Born the eldest child of Jacob and Anne MacKenzie, Ellen grew up in the Scottish Highlands at Castle Leoch. She was close with Colum, her brother who, as the eldest son of Jacob MacKenzie, would one day lead the clan. Colum was a sickly child, and Ellen spent a lot of time nursing him and telling him stories. Even after Colum had married, he and Ellen – and sometimes their brother, Dougal – would discuss clan matters and plan for the future.
Ellen's father, Jacob, doted on her, and wouldn't force her into an arranged marriage, even though such unions were common among the leading clan families in order to forge and maintain alliances. She remained unmarried upon her father's death, and her brothers Colum and Dougal began to arrange their sister's marriage to Malcolm Grant in order to ease relations with the Grants. Ellen defied them rather dramatically by saying something to Malcolm Grant that so offended him, he left the 1716 Gathering at Leoch without a word to his hosts, and Ellen ran away and eloped with Brian Fraser.
In order to secure their union, the couple stayed hidden until Ellen was visibly pregnant with Brian's child, and they married in the dooryard of their new home at Lallybroch a week before their first son, William, was born.
After leaving Leoch to marry Brian, Ellen never spoke to Colum again.
Events of the Novels
Ellen died before the timeline of the main series, though she is mentioned and remembered by other characters in every book.
Those that remember Ellen usually remark on her sharp tongue and cleverness, which contrasted (or perhaps complemented) her abiding sweetness.
Those that knew her describe Ellen as tall and red-haired, like her son Jamie, and very fair-skinned. Her eyes were gray, like her brother Colum's, and fringed with black lashes. Her self-portrait bears a strong resemblance to her granddaughter, Brianna, though differences show in Ellen's high, narrow forehead and round chin.
- Ellen is the medieval English form of Helen, which derives from the Greek ‘ελενη (helene) "torch" or "corposant".
- Caitriona is a Scottish and Irish form of Katherine, which derives from the Greek name Αικατερινη (Aikaterine). The origins of the Greek name are contested, with possibilities including the Greek ‘εκατερος (hekateros) "each of the two", Greek αικια (aikia) "torture", or a Coptic name meaning "my consecration of your name". In the early Christian era it became associated with Greek καθαρος (katharos) "pure".
- Sileas (SHEE-luss) is used as the Scottish form of Julia or Cecilia, though in itself it means "youthful one".
- MacKenzie is the anglicized form of MacCoinnich, a Gaelic patronymic name meaning "son of Coinneach". The personal name Coinneach means "handsome" or "comely".
- Fraser may be derived from Fredarius, Fresel or Freseau. The earliest recorded versions of the name, from the 12th century, are de Fresel, de Friselle and de Freseliere, which appear to be Norman. Another suggestion is that the Frasers were a tribe in Roman Gaul, whose badge was a strawberry plant.
- Ellen's middle name, Caitriona, was chosen as an homage to the actress Caitriona Balfe, who plays Claire Fraser on the Outlander television series.
- Diana has posted excerpts online from a forthcoming prequel story about the courtship of Ellen MacKenzie and Brian Fraser.
- Ellen was an accomplished painter and many of her paintings hung on the walls of Lallybroch. Her self portrait in which she is wearing her freshwater pearl necklace hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in the mid-20th century.
- Written in My Own Heart's Blood, chapter 107.
- A son that died either at birth or shortly after. Name mentioned in Chapter 21 of An Echo in the Bone. Full name given in Written in My Own Heart's Blood, chapter 107.
- Dragonfly in Amber, chapter 37.
- Outlander, chapter 24.
- Drums of Autumn, chapter 34.
- Helen name meaning – Behind the Name, accessed 4 September 2014
- Caitrìona name meaning – Behind the Name, accessed 21 May 2015.
- Katherine name meaning – Behind the Name, accessed 21 May 2015.
- Celtic Female Names of Scotland – Sìleas. Accessed 21 May 2015.
- Behind the Name
- House of Names: Fraser – accessed 19 May 2015
- Way, George and Squire, Romily. Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). Published in 1994. Pages 142 - 143.
- Diana Gabaldon Official Website – OUTLANDER Prequel (Untitled). Accessed 22 July 2016.
- "Sandy". "#DailyLines - Brian and Ellen's Story (Prequel) (SPOILERS!)." MSG: 82785.1. Diana Gabaldon. Books and Writers Community. Compuserve. Published 20 December 2014. Accessed 1 December 2017.
- Outlander, chapter 27.
- Dragonfly in Amber, chapter 5.