The SRP is a significant project for finding and using vital records of McAlister (all spellings) families in Scotland. It was initiated in the mid-1990s by the late Bill Vincent (A17), Lutherville, MD and Sandy MacAllister, (R08), Fortville, IN. Bill's legal education and personal determination, plus Sandy's knowledge of the sources from frequent research visits to Argyll, have been instrumental in the success of this project, which presently consists of abstracting sasine records. Other members who have contributed interest, effort and funds to this project include:
- Bill Fields, (R02) Fayetteville, NC
- Sue Folawn, (J07) San Mateo, CA
- George Maynard (R02), Birmingham, AL
- Lee McAlester, (A28) Dallas, TX
- Bob Tate (R02), Southern Pines, NC
- Robert M. McAllister (J26) Arlington, VA (deceased)
- Robert C. McAllister (B03) Coeur d'Alene, ID
Bill and Sandy found and negotiated with Leslie Hodgson, an FSA Scot. Genealogist in Edinburgh, to research the abridgements of the hand-written pre-1780 Argyll Sasines mentioning McAlisters, in the National Archives of Scotland. There are eleven Books, containing 117 pages on which McAlisters are mentioned in the "Argyll Particular Register". He began with the more recent sasines because the writing was easier to read, and in order to become familiar with the names and terms. The effort to accomplish this is significant. For example, in his cover letter of January 18, 2000, Mr. Hodgson forwarded twenty one abstracts from Books 9, 10 and 11, which took him twelve and one half hours to accomplish.
The beginnings of this project were in mid-1998, when several McAlister descendants and genealogical researchers were discussing the challenges to get a clearer picture of their Scottish roots and history.THE CHALLENGES
- The scarcity of reliable published records to facilitate tracing Scottish ancestry and the lack of specific source references, or footnotes, for those published McAlister pedigrees prepared by local Scottish genealogists.
- The difficulty of abstracting needed records to make reliable conclusions from such Scottish records as those on microfilm and microfiche at Mormon Family History Centers, and other genealogical repositories available in North America.
- The high cost of researching or ordering copies of original source records from such repositories as the Scottish Record Office (SRO) in Edinburgh. (Now known as the Scottish National Archives).
- The problem of interpreting and translating into modern English the source documents which were handwritten, often in Latin as well as in English, by English trained scribes who were documenting the spoken transactions of Gaelic speaking highlanders and therefore naturally interpreting the spelling of proper Gaelic names and places subjectively and phonetically. (Anyone who has viewed original Census records from the 19th century can appreciate this difficulty. It only gets worse as the age of the documents increase. See the Declaration of Arbroath for a graphic example.)
- The fact that over 90% of early Argyll McAlister men share less than 10 given names.
- The fact that under the British feudal system of primogeniture, whereby generally only the nearest, or oldest, legal male heir inherits land and the wealth and power that went with it, would indicate that those who emigrated for better opportunity elsewhere were non-inheriting brothers, or their descendants.
- The fact that in Argyleshire before the Clearances, the old McAlister families lost or relinquished all of their hereditary lands to the Campbells, except those lands which reportedly were later purchased by the seafaring and military, adventurer merchant McAlisters who formed the later Torrisdale and Cour ilks, or branches, and are now exemplified by the one surviving McAlister estate, Glenbarr Abbey in Kintyre, which has been dedicated as the McAlister visitor center.
- The fact that virtually all of the farms, communities and cemeteries where McAllister ancestors lived, have become pasture or woodland and the old castles, cottages and black houses of old have long since been destroyed, or reduced to ruins, and the building materials recycled, leaving little, if any, physical evidence of their existence, yet when "the heart is in the Highlands" much can be visualized.
- While many early McAlisters presumably stayed closely rooted to their land holdings, however meager or extensive, prior to the English Crown's abolition of the Clans after Culloden, and the plague that followed that defeat, there was little left thereafter to hold a breed noted for their facility and courage both on land and at sea, from the diaspora.
- The McAlister Clan had its beginnings late in the 13th Century, but before Culloden, what few records that survive, indicate that it was never a large clan and had undoubtedly been severely limited in its growth and individual longevity by the severity of highland life, wars, famines, plagues, and migrations principally to Northern Ireland. That being said, the land-owning families can be reasonably traced through the Dark Ages and medieval periods of patronymics, and poor and non-existent records, to the beginning of the 1600s when a systematic approach to gathering and analyzing all available records begins to be increasingly more promising and feasible. This allows for distinguishing individual McAlisters in places and in times and often with the reasonable probability with which families they are allied.
- Prior to the 1840 Census of Britain, what we refer to as "vital statistics" were only haphazardly kept by the churches. Unfortunately, in most of the parishes where the McAlisters lived, the Old Parochial Registers (OPRs) prior to the 1780s (especially Kilcalmonel parish) did not survive. Happily, the 1840 Census was so well done that it provides genealogical information which often allows one to trace back three generations earlier from the individual recorded in 1840.
Not to be dissuaded by such problems and instead seeing some of them as opportunities, there are still a lot of unexplored records in Scotland and elsewhere. It was believed that those records held sufficient promise to make worthwhile a concerted effort for an attempt to coordinate and distinguish the families and individuals of this small Scottish clan. To enable as many connections to their descendants as possible, the group decided to proceed.
The SRP involved collecting all possible source records; it has assembled a significant volume of these among the group. In early 2007 Bill Vincent had over six vertical feet of papers including copies of source records and various abstracts, plus several CDs of immigration/ emigration and Argyll court records. The first problem encountered was sharing them in such a way that they could be used by all the project contributors. Copying and/or mailing items to the group proved to be both expensive and unsatisfactory. Since all the members of the SRP except Bill Fields were on the Internet, it was no problem sharing the data via our private webpage. Over 560 separate source file folders have been typed or scanned into digital format and arranged chronologically and by source so they can be searched by computer.
One thing was clear, although it defied the traditional genealogical method of starting with a known individual and working backward to prove ancestral relationships. Individually we could see little chance of accurately tracing our McAlister roots in Scotland. By collectively sharing the expense and effort of transcribing the most promising source records mentioning McAlisters prior to 1780 and many later dates, the group had the opportunity to economically and efficiently identify as many individuals of that surname as possible. It was particularly appealing to know that there would be solid evidence for our conclusions and that once the research work was done, it would never need to be duplicated by future generations of McAlister researchers. Once the SRP data could be made public as a source of factual information for other genealogical researchers, it is expected that it would generate contributions of additional reliable source documents. These additional documents, such as old family manuscripts mentioning McAlisters, could fill in the blank places in the puzzle.
The initial focus of this effort and the most expensive was getting reliable abstracts of the “Argyll Sasines”, or land records in the McAlister homelands. The critical unpublished period would be a foundation that included the names of land-inheriting McAlisters. These individuals warranted having the most records kept of their doings, their locations, and especially of their relations (who customarily were witnesses to such land transactions and whose relationships are often spelled out with some specificity). These records also reveal many other important facts, such as when a brother or an uncle inherits, proving that no closer legal heir survived.
The first phase of the SRP's efforts was to assemble all the early sasines or land records in the McAlister Argyll homeland. William C. Fields contributed the few sasines that had been abstracted by Kintracers, Ltd. as well as Paton’s abstracts of any Campbell records at Inveraray which mentioned McAlisters. The SRP commissioned Leslie Hodgson to translate and abstract all the unpublished Sasines prior to 1780 from the Argyll Particular Register of Sasines. The logical extension of this first phase research of “the missing link sasines” was the gathering of all the other early records mentioning McAlisters as pieces to the puzzle.
The goal of the committee soon became pooling our efforts and funds to secure and analyze all early records mentioning McAlisters. This approach held the only hope of finding not just our individual ancestors, but those of the entire tribe. Due to the meager number of given names and the fact that many of our ancestors were mobile (as opposed to sedentary), it became necessary to analyze and distinguish individuals in all McAlister family groups in detail, in order to make clear distinctions among individuals with the same name. Best of all, until any newly discovered source records become available, this would be a compilation of all McAlister records and all those connections which could be authenticated or supported by hard genealogical evidence from such records.
There were a number of additional factors which favored the feasibility of pursuing this quest. Namely:
- There already were a few McAlister researchers who had
invested much time and money into trying to distinguish
their McAlister ancestors in Knapdale, Kintyre and Arran without
significant results but had accumulated some worthwhile source
records probably costing each of at least 4 individuals at
least the current value of $1,000 and one reportedly, over
$4,000. With this and published source records that we already
had the next logical step of assembling abstracts of the Sasines
for the missing 105 year period seemed an inexpensive first
project but proved to be far more expensive than we realized,
costing some $1500 for 56 additional abstracts but these were
translated and condensed from the archaic legal boilerplate
by an expert local genealogist at less than what it would
have cost us to get hard to decipher copies of the original
manuscripts from the Edinburgh repositories.
- The Scottish McAlisters were almost exclusively in Argyll
and its western Isles prior to 1746 but this then included
Dumbartonshire and Buteshire and all the hereditary land owning
McAlisters from these areas were to be found in what are generally
referred to as "the Argyll Sasines", or land records of Greater
Argyll, including present Bute, Arran and Dumbarton. These
records when recorded in Inveraray in Argyll were known as
those of "the Particular Register", whereas those sasines
recorded in the capital at Edinburgh are known as those of
the "General Register". By far the vast majority of these
early land records mentioning McAlisters were recorded in
the Particular Register and some were duplicated in both registers.
(More about the post 1675 General Register later)
- These sasine records, both from the Particular and General Registers, were abstracted
for the seventy-five year period prior to 1675 by the Reverend Herbert Campbell. Thanks to the
efforts of the late Col. Victor Clarke and Dr. Ruby Campbell of the North Carolina Scottish
Heritage Society, the group now has abstracted from their reprint all those mentioning
McAlisters. These have now been digitized in chronological order.
- The Particular Register of Sasines for the period 1675 to 1780 has a published index
However, neither the actual sasines nor abstracts have been published. Since most of the SRP
Committee’s members’ ancestors emigrated from Scotland to North America during this period it
was felt that researching this resource would be the best first step in our journey. William C.
Fields already had some abstracts of the sasines from this period which were done some years
ago for one of his correspondents by Kintracers, Ltd., a British genealogical abstracting firm.
These abstracts are now in the SRP compilation, and should be assimilated with the other sasines
chronologically, with the actual date of the sasine first, followed by date of recording, and source
citations (General or Particular Register, book and page numbers).
- The Particular Sasines for the period 1675 to 1780 mentioning McAlisters have now
been abstracted by Mr. Leslie Hodgson for the SRP Committee and all have been digitized.
- The Particular Register of Argyll Sasines for the period after 1780 has been published.
Heather McFarlane and Ruby Campbell and others. These need to be digitized.
- Indexes to the General Register of Sasines have only been published for the period 1673
to 1780. Mr. Hodgson recommends that the remaining ones should be abstracted as well to
complete the Sasine phase of the research project.
- As of this writing, there is no published index to the General Register of Sasines for some periods.
However, the book and page citations for McAlisters can be constructed from the minute books
according to Mr. Hodgson, who highly recommends abstracting these. It is to be noted that
especially after Cullodon many McAlisters moved to other places in Scotland (especially
Dunbartonshire), from which an easier journey favored the recording of sasines in Edinburgh
instead of traveling to Inveraray.
- The unique Scottish custom of distinguishing individuals by class and location. For
example, if a person’s name is followed by the suffix “of” it means that he is the landlord, or
“Laird”, of that place, or is entitled to the title by being chief of that clan, sept, or ilk even if he is
no longer in possession and owner of the landed estate. This “of” designation also applies to the
heir apparent, or “fiar”. The laird of a heritable estate is also known by his ilk or estate name,
such as the Argyleshire lairds of Loup, Tarbert, Ballinakill, Kenlockilisport, Brenfeorlin, Tore,
Cour, Torrisdale, Barr & Glenbarr. Likewise with the Dunbartonshire lairds of Balloch, Bonhill,
etc., who would be referred to simply by their ilk (estate) name. An exception to this rule is that
women of the laird’s family are also referred to with the suffix “of”.
- The suffix “at” is sometimes (but very rarely) given to persons of such social standing as;
factors (estate or farm managers), pipers, large tacksmen (farmers with relatively large, or
valuable, land leases), clerical ministers, teachers, burgesses, sheriffs (judges), constables, militia
officers, ship captains or owners, bailees (local magistrates or justices of the peace), and writers,
- The suffix “in”refers to those who were considered socially inferior, such as; merchants or
tradesmen, craftsmen, (although a blacksmith was often considered a community’s most
knowledgeable and leading citizen according to Captain Ian McDonald), small tacksmen,
servitors (lieutenant, servant, go-fer), laborers, cotters. This category even included surgeons,
whose skills were perhaps on a par with barbers, who were the dentists.
- This suffix custom gives particular help in distinguishing individuals. It also serves in
identifying individuals who might ordinarily not warrant having records kept of them unless they
were in trouble with the law, in debt, or witnessing a legal transaction of a relative or clansman.
Those blessed with hereditary nobility undoubtedly considered clansmen beneath them not
worthy of the paper on which to write their names. At least that selfish attitude was generally
apparent among the majority of highland Scot lairds during the clearances when the English
crown usurped clan fealty, power and rents from them. Before Culloden unquestioned fealty to
the clan Chief and the chief’s protection of the clan members provided for mutual preservation of
their way of life.
- Example of Locations: The major estates such as those mentioned above were land
holdings by individual lairds, often in non-contiguous (non-congruent or separate) locations and
often far distant from each other. The lairds of those estates were referred to by the historical
name, usually mentioned in an early Charter (patent). The laird of such estate may reside on a
part of the estate with another name, or even away from his estate. The general location of such
major estate holdings can be color coded on maps, but the exact locations in many cases become
a problem. The land records refer to ancient land measures such as merks and pennylands which
defy modern surveying definition, quantification and identification. Most of the surviving towns,
villages, clachans and even some small ballywigs of Argyll are easily identified on the current
editions of the Landranger series maps. Because of the various spellings of their Gaelic names
and/or the various subdivisions and consolidations that have taken place over the years, small
farms (tacks) are very difficult to identify. Finding such locations requires local knowledge,
translating skill and/or old maps, and estate records. According to Frank Bigwood, the possibility
of help exists using the “old name survey” ledgers. These were made by interviewing older
residents of each subsection of every square mile as part of the English-commissioned Ordinance
Survey, (Landrangr) series maps, which were started in the late 1870s. Mr. Bigwood says that
these Ordinance Survey “old name survey” ledgers are kept in London.
This index and the entire SRP is a work in progress. As can be seen by indexed sections where no data has been entered, volunteer help is needed to expedite the goals of this project. Volunteers would transcribe and type abstracts of such records into searchable format so that they can be sent to the SRP electronically. The expensive part of the project is largely completed. The current need is help to put what records the group either has, or are readily available, into searchable form and to coordinate that body of data into family lines on genealogical software.
The SRP committee has been well over ten years in collecting and organizing this set of records. During that time, several of the original group have been lost. Now that the material is made available for member use, any McAlister researcher seeking Scottish connections will owe a huge debt of gratitude to this group of dedicated, intelligent, and determined McAlister clansmen