Clans

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A clan parade in Edinburgh.
Search for your clan ››

Search the Scotclans database to find your clan and learn all about the time of your ancestors in Scotland.

A couple gaze out over Edinburgh from Calton Hill
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Few aspects of Scotland’s fascinating history were as colourful, or as bloody, as the clan system. From ancient origins in the Celtic, Norse or Norman-French traditions, by the 13th century, the clans had grown firm roots in the Highlands of Scotland.

While the term ‘clan’ means family or children in Gaelic, not everyone in the same clan was actually related to each other. The clans lived off the land, with cattle being their main source of wealth and, along with border disputes, the prime cause of inter-clan unrest. The most important clan chiefs at this time were part-kings, part-protectorates and part-judges and they held real power over their controlled lands.

The system remained largely intact until the time of the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746, where the Jacobite rebellion was mercilessly crushed by the royal troops of King George II.

By this point, improved trade and communication links between northern and southern clans were already leading to the dilution of the clan system and the infamous Highland Clearances effectively signalled the end as thousands of Scottish land workers sought the promise of a better life on distant shores.

Today, many clans can be traced back to a specific part of Scotland, for example the MacLeods of Skye, the MacNeils of Barra or the MacNabs of St Fillan on Loch Earn. If you have ancestral ties and a clan history in Scotland, a trip to your clan’s homeland is an incomparable and moving experience like no other.

  • A circular chamber, known as the Dome, which houses registers in the ScotlandsPeople Centre, Edinburgh
    The Dome, five levels of information in the ScotlandsPeople Centre, Edinburgh
  • A Highland dancer taking part in the sword dancing event whilst a piper plays at the Ballater Highland Games
    Sword dancing at the Ballater Highland Games
A circular chamber, known as the Dome, which houses registers in the ScotlandsPeople Centre, Edinburgh

Understanding surnames

While some surnames arose in 12th century Scotland, the use of surnames didn’t spread until the 18th and 19th centuries.

A Highland dancer taking part in the sword dancing event whilst a piper plays at the Ballater Highland Games

Highland games and clan gatherings

From traditional music to the Highland games - every gathering of Scots is a celebration that you'll want to be part of.

The memorial to the massacre at Glencoe

Ancestry itineraries

Find out more about your ancestors using our itineraries around Scotland.

Tug o' war at the Blair Atholl Highland Games

NEW Highland games guide

Download our new free guide to Scotland's Highland games for events information, fun facts and much more.

A close up of a piper wearing a brooch on his full Highland dress

Tartan

Uncover the fascinating history of one of Scotland’s most iconic products - tartan - and discover how to find your own tartan. With its colourful threads in traditional patterns, tartan is Scotland’s most famous textile.