brooch has two hearts intertwined with a crown on top and got its name from the luckenbooths near St Giles Church in Edinburgh where silversmiths and jewellers had their booths.

The wedding sark was the gift of a shirt that the bride gave her groom. In return, the groom paid for the bride’s wedding dress.

Many brides to be have what are known as hen parties, but did you know that the tradition behind this actually involved hens? All of the women in the village would gather together the day before the wedding and pluck enough hens to feed those gathered for the wedding the next day. Each woman would then take a plucked and gutted hen home to cook for the wedding meal.

A fun tradition that is sometimes still enjoyed on stag night is that of “Blackenings” This involves the groom being captured by his friends, stripped of his shirt before being tied up and ‘blackened’ using ash, soot, treacle, flour and feathers! As if not bad enough, the groom is then subjected to further embarrassment and paraded around the town accompanied by his friends making as much noise as possible, to draw as much attention as possible to him!

And either the night before the wedding or the morning of, the bride would be seated on a chair while an older, married woman washed and dried her feet. This was meant to symbolise a fresh start and to bring good fortune upon the couple.

There are also many traditions built into the wedding day itself. A sixpence hidden in the brides shoe was meant to bring good luck and is a tradition that is still practiced today. In the Scottish borders, a sprig of white heather in the brides bouquet also symbolised the same. My Grandmother used to give all of the brides in the village white heather from her garden for their wedding bouquet. In Ireland, a sprig of shamrock was added to the bride's bouquet for luck.

As the bride and her father left for the church, the father of the bride would throw a handful of coins into the street for the children of the village to collect. This was known as a scramble. In Ireland, the coins would be tossed in place of confetti as a wish of wealth and good fortune for the newly married couple.

Another Celtic wedding custom is for a young child to hand the bride a horseshoe as she enters the church. In some Celtic places, the horseshoe is incorporated into the bridal bouquet or even sewn into the bride's gown. This is to bring her good luck in her marriage. The horseshoe is to be kept in the upright position to keep the good luck in.

Much has been made of the revival of the custom of handfasting. It is often said that this handfasting is for a year and a day. However, historically, handfasting tended to take place in outer regions, Like the Scottish Highlands or Islands where a minister might not be readily available. In this circumstance, handfasting was used as a means of temporary betrothal until a minister could make his way to the area to perform the actual religious ceremony.

In a handfasting ceremony, the hands of both the bride and the groom are joined just as we see in modern marriage ceremonies today. The person officiating at the ceremony would then wrap the clasped hands in the end of his stole to symbolize the trinity of marriage; man and woman joined by God. This symbolic binding together in marriage later evolved into a the practice of wrapping the clasped hands with a cord or an embroidered cloth.

The couple were then considered to be officially bound together and could live as man and wife. Once the minister made his way to the parish or area where the couple resided, then an official church ceremony would take place, sealing the marriage. This may be a week, a month, a year or even longer.

A little known tradition in Scottish history is that when a couple married near a stone, it was believed that their vows were more binding. It became customary, then, for the couple to each place a hand on the same stone as they pledged their oath, thereby, setting their vows in stone. This stone was known as the Oathing Stone.

The wedding day ended with the Lang Reel. This was a dance where the wedding party and the villagers began dancing in the village with dancers leaving the reel and retiring for the night as they passed their homes. The reel continued until the only couple left were the bride and groom, who had the last dance of the night.



About Christine Woodcock

Scottish born, Canadian raised, Christine Woodcock is a genealogy educator with an expertise in the Scottish records. She enjoys sharing new resources to assist others in their quest to find and document their heritage. Christine is also a lecturer, author and blogger. She is the Director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland ( and enjoys taking fellow Scots “home” to do onsite genealogy research and to discover their own Scottish heritage.

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3 thoughts on “An In-Depth Look at Scottish Marriage Records

  • Deanna Skelton

    I have a question to ask. My 3rd great grandparents, John Grant & Margaret Cook, got married in 1840 in Elgin, Moray, Scotland & had acouple of kids then in 1853 they were in Ceylon , E. India. cause a Margaret Grant was born there & later came to US. Now how do I find out when they left Scotland & why. I am told they ran a coffee/ tea plantation but you know how stories are told. I have looked & found nothing.

  • Tamara Langford

    Thank you for this article. Parts of it are a form of refresher for me after I did an on line course in going back beyond the OPR’s, but some is new.
    I have been searching for years for the marriage record of my 3rd great grandparents and only found one that came close … right groom’s name, right maiden name for the bride but wrong first name for her. Even the date is in the right time frame and although others have suggested it might BE theirs I am still reluctant to retain it as THE one. Part of the reason for that is that in the 1841 census it mentions he was from Aberdeenshire and in the 1851 census he says he was born in Forfar. The marriage record I did find however is in the locale of where my 3rd great grandmother Jean Leys was born. (My third great grandfather was John Stewart.)
    Any suggestions would be wonderful.