The Annals of the Annals

An investigation into the early history of the Annal/Annand family in South Ronaldsay, Orkney

The Annal surname appears to have originated separately in two parts of Scotland; in Orkney (specifically the island parish of South Ronaldsay) and in Fife (St Andrews and the East Neuk). In both cases, the name seems to be a corruption of the name Annand or Annan.

My aim is to explore the origins of the family in South Ronaldsay (from which I am descended) and, in particular, to examine the story that the family are descended from the Reverend James Annan or Annand, Commissioner of post-Reformation Orkney and his supposed son, James Annan, a wright of South Ronaldsay.

The earliest reference I have found to the surname Annal in the records of South Ronaldsay, Orkney, is in a rental of the lands of James Stewart, dated 1735[1]. Amongst the tenants listed is James Annall of Smiddie (i.e. Smiddy, a farm in the Grimness district). His name does not appear on any earlier lists of names including an inventory (dated 1711) of ‘Lands & Estate of Sir James Stewart of Burray’. However, this earlier list includes the name of James Annan in Pool. Pool is the farm immediately to the north of Smiddy and although there is no firm evidence for this, I feel quite certain that James Annall of Smiddie and James Annan of Pool are the same person (or, possibly that they are father and son) and that the name Annal is simply a variant of Annan.

Further rentals from the late 1740s and early 1750s[2] include the name of James Annal of ‘Upper & Neither Smidie’ and it seems likely that Pool was also known as Upper Smiddy. The geography of the area would certainly support this theory.

Ordnance Survey map 25 inch sheet CXX.16, 1882, South Ronaldsay, Orkney (detail), National Library of Scotland

A simple analysis of various surviving lists of South Ronaldsay names and other documents such as parish registers, testaments and inventories reveals that the name Annan(d) is found regularly on the island up until 1711 but not at all after that. In contrast, the name Annal(l) does not appear until 1735, yet by the time of the 1821 census (the earliest complete listing of the inhabitants of South Ronaldsay) it has become one of the most common surnames on the island, with nearly seventy individuals listed. This would be a quite remarkable increase if we are to believe that the name was new to South Ronaldsay just 86 years earlier. The logical conclusion is that the name Annal was not new to South Ronaldsay in the early eighteenth century but that it is a corruption of the well-established name Annan(d).

The parish registers for South Ronaldsay were poorly kept until the late eighteenth century. Nothing survives before this apart from two tantalising blocks; the first covering the years 1657 to 1669 and the second, starting in 1749 but petering out by the late 1750s/early 1760s and only returning to something approaching full coverage by the late 1780s.

The 1750s are, therefore, well covered and the parish register includes records of the baptisms of two children of James Annal (Annel) of Grimness; William in 1751 and Margaret in 1754. This is surely the James of Upper and Nether Smiddy who is listed in the later rentals. It seems unlikely that the man who was paying rent in 1711 was still fathering children in the 1750s so I think that we have two different people here, probably father and son. The James Annal listed in 1735 could be either the father or the son.

Baptism of William Annel, South Ronaldsay parish register, 18 July 1754
National Records of Scotland 29/2 p.14

The evolution of the surname from Annand to Annal has a direct precedent, provided by another South Ronaldsay surname. While it might seem strange that a name with a ‘hard’ ending such as Annan(d) should evolve into the much softer ending in Annal, we can point to the same ‘shift’ happening a hundred or so years later with the name Russland. The surname had been fairly common in South Ronaldsay in the eighteenth century, but gradually evolved to Russell, first in its pronunciation and eventually in its spelling.

It’s worth noting that the same evolution from Annan(d) to Annal occurred (independently) with the name in Fife.

Alexander ‘Sandy’ Taylor Annal (1907-2007) had a remarkable knowledge of the history of the inhabitants of his native South Ronaldsay. He wrote a number of articles on the subject and had an enormous store of information which he imparted in personal discussions and via local radio broadcasts. Sandy appears to have spent much of his youth listening to the tales of his ancestors, many of which were related to him by his grandfather, Peter Annal (1830-1923). As an oral historian, Sandy didn’t tend to give sources for the family histories that he passed down to us, but it is clear that, despite a tendency to exaggerate and a propensity for allowing his own political and social opinions to influence his take on historical events, his interest in the subject was genuine and intense. It’s also clear that he had a keen and inquisitive mind and a desire to disseminate his findings and conclusions.

Alexander ‘Sandy’ Taylor Annal (1907-2007)

In the text of an article intended for broadcast on Radio Orkney and dated April 1983[3], Sandy made his feelings known about a book ‘recently … published by a certain Gregor Lamb, giving his interpretation of Orkney family names and from where they originate.’ He was evidently not impressed:

A very large proportion of his interpretations of the Orkney names are false; in fact just rubbish.

The book that Sandy was referring to was Gregor Lamb’s Orkney Surnames[4], in which the author gave the following interpretation of the origins of the Annal name:

Annal: John Annal, South Ronaldsay, 1715: although not recorded in Orkney before 1700, this surname is included because its first recorded appearance is very close to 1700 and also because the surname is very interesting: locally it is believed that the surname is a corruption of Annand (Anynd) another surname which formerly existed in Orkney but this is unlikely since the surname Annal existed in Fife in 1550, more than one and a half centuries before its first recording in Orkney: most probably from the old medieval trade of enamelling (Middle English ‘anelen’, to enamel) and therefore related to the English surname Ambler: since, in those days enamel was a blackening process, the surname might be a nickname for a dark or swarthy person: Annal is not a common surname in Orkney today: confined to South Ronaldsay.

In his 1983 article, Sandy Annal gave his own version of the derivation of the name.

Tradition of our family says that the Annals were descended from a minister. They were very blonde in appearance and originated from Annandale in Dumfries. Well, at the time of the reformation two ministers reformed all of Orkney except the church in Westray. They were the Reverend Gilbert Fowlsie and the Reverend James Annan. The latter was minster of Papa Westray, Sanday, Eday, Stronsay and North Ronaldsay. He was in Orkney by 1550. His name is to be found on a great many charters and title deeds. He was on very good terms with Robert Stewart (half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots) Earl of Orkney. So it’s not surprising that his son, James Annan, became clerk and factor to Earl Patrick Stewart, the infamous earl who was executed at Edinburgh in 1614, for his cruelty to Orkney udallers[5]. The earl’s factor, James Annan is accused in history of acquiring udal property for the earl simply by writing out new titles in Earl Patrick Stewart’s name…

This same James Annan was my direct ancestor…

1614, when a detachment of soldiers was sent to arrest Patrick Stewart and his son, Robert, they along with his bodyguard of 35 men, held out at Kirkwall castle for six weeks. By that time the castle was demolished by the cannon fired from the Kirk Green. And so the end was near.

James Annan with Patrick Hacker [Halcro?], a South Ronaldsay man, the earl’s Sergeant-at-Arms, negotiated with the army commander and handed over the earl for their freedom.

The next we hear of James Annan states in 1614 that he was admitted to communion in St Mary’s Church [South Parish, South Ronaldsay] and described as a fugitive from justice, residing at Graemston. There was a mansion house there at that time. I have before me, in clear writing, a photocopy of the Reverend James Annan’s signature. But for some reason the last letter is clearly the letter ‘l’.

…he’s a member of the Auchterellon Annans.

Sandy’s statement that the Reverend James Annan(d) was his direct ancestor requires further investigation. On the face of it, the idea that the Earl’s ‘clerk & factor’ ended his life as a wright[6] (‘wricht’) in St Margaret’s Hope seems a bit far-fetched but, nevertheless, the theory that the Annals of South Ronaldsay are descended from the wright is entirely convincing[7].

The signature of the Reverend James Annand was published in Craven’s History of the Church in Orkney[8]; the final character is, despite Sandy’s reading of it, quite clearly a ‘d’.

Signature of Jacobus Annand, Chancellor
History of the Church in Orkney (1558-1662),
Rev. J B Craven (1893) p.36

The Annand family were settled in the Aberdeenshire parish of Ellon as early as 1428 when John de Annand ‘lord of Auchterellon’ was described as the baillie (or estate manager) of the Prior of Torphichen. References to the family as major landowners in the area continue until the early seventeenth century[9]. A large monument to Alexander Annand who died in 1601, survives in the churchyard at Ellon. The family of Annand of Auchter Ellon appears in Burke’s Landed Gentry[10]where a further link to the Annands of Annandale is suggested.

There can be no doubt that the Reverend James Annand was an Auchterellon Annand. He is named in a 1558 deed relating to the “lands of Aucheterellane and Cukiston, with the mill thereof…”. James was acting on behalf of “Alexander Annand, son and heir of the late Thomas Annand of Aucheterellane[11]; it is likely that he was Thomas’s brother, or possibly his cousin.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for James’s link to Auchterellon comes from one of the nine copies of Hector Boece’s Scotorum historiae a prima gentis origine held by the National Library of Scotland[12]. Formerly owned by the Reverend James Annand, the copy was, according to the description on the National Library’s catalogue, “bound for him with his motto ‘Sperabo’ stamped on both boards” – Sperabo is the motto of Annand of Auchterellon.

James Annand’s life is quite well documented. The Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae gives a brief summary of his career as a minister in the reformed Church of Scotland:

1567   JAMES ANNAND, perhaps the student of that name of whom mention is made at a visitation of King’s College, Aberdeen, in 1549, and he may be “Dominus James A.” who witnessed a deed relating to the Dempster family, in 1547, as recorded in the Register of the Diocese of Brechin; belonged to the family of Annand of Auchterellon, Aberdeenshire; was a priest in the Romish Church holding the prebend of St John at Kirkwall previous to 1560; became chancellor of Orkney and had the benefices of Lady and Cross in Sanday, St Mary’s in Westray, Papa-Westray, and North Ronaldsay. Conforming to Protestantism he was appointed by the General Assembly in 1576 co-comissioner with Gilbert Foulzie for the planting of churches wherever necessary. He resided in Kirkwall in what of old was known as the “Laverock” [now Victoria Street], and was alive in 1605. He was pioneer of the Reformed Church in Orkney[13].

If a connection between the South Ronaldsay Annals and the family of Annand of Auchterellon can be established, we would be able to trace a line right back to the 11th century and the first Robert Bruis (or Bruce) ‘a noble knight of Normandy’ who came to England with William the Conqueror and was given lands in the north of the country. His son, also, Robert, was in Scotland by the 1120s and by 1129 was in possession of the Lordship of Annandale.

My own family line can be traced back to James Annal of Grimness; his son, William, is my 4x great grandfather. James was probably born around 1710 but, if he is the man listed in the 1735 rental he could have been at least ten years older. It seems likely that his father was the James Annan who was living at Pool in 1711 and it’s possible that this older James was the son of yet another James Annan.

With an almost complete absence of conventional parish register material for South Ronaldsay prior to the mid-eighteenth century, reconstructing the various branches of the Annan/Annal family is fraught with difficulty. There are a number of documents (rentals etc.) listing the names of the inhabitants of the island, usually with the name of the farm or lands on which they are paying rent, and using these, it is possible to come up with some theories about relationships. Fortunately, four seventeenth century testaments have survived relating to the Annan family of South Ronaldsay[14] which are altogether more useful.

The earliest testament is that of James Annand, the ‘wricht’ (wright) of St Margaret’s Hope who died on 1 December 1614. His wife is named as Catherine Mowat, and the following children are mentioned: George, John and Elizabeth Annand.

Opening lines of the will of James Annand ‘Wricht in St Margarets Hop’, Commissary Court of Orkney
National Records of Scotland reference CC17/2/2

The testaments of John Annan(d) (died April 1668) and his wife Agnes Omand (died 1 November 1663) name the following children: James, Robert, John, Elspeth and Barbara. I strongly suspect that this John is the son of the above James Annand. James and Robert are only mentioned in Agnes’s testament (not John’s) but there’s no evidence to suggest that they had died in between Agnes’s death and John’s. In fact, the marriages of Robert Annand to Elspet Gunne (26 December 1666) and of John Annand to Helen Aikers (5 February 1669) almost certainly relate to John and Agnes’s sons.

The last testament relates to a man called James Annane who died in May 1687; his testament names his wife, Mareone Stewart and his children, James, Mareone, Ka[the]rene, Marg[are]t, Barbara and Ursulla. (The surname Allane is used in the testament for the children but this is presumably an error.) The details clearly tie in with the marriage of James Annand and Marrione Stewart as recorded in South Ronaldsay’s earliest surviving parish register, on 7 April 1668. Unfortunately, the register ends in 1669 (followed by an 80-year gap) so we don’t have a record of the baptisms of any of James and Marrione’s children. James is almost certainly the son of the above John Annan and Agnes Omand. His son, James, is probably the James Annan/Annal of Grimness listed in the 1711 rental.

We therefore have a potential line of descent from James Annand, the wright of St Margaret’s Hope, down to James Annal of Grimness and we can draw up a (highly speculative) family tree.

We can also say with some confidence that the Reverend James Annan was a member of the Auchterellon family. The major question that remains to be answered is whether or not the Reverend was the father of James Annand, the wright. It is this crucial link in the chain which I intend to focus on in the next phase of my research.

© David Annal, Lifelines Research, 26 March 2021


[1] An earlier reference to a John Annal in 1715 is given in Gregor Lamb’s Orkney Surnames but no source for this is provided.

[2] My source for these rentals is a letter written to me on 24 April 1983 by George Esson of St Margaret’s Hope

[3] Typescript copy in my possession.

[4] Orkney Surnames, Gregor Lamb (Edinburgh, 1981)

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Udal_law

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright

[7] In a later (undated) ‘Errata and Addenda’, Gregor Lamb conceded that the name Annal was ‘probably a corruption of Annand: James Annand, wright, St, Margaret’s Hope, died 1641 [sic]’

[8] History of the Church in Orkney (1558-1662), Rev. J B Craven (1893) p.36

[9] Records of the Parish of Ellon, Thomas Mair (Edinburgh, 1876)

[10] Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland (1847)

[11] The Protocol Book of Gilbert Grote (1552-1573), Scottish Record Society (Edinburgh, 1914)

[12] https://www.nls.uk/collections/rare-books/collections/hector-boece

[13] Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Volume VII (New Edition) (Edinburgh, 1928) p.276

[14] National Records of Scotland:
6 June 1615, James Annand, Wright of St Margaret’s Hope, CC17/2/2
17 January 1665, Agnes Omand, Wife of John Annan of South Ronaldsay, CC17/2/10
24 November 1668, John Annand, Cleat, South Ronaldsay, CC17/2/10
15 March 1688, James Annane, Lythes, South Ronaldsay, CC17/2/14

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