The family's ancestors

In 1987 my father, James known as Hamish, commissioned the Scots Ancestry Research Society to create our family tree. This project set out to discover more ancestors and, more importantly, to add historical detail to these people.graves

The gravestones for many of my Fisher ancestors who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries lie at the back of Kenmore churchyard.

The parents of the first Alexander are not established but the rest of the Fisher family tree is almost certainly beyond dispute.

It was quite common for families, in an era of high infant mortality, to name a subsequent child after a dead sibling. Our family has several examples of this.

The 'Fisher' name

We do not know how or when our ancestors acquired their surname.

Fisher crestBack of stoneThe rather grandiose crest on the back of the gravestone of Alexander Fisher gives some credence to the belief that they had been fishers for the kings of Scotland when their seat was Scone. Sadly, the evidence suggests that most of our ancestors were merely tenant farmers.

It is likely that the family name once took the gaelic form which is strictly Iasgair or more likely Mac an Iasgair (son of Fisher). In Perthshire Easgr, Easger, Esker, Iesker, McInesker, MacIneskair, MacInesker, MacInisker, MacInneskar, MacInnesker etc) were used.

These names were subsequently Englished to Fisher sometimes via Fichar, Fischair, Fischar, Fischare, Fischear, Fysser, Fyschar, Fischer, Fisher, Fisser.

The Black Book of Taymouth refers to Makmesker, Mesker and M'Meskir and even Esker.

In Perthshire the Old Parochial Registers contain only a handful of these Fisher aliases and none in our parishes. The 1691 Hearth tax rolls and 1683 list of possessors use the gaelic aliases almost exclusively!

Depending upon the location of the family, they were allied to Clan Gregor or Clan Campbell. In our case we would have been a sept of the Campbells of Breadalbane which was associated with many surnames.

Hearth Tax Rolls

The hearth tax was collected in Scotland and the record compiled between 1691 and 1695, those for Perthshire being recorded between March 1691 and November 1692. The collection was authorised by parliament to help reduce the debt incurred by the army's campaigns, including those against the Jacobites, and was a one-off tax of 14 Scottish shillings for each hearth. It was payable on 2 February 1691 but it took time for the sub-collectors to go round the vast and often mountainous areas of Perthshire. The army received about £10,000 Sterling after expenses.

The Hearth Tax Rolls have been published by parish but do not cover everyone in Perthshire. Only the owner or occupier of a house or estate was named together with the number of hearths on which he or she paid tax. The poor households were exempt but their names were usually listed, as were those who defaulted, which gives us valuable information which would otherwise have been lost.

Under 'List Earl Bred Allbaine in pa:Kennmoir' is about 200 surnames. The original rolls are difficult to read but they are available in translated form. There are no Fishers but there are 2 Easqr, 2 Easker, 1 McInesker, 2 McKeaster, 1 McKinesker. Unfortunately what we are given is a list of names but some stand out from the page as they are listed close to each other. These are probably all in the Acharn area;

  1. Jon. Easqr and Jon. Easqr younger with 2 hearths.
  2. Alexr. Easker, Do. McMichie and Do. Easker with a kiln and 4 hearths
  3. Jon: Mcinesker, Call: Mcmairten, Rot Campbell with 3 hearths

Fisher names are notable by their rarity in other parishes in north Perthshire before 1855 whether we look for them on headstones or hearth tax rolls. The exception is under The Laird of Shiene (Glenquaich) where we find 2 Jon Frissells and one each of Kaithren Fisher, Donald Frissar, Finla Mckeaster and Janet Mckeaster.

Why no 'Fishers' in the hearth tax rolls?

Despite a school being established in Kenmore in 1651 a survey of Lochtayside in 1769 revealed that, of 144 males and 142 females, only 58 spoke English.

These rolls make it obvious that a gaelic speaking people would not know themselves by an English speaker's version of their name. Neither would their tacksman or Laird so the Black Book of Taymouth only mentions gealic surnames and, because all these records were made by people unused to writing English, the spelling seems very imprecise.

The records we now access to find our family history, old church records etc., were made by 'educated' scribes from the English speaking south. These anglicised records appeared in Perthshire around 1700. One wonders if families understood what was being written down and, if they did, what they made of having their family name changed by outsiders.

We have no idea when the Fishers started to call themselves by that name. The transition was almost certainly gradual, encouraged by education and happened long after those making the old parochial registers begun to record the English version.

The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow. GM Trevelyan 1949

Page last updated - 2/7/16