Genealogy for Heart 200 – Ruth Bertram

Ruth Bertram

I am a Genealogist.  I don’t wear cardigans.  Genealogy once was the preserve of retirees with enough time on their hands to pass hour upon hour in dimly lit archives leafing through dusty ledgers or unravelling medieval scrolls.  Nowadays millions of family trees can be searched online in seconds and digitised documents can be examined in exquisite detail.  Long-buried family secrets are unearthed and aired due to the availability of commercial DNA testing kits – over 26 million people worldwide have taken ancestral DNA tests[1].  As a consequence of these and other technological developments, the demographic profile of the average Genealogist has altered beyond recognition and cardigans are no longer de rigeur.

Engaging marketing has inspired people from all over the world to join Ancestry.com, Find My Past, My Heritage and other online genealogy sites, to successfully research their family histories and to travel to the places their ancestors called home.  There are Scots in every nook and cranny of the Earth.  Estimates of those claiming Scottish descent vary between 30 and 100 million[2].  23% of long-haul travellers to Scotland cited their Scottish ancestry as a primary motivation for their visit[3].  According to a survey carried out by Visit Scotland in 2013, around a quarter of visitors whose ancestors lived in Scotland took part in ancestral research during their visit[4].

International travel is experiencing a downturn, due in large part to Covid-19, but the summer of 2020 saw UK staycationers exploring parts of these islands they had previously overlooked or deferred.  Indeed, long before Covid-19 became such a huge issue, people within the UK wanted to search out the places where their ancestors lived: of the 213,000 trips made to Scotland in 2012 which involved ancestral research, 62% were made by UK residents[5].  In our post-Covid world, more and more visitors from the rest of the UK will be given a warm Scottish welcome, many clutching their DNA profiles and ethnicity estimates to their chests.

And there is plenty for them to see and to find out.  For instance, there are many places to visit on and around the Heart 200 route where momentous events took place which shaped history and the lives of the people of Scotland – Bannockburn, Killiecrankie, Scone Palace, Loch Leven Castle, the list goes on – you can read about these and many more in The Heart 200 Book[6].

For  those on the trail of ancestors, the Heart 200 route covers areas once dominated by families such as the Buchanans, Grahams, MacGregors and MacNabs in Stirlingshire; the Campbells of Breadalbane, Clan Menzies, the Murrays, Drummonds, Rollos, Ruthvens and Hays in Perthshire; and the Bruces and the Erskines in Clackmannanshire.  In times past all of these had septs or families which supported them.  These names too continued to be common in the area, e.g. the Dewar family was a sept of the Menzies clan in Highland Perthshire[7].  In 1841, the concentration of the Dewar surname was 6.5 times higher in Perthshire than it was elsewhere in Scotland[8].  Likewise, the Gilfillan family was a sept of the MacNabs[9].  In 1841 there were almost 8 times more Gilfillans in Stirlingshire than there were elsewhere[10].

Modern genealogy offers far more than incidence of surname and possible connections to clans and tartans.  It is well within the competence of the enthusiastic amateur to trace Scottish grandparents’ lines back to the mid-18th century through records such as civil registers of birth, death and marriage; censuses between 1841 and 1911; and parish records prior to civil registration, all available online (for very reasonable fees) at Scotland’s People[11].

Genealogy is a fascinating pastime no matter where your forebears called home and more and more information is being made available all the time, often for free.  In most cases research can be kicked off with only details of grandparents and it doesn’t require university degrees in history and information technology.  The online genealogy community is incredibly supportive of newbies and collaboration is the norm.

Scotland’s People’s civil, census and parish records often provide significant amounts of detail, including addresses and names of villages and farms.  Even if these places no longer exist, they can be pinpointed with remarkable accuracy at the National Library of Scotland’s wonderful map images site[12].  In addition to using old maps to identify buildings and places which are not marked on modern maps, the site has the facility to place old maps side by side with modern maps and provide coordinates which can be found on the ground using technology readily available on the average smartphone.

Even if visitors to the Heart 200 area have no direct ancestral connection, the landscapes and stories reflect the lives of people all over rural Scotland.  Visits to historic buildings, representations of the living and working conditions of ordinary people as well as the undeveloped landscapes in which they lived all bring the past to life irresistibly.

Ancestral DNA has the potential to reward amateur researchers with incontrovertible evidence to confirm family lore or to solve mysteries.  Those who were raised with stories that their ancestor was the illegitimate offspring of an earl or a lord may find evidence through their DNA matches which would be incapable of being proved in any other way.  Be warned, however, that much-loved and frequently told family stories can be blown sky high when unsupported by any shred of scientific evidence.  It may be that Granddad used to boast of being a Bruce with direct lineage to the King of Scotland – DNA results may demonstrate that the reality is at odds with the story.

What I have found, time after time in my own family research or when working with clients’ ancestors, is that the truth is almost always more fascinating and more evocative of the history of the people of Scotland than the myth.

In my own family history, my 3 x Great Grandfather, Alexander McGregor, was born around 1800 in a village on a hillside on the north side of Loch Rannoch – Tòrr a’Chruidh (Hill of the Cattle), also known as Annat, no more than a few miles from the Highland North section of the Heart 200 route.  The village was abandoned around 1820[13].  The events of Alexander’s life reflect the story of the depopulation of rural Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries; the value that was placed on education and the effect it had on social mobility for the generations which followed.  Some of the abandoned structures of Tòrr a’Chruidh are still standing.  Knowing the stories and visiting the places where your ancestors were born, worked and spent the seasons leave deep personal impressions and perspectives that books and films struggle to convey.  Genealogy enables us to find our own families’ stories and to take our own journeys to see what our ancestors saw.

So many of the landscapes and historic buildings proximate to the route of Heart 200 have changed little over hundreds of years.  If you are lucky enough to have ancestors who lived and worked on or near the route, to see the sites and landscapes that they saw – whether it is brooding Stirling Castle or Schiehallion reflected on a glassy Loch Rannoch – you are fortunate indeed.  If, like many folk, you have no idea where or how your ancestors lived – where will their journey take you?

[1] Regalado, Antonio. (2019) More than 26 million people have taken an at-home ancestry test. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technology Review. 11 February. Biotechnology/DNA Testing. https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/02/11/103446/more-than-26-million-people-have-taken-an-at-home-ancestry-test/: accessed 23 July 2020.

[2] The Scotsman. (2016) The Scottish diaspora: How Scots spread across the globe. 25 January. https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/scottish-diaspora-how-scots-spread-across-globe-1484633: accessed 23 July 2020.

[3] Visit Scotland. (2017) Scotland Visitor Survey 2015 – 2016: Connections to Scotland Extract. https://www.visitscotland.org/binaries/content/assets/dot-org/pdf/research-papers/connections-to-scotland-extract.pdf: accessed 23 July 2020.

[4] Visit Scotland. (2013) Summary of Ancestral Research 2012. https://www.visitscotland.org/binaries/content/assets/dot-org/pdf/research-papers/ancestral-research-2013.pdf: accessed 23 July 2020.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Christie, Thomas A and Christie, Julie. (2020) Heart 200 Book: A Companion Guide to Scotland’s Most Exciting Road Trip. Stirling: Extremis Publishing Ltd.

[7] Electric Scotland. Alphabetical list of Scottish names associated with clans and families. https://www.electricscotland.com/webclans/alphabetical.htm: accessed 24 September 2020.

[8] Old Scottish. Surnames beginning with D. https://www.oldscottish.com/surnames-d.html: accessed 24 September 2020.

[9] Electric Scotland. Alphabetical list of Scottish names associated with clans and families. https://www.electricscotland.com/webclans/alphabetical.htm: accessed 24 September 2020.

[10] Old Scottish. Surnames beginning with G. https://www.oldscottish.com/surnames-g.html: accessed 24 September 2020.

[11] National Records of Scotland. Scotland’s People. https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk: accessed 24 September 2020.

[12] National Library of Scotland. Map images. https://maps.nls.uk: accessed 24 September 2020.

[13] Cunningham, A. D. History of Rannoch.  3rd ed. Inverness: Highland Printers. Chapter “The Vanished Races”. www.electricscotland.com/history/rannoch16.htm: accessed 9 June 2018.

Share this page

Scroll to Top