A shadow on the wall of time

Glencarr is a very evocative word within our family. It is often mentioned over many a dinner table at our frequent family gatherings, whenever the subject of past ancestry and genealogy becomes the subject of conversation. It is an enigma of a place from which sprang our maternal forebears.

At some point after that cataclysmic year of 1066, which brought forth a tempest of change in British history, our Norman Kerr ancestors travelled north and settled in what today is the borderlands between England and Scotland.

Whether they were descended from the accepted progenitors of the direct bloodline of all true Kerrs, the Norman brothers Ralph and Robert who settled in Roxburgh in the 14th century, is an open question. It is one that we may never conclusively answer, given the passage of time and the current lack of historical family documentation. We can pretty well say for sure that our ancestors were most likely Border Reivers as were so many in the borders, surviving amid a desolate and brutal political landscape. The words Reiver, Raider and Rider all meant the same thing at that time and in that anarchic wild place.

We can imagine a time when our forebears rode a sturdy border hobby over the moonlit hills on many a cattle raid into England, feeling the braw wind on the face and that pulse of adrenaline with the anticipation of impending danger, when capture and death by the ‘hot trod’ was a very real possibility.

What is known for certain is that our maternal Kerr bloodline was established in the borderlands prior to 1603 but so far the trail has run cold during the 15th century. There is a continuous gap of at least a century, that is as good as a chasm for our family history and its direct links with the original Norman Kerrs. There are also some other hazy parts of the family tree in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly after the family moved south to Suffolk, but we are gradually bringing them into sharper focus. It seems likely to us though, that all those with the surname of Carr in Suffolk have a common progenitor, and we may perhaps prove that given time.

We must always remember that back in those days on the border, it was the custom for members of a lords household to adopt the family surname, so not all those who bear the surname of Kerr today are direct blood kin to the original progenitors of the name. Only a paternal DNA test could prove that with any degree of accuracy, and it would need to be tested against a DNA sample of impeccable direct Kerr lineage from the male line.

We could of course, like far too many clan and family historians, make a gigantic leap of faith and fill the gaps with myth, rumour and supposition, if not downright flights of fancy, but we would rather establish something more concrete and substantial when and if we ever can. There is no harm in embellishing family history to a certain degree, provided it is not there to deceive, but proven fact is so much more satisfying and rewarding in the end. It is the essential difference between fantasy and reality. After all, why settle for a cheap substitute when one can have gold?

One of the great gaps in our knowledge is the exact location of our maternal roots in the borders, the almost dream-like domain of Glencarr. We do know such a place existed but whether it was a manorial landholding, a farmstead or even a dwelling is shrouded in uncertainty. It may even at some point have been a feudal baronial title but we are not about to start proclaiming noble descent, embellishing our website with a phoney coat-of-arms and a fantastical landed claim.

So far we have looked at the valley of Glencarr in County Sligo in Ireland and we are almost certain that there is no connection with that place. As far as we are aware, none of our ancestors were part of the Irish plantations and our family in Canada are definitely not Scotch-Irish. We even discovered the small town of Glen Kerr in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. That could tie-in with our Canadian cousins who live in that province, but we are more inclined to see that more as coincidence at best.

We are confident at this point in time that Glencarr existed in the borders but pinning it down to a specific location is proving to be a tough nut to crack. However, there is nothing quite like the thrill of the chase and we shall continue to track our elusive quarry. With a touch of good fortune we may eventually catch the scent of our beginnings on the dusty pages of history.

Our abiding ambition and dream is to track down the site of Glencarr and purchase at least an acre of land, more if funds permit, and complete a family circle that spans over four centuries and two continents. As quests go it may not be a swashbuckling adventure but it holds a fascinating promise of discovery for us.

The vision of Glencarr as with many places that people seek, can be as powerful and evocative as the possible reality. However, many people when researching family history have imagined their roots in a palace or a fine country manor, only to discover a tiny croft or a damp and dismal hovel. We don’t really mind which to be honest, just so long as there is a trace remaining of our past kin and the lives they once lived in that place.

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