04 March 2009

Dougall Part 3

Just to address one recurring query. There is no evidence whatsoever that my Dougall family line was ever known as, or connected to, the surname MacDougall. It’s surprising (to me) how often I get that question, since the surname is much less common than the Mcs and the Macs. Dougall was the surname by which they were recorded in West Lothian parishes back to the mid-1700s ... when I lose them.

Not to ignore the fact that Dougal/Dugald is an ancient first name, far and away predating what we know today as surnames. Highlanders knew or greeted each other by their patronymics which identified their fathers. And if that raised any doubts among a culture with a limited imagination when it came to naming their children, most of them could add their paternal grandfather’s name. “Names were sometimes carried into two or three stages by using Vic (Mhic, the genitive of Mac). Sixteenth-century examples are Angus MacDonald Vic Angus, son of Donald MacAngus, and Alastair MacAllane Vic Ane Vic Coull.”(1)

One of my potential ancestors is Iaian McNeill Vc Innes, meaning Ian (or John), son of Neil who was the son of Innes.(2) Celtic Bards were a customary part of the clan fabric, preserving and memorizing the intricate genealogy of their leading families. In an illiterate society, they were expected to declaim and entertain at social gatherings. And let us not confuse the Gaelic language with that of the other part of the country – Scots, or Lowland Scots.

It would make more sense–to me anyway–that the “adoption” of Dougall as a surname sprang from some man named Dougal/Dugald who migrated to the area around Edinburgh and whose descendants had lost or dismissed their Highland origins and clan or old community affiliation.

My imagination was captured years ago when I read of Dugal, son of Somerled, who became Lord of the Isles in the 12th century. Then I was seduced by the global fashion marketing spawned by Queen Victoria’s devotion to Balmoral Castle and all things Scottish. Ah yes. Those brawny lads in their colourful kilts. The proud regimental backbone of the British army. The novelty of Highland games and the thrill of the bagpipes. The images thrive to this day, most of them manufactured to a point a poor old crofter wouldn’t recognize. Anyone can claim a clan affiliation and deck themselves out in tartan ties, kilts, shawls, blankets and what have you. Maybe hang a clan chief’s hereditary coat of arms over the fireplace in the family room, obliviously committing an illegal act.

Illustration from http://www.tartansauthority.com/

Then I became a genealogist and guess what? My ancestors were likely not prancing around in clean argyle socks and immaculately pleated kilts with silver pins. Researching ancestors goes hand in hand with seeking the realities of contemporary history—the social, political, economic, religious, literary and legal context for my people. How boring is it to say John Dougall lived on a farm in West Lothian, Scotland? Where is that place on a map? Who owned the farm? What was his working life like? His home life? What was happening around him in the nearby towns or in the country itself? What influences or pressures made him decide to go to Canada? You can’t always answer all the questions, but looking for them makes all the difference.

Now that we have that all cleared up, don’t forget your handed-down family stories much closer to home. The tales are personal historical sources. They may be altered through time, they may be incomplete, they be may be biased and embellished, they may be mixed up, but they are yours—to save and investigate.

I was all over the map with that one.

(1) William L. Kirk, Jr., “Introduction to the Derivation of Scottish Surnames,” 1992, Clan Macrae Online (http://www.clanmacrae.org/documents/names.htm : accessed 14 January 2009).
(2) Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, From Clan to Regiment, Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides, 1400-2000 (UK: Sword and Pen Books, 2007), pp. 78-79; citing Inverary Castle Papers, Fullerton Transcripts 2 July 1679; MSS AT 1679, Edinburgh University Library.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your article. Am reading a book on Freemasonry & the Temple which goes back to before 1000 in Scots history. Had no idea there was such a connection to France.

Highlanders, especially those of main families were educated and not illiterate! Education became mandatory in Scotland in the early 1700's - one of the reasons they did so well when emigrating. Most were literate from the age of 6.

Lauraine (Smith) Syrnick

BDM said...

Thanks for your comment, Laurine. It's true that education was introduced early on, but the western islands (which I should have mentioned) had a mixed history. In 1764 Dr. John Walker reported that the Isle of Coll was "without any Church, Manse, Glebe or School." The island had last had a "publick" school "39 years past." The First Statistical Account says two small schools resumed about 1784. Apparently, obtaining funds to provide a teacher's salary was a big issue in the 18th century.