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Tracing your Scottish roots: things to know

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Our lovely intern, Amanda, has been exploring Scotland these past couple of months and we’re delighted to share some of her adventures on our blog. First up, her quest to trace her Scottish Ancestry.

There is nothing more exciting than returning to the place in which your ancestors once lived. Coming full circle; back to the start, to chase after ancestral lore and names found on handwritten family trees. When tracing your Scottish ancestry, there is much to be distinguished. The first element to address:

Your clan name might be a sept of a much larger clan

For example, the last name Weir is a Scottish surname with Norman origin, however it is not one of Scotland’s main clans. Rather, the Weir clan is considered a sept (sub-clan) of the MacFarlane, Buchanan and McNaughton clans.

If your surname is a “sept,” it simply implies that it is a clan known to vide by the leadership of a much larger clan. Thus, another important distinction to be made:

A clan is not just one family

Rather, a clan is a collective representation of several distinct families, each with their own surnames. Lead by the family who bear the clan name, these individual families in conjunction with one another complete a clan. If you want to learn more about clan distinctions, we recommend having a look at Visit Scotland’s ancestry resources:


Tracing your clan’s origin while in Edinburgh

If you are unsure which clan(s) your surname is associated with, just about any Tartan-selling shop on The Mile is well-equipped with a very helpful shopkeeper and handbook filled with the names of Scottish clans, their septs, and the like. If you are looking for more detailed information about specific locations and names, you might think about visiting The Scottish Genealogy Society. Located on Victoria Street, this non-profit is designed to help you gain answers about your Scottish ancestors and their origins.


Once you have unearthed specific areas to explore, you are just a bus or train ride away. Be sure to pop up to The Royal Mile and stop by Cafe Hub for a cup of tea before beginning the next phase of your exciting journey!