Are You Descended From Witches? New Digital Document Could Help You Find Out

Genealogy has gotten pretty sophisticated in recent years. There are now massive online archives that make it easier than ever to hunt down obscure ancestors, not to mention mail-in DNA tests that can reach back centuries. But an approximately 350-year-old manuscript published online for the first time can reveal another fascinating detail about one’s family history: whether any ancestors were accused of practicing witchcraft.

Just in time for Witch’s Night (Halloween that is, not Walpurgisnacht), London’s Wellcome Library, which specializes in medical text and history, has digitized Manuscript 3658, Names of Witches in Scotland, 1658. The ledger records all the men and women accused of witchcraft in Scotland in between 1658 and 1662, during the apex of a century-long witch scare. According to a press release, the bound book contains the names of the accused, their town and notes about their “confessions,” which likely took place under some sort of torture.

According to The Scotsman, about 3,000 to 5,000 people in Scotland were publicly accused of witchcraft in 16th and 17th centuries, spurred on by the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563, which made witchcraft a crime punishable by death. That Act was vague, both in its definition of witchcraft and in how to identify witchcraft. At least 2,000 people were killed for being witches before the Act was repealed in 1736....more