Unverified Claims

Claims by S.A. McCandless

In 1918, a Sarah Adeline McCandless of Pennsylvania self-published a book that, aside from being an overview of Scottish and Irish history, provided a lot of genealogical information about her family, and made a number of remarkable family-history assertions, which veer from likely but unproven, to dubious and fantastical, to outright wrong.

Full citation:
McCandless, Sarah Adeline; “Some Annals of the West Branch of the Highland Family of McCandlish-Buchanan”; A Ready Reference Sketch of Erin and Alban; Pittsburgh: self-published; 1918. Reprinted, Salem, Massachusetts: Higginson Book Co.; 2006; pp. 119–154.

Below is a list of noteworthy claims made by her (hereafter “S.A.McC.” for short), and notes on how credible or verifiable they are:

1.  That all of her information is from family sources and ultimately backed by documentary evidence like parish records. The first half of this is surely true, but S.A.McC. cites and quotes none of the actual records and appears not to have been in possession of direct copies of information from them, only information in family bibles or that others relayed to her through correspondence. The more one reads of this book the clearer it becomes that much of it is supposition when it comes to deeper family history. It is not much to go on beyond that author’s immediate-family genealogical details (which do appear to be very well-researched; as noted below, some of that has been independently confirmed).

2.  That McCandlish is just a variant of MacKinlay/McKinley (from Mac Fhionnladh) and MacInnally (but that actually is unrelated to the others, deriving from Mac Con Ulaidh and from Mac an Fhailghigh). S.A.McC. prefers to derive them all from Mac Ghillecallum which she says is equivalent to Malcolm (it is not; the latter is from Máel Coluim, Maol Choluim). Her basis for the first of these ideas is a statement that McCandlish is pronounced like McKinley in Scotland. In reality, it is not, and there is no evidence it was formerly or we would find most of the family members anglicized to a spelling like *McCandlie in Scotland but this name seems not to be attested (McCandl[e]y is, but is Irish and there is no reason to suppose it is related to McCandlish/McCandless). When something goes silent in this name, it is the d, thus spellings like McCanless/McCanles and the majority of the Irish forms (Conlisk, Cunlish, Quinlist, etc.). In short, all of these claims are linguistically untenable, and the name does not even originate in Scotland but is well attested in about 50 variations in Ireland since the 8th century.

3.  That McCandlish is a sept of Clan Campbell (and of the MacArthur Campbells in particular). However, neither that clan’s own publications nor any lists of Scottish clan septs agree with this. (Incidentally, if it did turn out to be a real clan connection, it’s perhaps appropriate that the McCandlish tartan is loosely based on Old Campbell / Black Watch.)

4.  That S.A.McC.’s own family traces back to a west Highlands man named Candlish (as his given name), “a man having sufficient property and a family and followers to give him a leading position and to perpetuate his name as the progenitor of its numerous branches with slightly varying names.” The central gist of this – that someone named Candlish had descendants who went patronymically by Mac Candlish and who eventually gave rise to a family using the surname McCandlish (later McCandless) – is almost certainly correct. That he was in the west Highlands is quite plausible, though there’s no evidence for this to date. However, there is no reason to suppose that there was just one such Candlish and that all the modern variants of the surname descend from him. Just the surnames existing also isn’t enough to suppose this Candlish was a major land-holding chieftain as the material implies.

5.  That “The family is said to have had an ancestor, one Esid O Esid (Gaelic) who in the time of Alexander III (1249–1286), was noted for his dispute with Argyll of the rival Mac Cailin division of the Clan Campbell”. “Said” by whom? That there was an Esid of the MacArthur Campbells does not make him a McCandlish ancestor, even if a connection to Clan Campbell could be established.

6.  That “Somewhere in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, Candlish McCandlish [by which she means Candlish Mac Candlish, i.e. patronymic naming, of the son of the aforementioned Candlish], a young West Highland chieftain married a daughter of the powerful House of Buchanan, of Buchanan Castle, Loch Lomond.” We have no documentary evidence (so far) of any such chieftainship, though the marriage is entirely plausible. Regardless, there is no strong extant connection between Buchanan and McCandlish, and the latter is not a sept of the former. The late 17th century is not so long ago that records should all have vanished, so research could yet be done. See below where one of the few plausible claims made by C.E. McCandless has McCandlishes/McCandlesses in Callander, Stirlingshire, which is right on Loch Lomond.

7.  That “it became necessary for those connected with the Stuart supporters [i.e. Jacobites] to live as quietly as possible; this may be one reason there are no details of the life of this McCandlish family in the West Highland home of their ancestors”, beyond family stories recounted to S.A.McC. This is the elephant in the room: there is no documentation of McCandlishes in the Highlands in this era. They certainly may have been there and may well have been Jacobites. But how to prove it?

8.  That Candlish Mac Candlish had seven sons, and “the eldest took no interest in politics and when the [Jacobite] crisis came, turned to the English side to save his property, for he had a castle and ‘much goods;’ confiscation of estates was about the mildest penalty.” This is a rather extravagant claim, and there should be a record of a McCandlish castle, but none has appeared in research to date.

9.  That the parents and the other six sons, for “political reasons” (i.e. being Jacobites) moved to Belfast shortly before 1715 (i.e. on the eve of the Jacobite rebellion known as The ’15; see the Timeline page). This claim is entirely reasonable, but as most else in the work, it lacks documentary evidence.

10.  That after landing in Belfast, two sons went to Antrim, one to Coleraine, the youngest to Moville near Innishowen, Carronaffe, and Lough Foyle; another, George (S.A.McC.’s ancestor) took over a large estate, about 8 miles north of Moville, named Grouse Hall, which was still inhabited by relatives (as tenants, though, not owners) when S.A.McC. was writing. The other sons are not accounted for. There’s nothing implausible about any of this, and it provides places to look for records, especially of McCandlish-to-McCandless assimilation and name change. It also implies considerable wealth (especially if the family could afford to abandon Scottish lands to one son), and would support the “chieftain” claim. Update: One of our forum users, Peter McCandless, who lives in Northern Ireland, wrote that “I have checked the church records of both Gleneely and Moville and they match almost perfectly with the family details” in S.A.McC.’s genealogy. He also visited the Grouse Hall house and found it still standing, though used as a barn. “Unbelievably I found lying on the floor upstairs a Christmas card sent from Sarah Adeline McCandless to her relatives (Patterson) who were living in the house” in her time.

11.  That the home bought for the youngest son was purchased from a Samuel McCandless whose family had owned it for 200 years. This contradicts S.A.McC.’s own hypothesis that one Candlish in Scotland (father of Candlish Mac Candlish) was the progenitor of all these families. If the names are correct, however, it would demonstrate that McCandless was already an established name in Northern Ireland (though possibly still a Scottish import; Scots had been moving into Ulster for centuries).

12.  That one of George’s sons, Thomas McCandless (the name having assimiliated to the more common spelling in Northern Ireland by then) lived in Gleneely; relatives were still living there when S.A.McC. was writing. This is completely plausible, and we clearly have another plausible place to seek records. Update: As noted above, Peter McCandless of Northern Ireland has checked church records in Gleneely and found that they match S.A.McC.’s genealogical work. However, for many individuals in N. Ir. in this genealogy a lot of detail is missing, including birth and death dates. Some modern genealogical sites like WikiTree, Ancestry, FamilySearch, and RootsWeb might by now have some of these details available, for those looking into the details of this particular family branch.

13.  That a General [first name not specified] McCandless lived in Pittsburgh in 1839. With a rank that high, this person should be easy to find in military records; would be a good addition to the Notables page. This is possibly a muddled reference to William “Buck” McCandless, a Union colonel who lived in Philadelpia (and who is on the Notables page), but he was not born until 1834, so could not have been any kind of officer in 1839.

14.  That members of this family later went to the US (including Pennsylvia, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, eventually Michigan and California), Canada (Prince Edward Island), New Zealand (Christchurch), Australia, and back to Scotland (including Edinburgh and Mulgye/Mulingavie); many remained in Northern Ireland (in the same places and others, including Derry/Londonderry and Belfast). This is entirely consistent with what we know of out-migration of Ulster Scots from Northern Ireland, so should bear up in modern genealogical research.

15.  That some time perhaps a bit before 1900 (it is difficult to follow all of S.A.McC.’s genealogy) “there came handbills [to Moville/Carronaffe] from Scotland, seeking information of the McCandless people … and in the West Highlands a castle with other property was waiting for an heir. … No one [of this family] went, and the property was put in [the Courts of] Chancery.” This is one of the most tantalizing but most outlandish claims in the book, suggesting that there are ancestral lands, to a very recent era, and a castle, that might still be standing, that were put up for auction but the location of which, and any other details about which, are missing.

16.  That “many of the surname of McCandless were already settled” in Pennsylvania when S.A.McC.’s relatives arrived there. This does bear out (e.g. in research on ship passenger lists and other early sources for immigration to the Americas). However, it also tends to contradict her idea of all the McCs being scions of her Candlish Mac Candlish.

Claims by C.E. McCandless

One Prof. C.E. McCandless of Pennsylvania self-published an undated book that, like the work analyzed above, made numerous claims, from plausible but unverified to downright outlandish and clearly incorrect.

Full citation:
McCandless, C.E.; The McCandless Clan; High Point, North Carolina: self-published; undated, ca. first half of 20th century.

The present author no longer has a copy of C.E. McC.’s book, but did take some notes while reading it 20-odd years ago. The assertions annotated are:

1. That the McCandless coat of arms is: Or, a lymphad sable, her sails furled and oars in action, on a chief, gules, three mullets argent. However, all heraldic sources assign this to McCandlish, and also give the ship red (gules) flags. Another possible coat of arms for McCandless has been discovered; see the Heraldry page.

2. That the bearer of those arms had the motto Illumino marem et terram. However, this is not found in any reliable heraldry source, and is directly contradicted by period evidence that has the motto as Sola nobilitas virtus. See the Heraldry page for details.

3. That a general family motto was Fideli nil difficile. This is plausible, but there is no evidence for it aside from C.E.McC.’s assertion. See the Heraldry page again.

4. That numerous individuals he places in his genealogy were certainly named McCandless. Most were, but it is known from multiple other sources that quite a few of them were named McCandess or McCanles; and in a few cases he skipped or merged generations, so his genealogy very far away from his own immediate family line is not reliable according to the work of other genealogists. In short, C.E.McC. wanted to make all Cuindlises into McCandlesses to fit his narrative instead of building his narrative to suit the actual facts.

5. That the McCandless crest is a demilion rampant vert. However, this is again a McCandlish crest in all reliable sources that provide it.

6. That the crest pairs with “a tilted heume, argent” (a silver/white helm). But this is not heraldically possible except for a knight, and so far there are no records of a McCandless/McCandlish knighthood to be found. Non-knights and non-peers take an iron (grey) helm below their crest. See: Fox-Davies, Arthur C.; Brooke-Little, J.P. (ed.); “The heraldic helmet”; A Complete Guide to Heraldry; Bonanza Books; 1969; pp. 228–244.

7. That the crest and heume go with an “ermine cloak, or, gules”. But this is also heraldically impossible, as ermine is only black on white. There are several variants with different names, such ermines and erminois, in other colour schemes, but none of them are red on gold as C.E.McC. suggests. Nor is the heraldic mantle (or mantling or lambrequin) referred to as a “cloak”. It appears that he was either just making stuff up or was confused by something he saw somewhere such as an old illustration.

8. That the bearer of the above arms and crest was the Earl of Montrose (i.e. that a McCandlish/McCandless was the Earl of Montrose). This would be incredible news, but there’s zero evidence of this, and it comes across as preposterous. First, the entire history of the lords of Montrose is well-known, and second so are the arms of the Earl (later Marquess, later still Duke) of Montrose, and they have nothing in common with McCandlish arms. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Montrose for a summary.

9. That the bearer of these arms and crest was granted lands in Callander, Stirlingshire. This sounds like a plausible enough assertion, but as usual no evidence has come to light, and the arms actually appear to have been granted in England to a Scottish immigrant. So, C.E.McC. may be confusing two individuals (the alleged landholder in Scotland and the later bearer of the coat of arms in England). Given that S.A. McCandless, above, also asserted that McCandlishes were significant landowners at some point, Callander would probably be the place to begin looking, especially as it is at the head of Loch Lomond, where S.A.McC. placed the alleged Highlander McCandlishes.

C.E.McC. made several other bold claims, but this page will not list and analyze them until the book can be re-examined again and quoted from directly.

Claims by House of Names

The US-based heraldry products vendor House of Names (hereafter HoN) produces rather loose family name histories which seem to be based on public records but which cite few of them directly. They make such a report for McCandlish (and another for McCandless which is nearly identical).

Full citation:
The Most Distinguished Surname McCandlish; House of Names / Swyrich Corp.; 2022

Among the unverified claims in this document:

1. That McCandlish “was found in Galloway … where they held a family seat in Western Scotland.” Galloway is certainly known from other sources, but none of far provide any evidence of a “family seat”, i.e. significant land holdings. This claim is consonant with both S.A.McC. and C.E.McC. above, but could in fact be relying on either or both of these questionably reliable sources in the first place.

2. That “The name was first recorded in Scotland about the 15th century in Wigtown.” Wigtown is correctly identified as a place associated with this name, but we have yet to find any records going back that far (only to the late 18th century), so one has to wonder what alleged sources HoN is drawing from.

3. That “the name McCandlish was found in Wigtown where they held a family seat.” This is muddled regurgitation of the above two claims.

4. That “They were later found in Balamangan in Kirkudbright”. The location is a correct one according to Black’s research, but there’s presently no evidence of a clear timeline that would put them later in this area than they were in nearby Wigtownshire.

5. That “They may also have been McCanish sept of Atholl to the north.” This is preposterous. McCanish is from Neish/MacNish. This is just HoN blindly assuming that any Scottish name ending with a /ish/ sound must be related.

6. That “The family name McCandlish is believed to be descended originally from the Strathclyde Britons.” This is patent nonsense. What’s happened here is the ancient kingdom of Strathcylde overlapped what is now the Ayr/Wigtown/Kirkcudbright area, and HoN is blindly assuming that any names found in this area must go all the way back to Strathclyde. This is pure bollocks. The name is Gaelic not Brittonic, with a known derivation to 8th-century Ireland. It’s like saying that a provably German name from Alsace is of French derivation just because France at one point held Alsace.

7. That “From their early beginnings, for the next few centuries, the family name also acquired other territories.” Too inspecific to be at all meaningful, and there is no evidence of any territory acquisition.

8. That “Many swore fealty to King Edward 1st of England in his brief conquest of Scotland.” No evidence for this, which sounds more like a general claim about lowland Scots during this time period.

9. That “Many of this clan were banished to North Ireland in the plantation of Ulster.” No evidence of this, and it is historically muddled. The Plantation of Ulster was not a banishment of rebels but a colonization by loyalists. That said, it is clear that various McCandlishes (whether of one family line or several) did go to Ulster and become McCandlesses.

10. That “There are 7 heads of families of McCandlish recorded as being transported to Ulster”. No source given for this “recorded as” claim, and McCandlish and similar are not among the names of known families to have emigrated to Ulster during the Plantation (though such records are not complete). The “7” is reminiscient of S.A.McC.’s claim that 6 of 7 sons moved to N. Ireland just before 1715 Jacobite uprising. But it isn’t actually evidentiary of anything, especially since S.A.McC. may be a source that this HoN document is drawing on. Again, we know that McCandlishes went to Ulster, but not that they did so as part of the Plantation.

The rest of the document is a bunch of quasi-historical blather that has nothing to do with the McCandlish name/family in particular, and an overview of the McCandlish coat of arms that is incorrect on several points (it is missing both the crest and the oars of the galley).

Last modified 2023-05-14 by SMcCandlish.