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,” 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, a show largely set in mid-eighteenth-century Scotland, and whose protagonist is known as a “Sassenach.” 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.” 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.
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, and I have to say the whole “Bonny Prince Charlie” deal always seemed like somebody else’s prince. 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, and raised our kids in a neighborhood called St. Andrew’s Court, and that I did love to tell my kids a ghost story or two, and always told tales of “Bloody Mary.” 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. 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, 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” (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.
 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.
 Per Wikipedia: Outlander is a historical drama television series based on the novel series of the same name by Diana Gabaldon.
 Per thefreedictionary.com: Sassenach is “A Scottish word for an English person or a Highlander’s word for a Lowland Scot.”
 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.”
 A reference to the Loch Ness monster.
 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…”
 “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…”
 “Aberfeldy” is a pretty, lively town in the [Scottish] Highland [of] Perthshire noted for the production of fine whisky.
 “St. Andrew,” the patron saint of Scotland since 832 A.D.
 “Bloody Mary” in this instance is not a reference to Mary Queen of Scots!
 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.”
 Sarah (Chapman) Hoyt (1793-1851).
 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.”
17 thoughts on “‘Ye olde pandemic life’”
Jeff, “For the Record” I enjoyed the journey you took the reader on and pleasing prose. I am glad AncestryDNA now breaks out Scotland into Highlanders and I assume Lowlanders, my Galloway side. My understanding is these two regions historically hated each other for religious and political differences.
A few years ago, I helped a cousin of mine on her Thomson /Thompson clan. It was a great adventure and I learned a load of history during the journey. Her ancestor, Moses Thomson, was indeed a Scot who arrived in Marple, Chester county, PA., by 1745, and married there. His son Peter Thomson and his wife moved south to North Carolina in the very same area that Jamie Fraser and his wife Claire (of Outlander fame) settled at about the same time in 1772! Knowing a lot about the Scottish in this area, of course has made me a very big fan of Diana Gabaldon’s books and the TV series. She is a terrific historian.
After a lot of research, including a trip to the Chester county, PA., archives, we then made a visit to North Carolina to the very site of Peter Thomson’s settlement, family graves, and met many descendants. We produced a thick book about this family and descendants to the present. However, as is the case with many of us, we hit the brick wall as to who was Moses Thomson’s father, and exactly when he arrived in Pennsylvania. It was a great project, and made me more aware of the importance of delving to the history of a place that was not in all the history books, but is key to the broader work of genealogy.
Carole, I couldn’t agree more with – “the importance of delving to the history of a place that was not in all the history books, but is key to the broader work of genealogy.” This is what breaths life into the people we research, and what makes them so much more than the dusty vital records we may or may not find along the way. Thanks for this!
An enjoyable post! I am a longtime reader/fan of the Outlander books and of the series. I have Scottish ancestors as well as the rest of the UK. I have had a bit of luck finding a couple additional generations for my great grandfather’s mother’s line around Glasgow (Scotland’s People and Find My Past), but not any real luck for his father’s line thus far or for my Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots lines who immigrated much earlier. Naming conventions only work if they are used-just saying! Good luck as you seek more information about your ancestry in Scotland! There is a good FaceBook group-“Scottish Indexes Group” that has given some excellent webinars or online conferences during the pandemic (which is when/how I joined). you might want to check it out!
Thanks Dana, I think I will do just that!
Great article. My father always told me the Johnsons were Scottish. I have always been proud of that. Actually, I can’t get my Ancestry beyond Virginia and it looks like we’re Scots-Irish. My sister and I are tall 6 foot redheads and when she took a trip to Scotland, looked around, she said “These are my people”. She blended in for the first time!
Jeff – the real test is do you like bagpipes. I have records, CDs and 30 plus years of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. And I have been to highland games in the Highlands of Scotland.
My Scottish ancestors were Livingstons (ask Scott Steward) and McCormicks..
Howland – It’s so interesting that you mention your lines here. While I am still gathering the “shared names” from each of the DNA matches that lead me back to Scotland (somehow) – I have noticed that most all “the matches” share the common surname of “Campbell.” With a match like this, I can’t be too far away from the Livingstons and McCormicks!! Howland, I always enjoy your well thought comments on the blog’s posts. Thank-you for this.
PS: I want to google that military tattoo of which you speak!
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual event in August with massed pipes, massed bands, guest units from around the Empire and the world. For precision marching look for a year having the Kings Guard from Norway. As for bagpipes, all years are wonderful. Are they holding it this year, I don’t know. If they don’t, my wife will not know what to get me for my birthday next May!
My Ancestry DNA surprise was the opposite of yours. 86% generic “England, Wales & Nortwestern Europe”, with subcategories New England Settlers and Mid-Atlantic Settlers. Given that my paternal grandfather was the child of an Englishman and a Welsh woman; my paternal grandmother is of old Yankee stock going back to the Great Migration, and my maternal grandfather is a mix of Palatinate, English, Welsh, Scots-Irish and other settlers of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Eastern Shore. What surprised me was only 8% Scottish and Irish; my maternal grandmother’s birth name was Boyle, and she also has Ryans on her mother’s side (plus one Irish immigrant g-g-g-grandmother on the Yankee side of the family)
Searching further, I found absolutely zero matches to the vast Boyle clan that my research had traced, and suddenly the reason great-grandfather Boyle had abandoned his wife and daughters became clear. While I have not yet positively identified the biological father, I do know he was one of several brothers, and from him is where my 4% Swedish probably comes.
Wow James! You have a story here – very interesting! My Scottish numbers didn’t come in all that high at 17% but they were so specific to the Highlands, well, that I had to stand up and take notice. I wish you all the best as you continue to look for your great grandfather’s true roots. I hope you will keep us posted!
Yes DNA cam reveal what was hidden in the ancestoral wood pile. Mathematically, the odds of finding a ‘surprise’ rises with the number of generations we research.
Dan, my friend, for “the Record” no truer words were spoken. I just wish my ancestral wood pile wasn’t so overgrown with weeds and bramble bushes. Many thanks for your kind words.
Loved your article and writing. Even if I didn’t have Scottish roots, I would have read it anyway! My roots are from the border lands, surname of Rough (changed to Ruff in the very early 1800s) and I was able to trace my immigrant ancestor back to his birth and his arrival. He was “the oldest living ships captain sailing the Great Lakes” until his death in 1828 at Black Rock (now Buffalo). I also noticed with interest your Hoyt surname, but I checked back in my Hoyt line and it is not the same. Thanks again for the great read!
The Military Tattoo on the Royal Mile is a must see event and we did in 1996. I learned why I dont care for the smoky flavor of most Scotch, it’s the pete. BTW we much preferred our week in Edinborough over Glascow, sure to upset the Glaswegians aka Weegies. What a nickname!!!
Thanks Lynn, I’m curious to hear more about your ship’s captain! There must be some amazing stories there. I appreciate your kind words. I’m probably wrong about it, but I think the telling of family history, well, that it should (also) be kind of fun. Thanks for letting me push the limits! Best regards,