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Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground: a Rosetta Stone for Cromar mysteries

Aerial view, Kirkton of Aboyne. Beyond the square vault ruin, you can easily detect the foundation mound for the old kirk. | Detail from image at Canmore.

Beyond a few turf-covered 13th century granite foundation stones and a vault constructed in the 19th century, little remains of the ancient kirk of Saint Adamnan in the Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground, also known as Formaston. The wee country kirk was dedicated to Adomnán of Iona, the ninth abbot of Iona Abbey in the west of Scotland, one of the most ancient sites associated with Christianity in Western Europe. Adomnán was active there in the late 600s, a century after its founding by Saint Columba. After his death in 704, he was styled Saint Adamnan, and among the many named in his honor, the Formaston kirk was granted to the Knights Templar and confirmed by Alexander II King of Scots around 1242.

We can deduce that Formaston had been associated with Christianity centuries before, dating back at least to the late 800s. The most significant archaeological find on the site is the famous Formaston Stone, a fragment of an ornate granite cross slab with Ogham script lines running vertically along the right side. The cross of which it is a fragment predates the kirk by about 400 years. It was somewhat unceremoniously repurposed under the doorstep of Saint Adamnan’s, where it was discovered sometime before the mid-1870s, suggesting the old kirk was dismantled around the 1860s. Indeed, a spate of kirk-building around that date suggests the old building had become obsolete after six centuries of use. The stone now rests on display in Aboyne at Victory Hall.

A final archaeological hint about the design of Saint Adamnan’s is an enigmatic note at the Aberdeen Council website that indicates “The old bird cage belfry wit [sic] the bell was removed and re-erected on the north side of the tower of the home farm buildings.” This evidently refers to the Mains of Aboyne, a home farm associated with Aboyne Castle, and we find said belfry in the courtyard in front of the former cart-shed and granary. Notes at Bill Harrison’s image of the structure confirm that “The birdcage bellcote was moved from Aboyne old kirk in the 1860s when the present kirk was built in the centre of the village.” The kirk he refers to is possibly the Aboyne and Dinnet Parish Church (built 1842) or the South United Free Church (1859). Given my limited historian super-powers, I’ll hazard it was the Parish Church, given the presence of the central birdcage bellcote, an element familiar to many Church of Scotland structures.

1 | Mains of Aboyne home farm for Aboyne Castle, showing the birdcage belfry salvaged from the demolition of Saint Adamnan’s kirk in the 1860s. | Bill Harrison, 2021, geograph.uk CC-BY-SA 2.0
2 | Aboyne-Dinnet Parish Church | Stanley Howe, 2013, geograph.uk CC-BY-SA 2.0
3 | Former Free Church, Charlestown Road, Aboyne | Bill Harrison, 2021, geograph.uk CC-BY-SA 2.0
4 | Belhelvie, a church similar in scale and probably similar in design to the dismantled Saint Adamnan’s, with a similarly styled belcote. | Andrew Tryon, 2019, geograph.uk CC-BY-SA 20

In our previous post, we studied a gravestone that may have been erected in Kirkton of Aboyne just before the old kirk structure was dismantled: George Cromar’s oddly inconclusive memorial to his immediate family. Simply put, this stone creates more mystery than clarity. To recap (and add to) the mystery, we note:

  • George erected the stone, most likely after daughter Mary Ann’s death in 1856, but it is unclear if he is later interred here;
  • We are uncertain if Ann Meston, his wife, is interred here or elsewhere;
  • We can’t confirm precise dates of death for David, Archibald, or Alexander, the three brothers who died in infancy;
  • Mary Ann’s precise date on the stone is contradicted by other records by over a month;
  • Most curiously, we can’t confirm the identity of the Father, Mother or Sister memorialized by the inscription;
  • And we are uncertain if these unnamed family members are interred here.

We know this isn’t the only Cromar stone by far. Given the timeline suggested by the archaeological record, it is likely that Cromar families worshipped here, and many Cromars were buried in the yard while the old kirk was still in use. Many more still were buried there after the structure was dismantled. In a two century span of time from 1770 up through 1995, dozens of Cromars, husbands, brides, and children, some sadly quite young, were interred here. So where the paper record might fall short, the adjacency of these stones may fill important gaps. Though not a substitute for primary sources, an investigation of the memorials may help to connect some dots.

It was my goal to visit the Kirkton in November as a part of our study abroad trip that vaccine hesitancy combined with the rise of Covid variants postponed. That visit would have helped in this effort, but I’m not willing to wait another year to unwind this history! I need another way to built a geography and timeline establishing links among the stones and maybe, just maybe, get past the brick wall we hit in the search for George Cromar’s origins. It turns out there is a way.

Find A Grave website contains high resolution images of Cromar memorials dating back to the elusive Peter Cromar 1690-1770. But these are discrete images, and it’s hard to establish a reliable sense of adjacencies among them. So, combined with these images, I’ve been fortunate enough to dig for and find the following evidence:

  • At the Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society website is an unbelievably important resource: the online Index to MI (Memorial Inscription) Booklets published by ANESFHS. This database allows a researcher to plug in a surname and associate it with a burial ground. When the stones are searched for, say, “Cromar” and “Kirkton of Aboyne,” it lists all the inscriptions… and the secret sauce: it associates a number with each. If the logic of this numbering system can be uncovered, it will be easy to estimate the locations of the stones with respect to one another.
  • Several websites have overall photographs of the burial ground, and from these it becomes possible to analyze landmarks that allow the Find A Grave stones to be mapped, by correlating recognition of these landmarks even in the sometimes limited context provided in those images. Those shots include overall views found at Places of Worship in Scotland, a wide-angle view at The Megalithic Portal, aerial views at Canmore, contextual shots by GariochGraver at the Find A Grave page for “Aboyne – Kirkton,” and a screen-capture from the satellite imagery at Apple Maps, taken at a time of year where foliage was at a minimum (the imagery at Google or Bing is in full foliage, obscuring the ground plane). This tiny burial ground is surprisingly well-documented on the web.

The analysis

We start with a full listing of each member of the Cromar family inscribed on a stone. The fact that Scottish women maintain a maiden name throughout their lives makes this a very easy thing to track. At the Index to IM Booklets, we conducted a search for only the surname “Cromar,” and for the burial ground “Kirkton of Aboyne” out of the long dropdown list. For a quick reference to all Cromar stones cataloged at ANESHFS, see the table below. For more detail, visit the spreadsheet here.

Stone: 9Jean Cromar31 Dec 1772
Peter Cromarn.d.
Stone: 10Robert Cromar7 Nov 1851
Elizabeth Cromar22 Oct 1853
John Cromar7 Jun 1856
Jane McCondach12 Jul 1875
Alexander Cromarn.d.
Stone: 11George CromarJul 1797
Helen Ogg6 Mar 1815
Jane Cromarn.d.
Emelia Cromarn.d.
Peter Cromarn.d.
Adam Cromarn.d.
Elizabeth Cromarn.d.
Alexander Cromarn.d.
Robert Cromarn.d.
Stone: 24Peter Cromar13 Oct 1770
Stone: 27Peter Milne9 Jun 1846
Catherine Cromar18 Oct 1865
Peter Milne12 Feb 1872
Elspet Ross4 Sep 1879
James Ross21 Aug 1887
Stone: 29James Milne7 Nov 1830
Janet Cromar22 Jun 1846
Jane Milne26 May 1875
Stone: 35Mary Ann CromarMar 1867
Margaret Low20 Oct 1901
George Cromar16 Apr 1928
Elizabeth Cromar1 Jan 1935
Stone: 36Peter Cromar17 Jul 1848
Mary Ann Cromar11 Jul 1856
Elsie Mary Cromar RossMar 1995
George Cromarn.d.
Archibald Cromarn.d.
David Cromarn.d.
Alexander Cromarn.d.
Stone: 37Minnie Bertram12 Apr 1890
Annie Cromar23 Feb 1892
Minnie Cromar12 Apr 1892
James Cromarn.d.
Stone: 38Peter Cromar1770
Peter Cromar1815
Peter Cromar6 Jun 1856
Isabella Robertson21 Oct 1889
Peter Cromar27 Jan 1902
Fanny Cromar5 May 1909
Andrew Cromar20 Jan 1910
Isabella Cromar18 Dec 1914
Christian Cromar14 Apr 1915
James Cromar2 Sep 1922
James Cromarn.d.n.d.
Ann Cromarn.d.
John Cromarn.d.
Stone: 39Elizabeth Grieve11 Apr 1901
Mary Ann Henderson26 Oct 1901
Robert Cromar1 Jun 1910
Farquharson Cromar15 Aug 1910
Stone: 44S.J. Dunn24 Oct 1916

Next, we peruse photographic documentation of the site as a whole to identify some useful landmarks. Among the images analyzed are the following samples:

In the landscape we can notice several elements that stand out as significant landmarks:

  • The vault ruin with kirk foundation wall: this is the most prominent feature in the landscape apart from the eccentrically shaped enclosure wall. It is visible in several ground-based images and most visible from the air in Image 8 above.
  • The Grey family memorial: this is a prominent vertical stone most easily seen in Image 7 as a bright vertical line found inside the kirk foundation ruin.
  • The Gordon stone: although we don’t detect this fairly recognizable red granite stone in these overall images, it can be seen in pictures of individual stones below.
  • The table slab: this is a common stone typology in Scottish burial grounds, so there are a few of them here. One is a standout because it is a standalone: you can see it to the left side of Image 5.

Where these are seen in various photographs, both in the overall contextual view and among individual stones in the gallery below, positions can be roughly triangulated to estimate locations of stones. The monuments in question include any in the ANEFHS database inscribed with Cromar, in all over 60 family members on a dozen stones, from 1770 through 1995:

Recalling our landmarks, we note their presence in these images as follows:

  • Images 1, 2, and 3 show the relationship of the tall Cromar stone 38 to the taller Grey stone, and to the vault ruin.
  • Adjacency of stones 9, 10, and 11 to the vault is made clear in Images 4 and 5. In Image 5 also note the presence of the Grey stone in the background.
  • In the image for stone 27, note the presence of the Grey stone in the background.
  • The table slab in the background of Image 5 can be seen to left of stone 35.
  • The Gordon stone is seen prominently in background of images for stones 35 and 38.
  • The number system can be used to deduce that stones 9, 10, and 11 are in a short row, as are stones 24, 27, and 29. Stones 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39 align in their own row.

With this adjacency information deduced, we can find a way to map the stones. This can be tricky. The Canmore aerial views can detect some individual stones, but is perspectivally distorted. The Apple map view is essentially an orthographic overhead view, meaning no distortion, but the resolution is too low to detect stones.

By superimposing the Canmore image on the Apple Map image, then distorting the Canmore view to align with the enclosure wall and vault ruin in the Apple view using image editing software, we can more closely pinpoint some of our landmarks. It should be noted that it’s impossible to purge the Canmore shot of perspective entirely: walls and stones still have height! So it’s best to understand the alignment as occurring at the base of the walls and stones, which is a fairly uniform ground plane, rather than the tops of these elements, which vary greatly in height. Knowing this, we can obtain a remarkably precise match, which you can compare by dragging the slider between the two images below:

Perspectival distortion of the Canmore aerial to significant positions in the Apple satellite image, from above.

From this nifty trick, triangulation information from the all the photographs can help develop a map. It’s not precise, but it is accurate enough to understand the distribution of the stones in the burial ground:

Cromar stones in Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground. Image by the author, derivative from sources above.


This is an interesting exercise in mapping and image editing, but how is it useful? What can be inferred from what we have learned through this research and analysis? Synthesizing the proximity knowledge with documentary evidence, we can create several solid hypotheses:

  1. There are many branches of the family leading to multiple diasporas. The burial ground is a veritable Rosetta Stone allowing us to untangle the family migration history. In the documentary evidence this study leads us to, we find Cromar lines emigrating to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the American West, in particular Colorado and Utah, then on to California and Arizona. We seem to have arrived in Aberdeenshire with Peter Cromar 1690-1770, and we seem also to have emigrated farther and wider than we’ve understood so far. The Cromar presence on the United State East Coast is evidence of merely one of many instances of emigration, both into and out of Aberdeenshire.
  2. The proximity of these stones, centered on the memorial for the patriarch Peter Cromar, suggests this is a close-knit extended family group, not a random collection of persons who coincidentally share the surname Cromar. It is not surprising that these adjacencies confirm many parent-child and brother-sister relationships instead of distant cousin links. The documentary evidence this leads us to confirms this.
  3. Having said that, the geographic record is as remarkable for who is absent as it is for who is present. It’s surprising, for example, that we have no evidence of John Cromar 1823-1870, Ann George’s husband and George Cromar’s brother, in the burial ground. Though curious, this absence doesn’t create anomaly in the way others do: our most obvious example of this is George’s father John not in evidence, though he is memorialized anonymously on Stone 36 along with a wife and daughter.
  4. This does provide clues to untangling their identity, however: we know that George is alive, while his father, mother, and sister are all dead, and we know the stone is erected by George sometime after 1856. This information will be useful in the documentary record if we can find death dates among the many eligible John Cromars, their wives, and their daughters. That’s a pattern that is bound to rule out many of these Johns and open up a new Cromar line, possibly breaking the current brick wall between George and the patriarch Peter. Further analysis on this will inform the next post.
  5. The most intriguing and unexpected conclusion emerges from Stone 39, however: this memorial contains Cromars who simply do not merge with other lines here. Though we are aware that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, the Stone 39 Cromars, Robert and Farquharson, are mid-19th century to early 20th century contemporaries, not some ancient, distant echo whose records have been lost to time. They and their adjacent generations are well documented. The father in this family group, Robert Sherrat Cromar, has a confirmed line that extends back to a Peter Cromar, but not any of the ones interred here. His Peter passed in 1740 and was married to a Barbara Garrioch (pronounced geary).

We know there is a strong possibility of an unknown link between the two ancient Peters that the fog of time and memory will never allow us to see. But, given the family oral history, it is not inconceivable that the Cromar line represented in Stone 39 are “the” Cromars who originated in the Howe of Cromar, while Peter Cromar 1690-1770 and his descending lines — all the other Cromars interred here — are “imposters” who adopted the name. That begs the question: could they be the descendants of refugees, part of a diaspora originating outside of the Howe? The lack of a connection down the line doesn’t prove this hypothesis, but it cannot be discounted. This may have been the conclusion drawn by the departed Ron Cromar, whose notes I have mentioned before and may perhaps reinforce this line of reasoning with information that simply cannot be gathered from afar.

We shall see. But in the meantime, encouraged by the breadcrumbs we’ve discovered in this study, we’ll next attempt to discover the identity of George Cromar’s father John and his family.

George Cromar and Ann Meston: tragedies and mysteries

At the center of this Blaeu Atlas fragment we’ve encountered before, we can find Obyn, an alternate spelling of the name Oboyne, later chartered as the village called Aboyne. Across the burn and slightly to the north-east, we find Obyn K., a shorthand for Kirkton of Obyn, the location of the burial ground that will later contain George Cromar’s intriguing memorial stone. | From the Blaeu – Atlas of Scotland 1654 – ABERDONIA & BANFIA | National Museum of Scotland | Public Domain

Situated midway between Ballater and Banchory on the north bank of the River Dee, the village of Aboyne is large by west Aberdeenshire standards, boasting a population of about 3000. As a settlement founded in 1671, it was a bit of a latecomer compared to other villages in the region, but establishment of a bridge replacing a river ford, combined with a station stop for the Royal Deeside line, encouraged its growth into a small and picturesque inland resort town. Technically lying just south of the Howe of Cromar, it functions as a gateway of sorts to the large oval valley.

But the name of the village may reveal a much older human presence near the generous S-shaped bend in the Dee that defines its southern boundary. In Gaelic, the name Abèidh (pronounced ah-bayn as distinct from the Anglicized ah-boyn) derives out of the place-name Oboyne, which can be seen in the record dating as far back as 1260. The ford replaced by the river may be the origin of that name, with the Gàidhlig words abh, bo, and fionn combining to form “(the place by) the fair-haired cow river,” suggesting a place where livestock drovers might safely guide cattle across the water to market. The older Oboyne may have centered slightly north and to the east of the newer village, based on the location of important social structures such as churches.

An old aerial view of the Kirkton of Aboyne showing the outline of the kirk foundation as a turf mound, the square vault, many trees and memorials, and a stone wall enclosure. Among these stones is the one erected by George Cromar. | RCAHMS Aerial Photography, 29/11/1994 | Canmore

One such structure is found near the Loch of Aboyne and adjacent to the Aboyne Golf Club. The Kirkton of Aboyne has a long history as a site for worship, with a kirk dedicated to Saint Adamnan being established in 1242. This medieval building is a memory in the landscape, with only a turf-covered foundation and a 19th century vault enclosure to attest its presence. A larger eccentrically-shaped enclosure surrounds the ancient ruin and the adjacent cemetery yard. In that yard, we find a large number of memorials belonging to the Cromar family. Among these is a stone erected by George Cromar, father of John Cromar (1823-1870), whose untimely end was chronicled in the post John Cromar and Ann George: rebels who broke free. It is a monument that tells a tale of tragedy and mystery.

The enigmatic George Cromar stone. | GariochGraver, 17 March 2019 | Find A Grave

We know from our study of the lives of John and Ann that the second half of the 19th century was a time of economic depression in Scotland and elsewhere. A century earlier, the rise and fall of Jacobitism distinguished a politically chaotic era. These events framed the Scottish Agricultural Revolution, so-named by later historians to describe the technological, economic, and social changes that transformed Scottish farming practice from an incoherent, archaic patchwork into one of the most modern and productive in Europe, though not without personal cost to small crofters like the Cromars. The post-Jacobite generations, typified by George Cromar (1792-1871) and his wife Ann Meston (1802-1883), may have been geographically stable — the borders and clustered settlements of old Scottish ferm-touns persist even to this day — but methods by which they practiced farming and trade were not. Though we style “disruption” and as a 21st century trope, for better and worse, this generation in Scotland lived through an era defined just as intensely by the phenomenon of disruption.

George Cromar (1792-1871)

George Cromar was born in Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire on 20 June 1792, but unlike many of his sons, he resided there his entire life. The birth record attests his father was a John Cromar, but establishing exactly which John Cromar will prove to be a Sherlockian task in a future post; the record turns up no less than two dozen persons named “John Cromar” that are close enough by date and location to be eligible candidates for this paternity.

Though his parentage requires further investigation, we are fortunate that the record is solid with respect to his marriage, residence, occupation, and long life with his wife.

Ann Meston (1802-1883)

Ann Meston’s lineage is a bit clearer than George’s at this writing. Born in 1802, she was christened on 7 April in Kincardine O’Neil. Her father was David Meston (1774-aft. 1822), sometimes spelled Maston in the record. The Mestons originated in Birslazie, which appears to be a no longer extant settlement in Cluny, Aberdeenshire, just north of Midmar to the east of the Howe of Cromar. David married Ann Milne, a surname familiar to the orbit of the Cromars. Ann Milne was born in 1775 and seems to be local to the area of Kincardine O’Neil, since it was Scottish custom for the bride’s parish kirk to host the wedding; in this case, based on the date 20 July 1797, that kirk may have been the Auld Kirk, now in ruins to the south of the old Turnpike Road, now known as North Deeside Road.

Kincardine O’Neil Auld Kirk, in a contemporary view we have seen before in discussing John Cromar and Ann George. It may have been the site for the wedding of Ann Meston’s parents, as well as the sanctuary in which the christenings of Ann and her siblings were all celebrated. | Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Mestons later lived in Lumphanan, and all their children, like Ann, were christened in Kinker, as the village was nicknamed. Ann’s siblings include Robert, Alexander, and Margaret preceding her; and Barbra, Elspet, Elisabeth, David, Archibald, Charles, and Catherine following. These births ranged from 1797, the same year David and Ann were wed, to 1822. Further investigation regarding the family’s other significant dates and places may be required, as the immediate record is a bit mute on these facts. However, it is fortunately well-detailed for Ann.

An auspicious beginning

George Cromar and Ann Meston were wed in Lumphanan during the holiday season on 29 December 1822. People are often surprised to learn that for four centuries in Scotland Christmas was actually illegal, viewed by Reformation-minded leaders of the Church of Scotland as insidious Popery. The big holiday was instead Hogmanay, which is still gregariously celebrated in Scotland as the last day of the old year. Steeped as it in suspicion of papal influence and laced with a persistent vein of paganism adjacent to the winter solstice, the season of Hogmanay is a time of revelry marking new beginnings, and could have been chosen by the couple as an auspicious omen for wedded bliss. Based on geography, it is likely the wedding ceremony was hosted at the kirk of Saint Finan, located by the Lumphanan Burn midway on the road between Milton and Lumphanan village, quite nearby to the Peel of Lumphanan which we learned about in earlier posts here and here. So close to the holiday, we can imagine a festive ceremony and celebration. Let’s be clear: Scots know how to have a good time, if you’ve ever seen the revelry of Hogmanay!

Although George was Ann’s senior by a decade, the couple had a long life together residing at Milton of Auchlossan, a residence of import to generations of Cromars, and which we explored in depth earlier. Because their marriage extended well into the period when Scotland began taking a census, adding to this the numerous births in a large family so typical of agrarian Scots, the record of their time together is quite clear, even if George’s origins are less so.

Nine months past the very day of George and Ann’s wedding, you may remember from earlier reading the arrival of John Cromar, father of Theodore James Cromar, on 27 September 1823. Son George followed on 27 April 1825, as did David on 6 April 1827, James on 29 March 1829, Peter on 29 March 1831, Archibald on 20 February 1833, Andrew on 27 March 1835, Charles on 5 December 1836, and Alexander on 29 May 1839. At a pace of a son more or less every other year, the family seemed capable of producing only males.

But we know from the memorial erected by George Cromar in the Kirkton of Aboyne that all was not as auspicious as the holiday wedding portended.

Inscriptions of sorrow

Scotland’s health record in the middle of the 19th century left much to be desired, even by the dicey standards of the day in the British Isles generally. Cholera, typhus, and smallpox led to terrible outbreaks that decimated the population, even in rural areas where people could spread out and quarantine. The age group most vulnerable to death by illness was, sadly, the very young. A particularly striking feature of the George Cromar stone is the memorialization of David, Archibald, and Alexander, who “died in infancy” according to the inscription. We know David and Archibald are absent from the 1841 census, while Alexander is recorded at the age of 2. So the stone was certainly erected sometime after 1841.

Further comparison of the record of children in the family reveals the birth of William on 3 July 1841, right after the census typically conducted in April, son Francis on 4 April 1844, and after 11 sons in a row, lone daughter Mary Ann on 5 October 1846 — one dozen children over the span of just under two dozen years. Before the next census in 1851 we see Peter succumb on 17 July 1848, “aged 17 years,” and before the 1861 census, Mary Ann on 11 July 1856, “aged 9 years.” Such inscriptions by parents burying their children are a far-too-common sight on contemporaneous memorials in Scotland. Out of George and Ann’s 12 children, 5 are memorialized on the stone. Perhaps we can deduce the stone was erected sometime after 1850, unless the engraving of Peter’s and Mary Ann’s deaths was added after the fact. It is, after all, interesting to note the addition of Elsie Mary Cromar Ross in 1995, in what is clearly a fresher engraving, adding memorials to a family plot being a not-uncommon feature of many gravestones.

But the stone doesn’t reveal the fate of several other children, though we already know of the tragic end to befall John Cromar. We have to rely on other records for understanding their fate. This may also help us pinpoint the date of the stone’s erection.

Census of enigmas


The 1841 Census lists George Cromar as head of household with the occupation of farmer, Ann Meston going by the surname Cromar as his wife, and children starting with George, age 15; James, 12; Peter, 10; Andrew, 6; Charles, 3; and Alexander, 2. It also lists an Ann Michie as a 35 year old “AG LAB” which one might surmise to be an agricultural laborer under the employ of the family; perhaps she is a relative needing further study. What can we conclude about children who are missing?

John Cromar, born in 1823 and now 18, is not present, but is accounted for in one of several possibilities near Aberdeen. We don’t have reason to doubt the inscribed assertion that David and Archibald, also absent in the census, had died while in infancy. Depending on the definition of “infancy” we can speculate that David had died as early as 1827 or as late as 1830, while Archibald may have died as early as 1833 or as late as 1836. In either case, while the record demonstrates their demise before 1841, their confirmed dates will remain a mystery lost to time.


By the 1851 Census, three other children had been born, and others disappear from residence at Milton of Auchlossan. An odd error in this record changes the last name of the family to Croman but we can confirm by the pattern of names, ages, and place, along with a correlation of birth records, that the twisting of an r into an n is an easy mistake to apply to Cromar. Of those present, we find mother Ann, age 48 as wife of father George, age 58. We see George here having expanded his trade to include “Mill and Square Wright” and note he employs one other man on his 20 acre farm. We could guess that’s son George, 24, but we see his occupation as “Trencher and Ditcher,” so he may still be living at home and working elsewhere. Instead, it turns out to be Andrew, 15, who the record notes is employed on the farm. Younger children include William, age 9; Francis, 6; and daughter Mary Ann, 4. Another individual is recorded as a young “House Servant” named Hellen Farquhar. Unaccounted for are James, Peter, and Charles.

These are not difficult mysteries to untangle. James is accounted for through military records, and has an adventurous life globe-hopping for nearly 8 years in Corfu, the East Indies, Crimea, and Malta. Peter we recall had been listed on the memorial as passing in 1848, one of only two confirmed death dates inscribed. Charles becomes a live-in “Farm Servant” with the Strachan family at Auchenhove (misspelled as Auchenhore in the record), less than a mile south and east of Auchlossen.


Getting on in years at 58 and 68 respectively, Ann and George are operating an Auchlossen farm that is now 27 acres. Sons remaining on the farm are William, 19, listed as a ploughman, and Francis, 16, with no occupation specified but no doubt assisting with farm labor at this age. From the previous census, George, Andrew, and Mary Ann are unaccounted for. From the stone inscription, we already know that tragedy has struck again with the death of Mary Ann at age 9 in 1856, but there is some mystery as to the precise date. According to the inscription, the date of death is 11 July, but according to records, it is 21 August. This needs further clarification but may indicate the time between death and burial — though we usually only see a delay of this sort in winter months.

Son George, meanwhile, can be traced on his own. Married to Margaret Low on 14 August 1858 in Wester Belty, Kincardine O’Neil, one record has him trying his hand in 1859 as a merchant in Fraserburgh, sixty miles away on the north coast of Aberdeenshire. The 1861 census confirms his residence at Frithside Street. The birth record for this couple’s children can place them there as late as February 1867, but we see a return to Lumphanan sometime before June 1869. This move may have been inspired by an opportunity to assume the family business of farming as father George may have retired at age 76. Doing so may have allowed his parents to keep their residence at Milton of Auchlossan, bearing in mind that this was a crofting family who did not own land.

Fraserburgh, home in the 1860s to son George Cromar and his wife Margaret Low. Frithside, their residential street, is the unlabeled road just to the north of Commerce Street, connecting South Harbor to a road leading out of town. | Aberdeenshire, sheet III (includes: Fraserburgh; Lonmay; Rathen) 1874 | Screen-capture from the National Library of Scotland, CC-BY

Andrew, on the other hand, is bound for far-flung travels. He is found in the 1861 census as a boarder in the house of a Jane Davidson on Longate Street in Peterhead, a port town at the north-east tip of Aberdeenshire. He is listed as a 26 year old “Seaman (MS),” a designation which may have meant master seaman or merchant seaman. By 1863, military records show him as a private in the storied Seaforth Highlanders, 72nd Regiment. Records indicate service in the East Indies around 1865, with more service recorded later in the 1870s.

There are additional entries in the 1861 census. Another Mary Ann appears, George and Ann’s infant granddaughter born in 1859, about 3 years after daughter Mary Ann’s death, thus perhaps named in honor of her young deceased aunt by her parents, George Cromar and Margaret Low. It seems something of an oddity that the infant would not be present with her parents in Fraserburgh, even more so when we see their other children — Elizabeth, Isabella, Margaret, George, and James — clearly present with the family. We can only surmise the worst: this poor Mary Ann succumbed to the same sad fate the befell her namesake, but at an even younger age. This explanation still doesn’t account for Mary Ann’s apparent birth in Lumphanan based on birth records, somewhat in contradiction with George and Margaret’s known locations. It’s another mystery, possibly for another post, but we can conclude our perusal of the census entry noting two 18 year old employees: Catherine Marr, a domestic servant, and Mary Fraser, a herd.

Cross-referencing the stone inscription with information gleaned from the census, we can estimate the erection of father George’s memorial stone possibly after Mary Ann’s death 1856. but before the next tragic deaths unrecorded on the stone.

Yet more tragedy…

George survives long enough to be recorded by the 1871 census, but probably just barely. Census time was usually around April, and we note George’s passing on 11 April 1871 at the age of 78. The retired farmer and his wife Ann were not, however, spared from enduring the further heartbreak of seeing more children pass on before them.

1870 was a dark year for the family. They had seen son Francis emigrate to New York City in 1866, and from there to Gray (a misspelling of Grey), Ontario, Canada, only to fall victim to seven months of phthisis (an archaic term for tuberculosis) leading to his death on 5 February 1870 at the too-young age of 25. And of course we know that Ann George and Theodore Cromar were left under the care of son George when oldest brother John passed away on 10 November 1870 — a second Cromar victim of tuberculosis in the span of 9 months. We thought of John’s illness in our prior post as a situation exclusively related to the occupational hazards of stone polishing; though that certainly did not help matters, it now appears that a far wider distribution of this infectious disease was afflicting the family.

A map of Canada West, 1857. Grey County, where Francis Cromar died, is colored pink, just to the east of Lake Huron and south of Georgian Bay. | Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Thus when the elder George dies, he is survived only by wife Ann and sons George, James, and Andrew. The old couple had buried 9 children, but for Ann, who passes away on 12 June 1883 at the age of 81, a long life of sorrows does not end with the death of her husband. She endures the death of one more son: Andrew, by this time a Corporal in the 72nd Regiment, has been deployed as far away as India and Pakistan, and on 16 January 1874, military health records indicate a bout of — you guessed it — phthisis. We don’t know if he became the third Cromar son to succumb to tuberculosis, but some time between 1 July 1874 and 1876, the record loses track of Andrew, and he does not show up on the census record of 1881. He may or may not have survived to participate in the Second Anglo-Afghan War from 1878 to 1880, but whether he perished there in action or earlier due to illness, Ann’s passing leaves only sons George and James to mourn her loss.

… And the biggest mystery of all

Childhood illness and death were common enough, but the Cromars saw an exceptional amount of loss in their lives, witnessed by the stone erected at Kirkton of Aboyne and the record beyond. But we’ve left the most tantalizing mystery of George Cromar’s memorial for our final consideration.

It seems that before or during the period where sons were dying in infancy, George was also contending with the loss of other members of his family. The inscription leads with this most enigmatic of epitaphs:

Erected by





No names. No dates. No places. None of the ordinarily expected information one assumes for an engraving.

Now, while we mentioned previously that we DO know his father’s name is John, we know little else except that there are dozens of John Cromars in Scotland at this time. The unnamed mother and sister are just two tiny needles in a haystack of Johns. This may mean we’ve reached that bane of genealogists: a dead end.

Or perhaps there is something else we can deduce beyond the ambiguities present in the birth and census records. Is such a clue perhaps lying among the stones adjacent to this testament of tragedy, an inscription or a date that can indirectly but solidly confirm the precise identity of THE John we will know as George’s father? To find out, we’ll have to take a detour off the main road tracing Theodore’s father John to the enigmatic Peter Cromar 1690-1780. We’ll have to explore the patterns and inferences we can discover in the Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground. What will we find when we enter?

The entrance gate on the north side of Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground, showing a unique metal stile step entry at left. | GariochGraver, 8 May 2015 | Find A Grave

John Cromar and Ann George: rebels who broke free

The Peel of Lumphanan rises out of the ground like a Robert Smithson land art project gone rogue. From an an earlier post, we know the Peel has a legendary link to Macbeth, and the town-folk of the village of Lumphanan probably won’t disabuse you of the notion: you can drop by the Macbeth Arms for a pint and—I’m sure—a yarn or two, judging by the name.

It is documented historically that Macbeth indeed lost the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057, but it’s anyone’s guess that this site was in fact the location of the fight. There may have been some kind of moat present here during Macbeth’s era, but the Peel itself isn’t documented until the early 1200s, when the Norman de Lundin family (later adopting the name Durward) was granted landholdings in the area. It was they, not Macbeth, who constructed the fortification, which later has less legendary and more historically verifiable ties to another king, albeit a Sassenach one: when Edward I conducted his victory tour through Aberdeenshire in 1296, he used it as the place to put Sir John de Melville, a conquered Scottish laird, to heel. After the Durwards, Lumphanan was granted to the Halketts, then the Irvines, and later acquired by Thomas Charteris who built Halton House on the summit. The outline of the structure can be seen in satellite imagery.

Image | Peel of Lumphanan, satellite photo showing the outline of the demolished Halton House | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland CC-BY
Map | Peel of Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire LXXXII.4 (Lumphanan) Revised: 1899, Publication date: 1902 | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland CC-BY

By the time Halton House was demolished, sometime after 1792, Cromar farmers had been tending nearby land for more than half a century. The complexities of the Scottish land tenure system are better left to a historian, but the hierarchy of monarch, followed by layer upon layer of nobility (duke, earl, feudal baron. etc.), then laird, tacksman, and finally sub-tenant or crofter (really little more than a serf in fact if not in name) had persisted since the Middle Ages. My limited understand the Highland Clearances and this time period suggests the old order was undergoing significant change, though not so much as to destroy an essentially feudal system which was not formally abolished in Scotland until, amazingly, the year 2000! Most certainly, the land worked by the Cromars was a feu of the powerful families mentioned above. Feus were often hereditary, such that even sub-tenancies would be occupied by one family for generations—not necessarily a desirable phenomenon, as we’ll see. Such was the relationship of my family to the settlement at Milton of Auchlossan, and just as we discovered the adjacency of Tomnaverie Stone Circle to Cuttishillock, the boyhood home of my great-grandfather Theodore Cromar, we see that Milton of Auchlossan, the boyhood home of his father John, lies just a few hundred feet away from the Peel of Lumphanan. In Scotland, you can’t throw a rock without it landing on something ancient.

There’s certainly no land-ownership here for the Cromars! In the Aberdeenshire Ordinance Survey Name Books contemporary with John Cromar, my 2nd great-grandfather, here is what we see:

Aberdeenshire Ordinance Survey Name Books, 1865-71, Vol. 59, p.60 | A transcription follows below | ScotlandsPlaces.gov.uk

List of names as writtenVarious modes of spellingAuthorities
for spelling
MILLTOWNMilltownRobert Smith Esqr Factor to the estate Glenmillan82—8This name applies to two Farm Steadings, two Croft houses, a Corn Mill, and Saw mill, all adjacent to one another partly Slated and partly thatched, from one to two Storeys high, in tolerable repair, the property of Francis Farquharson Esqr. Finzean.
___do___Mr. James Strachan Land Steward Milton of Auchinhove
___do___Mr. John Milne Ph.* [Parish] Registrar Blelack
___do___Revd.** Charles McCombie L.L.D.***
Milton or Milltown of AuchlossanValuation Roll 1859-60
Mill-town of AuchlossanOld Statistical Account

*  Parish
** Reverend
*** Doctor of Law

The Milltown, as it is known in this survey, is not the only property held by Sir Francis Farquharson. Auchlossan to the south, Newtown to the south-east, and many other properties on many other pages are Farquharson holdings. By the time John Cromar arrives on the scene in 1823, when the property was known as Milton of Auchlossan, the Cromars had been Farquharson crofters for some time. Kenneth Kidd, at his geograph entry for Milton of Auchlossan, mentions that “[t]his building and the adjacent steading was known as the Milton of Auchlossen from at least the end of the eighteenth century until sometime in the late 1950s and was occupied by the same family, different generations of course.” That family was us. We can confirm that George Cromar (1825-1921), John’s brother, lived and died at Milton of Auchlossan. George’s son James, John’s nephew, was born there in 1869, became a law clerk by 1902, and later emigrated to southern Rodesia (which explains a significant presence of Cromars in Zimbabwe and South Africa). Though I haven’t been able to confirm the presence of a Cromar in the 1950’s, an exploration of this cousin branch, which includes surnames like Milne, may prove Kidd’s assertion in a future post.

1 | A 2008 photograph showing the refurbished old house at Milton of Auchlossan, which extends for about 27 acres from building. | Kenneth C. Kidd (CC BY-SA 2.0)
2 | Entrance from Dess Road in 2010. | Stanley Howe (CC BY-SA 2.0)
3 | Ruin of the watermill in 1981. | James Woodward-Nutt, Mills Archive Trust

Some may filter a view of such an enduring generational presence through a romanticized lens of familial stability. Others might regard it as evidence that the vestiges of the Scottish feudal system provided practically no mechanism for social mobility—it was, after all, deliberately designed to preserve a gentrified status quo. It’s clear that John Cromar and Ann George, born into long-standing farming and masonry families respectively, were kindred spirits: for them, the oppression of the status quo far outweighed the stability it afforded. Like many seeking to break free of pre-industrial, agrarian economic stagnation, they seized on opportunities brought about by the Industrial Revolution as a means to do something about it. The Industrial Revolution certainly had its own tyrannical character, quite distinct from that of the old land tenure system. But for better and sometimes for worse as we’ll see, it at least gave malcontents like John and Ann a shot at breaking free of the last gasps of feudalism.

John Cromar 1823-1870

John was born on 27 September or 9 October 1823, a Sunday or a Thursday depending on which you take as valid. Scotland birth and baptism records are sometimes painful to reconcile; one might have a date for a birth or a christening, with no clarity regarding which it might be. Unless Outlander-style time-travel shenanigans are afoot, when we have conflicting multiple dates, we’ll assume the earlier is the birth record—and if it’s not, well, we can do worse than being off by less than two weeks.

So, he was a Sunday or a Thursday child. We can’t comment on John’s temperament and looks to confirm a possible “bonny and blithe” Sunday child, but in his short life he lived up the old rhyme’s claim that Thursday’s child “has far to go.” His parents, George Cromar and Ann Meston, had been life-long residents of Lumphanan, and remained so through their whole lives. It’s no surprise, then, that John and all his many siblings were born there. John set the ball rolling as the eldest, followed by George, David, James, Peter, Archibald, Andrew, Charles, Alexander, William, Francis, and, last but not least, a lone sister in Mary Ann. Out of the dozen children, John and Francis had the strongest cases of wanderlust, though Francis outpaced John by emigrating to Canada. It seems everyone else either stayed on the farm or met an untimely end, a tragic phenomenon we’ll explore in a future post about John’s parents.

Official records provide little information about John’s formative years at Milton of Auchlossan because a national Census doesn’t exist prior to 1841, and an investigation of the 1841 Census itself provides ambiguous results. Many potential identities in this census could indicate that our John, out of the half-dozen or so documented John Cromars present at the time, is already on the move. He’s 18 in 1841, and knowing that Scottish census takers would round ages up or down, often wildly so, we can’t hazard a guess. Of the ones that are within 5 years of 18, he could have been anywhere from Old Machar, north of Aberdeen, to Newhills, farther out from Aberdeed to the north and west.

If either one of these is our John, it wouldn’t be surprising because by 1851 we do have a confirmed documentation of him as a 28 year old lodger in the home of one Elspet Moss, on Little Chapel Street in the city of Aberdeen, pursuing a career in cotton manufacturing. Textiles were one of the handcrafts mechanized by the Industrial Revolution, and John had evidently chosen this to make the escape from his rural legacy.

Both of the maps above are centered on St. Nicholas Church, where John and Ann’s only son Theodore will later be christened. To the west, near the left edge of the image, find John’s first bachelor home in Aberdeen: Little Chapel Street is the small alley bridging between Chapel and Summer Streets, bumping into Union Wynd. Later, as a married couple, John and Ann occupy 12 Wales Street, which can be found to the east, near the top right edge of the image. The change in density over a 15 year period is evidence of the Industrial Revolution’s impressive impact on urban growth.
1 | Aberdeen, drawn & engraved by J. Rapkin, 1854 | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland CC-BY
2 | Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Old Machar, Greyfriars, St Clements, East,…) 1869 | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland CC-BY

While residing in the Granite City, John couldn’t help but become aware of the stone-mason’s trade. It was all around him. Even such a modest alleyway as Little Chapel Street was paved in Aberdeen granite half-sovereign paving stones and pebbles. Later mention of a John Watt or Wyatt, who ran a sculpture studio on Little Chapel Street, and who is mentioned as a commissioner of an estate for a bankruptcy proceeding relating to masonry in the 1890s, suggests that such tradesmen were legion, and this may have made an impression.

Whether exposure to so much stone-masonry soured him to the cotton trade is debatable, but we know at some point between 1851 and 1856 John abandons his textile vocation and returns home. By 1856, he has landed just a few miles away from Milton of Auchlossan, at Crossfold, a ferm-toun in Coull, where, at the ripe old age of 32, he has taken a stone-mason’s daughter as his bride.

Ann George 1836-1913

Coull is a rangy parish, of which this is only a portion. Start at Tarland at upper left, and as you move south-south-east, you’ll bump into Tomnaverie Stone Circle and Cuttieshillock, both of which we’ve seen in earlier posts. Keep going, and you land at Crossfold, the site of the first home for Ann and John after their wedding. The site for the wedding may have been Coull Parish Church, which is found to the north of the ruins of Coull Castle, at lower right of the image. | Screen capture from GENUKI NLS 1843-1882 CC-BY

We have an easier time confirming Ann’s birth date than John’s: 11 December 1836. Daughter of stone-mason Alexander George and his wife Anne Anderson, she was the second oldest of children who included older brother Adam and younger siblings Barbara, Janet, John, Mary, and Jean. But compared to John, 13 years her senior, she was quite the young lass.

The George family lived at Cuttieshillock in Coull. We learned about this settlement in earlier posts (here and here), but with some new information in hand, we can speculate that it may have been the Anderson family who had earlier ties to the area, since we now know from census records that Alexander George was born in Banffshire, a coastal shire to the north, and Anne Anderson was a native of Coull. Having said that, it’s quite interesting that this little Aberdeenshire croft shares a name with a quarry, Cuttie’s Hillock, located in an area now known as Quarrywood near Elgin in Morayshire, to the immediate west of Banffshire. The settlement of Cuttieshillock does seem curious: it’s nestled beside fairly non-arable land, showing overgrowth with a somewhat boggy character adjacent to a gravel pit. The presence of labeling on maps is inconsistent as well, though this can be based on the scale of the map and the bias of the cartographer. I’m speculating that Cutttieshillock may be a newer settlement adjunct to nearby Lochandu, Wardford, or Crossfold, one well suited for an itinerant quarryman who might have named it after a site back home. Of the three, Crossfold may be the best candidate: the map and aerial image show a footpath connecting the two, but there are other even strong connections as we’ll see.

1 | Aberdeenshire, sheet LXXXI (includes: Aboyne And Glen Tanar; Coull, etc.) Survey date: 1866-1867, Publication date: 1870 | National Library of Scotland CC-BY
2 | Aerial view centered on Crossfold showing adjacency to Cuttieshillock, Wardfold, and Lochandu | Screen capture from Google Maps

The George household was not far from Coull Parish Kirk (see map below the heading above) and it’s the likeliest candidate for the site of John and Ann’s nuptials. The church is built on the site of an original church built by Saint Nathalan in the 600s, and sometimes still goes by the saint’s name.

Coull Parish Kirk, possible site of the wedding | Stanley Howe 2007 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Kinker to the Granite City

The newlyweds found their first home quite near Ann’s parents, at Crossfold, near Cuttieshillock. On the map, Crossfold appears to be the larger property linked by a foot-path to the George’s home, but the contemporary state of things shows Cuttieshillock as a robust settlement, while Crossfold now sits abandoned. It is possible that John came under the employ of stone-mason Alexander George at this time. Having abandoned cotton, and knowing he is documented as a stone-polisher later on, we can speculate that he got his first taste of stone-polishing under his father-in-law’s mentorship. John was late to the game, and polishing may have been a simple trade to acquire quickly.

1 | Abandoned Crossfold main house and its unusual round bothy (a small hut or cottage usually left unlocked, available for anyone to use free of charge). | Stanley Howe 2012 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
2 | Inside the bothy ruin | James Dyas Davidson 2016
3 | Another view of the Crossfold complex | James Dyas Davidson 2016

The couple resided in Crossfold in 1856, but rural living was not to their liking. By 1862 wanderlust had definitely set in, and we find them living on Turnpike Road, the main thoroughfare through a very small village with a very large name: Kincardine O’Neil. Most folk shorten the name to Kinker.

1 | Kincardine O’Neil, with Turnpike Road running through its center, from east through Cochran and due west along the southernmost fork heading out of town. | Screen capture from GENUKI NLS 1843-1882 CC-BY
2 | Aerial view showing contemporary layout. Turnpike Road is now A93 North Deeside Road. | Screen capture from Google Maps

Kinker, as it turns out, is second only to Lumphanan in terms of Cromar and Robb inhabitation. When John and Ann, the future parents of Theodore Cromar, lived there for an unknown amount of time centered around 1861, they may have been acquaintances of Charles Robb and Ann Spence, the future parents of Theodore’s future bride, Christiana Robb. Hard to say, as we document the Robbs there in 1866, but it’s not an implausible hypothesis. You can see other Cromar and Robb events at this map dating back as early as the 1714 birth of Jannet Dun, wife of Robert Cromar, my fifth paternal great grandparents.

1 | Kincardine O’Neil Auld Kirk, once adjacent to the ruined Kincardine O’Neil Hospital, contemporary view. A new church was built in 1862, so this structure was still active when John and Ann lived in Kinker. | Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0
2 | Old Smiddy, a longstanding commercial structure on the main street once known as Turnpike Road. | Richard Slessor, 2005 CC-BY-SA-2.0
3 | Tollhouse viewed from Turnpike Road. | Photo by John R. Hume, 1974, Licence Type: Permission to Reproduce

Based on known records, John and Ann may have lived in Kinker for as little as a year (1862) and as much as a decade (1856-1867). But I suspect they had moved on earlier rather than later, because of their past and future patterns of migration. By 1868 they were living at 12 Wales Street back in the big city of Aberdeen, where they finally gave birth to their only child, Theodore. This was an unusual pattern for Scottish families at the time, which more typically saw a long string of births starting a year or so after the wedding day. An only child was an anomaly that could be explained by difficulty with conception—or by a couple carefully avoiding it in a pre-birth-control era. An on-the-move pair like John and Ann may have deliberately put off child-rearing until they could exhaust their wanderlust and be securely settled in a trade. In 1868, Theodore could easily have been the grandson of 44 year old John, and even Ann was, by Scottish standards, an ancient 31 for a first birth.

We can also conjecture whether it’s likely the couple’s quarters were limited in scale and scope, inhibiting the rearing of the kind of family that was actually helpful back on the farm. Further research on Wales Street at this time reveals tiny tenements situated a bit on the wild side of town. Today, we see little of the material culture of the city that the Cromar family would have recognized—technically the road itself has even been re-sited a few feet to the north. We see it now running roughly parallel to Beach Boulevard, which in a spate of 1950’s slum clearances had replaced the notorious Albion Street. Evangelical reform of the area had predated the Cromar’s arrival when, in 1848, a “penny rattler” street theater of ill repute was displaced by the more circumspect Albion Street Congregational Church. The essentially working-class area was never destined for high society, however. Maps reveal the presence of slaughter-houses, candle factories, and big, noisy open-air markets.

1 | Aberdeen aerial view centered on the Beach Boulevard Roundabout. This contemporary feature rationalized traffic in an area where five major roads came eccentrically together. Wales Street is to the north of, and parallel to, Beach Boulevard. | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland Bing Hybrid
2 | Same area as above. | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland Aberdeen Ordinance Survey 1866-67 CC-BY
3 | Closeup of the above, centered on Wales Street and showing Albion Street directly south. | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland Aberdeen Ordinance Survey 1866-67 CC-BY

We remember from our post on Theodore Cromar’s early days that his father John died a tragic early death related to his occupation. Though he had sought to find escape velocity from the gravitational pull of the the Howe of Cromar several times in his short life, he saw the wisdom of returning with his young wife and infant son to secure a future for them with the support system an extended family could offer. This was likely a humbling experience for a proud and independent-minded man.

John Cromar journeyed far, but he traveled full circle: he died in the home in which he was born, comforted by family, including his brother George who was now head of the house at Milton of Auchlossan. Instead of the bustle of the Granite City, the still sounds of nature in the Howe accompanied his passing at 1:30 PM on 10 November 1870—perhaps even the call of the frogs which gave Auchlossan its name in Gaelic: Achadh Lòsain, meaning field of the frog.

The death record for the Parish of Lumphanan in 1870, with John’s information recorded halfway down | Ancestry
Name and Surname.
Rank or Profession, and whether Single, Married or Widowed.
When and Where Died.Sex.Age.Name, Surname, and Rank or Profession of Father.
Name and Maiden Surname of Mother.
Cause of Death, Duration of Illness, and Medical Attendant
by whom certified.
Signature and Qualification
of Informant, and Residence, if out of the House in which
the Death occurred.
When and Where Registered, and Signature of Registrar.

Stone Quarrier

(Married to

Ann George)
1h.30m P.M.

Milton of Auchlossan



George Cromar

Ann Cromar
M.S. Meston


As Cert by
W. Stephen
George Cromar

November 11th

John Milne,

Ann on her own, on her own terms

John was survived by Ann, now a widow at age 33, and his son Theodore, age 2. They had landed back in Lumphanan, which, judging from Ann’s past and future migrations, was the last place on earth she wanted to be. Her marriage to a much older person may be explained by her attraction to a man who had managed to make his way in the world outside of the Howe of Cromar, and who probably made it clear he intended to do so again. Scotland in the mid-1800s was not a place where an independent-minded young woman had many options, and Ann may have seen John as a means to advance her own ambitions to live a more adventurous life than a farmer’s wife could hope for. Those dreams appeared to be dashed by John’s tragic early demise.

But Scotland was changing. The Industrial Revolution needed cogs in the wheels of its urban factories, and this cultural circumstance provided Ann with an escape hatch that a generation of women before her did not enjoy. We may recoil in privileged horror at the conditions urban workers endured at this time—overcrowded tenement living, long hours of repetitive hard labor, punitive wages, filthy air and water—but for a young woman like Ann, this may have seemed a better deal than endlessly pumping out kids to work the fields for the singular benefit of the aristocracy.

She convinced her extended family that the best course of action would be for her to return to urban life as one of those cogs, and they agreed to care for her youngster. To separate herself from her son seems like a drastic move, but consider the cultural and economic contexts. A 33 year old widow with someone else’s child has a hard time competing for a capable fish in the small pond of the Howe, and even though the Great Depression of British Agriculture and the Long Depression was still a decade into the future, the rumblings of change could already be felt in farther flung regions like Aberdeenshire. Wealth was in a liquid state, and flowing from landed lords to captains of industry, so workers naturally flowed along with it. Ann, for a second time, and as a single head of household, became one of many who abandoned agrarian pursuits. She had spent her young adulthood as a wife for 14 years, with perhaps more than half of that in the Granite City, and she would now spend more than double the duration of her marriage to once again pursue urban opportunities, albeit at the cost of bringing up Theodore.

There were just a few large urban centers in the tiny country: Glasgow the largest, followed by Edinburgh and Aberdeen respectively. Aberdeen, the closest of the three to the Howe of Cromar, was an economy founded on land and water: stone-masonry exporting to the world, a robust fishing trade, and ship-building to serve both. Edinburgh’s reputation as an intellectual and topographical “Athens of the North” overshadows its industrial importance at the time, with printing, brewing, distilling, rubber, and engineering driving growth. Glasgow, which had overtaken Edinburgh as Scotland’s largest city in the 1820s, was by far the engine of the industrial economy: heavy industries like locomotive manufacturing and ship-building were balanced by development in textiles, garment-making, carpet manufacturing, leather processing, furniture-making, and pottery, among others. At this time, women were rarely, if ever, welcome in anything other than these lighter-weight industries. It’s likely that Ann was involved with one of them, and given John’s earlier experience with cotton manufacturing, it wouldn’t surprise me if she gravitated to textile work, so it was off to Glasgow this time.

Because we have a census record of Thuddie (young Theodore’s nickname) living in his grandfather’s house in Coull without Ann also being recorded there, it’s possible Ann moved to Glasgow for work as early as 1871, just months after John’s passing—sometime between November, when John died, and April, when census records were taken. Financial imperatives may have forced fast decision-making, but the trauma of loss may have played its part as well. In any event, by 1873 we have an unusual record to confirm Ann is living in a tenement neighborhood of Glasgow at 35 Parliamentary Road, a major street that was removed in a spate of urban renewal in the 1960s and 70s.

1 | Glasgow, focused on Parliamentary Road. | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland, Ordinance Survey 6 inch, 1888-1913 CC-BY
2 | Same area, showing the removal of Parliamentary Road | Screen capture from National Library of Scotland, Open Street Map

3 | A view of the Glasgow Lunatic Asylum off of “Parley Road” as it was known, taken around 1900, though this would have been a view familiar to Ann. The Asylum is the large X shaped structure near the center of the Ordinance Survey map. | Glasgow Guides Discussion Boards

The unusual record that confirms Ann’s residence is the birth of her second son, Charles Wilson Lennie George, on 26 January 1873 in central Glasgow. Very little is known about the circumstances of Charles’ arrival on the planet. We don’t have a record of his father, though records most likely spun to mitigate the stigma of illegitimacy claim John Cromar, long deceased, as such. The middle names Wilson and Lennie, not common in the Cromar or George lineages, may be the only threadbare clue.

It’s hard to say how Ann may have coped with pregnancy and birth as the factory worker she must have been. One would presume any man with honor would at least have helped her out, but who is to say what these circumstances were? I have no doubt the pregnancy was unplanned, but I also have no doubts about Ann’s free spirit and willingness to take risks. Was the pregnancy forced upon her by assault, the byproduct of a romantic dalliance, or evidence of an unspoken deeper commitment? These questions may only be answerable by George’s branch of the family.

We know through the same census records that imply John as the father that Charles was sent to Coull and resided with Thuddie for a time as a child. The record remains mute until sometime in the late 1890s when Charles marries Jessie Ferries (1874-1951) from Leochel-Cushnie, a few miles from Coull. In nearby Tarland, the couple has two children, George Bruce George (1900-1967) and Margaret Jane George (1902-1988). After George passes in 1934 in Muir of Fowlis, we can trace son George to New Zealand, where he weds Mona Hutton, while daughter Margaret stays closer to home in Peterhead. She marries George Petrie in 1922, and they have 5 children: Jessie, Margaret Jane, Annie, Charles George, and Helen Tawes. Many of these siblings survived into the 2000s. Annie, the longest lived having passed in 2017, migrated to British Columbia, but it appears the rest remained in Scotland. We know Helen Petrie died in Fraserburgh, around the bend of the northern coast of Aberdeenshire. A search for far-flung cousins may turn up an interesting story or two about Charles’ origins.

By the next census in 1881, we see that Ann, now under the surname Cromar, has moved from west to east, taking up residence in Lasswade, Midlothian. At 45, she has probably not retired, though the census claims her occupation as “matron.” Anne may have grown weary of stressful tenement living in Glasgow, and the move to Lasswade provided a relatively more peaceful and urbane environment where she could still enjoy proximity to employment and city life in the Edinburgh region, accessible by the regional rail system that now tied these old villages to the capital as commuter communities.

1 | To the south-south-west of Edinburgh, directly below Newton, and to the south-east of Dalkeith, we find Lasswade along the new rail lines that connect the region. | Screen capture from GENUKI, NLS 1″ 1886-1900
2 | Higher resolution, showing Lasswade and Bonnyrigg, connecting by rail to Dalkeith, with the northward branch from there terminating in Edinburgh. | Screen capture from GENUKI, NLS 1″ 1890-1910
3 | A photograph showing hilly Lasswade, date unknown, but a scene probably familiar to Ann. | National Galleries of Art, CC-BY-CN, with color brightness and contrast modified by the author for legibility.

Ann’s sons are still being raised in Coull at this time, and we are unsure how much she is able to interact with her extended family there.There is the possibility that some members of the George family are in the Edinburgh region, however. The census of 1891 records Ann at the home of an Agnes Geroge on Church Street in Haddington, east of (and not far from) Edinburgh, but the record provides more questions than answers.

Why? It pays to understand how Scottish census records as a primary source can be both blessing and curse. An oddity of the system at the time is that census clerks would record the location of the person being counted, whether or not said location is the individual’s residence. So when we see in this particular record that Ann’s relationship to the head of household is “visitor,” this leads me to speculate that she might not live in Haddington at all, and in fact may still be living in nearby Lasswade.

Another census mystery is the odd last name of Ann’s host Agnes, originally of Wigtownshire according to the census. While Geroge is evidently a legitimate though rare surname, it also shows up as a routine mis-spelling of George. Some side research reveals an Agnes George born in Wigtownshire in 1851, daughter of a William George along with several siblings. It’s even money that this Agnes is one and the same with Agnes Geroge, letters having been transposed in the record by a hasty clerk. Now, whether the Wigtownshire and Aberdeenshire Georges are relations or not is a topic for further research, but we do know that the current district of Dumfries and Galloway is home to the old parish of Wigtownshire, and this is about as far to the south and west of Haddington as Aberdeenshire is to the north and west.

1 | Haddington to the east in relation to Edinburgh to the west. Lasswade is also on this map, south-south-west of the capital. | Screen capture, National Library of Scotland, Ordinance Survey 1-Inch 1885-1900 CC-BY
2 | Haddington and environs. | Screen capture, National Library of Scotland, Ordinance Survey 6-Inch 1888-1913 CC-BY
3 | Close-up showing Church Street extending east of High Street to the south of the Town Hall wedged between High and Market Streets. | Screen capture, National Library of Scotland, Ordinance Survey 6-Inch 1843-1882 CC-BY

These scenes in the lovely village of Haddington would have been familiar to Ann during her visit (or residence) there:

1 | Town Hall, with Market Street to the left and High Street to the right. Keep following High Street to enter Church Street. | Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-4.0
2 | A general, early photograph of Church Street, date unknown. | Canmore, Historic Environment Scotland
3 | Contemporary view of 1 and 1 A Church Street looking east-ish. | British Listed Buildings

The next time we encounter Ann in the record is eight years later in 1899, as an immigrant to the United States, where she joins her son Thuddie and his family in Boston. Ann’s New World experience is primarily documented in the post Thuddie and Teenie in the New World. There we document her life, but some additional research regarding her death and burial are offered here. We know she is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Washington, D.C. but we are now able to pinpoint where with some accuracy.

1 | Ann’s gravestone, under the name Cromar. | Find a Grave
2 | A file card listing her name as Anna, and other facts such as cause of death and plot number | Find a Grave
3 | A map of Glenwood Cemetery, showing Section U to the north east of the site, somewhere along the edge defined by Lincoln Road | The Glenwood Cemetery

If I could touch a stone at Tomnaverie and be whisked back in time Outlander-style to choose one long lost relative to meet, it would be a toss-up between Peter Cromar of alleged Glencoe origin, and the fascinating Ann George. She embodies the wanderlust and unconventional thinking that I most admire in our family, and it would be fascinating to hear her iconoclastic take on the world in which she lived. Perhaps the closest I can come to that is to manage a visit to Washington to touch the stone in Section U, Site 584. It’s only a three hour drive from Philadelphia—so I’m looking forward to meeting you someday soon, Ann George!