Archivists with London’s Wellcome Library, “one of the world's major resources for the study of medical history,” have just digitized a Scottish ledger full of names of accused witches.
Written in 1658, the ledger documents the names of people accused of witchcraft, where they lived, and various notes about their confessions. According to a blog post from Wellcome Library Communications Coordinator, Phoebe Harkins, the Scottish Witchcraft Act was passed in 1563, making witchcraft and seeking help from witches illegal. Harkens says an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people were swept up in the 16th and 17th century Scottish witch hunts, and those caught faced the death penalty.
Harken also says that while library records show when the ledger was purchased, they don’t detail where it came from. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating glimpse into a dark period of history.
If you’d like to have a look at the witch register and maybe find one of your ancient relatives, it is freely available on the Wellcome Library’s website. It’s also available on ancestry.com. The 1658 handwriting is a little hard to read so folks in the 19th century were kind enough to transcribe the ledger - their handwriting is a bit more familiar and therefore easier to interpret. For those who’d like to take full advantage of digital technology, Ancestry has indexed the names. Just be aware that Ancestry is a subscription based service.