Discover your Scottish clan and tartan in Edinburgh

Finding your Scottish clan and tartan

For those with Scottish ancestry, a visit to Scotland is more than just a vacation. It’s a calling. The chance to walk in the footsteps of those who came before. Our hotel in Edinburgh is close to the ScotlandPeople Centre, where you can book an appointment to view records and research your family tree in detail. So we often welcome guests who are here to delve deeper into their family history. If you have a Scottish surname, or links to one, you might be part of a clan. So let’s take a look at what that means and how you can find out more…

Scottish clans explained

Clans are kinship groups which date back centuries. Historically, each clan was associated with a specific area of land. Many were led by a Clan Chief. The inhabitants of the land would usually work for and live under the protection of their chief and would often adopt his surname. Sometimes clans would fight over territory, and these fierce clan battles lasted into the 17th century.

In modern times, clans offer a sense of belonging and shared identity. Anyone with a clan surname is automatically considered to be a member of that clan. If you wish, you can apply for official membership. Each clan has different requirements, but you will usually need to prove your link to the name in order to join.

National Records Of Scotland building at the east end of Princes Street
Research your family history at the ScotlandPeoples Centre in Edinburgh

Finding your clan

There are hundreds of Scottish clans. Well-known ones include Clan Donald/MacDonald, Clan Campbell, Clan MacGregor, Clan Stewart and Clan Sinclair. You can look for your clan here, either by your surname or the surname of a Scottish ancestor. Only about 30% of Scottish families are attached to a clan, so don’t worry if you don’t have your own.

Finding your tartan

Each clan has its own tartan. So once you know your clan, you can find your tartan here. This is a woven fabric with a distinctive criss-cross pattern. You can wear tartan to show your allegiance to a particular clan. This can be in any form, from a tartan hat to full-blown Highland dress with a kilt.

However, if you don’t have a clan, or you don’t like the design of your tartan, it’s ok to wear a different one. There are some universal tartans that are not associated with any particular clan, such as Royal Stewart and Black Watch. You can adopt one of these as your family tartan if you wish.

An assortment of colourful Scottish tartan kilts.
There are thousands of different tartan designs, with new ones created every year

Places to visit in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a fantastic place to come to explore your Scottish ancestry. Stay at our historic hotel and you’ll be within walking distance of the ScotlandsPeople Centre and the Central Library, both of which offer family history research facilities. If you have family links to Edinburgh, perhaps you can find the places where your ancestors lived and worked. Our ancient cobbled streets have many tales to tell!

There are plenty of Scottish gift shops in Edinburgh, where you can pick up clan souvenirs. If you’d like to buy or hire a kilt in your chosen tartan, you could book a fitting with traditional Scottish outfitters such as Kinloch Anderson and McCalls.

For a bespoke experience, why not hire a private ancestral tour guide to show you places associated with your family or clan? For example, Mary Meanders offers bespoke, individually tailored genealogy tours.

Find out more about exploring your Scottish ancestry in Edinburgh and book your break today!