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Date: Tuesday, 27 March 2001 14:42

This article was forwarded to me a few months back ,by the writer Stuart Mitchell ,Scotland . With his permission Im able to pass it on.



Genealogical research in pre-1855 Upper Banffshire can be more frustrating than in most other parts of the North East because of the large RC population. The Invera’an and Kirkmichael OPRs - and hence IGI - are virtually silent about them, so are of little help in tracing Catholic ancestors. Although the RC Baptism Registers for Tomintoul and Glenlivet (Tombae and Chapeltown) contain much of the information that is missing from the OPRs, they are accessible on microfilm only in Elgin Library and the Scottish Record Office. Unfortunately, the respective Registers go back only to 1807 and 1812/1829, then once again the familiar blank wall - or so it seemed until recently. Now, not only do two newly-available sources give additional information about early 19th century RC families, but an unexpected ability to look over that blank wall has been provided by apparently unconnected research. This is an investigation of aliases in highland Banffshire, which although still incomplete has led to the identification of ‘hidden families’ in the 17th and early 18th century OPRs.


An ‘alias’ phenomenon flourished in the Upper Banffshire records for nearly a 100 years after its first appearance in 1740. These aliases were very different from those used by the McGregors of Stratha’an and Upper Deeside (forced by the proscription of their clan to shelter under a Gordon, Grant, or other ‘safe’ name) but no memory of them has survived to the present day. They seem to have had a Catholic dimension, for aliases were meticulously recorded in the Glenlivet RC Registers until 1838, long after they had disappeared elsewhere. Indeed, this was effectively so by 1812 when the Tombae Register starts.

Until the RC Registers showed just how many early 19th century ‘alias’ families there were in the Braes of Glenlivet, the aliases in the Invera’an OPR had appeared to be random and of little interest. After that first record on 1st April 1740 (the baptism of James, son of John Miller alias Grant) OPR alias entries became increasingly frequent until the mid-1770s. They then fell away sharply and the last two were recorded in 1794 and 1806. That sudden decline coincided with the disappearance from OPR of baptism records for RC Braes families that signalled the first lifting of Catholic repression in Invera’an. This increases the likelihood of an RC connection for most aliases, as does the very much lower incidence round Protestant Ballindalloch than in the Catholic Braes.

RC Baptism Registers

Although aliases were particularly prevalent amongst Grants, Stuarts, McPhersons and McDonalds, many of these names were unembellished - one third of Stuart families in the Glenlivet RC Registers 1812-1838 were ‘non-alias’. It quickly became clear that as an alias carried from one generation to the next, defining a specific descent line within the broad family name, it was actually a genealogical patronymic. The children of ‘alias’ families, took the patronymic of their father, never of their mother - a maternal alias was not carried on, even when the father did not have one.

While entries in the records usually took the form ‘Family alias Patronymic’ (often entered simply as ‘Family/Patronymic’ without the word ‘alias’), this was occasionally reversed for families such as Turner alias Grant. The majority of the aliases in the Glenlivet RC Records also occur in OPR, though usually as the stand-alone patronymic.
Stuart alias More/Moir*; McAllay/M’Lea*; Bain*; Dow*; Gibbnach
Grant alias Roy*; McRobie*; Bowie*; Turner*; McArthur; Bain
McPherson alias McUlly/McWillie*; Garrow*; McInnes; Gall
McIntosh alias Riach* (only two individuals, but common in Kirkmichael)
McDonald alias McAllister*
Gordon alias McRitchie (single family)
Smith alias Gow* (all families)
* These also occur in OPR, usually as the stand-alone patronymic.

Aliases in the Glenlivet RC Records, 1812-1838

Because of its gaelic origins and environment, the Upper Banffshire patronymic Moir was pronounced ‘more’ not ‘moy-er’, so is not directly related to the well-known lowland Aberdeenshire surname.

Aliases in OPR

As most of the other aliases in OPR occur only two or three times each, they must represent individual small families - for some of whom it may have been a single-generation by-name not a true patronymic. Only the Mitchell, Cameron and perhaps McKenzie aliases were sufficiently prolific to represent larger groupings - the multiple baptism entries for the Mitchell alias McAndy families in the Ballindalloch area, indicating that they were Protestant (see next page):
Stuart alias McGurman, McOmash, Darg (Kirkmichael & Mortlach only)
Grant alias Cly, Miller, Tailzeor, McShewan, McAdam, McComish
McPherson alias Moir, McOmie (Aberlour), Doulle (Kirkmichael, Mortlach only)
Mitchell alias McAndy° (also Invernochty)
Cameron alias McPhail°, Bain
McPhail alias Gauld
McKenzie alias Kynach°
Shaw alias Roy
McIntosh alias Smith
Innes alias Jay
Fleming alias Arrach
Bayne alias Cuming
Grigorach alias McGregor
Duff alias McKay
McDonald alias Couper
° These occur as both alias and stand-alone patronymic.
Aliases Occurring Only in OPR, 1740-1794

Families Revealed

While the alias phenomenon helps to rationalise the very many Grant and Stuart families in Glenlivet by splitting them into more manageable patronymic groups, this is a relatively minor benefit. Its real value is in identifying many pre-1740 OPR entries as Grants, Stuarts, McPhersons etc., who had previously been ‘hidden’ behind patronymics. With a few exceptions, most patronymics disappeared in a general resumption of the basic family names at the end of the alias period. Some Grants, McIntoshes and McPhersons chose to retain their patronymic in preference to the family name, but More/Moir and M’Lea vanished except for sporadic records in adjoining parishes like Mortlach and Aberlour.

Although superficially there appear to be few aliases in Kirkmichael OPR and the Tomintoul RC Baptism Register (both have still to be surveyed in detail), evidence that they were still quite common in early 19th century Kirkmichael comes from the Appendix to the Gow Manuscript. This shows aliases for a third of the 60 families (300 individuals) resident in the Braes of Stratha’an in the 1820s:
Stewart alias More, Bain, Gault
Grant alias Germany
McPherson alias Doole, Bain, More
McGregor alias Willox, More, Bain (plus two families of non-alias Riach)
Aliases in the Braes of Stratha’an, 1820s (Gow MS)


Roy, More, M’Lea, McUllie, Riach and Gow are recorded in OPR from at least the 1630s and Privy Council records show four McCollaes from Stratha’an and Glenlivet were put to the horn in 1615. This implies at least a 16th century origin for these patronymics, but their genesis and significance are as yet unexplained. For the Grants and Stuarts they may well denote kinship or affiliation to a particular local landholding family or descent from a historically important ancestor. However, for McPhersons, McIntoshes and Camerons in the gaelic - but non-highland - society east of Spey, patronymics more likely represent specific allegiances within the clan lands.

With aliases well-established before 1746, any suggestion that they arose in the aftermath of Culloden is clearly unfounded. Paradoxically, however, the disruption caused by the ’45 may have accelerated the disappearance of patronymics. Of the 90 or so Glenlivet men in the ‘Lists of Rebels’, nearly a quarter were identified by patronymic alone and two others with an alias, yet six Stratha’an McGregors were ‘undisguised’, though still under proscription. (Remarkably, only half of the reputedly 500-strong Kirkmichael, Glenlivet and Glenrinnes contingent in Glenbucket’s Regiment were named in the ‘Lists of Rebels’ and not one of them was executed or transported - in contrast to the appalling penalties exacted on every other regiment of the Jacobite army.)

The 1761 Summary of Glenlivet lists the Principal Tacksmen (i.e. senior tenants) and subtenants of the Glenlivet estate. Of course, the high social standing of the Principal Tacksmen meant that their only name-differentiation related to a land holding elsewhere, but six of the subtenants had an alias while many more were identified by patronymic only.
Grant 3 alias 9 patronymic 26 total (+ 6 Principal Tacksmen)
Stuart 3 alias 9 patronymic 19 total (+ 4 Principal Tacksmen)
McPherson 0 alias 5 patronymic 8 total (no Principal Tacksman)

Aliases & Patronymics in Summary of Glenlivet, 1761 Alias Period

It is clear that until late in the 18th century, alias families were known and acknowledged simply by patronymic, although there would have been implicit community awareness of each specific ‘family’ descent line and its significance. While the first recording of aliases in Invera’an OPR may have been an officious entering of ‘full details’ by a parish clerk not fully conversant with that communal knowledge, the continuation of the practice looks rather like the early emergence of petty bureaucracy.

With many patronymics increasingly subordinate to the generic family name by the end of the century, the Catholic Registers may indeed have been the final repository of fast fading communal knowledge. However there is evidence from an old account book and from aliases in Banff Sheriff Court Records that some patronymics were still in colloquial use as late as the 1820s. The account book of a Glenrinnes barley dealer (i.e. whisky smuggler!) records some Glenlivet clients as More and McLea, while a Glenrinnes man and his son were entered variably as McPherson or Garrow. All memory of aliases and patronymics has now been lost except for one 80 year-old who knows only a vague tradition that his Braes ancestors were ‘More’ Stuarts.


There are two main types of Upper Banffshire patronymic:

(i) Genealogical - identifies the progenitor of the line:
M’Lea, McRobie, McUllie, McInnes, McArthur, McAndy, McAllister, McPhail, McGurman, Gibbnach, McOmish*, McShewan*, McAdam*, McRitchie*, McGeorge* (Summary of Glenlivet), * possibly only short-duration by-names.

These reflect the old-style “genealogical” naming in gaelic society that was still common in early 17th century Stratha’an. Examples from the Privy Council Register of 1613 are John Dow McConeill McEan Rowan (in Innerchebit), Patrick McGaw McEane Galt (in Torren) and Allester McEan Riauche McAgawne (in Fottirletter).

(ii) Gaelic descriptive - of a kind usually found as a personal by-name:
More [mor] - big Bain [ban] - fair Dow [dhu] - dark Darg [dearg] - red Roy [ruadh] - reddish Bowie [buidh] - yellow Garrow [garbh] - rough Riach [riabhach] - speckled, grizzled Gall, Galt, Gauld [geal, gall] - white, ‘foreigner’(incomer, lowlander).

The 17th century examples above show Dow, Galt and Riach being used as personal by-names. Also of gaelic origin are Gow, from gobha, ‘a smith’, Kynach from Coinneach, ‘Kenneth’, and the as yet unexplained Doulle, Arrach and Jay. The McDonald alias of Couper and the Grant aliases of Turner, Miller and Tailzeor (Taylor) appear to be vocational, although the single record of the last suggests that it did not endure. As all Smiths in the RC records were alias Gow and virtually every adult male at that time was either a blacksmith or wright, this was perhaps the most vocational patronymic of all.

The Glenlivet Priests

The meticulous recording of aliases in the Glenlivet Catholic Baptism Registers was entirely due to Rev. James John Gordon, priest at Tombae from 1812 until 1842, and to Rev. William Dundas at Chapeltown from its opening in 1829 until his death from smallpox in December 1838. There is no obvious reason why the Glenlivet priests should have done so when Rev. Donald Carmichael in Tomintoul did not, especially as the aliases were by then in serious decline. Nor were any aliases recorded by Rev. Gordon’s temporary replacements in 1826 and 1837-8, or Rev. Robert Stuart, his Braes-born eventual successor. Rev. Gordon, a Deeside man and convert to Catholicism, had arrived in Glenlivet from Paisley on 11 October 1812 - perhaps as an incomer he felt impelled to preserve traditional information that was rapidly fading from folk memory.

Catholics in the OPR

Until emancipation, Catholics were obliged by law to marry in the Established Kirk if they were to preserve their civil and property rights. Thus, many Catholic marriages can be detected in the Invera’an OPR throughout the 18th century, although scarce from the mid-1770s on. Surprisingly however, when reviewing the OPR for aliases, entries were found for many known RC families from the Braes - albeit just a single baptism each. This Kirk baptism of their first-born may have been perceived as some protection against a vengeful Kirk Session and the known oppressiveness of the long-serving mid-century Minister. It was hoped that such single baptisms might be a good indicator of RC families - until they also proved to be very common in Protestant areas! An explanation may lie in the 1783 legislation which imposed a 3 pence duty for registering a baptism.

Glenlivet RC Censuses

There is now on microfilm in Elgin Library Glenlivet Status Animarum (‘State of Souls’), a recently ‘discovered’ manuscript volume whose existence was previously unknown outwith the RC Church. It contains an 1814 census of the entire Catholic community of Glenlivet and Glenrinnes that adds substantially to the information in the Baptism Registers. It also has partial censuses for 1822 and 1834, with a few notes on conversions and deaths. Unlike other Catholic congregations such as Tomintoul, where the status animarum is merely a closely-written, undifferentiated list of names that fills a page or two of the Baptism Register, those for Glenlivet are formally laid out like a national census. By farmtoun and croft, it lists the members of each Catholic household with their family relationships, often quoting ages but less frequently giving occupations. There are occasional insertions of a birth or death date, while for several families, the note “husband/wife Prot.” replaces a spouse name. A small manuscript book Chapeltown Obituaries is also on the microfilm.

Summary of Glenlivet

This large manuscript volume dated 1761 details the acreages of cornland and pasture for each major holding with its subdivisions and, more importantly, lists the Principal Tacksmen (i.e. main tenants) and the Subtenants of Subsetts (subdivisions of the main tack). The acreages are repeated in the 1774 folio Generall Plan of Glenlivet, a collection of plans showing the arable land and habitations on each of the six Daughs (or divisions) of the Glenlivet estate, with the shealing and peat casting areas identified. An additional ‘New Lands’ plan has vignettes of a dozen farmsteads which, though ostensibly ‘lately taken in to Corn land off the pasture’, from other evidence now appear to have been brought under cultivation around 1720.

Gow Manuscript

In 1873, John Gow alias Smith wrote this 66-page reminiscence of his life and the people he had known in his youth. Born on the farm of Easter Gaulrig, Braes of Stratha’an, early in the 19th century, he had walked to Dundee as a young man, found work and learnt to read and write, returning to Stratha’an in old age. An appendix to the manuscript listing the 300 or so people who had been living in the Braes of Stratha’an in his youth is now believed from other sources to relate to the 1820s. A page of the manuscript is reproduced in Gregor Willox The Warlock by Richard E McGregor (ANESFHS, 1995).

The Sources and where to find them
Tomintoul, Glenlivet RC Bapt. Registers - microfilm: Elgin Library, SRO
Glenlivet RC Censuses 1814, 1822, 1834 and Chapeltown Obituaries - microfilm: Elgin Library only Gow MS Appendix (1873) - SRO; transcript: ANEFHS,
Elgin Library
Summary of Glenlivet (1761) - SRO; photocopy: Elgin Library; transcript (Tacksmen etc): ANEFHS Generall Plan of Glenlivet (1774) - SRO; photocopies (A0): Elgin Library redrawn (A4): ANEFHS, Elgin Library
Account Books of Donald McPherson - Mr George McPherson, Boharm.

This article is a DIY-reply to my still unanswered Journal query (57/18) two years ago, requesting information about these aliases..........

S Mitchell No. 3195