Tracing Scottish roots brings about its own peculiarities. Here we help
you get your head round the clan system, and point you in the right direction
for some roots in the Gaeltach.
When people think of clans, they tend to think of a group of people all
descended from one individual. Whilst many people can accurately claim
descent from one person, other people allied themselves to a clan for
protection. Whether or not you belong to a clan can be tricky to understand
and you can get lost between the clans and the septs. Imagine the clan
as the main branch and think of the side-branches as the septs, i.e. people
who have married outwith the clan who are nevertheless still blood related,
or people who are not clansmen themselves, but aligned to them. You can
get a list of septs and clans from many different places including
most tartan shops!
Many parts of Scotland have recorded family history through an oral tradition
and nowhere is this more evident than in Gaelic speaking communities.
Whilst this can be useful, as generations know where they come from, it
an lead to confusion. As the oral tradition dies out this information
could be lost, and it is also harder to verify facts conclusively as written
records are poor.
For help in tracing relatives from the Islands you could start with a
charitable organisation. The Seallam Visiting Centre which is home to
Co Leis Thu (literally who do you belong to) have researched
the oral history of virtually every household in the Outer Hebrides of
the last 200 years. They have a bank of over
30 000 family tree sheets and also hold information on census returns,
emigration and Old Parish Records. You can visit them at:
Emigration started in the 17th Century in earnest, and reached its peak
by the Second World War. One very conservative estimate puts the amount
of Scots living around the world today at twenty million,
so the chances are youll find a cousin somewhere overseas.
You can find information at the National Archives, but having established
where your ancestors settled you can contact foreign societies to help
dig for information at their end. Your local library may also have a list
of foreign societies.
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