Guest post: Neish - A One Name Study

A one name study looks at the origins of a surname rather than a
person or a family. Here, Alisdair Neish explains how getting
involved with the study led to him discovering people from all over
the world with the same surname.

Alisdair welcomes information on any Neish-related names to add to the database, and is especially seeking help with Northern Irish branches: McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece.


I learned early that it is not uncommon to grow up not knowing anyone else who shares your surname. My only Uncle and my Dad's last remaining Uncle died when I was around 12. It was 10 years later, the year my Dad died, before I met another Neish. My early research uncovered almost nothing other than the McNab Folklore. [1]

I realised we were out there as the Neish / McNeish name had a habit of popping up in news items or documentaries, especially after the birth of the internet. I soon contacted lots of individuals who, like me, did not know much beyond their immediate family.

Then I was emailed by John Sudell Neish who is creating a One Name database of every Neish who ever lived. I was able to tell John enough to link into his data and John was able to tell me that we were 6th cousins and was kind enough to provide me with details of my entire family group since our common ancestor  of 1715. My research continued though.

Image: Loch Earn, home of the Neish clan (©  Patrick MacRitchie)

Even with a rare name you have to be careful with research. I have seen family trees online where a man is recorded as marrying his mother and a “super” Neish fathering a child when in his nineties. Of course both were wrong. I have proven four “Alexander Neish” babies all born in one tiny farm village in the same year. Care is always needed. So many people became upset at John when he pointed out the sometimes glaring errors in their own research that he has stopped all direct online interaction to concentrate on the Neish list.

I and a few others now do our best, using his data and practice, to fill that online gap. We also collate whatever new information we can learn and pass that back to John for corroboration and inclusion in the master database.

I am happy to help anyone who is looking for Neish information if I can. Of course we are always happy to receive new information too, to add to the list which now stands at 25,000 individuals from all around the world. From farm hands to astronauts!

By the beginning of Scottish parish records there were already five distinct family groups in Scotland. This suggested there was more history to uncover from before the days of parish records.

The name (and its 40+ spellings) is rare enough that no-one had really worked on it since the 19th century. My own research is mainly into the many hundreds of randomly recorded individuals going back to 1200 AD (possibly even older but no firm proof as yet) which suggested a single source and most of my current work lies in trying to prove / disprove our early history. Nothing fitted the highland Clan system. That's a story for another day.

Most Scots clan names refer to an allegiance to a particular group or a strong leader who protected the local population in times of trouble. For example Son of Gregor has given us McGregor. Today many groups claim to be part of Large clans and are considered to be septs of the clan. Some Neish joined up with the McGregors and are accepted by clan societies today as a sept. This does not tell us where they came from. Were the Neish the sons of one man or a group of folks living under the protectorate of that leader?

Recently, following a request, I looked into the Northern Ireland family where the spelling generally altered to McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece. Unfortunately, due to the combination of changing government and a fire in the records office we have big gaps in the history of the family before the 1920’s. Establishing who belongs to which family on a countrywide scale is proving difficult and we would love to hear from anyone who has already looked at, or is currently looking into the Irish family to see if we can help each other.

If you would like to get in touch with Alisdair, you can email him at, and/or join the Neish Facebook group.


[1] A McNab chief headed "the violent feud with the Clan Neish, or MacNeish, who held the lands in the upper part of Strathearn and lived on the lower part of Loch Earn, which they called Neish Island." From

As Alisdair noted above (and anyone researching Irish ancestry) can attest, Irish genealogy has it's own particular set of challenges for the researcher. In a few weeks, Pat Reynolds (FreeUKGEN's executive director) will be writing about records pertaining to Northern Ireland on our websites, and in the new year we will present a series of guest posts from a specialist in the field of Irish genealogy, to help you overcome those barriers.