Scottish Genealogy

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Surname Saturday - My MacCrimmon Ancestors

I do not get a lot of time to spend on my own family history these days (it's like the old saying 'the cobbler's children go unshod' - well, my own ancestors too often remain unfound as I am so busy looking for other people's!)

But one of the lines of my family that does go back a way is that leading back to Iain Dubh MacCrimmon.  He is my great-great-great-grandfather and lived from c.1730 to 1822: not a bad lifespan really - I'll be quite happy if I make it that far!

He was twice married (some say 3 times, but I have not found much supporting evidence myself for this yet) and had a huge number of children - there must be an enormous number of descendants out there who are related to him.  

some of these children are said to be:

with his first wife 
(whose forename I cannot seem to track down, but she was a MacAskill):


with his wife, Ann Campbell, who he is said to have married in 1790 
(she is said to be of the line of the Campbells of Barbreck):

PETER MACCRIMMON (my ancestor)

(apologies to any that I have missed!  There is detailed information about these and other MacCrimmon lines at which is a site that is really worth visiting).  

"Mac Cruimin". A plate illustrated by R. R. McIan, from James Logan's The Clans of the Scottish Highlands.
There are great legends about the history of these MacCrimmons, which I must admit I love, but which are not exactly easily verifiable!  One of the most famous legends is that the family originated in what is now Italy and that the founder of the family was from Cremona.  His name was supposedly Guiseppe Bruno.  His son Petrus Bruno was supposedly born at Cremona in the late 1400s and came to Ulster.  He took the name Cremon (after the place that he came from) and on his marriage in Ireland to a daughter of the famous piping family of MacKinnon he further altered his surname to MacCrimmon to bring it nearer to that of his wife.  This is great stuff, but not that easy to verify - so I'll probably not be booking a research trip to Italy any time soon! 

It seems at least possible that the name might also come from an attempt to render an old Norse name (possibly Hroðmundr) into Gaelic by adding the 'Mac' (son of) prefix to a variation of the Norse name, but I still love the Italian story...

My ancestor, Iain Dubh was a talented piper and a staunchly religious man.  Shortly before his death he wrote a pamphlet on 'The Failure of Christianity' which was said to have greatly annoyed the local clergy - the pamphlet is said to be buried with him.  I like having an outspoken ancestor - whether I agree with his principles or not!

Iain Dubh is sometimes said to be the very last of the hereditary MacCrimmon pipers.  The MacCrimmons had filled this roll to the MacLeods of Dunvegan, Skye, since at least the time of my 5x great-grandfather Patrick Og MacCrimmon (and possibly earlier).  Much of the information on the early lines of the family was published as A History of the Clan Mac Crimmon by GCB Poulter in 1938 and many of the early 'origin myths' of the family are found in this work (now available online at the MacCrimmon Family Registry).

There are tantalising references to MacCrimmons in earlier records: a 'Patrik Mcquhirryman, piper', mentioned in the Register of the Privy Council, vol.5 (1592–99) may be another ancestor (although he appears in Perthshire, the piping connection still seems promising).  There is also a bond of manrent dating from November 29, 1574 between Colin Campbell of Glenorchy and 'John Tailzoure Makchrwmen in the Kirktoun of Balquhidder and Malccolme pyper Mackchrwmen in Craigroy' - another piper: it was the 'family trade'...

Iain Dubh would have taught at the once famous Borreraig Piping College, of which nothing now remains, but a memorial cairn stands at Borreraig - it was built in 1933 after donations being gathered from around the world - a fitting tribute to a fine family.

  © Copyright Richard Dorrell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

My own work on the MacCrimmon family is far from over - it is a project to which I return at regular intervals and I am always happy to find new family members or discover new facts about any descendants.  I suppose that a lot of people have a 'favourite line' in their ancestry...and these MacCrimmons might just be mine...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Old Scots Words: Abilʒement / Abulʒement and the 'yogh' letter

When looking at some older Scottish documents there are words that keep popping up from time to time which look completely unfamiliar to the modern eye.  Some even contain letters that have long since vanished from our own alphabets.  One of these that anyone who spends much time working with older Scots wills and testaments will probably notice is the word Abilʒement or Abulʒement.

This strange looking word has a variety of spellings according to the Dictionary of the Scots Language [DSL], including: 

abilʒea-, abilyheament, abilliament, abillement; abulʒie-, abwlʒe(abolʒe-), abullʒement (abulʒemont), abulʒea-, abulʒia-, abuliament, abuliment; abuilʒe-, abuilʒie-, abuilʒea-, abuilʒiament.  

The strange looking letter 'ʒ' is what is called a yogh and is often represented as a z or a y when transcribed, but the sound was originally closer to a gutteral 'yh' or 'gh' sound - this letter is the reason that the name 'Menzies' is pronounced 'Ming-us' rather than 'Men-zees' by Scots - the 'z' in the name is actually an old yogh letter which changes the way that the word is pronounced.  You can find out lots of information about this little letter at the Scottish Handwriting website.

Image: Grant Cochrane /
So the strange word Abilʒement would have been pronounced as 'ab-ul-ghi-ment' (or something close to that!) and it is actually a rendering of 'Habiliment' or 'clothing/apparel/equipment'.  So when you see this word (often in a list of someone's goods or belongings in a will) then it is often referring to the personal apparel of someone - it's an odd looking word, but a good one to know about..

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Alexander Cowie at Fordyce

Today's grave is situated in the beautiful grounds of the old churchyard at Fordyce, Banffshire.  Fordyce village is a lovely place to visit and the remains of the kirk are certainly worth looking in at if you are ever in the area.  There is some great information on the history of the Kirk and the village at the Fordyce Community website.

The gravestone was erected by James Cowie, weaver, for his father Alexander Cowie who died 27th June 1779 aged 64 years.  It is a beautifully simple headstone and really caught my eye.

Alexander's residence is given as 'Murerock' which must be 'Muirake' in the south of Fordyce parish - there is a site record about the house there on the RCAHMS website.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Happy Birthday to: Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll

Princess Louise, 1851
Born today in 1848 was Louise Caroline Alberta, the sixth child (and often said to be the most attractive daughter) of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  Louise was a sculptor and artist as well as being interested in a number of 'causes' - among them the rights of women.

Although she was linked with a variety of regal suitors from across the world, it was to a member of the Scottish nobility that she was eventually married in 1871: John Campbell, the Marquis of Lorne (later 9th duke of Argyll).  This was a remarkable match as it was said to be a love match and it was the first time since the 1500s that a daughter of the Royal family had married a British subject.

Princess Louise, c.1900

Despite promising beginnings, the marriage was not a happy one, but it endured despite the pair remaining childless and spending much time apart.  John and Louise reconciled before his death in 1914 and indeed Louise nursed him in his final years and reportedly missed him dreadfully after his death.

I came upon Louise's story through my own studies of her father in law, the 8th Duke of Argyll.  She is a fascinating individual and her marriage to a member of the Scottish nobility brings her (just!) within the remit of this blog.  I really just wanted to give a mention to this most unconventional of Royals - who shunned publicity, supported feminist causes, and courted scandal with her behaviour: her artistic endeavours included works using a nude female model.  I like these unconventional characters - and would like to wish Louise many happy returns on what would have been her 164th birthday! 

For more about Louise, see  

Elizabeth Longford, Darling Loosy: Letters to Princess Louise 1856 to 1939. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991)

Mark Stocker, ‘Louise, Princess, duchess of Argyll (1848–1939)’, first published 2004; online edn, Jan 2008

Jehanne Wake, Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's unconventional daughter. (London: Collins, 1988)

Friday, 16 March 2012

The dangers of a Dumfriesshire ploughing match...

Whilst browsing through the Glasgow Herald from 200 years ago today, I saw the following story which illustrates the potential dangers of attending a ploughing competition.

They have never seemed like the most potentially blood-thirsty of occasions to me, but obviously things were slightly different in 1812...

The Glasgow Herald - Mar 16, 1812, p.3

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Kirk Session Records: more than just illegitimate children...

If you have ever heard of the Scottish Kirk Session records, then you may have first been drawn to them due to their research potential for finding out about the fathers of illegitimate babies born in the 19th century or earlier.  However, there is much more to the Kirk Session records than this...

First, however, a little bit of background about what they are and where they can be found.  Kirk Session minutes (recordings of the proceedings of the Session) can be found for a large number of parishes across Scotland for both the established Church of Scotland as well as dissenting Presbyterian churches (there are also records of other non-Presbyterian churches, but these really deserve a whole blog post of their own).

The Kirk Session comprised the minister and elders of the parish, and it was concerned with (in addition to the business of the parish) the morals of the parishioners.  This is the reason that Kirk Session records are so useful for finding out more about the parentage of illegitimate children - the Session would often interrogate any unwed mothers and put strong pressure on them to name the father of their baby.  Sometimes the couple would have to do penance for their sin of 'fornication' and other times you will find the whole circumstances of the case detailed over a number of pages of the Kirk Session records.

So how would you find out more about an illegitimate child?  Firstly, you need to know the relevant parish in which to look - often this is the parish where the mother usually resided, although you may find that the case moves to another parish once proceedings have started: if the session found that another parish was really responsible for the case, then the proceedings would sometimes move to that parish.  But, what you want to do is find out where the baby may have been born and/or where the mother usually lived.  

Next you need to locate the relevant parish records.  Although many Kirk Session records are held locally, there are digital images of the majority of the pre-1901 minutes at the National Records of Scotland (formerly National Archives of Scotland) in Edinburgh.  This means that you can view most of the early records for the established churches (and some of the dissenting churches) in Edinburgh for no charge (all you need is a reader's ticket - check the NRS website for details).  

As yet (March 2012) there is no widely available remote access to these, although some local archives also have access to digital images of these records (check with your local archive for details).  Once you have physically located the relevant minutes for the parish in question, then it is simply a case of identifying the correct volume which covers the dates in question and then searching through that volume for 'your' entry.  Not all illegitimate children appear in these records, but they are worth consulting if you have had no luck elsewhere.

The Kirk Session Minutes have much more to offer than simply telling you 'who's the daddy'!

In just a few examples, I can give a brief idea of the wealth of historical information that can be found in the Kirk Session records.  Most parishes have Minute Books where many discipline cases were recorded - this is not just illegitimacy cases, but drunkeness, breaching the sabbath, disputes between neighbours, even accusations of witchcraft!  If your ancestors lived in any parish for a length of time it is almost always worth browsing the minutes to see if your ancestors appear.

But, the specific example of the catalogue entries for the Kirk Session of Forgue [NRS ref. CH2/459] gives a flavour of the other types of information that you might find in the Kirk Session records:

Forgue Kirk Session records have Minutes dating from the 1630s, but they also contain:
Poor Fund Records from the 1700s and 1800s;
List of communicants from the 1830s and 1840s;
A census of the lands in the parish from the 1830s.

There are also many items of interest in many other collections of Kirk Session records.  The records of Glencorse Kirk Session [NRS ref. CH2/181] include:
Mortcloth records (relating to burials) from the early 1700s;
Testimonials or 'testificats'(a type of 'character reference' given when a person moved parish) dating from the late 1600s;
Communion rolls from the 1830s.

All of these may be of immense interest to those with family from these parishes - as any genealogist will know, information from the period before the mid-19th century is always to be treasured!

So, if you have a day to spare and are looking to expand your knowledge of your ancestors, then you could do far worse than to spend some time looking into the Kirk Session records of the parishes in which they lived.  

You never know what you might find...