I have been trying to find out more about my 6xgreat-grandfather, James Naismith or Nasmyth. He was the vicar of Kirkcolm in 1684 according to the Fasti Ecclestiaca Scotiana (FES), and indeed he was the only Naismith or similar spelling in the Wigtownshire Parish list of 1684 (he signed the register for Kirkcolm, where he was minister at the time). I believe he was from elsewhere in Scotland, which would make sense given his occupation.

James had two sons and a daughter who were christened in Stranraer, Wigtownshire, though after his time as vicar of neighbouring Kirkcolm. No mother was mentioned in their records and I have not yet identified a marriage record anywhere in Wigtownshire.

The FES also says that he was educated in Edinburgh. Interestingly the index of marriages for Edinburgh (page 510) shows a "Mr James Naismith" marrying "Dame Jane Steuart, Lady Gordinston" by "Abp Glasgow, married 10th April", with the record in the Edinburgh register (presumably the banns or licence) being for 30 Mar 1688.

I'm reluctant to assume a noble connection. Certainly there are other Naismiths and variants in places like Hamilton who could be our James.

So my question is, is the use of "Mr" in a marriage record at this time indicative of a clergyman? If so, it would make it more likely that this is the correct James.

  • 1
    My instincts say Mr is 'Master' (the usual usage) not 'Minister'. I fear you may need to do research on 'Mr James Naismith' who married Dame Jane, to see if anything else matches.
    – user104
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


This is the image from the source linked in your question:

enter image description here

I retweeted your question during a chat today, and Fergus Smith at http://www.oldscottish.com/ kindly gave this answer (you can see from the conversation that Jane N Harris agrees):

In C17th St Andrews, Mr implied magister i.e. master's degree rather than bachelor's.

Your source confirms this because it says M.A. after his name and gives his college and graduation date. I suggest paging back to the front matter in your published source to see if there is a legend explaining the format of the entries. If not, try looking for a research guide that explains how to use this source.

As a test of whether other clergymen might be so listed in their marriage records, if you don't have the resources to look for the records of other married clergy with M.A. degrees, you could try searching for case studies from other genealogists studying people in the same period. It is useful to know which other people are working in the same geographical area and time periods that you are, even if you have no research subjects in common. They may be familiar with source material for the area that you didn't know about.

Fergus Smith also tweeted the link to his entry in the University of Edinburgh's Laureation (graduation) Register (click through to see the full image):

enter image description here

  • 1
    This is really helpful, Jan! In fact, on the same page of that marriage index, there is mention of "Mr George Robertson, minister of West Calder", and another record stating that a couple was "married by Mr John McQueen", so this does sound like the reason. And please thank Fergus for me - I'm not on Twitter.
    – Verbeia
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 3:06
  • Done! You could cross-check those ministers to confirm if they also had a master's degree. (In the modern-day USA, I would expect to see a clergyperson to have an M. Div. or Master of Divinity -- see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_of_Divinity )
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 5:54

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