The Family Tree by Donald J. Macdonald.

Donald J. Macdonald, Younger of Castleton, is Honorary Secretary of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh.

From the earliest times the records of the descent of a Clan were in the memories of the Bards, who enjoyed a very special position in the Chiefs household. The Bards or Seanachaidhs handed down these genealogies orally from father to son, and frequently recited them at meetings of the household. Thus the descent of the Chiefs was preserved.

Later many of these traditional records were put down in writing. The Red and Black books of Clan Ranald are good examples of this work. These books contain not only genealogies, but also poems and historical details too. The MacVurichs were for generations the Bards of Clan Ranald and several of them probably contributed to the making of these two books.

To most people the study of genealogy, either of their own or other families, is an uninteresting task. To some, however, research into the past history of families is enthralling. So many stories and traditions come to light in the course of the work that the enquirer is well repaid. Particularly is this the case of one delving into the history of one’s own family.

When one is a member of a great Clan, which is after all just a big family, like our own Clan Donald, this is very especially true; and it is the genealogies of Clan Donald that are the main subject of this article.

We are very fortunate that the two notable historians. The reverend gentlemen of Killearnan and Kiltarlity, were able to publish their three volumes of “Clan Donald” at the beginning of this century. If they had not done so then, much might have been lost. The material, both historical and genealogical, contained in these volumes is priceless. They spent, as we know now, years of research into all the available records in the writings of the past – the Books of Clan Ranald already referred to, the records of Hugh, the seanachaidh of Sleat, the charter chests of the Chiefs with wadsets, tacks, marriage bonds, agreements and many such documents. All this information is now readily accessible to us in this generation thanks to their hard and careful work.

One may ask how anyone becomes interested in such a subject as family history. Perhaps the strongest urge is pride of race and family. This need not be a bad thing, provided such pride does not become a sort of megalomania. But there is surely no sin in being proud of one’s descent, especially if one is a Macdonald. Of course in digging up the past you have to be honest and take stock of the less reputable bits as well as the glorious ones.

For myself, I became interested in these matters at an early age when my father asked me to draw up a family tree for him from material handed down in the family since about 1750. Then a large book compiled by my grandfather was given to me which contained in chart form the genealogies of all sorts of families, not excluding the antediluvian patriarchs, the Kings of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Judah, and many others!

Not being very interested in the Kings of Judah, and finding many pages left blank at the end of the book, I thought the obvious thing to do was to fill in Part II with the genealogies of our own Clan, as given in Clan Donald, Vol.3. This I did in chart form, and it is now possible for anyone to follow the ramifications of the various families at a glance, without having to wade through pages of written matter, which can be very tiresome and even misleading.

The next important step was to start where the historians left off, about 1904, and bring the families up to date. This is my hobby. By writing to those who are traceable, it is surprising how much added information can be found. Fifty years have gone by since the books of Clan Donald were published, and much has happened in the meantime. Families have increased their branches, some have died out, many have emigrated, and all trace of some seems to be lost – so far, at least.

It is hoped to keep in touch with most of the modern representatives of the families of the Clan and record such details against the day when an expert historian will arise who may bring out an appendix to the three volumes of Clan Donald.

To this end, any who read this and are interested are invited to send any information they can to the Hon. Secretary of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh, who will be very grateful for any such help, and treat it with the greatest respect.

This is an example of ancestry research at present being carried out by the Society: In 1957 a New York businessman asked for help in establishing his connection with the Glengarry family. The details given were:

His direct male ancestor was Angus McDonald (sic), son of Angus, a younger son of Alastair Dubh of Glengarry. Angus, it was stated, was born in 1727, educated in Glasgow, and having fought at Culloden was attainted of treason and fled to Virginia in 1746. He landed at Falmouth, Va., taking with him his short sword, sash and gorget worn at Culloden. The gorget has on it the Glengarry arms. His history after then is interesting but not relevant to this note. Enough to say that he was a friend and neighbour of George Washington, had a distinguished career, and took the side of the colonists In the War of Independence, though not actively.

We took up the search. The known sons of Alastair Dubh did not include an “Angus.” Correspondence with Canada did not lead anywhere except in relation to the Glengarry members who settled in Canada, some of whom might have been descended from Alastair Dubh, but are well known there Reference to the identification of the uniform worn by Angus was not conclusive either. The records of Glasgow University also have been examined without success. In fact, at present we are unable to identify Angus as a grandson of Alastair Dubh, but the search continues.

[Through the kindness of this clansman there has been added to the archives of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh a copy of “The Glengarry McDonalds of Virginia” and facsimiles of letters between George Washington and Angus McDonald the emigrant.]