Select McKenzie Surname Genealogy

McKenzie (originally MacKenzie) is a Scottish clan name of the Highlands.  In Gaelic the name is recorded as Maccoinnich or Macchoinnich, son of Cionneach or "son of the fair" (suggesting possibly Norse origins).  Coinneach is generally anglicized as Kenneth.

They claim descent from Colin, progenitor of the earls of Ross, who died in 1278.  Clan tradition (although there is no tangible evidence to support it) is that Colin was awarded lands in Ross-shire for his efforts in repelling an invasion from Norway.

While the clan name is MacKenzie, it is the spelling McKenzie which is more common around the world.

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Scotland.  The Mackenzie clan is traditionally associated with Kintail and their lands in Ross-shire.  The Findon tables, produced by James D. MacKenzie in 1879, recounted their lineage from earliest times.  Some old accounts have linked the Mackenzies with the Norman Fitzgeralds in the 13th century.  However, this connection seems unlikely.  There were apparently Mackenzies at Kintail at the time of Robert the Bruce. 

The first actual record of a Mackenzie was that of Alexander M'Kenzocht of Kintail in a document of 1471. This Alexander Mackenzie died in 1488 at the grand old age of ninety.  By that time the clan had begun their feuds with the MacDonalds - then Lords of the Isles - which were to continue into the next century.  Their biggest pitched battle, which the MacKenzies won, was at Blar-na-Pairc in 1477. 

The Mackenzies possibly reached the peak of their powers in the early 1600's.  Kenneth, the 12th chief, was created Lord MacKenzie of Kintail and his son Colin the "Red" became the Earl of Seaforth.  It was said that all the lands from Ardnamurchan to Strathnover in the Highlands were in the possession of the MacKenzies or their vassals.  They surveyed their possessions from their command at Brahan castle.

However, it was said that the fall of their house - as was predicted by one of their estate workers, the so-called Brahan Seer - began at this time.  The MacKenzies had backed the 1715 uprising and had fought against the Government at Glen Shiel (where they were defeated and the wounded MacKenzie chief forced to flee to France as his estates were being seized).  Some MacKenzies also backed Bonnie Prince Charlie; but, unlike the MacDonalds, they did not fight at Culloden.  Even so, their old way of life was ending as the Government took reprisals on the clans.  And the Seaforth MacKenzie line itself died out in the 1820's.  

Many clansmen had joined their chief in the Seaforth Highlanders and fought for the British in their wars in America and against Napoleon.  Others later emigrated, with Canada being a favored destination.  Still, large numbers of McKenzies remained in the Highlands, almost half of the McKenzies in Scotland according to the 1891 census.  The McKenzies did not incur the Highland "clearances" in the 19th century to the same extent as did other clans.

Place-names associated with the McKenzies in Ross-shire are Strathpeffer, Dingwall, Gairloch, Kilcoy, Balnain, and the remote Applecross peninsula.  The clan history was narrated by Alexander Mackenzie in his 1894 book History of the Mackenzies.

Canada.  MacKenzies from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland have stamped their mark on the Canadian West. To start with, there was the explorer Sir Alexander MacKenzie, who became the first European to reach the Pacific coast overland, announcing his arrival by painting the following words on a rock near Bella Coola:

"Alexander MacKenzie, from Canada by land, 22 July, 1793."
His cousin Duncan was also a formidable fur trader and explorer and other relatives were active in what was to become the Hudson Bay Company.  The Hudson Bay Company later acquired Vancouver island and brought Kenneth MacKenzie from Scotland in 1853 to found a colony there.  His house Craigflower, now renovated, still stands.   

These were prosperous MacKenzies or MacKenzies who prospered.   Later came poorer Highland migrants.

There were MacKenzies - one Donald MacKenzie and another Roderick ("Rory Bahan") MacKenzie - on board the first Highland ship, the Hector, which set sail for Nova Scotia in 1773.  William MacKenzie and his family came to Pictou, Nova Scotia on the ill-fated Sarah in 1801.  And later MacKenzies headed for Prince Edward Island on the maritime coastline as well as Nova Scotia.

Among the middling sort of immigrants were MacKenzie lawyers, businessmen, clergymen and journalists; and Alexander MacKenzie who immigrated in 1842 and initially plied his trade in Sarnia, Ontario as a stonemason. He entered politics, rose through the ranks, and in 1873 became Canada's second Prime Miinister (following a MacDonald!).

  Maryland seems to have been an early outpost.  One line starts with Colin Mckenzie in St. Mary county in the late 1600's.  Then there were McKenzies who might have been transported there after 1715. And McKenzies, such as Gabriel McKenzie of Gabriel's Choice, later featured among Baltimore county families. 

One McKenzie family in Georgia traces itself to the Cromartie MacKenzies in Scotland.  Another 18th century line was to be found in Marion county, South Carolina.  Overall, however, there were and are fewer McKenzies in America than in Canada.    

Australia and New Zealand.   The MacKenzies, landowners from Kilcoy in Ross-shire, were at the forefront of the opening up of the Brisbane valley in Queensland to free settlers in 1841, taking over 43,000 acres there for sheep grazing.  These Mackenzies developed a reputation for mistreating the Aborigines during their stay.  They sold out in 1853.  

Earlier McKenzies in Australia were soldiers, such as Alexander MacKenzie who came with the 73rd Regiment in 1809..  Then came settlers, such as Neil and Christina McKenzie who arrived on the crowded William Nicol in 1837.  These McKenzies were the subjects of Keith Hodgson's 1998 book, Those People From Skye - the McKenzie Family.

New Zealand welcomed many McKenzies from Scotland (including David McKenzie who came to Dunedin in 1853 and whose son Thomas became Prime Minister) and at least one family from Canada (Alexander and Ann McKenzie and their seven children from Breadalbane in Nova Scotia in 1857).   

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Alexander MacKenzie
of Kintail was the first redorded chief of the MacKenzie clan.
Kenneth MacKenzie was the 12th chief of the Mackenzies, leading the clan at the peak of the powers in the early 1600's.
Alexander MacKenzie was the fur trader and explorer who discovered the overland route to the Pacific in 1793.  The Mackenzie river is named after him.
Alexander MacKenzie was in 1873 Canada's second Prime Minister.
Thomas MacKenzie served as Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1912.
Compton MacKenzie was the Scottish author of works such as Whisky Galore and Monarch of the Glen.
Julia McKenzie is a popular British actress.

Select McKenzies Today
  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous in Highlands)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous in Florida).
  • 56,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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