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For many years as a youngster, we were told that there was a tradition of adding or subtracting letters from a name when a child was born 'on the wrong side of the blanket'. I have yet to discover the significance of the second 'S' in my surname. can anyone help me. Perhaps there is a reason that even  with all the Douglas DNA  that is registered on file, to date, I have not even been close to a match.

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I am so glad you have put this particular question forth.  I have through research know that I go back to the immigration to America of one Samuel Douglass.  I have brief lines in documents of the 'two S' Douglass of his father who came with him.  Both born and married in Scotland. 

Research prior to that is tricky due to the use of Douglass with or without the second S.  

My family sites through oral history some relatives who are well known in Scottish history, and that we are "Highland Scots" (specifically inferred as from the highlands) a renegade-ish sort of group. 

Let's hope we get some information about your question.


As a little boy my GF insisted that I always use two s'es in my name.  My GF was born in 1898 and lived to 93.  My grand-uncle (GU) was b 1896 and lived to 99!  So I got to spend a lot of time with them hearing, recording, videotaping, and researching their stories, many of which were passed on by their father and aunts and uncles from the 1800s.

Douglass with two s'es, Black Douglas'es and a battle lost.

The general story was that we were of the Black Douglas Clan.  Sometime way back, we had been in a battle in which some other Douglas (Red maybe?) had sided with our opponents.  We lost the battle and in the process lost all of our lands and title, as we were Scottish Royalty to boot.  So we left Scotland for America, and our Group settled in the hills of West Virginia (WVA) because it reminded us of home.  We took on the Second S to distinguish us from the other Douglas'es who had won the battle.

This is the story my GF and GU first started telling me in the 70s.  They had no clue what Black Douglass meant, or what battle we lost.  They were just repeating the oral history they had been told. 

Interestingly, I found a book called History of Jackson County WVA written in 1900.  The author mentions a prominent brother and sister who "always went around calling themselves Black Douglass'es.  Yet they are of fair skin and straight hair.  There is no sign of Negro blood in them."  So having Douglass with two s'es and affirming one's lineage as a Black Douglass in this part of WVA is not just a family story, but actually confirmed in print that many did so and took pride in being a Black Douglass.  But also, no one had a clue what Black Douglass meant.  Even growing up I remember my Mom saying it had to do with Scottish intermarriage with Spanish/Moors who had sought refuge in Catholic Scotland after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Finding out about James "The Black" Douglass was easy enough and I shared that with my family, putting facts to the myths.  But, the "official" nobility ended 400 years prior to me relating this information to my GF in 1988.  How had this affinity to Black Douglass Clan survived 400 years "in the wind" so to speak?

As far as the battle lost goes, Culloden Moor in 1745 fits the time period, but Douglas(s) played no significant part.  And others have record of Douglass'es in the Americas in the 1600s.  So if it was a battle lost, I need to find the oldest verifiable record of a Douglass anywhere, and then try to connect him/them to a battle of the period.   

My GU had a different story that involved The Black Watch.  The story he heard is that Douglas(s) had served in the BW since inception in 1739.  Supposedly when the men would muster out for parade, the Sergeant Major or Color Sergeant would make each man pass through a door frame with a mirror on the step, in order to check that the soldier was not wearing anything under his kilt.  Supposedly, Black Douglas members were of significant endowment, and the SM or CS gave them a second S in their name in recognition of their manliness.  My GU was 94 when he told me this story, and a wee bit more graphically.  When I played the video tape for the rest of the family, the females had quite the laugh. 

I've found no information to verify this story, and The Black Watch Regiment has no connection to the Black Douglas Clan.  I think it is just a story that got made up back in the 1800s when the TBWR became famous worldwide for their exploits in India and Africa.

My oldest ancestor is a John Douglass b 1786, d 1847 Jackson County WVA.  There is an official Douglass Cemetery in Millwood, Jackson County WVA.  My ggGF Levi (b 1815 d 1889) has an obelisk headstone in the same shape as the Washington Monument that is about 10 feet tall.  Pretty expensive stuff in 1889.  But he was a very high member of the Scottish Rites of Free Mason.  In fact my gggGF through GF were all very high members in their local temples.  My gggGF sold his farm to George and Anne Washington, heirs to George and Martha Washington, a VERY well known Mason.  :-)  The connection between Douglas(s) and Free Mason is something I don't think has been thoroughly researched.

So, the oldest verifiable occurrence of any Douglass is a good starting point.  To deal with the adding and subtracting of the second S, particularly by bureaucrats who think it a misspelling, we then have to look at the ancestors and descendants of said Douglass to see if the second S remains, as it has in my lineage.  That would indicate it has significance and each successive generation was told to maintain it.

The Samuel Douglass mentioned by Bernadine would be good to follow as I bet it predates my gggGF John.  And it seems immigrants to the US came over with a second s in their name, while very few Douglass'es reside in Scotland or Ireland.  Some significant historical event happened to cause this name differention defiance and Clan affinity.  I can't wait to see what we find! 

Thanks Brian, that gives yet another slant to the story. According to Australian Convict records, my ancestor William(george) Douglass was born in or around 1768/1769. Apparently, he always used the two S's in his surname. He could also rad and write, that indicates that his family may have been well off. I cannot find any records of his birth, as I don't know from whence he hailed. However, searching the birth records of Southern Scotland, I came up with four William Douglass's born in those years. If I ever get a breakthrough, and it is one of those, I can keep going back in time.

Cheers for now



My Dada was born in 1899 (I was born in his 46th year), and he regaled me with "Douglass" stories from my earliest years. HIS father, born c. 1864, had done some research, and was an avid Ecossophile, as well as a very prominent Bostonian. Essentially he inherited all of HIS father's money (made in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge). In keeping with grandpa's claims, related to me by my father, I went on somewhat of a research mission, myself. The late and lamented "Wee Davey" Ross whom I finally met in New Hampshire at the Highland Games, a year before his death, corroborated some of the stuff I had heard in my family and found in my readings. It seems that the single-s and double-s were interchangeable in the more recent centuries. Sometime around 1447, in yet another battle against the vile Stewarts, the "Red", or Angus, (eastern) Douglasses TURNED against the Black Douglasses, thus assuring the demise of the Lowland Douglasses. Their lands were stripped, castles taken and all kinds of nastiness befell my ancesters, due to the Stewarts and their new allies. The Red Douglasses (apparently) dropped the second "s" and more or less gained the Douglasses holdings. On to Ireland, Nova Scotia, Georgia, Barbados, etc., went the Douglasses. Davey Ross allowed that both spellings were all over Scotland. He told me that the "2-s" name may well have been the older version and was problably Pictish. A leavening of Europeans, especially Saxons, further confused the histories. I am fairly confident that Davey Ross and my research point to the above. I don't think Frederick Bailey (Douglass) arbitrarily added the second s---it was there from the beginning, in the Lady of the Lake, etc.

Two updates:

1) I've recently been able to trace my lineage to a William Douglass born 1641in the state of Maryland, US.  He had a son William Douglass, b 1665, Nandua Somerset County MD, d 1747, Vulcan Rest, Cecil MD.  He had a son William Douglass, b 1690, Cecil MD, d 1738 Cecil MD.  He had a son William Douglass, b 1721 Cecil MD, d 1779 Montgomery MD. Four generations of William Douglass.  There is a fifth William Douglass, but my lineage comes from a second son, Levi Douglass.  This takes Douglass with 2 ses back 10 generations in the United States. And no arbitrary adding or dropping the second s.

2) The Red Wedding scene of Game of Thrones is based on the Black Dinner in which William (6th Earl of Douglas) was accused, tried and beheaded for treason.  He was just 16.  Also his 10 year old brother David is said to have been beheaded.  But I've had trouble locating the graves.  Anyone with info?

I find it curious that there were 5 successive generations of William Douglass in America.  That 200 years earlier William (and David) Douglas were executed.  The Clan Douglas had holdings in Sweden and France.  Reportedly William begged to have David executed first to spare him the sight of his brother's execution, but was denied.  So William was executed first.

Conjecture:  Is it possible that David was spared and shuttled off to Sweden or more likely France?  (I once had a teacher, amateur genealogist  who swore Douglass was French in origin).  That he named his descendants William in honor of his brother, and they eventually emigrated to America? 

Also, in 1455 at the Battle of Arkinholm the Black Douglas rebelled against the King and were defeated by George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus (Red).  This was the end of the Black Douglases.  This seems to be the battle that would correlate with my own family stories about a battle lost and exile from Scotland.



Hi!  I am researching the Black Douglases and I don't mean the skin tone, I mean the
Black Douglas Clan of Sir James (the Black) Douglas who fought with Robert Bruce and won the Battle of Bannockburn. He died in the crusades. Yes, we were dispossessed of all our land because of a civil war with the Royal Stewarts; came down to a battle at Threave Castle.  After that, Douglases split between Black and Red - basically, the Red were given the titles of the Black and that's the "bad blood". I knew NOTHING about my family history except that my grandfather told my Mom that we were "Black Douglases". Then I visited the town my grandfather was from in Scotland and when I told people there that I was a Black Douglas, they told me the history. They even led me to my great-grandfather's grave in Whithorn Priory.  I can put you in touch with a lot of information about this. As yet, however, I cannot connect my personal tree further back than the early 19th century - and that's why I'm here.............greetings from New York! glad to hear from you! I did a lot of digging in the first two weeks of July---all over Scotland. Incredible stuff---including that the Douglasses had lands all the way up in the Highlands, north of Inverness. Between the MaKays and the Highland Douglasses, there was some kind of truce or treaty and BOTH clans fought AGAINST "Bonny Prince Charlie" at Culloden! He was a Catholic, of course, AND a "vile murdering Stewart", o'course! :-)

The late and lamented "Wee" Davie Ross (as I nicknamed him) corroborated lots of my suspicions. A good example was Archibald the Grim (builder/defender of Threave Castle) who was not only a Lowland "Black" Douglass but is so remembered in a stained-glass window in Stirling Castle in the twa' ess form. Also a James Douglass is similarly displayed. This, not far from the area where a Douglass earl was stabbed more than 26 times* and defenestrated! There's a "Douglas Garden" to commemorate the place where he was reintroduced to Terra Firma!

Davie Ross also told me that the Lowland Douglasses were successfull in repelling any occupation of their lands by the "Northmen". (See "Pencil of Largs").

Anyway, I just love getting input, especially from you Douglas(s) people. Feel free to e-mail me at "". I may have some pictures, if I can get my computer to download them!


*the Stirling guide said this and stated that the rotten Stewart King (J2) claimed it was an accident.

PS: Since the 1968(ish) application form for Naval OCS was purposefully colorblind (as well as banning any reference to race, creed or religion), I was accepted into said OCS because the Navy thought "Fred Douglass" was clearly black! Fooled them, did I!!!

Hey, folks. I'm always happy to weigh in on matters such as these from a place of ignorance.

One of the problems with these things is the orthography of the English language had not been definitely worked out before the 19th century, which means that people were more or less free to spell their names the way they wanted to. On one side of my father's line, I have an Irish ancestral side whose last name changed from O'Killian to O'Killia to O'Kelly to simply Kelly all over the course of about 100 years.

In the case of my family, I've seen legal documents for Phineas Douglass where his last name is spelled Douglas, Douglass, Duglass, and Douglis, so it may simply be a matter of what the majority of the family preferred. Since Phineas was the son of Samuel Douglass, whose family migrated to the same town as another Douglas family, it may be possible that they added the second "s" simply to avoid confusion with the other Douglas family in town. Ultimately, I don't know that there is one identifiable event or cause that results in the second "s" being added for the majority of those with the double "s."

Following some discussion on another forum, I recently took the step of purchasing the History of the House of Douglass from House of Names.  I have always been a bit suspect of these generic type purveyors of family history, but wanted to check what was provided for the money.

The front page is filled with a large photograph of Fyvie Castle  - which has no connection with the Douglas family at all.

Sadly, there is no reference to the origins of Douglass either.

But there was some useful information which I have yet to follow up.

I think all of the above discussion is good, accurate and indicative of the "mists of time". I, too, have

found the confusion between the two. George "The Gross" was indeed the victor at Arkinholm, but I have never understood the bad blood between Red and Black. That was VERY interesting about the "Game of Thrones" reference.

Back to the "twa ess" form---apparently it was used by Scott when Willie Douglass rescues Mary, QoS, and rows her across the Lake. It was from Scott's work that Frederick Washington Bailey took his adopted name. I dinna think this will ever be resolved, at least not in my lifetime. Ireland's graveyards are reportedly full of both forms, as are those in maritine Canada, and New England. The great "dispora" of dinenfranchised Douglasses must account for some of this.

Reason for the two different spellings is that clerks recorded the names of illiterate Douglases both ways.

I would say you hit the nail on the head. Also, many clerks were from all airts - some even from England - and not all were familiar with local dialect or place names.


Making conections

The more information you can give about the people you mention, the more chance there is of someone else connecting with your family.

Dates and places of births, deaths and marriages all help to place families.

Professions also help.

'My great-grandmother mother was a Douglas from Montrose' does not give many clues to follow up! But a bit of flesh on the bones makes further research possible. But if we are told who she married, what his profession was and where the children were baptised, then we can get to work.

Maybe it is time to update the information in your profile?

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