Allan Takes Aim Blog

Do you really know your ancestry?

Posted on: 23 June 2011


Published The Chronicle Tuesday,21 June as: ‘Know your family lineage.’

Did you miss the interesting TV series, History of Scotland, recently shown on SBS? If you did but are interested in history, politics, religion or all three, and if the series is repeated, don’t miss it. A Scot myself, I say with sadness that many people, even those born and still living in Scotland, plus many of the great Scottish diaspora, have little knowledge of Scottish history.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            But even those without Scottish blood in their veins might be interested not only because the series would have helped remedy that lack of knowledge but it would also help show how alike people are and how events help shape nations. For example most people are unaware that, measured in geological time, Scotland as a nation emerged only recently. But let not Scots be dismayed: France, Italy, Germany also emerged recently. 

That apart, it is also a fact that nations are still shaped by the cultures and the social mores of ancient tribes and that religion also played a role. Much as I wish the latter was not the case and no matter how civilised some nations think they have become, in some cases civilisation seems to have come to a halt.

In common with citizens of Middle Eastern Nations, many citizens of France, Italy and Germany still think of themselves in tribal terms. For example France still has people who see themselves as Bretons first and French second; in Italy, some see themselves as Sicilians first and Italians second; and in Germany some identify themselves as Bavarians first and Germans second.

The same thing applies to Britain with the English, Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh seeing themselves in tribal terms as separate nations under the umbrella of Britishness. But even under that umbrella, tribal influences still have a role to play. Indeed I know of no Englishman, Northern Irishman, Scot or Welshman who would want the others accent or culture. And in Scotland, although Highlanders would be outraged at being mistaken for a Lowlander, they would join with the latter to fight anyone who called them anything but Scottish.

But if only to show just how nonsensical tribalism is, and leaving religion out of it, which is easy to do in a newspaper column in Australia but less easy to do in some parts of the world, we might all get a shock if we traced our genetic descent. Indeed, if we could rely on history being accurate, we might regret having wished to discover our genetic descent.

No doubt you will have heard people say when being introduced to each other, ‘that sounds like a good English, Irish, Scots or Welsh name although in many cases they say that simply because of the speaker’s accent. However while an accent might indicate nationality it is not a reliable indicator of genetic descent. As an example of what I mean I will use my family name Allan, a name commonly recognised as a Scottish and perhaps more so in my case because of my first names, Donald Campbell.

But if only to point out the absurdity of tribalism, Allan is the family name of a Sept of Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, clan motto: ’Gainsay Who Dare.’  It is also well – known that the Macdonalds consider the Campbells a bitter enemy. Indeed in days of yore and gore, should one of either clan be caught on the other’s land, death would have been the likely outcome.

That apart just how Scottish is the name Allan?

Not very, according to history. In fact the name came to Scotland when groups of mercenary Normans accepted an invitation from King David, of the tribal kingdom known as Alba in the twelfth century, to come help him fight a tribal war? 

And while that explanation suffices for some people, deeper research into the origin of the name said it was Alin, the name of a Persian (Iranian) tribe that settled in France circa 450 AD. That being the case I now find myself in the situation that if I tested my DNA and it showed my genetic inheritance as Persian, I might need to change my national dress from kilt to Piranha Shalvar and Sarband.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday

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