Research Your Scottish Ancestry

Robert WilbanksScottish Clans

by Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Chief Genealogist & Historian, C.S.A.

One of the most popular areas of interest in Scottish genealogy is determining the family connection to a Scottish clan. Originating from the old Gaelic word clann, meaning 'children' or 'kindred', the Scottish clan is a group of persons within a certain locality who are all connected by common ancestry.

The concept of the clan dates back to the 12th Century when certain families grew in power over a specified area of land, eventually developing a leader, the clan chief, who acted as a king, protector, judge, etc., over that recognized territory. /p>

While one family became dominant over a territory, the other families within that territory accepted the authority of that chieftain and in turn became associated with that dominant clan. These associated families are known as 'septs'. Over time clans became the main political system of Scotland.

Soon, a seal or crest, or a clan badge, perhaps even a coat of arms, along with a family motto, became associated with the more dominant clans. However, more notably, of more popularity are the certain tartan patterns, originally common to the clans particular territories, that had over time become associated with the clan that dominated that territory.

After the Jacobite rising in 1745, and the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the clans and the clan system lost its power. The Highland Clearances, beginning in the 1750s and continuing through the 1850s, further displaced the clan leaders and their families, and soon the hereditary chieftains became lost to time. By the early 1800s, anti-clan legislation began to be repealed, and along with the popularity of the tartan, and the Romanticization of the Highland Scots, clan acceptance and popularity began to rise. Though they would not achieve the power they once had, many clans began to become officially recognized, along with a proven hereditary chieftain. There also became officially recognized clans whose hereditary chieftain had become lost to time. These clans without chieftains are termed 'armigerous' clans.

Scottish descendants around the world do extensive research to find the clan that their family would most likely be associated with. Those with the more common surnames of notable clans usually can attach themselves to a particular clan very quickly. However, not every Scottish name was itself a clan, so it becomes necessary, through more extensive genealogical research, to determine the particular area a family came from, and then confirm if it is a recognized sept of that territorial clan.

In today's modern society and technology, most clans have become more organized and have developed extensive networking systems through websites and Facebook pages. Additionally, many of these clans have extensively developed genealogy records, resources, libraries, and even official genealogists. You can visit these online resources, or contact the clan officers, to learn more about that clan's history, genealogy, septs, and more.

Lochcarron Clan MapLocharron, the noted Scottish producer of clothing and accessories has created a wonderful interactive Clan Map of Scotland.

Wikipedia provides a list of all recognized Scottish clans with and without chiefs, including crest badge, motto, clan chief, clan seat, and more. Naturally, we cannot list here all the different clans that currently exist, nor provide links to their official websites or Facebook pages.

But be sure that they are very much out there, and you can find them with search engines such as Google or Bing, etc.

This is another of a series of articles in which I show you the basics of searching for your family history, discussing the use of family records, public records, and online resources nationally and internationally, etc. The previous articles are now available on the Genealogy Section of this website.   See “Gene