Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Monday, 15 February 2010

Registrars & a variation in the anglicisation of one Gaelic name

The Statutory Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland in 1855. In Stornoway, Colin Leitch from Dingwall became the first Registrar. In 1851 this (circa) 65 year-old Sheriff Clerk Depute was living with his two adult daughters in South Beach, Stornoway.

A decade later the (circa) 69 year-old gives his occupation as Sheriff Clerk Depute AND Registrar,
the latter having being added in 1855. His two maiden, middle-aged daughters remain with him in South Beach Street.

Following Leitch's retirement/death sometime before 1871, the role of Registrar passed to John Macfarlane who performed it for the whole of the 1870s and 1880s. Barvas born 56 year-old 'Registrar & Inspector of Poor' Macfarlane was living with his large family at 55 Keith Street in 1871.

My interest in these two gentlemen stems from how they anglicised my family name from the Gaelic original, Cearr.

Macfarlane, in line with all the Census enumerators from 1841 onwards, uses the form 'Kerr' which is perhaps phonetically closer but contains the letter 'K' which does not exist in the Gaelic alphabet. It is of course the form utilised by the Border clan of the same name:

Leitch, however, consistently wrote 'Carr' on every Certificate that was produced during his tenure.
Apart, that is, from the very first one on the 13th July 1855. As none of the relatives registering the events spoke any English, it must have been his decision.

A clue as to why this transformation took place, and was then reversed, is to be found by looking at his immediate superior, the 'Examiner' for the Isles, Alexander Grigor. Grigor was put forward for the role by Sir James Matheson and performed in this role, making annual inspections of the Registrars, until his resignation in 1874. I suspect that Grigor's time spent in Perth and then England influenced him and I can well imagine him pouring over Leitch's first batch of records, tut-tutting, and instructing his minion to use Carr henceforth.

Unfortunately, there is a flaw in this explanation because, if it was indeed Grigor who influenced the decision, it was studiously ignored by the Registrars on Harris who were 100% consistent in never using Carr.

Whatever the true cause, Leitch's use of Carr avoids the inclusion of the foreign letter, and is indeed only an 'e' away from the Gaelic spelling, it is also an English name, predominant in North-Eastern England and with a totally unconnected etymology.

The insistence on this seemingly minor variation explained why there appeared to be no Statutory records of certain births, marriages and deaths that I was expecting to find in Stornoway. Eventually I found them.

Refs:

http://www.nationaltrustnames.org - a site that allows you to compare the 1881 & 1981 geographical distribution of a family name.

http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/scottishwayofbirthanddeath/leadingactors/examiners/#Alexander Grigor (1805-1884) - the entry for Alexander Grigor in this useful guide to Scottish records.

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