Glen Discovery in GlenLyon
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MacLeod ancestry

This is not a genealogy of the entire Clan MacLeod, a vast subject which I have no intention of tackling!

However, a summary of the genealogy of the MacLeods of Assynt from around 1400 to 1696 is here.

My own definite ancestry, as far back as I have been able to reach, as the Kildonan parish record began only in 1790, comes from Joseph, born in 1791 to Alexander MacLeod and Janet Polson, in Eldrable, Kildonan. Eldrable was a jointly held township about 4 km west of Helmsdale on the southern side of the Strath of Kildonan. It appears to have had at least four tenants, Gordons, MacLeods and Polsons.

After the family were cleared to West Helmsdale in 1817, a shepherd's cottage was built on the Eldrable site. It, in turn, is now a ruin on the degraded grouse moor to be glimpsed from the train as it thunders up the empty strath. My webpage on the Clearance of Kildonan is here

A genealogy of the descendants of Alexander MacLeod in Eldrable is here

There is no record of when and from where these MacLeods came to East Sutherland. However, the family tradition given to me by my mother and from Alexander, her father (my grand-father), is that they descended from the MacLeods of Assynt. This study is therefore predicated on that being true, hence, I have investigated the descent of the family from Tormod who died before 1437 in Assynt here. The genealogy of Assynt was taken from the "History of the MacLeods" by Alexander Mackenzie, 1888

Despite considerable investigation into the Sutherland archives, I have been unable to fill the gap between the Assynt MacLeods and Alexander in Eldrable. Most of the Sutherland estate was let, or wadset, to tacksmen (the gentlemen of the Highlands), who were not usually, themselves farmers but let their holdings to sub-tenants who paid them rent. A portion of that rent was then paid to the Sutherland estate. A wadset usually involved a significant initial payment by the tacksman which would be recovered with profit over time from the rents of the sub-tenants. Unfortunately there is no surviving record of the wadsetters' rentals. Towards the end of the 18th century, the estate began a process of buying out the wadsetters and collecting rents directly from the small tenants. Thus there are surviving records of rentals for the short period before comprehensive clearance by Sellar, et al, from 1809 to 1820. A number of other lists survive in the estate records around the beginning of the 19th century. I have created a spreadsheet of these here

In the Parish Record (OPR), during pre-clearance period from 1790 to 1816, there are three MacLeod families in the lower strath and five more in the 'Heights of Kildonan'. Two of the three MacLeod men in the lower strath, were named Alexander. One, married to Jean Ross, had four children in Torrish between 1795 and 1809: and, probably the same family in Gailable where they had three children between 1811 amd 1816. The other was in Eldrable, married to Janet Polson with four recorded children. From records of their post-1855 deaths, it appears that Alexander in Eldrable had been previously married to Marion Polson with at least three of their children surviving until after 1855.

Earlier than that time, almost the only available nominal source is the list of fencible men on the estate compiled by the Earl in 1745. A spreadsheet listing of 2174 men aged between 16 and 60 and able to bear arms is here. Ignoring the Parish of Farr, there are 47 MacLeods in the eastern parishes. On the assumption that the 1745 census takers of able-bodied men in Kildonan started at the coast and worked up the strath to the Heights, and also assuming (perhaps a big "assume") that the MacLeods in Kildonan in 1745 were ancestral to the MacLeods there in 1791, there were only three - Robert at no 7, Angus at 26 and John at 27. Robert was probably on or close to the coast and as there are no children named Robert in subsequent generations, I have ignored him. There is no indication as to whether 26 and 27 may have been brothers, or father and son. In addition, a William MacLeod at no 78 and his, specifically noted, 'son Hugh' at 79 were listed, but labelled "Leusach" - that is, from the Isle of Lewis. Three of the post-1791 Kildonan MacLeod families in the Upper strath are headed by 'Hugh' and one by 'William', so it might be assumed that these descended from the 'Leusach'.

This project will focus on Alexander in Eldrable. It may be assumed that he was born around 1750, and he appears to have died before 1809. Therefore he could well be the son of one of the three listed in the 1745 list for Kildonan. As the oldest known child of Alexander in Eldrable was Angus born around 1775 (died 24th November 1856, aged about 81) then there may be a reasonable assumption that Alexander had an ancestor named Angus, whether his father or grandfather. To add to the confusion, Alexander in Gailable also had a son named Angus, so there is a strong probabilty that the two Alexanders in the lower strath were first cousins, descended from the 1745 brothers John and Angus. In the 1745 list, 26 and 27 may be estimated to have been born somewhere between 1685 and 1729 (to be aged between 16 and 60 in 1745). One possibility is that number 26, Angus, was the father, aged under 60 and hence born after 1685, while John, number 27, was his over-16-year-old son, born between 1710 and 1729. If John married before 1750, that would place his birth date in that range. The alternative is that Angus, 26, and John, 27 were brothers and that is the assumption I have taken. They both appear to have had sons named Alexander, but I have chosen Angus - with a 50% probability of being correct!

An inspection of the genealogy of the Assynt MacLeods (here) from the study by Alexander Mackenzie does not help, as Angus and John are likely to come from one of the junior lines. Although both Angus and John were common names among the Assynt MacLeods, that does not mean much as, among the 2174 names in the 1745 list, (here) nine first names accounted for 1961 of them: - there were 463 named John (Iain) and 88 named Angus. Even so, it does not rule out the probability that Angus and John were descended from MacLeods who had been displaced from the Assynt lands. In 1649, following the battle of Carbisdale, the fugitive first Marquis of Montrose was arrested by Neil MacLeod, eleventh chief of the MacLeods of Assynt. Montrose was then delivered to the Covenanter regime in Edinburgh for execution. Following the Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, Neil MacLeod was prosecuted by the second Marquis. After three years of imprisonment, he eventually obtained forgiveness from Charles II under the Act of Indemnity, but he was subsequently bankrupted and the Assynt lands were lost to the Mackenzies. The Hon. John Mackenzie of Assynt, second son of George, third Earl of Seaforth, was recorded in 1690 as being in possession of the estate and designated "of Assynt".

See here for Alexander Mackenzie's study of the leading family of the MacLeods of Assynt.

Thus, in the genealogy here I have begun with Angus, born ~1720, with his son Alexander born ~1750 and Joseph his grandson baptised 20th June 1791 (my great-great-great-grandfather).

It may be noted, that three successive generations of MacLeod men appear to have lost their first wives, presumably in childbirth. According to the post-1854 death registrations, Alexander in Eldrable had at least three children to Marion Polson up to Ann in 1788. Joseph was born in 1791 to Janet Polson, who had three subsequent children (two of which may have died). Joseph, in turn married Minnie (Williamina?) Mackenzie in March 1819 with their son Alexander born on 31/12/1820. Joseph, must have lost his wife although her death is not recorded, and thereafter married Barbara Mackenzie in January 1822. It's possible, although not certain, that Marion and Janet Polson were sisters, as was Minnie and Barbara Mackenzie. Then Alexander, by now a shoemaker in Helmsdale, married Margaret Grey in 1852. Margaret must have died prior to the introduction of statutory registration in 1855. In July 1855, a daughter Margaret was registered to Alexander MacLeod, widower and his house-servant Ann MacLean. In January 1857, Alexander married Ann MacLean and they went on to have a further six children between 1859 and 1869. Alexandrina, born in February 1859, died aged 2 months, but the others survived.