Seeking the Elusive Scottish Gillespie

July 13, 2013

“So lassie, are you here to find your Scottish ancestors?” That tongue in cheek question has been asked of me time after time. It makes me wonder if there is any other reason North Americans visit Scotland.

Finding answers to family history isn’t easy. If you are lucky enough to have a name, a place and a date you might find a starting point in a Parish record. In Scotland the official record keeping didn’t really start until the mid 1800‘s following the Clearances and Culloden. Many records have been destroyed through fire and war and the simple fact that people kept records through stories, not writing, on both sides of the Atlantic because they mostly lived in the same area generation after generation.

This is the downside of searching for family history. And, I began on the internet which has provided sketchy leads. Prior to this pilgrimage to Scotland I had notes from my Aunt about relatives in the US who came from Scotland four generations ago. Where and when and why a mystery, as are the complete names.

Family Tree?

Online you can look up your family name and see if it belongs to a Clan. I looked up Gillespie and discovered from organizations selling Clan paraphernalia it is supposedly associated with the MacPherson Clan in the Badenoch region. There is a museum in Newtonmore. I visited it. Yes there are lots of artifacts related to the MacPhersons, but no really valid connection with Gillespie as far as I can see.

At the MacPherson Museum they say ‘there is a longing for belonging’ that motivates people to research their family history. Noble sentiment as so many of the waves of emigration from Scotland tore families apart.

Many questions of my family history were and still are unanswered. Now I have discovered an even greater and unexpected obstacle. In Victorian times under the influence of the romantic Highland writings of Walter Scott, work was done to define clans with mottos, heraldry, loose associations and tartan. Lots of tartan.

The only Gillespie I discovered at the museum aside from a vague reference to a Gilleasbeig first name, MacPherson last name, ironically, was one other visitor in the museum that afternoon.  His name was Gillespie from Connecticut. We didn’t find much in common except our last name. In fact, it was a rather awkward encounter.

This disappointment led to another. If we were part of a clan, then there should be further information at the Highland Archive Center in Inverness. I visited yesterday. The researcher said there was a Gillespie reference in the 12th century in the Lennox district east of Loch Loman a few miles northwest of Glasgow. “It is a very beautiful area” he said, perhaps hoping to assuage me. Census data collected in 1851 indicates a couple of thousand Gillespies in all of Scotland. Not a lot to go on.

Dead ends. But does it matter?

The knowledge that I have Scottish roots sparked this adventure. I have spent eight weeks in landscapes that inspire a continual fascination that keep drawing me into a deeper understanding of place and the nature of kin. And it has strengthened my understanding of the Scottish-Irish-Norse connections. All part of my DNA.

I have visited historic sites thousands of years old that now are part of me. Why? Because I have walked and touched the stone artifacts and breathed in the ambiance and the weather. I feel a kinship. Synonym of kinship – affinity

It is likely impossible to find a direct relative without further information. But the earlier concept of kinship does work because it has to do with relationship. I am very sure of my relationship with Scottish-Celtic roots, even if I don’t know the current blood ties.

kin·ship       /ˈkinˌSHip/


  1. Blood relationship.
  2. A sharing of characteristics or origins.
 Synonyms: relationship – kindred – affinity – relation

5 thoughts on “Seeking the Elusive Scottish Gillespie”

  1. My paternal grandmother is from a long line of Scottish Gillespies. I was hoping to find out the connection to Clan MacPherson but you’ve gone much further than I have and there still doesn’t seem to be much information out there. At least it sounds like you got an adventure out of it. 🙂


  2. Good to know you are searching too. Not much luck in Scotland, even Inverness at the library of genealogy. I’m not sure if the connection with Clan MacPherson is some kind of grouping either following the Cleaerances or earlier when the lands were confiscated and clans disbursed.
    Do you know where your grandmother’s people lived? Sometimes the local churches have information. I don’t even know where our family lived. Any clues would help.
    There are lots of Gillespies in County Donegal in Ireland though.


    1. Virginia,
      I know my great granddad emigrated from Motherwell. The rest, I have to rely on records with some back up from the Scotlandspeople records. My grandma just returned to WA state from Arizona so I’m going to see if she’ll do an Ancestry DNA test. Trouble is, any relatives out there would also have to submit one.
      Thank you for your response. I appreciate it.


    1. Is this Virginia? Sorry, it just says “Anonymous” this time so I can’t tell for sure. Anyway, staying in touch would be nice. 🙂


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