Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Southern Shaws

I am descended from a Shaw of Srannda/Strond. The Farm of Strond was part of the Tack of Strond & Killegray* and from amongst the various families of Shaws from Skye at least one settled in Strond.
The holder of this tack in the18th and early 19th Centuries were Campbells and Mrs Ann Campbell was particularly noted not only for her care and consideration of those living on the land she rented but also for the developments that she brought to part of the South of Harris (as can be read elsewhere in this blog).

*The RCAHMS entry for Killegray House provides a little more information relating to that island.

 According to Bill Lawson, in his excellent guide 'Harris Families and How to Trace Them', the Shaws of Strond were descended from one particular line of those who had been Ground Officers for the Macleods on Skye. Whether or not my ancestor, Effie Shaw, was a daughter of this family or, perhaps, from one of the other branches on neighbouring Berneraigh & Pabbay I shall probably never know.
This doesn't greatly trouble me for I am more interesting in attempting to understand the social history of the times in which my ancestors existed rather than being able to trace them back to some arbitrary point of origin. On that note, it is interesting to reflect upon this observation made more than 300 years ago:

Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids as to the stripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, in so far that they who have seen those places are able at first view of a man's plaid to guess the place of his residence.
'A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland' by Martin Martin, 1703, the text of which may be read here.

In other words, the colours & patterns worn distinguished which place you belonged to, not what family you were descended from. I would hate to be thought of as dissuading people from parting with their (much-needed) dollars from across the oceans to purchase 'plaid' according to the clan(s) that they consider themselves to be a part of, but for our predecessors in the Gaelic world such a notion would seem very strange indeed.  On a practical note, what would one do if the particular plant required to provide the dye needed for the family 'tartan' didn't grow in the island you lived on? Martin's observation demonstrates precisely what the answer to that hypothetical question was!

It is also worth mentioning that, at the time that Martin was making his tour, the notion of a family name would have been virtually unknown (and almost certainly unused) on the isles. A man would be very likely to be able to say that he was Angus son of Donald son of Malcolm son of John etc...but he was known as Angus son of Donald the Red Haired, or the Tailor, or some other feature that distinguished the father from the other Donald's thereabouts. The first form is called patronymy, the second I call common sense!

These Shaw families (& coming from the mainland perhaps they had already adopted the 'modern' style and were using a family name by the time they reached the isles?) were never numerous on Harris and those of the South appear to have dispersed and then declined due to dilution as patrilineal descent replaced the previous patronymic practice. There certainly still are Shaws living in the South, and the churchyard at St Clements testifies to several Shaw interments, but I have been unable to link any of these, whether living or dead, to my own ancestry.

Emigration, whether by choice in earlier times or under duress due to the Clearances, clearly offers an alternative tack to be taken but, as the British Government did not keep records of those emigrating (those that exist are simply the manifests that vessels were required to keep of all souls on board) it it extremely difficult to accurately identify all the families that went abroad. It is possible to do so, and their are several professional genealogists who specialise in this particular field, but that is, perhaps, a subject for another time.

A few notes that may be helpful to those researching families in this part of the Western Isles (prompted by enquiries made elsewhere on the interweb):

'Bermesay' (as I have seen it transcribed) is the island of Berneraigh/Berneray which was part of the Parish of Harris. When Borve on Berneray was Cleared in 1851 those who did not immediately emigrate were settled in Direcleit & Ceann Debig on the shore of East Loch Tarbert in the Baighs/Bays of Harris so do not be surprised if a family that you are following suddenly appear there in the censuses of 1861 onwards.

The Parish of Kilmuir was the old name for what became the Parish of North Uist and thus this can create confusion as there is also the Parish of Kilmuir on Skye, and both of these were within the old county of Inverness-shire...

Ages - we spend most of the first two-decades of our lives wishing that we were older, and the remainder of out time wishing that we weren't as old as we are! I have seen some alarming age-transformations across the censuses, and not all of them were women shaving a few years off here and there. In fact, sometimes one discovers an islander who clearly has physically aged considerably during the past decade and this is reflected in what I assume to be the Enumerator's guesstimate of the persons age. If possible, always check the original document (or an electronic image of the document) as transcription, especially that done electronically rather than by human hand, is easily led astray.

Oh, and the Gaelic name Iain was usually 'translated' into the English name John but the distortions & contortions that took place when the registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths became compulsory in 1855 (not to mention the variations of spellings seen both there and in the Censuses) require the interrogator to adopt what might be termed a 'fluid' approach in their investigations, and names such as Ann can easily, perhaps at the choosing of the lady herself as time & fashions change, metamorphose into Anne or Annie.

Finally, the more that those researching island families pool their resources, share and collaborate, advise & assist each-other, the more complete the picture will become. I am relatively fortunate in having a very close cousin on Harris but even she, despite being a Hearach (Harris-born) herself, has been unable to progress our family tree further back into the past than our mutual origin in Srannda.

If you have family who were living on Harris or (but to a lesser extent) Lewis during the 19th Century then you might well find items of interest in the pages of this blog. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and certainly do not claim to be 100% accurate in my assertions, but am attempting to provide a resource that casts some light into some of the hidden history of Harris and her neighbours.

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