Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts

05 April 2014

Tartan Day

Get your kilt on ... tomorrow is Tartan Day, April 6th.

Here’s to it!
The fighting sheen of it,
The yellow, the green of it,
The white, the blue of it,
The swing, the hue of it,
The dark, the red of it,
Every thread of it.
The fair have sighed for it,
The brave have died for it,
Foemen sought for it,
Heroes fought for it.
Honour the name of it,
Drink to the fame of it -
(Scots-Canadian poet Murdoch MacLean; from Celtic Guide, April 2013)

And prepare ye! May is Whisky Month ... ... just one part of Homecoming Scotland 2014!

29 November 2012

St Andrew, RIP

Photo from
On such an occasion of gravitas, I would like to honour the patron saint of Scotland. Or let us say, honour the festivities associated with St Andrew’s special day. Consisting, I dare say, of non-stop music, cheer, and frenetic dancing for hours on end, preferably all night long. Without a doubt the world could do with more distracting ceilidhs and reels and Red Hot Chili Pipers. And lobbying for a statutory holiday.

One might be aware that a campaign called Yes Scotland is fiercely underway for the Scottish parliament to hold an independence referendum. It’s a bit late, one might think. Really, they blew their chances a few centuries ago and having exterminated or deported the Highland element more recently, what hope do they have for an impressive show of force? Sean Connery notwithstanding, of course.

Perhaps they forget that Scotland was actually two countries. The exiled Highlanders carried their spirit and strength away to every country where they migrated. All important things representing Scotland flowed from them. And away with them.
But sadly, it appears that even in the diaspora—due respect and admiration for traditional regiments aside—the Ladies from Hell have more or less degenerated into marching pipe bands. Admittedly, that’s still plenty scary to some people.

So how fares the remnant sorry lot back in a depleted land? One small town journalist observed: “... Yes Scotland’s Borders members may wish to remove the two Union Jack flags at the back of the room next time they meet at the Kingsknowes Hotel.”[1] On the other hand, ignoring my shaky conflation of politics and history, their party will start five hours ahead of North America. Bereft as they are of pure Caledonian heart, apparently they are still up to mustering some epic ceilidh magic.

The last of the Talisker (sigh)

Rise up, St Andrew, the sons and daughters of Alba need you more than ever. 

Disclaimer: Statements in this piece are entirely subjective, unsupported whatsoever by facts or current events but commendable for avoidance of the word bagpipe.

[1] (No byline), The Southern Reporter (Scottish Borders), 23 November 2012. 

04 April 2011

TARTAN DAY April 6th

April 6th is Tartan Day in Canada and the U.S.A. See my new favourite tartan. 

Chris who blogs at Scottish GENES will freak if he ever sees this. I respect Chris very much but he is death on spurious Scots regalia and I’d like us to be on speaking terms when he lectures in Toronto in June. He has written plangently more than once about the “Scottishness” industry created in the 19th century and embraced ever since by commerce, tourism, and us in the diaspora. I happen to agree with much of what he says. A kilt manufactured just-so does not a Scotsman make. Nor is it a symbol of the historical, agricultural Lowlands. Revisionist cultural trappings do not define ancestral identity.

Nevertheless, it would be impossible to erase the ensconced images of Scottish heritage portrayed by pipe bands and regimental dress and clan associations.

One can admire a tartan without submitting to dress code rules our Highland ancestors would have laughed at. In our modern age, new tartans are being designed by disparate organizations. Some of them are very beautiful. They can be admired per se – as a salute to certain traditions, even though some may be twentieth-century traditions. The Arinagour primary school on the Isle of Coll held a competition for an island tartan design. The winner (above) was 8-year-old Maria MacIntyre, inspired by the natural colours found on Coll—sea, sky, heather. The ancient skills of weaving and design have continuing resonance in quiet places.
Photograph from The Laird of Port-À-Beul,
Tartans are very familiar to Canadians. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) tartan has its own tradition. It was officially registered on 15 Aug. 1942 by the Lord Lyon King of Arms of Scotland.[1] The distinctive tartan disappeared after amalgamation of Canada's Armed Forces in 1968 when a generic uniform was introduced. In fact, stocks of the fabric were destroyed. The RCAF Association managed to preserve an official sample, and the tartan was later reinstated.

Photograph from Clans and Scottish Societies of Canada (

Tartans are SO familiar to Canadians that last month the Maple Leaf Tartan was approved as an official symbol of Canada.[2] Along with the maple leaf and the beaver, the tartan is now one of the official symbols of the country. You can see the colours of the maple tree reflected in the fabric.

“Tartan Day” is celebrated in Canada and the U.S.A. on April 6th as a tribute to Scots ancestry. As Chris might ask, how many of the enthusiastic celebrants know their ancestors? Meaning taking the time and trouble to determine their actual place of origin and learn about their lives. And how many Scottish descendants recall that April 6th is the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath?[3] Independence for Scotland has had many a battle in the 691 years since.

[1] “Air Force Tartan,” 402 Pipes and Drums Band ( : accessed 24 March 2011).
[2] “Tartans,” Canadian Heritage/Patrimoine canadien ( : accessed 25 March 2011).
[3] “Did You Know?” Rampant Scotland ( : accessed 26 March 2011).

24 September 2010

Cemeteries Part 12: Greyfriars

While waiting for retrievals at the National Library in Edinburgh, I scooted outside to practice my photography skills. Note to self: Surely the quantity I take will result in some quality. Two minutes away was one of Edinburgh’s iconic historical sites. The entrance to Greyfriars Church and cemetery is all but unnoticeable except for the landmark pub.

Something about a faithful dog called Bobby rang a faint bell. My ignorance of the history here was excusable, I felt, having no ancestors in the city or surrounding vicinity. Then I learned the full name is Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk. That made me feel slightly connected, combined with immense respect for the GREY spelling which I’ve always preferred to GRAY.

Mary Queen of Scots granted the land as a town burial ground in 1562 at a Franciscan monastery, preceding the kirk itself. From 1682 the church building has been through numerous disasters, changes, and restorations. Now I’ve misplaced my brochure of pathways and monuments so I will have to crib a little from the Internet. It was good to see that Greyfriars Kirk today is an active congregation despite tolerating daily measures of gawking tourists. Thanks to for the sign.

Bobby? He was the loyal 19th century terrier who mourned his master’s passing by guarding his best friend’s burial site at Greyfriars for fourteen years. No question, Bobby deserves his own monument. The doggy story has some slight variations in the telling, but Bobby was himself interred just inside the gate, not in the kirkyard per se, himself not having the exact proper credentials. Trying to get a decent shot of his modest statue, uncluttered by sightseers and assorted Edinburgh youth, is nigh impossible. Thus I thank Wikipedia for this photograph. 

Many luminaries of Edinburgh and Scottish history lie within the grounds ... individual monuments, family sarcophagi. As in most ancient cemeteries, some have weathered badly, others have been sealed to prevent vandalism. One would need intensive study to know who all these people were, many of whom had their moments of fame. Centuries of interments created layers of remains and raised the original ground level. But still, seventeenth and eighteenth century monuments predominate.

Flodden Wall at the edge of the churchyard is a remnant of the fortified wall built around Edinburgh after the famous battle in 1513. Self: I am so into the 16th century now! Instead of acting as a deterrent against the English, it became a barrier for southern expansion of the city’s Old Town, forcing its tenement buildings to rise to notorious heights (the higher the better for the olfactory factor). Again, I am indebted to Edinburgh's Dark Side (see below) for a quality photo which escaped me.

The National Covenant of Scotland was signed in this church to establish the independence of religious rite. The Covenant was not without trouble and setbacks based on the preferences of ensuing rulers. In 1679 about 1,200 Covenanters were imprisoned near the church in dreadful conditions, Lord Advocate George Mackenzie being their most zealous persecutor. Many died and others were tortured or put to death. Although these family plots became known in popular lore as the prison cells, apparently the original imprisonment location was nearby. Mackenzie himself has an impressive tomb here, spawning scores of poltergeist reports.

The daytime dignity of Greyfriars has a parallel life. Its history of suffering, executions, body snatchers, grave robbers, and vandalism (disrespect for the dead still occurs today) renders it a genuinely spooky place after dark. This odd little "wee" shop at the entrance caters to paranormal interests, especially Mackenzie’s ghost. "Dead of Night" tours are on offer if you’re willing to risk poltergeist phenomena or strangely unaccountable bruises and scratches. Mind you, assorted nighttime ghost tours all over the Old Town are popular and competitive.

Pretty heady stuff for a break before returning to the library. Somehow, turning in to Bobby’s pub instead would have been more fun. Self: Work a little harder at photographic skills.

A couple of places for some good shivers are Edinburgh’s Dark Side and Greyfriars Graveyard.

16 August 2010

Hands On Scotland: KIllin

Killin sits in the Scottish Highlands of what used to be Perthshire but after a boundary shift, is now in the Stirling Council region. The beautiful back roads feature almost-hidden quaint B&Bs, evidence of the Trossachs’ popularity as a holiday retreat from the major urban areas. This is Rob Roy McGregor country. The village I was expecting turned out to be more like a 21st century town. Note to self: Stop living in the 18th century. Killin now includes the former surrounding villages of Monemore, Ballechroisk, and others.
  Cousin Lizzie had given very good directions to the old churchyard. Take the path beside and around the back of the hotel which now oddly sits between the church and its burying ground. I already knew that little trace of my Perthshire Frasers awaited. Our mutual gt-gt-gt-grandfather Duncan Fraser lies there (where else would he be?) but no stone is visible. His daughter Janet and her husband seem to be the only sign of several Fraser generations.
This is the parish church of Killin and Ardeonaig, built in 1744, so one solace was that Duncan was baptized here in 1783, and his father John in 1751. The ruins of the mediaeval church that existed by 1317 are in the midst of the burial ground, no longer visible.
A bonus was the memorial erected to the Reverend James Stewart who would have served at the time of the baptisms. His memorial sits in its own enclosure near the front of the church. Note the tribute to his translation of the Bible into Gaelic: this was a major, major contribution to Highland society. 
Back to the burial ground: The older stones are so unkempt and uncared-for, enough to make you cry. Mature trees have grown over many, hiding them. Few of the still-standing stones are decipherable. And naturally there could be plenty lying beneath the sod. The "programme of inspection and repair" and even the "footpaths" are not in evidence.
Members of the Scottish Genealogy Society (SGS) transcribed gravestones here in 1965. Their publication, South Perthshire Monumental Inscriptions, does not include the stone of Janet Fraser and her husband Alexander MacFarlane in the Killin cluster of eight burying grounds. Clearly legible now, the omission is puzzling. Was the stone illegible in 1965? Has someone cleaned it since?
The paucity of Fraser names in the entire SGS publication—flawed as it may be—is startling to me. Here I thought I was at the source of my Perthshire Fraser line. (I have to keep saying “Perthshire Fraser line” because I likely have two Inverness-shire Fraser lines :-) Cousin Lizzie and I don’t know where our Duncan’s probable grandfather, a prior Duncan, came from. The absence of most Highland parish registers before the mid-18th century casts that renowned fine Highland mist over us.
Here is the modern jazzed-up version, with extensions, of the smithy built by Janet Fraser’s husband in the 1880s. Janet herself descended from blacksmiths, father Duncan and grandfather John, but this is not where they worked. Now “The Old Smiddy”is a coffee shop cum teahouse with rooms to let.  
The Breadalbane Folklore Centre is situated in Killin, paying tribute to St. Fillan of Gaelic tales, and to the clans that flourished here—McNab, McGregor, Campbell. A 17th century claymore is among the displays, having been preserved by McGregor descendants. Perhaps a relic once held by Rob Roy himself?

More thinking to do. Why am I getting this sinking feeling that gt-gt-gt-grandad Duncan’s grandfather may have drifted into Killin from Inverness-shire where the Lovat Frasers were concentrated? Lizzie has reached the same hypothesis. He would have been a young and healthy age at the time of the Battle of Culloden. Note to self: Get a grip on your imagination; new Fraser posting needed.

09 August 2010

Hands On Scotland: Edinburgh

At last, my goal in Edinburgh. The Historical Research Room, part of the National Archives of Scotland. The morning walk took less than my estimated ten minutes ... if you disregard the fact that I first went to General Register House instead of to the Garden Entrance for the search rooms, which information I had read several times in advance and apparently forgot in the majesty of it all. I was greeted kindly and  registered with a temporary pass to access the locker room. The same reception person was equally kind in issuing me with a one-pound coin for the locker in exchange for the strange, useless shrapnel in my purse.
By the time I got upstairs—lots of stairs, these are high buildings—my official reader’s ticket magically appeared when another reception person examined my confirmation order for manuscript materials. She then waved me off to the Hysterical Search Room without a road map. I saw some signage for a while, but managed to lose myself briefly in a few dead-end cubby holes and the other reading room occupied by legal types. Or maybe that was on one of my trips back and forth.

Not many people were in the appointed stately room at that hour, but they were intent on what they were doing (because they knew what they were doing). An archivist assigned me to table 22. There were three archivists or facsimiles most of the time, each of whom had different functions I began to realize. The one in charge of document retrieval produced my documents in snappy fashion.

There I was, staring at fragile 200-year old papers folded into that stiff state that every historian fears will disintegrate at the first touch. Approaching the archivist who brought me the material, I asked, “Do you have gloves for handling?” He demurred, “We don’t normally use them.” I tried to hide my surprise (and terror, if chunks of irreplaceable history are going to fall on MY designated table spot). At least I was not having a language/accent problem.

After something like four hours in one very large batch of negative searches—nevertheless contributing to my hypothesis, mostly demolishing it—I decided to have some copies. To be negotiated with the archivist in charge of copies. The best option was to pay and have them mailed. That means money which was downstairs in my locker because I had diligently observed the pencil-and-paper-only code. When I found the locker again, forgetting to memorize the return trail upstairs, the next event had to be finding a bank machine.

A kindly gentleman in the first receptionist’s lobby, a sort of greeter, was more than pleased to direct me to the adjacent shopping mall which required a circuitous route taking five minutes to explain. They are all so kind. On my way, a few remaining pieces of my annoying shrapnel paid tribute to a piper attracting tourists for photos.
At the end of the day I had satisfactorily pursued the desirable manuscripts and online resources. Various copies to follow. I might add they have not arrived yet, unlike photocopies from the National Library of Scotland which were in my mailbox the day after I returned home. The garden entrance is quite lovely, and I was touched to see the memorial to the Mitchells, many of whose monumental inscriptions—cemetery transcripts in North Americanese—I have hoarded over the years.
The National Library doesn’t mess around; they send first class mail. That said, the NLS receptionist was not as kind as the NAS people. She insisted everything goes in the locker except pencil-and-paper. The librarian in charge of photocopies, though, was sympathetic and friendly and agreed that a purse with all your worldly ID in it was eligible for carrying about, although she didn’t know my purse resembled an overstuffed hiker’s backpack. The Library also has many stairs to climb, which I probably did three or four times. Up and down while waiting for book retrieval (they have many enticing articles for sale in their shop), up and down for photocopy money.

Now I’m thinking I didn’t sign out from the National Library of Scotland. Might they still be looking for me?

Did I mention I was in Edinburgh? Ahhhhh. A great Old Town with, surprise, tons of stairs. We’re talking serious climbing. On my way up and down to the Scottish Genealogy Society I spotted some intriguing restaurants with outdoor terraces—dinner potential. Not wanting to admit I’m a lapsed member of the SGS, at their office I requested certain of their monumental inscriptions publications. The volunteers who maintain the office were almost astounded but joyful when I added I wanted to buy them. Four of us spent an entertaining half hour learning to use their credit card machine. A mutually congratulatory and bonding experience, all in all. The excess weight to my take-home luggage made the airline personnel beam with pleasure. No doubt about it, I was dispensing happiness everywhere I went.
    Promises of sin, depravity, and ancient murder mysteries will have to wait for another time. When I stop counting stairs in my sleep.

04 August 2010

Hands On Scotland: Isle of Coll

Sometimes a longing can be transmitted across generations. Racial memory? This poem, Coll of the Waves by John MacFadyen (Iain Hyne), translated from the Gaelic, resonates among a surprising number of Collach descendants, long-separated from their island origins.  
        Fair gem of the ocean,
        Sweet Coll of my song,
        With joy and devotion
        To you I belong.
        I yearn for the island
        I left with a tear
        But soon I’ll return
        Now that summer is here.
After 182 years, my McFadyen spirit returned to the Isle of Coll. And yes, it was summer. Cliad Beach above.
Family historians often have many overseas ancestral “homes.” This was a very special one for me. What inexpressible feelings to walk among the deserted croft remains, touch the deteriorating burial stones, explore the pristine beaches and hills, enter some of the old dwellings. Of course I did not find the family black house or “lone shieling” which disappeared along with most of the old inhabitants. A few crofters’ houses have been renovated here and there. But I was able to visit Toraston and Cliad, last known communities of my McFadyens. Each seems to have only one farmhouse now.

After near depopulation, Coll has attracted some permanent incomers over the last half-century. Still, a few among the approximately 200 inhabitants have ancestral ties to the island. The Killunaig burial ground near Toraston has many McFadyen markers, of which only the most recent can be deciphered. It doesn’t take long for the sea air and thriving moss to wreak its natural course. I did not reach another almost inaccessible burial ground at Crossopol, a daunting distance even for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, which we didn’t have, across private land. But my people are here under the soil at Killunaig where the overgrown foundation of the ancient church can be seen.
Ballyhough was another community for McFadyens, not of my known line, but who knows before 1776? It’s now the home of Project Trust, founded by Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, the first NGO in Britain to educate and send “gap year” kids to foreign countries as aid volunteers. They learn from community life on Coll to prepare for experience in new places. The bond is so close that some of the volunteers have chosen to settle on Coll; some have children who in turn work with Project Trust. Maclean-Bristol, author of the brilliant history, From Clan to Regiment, Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides, lives in the 15th century Breacachadh castle. It was my great pleasure to spend a couple of hours with him in this historic setting where my ancestors were clansmen and soldiers for Maclean of Coll.
Coll is one of Scotland’s great but little-known natural beauty spots. The present inhabitants deal well with the occasional tourists who are often birders or hikers or those who just plain want to get away to an idyllic, unspoiled location. The beaches and dunes on the Atlantic side are so amazing they take your breath away.
One must book well in advance for the 7-room Coll Hotel or the smaller B&B Tigh-na-Mara! Otherwise, you can be one of the infrequent campers to be seen among the isolated dunes. The locals rightfully expect due consideration for opening and closing their gates when tramping across their fields. Sheep and cattle are part of the livelihood. Signs everywhere in the Highlands and Islands are in two languages: Gaelic and English.
Arinagour is the main community, and you look quite at home if you’re wearing rubber wellies or crocs. That's the main street above. The hotel has a jolly lively pub—I expect because it’s the only pub on the island. Any local event is cause to repair to the pub for celebration or discussion. Visiting yachtsmen are regular customers. Soccer and golf were prime topics during my stay. Not to ignore the finer points, the barman tells us the Coll Hotel’s own whiskey is blended “right over there,” waving in the general direction of a windswept promontory, nary a cottage visible. I think of 250 years ago when the island reportedly had up to thirty distilleries! (After several tries, my photo of the pub has wandered off into bloggerland limbo, hang on, I found it!)    

        “Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland
        And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.”
        -- Canadian Boat Song, author unknown, sometimes attributed to John Galt.

I left with a tear but with dreams come true.

Photographs July 2010 by BDM and CDM.

10 July 2010

Lift Off

I know, it seems like I’ve been leaving for weeks, right? You have no idea how I can work myself up about packing the suitcase, seizing the right moment to buy foreign cash, instructions to leave for interim plant watering volunteers and mail collectors, the slew of emergency numbers-addresses-information-itinerary to disperse to anyone mildly interested. 

My buddy The Educated Genealogist and I are of like minds when it comes to travel, especially conference attending. We understand the importance of shoe selection. Colour coordination is everything. Each top has a bottom to go with it. Accessories need infinite consideration. Many bits from the grooming collection must have those zip-lock baggies. All that. It’s advisable to take rest breaks between planning each outfit.

Excellence in suitcase packing is surely a sign of the mature traveller. T-shirts with writing on them are so not cool. For a slice of summertime wardrobe wisdom while away from home, see this delicious photo of senior activists, taken by Marq Frerichs at the recent G20 demonstrations. It appeared in Torontoist’s “Boulevardier” section of their Style Notebook.
We could all use a model for dress code standards. Proving once again, experience = confidence. (Too bad we can't see their sign.)

Mais je digresse. I stare at the suitcase. No apron there yet. The Reeboks went into the suitcase three times, removed for the third time. Packing principle: Heavy, bulky, clumsy, is to wear airborne, not to pack. Sometimes packing principles interfere with style principles. How glam do I look departing from broiling sauna weather in shoes the size of bricks and my heavy, all-purpose winter sweater. I know, it’s not winter over there, but what about evenings north of the 56th parallel.

While I’m not going to a convention, some genealogy is involved. It behooves the profession to look competently put together. A couple of notches above flowered capris. Adding one item means removing another. The dress goes in, one top gets heaved. How many socks should I bring? I can wash them, can’t I? Get rid of the mousse. No, I need it. Where is the insect repellent? Do they wear sandals in the Hebrides?

You can tell that weather has a role in packing. Personally, I am deeply disappointed that The Weather Channel and The Weather Network and Yahoo Weather are unsynchronized and indecisive regarding forecasts and averages. If averages mean anything any more what with climate change. Do I really need the sweltering rain jacket that doesn’t breathe? Ditch that; replace with lightweight folding umbrella.

Don’t forget the gifts. Those little guest soaps cunningly shaped like maple leaves. Uh-oh. What if someone with no English (and my sign-language skills are deficient) tries to eat them? Rush back to the shop and substitute maple sugar candy. Safer.

Staring at the suitcase again. A weight allowance of 23 kg is a challenge when you have books, family history, maps, manuals, and masses of notes. Why do the cords and plugs necessary for electronic sustenance weigh pounds apiece? Find the adaptor. Should I bring the vitamins? How many earrings are enough? Which hat is crushable?  

Notice I didn’t mention the Carry-On. Worthy of its very own blog post, but time runneth short. The contents will be on my shoulder or my back for the duration with, of course, all that paper telling me what to do if I become dismembered or lose everything. As long as it contains tranqs for a couple of  looooong ferry crossings, I’m good. Assuming I get to meet the North Sea face to face.  Don’t stint on the wine, dear flight attendant.

My inner child is screaming. Are we there yet?

Trust me, I am not sending panic emails from Europe asking you for money :-D

17 June 2010

Hands On Scotland: Dead Ancestors in Edinburgh

This post isn’t so much about the ancestors per se as it’s about frenzied preparations for two days of research at General Register House in Edinburgh. That’s the one at the east end of Princes Street. As opposed to the one at the west end of Princes Street, imaginatively called West Register House. NAS. National Archives of Scotland. My hotel is thankfully nearby, as memorized from a colourful and distracting street map, so I calculate a maximum 10? minute walk after breakfast heading east. No dallying at shop windows along the way.
Historical Search Room, General Register House, Edinburgh;

Anticipation of an adventure, they say, is half the fun. Who said that, anyway? It may be the only fun. Time constraints allow for two days at NAS, within the specified hours of 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Every minute is precious. Who knows how much time is eaten up with registering (passport type photos required), orientation, filling out forms, and waiting for retrievals and printouts. Never mind the important in-between part of computer and microfilm searching.

My primary research goals are at the one facility. I pursue Donald McFadyen relentlessly in the perhaps mistaken hypothesis that he served in a militia unit during the 1790s. A previous search of the Breadalbane Muniments was negative, so I apply myself to the collections of the Earls of Airlie and Maclaine of Lochbuie. There are muster and pay rolls for the Breadalbane Fencibles and the Argyllshire Volunteers among them. Somewhere among the meters-long shelving of estate papers. White gloves time, I believe.

My Frasers will receive some attention at GRH since my little expedition has been ordered to make an ancestor detour to Killin in Perthshire. Cousin Lizzie paved the way for me—metaphorically speaking—into a village that may have looked like this when our mutual Duncan Fraser (1783-1867) was the village blacksmith.  
Monemore Cottages, Killin, Perthshire; postcard.

I go to GRH armed with specific catalogue references. One collection alone took two days of trawling the online finding aid through hundreds of items. This is the fun part? Not that I’m complaining ... thank you, gods of the NAS for the finding aids! The kinks in my neck and shoulder muscles should recover just in time to assist my pilot in keeping the transatlantic Airbus aloft for seven hours (Monty Python helps ... “Always look on the briiight side ...”).  

My confidence is still a little shaky that I will understand the accents and vernacular of the native Scots. More archival time eaten up if I embarrass myself by asking them to repeat what they said several times. Or I could pretend to get it the first time, and proceed as if transmission went well. That usually lands me in some hopeless or hilarious (in hindsight) contre-temps but then again it could be a good diversion from intensive, eye-crossing research.

Edinburgh is really the only place on the itinerary that demands absolute research discipline. But only until 4:45 p.m.! What then? The map is mesmerizing. It promises historical sites of sin, depravity, and ancient murder mysteries. Whisky tasting and tartan weaving. Greyfriars Bobby. Campbell’s Close. Grassmarket. Deacon Brodie’s Tavern?  Malt Shovel Inn? Ahhh ... the Hebridean Bar; surely a place for Celtic music.

Dominic Beddow and Claire Littlejohn, The Illustrated Edinburgh Map (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 2007).

Now that I’ve put myself on the published record, we know there must be follow-up. The netbook may or may not decide to obey me but I have Luddite backup. The adventure will unfold, as my granny never said but someone’s did, the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. Being translated means Icelandic volcano, hold your temper, eh? I mean aye.

05 January 2010


What could possibly be more Scottish than tartan? (... please don’t call it plaid). Tartan is so identified with a special culture and country. Hasn’t every family of Scottish descent had a moment of wanting to wear/flaunt a tartan? A warm fuzzy feeling of belonging to a grand clan heritage? Or a more atavistic image connecting to bold, boisterous, fearsome warriors?
MacDougall wr567r; courtesy of Scottish Tartans World Register
Nostalgia ruled when I dug my old “Christmas” skirt out of mothballs in the cedar chest to savour the MacDougall tartan. Once it attended a reception for Coline MacDougall of MacDougall, 30th Chief of the Clan. Lately, the zipper has decided it won’t quite close. That made me think fondly of the Hunting Fraser jacket and skirt that I wore to rags as a young teenager.

What is the protocol these days about choosing or wearing a tartan? Is there a protocol? King George III and Queen Victoria did their bit to restore some tartan pride after the crushing defeat of the ’45. For a time there was a notion that we are only entitled to wear “our” clan colours. No doubt those clever little pocket clan books are still being sold—the ones where you looked up your surname to see if it qualified as a clan or a sept!

In their day, I’m sure our ancestors felt no restrictions on their warp and woof, slavishly matching their cloth with their clansmen neighbours. Historian and weavers are thankfully having their say now. There are at least two authoritative-looking websites for searching and learning about tartans: Tartans of Scotland (including "the Scottish Tartans World Register, to bring you the complete Register of all Publicly Known Tartans online, which includes details and images of over 2800 tartans.”) The Scottish Tartans Authority is another, but this site played havoc with my Internet browser so I gave up and used the former. Each site illustrates variations with the sources of their samples from ancient to modern.

Maybe we’ve come full circle. Now you can even have a personal tartan created and woven to order. The RCAF has a familiar one; so does Nova Scotia. There was a recent contest for designing a tartan for the City of London, England. The Isle of Coll was not to be outdone:
Visit Coll: >> “Coll” >> “Coll Tartan.”
The MacDougall search reveals 18 samples. Some of them vary wildly! MacFadyen offers three choices. And out of 22 Fraser designs, not one looked like my old brown hunting pattern! How much fun did you have on the site?
MacFadzean wr744r; courtesy of Scottish Tartans World Register

Did I ask what could be more Scottish than tartan? Don’t get me started on the bagpipes ...

04 March 2009

Dougall Part 3

Just to address one recurring query. There is no evidence whatsoever that my Dougall family line was ever known as, or connected to, the surname MacDougall. It’s surprising (to me) how often I get that question, since the surname is much less common than the Mcs and the Macs. Dougall was the surname by which they were recorded in West Lothian parishes back to the mid-1700s ... when I lose them.

Not to ignore the fact that Dougal/Dugald is an ancient first name, far and away predating what we know today as surnames. Highlanders knew or greeted each other by their patronymics which identified their fathers. And if that raised any doubts among a culture with a limited imagination when it came to naming their children, most of them could add their paternal grandfather’s name. “Names were sometimes carried into two or three stages by using Vic (Mhic, the genitive of Mac). Sixteenth-century examples are Angus MacDonald Vic Angus, son of Donald MacAngus, and Alastair MacAllane Vic Ane Vic Coull.”(1)

One of my potential ancestors is Iaian McNeill Vc Innes, meaning Ian (or John), son of Neil who was the son of Innes.(2) Celtic Bards were a customary part of the clan fabric, preserving and memorizing the intricate genealogy of their leading families. In an illiterate society, they were expected to declaim and entertain at social gatherings. And let us not confuse the Gaelic language with that of the other part of the country – Scots, or Lowland Scots.

It would make more sense–to me anyway–that the “adoption” of Dougall as a surname sprang from some man named Dougal/Dugald who migrated to the area around Edinburgh and whose descendants had lost or dismissed their Highland origins and clan or old community affiliation.

My imagination was captured years ago when I read of Dugal, son of Somerled, who became Lord of the Isles in the 12th century. Then I was seduced by the global fashion marketing spawned by Queen Victoria’s devotion to Balmoral Castle and all things Scottish. Ah yes. Those brawny lads in their colourful kilts. The proud regimental backbone of the British army. The novelty of Highland games and the thrill of the bagpipes. The images thrive to this day, most of them manufactured to a point a poor old crofter wouldn’t recognize. Anyone can claim a clan affiliation and deck themselves out in tartan ties, kilts, shawls, blankets and what have you. Maybe hang a clan chief’s hereditary coat of arms over the fireplace in the family room, obliviously committing an illegal act.

Illustration from

Then I became a genealogist and guess what? My ancestors were likely not prancing around in clean argyle socks and immaculately pleated kilts with silver pins. Researching ancestors goes hand in hand with seeking the realities of contemporary history—the social, political, economic, religious, literary and legal context for my people. How boring is it to say John Dougall lived on a farm in West Lothian, Scotland? Where is that place on a map? Who owned the farm? What was his working life like? His home life? What was happening around him in the nearby towns or in the country itself? What influences or pressures made him decide to go to Canada? You can’t always answer all the questions, but looking for them makes all the difference.

Now that we have that all cleared up, don’t forget your handed-down family stories much closer to home. The tales are personal historical sources. They may be altered through time, they may be incomplete, they be may be biased and embellished, they may be mixed up, but they are yours—to save and investigate.

I was all over the map with that one.

(1) William L. Kirk, Jr., “Introduction to the Derivation of Scottish Surnames,” 1992, Clan Macrae Online ( : accessed 14 January 2009).
(2) Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, From Clan to Regiment, Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides, 1400-2000 (UK: Sword and Pen Books, 2007), pp. 78-79; citing Inverary Castle Papers, Fullerton Transcripts 2 July 1679; MSS AT 1679, Edinburgh University Library.

30 March 2007


This is a trial to give an introduction to a family history and see how it would work. Unfortunately, the footnote numbers and notes don't transfer easily into this medium. So far, I'll be content to show bits and pieces. Footnote numbers appear in the text in (brackets) and the footnotes should show at the end of the post. More news about the main families and research stories will appear later on the blog.
Ancestors and Descendants of John DOUGALL and Marion HASTIE from West Lothian, Scotland, to Argentueil County, Lower Canada (Quebec).

This photograph was taken some time before John Dougall died in July 1867 (see below). He lived just past Canada's birth as an independent nation. The photo has hung above my desk for the thirty years I have worked as a professional genealogist for thousands of clients worldwide. The look on John's face suggests disapproval that I was not paying attention to my own family history. I sincerely hope he will cheer up now. As I've already said, this is a work in progress and I have quite a way to go still. More information needs to be hunted, collected and sorted for several lines yet. As of this date I am also cleaning up footnotes ... the source citations which are all-important to a credible genealogical compilation.

The work itself includes data and stories (when possible) on:
* The emigrating Couple and their Ancestry
* The Second Generation
Names of spouses: Cameron, Fenton, Moffat, Lloynachen, Laing, FRASER, McCunn
* The Third Generation
mainly from Peter Dougall (1824-1914); names of spouses: Ormiston, McFADYEN, Hemenway, French, McAdam, Kenning
* The Fourth Generation
from John Fraser Dougall (1852-****)
from William Charles Dougall (1854-1934)
from Margaret Jane French (1867-****)
from Peter Robinson Dougall (1872-1962)
from Mabel Kate Kenning (1881-****)
The Fifth Generation:
Hector Fraser Dougall (1896-1960)
Peter McAdam Dougall (1900-1993)

To the last two above, I dedicated my work: my father, whose interest and preliminary findings unknowingly set me on this lifelong path, and my "uncle" who unfailingly provided support and good humour.

John Dougall (Thomas, John) was baptized 20 July 1781 in the parish of West Calder, West Lothian, Scotland, the son of Thomas Dougall and Marion Pollens;(1) he died 20 July 1867 at Beech Ridge, Argenteuil County, Quebec.(2) John married on 13 May 1810 in Livingstone parish Marion Hastie, daughter of John and Margaret (Brown) Hastie.(3)

(1) West Calder Old Parochial Register (OPR), baptisms 1645-1854; Family History Library microfilm 1067792.
(2) Suzanne Rossignol and Pennie Redmile, St. Andrews East Protestant Cemetery, St. Andrews East, Quebec (Quebec Family History Society 1991).
(3) Livingstone OPR, marriages 1718-1820; FHL microfilm 106636. John Dougall's family bible, published in 1811, has disappeared; it was transcribed by Miss Helen Locke as a girl and her notes say the wedding took place 13 July 1810.