Last week I made a research trip to Paisley Local Studies Library and among the sources I looked at were poor relief records.
Poor relief records are a fantastic resource often revealing not only why our ancestors had to resort to asking for help from the poor law authorities but also providing details of their births and families.
Paisley Museum & Library where the local studies collection is housed
When browsing a volume of poor relief applications I was particularly struck by the answers given in response to the question of ‘Religious Persuasion’. These represented a wide range of religious denominations including Secessionists, Methodists, Baptists and Relief Church as well as reflecting Paisley’s large Irish population which included both Roman Catholics and Protestants (some described as Church of England or Episcopalian).
It seems to have been relatively common for husbands and wives to belong to different churches and what was perhaps surprising was the irregularity with which many people appear to have attended any church. The following are a sample of answers found in volume B57/11/1 ‘Paisley Parochial Board: Statements of Cases’ which covers 1839-1842:
Mrs Archibald Gibson, aged 66
West Relief Church formerly, but never attended nor members for 30 years
Mrs Peter Docherty aged 31
Roman Catholic: self a member and husb[an]d is not
Walter Millar, aged 61
formerly in his younger days, he was a member of the Abbey Cl[ose] Independent
Widow William Cumming, 77
Church of Scotland: Once a Communicant but not so for some years
George Stewart, 40
Church of Scotland: but never has Communicated
Hellen Cavannah, 58
has a disposition towards the Roman Catholic faith; not a Member
Widow Thomas Campbell, 56
Protestant: Once attended but not so for many years
Widow Malcolm Turner, 76
neither herself nor husband were members of any church
It is worth noting that in Scotland, often only the fairly well-to-do were actually communicants or full members of a church (as opposed to simply attending) and it is not uncommon to find that a couple married in a particular church and had all their children baptised there without ever appearing on the communion roll.
However, given these answers, locating these people in any church records may well be a challenge and it is quite likely that many of them died prior to the start of statutory registration (1855).
I’ve often had the impression that my Scottish ancestors rarely darkened the door of any religious establishment. Given this evidence, I may well be right!