In Australia we have a term for dogs that are of mixed breed – “bitsa” (as in bits of this and bits of that). Now, I’m not calling myself a dog, but if anyone looked at my family tree, we could well and truly be classified as bitsas. Norwegian, French, Irish, Welsh, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Scottish… you name a country, chances are my ancestors are from it or tried to conquer it. (Yeah, we have a few bloodthirsty conquerors in our closet).
The Sinclairs hark back to the days of the Vikings in Scandinavia. In 911, Rollo the Viking travelled from Norway to the northwest of France. That same year, in the church of Saint-Clair-sur-l'Epte, he signed a treaty with King Charles III the Simple of France to grant him the position of Count of Rouen. Let me just say, the powers of persuasion in my family are second to none. Rollo the Viking’s descendants became the dukes and duchy of Normandy.
The origins of the surname Sinclair comes from the church where the treaty was signed and in 1162, some family members settled in Scotland when Henry de St Clair of Roslin took over the lands in the north-west province of Lothian. A few generations later, Sir Henry Sinclair fought at the Battle of Bannockburn and in 1320 signed the Declaration of Arbroath that he, along with other influential men, sent to the Pope to initiate Scotland’s independence from England.
We liked to hang out with royalty (as opposed to being hung by royalty), especially with those from France, England and Scotland (perhaps that has trickled down to my young daughter who is obsessed with princesses). We also became earls in Orkney and Caithness in Scotland and have been involved in bloody battles such as the Battle of Hastings in England as part of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. We won, by the way. If I listed all the battles my family were involved with, we’d be here most of the day…
The Rosslyn Castle, situated seven miles (11 kilometres) south of Edinburgh, has been home to the Sinclairs since 1070 and still have in the family today. In 1115, the Sinclairs were involved with a group of knights who patrolled the roads during the Crusades to keep them safe. They became known as the Poor Knights of Christ, and later, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem granted them use of the old Temple of Solomon as their meeting place. The Poor Knights of Christ changed their name to the Knights Templar and so began the legend of a mysterious organisation that many believe launched the group we know today as the Freemasons.
Scotland is dotted with many remnants of our history, the most impressive one being Rosslyn Chapel (not to be confused with the castle of the same name) in Roslin. Built in 1446 by William Sinclair, the elaborate stone carvings are often referred to as “Bible in Stone.” Quite a few Sinclairs are buried there, fully clad in their suits of armour.
As with most family histories, not all the facts are available now, yet we do know that when the Scottish Sinclairs arrived in North America, most were illiterate, and so when asked by the census clerks how to spell their surname, they didn’t know how. Their thick Scottish accents also made it difficult to be understood, so many more variations of the surname were invented – Sinclere, Sinkler, Sinklaire and so forth.
Within half a century of arriving in North America, most clan members had changed their surname back to the correct spelling aside from a few who have remained Sinkler to this day.
On my mother's side we were involved with the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Waterloo, so if you haven’t got the hint yet, don’t mess with my family or me – we know people.
I don’t know about you, but I find it fascinating to learn about family history. I think there are some legacies in our bloodlines that carry on through the generations. Every time I hear Scottish bagpipes and drummers, I get shivers and feel the music pump through my veins, yet I’ve never set foot in the country. I’ve not invaded any countries or joined any secret organisations (yet), but my family’s history lives inside me. I’m a product of my ancestors, and they’re a part of me. I reckon that’s kinda cool. By the way, you may now refer to me as Countess Sinclair.
How about you? Have you ever looked into your family history? What did you discover?