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Issue 77 - Only Connect

Scotland Magazine Issue 77
October 2014


This article is 3 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Only Connect

Gavin MacLeod goes in search of the ancestors

An outstanding highlight of this year's Bannockburn commemoration weekend was a small exhibition at the Bannockburn Visitor Centre in which the pedigrees of a selection of the families who fought either for or against Robert the Bruce on 24th June 1314 were put on display – Douglases, Grahams, Macdonalds, Setons, Comyns, Cliffords, Barclays and Stapletons. What it illustrated as part of a Genetic Genealogy Project was the extraordinarily close blood connections they had in common, north and south of the Scottish Border and, as the centuries moved on, how generations continued to inter-marry and reconnect with each other.

There is a saying in Scotland that it costs you little to find out who your ancestors are but it can cost you a fortune to keep it hidden! Then again, the wife of a prominent figure in Scottish life once said to me that we were lucky to know the names of our great grandparents – the majority of families did not!

Which says a lot about modern society and the respect accorded to those who have given us life. However, it does to some degree explain the astonishing upsurge of interest in ancestral research created by such BBC television programmes as
Who Do You Think You Are?

At Bannockburn, the exhibition was masterminded by the Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme at Strathclyde University, which provides an intensive practitioner-led University qualification in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies ( Founded by the eminent genealogist Dr Bruce Durie, who continues his association as a Visiting Fellow, online and campus based courses are devised for those with an existing interest and some experience in genealogy, and have been further developed to provide a thorough grounding in the theory and practice of genealogical research, family history, records, archives and heraldry. (All enquires to:

A close collaboration was also established with the National Records of Scotland (previously National Archives of Scotland and the General Register Office for Scotland), the National Archives (Kew, England), and various professional and commercial bodies including the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (ASGRA), D. C. Thomson Family History (formerly brightsolid), Deceased Online, and FamilyTree DNA.

Tahitia McCabe a former Librarian with Alaska State Library, who takes the lead on the day-to-day running of the Certificate Programme, came to the UK on a Fulbright Scholarship, met her husband and found herself in Glasgow. “On a personal basis, I had a family tree from great, great aunts who had wanted to join the Daughters of the American Revolution,” she says. “The subject had always fascinated me. I was working at Strathclyde University at the time and I saw that a new certificate was being launched. It just opened up from there. I worked my way up and found myself in charge!”

Tahitia attributes much of the upsurge of interest in ancestry research in the USA initially to Alex Hayley's book Roots, and in the UK, to the BBC television series
Who Do You Think You Are?

“It's all about having a desire to be connected to society and history as a whole,” she insists. Knowing about your ancestors places you in the larger body of human kind.”

To this end, Visit Scotland, Scotland's national tourism organisation, has readily embraced the potential for its Homecoming 2014 strategy ( ancestry). Clan History and Clan Heritage have always been considered to be important themes in visitor traffic, but VisitScotland now takes it further by recommending an on-line visit to ScotlandsPeople (www.scotlands, the official Scottish Government website. Here, no matter where anyone lives, they can research births, marriages, deaths and census records stretching back over hundreds of years. Or if they happen to be in Edinburgh, they can visit the Scotlands People Centre in person.

Scottish Roots, also based in Edinburgh (, has been in the ancestral research business since 1984. Set up by father and son Tony and Stuart Reid, their team has since undertaken over 20,000 investigations for Scots all over the world, including Sir Alex Ferguson and Donald Trump. Experienced genealogy researchers provide detailed ancestral research, searching only authentic records from Scotland's main record office, New Register House.

Marie Dougan of Ancestral Consultants ( provides a range of Scottish genealogical research, offering a wide range of services, online consultations and training courses. With a background in education (she was responsible for introducing IT technology to schools in Scotland) she travels and lectures on genealogy, most recently on cruise ships. In August she ran the keynote workshops at
Who Do You Think You Are? Scotland, a two day Seminar held at the end of August in the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow.

A feature that she specialises in are Webinars – live broadcasts and presentations on genealogical topics in which anyone, either by invitation, or request, can take part. “They have really caught on,” she says.

In addition to researching Family History and Military History, Steven McLeish of Scotia Roots ( provides both guided ancestral tours and ancestral video tours. Instead of, or in addition to, physically travelling to the places where your family lived, Scotia Roots will go in your place and film the experience on your behalf, enabling you to sit back and see where your forbears lived and worked from the comfort of your own living room.

Steve started up Scotia Roots some ten years ago and has a Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies and an Honours Degree in History from the University of Strathclyde. His passion for history began as a small boy, listening to military exploits of his ancestors as told by his two grandfathers. Then as a teenager, he began to take an interest in the more ‘ordinary’ lives of his predecessors, away from the battlefields, starting a journey through his own family history.

Steve's enthusiasm is infectious. “We're expanding family re-union groups and clan based tours for those with a common surname, taking them to clan lands throughout Scotland ( The video tours have proved really popular, and the next big thing will be the Outlander Tours, based on the runaway success in America of the
STARZ television series based on the novels of Diana Gabaldon and hopefully soon to be seen in the UK. Locations to be visited include Doune Castle, Culross, Falkland, Culloden and Urquhart Castle. To this end, VisitScotland has released an on-line interactive map (

MacDonald & Rees (www.macdonaldand was established in Edinburgh in 2013 to specialise in Ancestral Exploration. The way it works is that your personal voyage begins with an archive and document search for your name and then DNA analysis is added to accurately pinpoint your place in history.

Samples of DNA are held on the world's largest secure DNA database in Houston, Texas, along with over 700,000 others. Your individual genetic code is passed down to you from your mother and father, and to them by their parents, and so on back through past generations. This DNA is coded into letters and numbers by scientists who are able to detect similarities and differences in order to match others with similar patterns.

The ultimate product from MacDonald & Rees is a Family Chronicle, an illustrated, individually authored book providing a comprehensive and engaging record of your provenance for future generations. The team go on to organise unique and personal tours and celebrations for family groups.

So far MacDonald & Rees clients have included a London tycoon descended from coal miners in County Durham and landed gentry in Dorset; a stockbroker who descends via Liverpool and Ireland from King Robert I (The Bruce) of Scotland; a wealth management consultant whose grandparents fled from earthquakes and emigrated to New York from the heel of Italy, and a businessman whose mother connects into the Polish nobility of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the descendant of the English Major General who burnt down the White House in Washington in 1814.

Among the family tours and celebrations organised by the team are a guided tour of the secrets of Royal Edinburgh by a Peer of the Realm, a 5 Star picnic, storytelling performances in New York, actors replaying the pulpit ranting of a family clergyman, and a
This is Your Life presentation.

Specifically tailored private and small group sightseeing and ancestral tours throughout Scotland are provided by Ian Walker of Borders Journeys (, specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders. “We research where the families lived and worshipped and where the headstones are located,” he explains.

Over recent months, his company has seen a significant increase of 120 per cent in demand for ancestral tours as well as an increase of 100 per cent in researching the ancestral heritage of clients. Most of the clientele are ‘homecomers’ from Australia, Canada and the USA.

"There is tremendous curiosity to uncover family roots, especially in the USA, a country that boasts an estimated 9.4 million Scottish descendants,” reflects Natalie Summers, Ancestral Marketing Manager VisitScotland. “People don't just want to research their roots online, they want to come here and walk in the footsteps of their ancestors, experience the sights, sounds and atmosphere and join in the hundreds of events that take place in Scotland each year featuring ancestry at their heart."