When I first came upon Peter, whilst compiling my comprehensive & detailed family tree of the ‘Kerrs of Harris’ some four years ago, it was inevitable that a small frisson of excitement occurred: Were we related, by any chance?
Let us look at what the three censuses have to tell us about Peter & his family:
Peter Kerr, 45, Tenant, Kentulavig, b. Inverness
Margaret, 40, b. Inverness
Mary, 15, b. Inverness
Kenneth, 12, b. Inverness
John, 10, b. Inverness
Effy, 8, b. Inverness
Catherine, 5, b.Inverness
Donald, 8 months, b. Inverness
Peter Kerr, 55, Dry Mason, Kintulavick, Harris, b. Harris
Margaret, 50, Wife, b. Harris
Rachel, 16, Daughter, b. Harris
William, 11, Son, b. Harris
Peter Kerr, 67, Stone Mason, Soroba Lower, Craignish, Argyll, b. Harris
Margaret, 62, Wife, b. Harris
Rachel Stables, 25, Daughter, A Painter’s Wife, b. Harris
Margaret Stables, 2, Granddaughter, b. Craignish
Phemie Stables, 8 months, Granddaughter, b. Craignish
Roderick Kerr, 6, Grandson, b. Harris
We can see that Peter & Margaret had at least 6 or 8 children born between circa 1825 and 1840 in Harris and that he was a mason. Incidentally, he would have been in the right place at the right time to have been involved in the construction of the Telford Church on Berneray, but equally likely was ‘merely’ responsible for domestic buildings and/or dykes on the island?
Peter died at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the 22nd of February 1862, aged 60, at Soroba, Craignish. He had been suffering from diseased kidneys and an ulcerated bladder for several years. His parents, both deceased, were a Farmer, Donald Kerr, and his wife Sarah Ferguson, and Peter’s widow had been born Margaret MacAskill. The death was registered by Peter’s son, William.
That was pretty much all that I had established about him (although I had followed his descendants a little further) until quite recently when I learnt that a Patrick Keir had been a tenant in Rushgarry on the Island of Berneray in 1830 and that he was believed to be the mason who appears a decade later on mainland Harris.
Revisiting my research in the light of this new knowledge I realised that we have corroboration in the form of Peter’s wife’s, his mother’s & his own name for MacAskill & Ferguson are family names particularly well associated with Berneray whilst the Gaelic Padruig (which we see as ‘Patrick in 1830) was usually anglicised on the island in later years into Peter rather than Patrick.
The use of ‘Keir’ in 1830 suggests to me an Anglicisation of ‘Cearr’ which also fuels another little fire of mine:
Alexander ‘Keir’ (for ‘brown or, perhaps, swarthy) Shaw was one of the possible progenitors of the Shaw families of Harris. Did some of his descendants in the area choose to adopt his ‘moniker’ as a way of distinguishing themselves from their other Shaw neighbours in the region? If so, were my own earliest island ancestors, Malcolm Kerr & Effie Shaw, perhaps distantly related by very early roots in Rothiemurchus?
I really don’t know, but I’m reasonably satisfied that my namesake was a son of Berneray although the pattern of his son’s names appears quite different to the predominantly Malcolm/Angus/John repetition that occurs in my own family.
I should also point out this family which appears in the ‘Register of Emigrants from the Western Isles of Scotland 1750-1900, Volume 1 Isle of Harris’:
Peter Kerr, Margaret Kerr, (Wife), John, Rachel, Donald, William, Catherine, Kenneth, Effie & Mary
They are stated as having left Harris between 1850 & 1859 for ‘Port Uncertain’.
I think it is clear that this is the same family and thus that their destination (or, rather, the place where at least some of the family, including both the parents, emigrated to) was Craignish in Argyll.
Finally, and taking a real flight of fancy, if Peter’s father Donald Kerr was an (otherwise unrecorded) farmerof that name on Berneray, then perhaps he & ‘my’ Malcolm were in some way related, perhaps even brothers? They were certainly contemporaries ( & neighbours across the Sound) so maybe my flight of fancy as to one possible origin of my family name in these parts isn’t quite as wild as I first thought...