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Gilliland Genealogy and Gilliland Family History Information

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About the Gilliland surname

gilliland Name Meaning and History

Scottish and northern Irish: reduced Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Gille Fhaoláin (Scottish) or Mac Giolla Fhaoláin (Irish) ‘son of the servant of St Faolán’. Compare McClellan. Woulfe thinks that the Irish version died out and all modern forms were taken to Ulster from Scotland.

The first record of the name Gilliland was found in Midlothian, a county in Southeastern Scotland, and is dated to some time prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. A mixture of Gaelic and Celt, known as the Strathelyde Britons, the name appears taken from the Celtic chief Gillander, in the Parish of Walton in the north of Scotland. There are many known variations of the name, including MacGillanders, Gilleland, Gillsland, Gilsland, Gillesland, Gillander, Gillerland, Gilliland, and Gililland.

The territory of the Strathelyde Britons ranged from Laneashire in the south of Scotland to the south bank of the River Clyde in the north of Scotland. Between 400 AD and 900 AD this territory was overrun by the Irish Gaels, the Angles, the Diets, and Diaradians. One branch of the race was in the north and one in the south where Sir Richard Gillesland was head of the branch. Members of this clan held the lands of Kirktown in 1206 and later became involved with the Ross Clan. Many of the Strathelyde families straddled the border between Scotland and England and after 1000 AD life along the border was in turmoil. In 1246, chiefs for the two sides met and established laws governing the border clans, making it a greater offense to refuse to assist a neighbor than it was to steal from him. In 1603, the English and Scottish Crowns united under King James VI of Scotland (King James I of England). The border clans were banished to England, Northern Scotland, and Ireland. It was from Ireland that our ancestors came to America during the 1700's.

The current spelling (Gililland)appears to have been first used by the brothers John, Mathias, and Robert when they moved from Kentucky to Missouri in the early 1800's. It is unclear why they changed the spelling from Gilliland to Gililland and many rumors abound. Several generations later (around 1910), Robert Roy Gililland discovered the change and believed it was his father, John Sanford Gililland, who had changed the spelling in order to enlist in the Civil War. This belief is the source of one of the more interesting tales of the changing of the spelling, but it is only one of many. Nonetheless, Robert declared that the name should be returned to its original spelling of Gilliland and convinced two of his brothers, James K. and Walter W. to join him. Two of Roy's brothers were deceased at the time (Edgar Allen and John Porter) and their descendants continue to use the Gililland spelling. The remaining surviving brother, Almer Lee, chose to continue with the Gililland spelling.

John Gilliland (1765-1849) had three sons who migrated to Missouri in the early 1800's; John Richardson, Mathias R., and Robert. All three spelled the name GILILLAND upon ariving in Missouri. While there are some variations, the great majority of written records reflect the GILILLAND spelling. In the St. Louis area of Missouri, there exist today many descendants of these brothers where the name is spelled GILILLAND, wihout exception.

When the Missouri spelling was first discovered, it was assumed the spelling changed because of some difficulty with reading and writing. The majority of the population could not read or write in the early 1800's. It would not have been suprising to find John, Mathias, and Robert could not read or write. That would leave the spelling of the name to the discretion of whatever notary might be recording the name for whatever purpose. However, there are too many records for this to make sense. There are numerous property records, tax records, marriage records, grave markers and probate records, recorded by too many different notaries for this spelling to have been determined by serendipity. The brothers must have know how to read and write, and they must have purposely chosen the GILILLAND spelling.

The question is, why? As it turns out, John, Mathias, and Robert might not have been the first to use the GILILLAND spelling. Recent research has uncovered a pre-Missouri migration document signed