The Wigtownshire Pages



Deaths and the IGI
by Bruce McDowall and Crawford MacKeand
Why there are so few deaths recorded in the International Genealogical Index (IGI), compared with the number of births, or even the number of marriages? Firstly, the IGI is a tool generated by the LDS (Mormon) Church for their own purposes, and was undertaken as an index to LDS held records of marriages and baptisms from around the world. In whatever format we access it, on microfiche or CD-ROM, or on the internet, we the genealogy community are their guests. Secondly, for a great part of our period of interest the Church of Scotland registers which form the basis of most of the relevant IGI records only noted a very few deaths.

It's also important to know that the IGI is just a very small part of the wealth of genealogical sources, even of those offered by the LDS. However, it is a preferred starting point in this Internet age for many people searching for clues to where they should begin their research. To make good use of this fine resource one needs to know at least a little about the original records.

For the county of Wigtownshire, and for the other counties of Scotland, it is important to recognise the significance of the year 1855. This is when compulsory Civil Registration commenced. Before then, the main records are the old parochial registers (OPRs), the registers of the established Church of Scotland. The ministers or session clerks of each parish kept these registers; it was not compulsory, although the Church tried at intervals to encourage good record keeping, and the amount of detail kept was at the whim of the incumbents. A majority of marriages and baptisms were recorded, but recording of deaths was only patchy. Again, that was church policy from the 1500s, when some of the earliest records began.

But from 1855 onward, all births, marriages, and deaths were, or were supposed to be, registered by the Registrar, a newly introduced local government official. Subject to statutory privacy limitations, these later governmental records are available through the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh, in various ways including the Scotsorigins website. Maybe it's worth noting that the records for 1855 were much more detailed than for later years. When seeking records from prior to 1855, although there was a policy of sending all the parish records to Edinburgh, one has to hope that the church recorded the event, and that the record survived for long enough to be collected by the General Register Office for Scotland.

Some years ago, the LDS obtained authorisation to film the Church of Scotland records from the Registrar General, who had custody of most of the OPRs. The LDS also obtained authorisation to film some of the Civil Registration records. This filming covered the years 1855 thru 1875, plus the years 1881 and 1891. The IGI only covers births and marriages for those years that the LDS filmed. Marriages and births that occurred outside these years, will not be found on the IGI, although for the later years, Scotsorigins is a valid source. But none of these death records, filmed or not, will be found on the IGI. Any deaths which are shown in the IGI are from "patron-submissions", privately submitted records, which are difficult to verify, and sometimes erroneous. And of course earlier records from before the commencement of the OPRs (in a few parishes in the 1500s, in some as late as the 1700s) are available only for few folks and usually only those of very considerable standing in their world.

The LDS do also have films of civil registration indexes, but these only give reference numbers, which can be followed up for the years filmed by LDS. For the later years, it's only easy to be confident you have the right individual in the case of married women, as they are indexed under both maiden and married names. These films mostly cover one year or six months each, and can be very tedious if you have many years to search.

Marriages and Births provide the most reliable of vital data, the information registered at an age of joy, youth and competence. Deaths provide the least reliable of vital data, registered at a time of grief and diminished competence, and often given by folk having little knowledge of the deceased - a grandson, nephew, neighbour, or doctor for example.

Death entries can be a precious commodity, and their value is maximised for Scots who married before, but died after, the introduction of compulsory registration. In that case, the Death entry is usually the only source to be found for the parents of bride and groom. (But it may be worth remembering that in 1855 and also after 1861 parents' marriage information was given on birth entries.) Although there were very few parishes that recorded deaths, some did record burials, where there was a fee paid for use of the Mortcloth used in the funeral service. Where fees were recorded, the LDS did include these register pages when they filmed the OPRs. If you look under the film # for a parish, the film notes will indicate if the parish did record the burials. One then has to view the film to find which persons are listed thereon.
Bruce McDowall, Crawford MacKeand, March 2002


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