Saturday, April 25, 2015

DNA Match Group & Derbhfine Names

If your Y-DNA match group has developed a strong geographic pattern this will allow you to research the primary sources of that location.  The records in many areas in the north of Ireland, Argyll, the southern Hebrides, are remarkably intact, and if is very possible to find your ancestor listed in them and extract a genealogy from the traditional Gaelic method of recording surnames.
Keeping with the Gaelic custom a surname often appears in a format that carried short genealogy in them based on the derbhfine (said jerub-finn-ah).  The derbhfine name contained four generations of the man’s family back to his paternal great grandfather.  The derbhfine gradually gave way to a three generation format called a gelfine.
This naming practice was important in the Gaelic world because their society was one of caste and heredity.  Gaelic society needed to know not only your name, but the names of your father, grandfather, and great grandfather.  It provided the information needed to explain who a man was and the lands and rights of his family within his district and society.  An example of Gaelic surnames from this time: a man named Dónall Mac Ailein Mhic Eáin had a son named Lachlan who took the name Lachlan Mac Dónaill Mhic Ailein Mhic Eáin.  His surname is Mac Dónaill and the Mhic Ailein tells you who his grandfather was.
The use of clan surnames was not universal and was a form often found only on legal documents written by government officials.[1]  Clan surnames were used more by the oldest sons of landed families and these names functioned as a title as well as a name.  However, by following the derfbhfine name you can accurately track your ancestor’s family back for many generations.
This does take some skill and at least some knowledge of Gaelic is required. The records are written in Gaelic, phonetic Gaelic (usually done by a Lallans speaking clerk), Latin, Lallans, and Lallan’s influenced English.  For an example we will look at the descendants of a historical Argyll man, Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín Mhic Eáin Riabhach of Dunamuck. 
Here is an example of a derbhfine surname of one of his descendants in a primary source:  “On 14 January of that year (1612), Archibald M’Eane reoch Vc Donchie roy Vc Lachlane was made principal to Walter Lamont son of John Lamont of Anaskeog.”  The Cautioners listed were Giolla Easpuig Mac Dónaill Mhic Dhonnchaidh Rua Mhic Lachlainn and Lachlan Mac Dónaill Mhic Dhonnchaidh Rua Mhic Lachlainn.[2]  If we take the name of the principal we have “Archibald M’Eane reoch Vc Donchie roy Vc Lachlane” which allows us to identify this man back to his grandfather and connect him to Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín Mhic Eáin Riabhach of Dunamuck.  In Gaelic his name is “Giolla Easpuig Mac Eáin Riabhach Mhic Dhonnchaid Rua Mhic Loclainn.”  Translated into English: “Archibald son of brindled John grandson of Red Duncan of the clan Lachlainn. Of interest, the clerk wrote the last name in this derbhfine as a clan surname rather than by his actual great-grandfather’s surname which was Ailean    This was done because his grandfather, Ailean Mac Eáin Riabhach, was the Taoiseach of Clann Lachlainn in Glassary.  The two Cautioners listed are of the same family and both carry “Mhic Dhonnchaidh Rua” in their names and the House of Dunamuch tag which positively identifies these men.  The derbhfine surnames and Dunamuch House name allows us to  connect the principal and the Cautioners to the historical figure Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín Mhic Eáin Riabhach who was the Taoiseach of House Dunamuck, a sept of Clann Lachlainn in Glassary who ruled there from 1460s into the early 1500s.
Here is an example using the same family of the Gelfine format surname: Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín’s oldest son and heir was Lachlann Mac Donnchaidh Rua.  He appears in the Poltalloch Writs on 20 October 1547 in connection with a precept of clare constat.[3]  His name is written “Lachlan McDonche VcAllan of Dunemuck.”  The use of the House name of Dunamuch and the gelfine name allows us to positively link this man with Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín.
So take heart.  If your DNA match group has provided you with a geographic area to focus on, it is possible to use primary sources to extract a real genealogy.  You can use the Derbhfine and Gelfine surnames along with land transactions of merklands and pennylands to follow the trail of your ancestors.    

[1] Michael Newton, A Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World, (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 136-7. 
[2] Lamont, Inventory, 99.
[3] Ibid., 139.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cornbread, Scots-Irish Foodways

In the 18th Century when many thousands of Ulster's sons and daughters came to New World to settle on the frontier, they brought with them their folkways, music, etc., and also their foods and methods of food preparation. Many of the cooking styles and foods became in time quintessentially 'American.' Foremost among these would be the humble and incredibly delicious cornbread.

The Ulster settlers brought with them a tradition of cooking flat oat breads on a griddle, something that had been done for several thousands years in Ulster. Now, in the New World these Ulster settlers quickly adapted to the new foods available to them. In the Ulster settlements oats and wheat quickly gave way to corn and the traditional griddle cooked oatcake was then made of corn. This trait of borrowing from other cultures they were exposed to was a factor in the success of Ulster folk on the frontier.

Griddle cooked cornbread quickly became the bread of the Scotch-Irish communities and the bread followed them as the pushed the frontier west. This wonderfully simple food is still commonly found in those areas where the Scotch-Irish settled and it is to this day a staple on the supper table of the descendants of these Ulster folk, especially in the American South.

The bread is simplicity itself, a little cornmeal, an egg, some leavening, a pinch of salt, and enough buttermilk to make a batter. This is poured onto a cast iron hot skillet with bacon grease or oil in it. In the past the bread was cooked in a skillet next to the fireplace or anyplace where coals were available. When Dutch ovens came into use, the cooking of cornbread was often done in them. Later still, when ovens became a common kitchen appliance, the cornbread recipes were adapted for the modern oven, where it came into its present day form.

The cooking of cornbread in the South is an art as well as a science. Many families have special cast iron skillets, often that have been in the family for generations, in which the cornbread is cooked. Many women have wooden bowls and spoons handed down in from past generations, in which the batter is made. It is served with butter with a meal and can also be served after a meal with honey or sorghum syrup, as sweet.

Cornbread is a wonderful food, simple, tasty, and also part of  the cultural continuum from Ulster.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dr Rankin Sherling on 'Finding the McCains'

"This is a unique piece of work.  Not only has Barry McCain produced a fine book that is very interesting to McCains--and it is that in spades--but to historians of Irish identity and Irish migration as well.  McCain uses the story of his search for his own Gaelic roots to demonstrate how the intelligent use of DNA helps to fill historical gaps that traditional historical techniques never could.  The results are dramatic and strongly challenge the traditional, nationalist mythologies of Irish historiography."  

---Rankin Sherling, author of The Invisible Irish: Finding Protestants in the Nineteenth-Century Migrations to America (McGill-Queen’s University Press, Fall 2015).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Southern Cracker

The Cracker

Cracker Cattle

What is the etymology of the term Cracker?  We all know what a Cracker was (or is).  A Southern Anglo-Celt, usually of Scots-Irish origin, who lives in the backcountry.   The term appears intact and in use by the mid-1700s in Colonial America.  One eighteenth-century definition of what a Cracker provides a good description; in 1776 a Colonial official wrote to the earl of Dartmouth:

I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers, a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their place of abode.
They were basically a semi nomadic group who were excellent hunters, kept free range cattle and pigs, and lived in the backcountry.  They were normally of Ulster ancestry, but not exclusively so.

Cracker is still a much used term.  Dubious sources, such as Wikipedia, tell us it is a “usually derogatory term for white people.” Wikipedia also offers a proposed etymology of the term coming from the sound of the “whips” used by Southern whites on their livestock.
The real story is more complex.  It is term with links to Ulster and associated with the people we know as the Scots-Irish.  The original Crackers are also associated with free range cattle and lived in the backcountry.  That much is on firm ground, but the etymology is more difficult to deduce, but I believe is also linked to Ulster.  There are several possible origins, which I will not list and state each one’s case. 
Creachadóir:  This is the word I believe is the actual origin of Cracker. It is Ulster Gaelic and Scots Gaelic (Creachadair) word meaning, “raider and freebooter,” but also associated with the free range cattle drovers in Ulster.  In short, I think Cracker is the anglicised form of Creachadóir. 

Creach: (Ulster Gaelic) means a “herd of cattle,” and also a “Cattle raid.”   You will also find the word Greigh in Scot Gaelic meaning a “herd of cattle.”   There is also the Scots-Gaelic word Gréighear meaning a “farm grieve.”  (someone who took care of livestock) 
Other possible etymologies:

Cracaire: This word means “talker” or a person that chats a lot and is related to the modern Irish word “Craic” meaning “a gathering where people talk, have refreshments, and have a good time.”  As far as I can tell, the use of Cracaire and Craic are more recent in their use in the Gaelic language and I do not think this is the etymology of Cracker, but it is a debatable point.    

I think the salient element is the linking of Crackers to cattle.  Creach was anglicised as Creacht and was used from the mid-1500s into the early 1800s to describe both a herd of cattle and the drovers (cowboys) of the herd.  These men were also used for raiding parties.  So in actual use a Creacht was both a free range cowboy and raider and freebooter. In modern Gaelic usage the older meaning of free range cowboy has been dropped and now the definition is “raider and freebooter, ” but it was the same thing, or person, in a historical context.  So, in Ulster, we have the word Creach and Creacht in use in both Hiberno-English and Gaelic and meaning exactly what the Southern Crackers were.  Given the fact that the Crackers were from Ulster and were free range cowboys the Creach, Creacht, and Creachadóir, origin from Cracker is logical.
A Cracker Cowboy by Frederic Remington
The anglicised form may be from Creachadóir or it could be from Creach and anglicised from adding an English suffix of “er.”   I think however, the former more likely. 

So, the likely etymology of Cracker is from the Ulster and Scots Gaelic word Creachadóir.  For the record, Cracker is not considered derogatory among the Crackers living in the South today.  The opposite is true, it is an often used term of ethnic self-description and is a source of pride.  It means you are indigenous to the South, ancestors from Ulster or northwest Britain, have roots in the Uplands or Backcountry, are independent, self-reliant, you act in an honorable way, are good with weapons, hunting, fishing, and are man that knows how to do things.  As the Southern Crackers settled Texas and the Southwest they became the Cowboy, a cultural continuum of their unique lifestyle.   
Cowboy 1888

The Scots-Irish: Scots-Irish DNA Project

The Scots-Irish: Scots-Irish DNA Project: The Scots-Irish DNA project is open to male Scots-Irish to assist their families' genetically genealogy and family history research.  T...

Friday, April 3, 2015

Y-DNA test When No Paternal Relative Is Available

Y-DNA test When No Paternal Relative Is Available

A frequent issue in genetic genealogy is the problem of Y chromosome DNA testing when there is no male relative available.  This means a participant does not have any known family member that is a direct paternal descendant of the family line they wish to research via Y-DNA.   This situation does present an obstacle, but one that can be overcome.  Here is how many have done this; you can do the autosomal DNA and use your results to locate a co-lateral line from the paternal line you wish to research.
I have done this myself.  I wanted to research the Y-DNA of the family of my father’s mother.  Since the Y-chromosome is only passed from father to son, I could not use my Y-DNA results; I needed a proxy male to test for me from my father’s mother’s father’s family.   I did the autosomal test and located a brother and sister from my father’s mother’s father’s line.  The male from that autosomal match group tested his Y-chromosome; this gave me the Y-DNA data from the line I wanted to research. I could now use his Y-DNA results to research my father’s mother’s father’s family.  This was done with great success.
It takes a bit longer and you have to organize the project and get proxy participant to cooperate, but usually they are happy to do it.     

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Memphis Scottish Society News

I will be speaking and doing book signings at the Memphis Scottish Society on 13 April.  Dinner at 6:00 and the program at 7:00.  I will be speaking on genetic genealogy for Irish, Scots, and Scots-Irish.  I will also will present my books Finding the McCains, A Scots-Irish Odyssey and The Laggan Redshanks, The Highland Scots in West Ulster, 1569-1630; this is a opportunity to pick up signed copies of both.

Everyone interested in Irish, Scottish and Scots-Irish people, culture, and history are welcomed to attend.  Details on the meeting, location, time, etc. including in the newsletter.  Please share this widely. 

Link below to the Memphis Scottish Society newsletter.  Follow the link for a Pdf version of Grace Notes.

Link:  Memphis Scottish Society March Newsletter

Monday, March 30, 2015

Irish and Scottish Clan Surnames

Clan Surnames
Many people with Gaelic origin surnames are interested in researching their clan connections. This is cannot be done by simply assuming one’s last name is also a clan surname.  Many Gaelic surnames are not clan surnames and do not relate to historical clans.  They are surnames created from Gaelic patronymic naming customs.  Many Gaelic surnames did not develop a fixed form until very late, circa 1500s into the 1600s.  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. In some cases families related to a historical 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 study of the history of a district that the family originated.
Y Chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) testing usually provides a kinship group of families that share the same paternal kinship.   Often the non-surname matches are as important as the surname matches when confirming clan connections.  In the primary sources often a group of surnames are associated with one clan or sept that will fit this kinship group of families.  
If you have tested your Y-DNA at the 67 or 111 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 those particular surnames.  Sometimes this alone reveals a family past clan connections.  For example, the common Ulster and west Highland surname of Campbell.  This surname is usually 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. This family used both Caulfield and Campbell as anglicised forms of their surname.  Another example is the surname McDonald/McDonnell, that is from the Gaelic name Mac Dónaill. The surname books will inevitably link the anglicised form to the great Clann Dhónaill; in fact, many clans had branches named Mac Dónaill, in both Ireland and Scotland.
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 might be of help to have an expert look at the group and to an analysis of them.  This involves an etymology study of the surnames in the group and a history of the surnames along with geographic connections to the 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.