In the December 1999 issue of the "Mac-Alasdair Clan" journal, pages 164 - 166, I summarized the progress that had been made to document the links between the CMA family lines in the United States with their ancestral family connections in Scotland. Since that time, a lot of new material has been made available, which has enabled me to begin to correlate data from various sources. The most significant new data sources are the abstracted sasine records which are currently being prepared in Edinburgh, Scotland. As previously reported, my first step in this endeavor was to construct the MAC1 lineage, a MicroSoft Works data file which designates each of the known people in the various Scottish McAlister families down from Alasdair Mor, the first of our line. I used the MS Works format since it is common to all other CMA computerized family lines.
My initial sources for constructing the MAC1 line were:
- Captain Ian MacDonald's research papers and pedigree charts, many of which have been published in the journal,
- A.Y. Slater's pedigree chart, a copy of which was obtained from Angus Macalester of Glenbarr by Frank McAlister during a visit to Glenbarr Castle,
- The Revs. A. and A. McDonald's volumes on the Clan Donald, which have numerous references to its MacAlasdair family, which is the premier sept of that Clan.
I have considered all of the above as secondary sources. Although the authors were researchers in their own right, they seldom cited the documentation from which they had derived their conclusions. Still, it was a start. After a year, I had traced the Loup, Tarbert and Glenbarr families, leaving only the Alexanders of Menstrie family to be done later. During the construction of the MAC1 data base, I was able to identify eight American family lines with their Scottish families. New input from a CMA member has enabled the identification of a ninth family.
That was the easy part. The next step was to identify relevant property records, deeds, wills, and patents for armorial bearings (coats of arms). During the 1996 National Genealogical Society Convention in Baltimore, I had discussed the problem of finding records on Scottish McAlister families with Rosemary Bigwood, who with her husband Frank is an eminent Scottish researcher. She was not very optimistic. First of all, she said that McAlisters were packed by the thousands into the Kintyre peninsula towns, villages and farms of Argyll. During the early eighteenth century, before the large scale migrations began to America, the records were very sparse. One major problem for genealogists was the use of the same given names over and over in related families, which has made for much confusion. Another problem was that most of these families had little to do with any of the courts which maintained records. The church maintained what vital records did exist. For the most part, the McAlisters of that time were engaged in farming.
Prior to 1739, when significant migrations to America began, a few McAlisters, sometimes with their families, would leave for British America. In very few cases, ship manifests exist to record their departure and arrival.
Vital records of births, marriages and burials were maintained by parishes of the established Church in Scotland, which for almost all McAlisters was the Presbyterian Church. In 1991, the Mormon Church at Salt Lake City, Utah, had released the Old Parochial Register (OPR) Index for the Scottish Presbyterian Churches, on microfiche, for all the counties in which McAlisters had resided, covering christenings and marriages from the 1630's. The OPR Index lists not only the county, but also the town or parish. In my first stage of record gathering, I copied the OPR indexes for Argyll, Bute and Inverness. There were 41 subdivisions, mostly towns in the Argyll index, and 7 in Bute. As anyone who has worked with these records knows, there are many duplications in the indexes. The listed names are accompanied by the names of the father or spouse, plus the dates of the event, such as a marriage or christening, and sometimes birth. Towns in Argyll of particular interest, based on the few records we already possessed, were Campbelltown, Dunoon and Kilrun, Saddell and Skipness, North Knapdale, South Knapdale, Kilcalmonell and Kilberry, Kilfinnon, Kilarrow, and others. In Inverness County, the OPR's contained entries for the towns of Rothesay, Kilmory, Kilbride, Kingarth and Cumbraes on Bute, and Sleat, Kilmoral, Inverness, Strath, Aldersier, and Petty.
A more definitive record source is contained in the Register of Inventories from the "Abstracts of Argyll Commissary Court Records, 1693 - 1702", from the Scottish Record Society Publication No. 33, edited by Francis J. Grant, and published in Edinburgh in 1909. On page 13 of the index, there are 10 McAlister entries, with dates ranging from 1691 to 1694. This record information has been updated by Frank Bigwood for dates ranging from 1694 to 1822. The Argyll Commissary Court's work in these abstracts covered three areas: executries, scandal (i.e. defamation) and small debt. Another source was the Argyll and Bute Archives, the "FH" Series of Family History obtained from Murdo McDonald at the North Carolina Scottish Heritage Society Symposium in March 1998.
In 1999, Frank Bigwood published "Argyll Commissary Court, A Calendar of Testaments, Inventories, Commissary Processes and Other Records, 1700 - 1825". In this 504 page book, there are 32 separate entries pertaining to McAlisters in the Index of Defuncts. A helpful appendix in Frank Bigwood's book is the Index of Places in Argyll. These entries will be examined with the aim of connecting the names in the Scottish McAlister families listed in the MAC1 family file. An example of information contained in this book is presented later in this article.
However, the most significant project for finding and using vital records of McAlister families in Scotland was initiated by Bill Vincent (A17), CMA Member #793, Lutherville, MD and Sandy MacAllister, (R08), Member # 599, 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 and funds to this project include:
- Bill Fields, (R02) Member #1223, Fayetteville, NC;
- Sue Folawn, (J07) Member #1334, San Mateo, CA;
- George Maynard (R02), Member #826, Birmingham, AL;
- Lee McAlester, (A28) Member #1371, Dallas, TX;
- Bob Tate (R02), Member #953, Southern Pines, NC;
- Robert C. McAllister (B03), Member 401, Hayden, ID;
- and myself (J26).
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. 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 following is a transcription of the sasine on page 363, in Volume 11:
"25th March 1778 - At Dumbarton - Sasine presented by John Gray, writer in Dumbarton. On the 2nd of February 1778 compeared Ivor McCallum, tenant at Dunskeig as Procurator and attorney for and in the name of Mrs. Jean McDonald spouse to Angus McAllester of Loup, Esqr., with Ivor Brown, tenant in Drumnalich, Baillie. A Bond of Provision dated the 22nd February 1772 made and granted by the said Angus McAlester to and in favour of the said Mrs. Jean McDonald his spouse a yearly liferent (if she should survive him) annuity of fifty pounds Sterling - to be uplifted from the six merk land of old extent of Rannachan and Dunimultoch with the teinds, milns, multures, etc. - lying within the parish of Killcalamanell and Sheriffdom of Argyll, as the said Bond of Provision containing assignation to mailes and duties an obligation to pay yearly to the said Mrs. Jean McDonald the sum of ten pounds Sterling for a Jointure house, and Disposition to one third of all household effects - Written by Alexander Thom, apprentice to William McDonald, Clerk to the Signet, at Edinburgh the 22nd of February 1772 years Signed - Angus McAlester Witnesses - the said William McDonald and David Barclay, his Clerk The said Ivor Brown , Baillie, gave and delivered liferent state and sasine and possession to the said Mrs. Jean McDonald of the said annuity of fifty pounds Sterling, in presence of Allan McKiver (?), Innkeeper at Clachan, and John McCallum at Dunskeig, Ground Officer upon the Estate of Loup."
In the MAC1 family file, Angus MacAlister and Jean McDonald of Ardnacriosh are designated MAC1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-2-2-1-1-1-3-1. He was born in 1735 and died 7 July 1796. Angus was the Chief of the Clan McAlester, having succeeded his uncle Hector, as chief on 1 November 1751.
Another example of the use of newly available records can be found on page 496 of Frank Bigwood's book, "Argyll Commissary Court, A Calendar of Testaments, Inventories, Commissary Processes and Other Records, 1700 - 1825". The cited item is in the section "Register of Deeds (CC2/10)" and is transcribed as follows:
"Additional Liferent Right: Hector McAlester of Loup to Mrs Isabel Thomson p.155 Hector McAlester, with the special advice and consent of Sir James Campbell of Auchinbrech Bart and Charles McAlester of Tarbert, his friends, because none of their children had survived, gave Mrs Isabel Thomson, his wife, an additional liferent of 300 merks from the 3 merk land of Dunskeig, the one merk land of Scolaneill, the two merk land of Drumucloch, the lands of Larichmore and the mill of the same. He also granted her liferent of his house at Ardaptrick for the nominal annual rent of one penny. Registered 18 December 1739."
Hector McAlester and his wife Isabel Thomson, referred to above, have the following MAC1 family designation: MAC1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-2-2-1-1-1-1. From Ian MacDonald's research, he is noted as the 9th Chief of Loup, whose Charter was dated 19 August 1726. His wife Isabel was born in Ballygabbin, Northern Ireland. They had no children.
The above two items are examples of how the correlation of data collected from many sources may proceed. Each of the sasines in Leslie Hodgson's abstracts, and the references in Frank Bigwood's book, and other sources will be checked one against the other for accuracy and relevance. We now have documentary proof that Angus was indeed Hector's nephew, and that the dates, places and names are correct. It should be emphasized that we are only beginning to exploit this sasine research, and that much more remains to be done.
As a postscript, I should state that it is possible that Ian MacDonald and other Scottish researchers have used these cited records in their studies and pedigree charts. If so, it points out how vital it is to document whatever conclusions one derives in genealogical work. Otherwise, the same ground is covered over and over, and each generation makes the same discoveries.The Scottish legal terms used in the above transcriptions are defined as follows:
- compear - appear before a tribunal
- mailes - payments, rents, in this context
- merk - a unit of land measure. Sometimes a currency denomination, (interchangeable with the term mark)
- miln - grain mill
- multure - a fee for milling grain
- teinds - a tenth, tithe
- sasine - an instrument for giving property