Select Kerr Surname Genealogy

The surname Kerr derived from the Old Norse word kjarr meaning "copse" or "wet ground," which became kerr, meaning "marsh" and "marsh dweller," on the English/Scottish borders.  The spelling was Kerr in Scotland and Carr across the border in England.  Asked how to say his name, Admiral Mark Kerr told the Literary Digest:

"In Scotland the name rhymes with care.  Since many of the family have come to England the pronunciation in this country rhymes with car, which we have entirely submitted to."

Kerr is also an anglicized form of the German Kehr.
Select Kerr Resources on The Internet

Select Kerr Ancestry

Scotland.  Kerr is mainly a Scottish Borders name.

Scottish Borders.  The Kerr clan there started with two brothers, Ralph and John, who settled in Jedburgh around 1330.  Ralph's line became the Kerrs of Ferniehirst and Marquesses of Lothian; while John's were the Kers of Cessford and Dukes of Roxburgh.   The Kerrs held Ferniehirst castle and the Kers Cessford castle.

At different times these lines held the title Warden of the Middle March, given to them so that they could defend the Scottish border against the English. 

Over the years these two branches were generally strong supporters of the Scottish and then of the English crown.  Sir Andrew Kerr, known as Dand Kerr, stood beside King James IV of Scotland against the English at the battle of Flodden Field.  In 1526 he died in defense of his infant son when the royal procession was attacked on the way to Edinburgh castle.  But the Kerrs were on the English side at Culloden in 1746.  Their story was narrated in Lord Lothian's Border Story, The Name and House of Kerr.

There is a legend that the Kerrs were frequently left-handed and even constructed the spiral staircases in their castles so that they could take advantage over right-handed swordsmen.  The term "corrie-fisted" or left-handed was said to have derived from the Kerrs.  But there is little in history to support this legend.  The word "corrie" is likely to have derived from the Gaelic word caerr meaning "left."

Elsewhere.  The Kerr name was also to be found on the isle of Bute on the west coast of Scotland.  Alexander Kerr married Helen Campbell at Rothesay in 1777 and they had eight children - including John Kerr, a member of the Burns Club at Dalry in north Ayrshire. 

He was a fine fat fodgel wight o short stature.  Lively and intelligent and sang a good song.  Afterwards he became a vintner. 

Other Kerrs in Dalry emigrated to Illinois in America in 1841.  John Kerr became disillusioned, however, and returned home.

England.  The name of Osbert be Ker was recorded in the charters of Rievaulx abbey in Yorkshire around the year 1200.  However, the English spelling of the name developed as Carr. 

Ireland.  Many Kerrs came to Ulster during the Scottish plantations and Kerr is a common name in Northern Ireland today, in particular in county Antrim.  The Ker and Karr spellings occur in county Down.  In 1840 it was said that one in every twenty acres in county Down belonged to the Ker family of Portavo.  They were among Ireland's thirty wealthiest families at that time.  These Kers produced the London financier David Ker who had acquired the Montalto estate.

Kerr in Ireland is generally of Scottish origin; while Carr could be of either Irish or English origin.  Some Irish Carrs were said to have changed their names to Kerr.

America.  The first Kerr arrival in America may well have been Walter Ker who landed in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in 1686 and went on to found the first Presbyterian church in America.  Other Kerrs began arriving in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.  John and James Kerr were recorded in the 1724 Donegal township records of Lancaster county. These Kerrs later settled in Augusta county, Virginia. 

The Rev. Charles Kerr
, the long-time pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma, came from these same Scots Presbyterian roots.  William and Margaret Kerr, tenant farmers in Oklahoma in the early 1900s, were devout members of the Southern Baptist Church.  Their son Robert S. Kerr, born in a log cabin in Chickasaw Nation, grew up to be an oil entrepreneur and was both Governor and Senator for Oklahoma.

Canada.  Gavin Kerr was a Presbyterian minister from Lockerbie in Dumfriesshire who came to Canada with his wife and four sons in 1818.  They settled in New Brunswick.  His oldest son James became the postmaster of New Bandon, a younger son Thomas the lighthouse keeper at the Caraquet lighthouse.  However, Thomas was only keeper for three years as he was drowned in the crossing in 1873.

Robert and Eliza Kerr arrived from Fermanagh in Ireland in the early 1850's, making their home in Huron county, Ontario.  Twenty years later their sons George, John and Robert were pioneer settlers at Stoney Creek in Manitoba where they farmed.

Select Kerr Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Kerr Names

Ralph and John Kerr
were the forebears of the Kerr Scottish border clan.
John Kerr was a 19th century Scottish physicist and a pioneer in the field of opto-electics.  He is best known for the discovery of what is now known as the Kerr effect.
Robert S. Kerr was a founder of the Kerr-McGee Oil Company in 1946 and was both Governor and Senator for Oklahoma.
Deborah Kerr was the British film actress who starred in The King and I
Walter Kerr was a well-known theater critic for the New York Times.

Select Kerrs Today
  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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