The Wigtownshire Pages


by Jim McLay
In Galloway graveyards, we find just a few very old gravestones, such as those found in Whithorn with Latin inscriptions, and a few later stones recording local nobility, some of which are inside churches. But for the majority of the population of Scotland the use of monumental inscriptions is a relatively modern practice.

Genealogical researchers working before 1855 have two main sources in Scotland: the old parish records and monumental inscriptions. The former were transcribed into the I.G.I., though they are probably more accurately available at Register House in Edinburgh. But all over Scotland, old gravestones have been copied by local workers before the weather has eroded their inscriptions. In most cases, the work has stopped at 1855, as after that year, the information required for family research can be found from birth, marriage and death certificates. Only limited information exists in parish records, and due to the schisms in the Scottish churches there have been many other congregations than the original Church of Scotland which may or may not have made or kept their own records. If recorders of monumental inscriptions have not included stones after 1855, then finding a stone is not easy, unless a record of burials, known as a "lair record", exists.

Some facts about the Cree Valley may be worthwhile, even if you are interested in another area. You may be able to use this as background to establish what the situation is in your area. In Penninghame parish, the first graveyard with stones was round the parish church at the Clachan of Penninghame. These stones have all been recorded by Mr James Birchman, the oldest inscription being 1550. In 1777 the Clachan church was replaced by one in Newton Stewart, where Newton Stewart Old graveyard was opened nearby - its stones have all been recorded by a local team. When this was replaced by the present Newton Stewart cemetery in 1895 a lair record was kept. Burials are known to have taken place at Cruives of Cree, but there are no inscribed stones at St Ninian's Chapel there. A small graveyard at St Ninian's Roman Catholic Church in Newton Stewart is unrecorded. A much larger cemetery at Challoch Episcopal Church has a lair record dating from the first interment in 1873. So it should be possible to answer questions about stones and burial places in Penninghame.

Minnigaff parish has a graveyard round the parish church and all the stones are recorded. The present graveyard at Kirroughtree dates from 1943 and has a lair record. In the north of Minnigaff, the church at Bargrennan served the north of that parish and the north of Penninghame, but the gravestones there are not recorded.

Kirkmabreck however, has a problem. Like all parishes in the Stewartry of kirkcudbright all pre-1855 stones are recorded and published. The lair record dates from 1905 so that there is no written record of burials between 1855 and 1905 apart from the inscriptions on the stones. This is fine for a resident in Creetown able to walk the churchyard, but a problem for a researcher in another part of the world.

For the period pre-1855, Kirkcudbrightshire M.I.'s are printed in booklets sold by Dumfries & Galloway FHS. Copies of East Wigtownshire M.I.'s for the same period are held as copies in Dumfries & Galloway Libraries. In West Wigtownshire pre-1855 M.I.'s are currently in the process of being recorded, but lair records from various dates around 1900 in handwritten form are held in Dumfries & Galloway Council offices. Researchers may need local advice on particular burials.
Jim McLay
April 2002
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