Historically in Scotland, each family belonged to a clan or group of families that held allegiance to that clan. The clan was identifiable by the tartan, or cloth weave pattern, its members wore, which was particular to an area of Scotland and easily identifiable. The woven tartan-style fabric was a herald that let others know what clan you belonged to. Today it still signifies your family and heritage. Through marriages and alliances, clan members may belong to more than one clan and have more than one tartan or group of tartans. Each tartan is a specific design and colour combination representing that clan. There are also different types of tartans within a clan, the dress and hunting tartans for example. Tartans range from the most complex, the Ogilvie tartan with about 96 colour changes, to the simplest, which is Rob Roy, a pattern of squares in black and red. Your family tartan or tartans may be a surprising colour combination. If you are looking for your family tartan, here are some tips to help you find it.
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Look for websites that list Scottish tartans by family name. Each family name falls under a head clan. It may not match the clan name. There may be many family names listed under one clan. If your family name has been changed at all, look for variations of the name too or use the original spelling if you know it.
Type in your surname and see what tartans come up in the name search. The tartan that comes up may not say the same name as your surname.
Look for the different types of tartans for each clan. There may be a variety of tartan choices for your particular clan. Some clans have regular tartans, dress tartans, hunting tartans and even mourning tartans. They also may vary by colour grouping and age (e.g., ancient or old vs. reproduction and modern).
Check into your family genealogy. If you have one clan, you may have others.
How to Find Your Family Tartan
Tips and warnings
- If you are confused or getting varying results, go directly to a store that carries tartans and makes kilts. The store may be able to help you sort out the confusion. When you first see a room full of tartans, the variety is overwhelming, but after a while you begin to notice familiar patterns and start to identify tartans. Once you own a piece of fabric made of your family tartan you will be able to recognise it anywhere. Some are very similar, and others are boldly different.
- Make sure you do cross-reference checks as some tartans may be listed differently on different websites or in different books or if you are getting conflicting answers. Knowing the area of Scotland your ancestors came from may help in the search.
- Make sure you have the correct tartan or tartans before you buy any real wool tartan fabric. It is expensive. Kilts are too.
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