'Ye olde pandemic life'

My old Scottish home?

Now that a few of our shelter-in-place orders have been lifted, my wife Nancy and I have started to get back to the more ‘normal’ side of life. I have to admit, it’s been pretty nice not having to treat toilet paper like some new form of currency, and truly heartwarming to only Zoom with the grandkids for fun. Indeed, the pandemic life has reminded me of what’s most precious in life, i.e., family. Interestingly enough though, it’s also played an important part in helping me to find out just who I am – at least in ancestral terms. Yes, ye olde pandemic life has also taught me a thing or two outside of ‘the norm.’ And along with its implied “six degrees of separation,”[1] this period has reminded me about some ancestral ties I scarcely knew I had.

Admittedly, though, since the pandemic, I’ve had to adjust some of my basic habits, like what I should or shouldn’t ‘binge’ watch on TV. During the lockdown, this was all pretty easy to figure out, as nearly everything was game to watch. Sequestered, watching “too much TV” wasn’t too much of a problem, as my wife didn’t seem to mind that I literally raced through every programming possibility, from Ozark to Billions to reruns of World War Z. Yet, like all couples, there came a point in time when our viewing schedules needed to “mesh,” and find some common ground – or I’d risk having my tuchus sent off to Goodwill. Simply put, Mrs. Record and I needed a program that we could both enjoy, and one that would take us well past reruns of Downton Abbey. I admit the prospect of this was a bit daunting for an old curmudgeon like me. I had visions of myself being trapped in one too many of my grandmother’s romance novels while stuffing my face full of saltwater taffy. (Ugh.)

To this end we found compromise in a program known as Outlander,[2] a show largely set in mid-eighteenth-century Scotland, and whose protagonist is known as a “Sassenach.”[3] Initially, I grumbled a bit as I watched the lead characters roil about through their romance and wars but, then, as I watched, oddly, I felt something akin to a distant memory. (And, no, it was not a need to stock up on more saltwater taffy…) It was a feeling that I had forgotten something about myself – ancestrally. Now, I’m no world traveler, at least not outside of a few trips to Kansas to see friends, or to visit a National Park (when we were able to do things like that), but as I watched the adventures of this Sassenach, I recognized something on a more on a visceral level than anything I actually might have kenned. You see, I remembered that I was Scottish too. (Okay, not exactly an earth shattering revelation, but, please, hear me out…)

It was a feeling that I had forgotten something about myself – ancestrally.

As I watched the program, I was reminded of some rather specific results in my Ancestry DNA – results that had only recently come through. (Again, not exactly earth-shattering news but…) Now, I’m not usually one of the lucky ones, you know, those folks who get their results back saying, for example: “You are (specifically) a member of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges French Settlers of Quebec” (as my step-mother’s results do) or “You are an Indigenous American, native to Sonora, Mexico and Southwestern Arizona” (as my wife’s results do). No, my results have generally all come back as “You are an old privileged white guy from someplace in Northern Europe.” My DNA has been so utterly generic that ‘it’ couldn’t even be bothered to pin me down as “Bob’s your uncle” English, or as a without-a-doubt a “son of Niall Noigiallach.”[4] What can I say? I have generally regarded my ethnicity results to be about as exciting as half-off drinks at the local pub or a “two for one” coupon at the local spay and neuter clinic. (Double ugh.)

But these new and revised results told me that I was something different (no wise cracks, please…) and that I might be something more than just the usual untamed European mutt. Indeed, I might actually be specific!” The powers of AncestryDNA had conferred upon me a special title – a “place to call home” and something almost more marvelous than a loaf of sliced bread or the Model A. I was identified and proclaimed: “You are a member of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.” Hot diggity-dog, I actually belonged someplace! And, oddly enough, it made sense. But then, of course, came those pesky genealogical questions and my own pandemic “six degrees of separation” of how I might actually be related to a famed Scottish lake monster or two.[5]

Now, I’ve never felt particularly Scottish – though I’ve heard they have a penchant for parsimony, and while maybe not a virtue, this has always seemed somehow sensible to me. I never really paid much attention to the movie Braveheart,[6] and I have to say the whole “Bonny Prince Charlie” deal always seemed like somebody else’s prince.[7] However, in looking back, it does seem a bit peculiar (or even serendipitous) that my wife and I bought our first house on Aberfeldy Way,[8] and raised our kids in a neighborhood called St. Andrew’s Court,[9] and that I did love to tell my kids a ghost story or two, and always told tales of “Bloody Mary.”[10] It’s also interesting that in my work with students at a local special needs school that my favorite student (yes, I know I know I’m not supposed to have favorites – you try!) was a young lad by the name of Lachlan.[11] Do you think the ghosts of the Highlanders are trying to make me dance around the stones? (Might need a bit more whiskey for that…) Are you starting to get the idea I might just be a little bit more Scottish than I realized?

So I decided to take a look and see just who these Scottish folks in my background might be. Had they been so completely submerged in my otherwise nondescript European lines? The problem is that I can’t seem to find any trace of them at all. Now, that isn’t to say that I don’t find a few smatterings of Murdocks and McCalls dotting the landscape of my father’s family tree. No, the problem is that my ancestral matches, my “Scottish Highlanders,” are telling me that they are my mother’s kin, and that there has been a whole “branch” that has somehow been lopped off and hidden from view. The funny thing is that for all my own or my mother’s apparent “belonging to Scotland” (to this close a degree) – I have found no way “to get there.” It’s a bit disconcerting when they’re seemingly so closely related (third and fourth cousins) – and especially when I had always thought all of my kin had been here in these United States since, well, forever?

I’m gonna try to play the (very) amateur genetic detective and get down to figuring out why I have such a large and recently dismembered branch of “Unknown Scotland” sprouting out of the old tree. Since it looks like the source of all this Gaelic confusion may “match up” (somehow) to my great-great-great-great-grandmother Sarah (Chapman) Hoyt,[12] I will start there. (I’m really hoping that it’s just a case where somebody forgot to add us to some vague and unsourced nineteenth-century published genealogy – but please don’t tell Alicia!) And while it’s my hope that I might turn up my link to my Highlander kin sooner or later, it all may just be wishful thinking.

I will give it a go – make some spreadsheets and dig in to some “fan genealogy”[13] (no pun intended) in an attempt to put some root tonic in the old tree’s sprigs. I admit I may end up finding out that my nascent Scottish ancestry is due to some non-parental event that I’ll never be able to prove or ken. Either way, I think I can live with it – even if I never end up knowing for sure whether or not Braveheart was my fifteenth cousin three times removed. Nope, I’m Scottish now for better or worse. But, please, don’t make me watch too many of those darn historical romance TV shows as I wait and search for possible kin. The truth is that for all my attempts at scrambling about the moors, I may not find anyone, and I’ll just end up getting fat as I add good whiskey to too much pop culture and salty candy.


[1] Per Wikipedia: “Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other,” and is used here as a play on words and in contradistinction to the idea of people maintaining a six feet distance from each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

[2] Per Wikipedia: Outlander is a historical drama television series based on the novel series of the same name by Diana Gabaldon.

[3] Per thefreedictionary.com: Sassenach is “A Scottish word for an English person or a Highlander's word for a Lowland Scot.”

[4] Per familytreedna.com – Niall Noigiallach was a “5th-century warlord known as ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages’ [and] may be the ancestor of one in 12 Irishmen.”

[5] A reference to the Loch Ness monster.

[6] Per Wikipedia: “Braveheart is a 1995 American epic historical fiction war film directed and co-produced by Mel Gibson, who portrays William Wallace, a late-13th-century Scottish warrior…”

[7] “Bonny Prince Charlie” – Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), as per www.history.co.uk/biographies/bonnie-prince-charlie: “One of European history’s most romantic figures, at the heart of a tragic tale of loyalty and devotion. The Young Pretender led a futile quest to save the very soul of Scotland…”

[8]Aberfeldy” is a pretty, lively town in the [Scottish] Highland [of] Perthshire noted for the production of fine whisky.

[9] “St. Andrew,” the patron saint of Scotland since 832 A.D.

[10] “Bloody Mary” in this instance is not a reference to Mary Queen of Scots!

[11] Per nameberry.com: “The name ‘Lachlan’ is a boy's name of Scottish origin meaning ‘from the fjord-land’... An ancient name, Lachlan was originally used to describe the Viking invaders of Scotland, those from the land of the lochs.”

[12] Sarah (Chapman) Hoyt (1793-1851).

[13] Per cyndislist.com: “The term "FAN club" was coined by Elizabeth Shown Mills. It refers to researching everyone in a cluster around your ancestors: friends/family, associates, and neighbors. This is also called cluster or collateral genealogy.”

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.View all posts by Jeff Record