Saturday, August 23, 2014

Scottish DNA at Who Do You Think You Are 2014

A series of lectures on DNA and family history research from Who Do You Think You Are 2014 have been posted on YouTube. One of them is a talk by Alaisdair Macdonald, volunteer administrator for the Scottish DNA and R-L165 Projects at Family Tree DNA, entitled, Scottish DNA. Clans, Families and Surnames.

The sound quality of the lecture is not very good (microphone problems and too much background noise), so you will need to listen carefully. You will not see speaker, but you will see the PowerPoint presentation. The slides are informative and will sometimes help you out when you can't hear him properly.

He begins his talk with a brief introduction to DNA testing focusing on the Y-chromosome as it relates to surnames, which is the focus of this talk. His next topic was DNA testing on the families associated with the Lordship of the Isles. This was intriguing, but I was disappointed that he was spending so much time on the Highlands. But after the discussion of the McDonalds and other Western Highland families, he turned to the Hamiltons of the Lowlands. Then he realized he was almost out of time and breezed through the rest of his slides, most of which were unusual surnames found in the Lowlands. Clearly, he planned a balanced lecture, but did not time it right. He did make time to discuss Scottish surnames with unusual origins like the Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and Mongolia and a few DNA project that are ongoing in Scotland. 

While, the unintentional focus on surnames of the Western Isles is unfortunate for those whose ancestors come from elsewhere in Scotland, it is fortunate for those of you with ancestors who emigrated from this region to the American colonies in the 18th century. The surnames Macdonald discusses are those connected to clan chiefs. Across the Highlands most chiefs leased large sections of their estates to tacksmen, or leaseholders. These men were usually blood relations who paid for their land with military service to the chief. They made their money by renting their land to tenant farmers. When chiefs began looking for way to increase their incomes an obvious solution was to get rid of the tacksmen and collect rents directly from the tenants. Many tacksman reacted by taking themselves and their tenants off to America. What this means in genetic and genealogical terms is at least a handful of these emigrants would be related to the chiefly families, many of whom are mentioned in Macdonald's talk. Now whether the tacksmen stayed in America and left descendants is another matter entirely. 

n.b. I am an affiliate of Scotland's DNA, but I would have posted this anyway.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Bookshelf: The Scottish Diaspora by Tanja Bueltmann, Andrew Hinson and Graeme Norton

The Scottish Diaspora, by Tanja Bueltmann, Andrew Hinson, and Graeme Morton was written to serve as a textbook for Scottish emigration courses. The authors set themselves a huge task - summarizing three centuries of migration to all corners of the globe in under 300 pages. The book is divided into three sections: the first includes the introduction and discussion of the term diaspora, the second part is arranged thematically, and the third part arranged geographically .

The "Diaspora: Defining a Concept" chapter goes to great lengths to explain the historic use of the word diaspora and its use as a concept in organizing historical research. My overriding thought while reading this section was that “academics don’t own words” and “meanings constantly change.” If you are not reading this for school or other historical research, you might want to skip or skim this chapter. If you are just trying to understand why some of your ancestors left Scotland in 1750 and others in 1921, you probably don’t care about this sort of academic hair splitting. But be sure to look at the last few pages of this chapter as the authors included a useful description of different types of migration and terms used in the book.

The first thematic chapter, "Scotland: The Twa Lands," explores the Scotland left behind and four reasons why so many people left: demographic pressures, standard of living, occupational change, and urbanization. These are primarily structural reasons for emigration and the chapter overlooks social and familial reasons for emigration. The authors did do an admirable job of summarizing 250 years of Scottish history in 20 pages.

The next thematic chapter, "Scottish Migrants: Numbers and Demographics," opens with Ravenstein’s ‘laws’ of migration which are listed on pages 59 and 60. The inclusion of Ravenstein’s laws highlights a difference between British and American scholars, as the latter rarely reference his work. The authors explore how the reality of emigration from Scotland squares with Raventstien’s theories. They relate that emigration slowed Scottish population growth in addition to exploring the gender of migrants and the health and diet of Scots.

A discussion of the expectations of emigration versus the reality is discussed in "The Emigration Experience." Overall the journey, whether to North America or to New Zealand, was “nae sae bad” as most people arrived safely. Over all the authors have found that most emigrants, once they were over the initial hardships, had a positive experience in new home.

"Encounters with Indigenous People" explores the shared feeling of dispossession between native peoples and Scots particularly in Australia and New Zealand. The chapter includes a discussion of how emigrants learned about native life before departure. There is also an introduction to Scots attitudes and encounters with natives and it seems that Scots were not so very different from other colonials in their attitudes towards natives.
My favorite thematic chapter was Associational Culture which appears rely on previous work of Beultmann. The themes of this chapter include why these groups formed; differences between them the different types of groups (e.g. Caledonian Societies and St. Andrew’s Societies); where and when they were established; the establishment of Highland Games; annual dinners; and the elite nature of many of these groups.

The final thematic chapter, "Return Migration," discusses the different ways emigrants returned to their homeland. First were Sojourning Scots, those who only planned to be away for a little while. These migrants were usually from the upper classes and had connections to East India Company or similar institutions. The plan of these individuals was usually to make a ton of money and then return to Scotland. Other sojourning migrants would include members of the military.  Other emigrants returned temporarily for visits home or as roots tourists.  Although the authors note that both were hardest from Antipodes, the only two examples from were from this region.

The geographical section of the book includes chapters on Scottish emigrants in the British Isles, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Antipodes. Each is a summary of the Scottish migrant relationship which each destination. The chapter on the British Isles highlights the importance of London, higher wages, and industrial work in the North of England. The chapter on the United States focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The experience of Scots Loyalists and Scots who joined the Hudson’s Bay Company are two key components of the chapter on Canada. Scots who migrated to Africa seem to have been members of the military, missionaries, or miners.  Due to the apparent sparse settlement of Scots in Asia this chapter focuses on the experience of a few “super-wealthy” Scots and the importance of networks to migrants. The Antipodies, as you would expect, details the experience of convicts and the fact that Scots were surprising influential in Australia and New Zealand despite their comparatively small numbers.

The book closes with an epilogue which appears to the transcript of a Burns night toast given in Chicago ca. 1910. I skimmed the text and it does speak to many of the themes in the book, but its inclusion without any references or context seemed odd to me.

Overall the book is very readable and is suitable for students and a lay audience. Each section incorporates recent research on the Scottish Diaspora, although it seems that most of the examples reflect the specific research interests of the authors. Since there can’t be that many college courses dedicated to the Scottish Diaspora, I think this book would also be useful those who teach comparative diaspora studies.

nb. Many thanks to Kate at Oxford University Press for sending me a review copy of this book..

Thursday, August 14, 2014

New Article: The Union of 1707

With the Scottish Referendum on Independence just weeks away, you may wish that you knew more about the 1707 Act of Union of England and Scotland, neighbors on the Island of Britain. One source for this information is my recent article in the August/September issue of History Magazine.

Get your issue today at Books-A-Million, Barnes & Nobles, Chapters, through the app on iTunes, or a PDF version from the publisher.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie: The Scots Language

Gaelic is just one of three primary languages spoken in Scotland, the other two are Scots and English. Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse" was written in Scots as was the modern poem "Tae a Selfie" by Lorna Wallace. If you are researching an emigrant from Lowland Scotland it is probable that they spoke Scots in addition to Standard English.

Scots has been characterized as a "corrupted" form of English, for, as some would argue, social and political reasons. However, Scots is in fact its own language which is related to Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic languages.

A great resource for learning about Scots is the Scots Language Center. Here you can read a brief history of the Scots language by Dr. Sheila Douglas (PDF), read poems in Scots, listen to the different Scots dialects, learn about the Scottish tradition of song, discover resources for learning to speak Scots, and more.

You can follow the Scots Language Center on Twitter or join their Facebook group.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Telling an Immigrant’s Story by Researching Ships – Conclusion

Passenger list for the Brandywine Miller October 1804 (

In this final installment of this series we see how we can integrate what we have learned about the Brandywine Miller in our immigrant's story:

  • Charles Rose and Alexander McGillivray, and possibly, Francis Grimes and their families left the north of Scotland in late summer and traveled along Wade’s Military Road to Greenock, about twenty miles west of Glasgow, on the River Clyde. Here they found passage aboard the Brandywine Miller captained by Mark Collins and departed Scotland for America on or about 10 September 1804.
  • The Brandywine Miller was a 169 ton American brig owned by Alexander MacGregor of New York. It had been plying the Atlantic as a cargo ship for over a decade by 1804. Despite the age of the ship it was in good repair and sailed twice yearly from New York to Greenock and occasionally from New York to Jamaica. Despite the difficulties of renewed warfare, the Brandywine Miller still managed to make its customary two voyages between Greenock and New York. However, Mark Collins was issued a “Right of Passage” letter from the President Thomas Jefferson in July 1804 giving Collins permission to bring cargo, but no guns, into the United States. American neutrality in the wars was viewed differently by the Americans, the British, and the French – we stated we were neutral and they both thought we supported their enemy.
  • The second annual journey of the Brandywine Miller took 49 days, reaching New York on or about 29 October 1804. However, this journey included passengers in addition to cargo of dry-goods and coal. Among the passengers were 6 individuals with enough rank to be named in the New York Commercial Advertiser: Mr. and Mrs. McLeod, G.W. Wegg, R. Wingate, Elias Shipman, and Mark Collins, Jr. Perhaps they mingled with the 21 passengers who travelled steerage who would have included nine members of the Rose family, four members of the McGillivray family, and three members of the Grimes family.

This is just a bear bones attempt at integrating the history of the ship with the lives of Rose, McGillivray, and Grimes. These three paragraphs could be expanded with additional research and descriptions of sailing, travelling steerage, travel during wartime, what sailing the Atlantic was like, and the bustle of the ports of Greenock and New York in the early nineteenth century.  

Learning about an immigrant’s ship can help tell their story, especially if there is little additional information available about them. 


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