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Septs, Tartans, and the Society for Creative Anachronism--tracking down my Scottish heritage

This weekend I headed out to a beautiful farm full of trees. It was time for a weekend of camping and fun with the SCA! People put on medieval garb to participate in sword fights, archery, and bardic competitions. The swords were real, but carefully tip-covered and taped.

SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism.


a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned. (Source: Google)

In the SCA, people create "personas". Then research the history, garb, weaponry, food, and so forth from a time and place they wish to role play. I wanted my persona to wear a kilt. So, it was time to research my mother's family name. Another Scottsman in attendance gave me the tip "Look up Scottish Sept names and it'll lead you to your clan and its tartans." I was left thinking, "Sept names?" "Tartans?" I was not familiar with these words.

Fortunately, Wikipedia was there to help.

A sept is an English word for a division of a family, especially of a Scottish or Irish family.[1] The word may derive from the Latin saeptum, meaning "enclosure" or "fold",[2] or via an alteration of "sect".[3] The term is used in both Ireland and Scotland, where it may be translated as sliocht.

Síol is a Gaelic word meaning "progeny" or "seed" that is used in the context of a family or clan with members who bear the same surname and inhabited the same territory,[5] as a manner of distinguishing one group from another. Source

This website told me I'm from the Fraser clan. A little more digging and I learned that, specifically, I am from a branch called Fraser of Lovat.

Frazer of Lovat Coat of arms (left) Crest (right) "Je suis prest" meaning "I am ready"
(There are some pretty strong French ties in our family.)

Fraser of Lovat coat of arms and crest with motto

Next, it was time to find out what a "tartan" was.

Tartan (Scottish Gaelic: breacan [ˈbɾʲɛxkən]) is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours. Tartans originated in woven wool, but now they are made in many other materials. Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland. Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns. Tartan is often called plaid in North America. source.


So that's what the designs on the kilt's were called!

A kilt (Scottish Gaelic: fèileadh [ˈfeːləɣ])[1] is a knee-length non-bifurcated skirt-type garment with pleats at the rear, originating in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century. Since the 19th century, it has become associated with the wider culture of Scotland, or with Celtic (and more specifically Gaelic) heritage even more broadly. It is most often made of woollen cloth in a tartan pattern.

The name "kilt" is applied to a range of garments: The traditional garment, either in its historical form, or in the modern adaptation now usual in Scotland (see History of the kilt), usually in a tartan pattern. According to the Dictionary of the Scots Language and Oxford English Dictionary, the noun derives from a verb to kilt, originally meaning "to gird up; to tuck up (the skirts) round the body", which is apparently of Scandinavian origin. Source.


What I found when looking up tartans for Fraser of Lovat was... a bit daunting. There were quite a few associated Tartans. What finally helped narrow down which pattern I think I want to go with, ended up being a Clan Fraser Society of Australia! (Thanks, Australia!) So, if I'm not mistaken, the reddish one is the Fraser of Lovat's modern tartan and the alternative hunting version.

Fraser of Lovat Tartans

Next, I looked up the costs of Kilts, and I nearly keeled over. I am not a rich bunny. Time to talk to some friends in the SCA who can sew, (and some Scotts who are fluent in Scottish Gaelic to build the course.)

Bunny in Tartan

Have any of you researched your family histories recently? Did you learn any new vocabulary along the way?

July 24, 2017



Thanks for sharing this story; it was interesting to read, thanks!


Thanks! I forgot to post my usual [under construction] disclaimer. So, when I pasted my draft into Duolingo to see what the formatting and length looked like here, it was super messy and nobody realized it was a work in progress. :P But, I think it's just about finished now. I'm glad you enjoyed it, even in it's rough draft state. ^_^


You know, I find it very curious that people even care about their ancestry! I mean, say my ancestors were Armenian, so what?! What does that have to do with me, exactly?! Can someone help me understand? (And thanks for the vocab, by the way)


History, if we let it, allows us to avoid the mistakes we've made in the past. Feeling that we are connected to that history, gives some easier access to emotions that motivate us towards building the better future.

Another part of knowing our history allows us to see how our present is shaped by it. Take wealth, in the US, for instance. Many wealthy families in the United States come from a long line of first sons. The first son, of a first son, of a first son, of a first son, and so forth. These were the inheritors of family wealth. It gives us pause when people talk about meritocracy.

These are just two examples.

For me, I'm still learning about my own family history. I was under the impression that a group from my family Sept harassed the Irish at the instruction of the English. (I haven't substantiated this yet, but, I plan to look into it.) Was my family involved? If I were a wealthy person and I could track my wealth towards that destruction, I would consider making reparations. Such things often do not influence a single generation. Advantage has a corresponding relationship with disadvantage. And, to me, that is an important consideration.

And on the lighter side of things, knowing a branch of my family history gives me some inspiration in shaping my play. It also makes me feel comfortable taking on that persona. I don't think I'd be comfortable with it otherwise.


I think of history as a wider range of things. The big picture; if you will. I know the big picture is made of little pictures, but here, each little picture (by itself) may not bear as much lessons as the big picture. At the end of the day, one family, mine or yours, or ten families (or more), are not going to be noticed. What is going to be noticed is the line of thought that drove people to do things. I will do well to understand that, and act accordingly.

I also know that, in some ways, past shapes the present. We're agreed on the importance pf history, only I think details such as my family aren't as important as history itself. (As powerful as this family might've been at some point).

The other two points, are very valid. (I was expecting you to jump to these, but I probably sounded very ignorant stating the question)

I myself find it more relevant to focus on now. If my great great great grandfather stole money from, say, Kurdish people, (and I haven't gotten that money, apparently), maybe I better not know what that ancestor did just now. I already feel guilty because of many Persian kings. (Again, the big picture) I can sleep well knowing that I'm doing everything I can to make things fair on a larger scale. When all is fair between my country's heritage and India's, I can go back to that ancestor. But not now; there are more important, more obvious and more immediate actions to be taken.

That brings me to my final point. I'm a living being, before I'm a human. I'm a human before I'm Asian. I'm Asian, before I'm Iranian. I'm Iranian before I am, e.g. Tehrani. I'm Tehrani before I'm from the [insert last name here] bloodline. You see my point; blood matters least to me. One thing at a time; am I fulfilling my duty as a living being? For example, do I turn on the AC to cool myself, and in return heat the planet at the expense of millions of lives? Do I have a good reason for heating the planet right now by typing this? If I pass that test, on to being human; do I treat my fellow human beings with love and respect? At some point further this line (not necessarily the end of it) repairing what that faithless ancestor of mine destroyed becomes very important!

p.s. For clarity's sake;

  1. I'm not against finding about one's heritage!
  2. I don't believe in "The end justifies the means". For a reason, this "big picture" and "little pictures" talk reminds me of that.


The environment in which we grow up defines us, and we define and influence our children. So your heritage is a part of you, it's the reason (or let's say one of the reasons) why you are the person you are.


Agreed, but how far does that go? Aside from phenotype cases (where environment has an impact on people's physical specifics), is it possible that something (some moral value, for example, not how I look) has stuck with my bloodline for a thousand years, and is specific only to a limited number of people? I don't define myself as my body, so, is it possible that certain line of thought is in my genes? This is a genuine question; I'm not trying to challenge you, exactly, although I'm skeptical.
(Aside from that, assuming my ancestors were bandits and their lifestyle of plunder is somehow in my blood, can I not overcome that? Or, say, my ancestor was a prophet, can I not turn against God? Genes aren't our fate, that's something I like to believe. (And obviously "genes aren't our fate" is a general statement that may not apply everywhere))


I was socialized where I grew up; however, my heritage might be different from those around me, and I may want to affiliate with that heritage - or not. Birds of a feather flock together...


From that point of view, it'd just be a fun thing to do, wouldn't it? Only I'm not interested. Not yet, anyway!
(And I'm of the type of bird that prefers to flock with other types of birds!)


Maybe people are down-voting this because you wrote so much. :P I think it's a cool story, thanks for sharing!


You're probably right. I'll reduce the length. Thanks! :)


I love the SCA! Haven't become an official member, but I hung out with them during my last couple years at university. With them I mostly practiced archery and watched bad movies, though I also attempted sword-fighting, text illumination, and medieval Occitan.


Hey, yo encontré tu cuento muy interesante. Me encantan sus fotos (especially the bunny =P). Gracias por sacar la tiempo compartir.


Gracias por tu comentario. Me hace muy feliz! :)


I discovered an ancestor was an "overlooker" in a jute mill. Guessed and later confirmed he was an "overseer" or in other words was in charge of part of the production. Still not sure exactly what status, whether on the management or employee side of things (probably the latter).

Your posts are always fascinating! and I really enjoy reading them.


What is a jute mill?

Also, I'm glad you enjoy my posts. I've been around the forums for several years and the topics can get a bit stale. Necessarily though! Old topics are new to new people. And, it is important for their learning experience. So, I don't begrudge them.

However I've always enjoyed finding fresh topics (or fresh perspectives on topics). So, I try to contribute when inspiration srikes. Hopefully, more people will contribute. The more interesting the forums, the more people will stick around and learn languages, but also the more we will learn about cultures beyond our own by reading about each other's. My hope is that we will build appreciation for each other's differences. :)


To answer your first: a mill in this context is a factory (North England usage). But then I realise I should have written flax, not jute. Flax is the plant linen comes from. The interesting thing for me when I found this was that I thought they only processed wool in that region, apparently the flax industry ceased in the mid 19th cent.

I've never started a thread in these forums, partly because pretty well all the topics have been raised before and I don't want to fall foul of the would-be-moderators. But without the discussions (and new Duo's haven't read it all before) we'd lose the sense of community which I find encourages sticking to the learning. I like the way you think round the box and introduce new themes while somehow staying "on topic" if you see what I mean. Sorry this is a bit garbled, got home from my work much later than was expecting, still crashed out.


I had no idea that jute was another word for flax, or that linen was made out of it! :O I've only ever thought of flax in terms of food (flax seed). I swear, I learn so many interesting things around here!

Staying "on topic" can be tricky, when not everyone assessing the posts understands what Duolingo considers "on topic".

Understanding the spirit of Duolingo and it's guidelines goes a long way to understanding what is "on topic" Which by the way is "relating to language or Duolingo". That is actually rather broad in allowance. (Though, there are limits and people who try to find loopholes within the "letter of the law" will find that Duolingo prioritizes "spirit of the law".) Many people assume that "relating to language" means "related to language learning". But, there is more to language than using it like a screwdriver. It is more than rote grammar and pronunciation. Language is history, culture, society, technology, and more. They key to expanding into topics like these is in understanding the spirit of Duolingo and the Community Guidelines. Not everyone in the audience understand that and they do go after people from time to time. But, I hope, as a community, we can work on that. :)

PS I hope you are able to get some good rest this evening.


Oh dear! Jute is different from flax, but somehow got the two confused in my mind! They were both pretty important fibres in the pre-plastic age.

I agree with what you say about language - after all, without it there'd be no human culture.

Looking forward to your next post!


What are bardic competitions?


The most famous current one is the Welsh Eisteddfod, where poets (aka bards) compete for a prize.

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