REID family name and its Scottish history

Scottish family history of the REID surname

(2-3 minute read)

Do you want to know the meaning or the history of the Scottish surname Reid?  Do you have a Scottish Reid in your family tree?  Let’s get started with the latest in our series of posts about Scottish family names… this time it is the Reid name and we have a number of Reids who made an impact in North America.  Are you related to any of them?

1. Meaning of the Scottish Reid family name

The family surname Reid was the third most popular surname in the Scottish census of 1901 for Kinross.  Indeed, there are still many Reids living in the region of Kinross-shire.

It originally meant red faced, red haired or ruddy. In Gaelic, the word red is Ruadh.  Our famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw, Rob Roy, was known in the Highlands as Raibeart Ruadh, or Red Robert, because of his hair colour.  The earliest mention of the Scottish surname Reid appears in Latin as Rufus as early as 1204 for a charter of lands in Lanarkshire.

Down through the centuries the Reids have distinguished themselves in many walks of life.

2. John Reid, gardener and surveyor

John Reid, 1656-1723, the son of a gardener was born in Niddry, West Lothian.  He followed his father’s occupation and became gardener to the Lord Advocate of King Charles II. In 1682/1683 he wrote a gardening book, The Scots Gard’ner, which was apparently very popular.  He was soon invited to settle in New Jersey with his Quaker wife.  They had travelled on the Exchange of Stockton captained by James Peacock.  As an early settler, he did not continue his gardening career.  Instead he became surveyor general and was involved in drawing the boundary line between West and East New Jersey.

3. David Boswell Reid, physician and inventor

Born in 1805 in Edinburgh, David Reid was the son of physician and educational reformer Dr Peter Reid and Christian Arnot.  When he gained a medical diploma from the University of Edinburgh, he became a physician.  When he was healing the sick, he became aware of the relationship between poor health and poor ventilation.  This interest led him to becoming a ventilation expert. Today he is known as the grandfather of air conditioning because he invented a way to ventilate public buildings, such as the Houses of Parliament.  He died in Washington in 1863 at a time when he was inspector of military hospitals at the outbreak of the Civil War.

4. Hugo Reid, early Californian settler

Born in 1811 in Cardross, Dumbartonshire, Hugo left Scotland when he was 18 years old and settled in California. He married a native woman from the San Gabriel Mission and became a rancher near Los Angeles.  He wrote a number of letters for the Los Angeles Star newspaper on topics about the culture of the local Native American tribes.  These are now considered important local historical documents.

5. Closer to Kinross, we have

 John Reid was a farmer and had a farm in Aldie, near Cleish, in the 1860s according to The Annals of Kinross-shire.  He was chairman of the Fossoway District Ploughing Association and was known locally as ‘father of agriculture in the neighbourhood, and as a breeder of stock he stood alone.’

Another John Reid, a teacher from Edinburgh, was appointed parish schoolteacher for Cleish in 1750 and he held this position until 1810 when he died.  Don’t worry he wasn’t teaching in his old age; he had a teaching assistant called Ebenezer Michie who allegedly had a friendship with Robert Burns, our great poet.  There is a legend that Burns wrote the following about Michie:

Here Lie Willie Michie’s banes;
O Satan! When ye tak’ him,
Gi’e him the schoolin’ o’ your weans,
For clever de’ils he’ll mak’ ’em!

Farmer, Robert Reid (1728-1822), from Tilliery who outlived all 3 of his wives: Isobel Thompson, Catherine Thomson and Janet Morrison.  There is a magnificent gravestone for him and his family at Orwell Churchyard in Milnathort.  Monumental Inscriptions can reveal a treasure of information for your family history research.

Gravestone of Farmer Robert Reid and family at Orwell chruchyard

Close up view of the gravestone of Farmer Robert Reid and family at Orwell chruchyard

As the 1901 Scottish census stipulated, there were many more families with the surname Reid in the Kinross-shire region.  If you know you have a Scottish Reid in your family tree and want to learn more about them, then contact Sarah at Unlock Your Past who will get you started on your family history journey.

Leave a comment for Sarah who is here to help with your genealogy question.

Other surnames can be found in our growing list of Scottish family names.


You may also like...

12 thoughts on “REID family name and its Scottish history”

  1. Sarah, I am a Reid of Scottish descent, I am have barely gotten started on my journey to find my Scottish ancestry. Any help in what direction that I need to go will be appreciated. Thank you. I am excited to discover my Scottish heritage, my daughter is too. She has already done some work on it.

  2. Hello Teresa
    You can check out my resources on my website for useful information, free online course, and websites. ScotlandsPeople website is the place to go to for researching your Scottish ancestry and it is free to register. Alternatively, you can get in touch with me.

  3. Sarah
    I am a Reid of Scottish descent and having difficulty with research on there history.
    My GGGrand father was Alexander Reid born in 1836 from the Morayshire area near Inverness. He married Catherine Spark on 25 March 1865 at Parish of Fetteresso , Kincardineshire.
    They immigrated to Queensland and then to NZ.

    I would like help in tracing their history in Scotland

  4. Charles O. Harthy

    Hi Sarah,

    I descend from John Reid “the gard’ner.” Many years ago, I made contact with John Reid in Scotland that supervised the restoration of Niddry Castle. His only comment on his ancestry was they were from the Isle of Lewis.

    Would you have any info on how we are related. John died September 8, the same day as the Queen.

  5. Hello My name is Sue Joly. I am the great grandaughter of George Reid. He was married to Mary Townsley. I believe they lived in Perthshire. My grandmother Isabelle Reid (Townsley) and at least one or more siblings were sent to Canada after they were taken from their home in the early 1900’s I believe George died from the Spanish flu and Mary could not support them. My sister and I plan to travel to Scotland in September and are very interested in travelling to the area where our grandmother was born. Could you please help confirm my grandmothers place of birth. I believe she was born in 1907 or 1908.

    1. Hello Sue
      Thanks for your comment. Your George Reid and Mary Townsley married in 1912 in the parish of Little Dunkeld, which was in Perthshire but is now in Stirlingshire. There was an Isabella Townsley born in 1908 in the parish of Rattray in Perthshire but you would need to purchase her birth register to confirm her parentage. There was also a Duncan Reid born in 1913 in the parish of Monzievaird & Strowan, Perthshire, with a mother’s maiden name of Tonwsley. In addition, there was an Elizabeth Townsley born in Little Dunkeld with a mother’s maiden name of Townsley. It is likely that Elizabeth was illegitimate, however this can only be confirmed by purchasing her birth register. You can purchase their registers at ScotlandsPeople although you first need to register which is free. Alternatively you can get in touch with me ( and I would be happy to offer you a number of cost effective services such as my exploratory service to research your Perthshire ancestors before you arrive.
      I look forward to hearing from you

  6. Hi, My names Katie Reid and my family lives in Grimshader of Stornoway, Scotland. My grandad, Roy Reid moved from stornoway down to kent where he had my ada’s then my dad had me. His father is called William Reid and his mother i think is Mary-ann. I’m young and i just want to know the origins of my family. My great grandad has four children, all alive and my great nan and grandad are also still alive. The children were Caroline Reid, Roy Reid, Donald Reid and William Reid, named after his father.

    1. Hello Katie
      Apologies for the delay in responding – I have been away on holiday. Can you please send me some more details such as dates? I found a Roy Reid who was born in Stornoway in 1967 but I am not sure if he belongs to your family. Were your ancestors originally from Stornoway?
      You can email me at I look forward to hearing from you.

  7. Hello Sarah, I am looking for birth details and parents of Mary Reid. She was married to Isaac Williamson in 1915 when she was 31 and lived in Buckie from then on. She had 6 children, the first in 1917 baptised Janet but listed on census as Charlotte. The census in 1921 states her birthplace as Tain.

    1. Sarah Louise Smith

      Abbie, I have just had a quick look at her marriage register, and I can confirm that Mary’s parents were William Reid (a hawker) and Isabella Martin. Mary was born on 2 April 1884 in Tain and her parents were married in August 1862 in Tomintoul. Hope that is helpful. Good luck with your research 🙂

  8. Hello Abbie, thanks for your comment. If you have her marriage register, it should have her parent’s names on it, including her mother’s maiden name. Using her mother’s maiden name and an approximate birth year, you can find her birth register. Do you have her marriage register?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up to get your free download and keep up to date with genealogy news

Your information will never be shared
Sign up to get your free download and keep up to date with genealogy news

Your information will never be shared
Scroll to Top