skip to content

Clan & Tartan Records (Scotland)

Nature of Source

Clans consisted of communities, especially from the Highlands and Borders, with a shared surname and possibly ancestry. The word clan is Gaelic in origin and means 'children'. The clan chief headed the clan and ruled the lands appropriated by the chief. Others pledged loyalty or fealty to the head who, in return, offered his protection. Therefore, it is wrong to assume that a person with a shared clan name descends from the clan chief. A clan chief was often a feudal baron with all the rights associated with feudal rule. The notion of a shared heritage has ensured the survival of clan association. Recognition of a clan chief falls under the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon.

Because there are more surnames than clans, many families with different surnames associated themselves with a clan and these branches are known as septs. Many septs, over time, developed into their own clans. The traditional clan system and its political influence was destroyed in 1746 following the battle of Culloden and the crushing defeat of the Jacobite rebellion. The Heritable Jurisdictions Act of 1747 also hastened the demise of the clans system.

The clan crest or badge incorporating the motto can only be worn by the clan chief, senior members and clansmen. The clan chief incorporates three eagle's feathers, a junior head or chieftain two feathers and a clansman or woman a strap and buckle. The design is similar to a heraldic coat of arms. It is worn as a cap badge, a plaid brooch or on a kilt-pin and sometimes the family plant is placed behind the badge. Depicting the clan badge in colour is completely unacceptable. An armigerous man (entitled to bear arms) usually incorporates the badge as a crest on his coat of arms.

Although kilt wearing and tartan is associated with clan membership and the highlands, the usage is not restricted to the Highlands. The Act of Proscription in 1747 (repealed in 1782) prohibited the wearing of tartan and by 1822 the tartan industry and usage had virtually disappeared. The 19th century saw a resurgence in interest of tartan wearing from which the modern romantic notion of the tartan emerged. Before this there is no evidence of tartans being associated with a individual clans, localities or surnames.

There are no restrictions or rules governing the wearing of tartan and anyone can register a new design. In February 2009 the post of the ‘Keeper of Tartans’ or officially the Keeper of the Records of Scotland was created. The post holder works for the Scottish Register of Tartans which is the official register of tartans. The office has the power to authorise the use of tartans and has jurisdiction on the creation of new tartans. The register is an amalgamation of the existing registers of the Scottish Tartans Authority and the Scottish Tartans World Register.

Other Scotland Resources
Census Returns
County & Local Histories
Court Records
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Electoral Registers or Burgess Rolls
Emigration Records
Hearth Tax
Heraldic Coats of Arms & Seals
Kirk/Church Sessions
Land Tax Assessments & Returns
Maps & Gazetteers
Militia Lists
Monumental/Memorial Inscriptions
Newspapers, magazines & journals
Old Parish Registers-Baptisms (OPRs)
Old Parish Registers-Burials (OPRs)
Old Parish Registers-Marriages & Proclamations (OPRs)
Passenger Lists
Pedigrees and Family Histories
Poor Law Records
Registers of Deeds (Books of Council and Session)
Retours of Services of Heirs
Sasines, Registers of
Statistical Accounts of Scotland
Statutory Registration-Birth
Statutory Registration-Death
Statutory Registration-Marriage
Surname Origins and Distribution
Valuation Rolls & Stent Rolls
Wills/Testaments and Inheritance

Where Found

The Scottish Register of Tartans (The main function of the Register is the registration of new tartan designs and the policy surrounding that function. The Register is administered by the National Records of Scotland with advice from the Court of the Lord Lyon and representatives of the Scottish tartan industry. The Keeper of the Records of Scotland and Registrar General for Scotland is also the Keeper of the Scottish Register of Tartans. See below for details on searching the Register)
The Court of the Lord Lyon (The court is the heraldic authority for Scotland and deals with all matters relating to Scottish Heraldry and Coats of Arms. It maintains the Scottish Public Registers of Arms and Genealogies. The library has many birth briefs and books on clan membership and tartans. The court adjudicates over clan succession disputes and determines which septs belong to which clan. Free searches of Coats of Arms is available at
ScotlandsPeople Centre (The ScotlandsPeople Centre is the official government resource for family history research and holds the Public Register of all Arms and Bearings in Scotland from 1672 to until 100 years before the current calendar year from the Court of the Lord Lyon. ScotlandsPeople Centre is a partnership between the National Records of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland and General Register Office for Scotland)
Scottish Genealogy Society (Clan histories and activities and the Family History Index an index of over 2,500 family files deposited by researchers with the Society over a period of almost 50 years)
Society of Genealogists (Scottish Collections)

Period Covered

1100 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names of husbands and wifes and other family relationships. Useful for identifying published pedigrees.

Further References

Clans and Tartans  
Adam, Frank. The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands: Clan Book Sales, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Collins Scots Kith and Kin: Bestselling Guide to the Clans and Surnames of Scotland: Collins, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Collins Little Book of Clans and Tartans: Traditional Scottish Tartans: Collins, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Cunningham, Alastair. Scottish Clans and Tartans: Colin Baxter Photography, 2003 Buy Now on Amazon
Cuthill, Donald & Moffet, Rodger. The Scottish Clans: Over 300 Clans Featured: ScotClans, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon
Dunbar, John Telfer. History of Highland Dress: Oliver & Boyd, 1962  Buy Now on Amazon
Fulton, Alexander. Scotland and her Tartans: The Romantic Heritage of the Scottish Clans and Families: Hodder & Stoughton,1992 Buy Now on Amazon
Grant, Neil. Scottish Clans and Tartans: Hamlyn, 2000 Buy Now on Amazon
Grimble, Ian. Scottish Clans and Tartans: Hamlyn, 1973 Buy Now on Amazon
James, Grant. Scottish Tartans in Full Color: Dover Publications, 2003 Buy Now on Amazon
McClintock, Henry Foster. Old Irish and Highland Dress: Dundalgan Press, 1943 Buy Now on Amazon
Macdonald, Fiona. Scottish Clans, A Very Peculiar History: Bookhouse, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
McLaurin, Neil. Creag an Tuirc: A Social History of Members of the Clan Labhran (MacLarens and MacLaurins): Melrose Books, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
Mackenzie, Graeme. Genealogy in the Gaidhealtachd: Clan and Family History in the Highlands of Scotland: Highland Family History Society, Inverness, 2013
Maclean-Bristol, Nicholas: Clan to Regiment: Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides 1400-2000: Pen & Sword Military, 2007
Martine, Roderick. Scottish Clans & Family Names: Mainstream, 1996 Buy Now on Amazon
Moffat, Alistair. The Highland Clans: Thames & Hudson, 2010 Buy Now on Amazon
Scotland of Old: Clans Map of Scotland: Collins, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
Squire, R and Way, G. Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopaedia: Harper Collins, 1994 Buy Now on Amazon
Tartans Map of Scotland: Collins, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
Way, George & Squire, Romilly. Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopaedia: St Kilda, 2017 Buy Now on Amazon
Zaczek, Iain & Phillips, Charles. The Complete Book of Tartan: A Heritage Encyclopedia of Over 400 Tartans and the Stories That Shaped Scottish History Buy Now on Amazon
Family History Guides  
Adolph, Anthony. Tracing Your Scottish Family History: Collins, 2008 Buy Now on Amazon
Bigwood, Rosemary: The Scottish Family Tree Detective: Tracing Your Ancestors in Scotland: Manchester University Press, 2007  Buy Now on Amazon
Clarke, T. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: The Official Guide: Birlinn, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Cory, Kathleen B. Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009 Buy Now on Amazon
Durie, Bruce. Scottish Genealogy: The History Press, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Durie, Bruce. Documents for Genealogy & Local History: The History Press, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald. In Search of Scottish Ancestry: Phillimore, 1983  Buy Now on Amazon
Holton, Graham & Winch, Jack. Discover Your Scottish Ancestry: Internet and Traditional Resources: Edinburgh University Press, 2009 (Preview available from Google Books)
 Buy Now on Amazon
James, Alwyn. Scottish Roots: From Gravestone to Website: The Step-By-Step Guide to Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: Luath Press, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Maxwell, Ian. Tracing your Scottish Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword, 2009  
Paton, Chris. Researching Scottish Family History: The Family History Partnership, 2010  Buy Now on Amazon
Stewart, Alan. My Ancestor was Scottish: Society of Genealogists, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Tovey, Helen. My Scottish Ancestry: Lomond Books, 2011  Buy Now on Amazon
Concise Scots Dictionary: Edinburgh University Press, 1999 (Preview available from Google Books) Buy Now on Amazon
Lynch, Michael. Oxford Companion to Scottish History: OUP Oxford, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon
Moffat, Alistair & Wilson, James. The Scots: A Genetic Journey: Birlinn, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon
Scots Dictionary: Collins, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Richards, Eric. The Highland Clearances: Birlinn, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Timperley, Loretta R, (ed). A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland c 1770: Scottish Record Society, 1976 Buy Now on Amazon
Torrance, Richard D. Scottish Trades, Professions, Vital Documents & Directories: Scottish Association of Family History Societies, 1998 Buy Now on Amazon


Clans (Clans, Families and Septs, article by Sir Crispin Agnew) (List of Clan Chiefs and Chieftains, prepared by Iain Brodie of Falsyde) (List of Official Clans and Families registered by the Court of the Lord Lyon) (Crest Badges - Information Leaflet from the Court of the Lord Lyon) (List of Clan Septs and Dependents) (Map of the Highland Clans of Scotland) (The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. Site contains extensive information on clans including clan heraldry) (Database of Clans and Clan Chiefs) (Scottish Clan) (List of Scottish clans) (List of clan societies) (The Clan System) (A guide to the Clans and Tartans of Scotland) (Clan search with a history of the named clan) (Scottish & International Clans and Clan Societies) (Map showing the location of Scottish clans)
(Lochcarron of Scotland Interactive Clan Map of Scotland. Uncover Scotland's rich History and take a look at our interactive clan map. Hover over the map to discover each clan history, motto, and tartan) (Guide and links covering Clans, Clan Societies, Families and Tartans)
(Council of Scottish Clans & Associations. The association seeks to strengthen and energize the Scottish American diaspora and preserve the Scottish heritage. The site has a The Find Your Clan section with has useful information and links)
Tartans (Site devoted to the tartan maintained by the curator of the US end of the Scottish Tartans Museum) (The Scottish Tartans Authority. A trade organisation representing the Scottish weaving industry involved in the production of tartan. They maintain a register of tartans although it has no official status. The registers managed by the authority have been amalgamated into the register managed by Scottish Register of Tartans) (The Scottish Register of Tartans. The site has extensive guidance on creating and registering a tartan) (The Right To Wear A Tartan by Alastair Campbell) (Scottish Store) (Tartans and Clans article by Charles MacKinnon of Dunakin)

Online Databases (The Scottish Register of Tartans: Search the Register. The Register database contains information on thousands of tartans which can be freely searched. It includes all tartans registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans since its introduction on 5 February 2009. The database also incorporates tartans formerly recorded by the Scottish Tartans Society, the Scottish Tartans Authority and the Scottish Tartans World Register) (The ScotlandsPeople website is the official Scottish Government site for searching government records and archives including The Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland contains all recordings of coats of arms in Scotland from 1672 to the present day) (National Library of Scotland: Histories of Scottish Families. Clan histories, memoirs and histories of Scottish families, mostly published in the 19th and early 20th centuries)

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (A List of Persons Concerned in the Rebellion - 1745-46, Scotland)