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Family Ancestors

Clan Kerr


Family History

Origins of the Surname

Variations of the Surname

Armorial Bearings

& Motto(es)

Ancestral Lineage

Ancestral Locations

Migration Routes

Source Documents

Website Resources

Family Images Gallery

Contact Information




Family history



Family History


The progenitor of our branch of this Kerr family in America is believed to be our 7th great-grandfather James Kerr, born around 1685 probably in Scotland.  James married Martha Ball around 1704.  This event may have also occurred in Scotland.  James and Martha Kerr and their eldest child John Kerr made the ocean voyage to America around 1707 and most likely arrived at the port of Philadelphia in Colony of Pennsylvania.  The Kerr family is initially found prior to 1722 in Donegal Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.   John and Malcolm Ker (Kerr) appear for the first time on the 1724 Donegal assessment list. 

        In 1735 John, James, and David Kerr and other inhabitants of Chester and Lancaster counties signed a petition for a road from John Harris' ferry to Edward Kennison plantation in the Great (Shenandoah) Valley.  Following this event the Kerr families moved west along the “Philadelphia Wagon Road” from Lancaster County to the area around present day Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.   From here they moved south into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. 

          The journey of James and the Kerr family from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to Augusta County, Virginia began around 1738 when the families pulled up stakes, loaded their horses with family goods, and started south over the “Warrior’s Path” toward the cheaper lands in Virginia. 

         James Kerr was among the first settlers of Beverley Manor whose title deeds are recorded in Orange County.  This area of Orange County would become Augusta County in 1745.   This record states that James Kerr had a grant for 473 acres of land. Maps of the northeastern section of Beverley's Manor show this tract on a stream that appears to be called Meadows Run, which empties into Cathey's River. The land is south of the bend in Cathey's River on which James Kerr's son John settled. 

     The Kerr surname appears in records of the Augusta Stone Church, as well as in the history of the Tinkling Springs Church.  James Kerr took a leadership role in the earliest records of the Tinkling Spring Church as noted by the fact that he is among the subscribers to the 14 August 1741 petition to build a Presbyterian meetinghouse at Tinkling Spring.

     During his years in Augusta County James became quite active as a community leader.  In 1745, he was made an overseer of the road between the mountains above Thompson's ford and Tinkling Spring. In that same year his name, along with son Andrew, was placed upon a list as one of the original panel of magistrates for Augusta County.  James died sometime early in 1770.

     James’ daughter, our 6th great-grandmother, Letticia Kerr was born 1723 in Pennsylvania.   In 1748 she married William Robertson, son of James Robertson, both of Beverly Manor in Augusta County.  Letticia bore at least twelve children one of which was Elizabeth Robertson, our 5th great-grandmother.  Letticia lived the remainder of her days in Augusta county where she passed away in the middle of her 49th year. 


Origins of the surname


Origins of the Surname

An Introduction to the Surname

Source/Meaning of the Surname

History of

the Surname

Immigrants to North America

More About Surnames

An Introduction to the Surname

                 The practice of inherited family surnames began in England and France during the late part of the 11th century.     With the passing of generations and the movement of families from place to place many of the original identifying names were altered into some of the versions that we are familiar with today.  Over the centuries, most of our European ancestors accepted their surname as an unchangeable part of their lives.  Thus people rarely changed their surname.  Variations of most surnames were usually the result of an involuntary act such as when a government official wrote a name phonetically or made an error in transcription.  Research into the record of this Kerr family line indicates that the variations, meanings and history of this surname is most likely linked to that area of Europe where English, Scottish, and Irish linguistic traditions are commonly found. 

Source(s) & Meaning(s) of the Surname

     Most of the modern family names throughout Europe have originated from with of the following circumstances: patronym or matronym, names based on the name of one's father, mother or ancestor, (Johnson, Wilson). Each is a means of conveying lineage; occupation (i.e., Carpenter, Cooper, Brewer, Mason); habitational (Middleton, Sidney, or Ireland) or topographical (i.e. Hill, Brook, Forrest, Dale); nicknames (i.e., Moody Freeholder, Wise, Armstrong); status (i.e. Freeman, Bond, Knight); and acquired ornamental names that were simply made up.

     Found mainly in the famous "Border counties" of the England and Scotland, Kerr is a topographic name for someone who lived by a patch of wet ground overgrown with brushwood.  The derivation of the name is from the pre 7th century Old Norse word "kjarr", meaning copsewood, brushwood, or wet ground, which became in Middle English "kerr", describing a bog or fen, covered with low brushwood.  A legend grew up that the Kerrs were left-handed, on theory that the name is derived from Gaelic cearr ‘wrong-handed’, ‘left-handed’.   Carr is an Irish variant of Kerr.   The surname found in Ulster Province (Northern Ireland) is an Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Carra ‘descendant of Carra’, a byname meaning ‘spear’.  The traditional Irish surname is an Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Giolla Chathair, a Donegal name meaning ‘son of the servant of Cathair’.

History of the Surname

Surnames as we know them today were first assumed in Europe from the 11th to the 15th century. They were not in use in England or Scotland, before the Norman Conquest of 1066, and were first found in the Domesday Book of 1086. The employment in the use of a second name was a custom that was first introduced from the Normans who had adopted the custom just prior to this time.    Soon thereafter it became a mark of a generally higher socio-economic status and thus seen as disgraceful for a well-bred man to have only one name.  It was not until the middle of the 14th century that surnames became general practice among all people in the British Isles.

     In Scotland the family has many branches, among them the Marquesses of Lothian.  The surname in Scotland is first recorded in the border lands area of Scotland where the Lothian branch of the family spell their name as Kerr, although the Roxburgh branch use Ker. Traditionally they were of Anglo-Norman origin and descend from two brothers who settled in Roxburgh in the 14th century, but it is also claimed that the name is derived from a Celtic word meaning 'strength'.  The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Johannes Ker. This was was dated 1190, in the Episcopal Register of the city of Glasgow, Scotland.  Amongst other early recordings of the name in Scotland is the mention William Ker, who was witness to an agreement between the burgh of Irvine and Brice in 1205.  In 1357, John Kerr obtained a charter of all the lands and tenements in Auldountburn, and Robert Kerr of Selkirk Forest, is mentioned in a charter of that year. The marriage of Margaret Kerr and Robert Haig in 1565 at Bemersyde, in Roxburgh, Scotland.

     In England the surname is first found in Lancashire and recorded in circa 1200, in the charters of Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire, where one Osbert de Ker is so recorded.  Johannes del Kerre of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379.  Willelmus atte Karr was documented in County Lancashire in 1400.  Another branch of the family in England, using the spelling Carr, acquired the earldom of Somerset in 1613, when James I granted this title to Robert Carr (1587-1645) to whom he had previously granted the confiscated lands of Sir Walter Raleigh at Sherborne, Dorset, England.

     The Kerr/Ker/Carr surname was brought to Ulster in the 17th century by a number of settlers from Scotland, and England where it now ranks among the forty commonest surnames in Ireland. The largest number of these Kerrs settled in County Antrim but the name is found in all counties. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames. They came into being fairly generally in the 11th century, and indeed a few were formed before the year 1000.

Early Immigrants to North America

During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries hundreds of thousands of Europeans made the perilous ocean voyage to America.  For many it was an escape from economic hardship and religious persecution.  For most it was an opportunity to start over, own their own land, and make a better future for their descendents.  Immigration records show a number of people bearing the name of Kerr, or one of its variants, as arriving in North America between the 17th and 20th centuries.  Some of these immigrants were: William Ker, who settled in New Hampshire in 1718; David Kerr arrived in Jamaica in 1775; John Carr settled in Virginia in 1716; Alexander, Andrew, Edward, Frank, Henry, Horace, Hugh, James, John, Joseph, Mathew, Robert, Samuel, Thomas and William Kerr, all arrived in Philadelphia between 1800 and 1860.

Use the following links to find more early immigrants with this surname:

$ Search Immigration Records; or Free Ship’s Passenger lists at

More About Surname Meanings & Origins

English Surnames

Although the Domesday Book compiled by William the Conqueror required surnames, the use of them in the British Isles did not become fixed until the time period between 1250 and 1450.  The broad range of ethnic and linguistic roots for British surnames reflects the history of Britain as an oft-invaded land. These roots include, but are not limited to, Old English, Middle English, Old French, Old Norse, Irish, Gaelic, Celtic, Pictish, Welsh, Gaulish, Germanic, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  Throughout the British Isles, there are basically five types of native surnames. Some surnames were derived from a man's occupation (Carpenter, Taylor, Brewer, Mason), a practice that was commonplace by the end of the 14th century.  Place names reflected a location of residence and were also commonly used (Hill, Brook, Forrest, Dale) as a basis for the surname, for reasons that can be easily understood.  Nicknames that stuck also became surnames.  About one-third of all surnames in the United Kingdom are patronymic in origin, and identified the first bearer of the name by his father (or grandfather in the case of some Irish names). When the coast of England was invaded by William The Conqueror in the year 1066, the Normans brought with them a store of French personal names, which soon, more or less, entirely replaced the traditional more varied Old English personal names, at least among the upper and middle classes. A century of so later, given names of the principal saints of the Christian church began to be used. It is from these two types of given name that the majority of the English patronymic surnames are derived and used to this day.  Acquired ornamental names were simply made up, and had no specific reflection on the first who bore the name. They simply sounded nice, or were made up as a means of identification, generally much later than most surnames were adopted.  Source:

Variations of the surname


Variations of
the Surname


Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to unfold and expand often leading to an overwhelming number of variants.  As such one can encounter great variation in the spelling of surnames because in early times, spelling in general and thus the spelling of names was not yet standardized.  Later on spellings would change with the branching and movement of families.  Spelling variations of this family name include: Kerr, Keir, Car, Carr, Ker, Cearr (Gaelic)  and many others.   


The complexity of researching records is compounded by the fact that in many cases an ancestors surname may also have been misspelled.  This is especially true when searching census documents.   The Soundex Indexing System was developed in an effort to assist with identifying spelling variations for a given surname.  Soundex is a method of indexing names in the 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 US Census, and can aid genealogists in their research.  The Soundex Code for Kerr is K600.  Other surnames sharing this Soundex Code: KARR | KEAR | KEHR | KERR | KOHR |


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Coat of arms


Armorial Bearings & Motto(es)

In the Middle Ages heraldry came into use as a practical matter. It originated in the devices used to distinguish the armored warriors in tournament and war, and was also placed on seals as marks of identity. As far as records show, true heraldry began in the middle of the 12th century, and appeared almost simultaneously in several countries of Western Europe.  In the British Isles the College of Arms (founded in 1483) is the Royal corporation of heralds who record proved pedigrees and grant armorial bearings.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2


There are at least many known associated armorial bearings for Kerr/Ker/Carr and close variant spellings recorded in Reitstap’s Armorial General or Sir Bernard Burke’s General Armory. The following additional information has been found regarding the coats-of-arms shown at the left:

Figure 1: granted to Ker of Chatto in Roxburgh, Scotland, this coat of arms features a red shield with silver chevron on which there are three red stars, and a crest displaying the sun in splendor;

Figure 2: arms granted in 1637 to Sir Andrew Kerr, and a descendent of Kerrs of Ferniehirst, and Baron of the now extinct Baronet of Greenhead, then located within the Scottish Borders. This coat-of-arms has a distinctive crest featuring a deers head;

Figure 3: armorial bearings granted to Rev. Thomas Carr (1788-1859), then of Aghadoe, Antrim, Ulster province, who descended from Sir George Carr, clerk of the council of Munster, who was son of William Carr, Esq., of Southey Hall in Yorkshire, England. This coat of arms displays a blue shield with a silver chevron between three silver stars with a crest of a silver star.  Motto.—Fida Clavo.

Figure 4: coat-of-arms granted to a Carr of Scotland, as well as a Carr, or Carre of York and Bristol, England. A difference with other similar Kerr / Carr designs is that his displays three black  mullets;  

Figure 5: armorial bearings purported to have been granted to a Kerr of England. The white or silver shield is quartered by a black cross with each quarter is a red rose as is found in the crest;

Figure 6: these arms currently belong to Michael Kerr the 13th Marquess of Lothian;

Figure 7: the most common badge of Clan Kerr, it displays the sun in splendor with a red and white torse as found in many Kerr coats-of-arms as well as the motto of Kerr in Lothian, Scotland.

Figure 8: arms granted to Carr of Ireland whose motto is “tout droit”,  it displays the common Carr / Kerr design with the inclusion three pheons (arrowheads with widely spread barbs) added into the red field.

Figure 9: armorial bearings purported to have been granted to a Kerr of Scotland.  It is similar to figure one except the shield contains a white outline.

Figure 10: the Kerr clan dress tartan on the left and the hunting tartan on the right.


Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

Fig. 9



Fig. 10

MOTTOES: The following listed mottoes and their translations are attributed to:  Carr / Ker / Kerr

SURNAME (Spelling)

MOTTO (Latin)

MOTTO (Translation)


Est nulla fallacia

There is no deceit


Pour deserver

To deserve


Pro Christo et patria dulce periculum

For Christ and my country danger is sweet


Tout droit

All right


Abest timor

Fear is absent


Deus solamen

God is my comfort


Fortune le veut

Fortune so wills it



I advance


Pro Christo et patria

For Christ and my country


Tout droit

All right


Virescit vulnere virtus

Her virtue flourishes by her wound


Dulco pro patriâ periculum

Danger is sweet for one’s country


A Deo lumen

Light from God


Deus solamen

God is my comfort


Praise God

Praise God


Sero sed serio

Late but in earnest


A Coat of Arms is defined as a group of emblems and figures (heraldic bearings) usually arranged on and around a shield and serving as the special insignia of some person, family, or institution.  Except for a few cases, there is really no such thing as a standard "coat of arms" for a surname.  A coat of arms, more properly called an armorial achievement, armorial bearings or often just arms for short, is a design usually granted only to a single person not to an entire family or to a particular surname.  Coats of arms are inheritable property, and they generally descend to male lineal descendents of the original arms grantee.  The rules and traditions regarding Coats of Arms vary from country to country. Therefore a Coat of Arms for an English family would differ from that of a German family even when the surname is the same.  The art of designing, displaying, describing, and recording arms is called heraldry. The use of coats of arms by countries, states, provinces, towns and villages is called civic heraldry.   Some of the more prominent elements incorporated into a  coat of arms are :

Crest - The word crest is often mistakenly applied to a coat of arms.  The crest was a later development arising from the love of pageantry.  Initially the crest consisted of charges painted onto a ridge on top of the helmet.

Wreath or TorseThe torse is a twist of cloth or wreath underneath and part of a crest. Always shown as six twists, the first tincture being the tincture of the field, the second the tincture of the metal, and so on.

Mantling – The mantling is a drapery tied to the helmet above the shield. It forms a backdrop for the shield.

Helm or Helmet - The helmet or helm is situated above the shield and bears the torse and crest. The style of helmet displayed varies according to rank and social status, and these styles developed over time, in step with the development of actual military helmets.

Shield or Arms - The basis of all coats of arms.  At their simplest, arms consist of a shield with a plain field on which appears a geometrical shape or object.  The items appearing on the shield are known as charges.

Motto - The motto was originally a war cry, but later mottoes often expressed some worthy sentiment. It may appear at the top or bottom of a family coat of arms.

Direct ancestors


Ancestral Lineage

Descendant Register

Generation 1

James Kerr-1 was born on Abt. 1685 in Scotland or Ireland. He died on 1770 in Augusta County, Virginia. He married Martha Ball. She was born on Abt. 1685.


Children of James Kerr and Martha Ball are:


 John Kerr, B: Abt. 1705 in Scotland, D: 12 Sep 1772 in Augusta County, Virginia,  27 Mar 1730 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Chester.


 Elizabeth Kerr, B: Abt. 1707 in Pennsylvania, D: Bet. 1746-1752 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, M: 1735 in Pennsylvania.


 Samuel Kerr, B: Bet. 1715-1723.


 William Kerr, B: Bet. 1716-1722, D: Aft. 1782 in Rowan County, North Carolina?,


 Andrew Kerr, B: Bet. 1718-1722, D: 1782 in Rowan County, North Carolina, M:  Abt. 1740 in Augusta County, Virginia?.


 David Kerr, B: 1719 in Chester County, Pennsylvania, D: Mar 1804 in Guilford County, North Carolina, M: Bef. 1745.


 Eleanor Kerr, B: Abt. 1720, D: Abt. 1781 in South Carolina?, M: 1738 in  Pennsylvania.


Lettica Kerr, B: 07 Jan 1724 in Donegal Twp., Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania, D: 15 Jul 1773 in Staunton, Augusta Co., Virginia, M: 14 Jan 1749 in Augusta County, Virginia.


James Kerr, B: Bet. 1725-1726 in Pennsylvania, D: Dec 1811 in Augusta County, Virginia, M: 13 Jan 1762 in Augusta County, Virginia.


Generation 2


Lettica Kerr-2(James Kerr-1) was born on 07 Jan 1724 in Donegal Twp., Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania. She died on 15 Jul 1773 in Staunton, Augusta Co., Virginia. She married William Robertson on 14 Jan 1749 in Augusta County, Virginia, son of James Robertson and Rebecca Royston. He was born on 05 Feb 1720 in Coleraine, Londonderry, N. Ireland. He died on 17 Oct 1812 in Staunton, Augusta Co., Virginia.


Children of Lettica Kerr and William Robertson are:


i.             Mary Robertson, M: 03 Apr 1798 in Augusta County, Virginia.


ii.            Alexander Robertson.


iii.          Ann Robertson.


iv.          James Robertson.


v.           Matthew Robertson, B: Abt. 1747.


vi.          Jane Robertson, B: 14 Sep 1750, D: 13 Nov 1823, M: Abt. 1770.


vii.         Rebecca Robertson, B: Abt. 1752 in Augusta County, Virginia?, D: Aft. 29 May   1808 in Blount County, Tennessee, M: Abt. 1770 in Augusta County, Virginia?.


viii.       Isabella Robertson, B: Abt. 1754, D: 1813, M: 26 Dec 1780 in Virginia.


ix.          Sarah Robertson, B: Abt. 1760.


x.           Elizabeth Robertson, B: 06 Apr 1761 in Staunton, Augusta Co., Virginia, D: Aug 1838 in Cog Hill, McMinn Co., Tennessee, M: 28 Dec 1784 in Staunton, Augusta Co., Virginia.


xi.          Margaret Robertson, B: 31 Jul 1761, D: Abt. 1794, M: 04 Jul 1782.


xii.         Lettica Robertson, B: Bef. 1775, D: Aft. 1820.


Additional information about our DIRECT ANCESTORS  as well as a complete listing of individuals with this surname may be reviewed by clicking on the following LINK.


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Ancestral locations




Researching the locations where our ancestors lived has provided us with valuable evidence needed to fill-in the gaps in our family trees.  It has also led us to many interesting facts that enhance the overall picture of each family group.  The names of states and counties on the following list were derived from the known places where the persons in the “Direct Ancestors” list (see above) were born, married, and / or died.









Lancaster County


Augusta County


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Where in the World
are My Ancestors?

Resources which enhance our knowledge of the places inhabited by our ancestors are almost as important as their names. The LINK to the right will take you to Maps, Gazetteers,   and  other  helpful   resources 



that will assist in discovering Ancestral Locations.  These web sites comprise only a small portion of what is available for researchers interested in learning more about where their ancestors lived.

Click on the LINK to the right to see more information about the World distribution of this surname.  You can

get greater detail for any of the following maps by clicking on the area, i.e state, county that you are interested in.

Migration routes



Tracing our own family’s paths of migration can prove crucial in identifying previous generations and eventually, figuring out where and how they arrived in the “New World” as well as where they eventually settled.  Knowing the network of trails American pioneers traveled can help you guess where to start looking.  The trail map(s) provided below may assist you in understanding the routes that our direct ancestors of this family may have taken to find new homes and opportunities in the vast area now encompassed by the United States.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Paxton Township, Pennsylvania  c.1707 – c.1737

James Kerr his wife and son John Kerr made the ocean voyage to America around 1707 and most likely arrived at the port of Philadelphia in Colony of Pennsylvania. From here they moved west along the  “Philadelphia Wagon Road” into Chester County and settled in the locality of what is now East Donegal Township, in Lancaster County.  They lived at this location until around 1737.   Encouraged by fellow emigrants, they first went westward form Lancaster County along the “Great Wagon Road” to Paxton Township, near the later town of Harrisburg.

Paxton Township, Pennsylvania to Augusta County, Virginia,  1737 - 1739

The journey of the Kerr family from here to Augusta County, Virginia began around 1738 when they pulled up stakes, loaded their horses with family goods, and crossed the Susquehanna River then started south over the “The Great Warrior & Trading Path” toward the cheaper lands in Virginia.  Crossing the Potomac River by Williams’ or Watkins Ferry, near the later site of Williamsport, they followed the narrow footpath along the Shenandoah River.  Past occasional clearings in the forest of the Valley of Virginia, they came after many days’ journey to a gap in an earlier trail, named Buffalo Gap.  There, seventeen miles southwest of the valley near a way station that would eventually grow into the town of Staunton, and later the county seat of Augusta county, Virginia.  The Kerr family settled at a choice spot at the juncture of Christian's Creek, Long Meadow Run, and Middle River.  Here they cleared land built a log house and began to develop a farm.



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Look in the “Source Documents” gallery of this surname as we may have additional detailed maps showing these migration routes.

Source documents




The documents contained within the “Source Documents Archives” have been located during my research of this family, and used as evidence to prove many of the facts contained within the database of this family’s record.


     Most of these documents can be considered as primary or secondary evidence.  Primary evidence is usually defined as the best available to prove the fact in question, usually in an original document or record.  Secondary evidence is in essence all that evidence which is inferior in its origin to primary evidence. That does not mean secondary evidence is always in error, but there is a greater chance of error.  Examples of this type of evidence would be a copy of an original record, or oral testimony of a record’s contents.  Published genealogies and family histories are also secondary evidence.

     Classifying evidence as either primary or secondary does not tell anything about its accuracy or ultimate value.  This is especially true of secondary evidence.  Thus it is always a good idea to ask the following questions: (1) How far removed from the original is it, (when it is a copy)?; (2) What was the reason for the creation of the source which contains this evidence?; and (3) Who was responsible for creating this secondary evidence and what interest did they have in its accuracy?

SOURCE:  Greenwood, Val D., The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 2nd edition, Genealogical Publishing  Co., Baltimore, MD 21202, 1990, pgs. 62-63


You are welcome to download any of the documents contained within this archive.

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