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There is only one source of the name Carmichael and that is territorial or geographic in origin from the northern edge of the Southern Uplands in Scotland. An ancient hill fort or caer in a prominent location close to the main route north from the border was chosen by the good Queen Margaret in the year 1058 as the site of one of her first six churches established in the see of Glasgow. Due to the prominence of the site, she dedicated the church to St. Michel and the district and its peoples became of Caermichel when surnames were necessitated in the thirteenth century.

During the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Carmichaels travelled widely - some to Galloway - where they became kinsmen of the Stewarts of Galloway and later moved northwards settling in Lismore and Appin as kinsmen of the Stewarts of Appin and the McDougals. Others went to Holland where Robert Carmichael the armourer still has descendants known today as Carmiggelts.

Further movements to Ireland in 1690 and to the Americas from 1650 onwards resulted in the world-wide spread of the name. Events such as the emancipation of slavery when released slaves in Carolina took the name of their Scottish plantation owner employer gave a mixed race element whilst the highland clearances moved many Scottish Carmichaels abroad. After Culloden many 'macghilliemichels' (gaelic for sons of the servant of St Michael) changed their name to Carmichael.

The 1997 world-wide Carmichael population is estimated at over 42,000 with half resident in the United States, a quarter in the United Kingdom and 10% in Canada. A further 10% lives in Australasia. Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, South Africa and Italy each have significant Carmichael population.