Genealogy Friday: The Clan System

If you’ve researched any Scottish family history you may have heard of the clan?

17th Century Scottish Clan Chiefs
17th Century Scottish Clan Chiefs

So what is a clan?

 In essence, it’s a family group. 

Some clans also have septs.  This is a smaller family group within a larger family group. For instance my McKee family is a sept of the McKay clan.

Where did they live?

Most of the clans lived in the Scottish Highlands.

So why is this important?  What did the clans do?

 Before the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the clan took care of themselves.  Many clans lived together on family land in the area.   The head of the family was known as the Chieftain or Chief of the family.  He was the head of the family and his word was law.

[box]    As with royalty, the clan had a hierarchy. [/box]
The Highland Clearances left homes, families and lives crumbling and struggling to survive.
The Highland Clearances left homes, families and lives crumbling and struggling to survive.

The Highland Clearances saw the end of the clan system {for the most part}.  In essence, crofters {those that worked the land for rent} were run off of their land in order to raise sheep or sell the land for profit.  Many families immigrated to America, moved to larger cities or starved to death.  These were violent times and some land owners were downright cruel in their treatment of their crofters.

Today, the clans are more of a society group for the most part {especially in America}.

Although it is easy to connect with a clan, not everyone with a certain surname is necessarily descended from that clan.

Sampling of Scottish Tartans
Sampling of Scottish Tartans

There are clan histories and coat of Arms that many attach to their family.  Today many wear the clan colors for the clan of their choice.  To learn more about the proper clan histories, coat of Arms and clan tartans research that particular clan.

Some castles and Clan Chiefs still exists today, but many have passed on or are nothing more than a ceremonial figure head.

What clans are you part descended from?

For more information on the clan system, click here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.