The problem of current surname for married Scottish women - Updated Guidance issued

+12 votes
Following on from the recent discussion I began here on G-2-G and private discussions I have had with a number of respected Scottish historians and genealogist both on and off Wikitree, I have updated my guidance on the current last name for married women in Scotland (and by extension those of Scots origins where the family continued to consider itself as "Scottish"). You can read my guidance on the Scottish Clans Protocol Team free page.

The fundamental problem remains that in the overwhelming majority of cases before 1855 there is simply no surviving evidence of how a married women referred to herself. For almost all "ordinary" women, the surviving references reflect how in most cases the Church of Scotland referred to them and in other cases how the legal system referred to them but not how they referred to themselves.

All too often on Wikitree people completely ignore the thoughts or wishes of the Profile Manager and my advice is that his or her choice should be paramount unless there is clear, unequivocal evidence of how a married woman referred to herself, such as her signature on documents (if she could read and write).

If in doubt, for any women prior to the introduction of the 1841 census, leave her current last surname as her maiden name. Unfortunately this does mean in searches and hints for pre-existing profiles when creating new ones, it will be harder to spot that a profile for a particular married woman exists. That is why it is essential never to leave the birth date empty and in the absence of an exact date, give an estimate.

For anyone in doubt about which name to choose for a particular married woman, feel free to send me a private message.
in Policy and Style by Mark Sutherland-Fisher G2G6 Mach 3 (33.9k points)
Regardless of the specific culture and its naming practices, married names should be a mere footnote in genealogy. Looking at a woman's family tree entry, it's perfectly simple to check the husband's name, and thereby determine what to search for in records that use married names. Requiring me to know the husband's name in order to find the woman's entry/profile with which to look up the husband's name is a catch-22 that should never happen in a proper genealogical database.

If you don't know a woman's maiden name, don't create a profile for her. Put what (little) you know about her in her husband's or child's biography instead. Such a woman is the end of the line pretty much by definition -- if you knew her parents, you'd know her name -- so there's really not much point in creating an "unknown" profile for her.
I totally disagree, J. I've seen many newspaper obituaries for women which provide all sorts of information about a woman or wife without even a first name, let alone a maiden name E.g. Mrs John Smith. Sometimes actually putting that information on a profile is a starting point. Someone may come along with another piece of information or source that provides the LNAB and can connect up the families. I regularly change the Unknown name to the LNAB which is quite satisfying.

Thanks Mark. It is good to get some guidance from someone who has considered this seriously and has worked extensively in the field of Scottish history and genealogy.

J, often the only record I can find for a woman is a census record that doesn’t give her maiden name. There are many instances of this in my families (and in-law families). I have been able to find women through their husband’s name on WikiTree. I agree with Fiona that these women should have a profile. 

@J Palotay - I can't agree with that approach at all. My mother (Tulloch-350) lived for 65 years. Two thirds of those years (and nearly all her adult life) she was Margaret Turvey. That's who she was, what she was called and what she called herself.

I often add women to my research without knowing their maiden names. That's fine on wikitree.

Here's one of the few "Unknown" profiles I have created:  Her grandparents are known, but the sex of her parent is not known, meaning neither is her surname at birth.

Barry, I have a case similar to this one where I know the grandparents but not the parents. Paternal, so I do have a LNAB.

2 Answers

+3 votes
I don't understand what meaning  this has on wikitree. Is this your personal opinion or does it constitute official wikitree guidance?
by Andrew Turvey G2G6 Mach 3 (34.6k points)
In my capacity as Leader of the Scottish Clans Protocol Team (our equivalent of the various Rangers who serve American projects) it is one of my roles to give guidance on how Scottish profiles should appear in order to be correct. In that sense it is guidance because if people don't follow it then I and members of my team may change what we consider to be incorrect in the relevant profiles. Many of us are recognised experts in our respective fields.

You and other members of the Scottish Clans Protocol Team are universally acknowledged as experts, yet I respectfully suggest that a lighter approach might be more persuasive. The tone of command might alienate ancestry researchers who would otherwise follow your guidance. Is the term "guidance" viewed differently in the U.K.? In my job, I provide technical guidance to clients, for example, yet it is up to them whether they choose to take it, for any reason (or no reason). You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

The stated goals of the Scottish Clans Protocol Team seem too far-reaching. Its authority does not extend to all the countries where Scottish people have migrated. One can see why we had the American Revolution. It's almost like the Stamp Act all over again. LOL.

For example, somebody might call their family seat a "Castle" when it is just a rundown tenant cottage, but to them, it is home sweet home.

The fact that the public records at Scotland's People are so expensive to access, both online and at the research center in Scotland, tends to discourage many people of Scottish ancestry. Our records in the U.S. are more easily accessible on average. This tends to make ancestry research too exclusive. You almost thinks it's a for-profit business rather than a collaboration of distant cousins, as envisioned by most of the clan societies in the U.S.

Many of my father's ancestors left Scotland during the Highland Clearances. In many cases, their homes were burned to make way for sheep.

So I do not have much sympathy for the landlord class, even if some of them might be distant cousins. If I lived in Scotland now, I would favor the SNP or Labour Party over the Tories. The influence of people of partly English ancestry is too great in Scotland. Too many Thatcherites.

Having said that, I feel we are fortunate to have experts on WikiTree, but they are only expert advisors,  not "leaders". The German word for guide is Fuehrer, but Americans at least do not go for that. LOL.

A profile manager in WikiTree should always have the last word.
Hi Victor,

We don't attempt to tell people in other countries what to do in relation to family members not born or living in Scotland. Indeed today when approached privately by someone in the USA about a first generation US ancestor, my advice was for her to use the current last name her grandmother actually used.

However as we are the "police force" for profiles falling within Scottish clans, if people overseas profess attachment to a clan then they have to accept that we may seek to amend profiles which contain inappropriate details. A simple example is a photograph of a castle which didn't exist at the date the person in the profile died let alone was born!

If you read my guidance carefully you will see I make clear the Profile Manager should always have the final say (unless of course they are just plain wrong and we have the evidence to confirm it).

I would prefer you to keep 21st century politics out of a discussion on genealogy but it is your right to refer to it. I hope you are well.

Mark .. how does your naming policy affect those born in Scotland, maybe lived in Scotland, maybe died in Scotland, but are not, by any discernable means, a member of, or affiliated in any way with, a clan?

What about those born in Scotland, lived in Scotland, but died elsewhere (same caveat re clans)?



(I know it won't affect people such as my Mother who professed to "belong" to two clans.)

Hi Melanie,

It is not "my" naming policy. It is recognised as the traditional naming policy which was used by a large number of families across Scotland and therefore in the majority of cases Lowlanders who would not consider themselves attached to clans. If they were born in Scotland but emigrated or migrated to another part of the British Isles, clearly their names were given to them when born in Scotland. I do often find people "acquire" additional names or a variation of their birth names when they are overseas, mostly in North America. There is no sinister reason behind this, just something which happened. For example I am aware of a family bible held by a family in the USA which has one child entered as "Daniel Webster Sutherland" born in 1833 but in fact the baptism entry in Elgin in 1833 shows his name was "plain ordinary" Donald Sutherland. However the following year his parents and siblings travelled on the ship Daniel Webster when they went from Canada to the USA and indeed his next brother was born on the ship.

Naming policies are never proscriptive. They are there to help break down brick walls. The traditional Christian name naming policy for Scots is invaluable in sorting out families in a great many cases because so many families stuck fairly rigidly to it.

Thanks for your reply. I'm fine. Thanks for asking.

Our previous discussions had included a great amount of politics, so I naturally thought I was authorized to refer to that subject. But of course now I will honor your request for keeping 21st century politics out of this thread.

I'm rather surprised that you would describe your role on WikiTree as "police force" for WikiTree profiles associated with Scottish clans.

In that case, I will know that it's better not to try to find any affiliation with your Clan Sutherland, as we had previously discussed. With you, I feel like I'm in a discussion with a lawyer. I hope you do not extend your views to other clans with which you are not affiliated. I was under the impression from the Duke of Argyll's videos that the Campbells were very welcoming, for example. A photo of Inveraray Castle is often included in Clan Campbell member profiles without any objection from His Grace the Duke of Argyll, the Hereditary Chief of Clan Campbell International.

Clan Sutherland is one of the less prosperous clans in the Far North, with only a minor presence at most Scottish festivals in the U.S..

Again, I thank you for your expert guidance, but feel that you exceed your authority in seeking to change clan member WikiTree profiles which you feel are "inappropriate".  I thought your legitimate role was limited to pointing out any obvious inaccuracies, an understandable tendency for any quality-oriented person like you.

I feel that it is a personal loss for me in having not been able to reconcile my beliefs with yours. I have enjoyed our private discussions, but if you have chosen to adopt the public self-described role of "police force", then I must reluctantly bow out of the conversation with you. However, I may continue to benefit by reading your expert guidance on the Scottish Clans Protocol Team tag, but reaching my own conclusions.

Mark .. you wrote:

I have updated my guidance on the current last name for married women in Scotland (and by extension those of Scots origins where the family continued to consider itself as "Scottish"). You can read my guidance on the Scottish Clans Protocol Team free page.


To many people reading along, that would cause it to seem "your" policy.  My apologies for misunderstanding.  I shall, once again, bow out of discussion with you as it seems rather counter-productive, despite several branches of my family considering themselves "still Scottish" despite years away from "Home".  Hiraeth wasn't peculiar to the Welsh.

Victor, I think if you check, references to politics were in private emails we exchanged, not on a public forum like this.

In respect of castles etc, if Clan Campbell members or indeed any other member of any clan wish to show the seat of their clan chief or any other chieftain connected to them on their profile, I doubt either any of my colleagues or I would object. However I have seen profiles which refer to the individual having been born or died in a particular castle when the castle in question didn't exist during his lifetime because it was built by his grandson! In that example the picture of the castle was nonsense.

My primary interest is in ensuring wherever possible the information stated as factual on any profile is correct and properly sourced. What other information people choose to show on their profiles is entirely up to them.
+2 votes
I would like to point out that the field is titled:  current last name / married name.   Generally a / indicates an either or scenario.   So in my humble opinion the new guidance is not taking the either or into account and the married name should be on the profile.  If you don't want it there what about under Other names because we do need a way to find these people in the database if all we have is the married last name as many sources will use it like census records, obituaries, tombstones, and even family correspondence.   I think the team is making a very short sighted decision based on one set of source materials.  Church records are all about the concept of consanguinity so they are going to want to include a maiden name if they know it in most cases.  

And what about the cases where you only have the husband's surname and the first name of the wife on child's baptism...  we are leaving those women out completely.  

Mark, can we please take a second look at this new guidance?  My fear is it is going to cause more confusion and harm than good.  

I have included both on all of my records because without both you really leave a lot of women unidentified as there were often multiple women with the same names in the same towns.  Without the husband's name on the record how do we differentiate them?  

I have worked with the Scottish POMs a lot.  Often a woman is only identified as Maude wife of John Henderson.   That tells me these women were not only known by their maiden names... if so she would be listed as Maude Robertson wife of John Henderson.  (I made that example up but can go through the POMs and find plenty of real ones,.)

Same is true if you read through Medieval Lands.  Often only the first name of a woman is given.  

I have no idea who you all consulted with but I think you missed some major vetted reference works for early time periods.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (674k points)
Excuse the stupid question, but does this apply at all to Shetland profiles which seem to adopt the more scandanavian patronymic approach?

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