20 January 2019

One Line of Coll McFadyens

Isle of Coll

Question: Is it possible to reconstruct ancestry based solely on Scottish naming patterns and reported patronymics?
Answer: No matter how long I stare at the GPS, not even in the ballpark.
Nevertheless. What one can do is construct hypotheses based on sparse sources. That may be all one can do. Ever. Highland ancestry was long based on oral tradition until events of the eighteenth century initiated the cultural breakdown. There is a point past which written genealogical records, as such, do not exist ‒ but perhaps only as tidbits buried in historical papers.
Alert: Spellings of names and places vary in transliteration.

Parents and grandparents of Donald McFadyen ~ identified as Donald the Soldier for clarity ~ are what I seek. Ancestry of my island-bred McFadyens hinges on what I call "the pivot." Namely, the 1776 Isle of Coll List compiled by the newly arrived clergyman, Charles Stewart, to test every soul on the island for his or her knowledge of the religious catechism questions.[1] The survey did not apply to children of an age estimated between seven and eight years or younger, but all the same, Mr Stewart dutifully noted all names in each household. Beyond that list we currently have no available documentary sources until 1716 when adult men on Coll were recorded by an agent of the Duke of Argyll; the duke was confiscating weapons among his tenants in the wake of the recent Jacobite rebellion. 

McFadyen/McPhaiden candidates who had an untested young Donald among their children in 1776 were Duncan at Grimsary, Lachlan at Arnapost, and a third un-named man whose widow was Mary at Totronald. Nicholas Maclean-Bristol (hereafter NMB) believes the deceased man was an Angus.[2] From other sources (military and ship's list) I can narrow Donald's birth year to ca.1773.

Abandoned house, Arnabost
Here we go on my Hypothesis.
I "choose" Lachlan and his wife Flora McLean as my Donald's parents. Why? The names Duncan (and that of his wife Catherine) do not occur in my family, nor does the name Mary, although Angus does. My Donald named his oldest son Lachlan. Angus was the name given to his second son (and also to the seventh son, perhaps implying the first-named Angus did not survive childhood ... but even that is debatable, as many families had two boys or girls with the same name. Because the pool of both forenames and surnames was so limited in the islands/highlands, same-names were endlessly repeated. Sample: Donald the Soldier's wife and mother were both named Flora McLean.)

The naming pattern existed but it varied. Here, children of Donald the Soldier and wife Flora McLean with potential namesakes in parentheses:
Lachlan (father's father)
Angus (mother's father)
Roderick (father's paternal grandfather or uncle)
Hector (mother's maternal grandfather or uncle of a parent)
Ann (mother's mother)
John (father's maternal grandfather or brother of a parent)
Donald (father)

Lachlan McPhaiden and wife Flora McLean produced siblings for their son Donald the Soldier, all born later — Neil (1777) Allan (1782) John (1784) Lachlan (1786) Mary (1788) Marion (1791) Catherine/Kate (1794)
Naming their first son Donald: does that imply Lachlan's father was a Donald?
Sister Kate was the widow of James Johnston, Arnabost, when she married Angus McFadyen (1800-1886) of Ballyhough in 1824.[3] Ancestry and descent of this Angus McPhaiden (but not Kate's) have been researched by NMB and others. 
Sister Mary married Lachlan Kennedy in 1819; they came to Cape Breton as per census returns and authored sources.[4]
If some sons are named after brothers, why does Donald the Soldier have no Neil or Allan?

Now if I pose Donald the Soldier's father as Lachlan, and Lachlan's father as either Donald, Neil, or Allan, where does that get me? Will it reach as far as the adult McPhaiden men on Coll in 1716, sixty years earlier? It is quite possible that Lachlan's parents are alive in the 1776 list; with one young child then, Lachlan could have been in his twenties. Is there a likely McPhaiden or McLean parent for my couple who produced Donald the Soldier?

Click to enlarge
No and maybe. The list had to be sifted for eligibility and relevance, i.e. a man or couple in middle or elder age, therefore living alone or without children of untested age ... a lot of guesswork. There are no other McPhaidens at Arnapost. There is no Donald, Neil, or Allan McPhaiden at all! There is Mary McPhaiden, a widow, alone, at Feall; Angus McPhaiden with wife Ann McKinnon at Breachacha, being the only two in their household. And we have Angus McPhaiden at Ardnish, wife Flora Kennedy; they have older (tested) children Allan, Julia, and Mary; the household includes servant Roderick Beaton and his family.

The Ardnish couple Angus McPhaiden and Flora Kennedy are what is termed "Ballyhough McFadyens," families traditionally close to Maclean of Coll at Breachacha Castle. I believe their son Allan (unmarried in 1776) has known descendants through four of his sons, including the Angus who married widow Catherine (McPhaiden) Johnston of my family. One more mystery: regarding that 1824 marriage of Angus and Kate, I have no answer to why NMB noted Kate's father Lachlan MacFadyen as "merchant in Arnabost."[5] Merchant?

No, the McPhaiden exercise is inconclusive. ANN (McKinnon) at Breachacha is the only wife of that name. Someone, somewhere, supposed that this couple were the parents of Angus in Ardnish. I've not been able to track down that hypothesis. It would make four living generations in 1776: from Angus and Ann in Breachacha to Angus and Flora in Ardnish to Lachlan and Flora in Arnabost and their young son Donald. How likely is that in days of shorter lifespan? But NMB, the recognized authority, on his 2002 chart does not show Ann and Angus in that direct line, even though their location is contiguous with Ardnish.

As for McLeans (Flora's father) – the most prolific surname on the island – it's again a matter of searching for a Donald, Neil, or Allan. The total McLean heads of household with those forenames were four Allans, one Lachlan, one Neil, and six Donalds. Couples with young children are unlikely candidates (but could be Flora's brothers!); eliminate any couple with a daughter Flora; eliminate households with servants — one is (the laird) Maclean of Coll and others are closely related families.

The remaining McLean "eligibles" seem to be ―
Allan, Cornaigbeg, wife Mary Gillis, three grown children
Donald Sr, Cliad, wife Mary McLean, mixture of children ages
Neil, Grimsary, wife Marion McLean, one grown child Neil
Donald, Totronald, wife ANN McLean, underage children Donald & Mary, also Ann (slightly older child?), mother Catharine McDonald, uncle Allan McLean
Allan, Feall, wife Catherine Campbell, mixture of 5 children

There we are, as far as I can go for the time being. Donald McLean, potential maternal grandfather of Donald the Soldier. The others are not necessarily eliminated. It would be serendipitous if the great hive of fellow researchers pitched into this with any relevant or corollary information.

Others have bridged the gap from 1776 to 1716; I can't say with how much confidence. Many have more local, historical, and linguistic knowledge than I. We always hope for information to surface in documentary papers and manuscripts of landowners and important local figures, so often kept in private hands. Rather recently, the Friends of The Argyll Papers began tackling the massive, important Campbell Family Archive at Inverary Castle to catalogue and conserve for public access ― exciting for Collachs, because the Earls, then Dukes, of Argyll were part owners of Coll for a long time. Combing through papers and correspondence could yield fragments of information, such as the "1716 list" itself.

Meanwhile. The collaborative success of Facebook pages ‒ MacFadyen Genealogy and DNA, Isle of Coll Ancestry and DNA ‒ is becoming evident. The best part of being Coll MacFadyens: we who research the same surname on the same small island truly ARE all one family!

Standing stones at Totronald

1. "List of the Inhabitants in the Island of Coll Dec2nd 1776," in Coll Kirk Session Minutes, National Archives of Scotland, CH2/70/1.
2. Email NMB to me, 7 August 2010.
3. Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, West Highland Notes &Queries, Series 3, No. 5 (November 2002), Special MacFadyen Issue. The issue includes an NMB-compiled chart showing earliest known McFadyen men and descent with most certainty from Angus McPhaiden and Flora Kennedy.
4. J.L. MacDougall, History of the County of Inverness, Nova Scotia, 488. Also Nelson and Mae Poole, "Lauchlin Kennedy," The Poole Family (
5. The chart as mentioned in Note 3.

© 2019 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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