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Finding your clan tartan?

In the Rick Steves Scotland guidebook, he says you can find several places (I think tourist shops?) in Edinburgh that will help you find your clan tartan. Does anybody know anything about this, or have you done it? Any specific places to go talk to? I'd love to find out more about my dad's side of the family, from Scotland, but don't know the first place to start.

Posted by
5634 posts

Google the last name plus tartan. It should come up ; it did for me.

Posted by
8293 posts

I found my clan tartan by going to a shop in Glasgow that had lots of kilts on display. The owner looked up my family name in a rather large book and found that it was part of the McLeod of Harris clan. I bought a kilt, hugely expensive, which I never wore and eventually threw out. End of story

Posted by
765 posts

My husband got his at a woolen Mill where they measured him for it and it arrived about 6 weeks later.

Posted by
901 posts

Hi, adaugherty7,

Unfortunately, the current clan tartans are a 19th. century invention. None of the clans prior to that had an official tartan - the tartans that Highlanders wore were determined by whatever natural dyes were found in their particular region. It wasn't until the novels of Sir Walter Scott created the image of a romantic kilt-clad Highlander that the Sobieskies, among others, got the idea of creating a specific tartan for each clan. The clan tartan image caught on in a big way after the visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822. The invention of clan tartan can be pretty much said to start from there.

So if your clan ancestry predates 1822, you really have no original tartan. It's a 19th. century invention. However, it has been great for tourism and cloth makers. No matter what your last name, a tartan can be found for you. If your last name can't be found on one of the many books identifying your clan or sett, you can always be outfitted in a generic tartan, like the new Runrig tartan.

Check out the Tartans A to Z website for more information, or try to find a copy of Robert Bain's "Clans and Tartans of Scotland."

The High Street shops will be very happy to separate you from your money! :)

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Please resist the temptation to refer to tartan as "plaid." A plaid is a long (usually about six yards) bolt of cloth which the Highlanders wore over their shoulder, and belted at the waist. It served as a blanket or for rain/midge protection. Originally, the longer bolts of cloth from which plaids were cut were made practically waterproof by the process of "waulking" the cloth. This involved soaking the bolts of cloth in urine, and then wringing them by hand. This tightened the weave, and made the cloth colorfast. This process was also used in the making of Harris tweed up until the 1950s, so if you have a genuine Harris tweed jacket made prior to the 1950s, there's a very good chance it was soaked in piss.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Posted by
8293 posts

Auchterless ..... that was interesting. Thank you.

Posted by
20598 posts

But isn't that very similar to the Coat of Arms common for British ancestry??? Had an old maid (can I say that ??) aunt on my father's who purchase the engraved C of Arms and was very proud of it. Most of us just rolled our eyes at it. Maybe I could just drape a tartan across the C of Arms???

Posted by
7126 posts

Adding on to auchterless’ good info, a family name can have more than one tartan. Ours does.

Posted by
5452 posts

Wow, don't throw your kilts that you buy and never wear! Look for the local Royal Country Dancing Society and donate it to them! They always have young joining who would love to wear a kilt to the local Scottish Country Dance Ball but can't afford one. Simply google and you'll find something local.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you all! I might go for a coat of arms, I'm not sure, is Frank implying those don't mean much?? Our clan ancestry is from the late 17th century and early 18th so according to Auchterless, a tartan might be irrelevant. I mainly want a great souvenir for my dad, he's very proud of that line.

Posted by
5287 posts

Any Highland Games near you ? Near San Francisco there is an annual Highland Games and gathering of the clans over Labor Day weekend -- games, pipe bands, dance competitions, and LOTS of shopping opportunities.

Posted by
23396 posts

If you are in Austin there is often a Highland Games in Salado.

Posted by
458 posts

Yes there can be more than one tartan per clan. For example a hunting tartan and a dress tartan. As Mike (auchterless) says the history is pretty modern and now a 'good' way of separating folk from their money.

On the point about 'maid aunt' - I think that's what we over this side of the pond would refer to as a 'maiden aunt' - i.e. unmarried.

Posted by
109 posts

Even if tartans are “new”, they’re cool and unique to Scotland (mostly) along with Scotch (mostly). So enjoy. The biggest differentuator is cloth weight: thin summer weight and full-on winter / work wear. In my experience the lighter weight is 33% of the cost of the heavier weight and is the one you want — since, again in my experience, it rarely gets worn. Coat of arms or Tam O’Shanter with a family crest pin are also readily available and you might admire them more once home.

Posted by
23396 posts

Especially if you get the heavier weight, you should know that there is a fair pile of fairly heavy cloth there, and it gets heavier when it gets wet.

Putting on a "traditional" kilt is not a simple procedure of just stepping in and fastening it up. It worth scouting youtube for the somewhat complicated procedure of putting it on.

Posted by
901 posts

Hi again, adaugherty7,

I didn't mean to discourage you from checking out your family history - I'm always fascinated by how far back my antecedents go. As you know which clan your dad is descended from, then by all means do some investigation and get him something that he'll be proud to wear or display. A family crest or coat of arms mounted on a plaque, and/or a tie in his clan tartan would be ideal. And a lot easier to carry back to the U.S. than a full kilt and sporran.

If you're interested in finding out more about your family history, I'd recommend starting with the website for the National Records of Scotland. www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/family-history There are historical records and parish records going back to about the 16th. century. I was able to look up my family history through the Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society. It seems that I'm descended from a long line of day laborers, mill workers, and prostitutes. Well, they didn't exactly specify "prostitutes," but I was able to read between the lines. :)

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
217 posts

As mentioned above are some excellent resources for researching your Father's ancestors.
The link below has several reference articles on the various clan tartans as well as the interesting articles. It is important to know where in Scotland your Father's were from.

https://electricscotland.com/tartans/index.htm

Posted by
20598 posts

..... I'm not sure, is Frank implying those don't mean much?...... I guess I am. Maybe it is a little bit of cynicism in the search for those royal roots. But it may be more related to my childhood and family. One time my father's family was very wealthy, prominent, in the late 1880, 90s, so my dad and his sisters grew up in a wealthy surrounding. In the mid-20 my great grandfather died - his estate mainly cattle and land - was worth close to 3 million in 1925. It was divided among five children and my grandfather basically retired at 35 for a couple years --- AND what did they all do with the money?? It was the roaring 20s. By the early 30s through bad investment some of which were actually fraudulent it was gone. In the '30 census he is listed as a truck driver. The older sister, my aunt, never married but always clung to the family name and pass glory and pointed to that Coat of Arms as if it might mean something. But I do think understanding the family, what they did, why they did it is all very interesting. My great grandmother's family runs back to Scotland so maybe I should find that tartan.

Posted by
4654 posts

Coats of arms are much more historically authentic than tartan, as they genuinely do at times date back to the feudal era. However, something Americans often get wrong about them is that they are strictly limited in inheritance - you only have the right to use them if you can prove that you are in the direct primogeniture line of descent of the person who was originally granted them. It's not "I have that surname and therefore those are my arms".

Posted by
1839 posts

I have learned so much from the replies to this post.

Philip's info caused me to Google a bit, and I found this BBC article from 2011 which seems to do a good job re: the coat of arms topic. As Philip mentioned, some make the mistake (as I did) of thinking it just goes with a last name....fascinating there is so much more to it.

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-13127328

Google search recommends the Scottish Tartan Society......click in a family name and a tartan will show:

https://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/tartanDetails?ref=5193

And, even if the line of males in your family does not directly trace back to a particular tartan, your dad would likely get a kick out of a tie or other item that we in America might (unknowingly) call a plaid.

I learned a lot, thank you!

Posted by
1239 posts

Arms belong to the Armigious Bearer. Children can have differentiated versions with marks of privilege.

And now to throw a spanner. Police Scotland had to change its proposed heraldic badge after a few days as the Lord Lyon deemed it illegal, Scotland has a heraldic court that occasionally still sits. It is one of the reasons that Porsche garages here do not display or did not until recently display the shield on the building, the car is ok, but not on the building as they do not have the right to it under Scots Law.

That said, you can buy heraldic badges, and Coats of Arms, but in Scotland these have to be clearly marked that they are of the owner of that device by decent and not of the owner by right of £19.99 at the gift shop.