Clan Carruthers, Genealogy

CLAN CARRUTHERS: Howard Mathison, Geographer and the Carruthers Maps.


Screen Shot 2021-04-30 at 09.10.04The population of Scotland was affected by both the Highland and Lowland clearances, as well as the Ulster plantations. But, according to the John Gray Centre in Scotland, historians have commented on the ‘high quality’ of early Scottish emigrants, particularly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

These emigrants were from middle-class backgrounds, among them doctors, merchants, farmers and a selection of other ‘middle-class’ occupations. However, the social status of emigrants underwent a significant transformation: increasingly, from the Highlands they were landless peasants and from the Lowlands unemployed craftsmen, labourers and small farmers. This in itself would surely reflect negatively, the population of our homelands in Annandale.

Research has been undertaken to look at that population to include Carruthers. Such an interesting subject is currently being picked through, not only for Carruthers but for many other families and clans in the Border region of Scotland and deserves our attention.

Our Society therefore, has had the luxury of interviewing the originator of this excellent work, Mr Howard Mathieson.

(Any maps by him and produced here are with his permission).

Howard Mathieson

Good morning Howard, accepting that there are some who claim that the border region (and Carruthers) are Gaelic in origin, research in linguistics, history and DNA sampling would suggest otherwise. What is truly interesting is that accepting the strong border influx into Ulster in relation to the clearances and the plantations, that so many originating in Scotland, are still there in strength to this day. For that reason, I can fully appreciate and understand the link between Ulster and the Borders in your research and I sincerely thank you for the work you are doing.

Q: I am excited by your work, but remain intrigued – what is your background and where did your interest begin?

A: I was a geography instructor for 30 years, I retired in 2000. I have always been interested in family history. In the 1980’s I was researching my mother’s maiden name, Dangerfield. They were from Wiltshire and we ran into a brick wall. I decided to record every English reference to Dangerfield’s I could find. My geographer’s instinct led me to plot the distributions using a GIS system. At that time it was punch cards and plotter pens. That led me to study the origins of English surnames as a subject area and I eventually joined the Guild of One Name Studies.

Carruthers Borders Map Tartan Dumfrieshire 2Q: How far has your research extended?

A: Since I retired I have studied, English, Welsh, Cornish, Border, Irish and particularly Ulster surnames and their distributions. I don’t know why Ulster has become a passion. While my grandparents were from Scotland, I have no personal association with Ulster, I loved migration studies and the Ulster plantation and the Scots Irish are a wonderful study in migration.

Q: So where did your interest in the Borders come in?

A: My interest in Border surnames arose from my Ulster interests. Border folk are found along the coast of Antrim and Down, but intriguing to me was the localization in Fermanagh which is the most isolated region of Ulster. Armstrongs, Grahams, and Elliots are found in every corner of the county.

Q: Did you take your list of Border riding names from anywhere in particular?

A: The list of major border surnames used in my border study were drawn from Web sites but I also found George MacDonald Fraser’s The Steel Bonnets was particularly useful. The difficult task was deciding which surnames to exclude.

Q: What format did you use for keeping names in or taking them out of your project?

A: I tried to include as many surnames as possible. The major Reiver groups are well known. With the minor name it was somewhat arbitrary. I selected some on the basis of personal interest, others to keep the selection regionally diverse.

Q: So how do these fit in with the Border population studies?

A: The stability of border surnames is a theme that intrigues me. Not all surnames are geographically stable but many are. It’s a function of origin, surname frequency and of course history. “Place name” surnames generally have lower frequencies and therefore are more geographically stable. Carruthers seems to fit the mould.

Screen Shot 2021-04-30 at 09.45.00Q: How did you gather and format your information?

A: I begin by formatting the BDM records in Excel. The GIS maps the data and the images are finished in Photoshop. The maps used for Carruthers cover the time between 1700-1860 and were constructed from 1100 male birth and marriages, and segregated into 20 year cohorts. This provided sufficient frequency to plot the surname distribution over time.

Q: On your site, the time series maps are viewed individually or as a slide show – how did you construct the maps?

A: Once the maps have been completed in Photoshop they are added to a software program where the slideshow is built as part of a web page. It sounds like a complex process but the workflow goes pretty smoothly.

Q: How did you decide on the time frame for your mapping?

A: I wanted to be able to take the distribution back to the 17th century, the beginning of the plantation process. Is the 17th century distribution similar to the late 19th century? Can this help narrow the search for the origin of planter families?

5748022.jpgQ: According to the John Gray Centre,  Scotland lost 10% to 47% of the natural population increase, every decade in the 1800s. Until about 1855, a number of the emigrants from the Highlands were forced to leave the land because of evictions. In the Lowlands, emigration was almost always the outcome of wanting to improve one’s living standards. This does not seem to be reflected in the Carruthers time maps where the population peak seems to be 1801 – 1840. Why do you think that is?

A: Yes, the distribution was remarkably stable. The highland depopulation was unique in its scale. Smaller groups or individual migrants likely account for the transfer of border surnames to Ulster.

Q: What is your next project?

A: What’s next? I have several projects on the go. I’m looking at the role the home territory of Plantation Undertakers and Estate owners played in the selection of their planters. Can it be a tool to help identify the homeland of Planter surnames in Scotland?

Q: I believe that you do private work and commissions?

A: Yes, it’s a small part of what I do. It’s time consuming but personally very satisfying. I can be contacted at

Thank you Howard and again congratulations on your excellent and in-depth work from all us here in the Carruthers Society.  However, I’m sure I speak on the behalf of all the Border families and clans represented, for the time you have spent corralating and producing these population maps. Great job.

Thank you George.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey Final to use


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