Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Were your ancestors lifters or anti-lifters?!

I had to have a wee chuckle last night. I was reading an excellent book by Callum G. Brown entitled The People in the Pews: Religion and Society in Scotland Since 1780 (published 1993), when I noticed a reference to a church schism concerning the 'lifters' and the 'non-lifters'. I'm familiar with schisms from the Kirk (the established Church of Scotland until 1929), and the various denominations that broke away, usually over the issue of patronage, but this was a new one on me. Forget the 'burghers' and 'anti-burghers', and the 'auld lichts' and the 'new lichts'...!

After a bit of digging, I eventually found a bit more detail. The schism took place in a secessionist church in the parish of Kilmaurs in Ayrshire.

Mr Smeiton, a burgher minister established at Kilmaurs, thought fit to insist, that in administering the sacrament, it was absolutely necessary that the minister should break a piece of the bread, and hold it in his hand while uttering the prayer of consecration. Mr Smeiton and his brethren differed about this point... The argument was keenly agitated, and terminated in a rupture. Mr Smeiton refused to hold communion with those who did not punctually conform to his opinion; and his brethren passed a sentence of expulsion against him for his obstinacy. He despised the authority by which this was done, and continued to preach. His congregation were divided, and went to law about the property of the meeting-house; but Mr Smeiton was supported by sufficient numbers to enable him to maintain possession. Hence, however, originated a schism; and the parties were distinguished by the name of lifters and anti-lifters. 

(The full story is here in Robert Forsyth's The Beauties of Scotland, published 1805)

The Church of Scotland's various splits, and later reunions, cause some of the biggest problems in Scottish family history research, because of the issues surrounding how to locate the records of the denominations which broke away. The ScotlandsPeople website only hosts the records for the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Roman Catholic Church, but not those for the Free Church of Scotland, United Presbyterians, Associate Session and others, not to mention the non-presbyterian based faiths, whilst FamilySearch has only indexed a small number of the nonconformist records.

If you wish to take your research a wee bit further, my best-selling guide book Discover Scottish Church Records helps to explain the history of the church in Scotland and explores how to locate and use the records of her various denominations. It is available from My History in the UK at www.my-history.co.uk/acatalog/Discover-Scottish-Church-Records-UTP0281.html#SID=876 or in an ebook format at www.gen-ebooks.com/discover-scottish-church-records.html. To obtain copies in Australia and Canada please see the Books section of this blog.

I hope it helps!


The latest British GENES podcast is available at http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/p/podcasts.html. For details on my latest book Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, and my other genealogy guide books, please visit http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/p/my-books.html.

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