Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer

I had the pleasure of talking with Elizabeth Spencer in February.  She is a cousin of mine, her mother a Teoc McCain.   In her memoir Landscapes of the Heart she has a chapter devoted to the McCains. In the chapter she has a short history of our clan, which in my research over they years I discovered was remarkably accurate.  It is a romantic tell of Highland Scots who supported Mary Queen of Scots and migrated to Ireland after her fall from power, which is pretty much what happened. My current book project is Finding the McCains which is the story of why and how I located our distant McCain cousin back in Ireland.

Elizabeth Spencer is the daughter of Senator McCain’s paternal grandfather’s sister.  Elizabeth Spencer is a talented and accomplished writer of novels and short stories; she could walk into a room with William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and take her place among them.  As Eudora Welty herself put it:

"It has never been doubted that Elizabeth Spencer knows the small, Southern, backwoods hilltown down to the bone.  This she transforms by the accuracy of her eye and ear, talent and a certain prankish gaiety of spirit into a vital and absorbing novel."
Perhaps the best known work of Elizabeth Spencer would be her 1960 short novel, The Light of the Piazza.  It is a very poignant story set in Italy that was made into a feature film in 1962 staring Olivia de Havilland, George Hamilton, and Yvette Mimieux.  Elizabeth is still writing at age 93, her latest work is Starting Over, a collection of short stories and highly recommended.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Laggan Redshanks

ruins of Mongavlin Castle where Iníon Dubh lived

In the sixteenth century Scottish Highlanders settled in the Laggan district of east Donegal. They were called Redshanks.  The history of the Laggan Redshanks has many fascinating elements which include Clann Chaimbeul and their dynamic leader the fifth Earl of Argyll, Gaelic sexual intrigues, English Machiavellian manoeuvres, and the Redshanks themselves.  This book not only tells the fascinating story of how a Highland Scottish community became established in the Laggan, but also includes the surnames of the Redshanks and notes of their origins in Scotland, which will be of interest to family historians and genealogists.

Available as a paperback on Amazon and there is also a Kindle version.

Link:  The Laggan Redshanks

Monday, 27 January 2014

Scotland Anno Domini 570

In the map above pay attention to Strathclyde, the upper part around Loch Lomond.... that is where the DNA suggests, our McCains originated.  This was a kingdom of Cumbric speaking Celts at that time.  Over time, the next couple of centuries, they became Gaelic speaking.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Genetic Genealogy for Highland Scots

The photo above is an example of what can be accomplished through genetic genealogy.  That is Joe McKane on the left and Jim McKane on the right, kneeling at the head of the burial slab of Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Eáin, the progenitor of the McCain family.  Joe and Jim are both my cousins, who I located when I participated in the McCain Family DNA Project.  Joe is from Scotland and Jim is from Canada.  We all descend from that Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Eáin, a Gaelic lord of Clann Mhic Lachlainn of Glassary.  His settlement was located at Dunamuck just a short distance from the present day village of Kilmichael Glassary, in the parish of the same name, where the burial slab is located.  

Using DNA as a vector I not only found my cousins, in Ireland, Scotland, and in the Diaspora, but eventually, was able to uncover our history. Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Eáin was the first man in his clan to begin using the surname Mac Eáin which is anglicised as McCain, McCane, McKane, McKean, McKeen, and a few other spellings.   Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Eáin would be anglicised as 'Red Duncan McCain.'    He also was given the name 'Mór' which appears on his burial slab, which means 'big' or 'great.'   Some books list him as 'Duncan Mór McCane.' Donnchadh was born before 1450 we know, he was fairly active and appears in documents from the district several times.  He passed away circa 1513 or so.  His family provided captains for the Earls of Argyll, who were the heads of Clann Chaimbeul.  The sword on Donnchadh's burial slab represents a martial family. 

DNA testing was crucial to my finding out our real history.  I simply could not have done it without the DNA testing and the crucial matches that it turned up.  Tracing old Gaelic families is difficult for many reasons.  First, we were not English speaking and our past was a Gaelic past.  So much information and history is lost when a people, when a family, changes languages.  There is also the culture of migration.  Highland Scots were widely dispersed, we have our Diaspora.  The McCains left Scotland for Donegal, Ireland, around 1570. We began leaving Ireland for the New World in 1718.  Family history, old ways, tend to get lost, or half remembered, with so many changes and relocations.

Not all was forgotten, one branch of our family from Teoc, Mississippi, in Carroll, County, kept alive an oral history that correctly remembered several important aspects of our story; we were a Highland family, we were connected to the events and times of Mary Queen of Scots, and that we left Scotland for Ireland after her downfall.  All these things turned out to be correct.

Any and all out there wanting to find your history and have struck that 'brick wall,' do not despair, it can be done.  You have to be proactive and spend some time and money on it, but you can do it.  

Friday, 1 November 2013

Southern Black Bear


I enjoy nature.  Here is a Rich Mountain Arkansas black bear.  Photo from a trail camera, which is on the property I rented a cabin on recently.  Healthy bear. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The First Americans

The topic of which people settled the Americans is a little outside my field, but I do like to read the latest research on the subject.  Many people do not realize that American Indians have a diverse ethnic origin. Some, probably the first, 'native Americans' were Europeans.  As early as 20,000 years ago, maybe more, Europeans crossed the ice of the north Atlantic ocean and settled on the east coast. It seems clear now they also crossed from the Bering sea as well, also very early. The evidence of early European settlement is from both archaeological finds and DNA testing.

As a historian, I am familiar with accounts of early European explorers in north America who encountered 'Indians' that appeared fair in skin, had lighter hair, blue or grey eyes.  Some past historians were dismissive of these accounts; others attempted to link these 'fair' Indians to the historical period, as in some Medieval event. Both were wrong however. Modern archeology and DNA testing confirms the fact that Europeans lived in the Americas for many thousands of years before Columbus.  The post Columbus settlements were the second wave of European movement into the Americas. 

Fascination topic to me.  Here is a link to a recent article on some of the latest DNA research on American Indian origins.

Ancient DNA Links

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Scottish Surnames

Scottish Surnames
In the 12th century surnames began to be used in Scotland.  Initially they were used only by the elites in Scottish society, but gradually the practice was adopted by more and more Scots in the following centuries.  In many areas in the Highlands surnames did not become fixed until the 16th into the 17th century and in parts of the Hebrides permanent surnames were not commonly adopted until the 19th century.  For many reason, it can be very complex researching family history just by what Scottish surname one has.  However, a family’s surname remains the best place to start research on a family’s history. Fortunately with DNA testing often it is possible to uncover a family real history despite the many variations and fluid nature of Scottish surnames.

Scotland is made up of primarily Celtic people, the Gaels, the Britons, also called the Cymry, and the Picts.  The Cymry and Picts spoke Cumbric, a Celtic language.  Cumbric is related to modern Cymreag which is called Welsh in English.  To this core group of Celtic Scots small groups of Norse, Normans (also Norse in ancestry), Border English, Flemish, and a few others settled and became Scots.  Most Scottish surnames have a Celtic origin, but there was also a borrowing of names from all the groups that became Scots and the etymological origin of a surname does not always indicate a family’s origin. Gaels for instance borrowed many names from the Norse and Normans that in time became surnames.  Many Gaels and Gaelicised Picts and Cymry simply translated their surnames into English, so the modern form of family’s surname often does not tell a family’s true origins.  The Mac prefix was adopted by the Norsemen and by Lowland Scots of Cumbric origins which lead to surname that are part Gaelic and part Cumbric or Norse in origin.

Many Scottish surnames originated in patronymics. These are often indicated by a Mac prefix.  Mac is often abbreviated as Mc, this was common both in the past and in modern times.   Most people, even those without Gaelic, know that the Mac prefix means ‘son.’  Mhic is a prefix meaning ‘grandson’ of or ‘descendant of’ in some cases. Mhic is often rendered Vic and Vc in old records.   In patronymic surnames a son’s surname derived from the father’s forename.  An example; Seamus Mac Dónaill’s son Padraig would take the surname Padraig Mac Sheamuis, and his son named Giolla Easpuig, would take the surname Giolla Easpuig Mac Phadraig Mhic Sheamuis, and so on.  This pattern of traditional patronymics presents a challenge for the family historian in that the surname changed with each successive generation.  The same family might be using four or more surnames over the course of a century.  This practice died out in Lowland Scotland after the 15th century as patronymic surnames became permanent family names. It persisted in the Highlands & Islands well into the 18th century and in the northern Isles until the 19th century.  It is possible even with a family using multiple surnames to research which names a kinship group used, this along with DNA testing, often reveals a paternal kinship group despite the multiple surnames they used.

This patronymic system was also applied to daughters’ names in both Gaelic and Lallans.  A girl adopted her father’s forename with ‘daughter’ applied to the end of the name. The ‘daughter’ suffix was usually abbreviated in records, e.g. Catherin Adamsdaughter becomes Catherin Adamsdaur, or Adamsdr or Adamsd.  In Gaelic the word Nic was used, it is the feminine form of Mac.  It often appears in old record abbreviated as Nc.   There are many examples of this in the old parish registers, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, such as;  NcEan, Ncdonald, Nclachlan, etc.  Knowing this can be a great asset in working with pre 1800s records.  Careful research into the history of a district along with DNA testing can often uncover kinship groups in which these feminine forms provide insight into a family’s history.  By the 19th century the clerks were abandoning the practice and giving the ladies masculine surnames, which struck Gaelic speakers as very odd indeed.

Clan-based surnames
Many people with Gaelic origin surnames are interested in researching their clan connections. This is cannot be done by assuming one’s last name is also a clan surname.  Not all members of a clan used the same surname and many Gaelic surnames are not clan surnames and do not relate to historical clans.  They are surnames created from Gaelic patronymic naming customs.  Not all Scottish surnames have clan connections, but many do.   A MacDonald for instance may have a simple Gaelic patronymic surname not all connected to Clann Dhónaill.  He may be simply the ‘son of Dónall’ and when that family’s surname was recorded by some anonymous clerk in early modern times anglicised Mac Dónaill as MacDonald.  In such a case it was not a ‘clan’ surname.

Even then the use of clan surnames was not universal and was often a form only found on legal documents written by government officials, rather than the surname a family actually used in their community.  Clan surnames were used more by older sons of landed families within a clan.  In other cases, families related to a clan via marriage, via legal contracts such a manrents (military obligations to a lord), tacsmen (land managers) or just allies, would take the surname of the clan to which they were associated.  The best way to research one’s clan connections is through Y chromosome DNA testing (Y-DNA) and a thorough study of the history of a district that the family originated.

Y Chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) testing often provides a kinship group of surnames with the same paternal kinship.   Often the non-surname matches are as important as the surname matches when trying to ascertain clan connections.  Many Gaelic clans had groups of surnames associated with them and these can turn up in DNA results.  If you have tested your Y-DNA at the 67 or 111 marker level and a definite kinship group has appeared the surnames in the group usually give data relevant to past clan connections.

A good first step is to have research done on the etymology and history of the surnames in a DNA result kinship group. Sometimes this alone reveals a family’s past clan connections.  For example, the common Ulster and west Highland surname of Campbell, most times this is the anglicised form of Caimbeul from the well-known Argyll family.   But some Campbell families have a kinship group that includes the surname Caulfield which is an anglicised form of the name Mac Cathmhaoil, a county Tyrone Irish Gaelic family that used both Caulfield and Campbell as anglicised forms of their surname.  This gave this particular Campbell family their real history and geographic location to conduct further research.   Another example is the common surname Ferguson from the Gaelic Mac Fearghusa.  Some Fergusons that have DNA testing show matches to MacLains, or Mac Giolla Eáin, families from Mull.  The Mac Giolla Eáin clan had a ‘sept’ that used the surname Ferguson and those particular Fergusons in that DNA match group are connected to clan Mac Giolla Eáin.

If one of your research goals is to explore your clan connections and you have reached a brick wall with your paternal kinship group matches it will help to have an expert look at the group and do an analysis of them.  This involves etymology, history, and geographic analysis of the kinship group and an examination of any primary sources.  It is complex work often working with Gaelic language sources, but can provide insight into a family’s clan connections.

Location-based surnames
Many of the first permanent surnames are territorial in origin, as landowners became known by the name of the lands that they held and the families living on those lands could also take the name of their district.  The Peeblesshire surname of Tweedy comes from the Cumbric word Tuede, meaning ‘to flood,’ and is a case where the lords and the tenants have taken the same surname.  All Tweedys do not all go back to one progenitor, but rather to a group of families that lived in a particular district around the River Tweed when surnames began to be taken.

Occupational surnames
Some Scottish surnames are derived from the occupations of their owners.  Many occupational surnames have both Gaelic forms and anglicised forms. Some of these are obvious, e.g. Smith, Tailor, Mason, and others might be less obvious e.g. Baxter (baker), Stewart (steward), Wardrope (keeper of the garments of a household) and Webster (weaver).  The Gaelic surname Mac Gabhann (son of the Smith) was often anglicised as ‘Smith.’   Another example is the surname Mac an Fhúcdair (son of the wauker or fuller of cloth), later anglicised Walker, a common Scottish surname.

Colour Surnames
Others surnames were derived from distinguishing features and nicknames, Colour suffixes were common among Gaelic families.  A Mac Seamuis Ruadh  (son of red haired James) might have his surname recorded a ‘Reid’ a Scots form of the English word ‘red.’  Mac Giolla Dhuibh (son of the black haired lad) was anglicised a ‘Black.’  There are a host of anglicised Scottish origin surnames that are colours, Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White, etc.

Effects of Emigration and Anglicisation
Many emigrants from Scotland changed their names on arrival in their new country, as did many people from the Highlands & Islands who migrated to the Scottish lowlands in search of work. Shortening or dropping the prefix "Mc" or "Mac", or anglicising a Gaelic surname by translation it, or putting it into phonetic English, or even changing the surname entirely to a similar sounding English name, was common.  Some examples, Mac Donnchaidh became Duncan or Duncanson, Mac Eáin became McKean or Johnson.  Many Gaelic surnames have many variations; Mac Dónaill has been anglicised as McChonail, MacConnel, MacDonald, McDonnell, and McDaniel.  The lovely old Gaelic surname Mac Giolla Easpuig was anglicised as Archibald.

Early spellings
Modern spellings also have limited use in research as most Scottish surnames have multiple spellings.  Early spellings of anglicised and Lallans forms of surnames can present a challenge to decipher.   The Wh sound was often written as Quh.  White might be recorded as Quhit, Quhytt, Quhyitt, Quhetit, Quheyt, Quhyte, or might even appear in phonetic Gaelic as Bain.  When researching a name in early records, the expertise of a researcher familiar with the peculiar nuances of Scots spelling and the Gaelic language can led to success.  It is also important to not place emphasis on the modern spelling of a surname as it was spelled in a variety of ways in times past. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Ol' Blue Eyes and his Boy

Mia Farrow was and still is shockingly beautiful. I read today that she has hinted that the chairman of the board, Ol' Blue eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, is her son's real father.   Being a child of the 60s this interested me.  I remember very well the May December romance of Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, which began in 1966.  Mia Farrow says Frank was the great love of her life. Interesting for those of us who remember all this.

Now the world thought that Mia's son was produced by her later husband, professional geek, Woody Allen.  I know Mr Allen has a huge following, but to me there is nothing remotely clever, funny, amusing, etc., in the least, about the little man. Anyroad,  I read Mia's suggesting that Frank is the father of Ronan Farrow.  Now I work with DNA a lot, genetic genealogy, etc., I know that often there is a marked resemblance from father to son, so I google for photos of Ronan Farrow and they pop up.

Ronan Farrow
That's Frank's boy....

Rainbow Warriors or Rainbow Wusses?

The news, when read correctly, is a steady source of high humour. Case in point, the Greenpeace so called 'warriors' now jailed by the Russians.  Russia jailed the activists from Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise protest ship pending an investigation into alleged piracy, after several scaled a state-owned oil rig on September 18.

the Artic Sunrise, and they painted it green with a rainbow too, so special
Now are these warriors or rather narcissistic spoiled children having to deal with the real world in a manner that the rest of us have to do?  Well, lets see.

Being warriors I would think they could accept the consequences of their actions. Yet, I read in the news today that they, in their jail cells, are in a state of 'shock' over their treatment.  You see they are given no special favours and treated like the other prisoners.  The horror.

Greenpeace bragged they were going to protest the Russian Oil Rig.  They perceive oil as 'evil.'  Now several of you see the irony, they are doing this on a whacking great ship that burns oil like a Formula 1 Ferrari sucks gas (petrol).  Never mind that, the Russians told Greenpeace fine, but do not board the oil rig as this is criminal trespassing and since it is at sea it is piracy.  Now common sense and gumption is not found among Greenpeace warriors apparently, they did exactly what the Russians told them not to do.  The Russians were not amused and sent armed men and arrested them. 
Russian military arresting 'warriors'
Irina Paikacheva, the head of a state-connected regional prisoners' rights watchdog, said, 'Many of them are in a state close to shock... they had never expected that they would face such consequences for their peaceful protest in a democratic state.'  Shock? 

How can this be though?  The Russians told them they would be arrested.  And the protest was not peaceful really, to get a ship that close to an oil rig is in itself a threat to it plus the Greenpeace people actually landed on the rig, not good.

The Greenpeace  detainees are struggling to make themselves understood since virtually none of the prison staff speaks English;  imagine that they speak Russian there. Who'd of thought, eh?  One of the activists has consulted a psychologist.  Figures. Several non-smoking activists also complain of being placed in cells with chain-smokers.  A young Finnish female activist is a vegan and unable to eat prison food.  Perhaps she is not as much of a rainbow warrioress as she thinks she is.

Rainbow Warriors or Narcissistic spoiled brats who can not deal with the real world?   In many ways Russian seems to be the only nation in the West that has a clue of what they are doing.  We live in a West dominated and ruled by a socialist-feminist wuss caste and I find it entertaining to see the Russians stand up to this plague.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Corney Creek Five

A very select group, one member there is spirit only; the four pictured are the survivors.   It is a north Louisiana phenomenon.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Corney Creek Philisopher

I was fortunate enough last weekend to enjoy the with and wisdom of Robbie Warner, also known as the Corney Creek philosopher.  Robbie is smoking a Savinelli Tiger Rustic Bent Pipe, one of the better pipes in the Universe.

"How far is the head from the heart? The difference between I believe and I know" (c) Robbie Warner 2013

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The McCains and Robertsons

Phil, Barry, Conar, Jase
People saw this photo on my face book page and sent me emails asking about the particulars.  Well, it is like this, I grew up in Ouachita parish, Louisiana.  Spent much of my youth there duck hunting and playing football there.  I met Phil, Jase, and Jep, Robertson a couple years ago, they were at a local gun shop here in north Mississippi. My younger son Conar was with me.  We chatted with Robertons, Phil asked me about my surname, one thing led to another, he remembered my older brother Ronnie, who had played football at Ouachita High School, etc. Ronnie was considered a top quarterback in his day, along with Phil Robertson and Terry Bradshaw. This is all north Louisiana stuff.  Anyroad, we had a nice conversation, the type that men from the same background from the same area, with the same upbringing, have.  It is a north Louisiana, Ouachita parish thing I suppose.

I watched their Duck Commander show, back when I had tv service.  Do not have it now, so do not watch the A&E Duck Dynasty Show.  I did see one of their new shows on the computer a month or so ago.  I am not much for anything from Hollywood these days, but wish them well on the show and hope the pay cheques are worth it.  Excellent fellows.  North Louisiana Anglo-Celts are possibly the most talented, dynamic, people on this earth.  They do us proud.  I am curious about how they all married such good looking women.  That Celt thing again I suppose.  

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Rose Breasted Grosbeak
This fellow came to the feeder this morning, still here in fact.  Supposed to be in migration, but he seems to be running late.  He is eating a lot of sunflower seeds.  A strikingly handsome bird.  His 'name'  says rose, but in fact, it is a loud red.  Birds are grand.  North Mississippi, is a good place to bird watch.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


One of my all time favourite paintings.  By Akseli Gallen-Kallela and of Väinämöinen having an issue with a feminist. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Gaelic Wisdom for the Warrior

Am fear a thug buaidh air fhéin... thug é buaidh air namhaid.   (as Gaidhlig Albanach)

An fear a thug bua ar é féin.... thug sé bua ar namhaid  (Gaeilge) 

The man who conquers himself... conquers an enemy.   

The Gall-Ghaeil

Love the illustration above.  It appeals to me.  I do not know who tagged on the clever saying, but I like it.  The young folk tell me this is an illustration from some 'game' they play with computers or Eboxes or something similar.  Pé sceal é....   I am this great fortune of know a lot about my ancestry. I descend from warrior stock, from a warrior caste.  I have the advantage of working with our McCain DNA project and access to primary sources about my own family from the late thirteenth century to we migrated to the New World.

We originate in mid Argyll, in what is now called Kilmichael Parish.  That is the Dunadd areas for you with map savvy.   This area was home to a people called the Gall-Ghaeil, or 'stranger Gaels.'  They were a Gaelic people who became über influenced and joined with the Norse in their lands.  It was a peaceful joining, marriages, etc., worked out well for both parties. Pé sceal é.... they gave rise to a peculiar phenomenon, i.e. Gaelic Vikings.  This in time gave rise to the Gallóglaigh and Redshanks, and pretty much is the story of my family.  We are those people today.

Nice illustration.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Gray Catbird

Today a Gray Catbird came to the feeder.  For a couple of weeks I have been hearing 'kittens' out in the woods beside my apartment.  We have a stray cat that we feed, and she has had kittens, so I thought they must be hers.  But every time I went out to look... nada, níl cat amhain ann. So... the arrival of the Catbird explains all.  It does mew like a cat, incredibly so.  Mystery solved.  Nice bird.

The Indigo Bunting

This very handsome fellow has been visiting the feeder of late, the Indio Bunting.  Very beautiful.  They are fairly common here in north Mississippi.


The Chuck-will's-widow, one of my very favourite birds.  We have many of them here in the wooded hills of north Mississippi.  The locals usually call them, quite incorrectly, a Whip-poor-will.  Why?  Well, the two birds are very similar and do have similar calls, but to the experienced ear they are quite different. We do have some bona fide Whip-poor-wills in north Mississippi, but 99 times out of 100, what one hears at Twilight and at night, is the much more common Chuck-will.  Last night one was about ten feet from my bedroom window, singing his sad strange call.    It eats primarily insects, particular those active at night such as moths, beetles, and winged ants. It will also eat small birds and bats, swallowing them whole; its mouth opens very wide.  It is an odd looking, yet beautiful bird.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Path of the Gods

Perun the Thunderer, aka Thor, Taran, Donner
 the gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path. And that takes courage....

Mary Stewart, The Chrystal Cave