The Clan Watson Society

Connecting Watsons Around the World

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Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question that isn't asked here, either drop us a line using the Contact Page or sign up at the Facebook group and ask on there!

Q: What is the Clan Watson society?
A: The society exists for the benefit of all those with an interest in the Watson surname or its variants. It exists to promote research into the history of the Watson surname and to bring likeminded people together, both online and in relevant real-world events. Join up and join the discussion!
Q: Can anybody sign up? How much does it cost? What if I'm not a Watson?
A: Membership is currently open to anybody with an interest in the Watson surname and/or its variants, whether they were born into it or married into it, whether they have a linked surname, a research interest or just a passing interest in the name or in family history in general. Membership is also currently free, so there's no reason not to sign up on this website and/or on the Facebook group!
At present, the costs of running the society are manageable; however, as the society grows these costs are expected to increase and at some point it is likely that we'll need to structure as a charity or a community interest company in order to generate funding through membership. At this point, it is likely that two grades of membership will be introduced: Full membership for those that carry the Watson name by birth or marriage, and associate membership for those that don't. The key difference between the grades will be that full members will have voting rights on key decisions; both membership grades will have full access to any members-only areas that are introduced to the site and any member discounts that are arranged.
Q: What are name variants?
A: A surname variant is an alternative version of a name that is generally understood to be equivalent. There are several reasons why variants crop up, including differences in transcription from scribe to scribe, regional differences in writing or pronouncing the same name, and translations between Gaelic and anglicised equivalents. Variants of the Watson name include MacQuat, MacQuattie, MacQuhat, MacQwat, MacWalter, MacWatt, MacWattie, Walterson, Watsone, Watsoun, Watsoune, Wattson, Wattsone, Wattsoun and Wattsoune. All are derived from a common root: "Son of Walter".
Q: Do I have to be Scottish to join?
A: Absolutely not! Although the surname Watson in centuries past appears to be most prevalent around south east Scotland, with some spillover into north east England, we suspect that the name cropped up independently across what is now the UK and Ireland. We have chosen to call the society The Clan Watson Society (rather than "The Watson Society") to imply a link to family history rather than to exclude non-Scots. The word "clan" comes from the Gaelic word "clann", which literally means "children" but is more broadly interpreted as "kindred" or "family". The Watson name is now dispersed across the globe, but we are all part of one, big, extended family so the use of the word "clan" to pull us all together under a common banner seems appropriate!
Q: How can I get involved?
A: First off, by signing up on this website and/or on the Facebook group! At the moment it's still early days, so running the society itself is still manageable as a one-man band. As it (hopefully) grows and reaches a certain scale, it would make sense to bring other volunteers on board to help run certain aspects of the society, for example by producing newsletters and other communications or by coordinating local member groups. Also, we are always excited to hear from others who are either currently researching relevant topics or keen to start doing so!
The biggest thing that you can do for us right now is to help raise awareness of the society, so please spread the word around your family networks and to any other people that you think may be interested!
Q: Why "Clan" Watson? What is a clan?
A: In a general sense, a clan is a group of people typically related to each either by blood. In the more formal, Scottish sense, a clan is a group of people of a common surname (plus accepted variants) that is recognised as a distinct family group by The Court of The Lord Lyon. To be recognised as a clan, such a group must have, or have previously had, a chief formally acknowledged by The Court. Clans such as the Watsons who no longer have a recognised chief are correctly referred to as armigerous clans. It is worth noting that although at its centre a Scottish clan would have been composed of blood relatives, many non-related families would have adopted the family surname as part of their association with the clan; as such, there is no guarantee that any two Watsons will share a common ancestor even if family trees are uncovered stretching back for hundreds of years.
Q: What is a sept?
A: The word "sept" is typically used in a Scottish context to refer to a family group that has chosen to follow another. This practice was common in the centuries when the highland clans were influential and the various kin groups were forming political alliances. Septs were generally unrelated clans that formed an alliance with a more powerful clan, either through marriage (generally arranged, but sometimes by choice) or by necessity as the major clan's influence extended over their land or they sought the protection of a more powerful group.
It is worth noting that as the fashion for wearing clan-specific tartans took off in the 19th century, many surnames that did not have an associated tartan were assigned as septs of clans that did in order to allow more people to join the craze and, in so doing, to increase sales for the tartan mills and kilt makers! This was especially the case for surnames from lowlands areas that did not have a history of wearing tartan.
The Watsons are listed as a sept of both the Buchanan and Forbes clans. The Society is currently researching the exact circumstances of these two associations.
Q: How can the Watsons call themselves a clan if they don't have a chief?
A: The Court of The Lord Lyon formally recognised James Watson of Saughton as "Chief of the name [of Watson] in Scotland" in 1818. This legally recognised the Watsons as a clan. There is currently no chief, so the Watsons are nowadays correctly referred to as an armigerous clan, but they do have the legal right to refer to themselves as a clan.
The society currently has several lines of research ongoing pertaining to the Watson chiefs, including a) were there other recognised chiefs?, b) What was the extent of the Watson chiefs' influence?, and c) are there any directly-related heirs alive today who may be interested in assuming the chieftancy?
Q: How do we get a new chief?
A: There are two routes to appoint a new chief.
The first requires a nominee to demonstrate proof of descent from the chiefly line as recognised by The Court of The Lord Lyon. They do not have to be a direct descendent of the last chief, and it is common practise to move back up the line of chiefs and follow family trees forwards until a living heir willing to take on the chieftancy is found. There is, however, a significant burden of proof required, so engaging the services of a professional genealogist specialised in this kind of research is generally necessary to satisfy The Court.
The second means is by the appointment of a clan commander. Although recently simplified (in December 2021), this is not a straightforward process either, and requires a family convention supervised by an officer of The Court to which all interested family members are invited and in which all family members are allowed to have their say. If there is unanimous agreement on a nomination for clan commander, The Court can formally appoint that person for a term of five years, but it remains at their discretion. The five-year term can be extended upon its expiry, again subject to the discretion of The Court. After a period of ten to twenty years, during which time it is the role of the commander to search far and wide for a chief entitled to the role, The Court will then decide whether or not the commander can be appointed Chief.
Q: What is the clan crest? How can I use it?
A: The Watson clan crest is shown at the top left of the home page of this site. It consists of "two hands, issuing from clouds, grasping an oak-tree trunk, branches spouting". It is the symbol of the clan chief, and only he is entitled to wear it on its own, without being encircled by a belt and the clan motto. He is also entitled to wear it accompanied by three feathers, which indicates his status as chief.
Clan chieftans are not the same as chiefs and represent larger branches of a clan. They are entitled to wear a crest encircled with their own motto and accompanied by two feathers.
Armigerous clan members - that is, those that have family coats of arms recognised by The Court of The Lord Lyon - are entitled to wear a crest encircled by their personal motto and accompanied by one feather.
Non-armigerous clan members (i.e. those without recognised coats of arms) are defined as immediate or extended family of the chief, people who carry the chief's surname or that of a recognised variant or sept, and anyone who professes allegiance to both the clan and its chief. They are entitled to wear the chief's crest encircled by a strap and buckle inscribed with the chief's personal motto or slogan.
The motto of the chiefs of Clan Watson is "Insperata Floruit", which is Latin for "Flourished Beyond Expectation" - let's hope that will apply to the Clan Watson Society in a few years' time!
Q: Is there a clan coat of arms? Can I use it?
A: Coats of arms are granted to individuals (and sometimes to organisations) and one person's arms cannot be adopted by a wider kin group, even if those kin are direct relatives. As such, even though there is currently no clan chief, the coat of arms of the chief cannot be used or adopted by others. The Court of The Lord Lyon takes misuse of arms very seriously and will take legal recourse against those who do so.
Q: What tartans can I wear? Will I upset people if I wear the wrong one? Can I wear one if I'm not Scottish?
A: Contrary to popular belief, there are no rules regarding who can wear what tartan; those who get upset by such things are more likely to object to "non-Scots" wearing tartans rather than the particular tartan that you chose to wear. Such people are either unaware, or conveniently forget, that the modern concepts of highland dress and clan-specific tartans are relatively recent, invented traditions that date from around the early 19th century and owe their current popularity as much to the Victorians as they do to any Scottish customs. They are also often unaware that tartan was not generally worn in lowland areas before this.
There is plenty to write on this subject, but suffice to say that there is nothing to stop anybody, Scottish or otherwise, from choosing any tartan and wearing it with pride!
There is a tartan, created in the 1950s for the now-defunct Clan Watson Society of America, registered against the Watson name, which is available in ancient, modern and weathered versions (the banner on the home page depicts the Watson ancient tartan). The Watsons, as well as being a recognised stand-alone clan, are also a sept of both the Buchanan and Forbes clans; those that wish for something (slightly) more "traditional" may chose to adopt one of the various tartans classed as belonging to those clans - no permission necessary!

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