Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Generation guitar fades away

Bloomberg has a story about Fender guitars that contained an interesting statistic: 90% of people who pick up a guitar abandon it within a year. The article suggests that people don't have the stamina to stick with it, even pointing out that "Steel strings hurt delicate hands."

I think there's something else going on. I heard an interesting theory from a friend in the music business, who said that high-quality PC and console videogames caused a seismic shift beginning in the 1990s, as teens gravitated to an immersive, often collaborative indoor activity.

If gaming (or apps, social media, whatever) are drawing away a large population of teens, not only are fewer people picking up a guitar or drumsticks but the number of available local bandmates declines, further weakening the allure of playing music. It makes a big difference if you have friends who also play. If your peers aren't doing it, music is more likely to be a solo activity which is not as much fun.

Another factor: from the 1950s to the early 2000s pop music heroes more often than not could also play guitar. I grew up in the 80s, and learned to play bass starting at age 16 by intently listening to cassettes of The Beatles, Who, Led Zep, U2, REM and the Sex Pistols so I could play with my friends and explore a new dimension of the music I loved.

I was never a hotshot player, but was competent at both the bass and rhythm guitar and played in lots of cover and original bands through my late teens and 20s in Boston and Taipei including The Fit (1986-87), The Dudes (1988-1990), Uckfay (1989-1990), Mr. O (1989-1990), The Librarianz (1993-1994), The Von Stainz and Swampus (1994-1996), Vine (1995), The M-9s (1995-1996), Feiwu/廢物樂隊 (1997-1999), Three-Ten (2000), and (briefly) Ambush at Junction Rock (2000). Some of my best friends today are people I played with decades ago, and one band, Feiwu, had two reunion shows in 2013.

My tween & teen kids have almost no interest in guitar-based pop music, although my daughter's middle school music curriculum included a segment on "90s music" which later prompted her to ask me, "Dad, did you know there was a song about a sweater unraveling?" (man, that made me feel old). They do listen to modern-day pop music, though, and sometimes to pop from previous decades that is not guitar-centric (Michael Jackson, etc.)

On the other hand, the apps and other tools that are now available to everyone--not to mention the ability to connect with like-minded people--can spark different types of musical creativity, collaboration, and insights. I did a double take a few months ago while listening to a radio interview with Philip Glass and my son casually remarked that one of his pieces from the late 1960s "sounds like 'My Singing Monsters'." I hope my kids do get interested in creating music and find an opportunity to collaborate, but I accept that it may not involve rock music.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The new MIT Sloan logo and the alumni #nogologo campaign

(Updated with "final" logo in July 2016, see details at the bottom of the post) In late March, alumni of the MIT Sloan School of Management received an email from the school about the new branding. It included a logo sample. While the school obviously spent a lot of time and effort on this, the reaction I have seen from alumni has been mostly negative. There is even a social media campaign to get it changed (more on #nogologo below).

Before I get into the logo issue, I would like to point out that I have been blogging about MIT/MIT Sloan-related matters for years. I generally try to give a balanced, reasoned appraisal of the issues at hand, which you can see in some of my earlier posts such as MIT Sloan Fellows: One semester down, two to go and MIT Executive MBA gets a name change and An encounter with Tim Berners-Lee and the Semantic Web. I have tried to do the same with the following post, even though there is a fair amount of frustration in some quarters.

To start, I think it would be helpful to take a look at the old logo (sorry, I don't have anything bigger) to understand what Sloan used to have for branding:

Old MIT Sloan logo
Old logo

Here's the new logo:
New MIT Sloan logo and the #nogologo campaign
New MIT Sloan logo

Here's what the announcement to alumni said:
Three years ago, we kicked off a branding effort to tell our story, and clarify what makes MIT Sloan unique. We began by gathering quantitative and qualitative insights from our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We then surveyed the global business community to understand their perceptions of MIT Sloan. Articulations as to our difference ranged across respondents. But what became clear across the board was that being the management school of MIT was a point of distinction—inextricable from our leaders and our work.

From this data, we were inspired to celebrate how our community lives our mission statement as leaders who improve the world, generate ideas that advance management practice—and, true to the Institute’s motto of “mens et manus”—translate thinking into action. We demonstrate that smart is our baseline. Collaboration is our cultural norm. And that solving the world’s toughest problems isn’t a lofty ideal, but our preferred reality.

Our new brand embraces this momentum and difference as MIT’s management school. Our logo illustrates the connection between the School and Institute as the fuel for innovation. Our message elevates ideas made to matter—the inventions of our brilliant minds and nimble hands working out in the world, and for it.

As we’ve started sharing the brand concepts and pillars, many of which are reflected in this brief note, we've heard that they resonate with our community's experience of MIT Sloan, and with our feelings about our School. Who we are, what we do, and how we lead continues to be what the world needs and wants. We are everywhere the future is being made, and everywhere ideas are made to matter.

We wanted you to be among the first to see our new brand. You’ll see it represented in upcoming communications and events. But more than that, we hope you’ll see yourself in it. We certainly do.
It was signed by MIT Sloan's Senior Associate Dean for External Relations and International Programs.

My take:

I believe it is time for a change to the branding of MIT Sloan. The old logo looked conservative, like a stately stone monument (the domed building is part of MIT's classic campus, built in the early 1900s). It looked appropriate for a top business school going up against Harvard Business School, the traditional powerhouse a few miles upriver.

But Sloan is not a monument. It's a dynamic business school that is part of the greatest institute of learning and building and innovation and discovery that the world has ever known. The branding should reflect this reality!

To that end, the new MIT Sloan logo got one thing right: The "MIT" graphic element looks more futuristic and forward-looking. Indeed, I think the new MIT Sloan logo better reflects MIT's core identity, rather than a conservative "business school" identity that is separate from the institute. That's a pretty important distinction, although I have to acknowledge that not all Sloanies agree with me (check the comments below the Change.org petition, linked further down the page).

There is also a major problem with the new MIT Sloan logo: the text below the graphic logo.  MANAGEMENT/SLOAN SCHOOL is awkward and reads poorly. It looks like of mishmash of concepts and words that a design committee insisted be shoehorned into the new identity, rather than a message or brand that is focused. 

For what it's worth, MIT has its own logo that looks very different from the old Sloan logo. Here's the version of the MIT logo that was used when I was a student there (and is still used today):
MIT logo
There were other MIT logos that used to be rotated on the mit.edu homepage -- I am not sure if they were experiments, or just something special for the home page, but they were interesting. All were nonstandard, bright, suggesting science or digital or data or a new way of looking at the world. I liked them. Similarly, I like the top part of the new MIT Sloan logo, which follows this model.

What do other alumni think of the new MIT Sloan logo?

The response I have seen on Facebook has been savage. Lots of people think that the graphic element looks like M/T rather than MIT. Many people in my class say they preferred the old logo. On Facebook and Twitter, there is now a #nogologo campaign to get the new MIT Sloan logo changed.

Someone even created a Change.org petition to Dean Schmittlein (whose background is marketing) calling for the new logo to be amended. Here are the objections:
Key critiques are (1) logo represents M/T rather than MIT, (2) grammatically wrong "M/T Management Sloan School" and (3) distances us from M.I.T. brand which is a crucial part of our heritage. The logo does not reflect the true Sloan nature.
It's up to nearly 400 1,000 signatures so far.

However, I have seen some comments by current Sloan students who indicate that they accept the new logo, awkward phrasing and all. Someone in the comments section of this blog post also said that many alumni like the new logo.

Regardless, if the outrage continues, the controversy promises to become a negative distraction.  Alumni clearly want a brand identity to rally around, and the current iteration of the new logo isn't it for a large number of us.

Update: July 7 2016

Sloan sent out a message two days ago with the email subject line "MIT Sloan Branding Initiative: Final Logo." In it, a new version of the logo was included:

The message included with the final logo said:

I am writing to you with an update on MIT Sloan’s Branding Initiative and share with you the final version of one element of the School’s branding work. After a year of experimentation and input, the School feels strongly that this version highlights core elements of a broad and bold strategy for MIT Sloan that focuses on amplifying our point of true distinction and differentiation: the School’ connection to the world’s greatest research institution.

For those of you who have shared your input along the way, thank you.  As we move forward with our work, we look forward to your continued partnership in advancing the mission and visibility of the MIT Sloan School of Management. Notification of this logo update will be shared with the broader alumni community in ENews, our online alumni publication, and on our website shortly.  

Clearly, the school took the "M/T" criticism seriously, but the wording still looks strange and people who preferred the old logo will not be satisfied.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ardoch Scotland revisited

Last year I wrote a post about Ardoch, an abandoned Catholic village in the Scottish Highlands from whence my forebears came (see Lamont genealogy and the lost hamlets of Glengairn, Aberdeenshire). Since that post, I have conducted additional research about Ardoch and Glengairn which I will share below. Genealogists interested in researching Lamont, Michie, McIntosh, or other Glengairn families are welcome to contact me at lamont -at- sloan dot mit dot edu.

“Glengairn” means “Valley of the [river] Gairn.” It is in this valley, located north of Ballater and the river Dee, that a vibrant Catholic community existed in the early 1800s. There were small hamlets located on the hills, sometimes little more than farmsteads, with names like Richarkarie, Tomnavey, Clashanruich, Dalfad, Laggan, and Lary. Inhabitants were Gaelic speakers, with only a limited number having any English education. They engaged in subsistence farming and weaving, but they did not own the land—they were tenants of wealthy landowners who limited activities such as hunting and salmon fishing. A 2006 genealogy by Nita Caffrey described living conditions in this part of the Highlands during the 1700s:
“The lower class lived in hovels built of rough boulders held together by dried mud, and thatched with heather or broom (bunch of twigs or straw). Usually there was an enclosure on one end of the house for the animals. It usually had an earthen floor, often so uneven that in damp weather, pools of water had to be stepped across to reach the peat fire. The fireplaces had wide open chimneys, with a seat at each corner and an iron with chain and crook to hang the kettle or three legged pot upon. Wood and peat (partially carbonized vegetable matter, usually mosses, found in bogs) were the fuel burned, as coal was not yet heard of. The cruisie lamp (fish oil) was used for light. Notwithstanding such conditions the race of people was strong and healthy; there were few hardier, stronger men than the Highlanders. The crofters possessed a cow, and oatmeal and milk were their food. Those who were better off had a few sheep and the wool was spun by the women and woven into blankets and tartan cloth.”  
The lairds of Glengairn were Catholic, which afforded their tenants a certain degree of protection from official oversight and anti-Catholic policies that dominated most other parts of Scotland. However, priests were persecuted throughout the 1700s into the early 1800s. A correspondent who grew up in the area and is researching the Ewen line told me:
"The whole of the Braemar area was a catholic stronghold (as also was Glen Gairn) right up to the 1745 uprising and I would be surprised if the Braemar Lamonts were of any other persuasion.   I know that there was persecution of Catholics taking place in Braemar  is 1785 as the priest was then living in a remote cottage at Inverey, and again in 1822 the Catholic School moved from Braemar to Inverey for the same reason."

Many residents of Glengairn were Catholic, but retained superstitious beliefs not unlike those found in Ireland. The following excerpt comes from research conducted by John Stephen and published as part of a PhD dissertation at the University of Glasgow in 2004:

Superstitions - Glen gairn ardoch scotland
Paradoxically, the residents were also in close connection with their Catholic faith. Glengairn had its own priest, Father Lachlan McIntosh, a remarkable character known as the Apostle of Glengairn who tended to the inhabitants of the valley from 1782 to 1846. He lived in the village of Ardoch (Gaelic for “High Land”), which was a hamlet of more than one dozen buildings, including at least one shop. There is an account of life during this period in an 1892 publication, Notes on Glengairn, Catholic Glengairn- Early Nineteenth Century, cited in Caffrey’s 2006 genealogy. One of the former inhabitants, Mrs. McKenzie (nee Michie), had this recollection:

“When I was 5 or 6 years of age I went to Ardoch to be Fr. Lachlan [McIntosh’s] servant. He came and took me by the hand and asked me to live at his house and herd his 2 cows. At that time, about 1830, Ardoch was quite a Catholic hamlet. It contained fourteen fire houses, [with chimney and fireplace] There was a shop kept by Chas. Calder. Calder drove merchandise between Blairgowrie and Ardoch, and over his shop door he displayed a sign board from which I took almost my first reading lesson. He was ’licensed to retail tobacco and snuff’ There were in the village two weavers, Wm. Ritchie and James Cattenach, who did a thriving business.”
 She also remembered Father McIntosh’s habits:
 “His life was very homely. He rose early, and said Mass regularly every Friday. People from a distance were always sure of Mass on Friday. Every day the old man kept moving about amongst his people. His only outdoor recreation was angling. Children knew his ways and would steal from him to the Gairn, when they were always rewarded by a gift of the take of trout. They used to help the old gentleman to disentangle his hooks which frequently got caught in the birch and alder trees that overhang the water. Many a time too he carried ’black sugar’ ( licorice) with him and we bairns knew this habit and expected some of the sweet stuff, which we guessed was meant for us. He generally wore a Spanish cloak of dark material. It was fastened at the neck by a silver clasp. When walking he always used a well-mounted stick with a long tassel hanging from the head. He took a keen interest in his farm and often carried, under the folds of his wide cloak, pieces of oat-cake and tit-bits for the horses that did the work of his croft. Fr. Lachlan had a grey mare which was mettlesome and very strong. His niece did the work of the farm in great part; she harrowed and went to the hill (worked at the peats) His dinner was just potatoes taken in their skins over the fireside and for supper brochan ( a kind of oatmeal gruel) and potatoes, which the neighbours often shared round his hearth.”
The priest’s old house at Ardoch is just ruins now, but the impact this man had on the region is still remembered today. Here is a picture taken by relatives who visited in 2015:

Father Lachlan McIntosh's house near Ardoch, now in ruins.
Father Lachlan McIntosh's house in Ardoch, Glengairn, now in ruins.
My relatives wrote:
“It’s a rough landscape with steep slopes and lots of stones and boulders. Few crops are seen except hay and potatoes, and few of the latter. The old tenant farmers were kicked off the land to make way for grouse and deer hunting, or for religious reasons. ... That said, the scenery is majestic and serene. Rugged peaks, burns, falls, deer everywhere and red grouse. The people are friendly and quite jolly, too. Pubs are crowded in town with locals and visitors. Two Highland weddings took place in town yesterday and they were dancing until 1 am next to our hotel.”
 Here is a photo of Ardoch, where a few ruined houses can still be seen:

Ruined houses in Ardoch, Glengairn, Scotland, 2015
Ruined houses in Ardoch, Glengairn, Scotland, 2015
So why did people leave Glengairn? Economic and demographic trends taking place in the Glengairn region from 1830 to 1870 (described in Stephen’s 2004 PhD thesis) are relevant. These factors included:
  1. Large Catholic landowners selling their holdings in and around Glengairn.
  2. A shift from small farms operated by tenants to consolidated farms and large-scale sheep grazing.
  3. The expansion of “deer forests” and hunting grounds for aristocrats/gentry.
  4. Increasing availability of emigration options, especially to Canada and Australia, with a corresponding rise in emigrant communities overseas.
Many Highland crofters were cleared from their homes. Some found employment on the sheep farms or aristocrats’ estates, while others moved to other parts of Scotland and England. But many emigrated overseas, encouraged by relatives and friends who had already moved, as well as by advertisements that celebrated the opportunities available to hard-working Highland folk. Free passage was offered to people emigrating to the British colonies in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Passage to the United States was inexpensive. For the families who boarded the ships, the lure of cheap land and freedom of worship must have seemed very appealing.

The last residents of Ardoch, including the last native Gaelic speaker in the area, died in the 1980s. Their story is told by Andy Wightman, who noted:

Unlike most of the rest of the Highlands, Aberdeenshire was never included within the scope of the Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 because the powerful lowland landowners refused to countenance such a move. As a consequence, vast swathes of the Highlands in the non-crofting counties have lost their people, their language and their culture as the tenants of the land were never more than one year away from eviction. This includes the “other” Ardoch which features on the cover of my book, The Poor Had No Lawyers, more images of which can be seen at James Dyas Davidson’s portfolio here. Had things been different, highland Aberdeenshire might today be home to a thriving gaelic culture. Places like Ardoch would be occupied by crofting tenants with secure, heritable tenancies. As a result of this failure to provide legal protection to tenants, Deeside Gaelic is now extinct and Ardoch was put on the international property market by Savills on behalf of Invercauld Estate last year [2011]. It was sold earlier this year for £212,500.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hacking Chinese

I was recently asked an unusual question: What was my biggest non-technical hack? How had I found a workaround or trick that let me do something that ordinarily wouldn't be possible or allowed.

That made me think. The best example I can think of involves the study of Chinese. I was able to study the language in a way that reaped major benefits for my career and overseas lifestyle in just six months.

Backstory: I arrived in Taiwan in early 1993 to study Mandarin and continue an overseas adventure that had started in London two years prior. While Chinese grammar and syntax is quite simple, Western students are often tripped up by two extremely difficult elements: Tones in the spoken language and characters in the written language. Most curricula emphasize the latter through rote memorization (necessary for reading) and stroke order (necessary for writing). Writing/memorization exercises take up 75% of a student’s time.

Speaking was given short shrift in many programs at the time -- it’s difficult to effectively teach tones and vocabulary is always taught in conjunction with reading/writing. This really slows progress, as a single term takes extra long to learn, thanks to the emphasis on learning the characters as well as the spoken form.

The result is many people who have formally studied Chinese for a year or more are unable to effectively talk in Mandarin, but will be able to understand characters and even write calligraphy. I had actually taken this approach in the United States in high school and college for two years total, but only knew the words for numbers and a few simple phrases when I arrived in Taipei.

My "hack" was to skip writing and concentrate on the spoken language, with a minimal amount of attention devoted to learning characters. In other words, instead of spending 25% of my time on verbal exercises and practice, I spent 90% of my time on learning how to speak Mandarin.

 My first experiment involved self-immersion, living with a family on the outskirts of Taipei, where I thought I could have a chance to practice talking. It didn’t work -- the children in the family wanted mainly to speak English, and the parents spoke a different dialect that is mutually unintelligible with Mandarin. The experiment failed. I learned almost nothing.

I then decided to take formal classes. Most Western students studied at local universities, but I found a private language school that didn’t force character study at the early levels, and had teachers that really emphasized spoken Mandarin (to the point that no English was spoken in class).

Ten hours of study in school and hours of additional practice every day on the streets of Taipei really worked. I was intensely focused on getting the tones and pronunciation right. Within two months I had the local accent and tones down cold, to the point where some people hearing me answer the phone initially supposed I was local. Within six months I had learned enough vocabulary and grammar to become a highly proficient speaker. I could barely read and my stroke order was positively embarrassing, but it didn’t matter -- I was interacting with local people at a very high level on a face-to-face level and really becoming immersed in social life there.

 The proof of my competency came in mid-1994, less than a year after I had restarted my studies, when I was invited to take part in a highly competitive job interview for a news editor at one of Taiwan’s largest television networks. The interview was completely in Mandarin with three station executives. I passed with flying colors, beating out 300 other applicants. A few years later, I wrote and composed a Mandarin song for my rock band that became a minor underground hit in Taiwan and Hong Kong. It wasn't fine calligraphy, but it made it possible for me to interact with people and improve my own career.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lamont genealogy and the lost hamlets of Glengairn, Aberdeenshire

For years I have been researching the origins of my family. One of the most perplexing mysteries concerned the origins of my forebear James Lamont who emigrated from Scotland to the United States in the mid-1800s. I knew his name, his year of birth, the names of his parents and children, but little about where he came from. In the past few months, with the aid of a professional genealogist and a local historian in Scotland, I have narrowed the search to a remote area of Aberdeenshire, a historical district in Scotland.

Any American who attempts genealogical research of Scottish forebears is likely to run into a records gap when going back before 1850. The quantity and quality of census records, church records, newspapers, and other written documentation is poor -- for instance, the UK did not begin a census until 1841 and Scottish civil records (marriages, births, etc.) weren't really formalized until 1855. In the U.S., record-keeping tended to be somewhat better but there are still many gaps.

For James Lamont, we have a copy of his newspaper obituary in New York state, which was a trove of information, as well as his death record (kept on file in a small town in western New York) which listed his parents' names -- James Lamont and "Ann Mechie." Through the obituary and New York state and federal census records I was able to determine the year of birth (1814, most likely between January and May). While the obituary confirmed he was from Scotland, the only information about where in Scotland he came from was a reference in an 1870s "who's who" of Niagara County, New York, which listed "Knearden" as the family's place of origin in Scotland.

Here are some of the problems I encountered:
  • There is no town called "Knearden" in Scotland that I could locate.
  • Most Lamonts came from western Scotland -- Argyll. Family lore stated he came from Aberdeen, a small city in the east. But that did not make sense, considering James Lamont took up farm work when he came to America. He did not seem like a city fellow.
  • James Lamont was Catholic, an extremely tiny segment of the Scotland's population in the early 1800s (the entire Catholic population of Scotland was estimated at about 30,000 people in the mid-1700s, or about 2% of the population)
  • "Mechie" was probably misspelled, and perhaps a variant of Mackie, Mackaye or McKie.

After spending years trying to crack the "brick wall" I contacted the New England Historical Genealogical Society and commissioned their experienced genealogists to see if they could go further. Here's what they found:
We began our research by looking for the birth of James Lamont in Scotland. We were not able to find his record and decided to broaden our scope. Next, we looked for Scottish birth records for children of James and Ann (Mechie) Lamont. We were able to find one birth record for a couple of this name. Donald Lamond, son of James and Anne (Michie) Lamond of Ardoch, was born and baptized on 13 March 1814. Donald was baptized in St. Nathalan Roman Catholic Church in Ballater. The village of Ballater is in the parish of Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn in the Kincardine O'Neil district in Aberdeenshire [Aberdeen County], Scotland. Ardoch is located about 2 miles north- west of Ballater. It is possible “Knearden” is referring to the Kincardine O'Neil district. ... Next we turned to passenger arrival records. If James Lamont arrived in New York City about 1850-1851 it was before Castle Garden or Ellis Island were in operation. However, no arrival records was found for James or Helen/Ellen (____) Lamont in currently available digitized sources. It is possible the couple travelled via Canada to Niagara County, New York. Unfortunately, records for this time period in Canada are sparse and nothing was found for the family.
Interesting. The "Knearden" misspelling was plausible -- I could see the editor of a rural "who's who" in New York making the mistake, especially if the source had a heavy accent or wasn't sure of the spelling himself. This could also take care of the issue of James Lamont being a farmer - he wasn't from Aberdeen city, but rather a very rural area of the highlands in Aberdeenshire, a county-like district reaching deep into the Scottish Highlands. Even more interesting was the James Lamond/Ann Michie couple. I had been searching on "Lamont" and ignoring variations, but "Lamond" is actually a common variation. "Michie" is a rare Scottish surname.

Nevertheless, there were still problems with the NEHGS findings. This couple only had one child, born the same year, but with a different name (Donald, not James). What was going on here?

I searched the records of Scotlands People for other children born to this couple. Nothing. This was odd, as most families at the time tended to have many children.

What about this place called Ardoch? It was listed on historical maps:
Now it is only ruins, as shown in this photo collection. It's one of about a dozen abandoned hamlets a few miles north of Ballater in the valley of the river Gairn, known as Glen Gairn or Glengairn. It's not far from Balmoral, the British royal retreat. Until the mid-1800s most of the people of Glengairn were Catholic, in a mostly Protestant Scotland. They were protected by the fact that Glengairn was so remote and several powerful landowners in the area were themselves Catholic. But changes in the economy of the area -- including the creation of "deer forests" for nobles, the expansion of sheep farming, and the sales of large tracts of land -- encouraged many to move elsewhere or emigrate. A large number of Glengairn inhabitants emigrated to Australia, as well as some to Canada. And, perhaps, some to the United States.

As for the origins of the Lamonts in Aberdeenshire, I found this account taken from a 1938 clan history (The Lamont Clan: 1235-1935):
The earliest appearance of a Lamont in the Braemar district was in 1483 when an Archibald was in trouble for cattle lifting. Tradition insists that the first of the clan in that airt was a daughter of a Laird of Lamont who was married about this time to a McGregor of Inverey. Following the old Celtic custom of leine-chneis she took her retainers with her, and so was founded a new branch of the clan still to the fore to this day.
Braemar is located to the west of Ballater, perhaps 10 miles distant -- certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Lamonts from Braemar to settle in the hills north of Ballater.

"Lamond" is apparently a medieval spelling, and the same 1938 account explains more history about the Braemar branch and their connection with the main body of the Lamonts in western Scotland:
(In 1682) the Braemar branch of the clan, realising that Archibald [Lamont] was now a power in the land, applied to him for recognition and protection. Their petition, which is still to the fore in the National Library, is striking evidence of the strength of the bond between chief and clansmen though living beyond the ken of one another. "Ther will be in this countrey of the bray of Marr," it commences, " about fourtie men of our name of MackLamond trewlie come from your honor's country long since and be reason of some accidents hes turned our right name as is knowne to be verie usuall in highland countreys. Wee all of our race knowes our owine genelogie our selfes. Wee live heir honestlie altho' not rich nor in great power be reison we want on above the rest as a cheiffe to owine us & keip us unwronged." The bearer of this appeal, which must have been personally presented at Ardlamont was to explain in detail a particular grievance: “…all these who descended of him were commonly called Gordones, altho' the right name is Lamond. Otheres of us be reason of our predecessor's blackness are called Mcgildui.”
I called a local historian, who confirmed that the Lamonts were "thick around Braemar," not so much around Ardoch or Ballater. There were not any census records of Ardoch or the other forgotten hamlets in the Glen Gairn area, north of Ballater.

One thing I have learned in years of doing research is always look at the original source -- sometimes clues lie in the records themselves which may not be apparent from database searches or second-hand information. So I went to Scotlands People and downloaded an image of the baptism of Donald Lamond, born to James and Ann Michie and recorded by St. Nathalan Catholic church in Ballater:
Transcription listed below
One thing that was immediately apparent was other Lamonts lived in the area closer to Ballater -- a Donald Lamond of Lary was listed as the sponsor (Godfather) while a birth from February 1814 listed another Lamont birth, Margaret, born to Alex Lamont Margaret Farquarson.

I was curious. What was on the other side of the notebook of the baptism list from St. Nathalan? I downloaded it from Scotland's People:
Transcription listed below
Not only were there even more Lamont/Lamond baptisms listed, one of them was a James Lamond, born the same month as the infant Donald. James' parents were Donald Lamond and Helen Farquarson. They resided in another hamlet, Shenval, located less than a mile from Ardoch.

Wow. Was the elder Donald Lamond of Shenval who sponsored infant Donald Lamond the same person as the father of James Lamond? Probably not, as on April 6 1814 another birth was recorded for Donald Lamond of Lary and his wife Elspet Lymon. But considering the closeness of the three hamlets (Ardoch, Shenval and Lary) and the common forenames (two James and three Donalds) suggests some family connection -- most likely brothers and cousins -- is possible, or even likely.

Here are some other hypotheses: Was it possible that infant Donald Lamond had a middle name James, or the infant James Lamond of Shenval was for some reason brought up by James Lamond and Ann Michie of Ardoch? In the 1841 Censuses for the Parish of Crathie and Braemar and the Parish of Glenmuick, Tullich & Glengairn there are no traces of Donald Lamont or Lamond, but there are many households in which infants or young children are living with adults with different surnames -- perhaps relatives, or paid guardians, or orphans. Here is one household in the Glenmuick, Tullich & Glengairn census from 1841:
Enumeration District 5: From the junction of the Gairn with the Dee up the North bank of the Dee until opposite Terquach; thence to the top of the hill above Terquach; then east along the top of the hills above Terquach Micras & Gaelic in a straight line until it reach the Gairn at a point west of Culsh.
Place: Kylacreech
Euphemia Christie 70
Jane [Christie] 50
Jane McHardy 25
Lewis Symon 1
These are hypotheses, not definite answers. Still, the origins of this family loosely match the data we have from James Lamont of Niagara County, NY. The birth year of 1814 matches, and there were no other James Lamonts or Lamonds born that year. James Lamond and Ann Michie were the only couple in Scotland having a similar name to the parents on the Niagara County death certificate -- I did extensive searches of the Scotland's People database to see if any other couples with similar names were recorded, and came up empty. And then there's the family lore, which has the family coming from Aberdeen and the Niagara County book of local notables which lists "Knearden" but is very likely to a misspelling of "Kincardine."

I feel there is a family connection, but more research is needed. The smoking gun could come in several ways:
  • Another paper record from Scotland, the U.S. or Canada which confirms something about James' origins.
  • A document from the U.S. that states James' exact birthday -- if I can match it with one of the dates in the St. Nathalan records for March 2014, I would have confirmation of the line.
  • A DNA match with someone descended from the Aberdeenshire Lamonts/Lamonds. I started this line of research but unfortunately not many Lamont descendents from anywhere are in the 23andme or GEDMatch databases. (Note: if you have Lamont/Lamond/Michie names from Aberdeenshire in your tree, and use genetic genealogy tools, please search for my 23andme profile OR check your GEDmatch kit number against M841892)
  • A piece of information from someone reading this blog.
On this last point, if you have something to share relating to James Lamont (James Lamond) or his family, or know more about the Lamonts of Braemar and Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn, please write me at ilamont.com@gmail.com.

Transcription of St. Nathalan, Ballater, baptism records from November 1813 to autumn 1814:

November 30, 1813
TO Andrew Thomson and Marge Gordon[Tamedour Grashie?] a daughter 27 [Cur] and baptized Anne. Sponsor John Youll and Ann Callanach  Fergach

Dec 2 1814
To Alex Durevard and Jannet Farquarson [Dyke-head Corgall] a [daughter] born 28 [Ult] and baptized Elisabeth [ipie] & Jane Farquarson [Cochbridge] Sponsor

Feb 20 1814
TO Alex Lamont and Mary Farquarson [Dalduna Corgark] a daughter born 18 [Curt] and baptized Margaret. Alex and Mary MDonald sponspors.

March 5, 1814
To James McGregor and Jannet Mitchie [Clashindrian PG or “Clashinruich” where Father Lachlan McIntosh had a chapel?] a son born 3rd and baptised James. Donald MKenzie here and Jannet MIntosh sposnors.

March 13 1814
To James Lamond and Anne Michie Ardoch a son born this day and baptized Donald. Sponsor Donald Lamond Lary and Mary Duresand Ardoch.

march 21, 1814
To John McIntosh and Jane Shaw [Tonghaoith] Braemar a son born 20 [Cur] and baptized Alexander. Alex and Shusanna Shaw Corgallie Braemar are sponsors.

March 26 1814
To James MHardy and Jannet Lamond Auchindryne Braemar a daughter born 23 Cur and baptized Marg. John and Jannet Lamont their sponsors.


March 31 1814
To Donald Lamond and Helena Farqu [Ghenvae …] [probably SHENVAL] a son born 28 Cur and baptized James. Sponsor John and Margret Grant, Torran [a hamlet next to Shenval and less than a mile from ARDOCH]


April 5 1814
To John Lamont and Mary Farquarson [Corga] a son born Cur and baptized Donald ipse Marg Durnward Sponsors

April 6 1814
TO Donald Lamond and Elspet Lymon Lary a daughter born & Cur baptized Elspet. James Donald and Marcelly Lamond Sponsors

June 17 1814
To Jane Fleming Aberarder and one calling himself McDonald whom she never saw before or after. A daughter born May 26 and baptized Agnes ipse and Agnes Fleming Tullochnacraig sponsors.

June 18 1814
To Robert McKay and Ann MHardy Cockbridge [Corgar] a son birn this day and baptized George. [William] MKay Glenlivat and Sophia Wallie Cockbridge, sponsors.

[Next page]

To Alex MDougall and Elisabeth Donald, Lary, a daughter born 24 and baptized Jane. Sponsored James Donald and Jane Donald Lary.

July 3, 1814
To Charles Anderson [Loinchork] and Dianna [xxx] from the south both unmarried a son birn March 31 a baptized Robert Stuart sponsors John Callanach and Anne MGregor [Remerafo]

July 20 1814
To James Callanach nd Mary [Symongleach] a son birn 19. Cur and baptized Alex. Sponsors John Fleming and Mary Ferguson [Auchintoul]

July 27 1814
To Callum Keir and Elisabeth MKenzie, Morven, a son born 24 Cur baptised John. Sponsors John Keir Mulloch and Jane MGregor, Morven

Aug X 1814
To Will Callanach and Jannet Coutts [Gleach] a daughter birn this day and baptized Anne. Sponsor Mary Furguson and Charles Coullyty.

August 28 1814
To William and Anne Michie [or Ritchie] Ardoch a daughter born 27 and baptized Mary. Sponsor Donald Coutts [Benebroch] and Mary Reid, Dalfad

Sept 1 1814
TO Donald McDonald and Elisabeth McGregor [Blarglas] a daughter born 28 and baptized Anne. Sponsor Ann xxx MGregor Morven.