Brackenridge Surname History


brackenridge crest

The Brackenridge surname can be traced back to the fifteenth century in lowland Scotland and northern England where it appears in a variety of private papers and public records. Most frequently, however, it is associated with Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, and the environs of Glasgow. Variant spellings are common: Brackenridge, Breakenridge, Breakinridge, Breckenridge, Breccinridge, or Breckenridge. The earliest spellings, however, end with “rig” rather than “ridge,” suggesting an agricultural context: Brecenrigg, Brecenrig, Breckinrigg, Breconrig, Breconnrigg, etc. (A rig is the space between the furrows in a plowed field and by extension refers to the field itself.) Bracken is an undesirable wide-leafed fern that flourishes in the moist Scottish soil and is eaten by animals only as a last resort. Before Scots adopted modern agricultural practices, fields were broken up in medieval fashion into small plots separated by built-up rigs or mounds (ridges)on which weeds such as bracken proliferated. “Bracken rigs” possibly described the fields in which our ancestors labored and eventually became a family name.1

Other etymologies are more exotic but less verifiable historically. Some family historians propose Highland origins, most frequently Argyllshire and surrounding environs. Taking their name from bracken-covered hills, these highlanders supposedly moved south in search of better farmland and more promising economic conditions. 2 One writer claims that the family name sprung up spontaneously during “one of the religious wars in Scotland” when Protestants and Catholics met on a battlefield. A family named McIlvain, so the story goes, fought with the Protestants who were defeated and routed. The McIlvains, however, saved their lives by taking refuge in a ridge overgrown with tall bracken. Because of their near miraculous escape from death, in gratitude they adopted the new name of Brackenridge.3

Although this story makes interesting reading, we know that the name Brackenridge existed long before any Protestant-Catholic engagements. The surname apparently is derived from the lands of Brackenrig in the old Barony of Avondale in Lanarkshire. Early references include “the yard of John Bracanrygg in Glasgow” (1454) and the mention of Robert Brakinrig as a witness to a letter of reversion (1504). In 1629 a William Brackinrig in Clevens complained of having been assaulted and in 1654 John Breckenrig is noted as having been a servitor in Lanarkshire in 1654. As far back as 1600, the name appears in the Edinburgh Marriage Register in the forms Brakinrig, Brackenrig, Braikinrig, and Brackenrigg. An entry from the Eastwood [near Glasgow] Parish Kirk Session Records, 20 November 1708 reads: “John Breakenridge was brought before the Session for cursing, swearing, and profanation of the Sabbath Day and fined 30 shillings Scots.”4

Our extended Brackenridge family connections can be traced back to a cluster of Lanarkshire parishes in the vicinity of Glasgow: The Barony (Glasgow), Old and New Monkland, and Bothwell. Among towns of note in the latter three parishes, were Airdrie, Bothwell, Bellshill, Coatbridge, Holyton, and Uddingston, as well as many small mining and farm villages such as Bargaddie, Rosewell, Langloan, and Whifflet. Our immediate family ties, however, are located in Old or West Monkland Parish, an area about ten miles in length and three and a half miles wide situated along the eastern bank of the river Clyde on the outskirts of Glasgow. The name Monkland derives from a Cistercian Monastery that occupied the territory as far back as the fourteenth century.5

Lanarkshire parish maps

The Old Monkland Parish Records, which date back to 1695, contain notations of marriages, births, deaths, and baptisms. Unfortunately, the earliest entries rarely give complete data, making it impossible to identify precisely family relationships. For example, the parish clerk simply noted, “a child John, to Alexander Brackenridge, on 7 November 1782.” Occasionally a mother’s first name is mentioned, but her maiden surname rarely appears in parish records. The earliest references to our extended family were John Brackenrig of Bothwell whose son James was born on 2 January 1704, and Alexander Brackenrig , also of Bothwell, who reported the birth of a son William on 17 March. 1704. In 1738, John Brackenridge had a son, Alexander, whose birth date was 26 April. Because John, William, and Alexander were favorite Christian names, likely one or more of these people belong to our immediate family.

               Old Monkland Parish Church Early 19th Century

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