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Heritage Village, Vineland, Ontario

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Written by GeoGene   

Village Cousins: our Bethunes

 The cousins Beaton, Beeton and Bethune, of clan MacDonald, live in Heritage Village. Their names have a long heritage.  The May 2007 resident's list contained these three surname cousins, but missing were the M' Beth or Mac Beth.  If they all go back far enough in their genealogy, they are bound to have common ancestors.    

  Scientists report that Western Europe's major genetic lineage can be identified in the Y-chromozome known as M343 Haplogroup R1b.  This appeared some 35,000 years ago in descendants of Cro-Magnon people.  The frequency of R1b in southern England is about 70 percent while in Ireland and Spain it reaches 90 percent. Canadian Beatons tend to think of their deepest roots as Scottish. The history of Scotland has facinating parallels to that of multi-cultural Canada. 

  Figure 1.  Historic shields and crests: Beaton, Beton, Bethune.Hisotrical arms and crests for Beaton alias Betune

The Irish will tell you that they brought civilization to Scotland when the Scoti Celts invaded the edges of the known World.  These Celts had long forgotten their own Germanic roots along the Danube River.  The English claim that  they civilized the Scots after the 14th century Wars of Independence. Evidence suggests the Beatons did it: or more precisely, their predecessors, folks from  Béthune of Pas-de-Calais, France. They came over after the Norman Conquest of 1088 as upper class settlers, bringing also the concept of hereditary surnames and heraldry.  Old English names were displaced by Continental Norse, Germanic or Christian.  Beaton and Bethune are not of Gaelic origin but rather derived from a Norse place name "de (from) Béthune" . Béthune was a medieval coal mining town.  

 The surname footprints of Scottish ancestors are hard to trace: most folks were illiterate and the clergy's spelling wasn't standardized. Furthermore, many chose patronymic surnames derived from the father's first name:  a practice that didn't completely die out until 1930.  In the Hebrides, the prefix Mac was added when Norse patronymics were translated into Gaelic. So Bethune was abbreviated to M' Beth or Mac Beth [son of Beth(une)] . Today, the proper spelling should be Macbeth since the surname has become hereditary.In the 16th Century, some folks used their surnames as Mac Beth and Beaton interchangeably. Where Highlands met Lowlands, the Mac was dropped, especially after the rebellion of 1745 when Highlanders anglicized their names to avoid hostilities.   

 One web site claims that " the oldest form of the name was MacMeic-bethad which evolved into MacBeth. The name means "son of life" and indicates the family identification with the profession of medicine".  That etymological explanation is fanciful, even if the family was for a time prominent in medicine. A family of physicians practiced in the Hebrides and Western Highlands during the late medieval period, as documented by "The Beatons: a medical kindred in the classical Gaelic tradition " by John Bannerman (1986) and An Historical and Genealogical Account of the Bethunes of the Island of Skye by Rev. Thomas Whyte (1778).   

The most famous Canadian to uphold this medical tradition was Henry Norman Bethune: surgeon, inventor, political activist (born Gravenhurst, Ontario 1890; died at Huang Shiko, China, 1939).  After 1775,  many Beatons migrated to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia drawn to the coal mines, not unlike their Béthune ancestors.   In Mabou, Nova Scotia, the Beaton name is second only to MacDonald in frequency. In 1957 Sister Margaret Beaton, Librarian of Xavier College  founded the Beaton Institute in Sydney to collect material pertaining to the Gaelic language and culture. 

bogus Beaton arms and badges

 Amateur genealogists love to illustrate their web sites with colourful "family crests" bought on-line or derived from antique books, in disregard of family history, property rights and heraldic rules. 

Figure 2. Bogus Shields of Beaton (b) and Badge of Macbeth  (c) all found on the Internet.

 

    

 Real heraldic detective work is more interesting: it can uncover family connections, if not entitlement.  Scottish heraldry has been regulated since 1592 by act of Parliament via the office of the Lyon King of Arms.  Coats of arms are issued by the Lord Lyon based on the principal of "one person, one coat of arms", transferable by inheritance. It is the Law, and Canadian Scots can also apply.   The Bethune cousins suffer their share of bogus heraldry (Figure 1) for eample, these fanciful  "Family Crests" (a)  ) Shield of Beaton (b) and Badge of Macbeth  (c) all found on the Inernet. Beaton, Bethune and MacBeth are families of the clan MacDonald.  

 The Scottish Clans are groups of families from a locality, with only a hypothetical link to a common ancestor.    Only the Chief as patriarch is entitled to the clan crest, being part of his coat of arms.  Clansmen may "wear" their Chief's crest but only to badge them - it would be improper to decorate personal belongings with such heraldry without adding: " Cirean Ceann Cinnidh" (meaning ?).  Amateur genealogists love to illustrate their web sites with colourful "family crests" bought on-line or derived from antique books, in disregard of family history, property rights and heraldic rules.  Real heraldic detective work is more interesting: it can uncover family connections, if not entitlement.  The compilation of 13th Century armorials by Cecil Humphery-Smith in 1984 found 8 armorials for Bethune before 1315 AD. The 19th Century publication Fairbairn's Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland listed one Beaton crest and five for Bethune, each with mottoes.  The Armorial General by J.B. Rietstap (1884) has 12 entries for families Bethune.  Bethune of Nethertarvit had a crest bearing a physician's quadrangular cap.   

Clan Donald USA claims that their Genetic Project identified in 2004 the gene signature of Colla Uais, founder of the Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada: proof that Colla fathered both the Irish and Scottish branches.  I'm skeptical, but then again, we are all genetic cousins, and all anxious to find our royal heritage. 

 

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