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ORIGINS Are the Bairds a Clan?

The argument of whether the Bairds are a clan is a contentious issue.  Even within the Clan Baird Society, the debate has raged between Baird historians and genealogists. Determining who is a clan is not as simple as looking at a website or in a book. The Clan system was a fluid  geographically constrained political system localized principally in the Gaelic speaking regions (borders, Galway, Highlands, and Islands ) that slowly retreated northward until its collapse in the 1745.


​In determining if the Bairds constituted a clan, one must look at certain historical periods as opposed to the whole body of a particular family history. For example, it would be incorrect to deduce whether the Bairds were a Clan based on the interactions of the 19th century family that had again retreated to Renfrewshire.  Likewise, looking for Clan traces in the 13th century would also result in not identifying a Clan as the Clan system was rapidly developing in this time far away from the lowland capitol.

Looking at the historical documents of Baird main family lines, and comparing it to a conservative definition of an historical Clan, the Bairds of Ordinhivas and Auchmedden, circa 15th – 17th century, should be included in the list of clans. The Bairds of Ordinhivas and Auchmedden match a conservative definition of a Clan based upon cultural markers and mirror progressively assimilating clans of their time. The Bairds are also recognized by the Lord Lyon as being a Clan.  These Bairds are believed to have been originally descended from the Cambusnethan Lanarkshire group, which is now called the Gartsherrie Group.


Dr. Bruce Durie, who directed the Genealogical, Heraldic and Paleographic Studies Programme at the University of Strathclyde, listed the following cultural markers as the hallmarks of the a clan in his work “What is a Clan?”. He listed the following items as being associated to a clan:

  • Geographical Constrained location (Highlands/Borders)

  • Extension beyond a Kinship group (Native vs. Broken)

  • Geographical Co-locality

  • Heritable Jurisdiction

  • Sense of Stewardship or ownership of land

  • Fosterage

  • Manrent

  • Marriage Bonds to reinforce local alliances

  • Military Structure


During the 15th to early 17th century, the Bairds of Ordinhivas and Auchmedden covered all of these cultural indicators. The Bairds of Ordinhivas, per family history recorded by William Baird, 7th of Auchmedden, stated that the family had moved northwards. The lands of Ordinhivas covered a tremendous amount of area including Drumnakeith (the back of the forest), Pittinbrizian, as well as land in Banff. Drumnakeith sits in the Boyne (Aboyne). These lands were received by Bairds through marriage to Janet Maitland, to whom the Earl of Huntly gave in marriage after the death Sir Patrick Maitland of Gicht.


It is important to note that at this time, Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, and Morayshire continued to have a large Gaelic speaking population. This land sat on the edge of the Gaelic speaking world. This is not to say that the Bairds were Gaelic speakers but rather they existed on the assimilation fringe of two cultures, and most likely functioned in both the Gaelic and English speaking communities, speaking enough of both languages to be a part of both cultures. Like any border community throughout the world that has significant cross trade and exchange, the Bairds were exposed to Gaelic ideas and cultural traits which included Clanship.   Sir James Baird of Auchmedden was commended for “suppressing Highlanders and Outlaws in the said county” in 1668.


The Bairds of Ordinhivas and Auchmedden demonstrated a kinship group.  Interestingly, in a letter of 1579 of Andrew Baird, brother of Gilbert Baird of Auchmedden, he refers to Walter Baird of Ordinhivas as “our Chief”. This is interesting as Walter Baird was the father -in-law of his landed brother. Clearly, Andrew felt some relationship to the Bairds of Ordinhivas to the point that Walter was seen as the chief. This shows both a structural hierarchy the extended past feudal land ownership as well as a sense of a kinship group. In addition, we note that living in the Lands of Auchmedden, there existed several families with differing surnames for whom the Bairds of Auchmedden felt responsibility, which included the building of the harbor. The Bairds also maintained a retinue of servants who lived at the Castle in Auchmedden. This was not merely a single family living on a family.

Geographical Co-locality is also considered a cultural signpost of a clan. In the Case of the Bairds, two strong examples jump out quickly.  First, we see the Bairds of Ordinhivas and Auchmedden, two separate families that later joined, live in Co-locality of Banffshire.  In addition, we can also watch descendants of the Bairds of Auchmedden purchase the lands of Byth to the south of Auchmedden. When the clan organization began to break down in the mid 17th century, the Bairds of Byth sold the land and moved south, only to rename their lands, New Byth. This shows not only co-locality but also a sense of stewardship towards the land. Later, Gartsherrie Bairds would purchase the lands of Auchmedden in the 19th century (1854) cementing the image of a co-location and stewardship driven land responsibility.  Robert Baird of Auchmedden looked to re-establish the Clan Center of the Bairds by moving to Auchmedden from his then base in Glasgow.  Unfortunately, he died before carrying out his plans.

Durie also lists a heritable jurisdiction. The Bairds of Auchmedden clearly displayed a heritable jurisdiction over their land as they passed it for the next 200 years. If we add the time when the Bairds of Ordinhivas came into the Aboyne, (listed as the Boyne by William Baird, 7th of Auchmedden) the Bairds maintained a presence of almost 300 years prior to the collapse of the Clan system.  In addition, the Bairds of Auchmedden, who succeeded the Bairds of Ordinhivas, became the Sheriffs of Banffshire.

Fosterage is also a cultural trait of clans. Here the evidence of fosterage becomes weaker. We do note that Gilbert Baird was claimed to have 32 children. It is unknown if this is an example of fosterage but it equally dubious that Gilbert’s wife bore 32 children and/or allowed her husband to maintain such a large number of illegitimate children. It is strongly possible that many of these children were fosters children that lived for a short time in Auchmedden castle after which the Bairds of Auchmedden looked upon them as children. It may also refer to the concept of Clann or children in the terms of 32 Clan members living in the vicinity. What is known is that that Sir James Baird of Auchmedden was sent as a youth to Edinburgh to be fostered by his uncle before returning later to marry into the Ogilvie’s of Findlater and become Sheriff of Aberdeenshire. This strengthened the bond between the two families despite no longer being co-located.

The Bairds of Ordinhivas also participated in manrent with a mutual bond of manrent with Alexander Ogilvie of Findlater, in 1553, with George Baird of Ordinhivas and his son William Baird.  The nature of this manrent appears to be purely military. Alexander Ogilvie of Findlater had disinherited his son from receiving the Barony of Ogilvie.  In this case, this Alexander Ogilvie appears to have needed military allies. His son, James Ogilvie and appointed heir would land on opposite sides of internal religious and political fights with Mary, Queen of Scots, which would end in the Battle of Corrichie.  George Baird and William Baird of Ordinhivas passed away but George Baird of Auchmedden would fulfill the manrent in that battle.

This even is significant because despite Walter Baird of Ordinhivas receiving charters for from both Lord Darnley, and John Gordon, the two opposing parties in the Battle of Corrichie, the Earl of Huntly, a Gordon who fought alongside Auchmedden at Corrichie, granted a charter for those lands to the Bairds of Auchmedden.  The reason for this is due to the other cultural hallmark. George Baird of Auchmedden’s son, Gilbert, married the heir of Walter Baird of Ordinhivas, Lilias and thus cemented the Bairds in Auchmedden. This is one of the many examples of marriage bonds being used to strengthen local alliances. The Bairds of Ordinhivas and Auchmedden married into the surrounding landowners’ families to maintain strong alliances.


The Bairds also appear to have maintained a military structure based upon people within their jurisdiction. George Baird of Auchmedden fought at the Battle of Corrichie in 1562 as well as at the insurrection of Aberdeen in 1589. His pardon from the King stated that he was an “aged and decrepit man” which would indicate that he was present due to his leadership ability not his singular fighting ability. The Bairds of Auchmedden shared a strong Jacobite sentiment that led them into the uprising of 1715, and 1745. William Baird of Auchmedden, 7th of Auchmedden carried the responsibility to raise funding or men in Aberdeenshire for Lord Lewis Gordon. His efforts resulted in raising two regiments for the Jacobite cause, far exceeding efforts in other parts of Scotland.

The Bairds of Auchmedden are now considered to have been Gaelic speakers, due to evidence found of late concerning their interactions in the Banff and Moray region.  Also, by consequence of the marriage of Gilbert Baird of Auchmedden and Lilias Baird of Ordinhivas, they were descended from a family that lived on the edge of the Gaelic speaking world. At the last, they partially assimilated into that culture to the point they recognized a chief and became a powerful force in Banffshire and the Kings representative in all matters as Sheriff. The Bairds expanded and acquired lands to which they felt a sense ownership and stewardship.  The Bairds of Auchmedden and Ordinhivas carried all of the accepted cultural markings of a highland Clan.

While individually, these markers do not point to a clan, collectively, the evidence becomes clear that the Bairds of Ordinhivas and Auchmedden (including the Bairds of Byth and their heirs) from the 15 century to the early to mid 17th century constituted a clan especially in comparison to similar clans histories of the time. During the 17th century, the clan system slowly broke down, and the Bairds were no different. By the Late 17th century, we read how the Sir James Baird of Saughtonhall oppressed the Highlanders in their region. By 1745, vestiges of the Clan system can be detected but the clan itself had assimilated back into the lowland world. This assimilation is similar to other clans that assimilated rapidly to the point they no longer appeared as Gaelic speaking clans such as the Campbells and Frasers.

Under the Modern definition of Clan, the Bairds are also clan as Sir James Baird of Auchmedden registered his arms as Chief of the Name in 1672. Under this definition, the Bairds in modern times represent a “Modern Clan” although evidence supports that the Bairds were also a historical clan.  In conclusion, Bairds are a clan based on comparison to accepted criteria by modern historians. The Bairds maintained the structure, lands, and cultural markers of clans. In comparison to similar clans in Scotland in the time period it is clear that the Bairds lost their clan identity in the 17th century. The Baird Clan identity is neither anachronistic nor modern creation although it additionally meets the modern definition of a Clan.  Members of the Clan Baird are heirs to a magnificent heritage waiting to be discovered.

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