Born of Scottish ancestors, we were eager to research the origins of ancient family members in Scotland. Armed with just enough information to be dangerous we set about exploring our roots.
Scottish clans (defined broadly as ‘kindred’) were historically composed of anyone who lived within a chief’s territory, both related and unrelated. We were in search of the McWilliams and the McLane clans. Beginning with medieval history, the McWilliams have been associated with the northern and central highlands of Scotland and the Macleans in the western highlands.
Armed with this knowledge, my husband entered a tartan store in Edinburgh where he ordered the formal Scottish tartan dress that included the kilt, vest, black wool jacket, trews, knee-high socks kept in place with garters, black leather shoes, a bonnet, the sporran (purse), white shirt, and other pieces of the ensemble. His goal, to wear the outfit to an elegant evening out. And to ensure everyone knows that we are a couple, he purchased a shawl from me to wear in his kilt tartan. Oh happy day!
For centuries, the tartan was the traditional dress for Highlanders and ultimately became synonymous with the symbol of clan membership. However, tartans did not begin as an affiliatation with specific clans but only emerged as tartan weavers from a specific region, like the Highlands, continued to produce specific designs made from the dye-producing plants, roots, berries, and trees local to the area. Overtime, as clan members purchased the woven patterns, the tartan became associated with a geographic area.
Throughout much of the history between England and Scotland, the Highlands rebellious customs and way of life were discouraged and, at times, outlawed. By the time the act to repeal the wearing of Highland dress was passed in 1785 many of the weavers and the old patterns were lost and enthusiasm for wearing the tartan was minimal.
However, in 1815, the idea of a clan-specific tartan gained popularity and the Highland Society of London began the naming of clan-specific tartans. In 1822, King George IV (Queen Victoria’s father) visited Edingburgh and welcomed guests attending official functions to wear their respective tartans. Since many of the patterns were lost, tartan patterns had to be developed. During this same time period Edinburgh native Sir Walter Scott promoted the modern image of each clan having their own tartan and land.
During her reign in the mid to late 1800s, Queen Victoria and her family created a tartan craze when they designed a Balmoral tartan for the Balmoral Castle (purchased in 1852) and were often seen wearing tartan-inspired clothing. Today, the tartans are registered with the Registers at Lyon Court.
Finding family members in Scotland through Scotslands People and National Records of Scotland
Read our Planning a Golf Trip to Scotland for our travel tips.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.