Carr Surname Genealogy

The surname Carr
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 Carr in England and Kerr across the
border in Scotland.  Asked how to say his name, Admiral Mark Kerr
told the Literary Digest:

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.”

Carr Resources on

Carr Ancestry

Carrs were border reivers, like their namesakes the Kerrs across the
border in Scotland.  Many of them in fact might have been Scottish
Kers or Kerrs who had crossed the border south into Northumberland and

Carrs NorthFord castle
in Northumberland was close to the Scottish border.
It came into the possession of the Carr family from Etal nearby in the
1520’s.  But Thomas Carr was murdered in 1558 by his stepfather,
John Ratcliffe of Alnwick.  Much later, the Hedgeley estate near
Alnwick was
purchased by Ralph Carr in 1786 and he rebuilt the earlier house which
had stood on the site.  His descendants became the Carr-Ellisons.

Carrs, possibly from Northumberland, were living in the Craven region
of north Yorkshire from the late 1400’s. James Carr from Stackhouse was
recorded as purchasing Langcliffe manor in
1591.  These Carrs were involved in the cloth trade in
Huddersfield and were also “merchant adventurers” in Newcastle.

A Carr landowning family from Castle Sowerby in Cumberland in the 18th
century went on to be involved with the woollen trade in the
19th.  Jonathan
, the son of a Quaker grocer in Kendal,
founded Carr’s biscuit factory in Carlisle in
1837.  Carr’s is still an employer of large numbers of people in
Carlisle, although it is now a part of United Biscuits.  Margaret
Forster narrated the story of these Carrs in her 1998 book Rich Desserts and Captain’s Thin.

Carrs South.
Carrs did make it further south.  These two Carr lines appeared in
the west country:

  • William Carr was a wealthy
    Bristol merchant who acquired Woodspring priory in Somerset following
    the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.  His son John Carr
    left funds for a hospital in Bristol in his 1586 will.
  • Robert
    Kerr/Carr – of Scottish lineage but born in Somerset – was a favorite
    of King James I during the early years of his reign in England.
    But the two had a falling out in 1615 and Carr lost his position.
    His wife  Frances subsequently became involved in a scandalous
    murder case and both Carrs spent time in the Tower of London.

Ireland.  The Scots Kerr
was often anglicized to Carr after their migration to
Ulster.  But Carr also has Irish roots. In Ulster and
Connacht Carr
was the anglicized form
of the Gaelic O’Carra,
the descendant of Carra, a
meaning “spear,”  In Donegal the name could also have come from
the Gaelic Mac
Giolla Chathair,
meaning “‘son of the
servant of Cathair.”

Some Carrs were to be found in
Limerick on the west coast, such as a certain sweet Billy Carr who became
renowned in song for his garden.

America.  There were two
important early Carr lines in New England, one in Rhode Island and the
other in Bangor, Maine:

  • William Carr
    came to the Plymouth colony on the Fortune
    in late 1621 and the next year moved on with his fellow passengers to
    what was to become Bristol, Rhode Island.  Carr had Northumbrian
    Ford ancestry.  He lived on in Bristol another fifty years and
    died there in 1672.  William’s nephews Robert and Caleb followed
    him to Rhode Island on the Elizabeth
    and Ann
    in 1635.  Caleb Carr became Governor of Rhode
    Island in
    1695 but died after only six months in office.  Edson Carr’s 1894
    book The Carr Family Records
    traced these Carrs.
  • The Carr name appeared in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1677.
    Carr left the area a hundred or so years later for Bangor, Maine where
    he was a merchant and politician there.  The Carrs remained an
    important mercantile and political family in Bangor well into the 19th

Meanwhile, Thomas Carr came to Louisa county, Virginia around the year
1700.   From his line came Dabney Carr, the great
school-friend of Thomas Jefferson.  Other descendants from Thomas
Carr were to be found later in Kentucky and Missouri.  Later on, Captain Mark Carr from the Ford Castle line in Northumberland was the founder of the town of Brunswick in Georgia.

But Carrs in America were more likely to be Irish or Scots Irish than
English.  Joseph Carr, for instance, was Scots Irish and came to
Wilmington, North Carolina around 1730.  A later Scots Irish
immigrant was Nicholas Carr who came to Uniontown, Pennsylvania in the
1840’s and prospered in the livestock business there.

Canada.   Richard Carr
left his home in Oxfordshire in 1837 as a young man to wander the

“From his dairies we read that he spent
time in Texas, Alabama, and Illinois; he worked as a deck hand on the Columbus sailing from New Orleans
to Cuba; and later left the country for New York.  While there,
according to his diary, he walked from New York to Philadelphia and
back in seven days – a distance of 180 miles.”

He ended up on Vancouver island in 1863 where he and his family
eventually settled down.  His home there – now the Emily
Carr House – was where his daughter Emily, who became famous in Canada
for her paintings and writings of the Pacific Northwest, grew up.  

Carr Miscellany

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

Carr Names

E.H. Carr was a
left-wing British Marxist historian, best-known for his 14 volume
history of the Soviet Union.
John Dickson Carr was an American author of detective
Emily Carr was a Canadian artist and writer of the Pacific
Vikki Carr is the stage name
an American singer of Mexican ancestry born in Texas, who has enjoyed
her greatest success singing in Spanish.

Select Carrs Today

  • 50,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Durham)
  • 46,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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