Family Surname History
The STIRLING and SKIRLING surname, particularly in Angus (formerly Forfarshire) in Scotland.
PLEASE READ THIS.
This webpage was uploaded on - 09 December, 2014 but the newsletter below was last edited on the date shown in its heading.
12th November 2005
about 1780 the surnames SKIRLING and STIRLING were used by distinctly
different families in Forfarshire (or County of Angus) (parish
map). Only over the
period of about 1780-1820 did the Skirling families begin to adopt
Stirling as their own surname. In those 40 years, Skirlings may appear
in baptismal, marriage, probate and land records either way. After circa
1820, with a few exceptions, all of the Skirlings had switched to
calling themselves Stirling.
surnames also have distinct etymologic and phonetic roots and the only
similarity they share is their derivation from placenames. Nor can the
SKIRLING spelling be taken as a modern transcription error: it appears
in a variety of documents, from the Old Parish Records, probate
documents, and land records, to the records of the Exchequer of Scotland
and the Great and Privy Seals of Scotland. Such records, variously kept
in English, Scots and Latin, are consistent with a phonetic spelling of
SKIRLING. If a spelling variation is found, it maintains the integrity
of the ‘SK’ beginning: Skyrlinge, Skraling, Skirline, Scralyne.”
Compared to the “Striuelyn, Striueling, Strivelyn” of Stirling, as
well as the fact that Skirlings and Stirlings occasionally appear in
documents together, (look
HERE at several sample entries from old documents) the
two surnames must be distinguished from one another. While the
derivation of the surname Stirling from the burgh and shire of the same
name has been well-explained elsewhere, the Skirlings seem to have taken
their name from a feudal barony in the Scottish Borders that is today
represented by the small village of the same name, near Biggar. (Click
HERE to read early Statistical Account of several Angus parishes AND of Skirling parish.)
Stirling families of Forfarshire present interesting problems of their
own, as they are not descended from the same source as the
descendants of the Stirlings of Cadder and Keir. It must be
remembered that the origin of a heritable surname was a distinctively
Continental notion. In the early middle ages, when the sheriffs of
Stirling began to adopt their occupation as their surname, other
individuals who held land in Stirling adopted “de Striueling” in a
purely descriptive sense, namely “of Stirling”. The fact that the
eventual surname of these families was the same cannot be taken as a
proof that the families were the same. Close examination of the trail of
documentary evidence of the Stirlings who made their way to Forfarshire
shows them to be a distinctively different family.
of both of these families earlier than 1855 is often confounded by
historical events and the difficulty of access to the source material.
years between the abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the battle of
Culloden in 1746, Scotland was in a state of political and religious
turmoil, a situation that was not helped by the Cromwell’s Civil War.
General Monck’s sacking of Dundee in 1651 caused the destruction of
most of the burgh’s early records. The Old Parish Records of Angus
also reflect their times – families occasionally seem to vanish for a
few years, then reappear later. Particularly around 1698, 1715 and 1745
a “gap” in a family may be a signal that the family was in exile
because of their Jacobite leanings. Nor should researchers take the
disappearance of a family after the birth of only one or two children as
reflecting the death of a spouse without checking other records that
might indicate forced transport to the Antipodean or North American
the records necessary for early research are held privately, or must be
viewed on-site as there are no available transcriptions in reliable
secondary sources. While the National Archives of Scotland (www.nas.gov.uk)
has a comprehensive online catalogue, the same cannot be said of the
National Library of Scotland (www.nls.uk)
or smaller Scottish archives. The Dundee
City Council Archives are catalogued online to a point, usually just
enough to determine the location of the material. The Strathmore estate
papers are split between the Glamis Archives and Dundee, and while the
latter is available by appointment, it is not indexed. The burgh records
of Forfar, recently moved to the Angus
Council Archives new home at the Hunter Library building, nearby Restenneth Abbey,
which was for a time after the move,
difficult to get to as there was no public
transport. (NEWS August 2006) A minibus service
from nearby Forfar has been introduced - timetables, single HERE
or PDF format 4@ copies. This, together with a paucity of available secondary sources
in North America and Australia, creates enormous problems for serious
researchers. And while Scotland is making a commendable effort to
digitalise family and local history records, exhaustive research of
these can prove to be expensive.
the webmaster began to collect a database of all the Stirlings of
Forfarshire (Angus). Gleaned originally from the IGI, and augmented by
Statutory Records, the computer database ALLSTIR grew to over 3,000
records. Several problems were immediately apparent. Some of the
information in the IGI was duplicated, and frequently contained errors,
especially in dates and places. Using the Statutory Census records for
1841, 1881, 1891 and 1901, together with examination of the Statutory
Registrations of Births, Deaths & Marriages, also Old Parish
Records, it was possible to merge duplicate individuals, where
identified, so that their birth, marriage and death records appeared in
one file entry. Each vital record was sourced from, when possible,
actual review of the document in question. Thus it has been possible to
develop family lines within the data. Information gathered from Kirk
Session Records, sextant’s books, the Registers of Deeds, testaments,
Sasines and the burgess records of Dundee has allowed even more accuracy
in the data and merging of duplicate individuals.
In the summer and autumn of 2003, our principal researcher was able to make use of Princeton University’s (USA) comprehensive collection of Scottish secondary sources, so that information from the Regesta Regnum Scottorum (RRS), the Registers of the Great and Privy Seals (RMS and RSS), the Exchequer records, the chartularies of Dunfermline, Coupar Angus, Arbroath, Aberdeen, Moray, Kelso and Melrose were added, greatly enhancing the records available of the early history of both surnames. The early source material has formed a second database that covers the source material for the barony of Skirling, the early Stirlings of Moray, Edzell, Tillydovie and Easter Braikie (the latter three being nearby in north east Angus), as well as the Skirlings of the counties of Fife, Perth and Angus. In effect, this second database begins in 1097 ends where ALLSTIR begins, in the 17th century.
addition of the sourced information to ALLSTIR – often digitally
copied for reference – has proven that the Skirling and Stirling
families of Angus are distinct from one another. The data has also shown
that, after about 1850, a large number of families, surnamed Stirling,
migrated into Angus. Many of the Stirling families after 1850,
particularly in the Arbroath area, are not descended from the ancient
families of Forfarshire. Indeed, a few were actually descendants of the
Stirlings of Cadder and Keir. While not removed from the database,
records for these Incoming Stirlings have been flagged as a third
distinct group which we jokingly refer to as the "ithers". It
is perhaps a historical irony that most of the people surnamed Stirling
that live in Angus today, are descendants of the Incoming Stirlings.
Very, very few descendants of the original Skirlings and Stirlings of
several Skirling lines have been identified, as well as several Stirling
lines. There are, in addition, at least two lines that – because of
the problem of dates and the timing of the shift in the spelling of
Skirling to Stirling – could be either.
brings us to probably the most significant update to the material and
our knowledge. Within our group, male descendants of three separate
'paper-trail' lines of Skirlings have had their Y-chromosome DNA tested.
The results confirm a close relationship, although, as of now there is
no known record to prove the relationship. The Skirlings of Dunnichen,
Kinnettles and Panbride/Barry (parishes in Angus) are tightly related
genetically, so tightly related that it can be categorically stated they
are the same family.
Three additional male DNA tests have proven to be inconclusive. One descendant, living in Scotland, had data that matched neither his supposed cousins nor the Skirlings. His DNA signature was, on the other hand, distinctively ‘Celtic Scottish’. It did not match any DNA of supposed Stirling descendants from Cadder and Keir families of central Scotland, which is distinctively Continental in origin. The other two men, who descend from a brother of the ancestor of the first, matched each other, but not the other descendant. Their DNA signature seems to indicate a different origin than Scotland. Unfortunately, the man who could settle the matter, a man descended from the same original ancestor, but from an uncle of the other three, is reluctant to take the test, even though other members have already funded the test. This is unfortunate as such DNA tests can easily be made completely anonymously.
By far the
biggest surprise of all was in the Skirling DNA data. While the three
men each carry a distinctive mutation that separates them as a cadet
line, all three are tightly related to the clan Gregor. The three are
more tightly related to the main line than many who have the surname
Macgregor! Statistical analysis suggests the separation happened
anywhere from 450-800 years ago, and further analysis seems to suggest
that the Skirlings may have had their origins in the original Macgregor
homeland of Glenorchy.
of Stirlings in the Dunblane area of Perthshire share a similar problem.
Comparison of data with members of that family, also tightly related to
the Macgregors, and therefore to the Skirlings, supports the idea that
the Skirlings separated from the main body of the clan earlier than the
Stirlings of Dunblane. The Dunblane families all share a family legend
of “Stirling” being an alias adopted by Macgregor ancestors after
the proscription of the clan in 1604. The Skirlings do not have any such
stories, so it would seem that the DNA’s suggestion is correct. Clan
Gregor’s problems began long before 1604 – some suggest as early as
the Wars of Independence, therefore an earlier separation is certainly
intriguing is that a line of Stirlings in the ALLSTIR database may be
related to the Dunblane Stirlings. A descendant of that family – who contacted the webmaster asking about the ALLSTIR
database – has recently submitted a DNA test and his results should be
returned within two months or so. His family
records strongly suggest a Dunblane connection, yet his direct ancestor
was born and lived in Tannadice and later Tealing. Comparison to other
records in ALLSTIR are inconclusive; it is also possible he could be a
Skirling or Angus Stirling. In this man’s case, the DNA results should
open many, many doors.
Later updates will try to touch on the main points discussed here in more detail - please visit this page again.
You are encouraged to raise any interest you may have on this subject with the webmaster who will endeavour to answer if possible.
The SEARCH ENGINE for THIS site will find many further references - you are strongly advised to make good use of it.
Please read the panel below. Although the DNA tests can only be carried out for males, ladies do try to persuade your brother / husband / father / uncle, etc. to be tested if a Mister Stirling. (Apologies to the late Lord Kitchener for the use of his poster image from WWI :^)
This page was updated - 09 December, 2014
You are also invited to visit my CLEVELY Homepage for some information about my paternal surname.
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