>Shooting Lodge (name unknown, at least unpronounceable),
In … the Outer Hebrides before about the year 1800 surnames did not exist!
A fact that simply cannot be over-emphasised…
For example, the tailor Angus MacPherson might be known as “Angus Tailor”. More frequently the “sloinneadh” was the person’s patronymic (e.g. “Aonaghus Iain Domhnullach” (Angus John son of Donald) which was the patronymic of Angus John MacDonald of Knockline, the well-known North Uist genealogist born in 1900).
Another example would be “”Domhnull mac Alasdair ‘ic Raonuill” (Donald son of Alexander the son of Ronald) (in Gaelic “mac” means “son” and mhic, or abbreviated “’ic”, means “son of the son”.
This partly explains why some 70% of the population of North Uist today has the surname “MacDonald”.
“The term clan, comes of course from the Gaelic clann, meaning “children”. It implied a kinship group of four or five generations, all claiming descent from a common ancestor. And clan chieftains encouraged their followers to believe that they were indeed bound together like family.
The attack upon Gaelic culture included every aspect of it, especially the language.
This is extremely important to understand for those attempting to research their own family history, and it didn’t stop with the peoples names. Placenames suffered this same mangling in their Anglicisation too.
Over time certain Gaelic names came to have an “accepted” English equivalent, often with no obvious connection to the Gaelic name. For example a person locally known in Gaelic as “Gilleasbuig Mac Dhomnull” would probably appear in the Census or in a register of marriages etc. as “Archibald MacDonald”. Thus an official record may contain reference to a person under a name that was completely different to the name that he was known by to his contemporaries.
Were I to travel back in time & present my (painstakingly recreated) family tree to my ancestors, they would probably wonder who on Earth I was referring to!
With many thanks to Blair MacAulay for permission to quote these extracts.
(Please note that, although I have inspected the records as carefully as possible, I have not drafted a full family tree for the following folks but I believe the links as described to be true)
>I am descended from a Shaw of Srannda/Strond. The Farm of Strond was part of the Tack of Strond & Killegray* and from amongst the various families of Shaws from Skye at least one settled in Strond.
The holder of this tack in the18th and early 19th Centuries were Campbells and Mrs Ann Campbell was particularly noted not only for her care and consideration of those living on the land she rented but also for the developments that she brought to part of the South of Harris (as can be read elsewhere in this blog).
*The RCAHMS entry for Killegray House provides a little more information relating to that island.
According to Bill Lawson, in his excellent guide ‘Harris Families and How to Trace Them’, the Shaws of Strond were descended from one particular line of those who had been Ground Officers for the Macleods on Skye. Whether or not my ancestor, Effie Shaw, was a daughter of this family or, perhaps, from one of the other branches on neighbouring Berneraigh & Pabbay I shall probably never know.
This doesn’t greatly trouble me for I am more interesting in attempting to understand the social history of the times in which my ancestors existed rather than being able to trace them back to some arbitrary point of origin. On that note, it is interesting to reflect upon this observation made more than 300 years ago:
Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids as to the stripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, in so far that they who have seen those places are able at first view of a man’s plaid to guess the place of his residence.
‘A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland’ by Martin Martin, 1703, the text of which may be read here.
In other words, the colours & patterns worn distinguished which place you belonged to, not what family you were descended from. I would hate to be thought of as dissuading people from parting with their (much-needed) dollars from across the oceans to purchase ‘plaid’ according to the clan(s) that they consider themselves to be a part of, but for our predecessors in the Gaelic world such a notion would seem very strange indeed. On a practical note, what would one do if the particular plant required to provide the dye needed for the family ‘tartan’ didn’t grow in the island you lived on? Martin’s observation demonstrates precisely what the answer to that hypothetical question was!
It is also worth mentioning that, at the time that Martin was making his tour, the notion of a family name would have been virtually unknown (and almost certainly unused) on the isles. A man would be very likely to be able to say that he was Angus son of Donald son of Malcolm son of John etc…but he was known as Angus son of Donald the Red Haired, or the Tailor, or some other feature that distinguished the father from the other Donald’s thereabouts. The first form is called patronymy, the second I call common sense!
These Shaw families (& coming from the mainland perhaps they had already adopted the ‘modern’ style and were using a family name by the time they reached the isles?) were never numerous on Harris and those of the South appear to have dispersed and then declined due to dilution as patrilineal descent replaced the previous patronymic practice. There certainly still are Shaws living in the South, and the churchyard at St Clements testifies to several Shaw interments, but I have been unable to link any of these, whether living or dead, to my own ancestry.
Emigration, whether by choice in earlier times or under duress due to the Clearances, clearly offers an alternative tack to be taken but, as the British Government did not keep records of those emigrating (those that exist are simply the manifests that vessels were required to keep of all souls on board) it it extremely difficult to accurately identify all the families that went abroad. It is possible to do so, and their are several professional genealogists who specialise in this particular field, but that is, perhaps, a subject for another time.
A few notes that may be helpful to those researching families in this part of the Western Isles (prompted by enquiries made elsewhere on the interweb):
‘Bermesay’ (as I have seen it transcribed) is the island of Berneraigh/Berneray which was part of the Parish of Harris. When Borve on Berneray was Cleared in 1851 those who did not immediately emigrate were settled in Direcleit & Ceann Debig on the shore of East Loch Tarbert in the Baighs/Bays of Harris so do not be surprised if a family that you are following suddenly appear there in the censuses of 1861 onwards.
The Parish of Kilmuir was the old name for what became the Parish of North Uist and thus this can create confusion as there is also the Parish of Kilmuir on Skye, and both of these were within the old county of Inverness-shire…
Ages – we spend most of the first two-decades of our lives wishing that we were older, and the remainder of out time wishing that we weren’t as old as we are! I have seen some alarming age-transformations across the censuses, and not all of them were women shaving a few years off here and there. In fact, sometimes one discovers an islander who clearly has physically aged considerably during the past decade and this is reflected in what I assume to be the Enumerator’s guesstimate of the persons age. If possible, always check the original document (or an electronic image of the document) as transcription, especially that done electronically rather than by human hand, is easily led astray.
Oh, and the Gaelic name Iain was usually ‘translated’ into the English name John but the distortions & contortions that took place when the registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths became compulsory in 1855 (not to mention the variations of spellings seen both there and in the Censuses) require the interrogator to adopt what might be termed a ‘fluid’ approach in their investigations, and names such as Ann can easily, perhaps at the choosing of the lady herself as time & fashions change, metamorphose into Anne or Annie.
Finally, the more that those researching island families pool their resources, share and collaborate, advise & assist each-other, the more complete the picture will become. I am relatively fortunate in having a very close cousin on Harris but even she, despite being a Hearach (Harris-born) herself, has been unable to progress our family tree further back into the past than our mutual origin in Srannda.
If you have family who were living on Harris or (but to a lesser extent) Lewis during the 19th Century then you might well find items of interest in the pages of this blog. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and certainly do not claim to be 100% accurate in my assertions, but am attempting to provide a resource that casts some light into some of the hidden history of Harris and her neighbours.