McSporran/McSparron and Purcell/Pursell Surnames
Share a Connection

Father’s Day, 18 June 2017

Almost twenty years ago, I asked John McSparron to write a short article for the quarterly journal of the Purcell Family of America (PFA) Genealogical Association. That article, entitled “Keepers of the Purse” appeared in a 1998 issue of the PFA Journal.

I had contacted John because, during my genealogical research, I became aware of the connection between the McSporran/McSparron and Purcell/Pursell surnames. In his article, John explained how some McSporrans changed their name to Purcell “possibly as a result of the persecution of the highlanders in Scotland.” The anglicization of the McSporran surname is said to have largely occurred after the Jacobite uprising in 1745 which culminated in their decisive defeat by the English at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746.

John goes on to say that the English “purse” was supposedly considered to be the equivalent of the Scottish sporran. Hence, Pursell was a logical anglicized substitute for the McSporran surname. The Gaelic spelling of McSporran is Mac-an-Sporain which translates to “son of the purse”. So, the McSporrans were literally purse-bearers (treasurers) for the Lords of the Isles in Scotland. McSporran is the Scottish rendering of the surname while McSparron is the Irish spelling. Of course, there are many other spelling variants just like most surnames.

At the time of my communication with John, I had not found evidence that my Purcell family had any connection with the McSporrans of Scotland or McSparrons of Ireland. However, I was reasonably certain that my earliest known ancestor, John Purcell c1720-c1785, came to Cumberland County, North Carolina from the Kintyre Peninsula area of Scotland about 1770. Our published family history, Lumber River Scots and Their Descendants (1942, William Byrd Press, Richmond, Virginia) states that the Purcell family originated in Ulster, Ireland. If that statement is accurate, it makes sense that members of the Purcell family would have crossed the North Channel (the strait that connects the Irish Sea with the Atlantic Ocean) between Northern Ireland and the Kintyre Peninsula of Scotland at some time prior to 1720 when John Purcell was born.

In early 2009, I had a yDNA67 test evaluated by Family Tree DNA. Within eight weeks, the results were posted on their DNA data base for comparison with other genetic genealogy researchers who also had their test results included as part of this listing. In 2013, I upgraded to the yDNA111 test for some more refined results. Between 2009 and the present, I have connected with a McSporran family who immigrated to Canada in 1872. On arriving in Canada, they changed their surname to Purcell. They had been Purcells in Scotland before changing their surname to McSporran. I have (in DNA marker test terminology) a genetic distance of six from this family. I also have found a McSparin cousin in Illinois, also with a genetic distance of six. And then there is a McSparron gentleman from Ireland with a genetic distance of seven. My closest genetic distance is three with a Maloy family who has roots in North Carolina and Alabama. But this Maloy cousin also shows a genetic relationship with the McSporran/McSparron surname as well.

The bottom line is that yDNA testing is an extremely valuable genealogy research tool when evaluated in the context of the paper trail that has been generated by good old-fashioned research. It is my sincere hope that more McSporran/McSparron family members will make the investment in at least a yDNA67 test but ideally a yDNA111 test so that more information about our surnames can be teased out of the resulting data. To many Purcell genealogists, McSporran or McSparron is a “hidden” surname which should be considered as part of their research strategies. I am glad that I made this connection in 1998 which led me to John McSparron, and the Clan MacSporran Association. I was a member of this group for a few years before it dissolved in 2002.

I would welcome communication with any McSporran/McSparron family researcher who wishes to share information with me and vice-versa. My complete contact information follows:

Douglas Clare Purcell
Immediate Past President
Purcell Family of America Genealogical Association
111 Baltusrol Avenue
Eufaula, Alabama

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