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  1. #1
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    New here - need help with understanding Clans

    Hello,
    I am new to this site and have many questions so I will apologize in advance for the length of this post. I reside in the U.S. and I am just starting to learn and understand my Scottish heritage. I'm trying to specifically learn a little more on Clans. From what I understand not every person in Scotland belongs to a clan. Our family stories however say that my ancestors did, but I could use a little more understanding and I am hoping someone here can help me.

    My GGrandmother was born in Scotland with the surname MITCHELL. Her father was of course a MITCHELL (her mother was English.) Her grandfather was MITCHELL and her grandmother was McDONALD. I know they were all from the highlands, mostly in the area of MORAY. Ms. MCDONALD's mother was CALDER.

    So I knew my GGrandmother as a child and I remember her saying her ancestors were from the Innes Clan and my brother remembers her telling stories of her family from a place called Braemar. So my questions are:
    Would my grandmother have taken the clan of her father (assuming he had one?) and if so, where would the Innes fit in? Do clans take names of locations as well as family surnames? Is there such a thing as a MITCHELL clan? and would the location of Braemar play any role in that? Additionally my aunt remembers my grandmother's tartan being mostly blue with very little red in it. I don't know if that helps at all in my search.

    I apologize for my ignorance and hope I am not insulting anyone with my lack of knowledge. I have been researching this family line for some time now and plan to visit Scotland next year. I hope to learn as much as I can before I go so I have knowledge of where best to visit where my ancestors lived.
    Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.
    Tracy

  2. #2
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    Welcome to Xmarks, Tracy.
    Well, the Braemar bit is easy - a lovely village in the northeast Highlands.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braemar
    In days gone by, Moray (pronounced like Murray) would have referred to the county though, nowadays, the boundaries are a little bit different. As you can see, Moray and Braemar are not that far apart, both on the edge of the Highlands.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moray
    Mitchel is a not uncommon name throughout these areas though it does occur elsewhere in Scotland.
    "MacDonald" is, of course a very Highland clan and "Calder" is from the Lowlands.
    There is a Mitchel tartan
    https://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/ta...tails?ref=5177
    Now it gets more difficult. There isn't really a Mitchel clan. Mitchel is regarded as a sept of Clan Innes though I'm not sure what evidence supports this assertion and the whole idea of septs is a bit dodgy
    http://www.clan-innes.org/septs.html
    There are many versions of Innes tartan. This one is from Moray
    https://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/ta...tails?ref=1827
    For the others, look up
    https://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/index
    To be absolutely pedantic, clan membership is in the gift of the Chief but, nowadays, it is generally assumed that the clan surname means that you belong to the clan. Clanship was originally really about a quite personal allegiance. ("Clanna" is Gaelic for "children") Your GGrandmother would have come into the Mitchel family/Innes clan by marriage and her daughter would also be so attached until she married.
    The whole business is not very cut-and -dried so you're allowed to remain puzzled! I hope the above has helped a little. Enjoy your visit to Scotland.
    Alan

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  4. #3
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    Perhaps a bit over simplified, and some may disagree, but I have always liked this way of looking at the idea behind Clan.

    If you look at a map of Scotland that shows the Clans take a close look at the majority of them. What you will most likely find is the Clans areas are about regions and valleys.
    There will be a guy who has the big house or who owns the land. Everyone else works for him or on his land. Not everyone in that valley would have the same name.
    But if the guys from the next valley come over the mountain to steal our cattle, the head guy will ring a big bell. If you show up with your pitchfork and help us chase them off, you are one of us.

    Later this idea of defense of areas became sort of institutionalized. By the time of the Disarming act the Clans were, in effect, private armies. (There is still one of these private armies today.)
    These private armies could potentially pose a real threat to peace and order and were seen as such by some.

    The Clan system today is quite different from what it was in the past. Today the idea of belonging to a Clan is more social, more a way to feel a connection to the place we come from.
    In the past the Clan system was only in the Highlands. The people who lived in the Lowlands, where the vast majority of the population of the country lived, would not have felt that they belonged to a Highland Clan. They may not have cared about Tartan the way we do today and probably did not feel a need to dress in a kilt.
    Those in the Lowlands were at one time the most literate people in the world. They invented the public library system. We still think of Scots as highly educated and some of the world's best Engineers. (Think "Scotty" of Star Trek.)
    Today there are Lowland Clans and everyone with a Scottish heritage wants to be part of a Clan.

    So the whole idea of what a Clan is, has changed and there is not one single, or universally accepted answer to your question.
    Steve Ashton
    Forum Owner

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  6. #4
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    I would agree with Steve about the clans. What you see today has very little to do with how it started.

    The basic idea of a clan or tribe is from a feudal system for defending the land or people. The main difference between clans/tribes and other feudal systems is the idea of family. Today, the idea of family or community seems to be are the heart of many peoples concept of a clan. Although not all members of the same clan are related by blood there is still a feeling of community.

  7. #5
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    The above helps to explain the problem with Scottish septs. They are other surnames associated with a clan, but unless your family came from the same geographical area as those of the clan name, then you are not truly one of that sept, so therefore not one of the clan. This is because of the origins in taking up arms for defence. Many surnames have multiple geographic origins, so it is necessary to be careful over this. That said, if the older members of your family claim to be part of a specific clan, then they generally are.

    I say Scottish septs, because in relation to Ireland the words clan and sept are said to be synonyms, and only those descended from the clan are seen as belonging to it. Most Irish do not belong to a clan, and Irish tartans are another conversation.

    As for lowland Scots clans, there were a few even going back to early times. It is still true, however, that most lowlanders did not belong to one historically. One such border clan is Davidson, my wife's clan. Now, Davidson is not the Gaelic form of the name, but nobody in the borders spoke or speaks Gaelic. OTOH, there are many (most?) Davidsons having no connection to the clan whatsoever.

    There are many names that are not clans, or even septs of a clan, that nevertheless have their own tartan. Suffice to say it doesn't take much to register a tartan. An example is Hart, which occurs in my own family tree, and which can be either English, Irish or Scottish (and in our case might be any of the above). Now, the tartan is Hart of Scotland, implying you have to be of Scots descent to wear it, and yet AFAIK there is no Hart clan, nor any Hart sept of any other clan. If you might think that were an unusual situation, you would be wrong. It is also true of several other tartans.
    Last edited by O'Callaghan; 1st October 17 at 08:15 PM.

  8. #6
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    Well, yes some of all of that before but the clan system was/is patriarchal, not feudal. If you lived in a strath or glen in the Highlands and that strath or glen was in the bigger domain of a powerful family and had a recognised patriarch (chief), then you were of his clan -- no matter the surname you assumed, if you assumed one. If you were descended of a Macpherson of some local importance or recognition you valued but lived in Rothiemurcas you were a Grant of Rothiemurcas; if you lived in Strathdearn and were descended of a Macqueen, you were still a Mackintosh -- although sometimes called a Clanchattan

    Sometimes you changed your surname to Grant or Mackintosh, but sometimes not and sometimes that change only depended on the ongoing importance to you of your ancestry -- in your generation.

    There were/are Mackays of no connection with the Mackays of the North, in the Central Highlands descended of Aoigh (prounounced 'Ay' and meaning Adam) called Shaw, descended of a Mackintosh chief, now a sept of Clan Shaw (with its own chief, Shaw of Tordarroch), a segment of Clan Chattan, whose chief is Mackintosh of Torcastle (but not of Mackintosh).

    Septs make sense only if you consider your place of residence and not of your ancestry. If you were a tenant or a sub-tenant (or a sub-sub-tenant), even though not a relative, then you were of the chief's named clan. By virtue of your tenancy and 'common' agreement he was obliged to provide you with a form of protection -- and you were obligated to provide him with 'rent' in kind, and to respond to his call for the 'common' good. All for your own good, in reality.

    The feudal part was an over-lying ownership of the land, above that of the clan. It came about with our early kings and their gifting of vast territories to those who supported them, despite the people who lived there, since those people were without formal ownership of the lands on which they lived. Not dissimilar to the First Nations people of North America, if you will.

    So there were Macdonalds (but not descended of a Macdonald ancestor) who were called Maciains in Glencoe in the 17C, who were actually Rankins and Hendersons by descent, but were also sub-tenants of the Duke of Argyll (through Maciain) to whom Glen Coe had been gifted four centuries before, and been gifted by him to others in the intervening years. And taken back on occasion, too.

    Are you now confused? If you are, that's understandable. Understanding the history of the Highlands is not for the feint of heart, the romantic, the pedantic or the believer that what is now was always so. As a people Scots have evolved and the 'clan' system of the Highlands has evolved, too. Today the clans still exist in Scotland, but in a quite different form than when they came to an inevitably and recognisable end in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In Scotland, and elsewhere in the world, they have become 'societies', groups of folk perhaps of a common ancestry but more likely based on their common and wide-spread surname alone, or of their home-land locale in Scotland . They may or may not be blood related, but they feel a common bond and a common purpose to preserve and enhance Highland heritage as they see it. Often it's 'as they see it' that is the case in America; caution is offered that what you most often see is not the culture of Scotland now or in times past but a hybrid formed from myth and misunderstanding.

    Regardless, 'clans' still exist, based on the pure acceptance that one person is acknowledged as descendant of the lines of clan chiefs and chieftains before, and the territories over which they at various times held sway.

    No doubt there were folk with the name Mitchell living as tenants on Innes lands in Moray by the 19C, at a time when the concept of septs was first assigned to the Highlands, but Mitchell is simply an Anglicization of the Hebrew Michael through the French Michel and is traceable to the 15C, at the latest. In other words, not 'clan' specific, but by name-adoption and tenancy. There were early Mitchells as far-removed from each other Galloway and Nairn, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Pre1700 research is the only indicator you can follow with assurance of your ancestry, but application to a clan society will assuredly give you access to the present and much more knowledge of your past.

    Best wishes for your ongoing delving, with the hope that you will continue to share your journey with us here at XMarks.

    Rex
    Last edited by ThistleDown; 1st October 17 at 11:59 PM.

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  10. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by O'Callaghan View Post
    As for lowland Scots clans, there were a few even going back to early times. It is still true, however, that most lowlanders did not belong to one historically. One such border clan is Davidson, my wife's clan. Now, Davidson is not the Gaelic form of the name, but nobody in the borders spoke or speaks Gaelic. OTOH, there are many (most?) Davidsons having no connection to the clan whatsoever.

    There are many names that are not clans, or even septs of a clan, that nevertheless have their own tartan. Suffice to say it doesn't take much to register a tartan. An example is Hart, which occurs in my own family tree, and which can be either English, Irish or Scottish (and in our case might be any of the above). Now, the tartan is Hart of Scotland, implying you have to be of Scots descent to wear it, and yet AFAIK there is no Hart clan, nor any Hart sept of any other clan. If you might think that were an unusual situation, you would be wrong. It is also true of several other tartans.
    Lots of Davidsons in Scotland. It was the twenty-fifth most common name at one 19C point in time. There were Davidsons in Roxbourghshire, Ayrshire, The Lothians, Fife, Aberdeenshire, Caithness, Perthshire, Ross-shire, Inverness-shire. Also in Ulster (with Macdhais), Cumbria, Northumberland and the Home Counties. Sons of David, a Hebrew name. Queen Elizabeth of England had a Davison Secretary; a Bishop of Canterbury out of Mid-Lothian was a Davidson; there are Davisons in Orkney and Davies in Wales. Most are without a connection to the Davidsons of Badenoch, the Mackintoshes, the Macphersons and the Clan Chattan. Some are, of course, and the place of origin for your name always sets you on the right track (well, given that that's not 18th or 19C Glasgow or Dundee, that is). The Davidson of Tulloch tartan is peculiarly to the Highland family claimed to be descendants of the Badenoch/Lochaber origin of the clan and I will leave the Clan Davidson tartan to Peter Macdonald to origin for us. My understanding is that it is based on the Government tartan through Davidson of Cantray. Both Cantray and Tulloch, of course, were descended of the Clan Chattan. In the borders look to the family with which your ancestor was territorially attached.

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  12. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThistleDown View Post
    Today the clans still exist in Scotland, but in a quite different form than when they came to an inevitably and recognisable end in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In Scotland, and elsewhere in the world, they have become 'societies', groups of folk perhaps of a common ancestry but more likely based on their common and wide-spread surname alone, or of their home-land locale in Scotland . They may or may not be blood related, but they feel a common bond and a common purpose to preserve and enhance Highland heritage as they see it. Often it's 'as they see it' that is the case in America; caution is offered that what you most often see is not the culture of Scotland now or in times past but a hybrid formed from myth and misunderstanding.
    Nailed it.

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  14. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThistleDown View Post
    Lots of Davidsons in Scotland. It was the twenty-fifth most common name at one 19C point in time. There were Davidsons in Roxbourghshire, Ayrshire, The Lothians, Fife, Aberdeenshire, Caithness, Perthshire, Ross-shire, Inverness-shire. Also in Ulster (with Macdhais), Cumbria, Northumberland and the Home Counties. Sons of David, a Hebrew name. Queen Elizabeth of England had a Davison Secretary; a Bishop of Canterbury out of Mid-Lothian was a Davidson; there are Davisons in Orkney and Davies in Wales. Most are without a connection to the Davidsons of Badenoch, the Mackintoshes, the Macphersons and the Clan Chattan. Some are, of course, and the place of origin for your name always sets you on the right track (well, given that that's not 18th or 19C Glasgow or Dundee, that is). The Davidson of Tulloch tartan is peculiarly to the Highland family claimed to be descendants of the Badenoch/Lochaber origin of the clan and I will leave the Clan Davidson tartan to Peter Macdonald to origin for us. My understanding is that it is based on the Government tartan through Davidson of Cantray. Both Cantray and Tulloch, of course, were descended of the Clan Chattan. In the borders look to the family with which your ancestor was territorially attached.
    No doubt all largely correct, although I would add that Clan Chattan is more a confederation of other clans, but with a tartan of its own. This also underlines how there are all manner of English and Scottish Davidsons unrelated to eachother and unconnected to the clan.

  15. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by O'Callaghan View Post
    No doubt all largely correct, although I would add that Clan Chattan is more a confederation of other clans, but with a tartan of its own. This also underlines how there are all manner of English and Scottish Davidsons unrelated to eachother and unconnected to the clan.
    Yes, both points are correct. There are many Davidsons -- particularly in the 'New World' -- who would like to think they are related to each other in some distant way, but this is obviously incorrect. Just as not all those who bear the name Robert-son, John-son, Hender-son are related. The only ones who can correctly refer to themselves as members of Clan Davidson are those who are descended from Davidsons in Lochaber, Badenoch, Strathdearn and Petty (and, latterly, Easter Ross). But that's set aside these days in favour of the Society system which is based on name and not on descendency.

    As for the Clan Chattan this confederation was dissimilar to other 'confederations', such as Macdonald, only in that the individual clans kept their individuality; they did not become merely a part of the whole. Several times in history this was reinforced by way of bonds of friendship and relationship to strengthen what would otherwise have made them weak. And, of course, they intermarried all the while retaining their patronymic. Today the chiefs of those clans are all part of the society bearing common identity as Clan Chattan.

    But the designation of those chiefs is important to note: Mackintosh of Mackintosh (that is, of the whole name, despite its various spellings), Macpherson of Cluny (there are Macphersons unrelated to the clan in the Central Highlands), Farquharson of Invercauld (a territorial differentiating him from other Farquhars), Macthomas of Finegand (no relationship to Macthomases in the West Highlands), Shaw of Tordarroch (there are many unrelated Shaws in other parts of Scotland and in England), Maclean of Dochgarroch (also referred to as Macleans of the North and Clan Tearlach), and Davidson of Davidston. MacBain of MacBain is chief of all of that distinct spelling of the name, but not of all Macbeans. There are other clans within the Clan Chattan currently without chiefs. When the Macphail chief is found and acknowledged by Lord Lyon, he will not be Macphail of Macphail because there other Macphails and Pauls from other regions in Scotland.

    As for the Clan Chattan tartan, this was one of two designs by Wilsons of Bannockburn in the early 19c, both called Mackintosh: one from much earlier has become well known as the Mackintosh, the other as Clan Chattan with no particular connection with Mackintosh. This is a simplified explanation, I know, but a more complete one needs it's own thread.
    Last edited by ThistleDown; 4th October 17 at 09:58 AM.

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