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Migrations II: first forays out from Aboyne

I’ve made no secret of one of my deeply guilty pleasures: watching Outlander. You’ll find this show somewhere in a demonic Venn diagram intersecting Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, World on Fire, and H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, with some generic beach-read romance novel love scenes bordering on female-gaze porn thrown in for good measure (I have to say I wish I looked half as good in my kilt as Sam Heughan does in his). I can assure you from first-hand experience with standing stones that the time-travel premise is absurd, but the meticulous aesthetic of Outlander’s settings, costumes, and material culture of the times and places depicted, all in eye-popping cinematography, are more than worth the required suspension of disbelief (oh, and trust me, I had my eyes peeled for Outlander locations when I was in Scotland last November).

Weirdly harder for me to swallow than the time-travel, though, are the globe-trotting adventures of the Frasers as they galavant from the fictional Lallybroch manor in the Scottish Highlands to France, the Carribean, and Colonial North Carolina, with stops in Culloden, Lord Grey’s estate in England, and a print shop in Edinburgh along the way. For a mid-level laird like Jamie Fraser, and even higher up the nobility food chain, this amount of travel and/or change of livelihood in one lifetime at this point in history is a stretch, never minding the touching-the-stones-to-become-a-Jacobite bit.

The Cromars were certainly not members of the gentry, and they had few resources at hand to indulge in such extravagant wanderlust as the Frasers. Their lives, as we know, were in large part wedded to the land they tilled and the stones they carved. So it’s surprising to find that the earliest instances of migration away from Aboyne and environs can be found even within the first generation following our progenitor, Peter Cromar 1690. More surprising still is a global range of travel that outstrips even that of the Frasers, all found within a single line of the family and all within 3 generations of Peter.

Way back in June 2022, I had planned a series of posts looking at the migrations of various branches of the family in Migrations I: from Aboyne to the four corners of the earth. A lot intervened: the death of my father, my planned trip to Scotland, a few collaborators contributing new information. Habitual readers know all this took the oxygen out of any migratory research! But a promise is a promise, and a chronological view of these migratory patterns was the plan, so: we begin at the beginning.

Robert 2.1 1717: the first migration

Relation to me: 5th great-grandfather

This Robert, my fifth great-grandfather, is designated 2.1 in the descendancy chart to indicate the second generation, first born offspring of Peter Cromar and Janet Bonar. To recap, his birth is claimed circa 1717 in Aboyne, with a marriage about 1737 to Jannet Dun. They had nine children over the span of 22 years. He died on March 9, 1798, in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, having lived a long life of 81 years. Habitual readers will recall that the veracity of this hypothesis is backed up by research detailed by me and others in the post Jannet, Margaret, and Isobel untangle the post-Jacobite Roberts.

Of course, we must always be mindful that a hypothesis is a hypothesis and nothing more. With so many Roberts running about, this death so far afield from Aboyne could be a false positive. But we know from the record that Robert had a notable scholar son, James, my fourth great-granduncle and younger brother to my fourth great-grandfather, John. James attended Marischal College and settled in Aberdeen as the Master and Rector of the Aberdeen Grammar School. Unsourced claims that Jannet died in 1771, if true, meant that Robert was a widower for the last 27 years of his long life. We could assume a timeline involving James and Robert thusly:

  • 1771 | Mother Jannet possibly passes when son James is only 6. Possibly interred at one of the illegible stones at Kirkton of Aboyne,
  • 1788 | James graduates from Marischal College in Aberdeen
  • 1796 | James becomes Under-Master of the Grammar School in Aberdeen. With a stable position, it is possible James can support an aging, retired, and widowed Robert better than his siblings, but such an obligation requires James to move the 79-year-old Robert to Aberdeen.
  • 1798 | Robert passes. Possibly interred at one of the illegible stones at Kirkton of Aboyne, perhaps with Jannet.
  • 1825 | James passes after serving the Grammar School as Rector for 22 years — meaning Robert is not alive to see his son’s promotion around 1803.

So, if this hypothesis is true, Robert, the first son of Peter Cromar — a progenitor who may have been the first of his ilk to arrive in the environs of Aboyne as a refugee — was the among the very first Cromars to leave. Perhaps Robert inherited a late-blooming peripatetic streak from his father…?

This may explain why Robert’s grave cannot be found at the Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground, though several other Roberts of later generations are found there. We do well to remember there are the two mystery stones, numbers 14 and 43, that are no longer legible, and one of them could easily belong to Robert if James brought his father home for interment. An indecipherable stone suggests an older one, and Robert being buried in 1798 would be one of the older stones in the yard, if so.

In any event, my research has not uncovered another probable site for Robert’s burial. James himself is memorialized in the Saint Nicholas Kirkyard, which we’ll explore more below, but no Robert is found among the 22 Cromar stones indexed there. A Robert found in Aboyne Parish Kirkyard is a cousin: Robert 3.13, son of Peter 2.7, younger brother of our Robert here. Another Robert of the seventh generation out, far too late, is in Tarland Kirkyard. It seems immplausible that an individual of some standing, as we can imagine a school rector to be, would permit his father to be interred in a pauper’s grave.

James 3.9 1765: a bridge to more migration

Relation to me: 4th great-granduncle

We know James Cromar 3.9 (third generation, ninth child of Robert 2.1), born 1765, as one of many documented scholars in the Cromar brood. While we’ve noted his position as Rector of Aberdeen Grammar School before, we haven’t explored his tenure there. He occupied that position for 22 years, a fairly sedentary resume.

But remember that James was born in the fields of Aboyne, and through sheer drive to rise through an academic meritocracy, became an urban intellectual. At the risk of sounding elitist, I probably would have been like James. I may wax poetic in this journal about the beauty of the foothills of the Grampians and feel a genuine spiritual connection to the land my ancestors occupied, but if I’m totally honest with myself I would have wanted nothing to do with farming. Like James, I would have been dying to get out of the boondocks, craving the company of intellectual peers for spirited debate, expanding mental horizons, enjoying the cosmopolitan sophistications of the city. I feel a kinship to this James and the tension he must have felt between agrarian origins and aspirations for a life of the mind.

It seems he succeeded in this endeavor. On his impressive memorial table stone in the yard at Saint Nicholas, we find the following inscription in Latin:

Jacobi Cromar grammaticae hujus urbus scholae per XXII Annas Rectoris, qui Doctorina modestia probitate pietate haua mediocri, in juveitutem erudiendo ea industria es erja disciplides amora ea in animas cilindo solicitudine, uti nemo urguam supra nec nom peritus clarus felix. Discipulus sues et cicibus carrissimus natus XXVI Nov anno MDCCLXV mullem defutus obitt X Nov MDCCCXXV grata memoria penote praefulus et magistratus aberdeenis ei funerebri poma prenentaruni Vidiu et liberi morentis.

I’ve made a ridiculous stab at a translation that my high school Latin teacher will never forgive:

James Cromar, Rector of the city grammar school for 22 Years, a Teacher of modesty, honesty, and piety, who, in teaching (our) youth with such industry (energy? enthusiasm?), inculcates the love (of the same) into the souls of his pupils with (such) care, as (neither) no one above him nor (someone with) a (more) famous name, is pleased (to demonstrate?). Born as a disciple of pigs and chickens on November 26th in the year 1765, (and) exhausted by the mill (labor?), he died on November 10th, 1825, (and he) provides a pleasant memory to the prefecture and magistrates of Aberdeen (who) for his funeral and his mortified (grieving?) children (give) the fruits seized by (discovered by?) Vidius.

Mangled translation by the author

I won’t deny my Latin is horrible, but it’s better than Google Translate (try it only if you’re a fan of flarf poetry). Please offer a better translation if you can! The last bit has me really stumped — near as I can tell, the final turn of phrase is a flowery metaphorical reference to Vidus Vidius, an Italian anatomist and surgeon. What the metaphor could mean is beyond my biographical knowledge of Renaissance physicians. Prone to metaphor as this passage is, it recognizes James as the “disciple of pigs and chickens,” a nod to his rural upbringing, and it recognizes that he essentially worked himself to death, being “exhausted by the mill,” another agrarian reference. Maybe.

But never mind my weak translation skills. It’s clear enough from the sensibility (if not my sense) of the inscription that James was an educator beloved by his students and his city. Aberdeen Grammar School is one of the oldest of its kind in the United Kingdom, founded around 1257, though the earliest record documenting the school is around 1418. A comprehensive list of Rectors has been kept since 1479. When James was Rector, the school was located at Schoolhill in Aberdeen, near the site of the Aberdeen Art Gallery. Its most notable pupil, the Romantic poet Lord Byron, attended in the mid-1790s, about the time James was appointed as an under-master at the school, 1796 to be precise, so there is a possible world where my uncle and a young Byron rubbed elbows in the hallway.

With two decades of scholarly leadership to his credit, James Cromar was bound to have touched many lives. I’ve often been curious, for example, about a famous Aberdeen artist, James Cromar Watt. Any search I’ve conducted for a familial connection with Watt has been in vain, but I recently connected some intriguing biographical dots after digging into a speech memorializing Watt. Born in 1862, the only son of schoolteacher Ann Hardy, he graduated from Aberdeen Grammar School in 1878, five decades after James Cromar’s passing. Can we assume Ann Hardy taught at Aberdeen Grammar School? If yes, is it reasonable for her to name her son in honor of a rector whose tenure predated her employment there? We can deduce Ann may have started teaching at the School as early as 1840 and as late as 1860. And, if she herself was a pupil there, her relationship to the school could have intersected the end of his tenure. If James Cromar was a noteworthy and beloved leader, it’s not inconceivable that James Cromar Watt was named in his honor.

James achieved the prominent position of rectorship the same year he is documented marrying Isabella Munro, whose origins remain unexplored. Together they brought eight children into the world in the span of 14 years. The fact that this couple lived in a port city and not farther inland could account for the global wanderings of this adventurous family, whose many notable migrations we’ll explore below.

Robert 4.2 1805: from Aberdeen to the Caribbean

Relation to me: Ist cousin 5x removed

Robert followed in his father’s footsteps as a scholar. He is documented receiving a Master’s from Marischal College in 1823, which I’m sure father James, an alumnus, was proud to witness, albeit only two years before his passing.

His family’s position in Aberdeen society allowed Robert the ambition to seek a legal career as an advocate. In Scotland, the term “Advocate” has been historically reserved for a higher classification of lawyer. If you’ve ever seen British barristers wearing little wigs, white bow-ties, straps and gowns as a formal manner of dress in court, you’ve seen something very similar to what a Scottish advocate would wear.

Robert is recorded as apprenticed to Charles and Alexander Gordon on 27 Jun 1829, and his business eventually found him in the Caribbean. I haven’t been able to deduce what an advocate is doing in Jamaica in 1830, but we do know that there is a long and storied relationship between Scotland and Jamaica, though not all all of that story is a happy one.

Many Scots who ended up in Jamaica were castoffs — prisoners of Civil War, Jacobite rebels, or refugees from the failed Darien Scheme colony — but several were doctors or lawyers from the Scottish middle class seeking a fortune. We can perhaps place our Robert in that category. Alas for the poor young lad, his Caribbean adventure and career as an Advocate ended prematurely when he died childless in Kingston, Jamaica on 17 Aug 1831, at the age of 25. We can reasonably assume he died of disease, a fate that befell many European settlers.

James Monro 4.4 1807: from Aberdeen to Canada

Relation to me: Ist cousin 5x removed

James Monro Cromar seems to have taken a more mercantile bent in his life than some of his brothers. We know he was christened at Saint Nicholas, the same grand kirk where my great-grandfather Theodore James will be christened a couple of generations later. We know little about his education and young life beyond that documentation. By the time James Monro is back in the record at age 27, we find he’s indulged in wanderlust. In Southwark in London, he marries Sarah Ann Chambers, a wardrobe shopkeeper 9 years his senior, in 1834.

The couple bears at least one child of which we are aware: James Cromar in 1835. The family is found in Southwark for several census cycles, in 1841 and 1851. James Monro goes through career changes during this time, including tenure as a coal merchant and a machinist.

By the time we reach the census in 1861, we see that the family has emigrated to Greenock, Bruce, Ontario, Canada. Since we find so many Cromars and allies migrating to Canada, we’ll reserve more of James Monro’s story for a post dedicated to the Canadian portion of the diaspora.

George 4.6 1812: from Aberdeen to the Cape Colony

Relation to me: Ist cousin 5x removed

George was somewhat more fortunate in his colonial adventures than older brother Robert. He is often styled George Cromar, Esquire, in documentation, so we can assume he was an ambitious high achiever like his father and brother. We find him at Marischal College, listed in the second period of four years in 1826-7, as a student of philosophy and “son of the late Mr. James Cromar, Rector of the Grammar-school.”

At one point in his career he follows in his father’s footsteps as a school teacher at Forres Academy and the Kensington Proprietary School. He is eventually appointed Headmaster at Anderston’s Institution, in Elgin, Moray, in 1838.

But, like Robert, he catches the travel bug, and in 1841 he becomes a government teacher in the Western Cape of South Africa. By 1850, we find he has made a career change, from the teaching of his father to the legal pursuits of his deceased brother. After becoming a clerk to the Supreme Court of South Africa, he winds up as a Clerk of Peace in Swellendham in the Cape Colony. His memorial epitaph amplifies this biography:

Sacred to the memory of George Cromar, Esq | Civil Commissioner & Resident Magistrate of the Division of Albert for more than 6 (?) years | He was born at Aberdeen, Scotland 21 April 1812 | and died at Burghersdorp 23 October 1865 | This monument erected by the inhabitants of the Division of Albert as a tribute of respect to an upright magistrate, a public-spirited citizen, and a warm-hearted friend.

George had married Barbara Ettershank and the couple had a daughter, Ann, around 1835, in Strachan. This possibly fills a gap in George’s resume: had he been teaching at the school in Strachan, just south of Banchory and near his ancestral home? We know that Ann did not follow him to Africa in 1841, because she is recorded in the Census in Birse that year, and later in 1851 in Kincardine O’Neil in the house of her grandmother Margaret. This suggests that Barbara may have died around 1840, and George, disoriented by the tragedy, left his only daughter in the care of extended family to seek his fortune elsewhere.

Ann herself married James Coutts, and the couple’s youngest son, John Cowie Coutts, emigrated to Canada… but we’ll explore him in a later post dedicated to the multitude of Canadian Cromars.

Charlotte 4.7 1814: from Aberdeen to Imperial Russia

Relation to me: Ist cousin 5x removed

When we think about the Scottish Diaspora, Imperial Russia is not the first destination that comes to mind, but sister Charlotte, along one of the more interesting and meandering legs of the Cromar journey, finds her way there. It is in the cosmopolitan Russian maritime trade city of Saint Petersburg that she marries Richard Eales in 1840.

How did Charlotte, born in 1814 in Aberdeen, end up in Saint Petersburg of all places, and how did she meet Richard, an Englishman born in that same year in Brighton, south of London? It’s hard to say with the sketchy record we have of Charlotte up until her marriage, but a look at Richard’s biography may supply clues. It’s a sad reality of history and genealogy that women are often neglected, something I hope this journal is helping to remediate!

We know from later documentation that Richard was trained as a civil engineer and iron-master. This suggests his time in Saint Petersburg was spent plying this trade for the large British mercantile presence at the port city. Such skills required higher education, and while we don’t have a record of Richard’s attendance anywhere, we do know that the University of Glasgow, one of the ancient universities of Scotland, established the first professorial chair of Engineering in the world. Could Richard have been in Scotland as a student, and could he have met Charlotte there?

Well, not in the way we might assume. Today, while the majority of people attending university are women, they were not able to attend university at all in Scotland until 1892, so she would not have been in his orbit as a “co-ed.” In any event, it turns out Charlotte was not Richard’s first partner. We know that a Margaret of unknown origin bore him a son in 1838 in Saint Petersburg, so he was already established there around the age of 24. This son, Richard Thomas, died in 1841, by which time father Richard had wed Charlotte. We don’t know Margaret’s fate, simply that she was lost to Richard, whether through estrangement or death, perhaps even during childbirth.

With an infant in tow, it seems unlikely that Richard could have returned to the UK to meet Charlotte, court her, and bring her back to Saint Petersburg to wed there. all while keeping to his professional obligations. More probable is that Charlotte, at the age of 25 or 26, went to Saint Petersburg and met Richard there. It remains a mystery for now how Charlotte, a young albeit cosmopolitan Scottish lass, finds herself so far from home.

On 1 Feb 1840, the couple wed at the British Chaplaincy. I assume this may refer to the pre-1917 Anglican Church located at 56 English Embankment, known variously as the British Factory Church, the Embassy Church, or the English Church, and later as the English Church of St Mary & All Saints. The English Embankment, or Angliyskaya Naberezhnaya in Russian, was the home away from home for the English community in the city, with waterfront mansions belonging to foreigners. Richard Eales is not documented as residing in this highly fashionable district. Known as the “Venice of the North,” Saint Petersburg is built upon many islands forming districts bounded by waterways, and we find Eales in остров голодай, the Ostrov Golodoi (or Goloday) district. Some authorities translate this as “Hunger Island” while others believe it could be a corruption of Halliday, the name of a British merchant. The island, now known as Dekabristov Island to commemorate leaders of the Decembrist Revolt, was an outer district of the city in 1840, but within easy travel distance to the English Embankment.

1 | Map of Saint Petersburg by Tardieu, 1840
2 | Closeup of the relatively sparsely-settled Ostrov Golodai from the same map. The English Embankment can be seen at lower left, connected by a bridge across the Néva River.
3 | 1838 view of the English Embankment, published by Firmin Didot Frères (Paris)
4 | Modern view of 56 English Embankment, former home of the Anglican Church

The English settlement in this imperial capital was a cooperative and fruitful one:

 Despite the animosity between England and Russia in the Crimea, the Emperor [Czar] Nicholas took the English in St. Petersburg under his protection and indeed he frequently walked the quays of St. Petersburg. … England had effectively monopolized trade with Russia from the time of Ivan the Terrible and Queen Elizabeth through to the Crimean War. …

The English colony (especially those in society) was a large one, and one could dine out practically every evening without meeting the same people twice. No English people living out of their own country could have lived happier or more jolly lives than we did. … It was a bright and comparatively care-free life – visitors from the old country always carried away with them happy and perhaps somewhat envious recollections.

Turtle Bunbury’s FAMILY HISTORY: The Whishaws: From Rudheath to Russia.  J. Whishaw 1992, p. 171

But the Eales family led far from a care-free existence. Of the eight children born between 1840 and 1854, most of whom are documented to have been christened at the British Chaplaincy, the last three died in infancy. It is likely they were among the more than one million victims of a major cholera pandemic that plagued Russia from 1847 to 1851.

The family’s long-duration stay in Saint Petersburg turns out to be a temporary inhabitation of fortune. By the time of the 1881 Census, we find Richard, Charlotte, and youngest daughter Sarah Elizabeth have moved back to Scotland, residing in Saint Andrews. It’s possible that second daughter Jane returned with them, and her Scottish marriage in 1868 to William Paterson strongly suggest the entire family had actually returned before that date.

But not all of the family follows the parents back to the homeland:

  • First daughter Mary Isabella Eales marries Henry Woldemar Butz in 1858 in Saint Petersburg, and their family ping-pongs between Finland and Latvia on both sides of the Gulf of Finland, perhaps due to the instability leading up to the Russian Revolution.
    • In Saint Petersburg in 1897, their daughter Charlotte Julia Butz weds August Nikolaus Grünerwald, son of Gustav Emil Grünerwald, an Estonian, and Emilie Katharina Bettzich, native to Saint Petersburg, and they had 3 daughters in 3 different places. This family spread itself thin geographically, attempting to dodge the worst the 20th Century had to offer: the Russian Revolution, World War I, a global economic depression, and World War II.
      • Daughter Vera Grünerwald is born in Saint Petersburg in 1898 and dies in Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft, Switzerland in 1965.
      • Daughter Gertrud Grünerwald is born in Sloviansk, Donetsk, Ukraine in 1900, and dies ominously in February 1942 in Poznań, Warthe, Poland; judging by the date, very possibly during a military action taken by the Polish Home Army against occupying German troops.
      • Daughter Winifred Grünerwald is born in Riga, Latvia in 1906 and dies on 28 Jun 1975 in Washington, District of Columbia, USA.
  • Mary Isabella dies in Finland, in 1912, while husband Henry’s fate is unknown.

The map below helps us understand these migrations (with Winifred’s move to the USA omitted for the sake of resolution of view):

In the end, Richard, Charlotte, and their youngest Sarah Elizabeth find a final home in Scotland’s capital city. It was Charlotte Cromar’s sad duty to bury both her husband and her child before she passed. The epitaph for the family members buried at Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh reads:

Richard Eales of Golodai St. Petersburg | Born 4th April 1814 Died 4th October 1888 |
Charlotte Cromar, his wife | Born in Aberdeen 6(?)th June 1814 Died in Edinburgh 5th July 1899 |
Sarah Elizabeth Eales, their youngest daughter | Born at the Golodai 3rd May 1845 Died 31st January 1896

A low-resolution image of the Eales/Cromar memorial in Dean Cemetery

Post-Script: a brief conjecture about Kirkton of Aboyne

After drafting this post, I realized I had not connected some obvious dots before, but with Robert 2.1, his wife Jannet, his son John 3.7, and his wife Ann all missing from Kirkton of Aboyne, it is possible they might all be interred at one of the mystery Stones 14 or 43. It’s stupid of me not to have thought about it this way before, but noticing how many families memorialize so many members on one stone, is it not reasonable to propose that this entire family group might be represented by one of those illegible slabs? Could this explain why George Cromar did not think it necessary to identify his father and mother by name on Stone 36? Is there any way any of that could be proven?

Bonars in the 1696 Poll Book: a deeper understanding of Janet’s origins?

I received an interesting message from Jessica McDonald in Canada a couple of weeks ago, detailing an analysis she and her mother Wendy Cromar Mathers had performed on the List of Pollable Persons Within the Shire of Aberdeen 1696, presented in Volume 1 and Volume 2. This important record is available free of charge at Google Books as a set of downloadable PDF documents, and the second volume is also at the Internet Archive. While the original purpose for the record — to list the population subject to an unpopular poll tax — was a dry as day-old toast, the data collected therein is a rich tapestry of interest to historians, social scientists, and, of course, genealogical researchers.

One Alexander Bonner (variant of Bonar or Bonnar, as the casual orthography of of the day renders this surname), listed at the very top of this page in the List of Pollable Persons Within the Shire of Aberdeen 1696, Volume Second

I’m embarrassed to admit now that I have been long aware of the record, but somehow failed to effectively utilize it as a resource of note. Given the year of its creation, you’d think I would have pounced on this primary source like a lion. To their credit and my undying admiration, my Canadian cousins have done so, and the research they shared with me was intriguing enough to reopen the case of Janet Bonar, the documented wife of Peter Cromar 1690 and my sixth great-grandmother. Readers of this journal remember the hypothesis I developed, based strictly on circumstantial evidence, that she may have had origins in Kildrummy.

Before I share their findings, I thought it interesting to note that the etymology of the surname Bonar reveals variants such as Bonner, Bonnar, Boner, and so on. This is helpful when reading the Poll Book, because orthography was not a settled affair at the time. The spellings of names and words vary greatly, even on the same folio page in the record!


I also thought it personally interesting that Bonar has origins as a name referencing the occupation of midwifery, as my wife is herself a midwife by profession. So, as we did with the name Cromar, and without further ado, we learn the following:

BONAR Scottish: variant of Bonner . Irish (Donegal): Scottish name adopted as a translation of Gaelic Ó Cnáimhsighe ‘descendant of Cnáimhseach’ a byname meaning ‘midwife’. This word seems to be a derivative of cnámh ‘bone’ (with the feminine ending -seach) but if so the reason for this is not clear. Polish: from German Bohner or Boner ‘bean grower’.

BONNER English: from Middle English boner(e) bonour ‘gentle courteous’ (Old French bonnaire shortened from debonnaire). This surname is also common in Ireland where it was adopted for Ó Cnáimhsighe see Bonar Welsh: Anglicized form of Welsh ap Ynyr ‘son of Ynyr’ a common medieval personal name derived from Latin Honorius with fused patronymic marker (a)p normally voiced before a vowel. German (also Bönner): from a short form of the ancient Germanic personal name Bonhard formed with the element bon ‘request petition’ (compare Latin bonus). This surname is also found in Sweden. German: habitational name for someone from Bonn on the Rhine.

BONNAR Scottish and northern Irish (Donegal): variant of Bonner .

BONER Scottish English Welsh and Irish (Donegal): variant of Bonner or Bonar . German: occupational name for a grower of beans from Middle High German bōne ‘bean’ + the agent suffix -er. Compare Bohner . Swedish (Bonér): ornamental name from bo ‘farm dwelling’ + the suffix -nér.

Patrick Hanks, Dictionary of American Family Names 2nd edition

Bonar and variants in the Poll Book

Armed with the orthographic variations in the etymology, Jessica and Wendy have discovered the following in both editions of the Poll Book:

Poll Book Entries, Volume 1

408Muire, AlfordBoner, AlexanderTenant, and Jean Tough, his wife
439Ley, CushneyBonner, AlexanderTenant and wife
450Walkmilne, ForbesBonner, JamesTenant
452Scotsmilne, ForbesBonner, AdamCottar, no trade, and his wife, Margaret Cruikshank
Newtoune, KeigeBonner, Williamand his wife, Christian Leslie
Bulquharne, TillinessellBonnar, GeorgeTenant, widow (assume widower?), children Alexander
and Marjorie
480Fulford, TillinessellBonnar, WilliamGrassman, and wife Jannet Patton
502Mackerhaugh, KildrumeyBonner, ElspetWife of James Couper, Cottar

Poll Book Entries, Volume 2

132Wastertoun of
Auchleuchries, Cruden
Bonner, AlexanderSubtenant and tailor, and his wife, Marjorie Craik
241Watertown, EllonBonner, JamesSubtenant
254Ardlethen, EllonBonner, Elizabeth
254Ardlethen, EllonBoner, Issobell
258Turnerhalls, EllonBoner, JohnTenant
548Broombray, NewmacharBonner, Jamesand his wife and daughters
630Toune and Freedom
of Aberdeen
Bonner, JeanServant to Alexander Strachans

As a list it’s useful, but I’m a visual person and I always think patterns reveal themselves with more clarity on a map. So with the assistance of historical maps at Genuki and the National Library of Scotland, I was able to recover place names that have been obscured by time and provide an accurate mapping of the data above:

Among the interesting patterns found, it seems evident that Volume 1 focuses on the west of the shire, while Volume 2 describes the east. But more pertinent to the analysis of Bonar, it’s pretty clear these cluster in communities, one centered on Alford north of Aboyne and the Howe of Cromar, and another in Aberdeen and north, particularly Ellon.

So, what can this tell us about Janet? By itself, this data has little new insight to offer: she is nowhere to be found, and may not have even been born yet, for all we know. But if we rub this up against other data, such as the Old Parish Records (OPR), we might find something really interesting.

Testing the Adame Bonner hypothesis

In the post Janet Bonar, c. 1695-1789?, we claimed a hypothetical lineage for Janet Bonar that places her in or near Kildrummy as a possible daughter to Adame Bonner and Margret Thomson born about 1695, an unsubstantiated date offered at FamilySearch. Ron Cromar, in his descendancy study, had claimed (with no documentation I’m aware of) a date of 1696 in Kincardine O’Neil, and no parentage listed. So does a hypothesis of Adame and Margret hold water?

Certainly, it’s a better hypothesis than many researchers who have made claims based on isolated OPR birth records for Janets documented in Dunfermline, Clackmannan, Gretna, or Dumbarton. In particular, the geographically unlikely claim of Laurence Bonnar as father of Janet Bonnar, born 21 Jun 1696 in Forgandenny, Perthshire, persists like a bad penny as an Ancestry hint for our Janet. While we’re at it, let’s add hypothetical parental marriage records in Clackmannan and Torryburn or death records in Edinburgh to that list of of suspicious, isolated clues.

Skepticism aside, the systematic listing of all Bonars that my Canadian cousins did for the Poll Book suggests that we can do the same for the OPR, to obtain a like-kind pattern in a map. Perhaps, if within both sets of data we found instances of Adam or Adame, married to Margret or Margaret, and in turn found those to be geographically plausible, we could affirm or debunk the Adame Bonner hypothesis.

So, I spent a tedious amount of time doing exactly that kind of data collection at ScotlandsPeople’s OPR lists. My methodology:

  • Identify potential parent identities for Janet by birth record (1630-1680), marriage record (1650-1700), and death record (1695-1780). Those start and end dates are extreme outliers for each category for sure.
  • For the purposes of plausibility, segregate these records by historical shire, assuming Aberdeenshire to be the most likely; adjacent shires of Angus, Kincardine, Perth, Banff, Inverness, Moray, and Nairn, along with cities of Aberdeen and Dundee, to be less likely but plausible; farther out to north and west Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney, Shetland as less likely; same for those to the south such as Fife, Stirling, Lanark, Midlothian, Kinross, Clackmannan, Dunbarton, Renfrew, West Lothian, and, East Lothian, including cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, being less likely; and shires toward the border including Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, Dumfries, Ayr, Kircudbright, and Wigtown as improbable.
  • Instead of pinpointing individual records with icons on the map, which would have led to less legibility, I took the “center of gravity” between all instances of a record within one shire and placed an icon thusly. It’s a lower resolution result, but adequate for this study. For example, in Aberdeenshire, if I had an instance of a record in Ellon and another in Kincardine O’Neil, I placed an icon between those sites.

The data that supports the resulting map is listed as a footnote to this post:

The results are super-interesting. The bias for the surname is toward Scotland’s Central Belt, lending a bit more credence to a southern hypothesis. But there is a strong showing in Aberdeen and environs, with a pattern that’s nearly a straight shot from Glasgow heading upward north and east to the area around Ellon. There are NO instances of Bonar or variants in the Northwest Highlands, nor along the Scottish Borders. It is a very geographically compact surname (though I hasten to caution this could be a false pattern, the result of selective record-keeping and/or loss of records from the time).

Having done all that, I’m still convinced that an Aberdeenshire origin for Janet is still the most likely. There is a large cohort in and around Aberdeen and nearby shires that supports this hypothesis. What is disappointing, though, is my discovery that the instances of Adams and variants are 1) not plentiful enough to capture a sense of a migratory pattern for this potential family, and 2) not supportive of Margret or variants as a consistent spousal identity. All the Adams are all over the place, with a gaggle of different spouses where they can be identified.

Adam(e) vs Alexander

So, we’ll look for other kinds of patterns in comparing these datasets. I won’t detail every investigation I performed, but I will focus on one that I found to be quite intriguing.

In the OPR Death and Burial records, I came across this listing:


Could we find his birth? OPR offers only this unlikely breadcrumb far to the north and east:


Marriages? There are marriages in Falkirk, Edinburgh, Logie, and Dumfries — all geographically unlikely, and none that would plausibly lead to a 90’s birth for Janet.

Nevertheless, look again at that birth record. Sharp readers will recall that in 1716 at Kincardine O’Neil, Janet Bonar is documented marrying Peter Cromar. So is this simply a coincidence, or can a familial relationship be posited between Janet and this Alexander? We’ll want to look at other records to see if that can be substantiated at all.

In the Poll Book, several Alexanders are found in 1696 residing to the north of Kincardine O’Neil. One Alexander lives with an unnamed wife in Ley, Cushnie, while another, under the variant Boner, is found with wife Jean Tough in Muire, Alford. A third Alexander is found farther north in Westerton, Auchleuchries, Cruden, with wife Marjorie Craik. If proximity matters, Alford and Cushnie are both better bets. So, with only the Alford Alexander showing a spouse, let’s explore that relationship in the OPR.

To my amazement, a Jean Tough is seen passing away on 15 Feb 1719 in Kincardine O’Neil. Could Alexander Bonar and Jean Tough passing away in Kinker be a pair, the same one found in 1696 near Alford? Unfortunately, no marriage record anywhere in the OPR leaves a breadcrumb. But how many Alexander Bonar/Jean Tough pairings by geographic circumstance are likely to occur?


I believe this provides enough evidence to create a new and more certain hypothesis for the origin of Janet Bonar:

  • It is less certain that Adame Bonner and Margret Thomsen of Kildrummy are parents to Janet.
  • It is more likely that Alexander Boner/Bonar and Jean Tough are parents to Janet Bonar.
  • It is also possible this pair are grandparents to Janet, given her marriage date and their death dates, leaving the parents still unknown.
  • Was Janet born in 1696 as asserted by Ron Cromar? If yes, it’s possible she’s born in Muire, Alford. If afterward, she’s possibly born in Kincardine O’Neil.

Am I confident enough to encode this in the descendancy study? Well, let’s just say I think it throws enough doubt on my previous hypothesis to jettison it in favor of this new one. More research, as the old saying goes, may be needed.

Appendix: Data for Bonars of Scotland

To make the map for Bonars of Scotland above, I used this analysis of Old Parish Record data as found at ScotlandsPeople website. All the relevant Bonars and variants are listed using the methodology described above:

Births and Baptisms 1630-1680

  • Aberdeenshire: 4: 1641-52 Aberdeen, Ellon
  • Aberdeen City: 1: 1652
  • Angus: 12: 1639-71 Dundee, Montrose
  • Kincardine: 5: 1675-79 Nigg (south of Aberdeen)
  • Perthshire: 11: 1642-80 Dunbarney, Kinnoul, Perth
  • Dundee City: 3: 1648-54
  • Banff, Inverness, Moray, Nairn: 0

Farther out, to north and west:

  • Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney, Shetland : 0

Farther out, to south and central belt:

  • Fife: 12: 1631-74 Ceres, Dunfermline, Elie, Kinghorn, St Andrews, Torryburn
  • Stirling: 1: 1669 Falkirk
  • Glasgow City: 1: 1660
  • Lanark: 3: 1653-60: Hamilton, Glasgow
  • Midlothian: 16: 1631-79: Edinburgh, Inveresk, Leith South, Newton, St Cuthbert’s
  • Edinburgh City: 14: 1637-78
  • Kinross, Clackmannan, Dunbarton, Renfrew, West Lothian, East Lothian: 0

Farthest south and borders:

  • Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, Dumfries, Ayr, Kircudbright, Wigtown: 0

Banns and Marriages 1650-1700

  • Aberdeenshire: 6: 1654-87 Ellon, Kildrummy (this includes Adame Bonner and Margret Thomson)
  • Angus: 3: 1650-99 Dundee, Montrose
  • Kincardine: 2: 1696-99 Fordoun, Banchory/Ternan
  • Perthshire: 16: 1654-98 Auchterarder, Culross, Dunbarney, Dunblane, Errol, Fowlis Wester, Kinnoul, Logie, Perth, Scone
  • Dundee City: 1 1650
  • Aberdeen City, Banff, Inverness, Moray, Nairn: 0

Farther out, to north and west:

  • Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney, Shetland : 0

Farther out, to south and central belt:

  • Fife: 18: 1650-99 Colessie, Dunfermline, Elie, Kilconquhar, Monimal, St Andrews, Torryburn, Wemyss
  • Stirling: 2 : 1658-76 Falkirk
  • Lanark: 2: 1653-60 Lanark, Hamilton
  • Midlothian: 14: 1653-91 Edinburgh, Canongate, Duddingston (Edinburgh City is counted here)
  • Glasgow City, Kinross, Clackmannan, Dunbarton, Renfrew, West Lothian, East Lothian: 0

Farthest south and borders:

  • Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, Dumfries, Ayr, Kircudbright, Wigtown: 0

Deaths and Burials | 1695-1780

  • Aberdeenshire: 25: 1709-1779 Cruden, Ellon, Kincardine O’Neil, Methlick, Old Deer, Old Machar, Strichen (includes Aberdeen City)
  • Angus: 1: 1697 Glamis
  • Perthshire: 6: 1700-69 Aberdalgie, Arngask, Logie
  • Kincardine, Dundee City, Banff, Inverness, Moray, Nairn: 0

Farther out, to north and west:

  • Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney, Shetland : 0

Farther out, to south and central belt:

  • Fife: 39: 1697-1774 Ceres, Cupar, Dalgetty, Dunfermline, Dunino, Dysart, Leslie, Monimal, St Andrews, Strathmiglo, Torryburn, Tulliallan, Wemyss
  • Stirling: 3: 1745-64 Alva, Stirling
  • Lanark: 29: 1718-71 Glasgow (includes Glasgow City)
  • Midlothian: 117: 1695-1779 Edinburgh, Canongate, Carrington, Cockpen, Colinton, Dalkeith, Leith South, Liberton (includes Edinburgh City)
  • West Lothian: 4: 1703-72 Bo’ness, Linlithgow
  • Kinross, Clackmannan, Dunbarton, Renfrew, East Lothian: 0

Farthest south and borders:

  • Berwick: 11: 1711-57 Coldingham
  • Roxburgh: 2: 1769-70 Ancrum, Hawick
  • Dumfries: 2: 1719-24 Dumfries
  • Selkirk, Peebles, Ayr, Kircudbright, Wigtown: 0

Peter Cromar 1690: parallel universes

I’ve completed the chronicle of our study abroad trip to Scotland, a journey that gave me the opportunity to see the Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground and close the circle for my family by burying a lock of my father’s hair at the head of slab stone for our progenitor, Peter Cromar.

A lock of my father’s hair prior to burial at the head of Peter Cromar’s moss-covered slab stone

This visit was cathartic, but not conclusive. Because the window of time we had there was necessarily brief, I had little time to consider whether a direct inspection of the burial ground could confirm hypotheses or open up new lines of inquiry, particularly with respect to the origin of Peter himself. So after returning home, it’s time to return this journal back to its original purpose for a post or two and reconsider some old questions from a new angle or two:

  • Does the burial ground hold more clues about Peter Cromar, his progeny, or his progenitor?
  • Can we find connections among various Cromar lines that are currently not firmly linked to Peter Cromar?
  • What do other researchers have to say about the origin of Peter Cromar?

More KoA clues?

There are two tantalizing mystery stones at Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground. I wrote about one of these in “New” information on Kirkton of Aboyne: Stone 43, a memorial near other Cromar markers, notably Stone 39. Number 43 is described as a flat stone which is not legible.

A second mystery stone which came to my attention only after my visit is Stone 14. This marker is adjacent to the Stones 9, 10, and 11, for Jean, John, and George Cromar and their families respectively. Stone 14 has no reference to a name in the index supplied by my collaborator cousin in Scotland, and in my photo collection it shows up only as an illegible fragment of a corner of a flat slab.

Perhaps we can only speculate about things we cannot see, but there is a reasonable probability that at least one of these stones could have a Cromar connection. A cross-comparison study of historical documentation of stone inscriptions may uncover that. I know of at least two: the book my Scottish cousin shared with me, and the 1907 book Aberdeenshire epitaphs and inscriptions: with historical, biographical, genealogical, and antiquarian notes by John A. Henderson. Henderson does not number stones, nor does he describe each in full. But does he describe one that is not legible in the book shared by my cousin?

More connections to Peter?

We’ve established that there are at least two sets of Cromars in the burial ground: one directly connected to Peter, and one not. As I wrote in Kirkton of Aboyne burial ground: a Rosetta Stone for Cromar mysteries, Stone 39, the one adjacent to the mysterious Stone 43, is a memorial to Robert and Farquharson who are not along the Peter Cromar descendancy. Could it be that a connection to Peter exists for them among Peter’s ancestors, perhaps a link that predates him? There are several researchers who have included Peter Cromar in their ancestry, many of which have hypothetical ancestral relationships for Peter in their trees. Could any of these establish a clear connection among all the Cromars in the burial ground?

What does the hive mind say?

The answer is: maybe.

There are more than a dozen publicly accessible family trees containing Peter Cromar, and not all of them agree about his ancestry or connections. These trees are available among the usual suspects: Ancestry, MyHeritage, Geneanet, Filae, FamilySearch, and others. Readers of this journal are aware of my general skepticism of the accuracy and depth of research found on sites that depend on crowdsourced information to generate family trees. But to be fair, these are breadcrumbs of a kind, and they deserve objective scrutiny. So, in that spirit, I’ve delved into every one of these I could find and synthesized an ancestry for Peter, keeping a private working draft of a tree thus generated at Ancestry. I won’t provide links here to some of those trees, because some are found behind a paywall and that can only lead to frustration when one does not have a subscription. I will also not directly share my own draft tree, because I don’t want to contribute to the echo chamber I suspect has led some researchers to fictional conclusions (and, full disclosure, I was one of those kind of researchers before I knew what I was doing!). However, I will describe what I’ve synthesized in text and image as appropriate.

In my synthesis of this hypothetical ancestry, I’ve found five basic scenarios, some of which contradict one another:

  • Peter is a member of a family fallen from nobility
  • Peter has a cousin: a Culloden warrior who escaped prosecution and raised a family in Belgium while on the lam there
  • Peter’s wife, Janet Bonar, is from Perthshire and died in Fife
  • Peter is born to a family already deeply rooted in Aberdeenshire
  • Peter is a refugee or the son of a refugee of the Massacre of Glencoe, originating with Clan MacDonald or a sept thereof

Before we look at each of these hypotheses, we do well to remember that instances of the name Cromar and its many variants — Cromer, Crommar, Crowmar, Crowmere, and others — may in fact stem from different etymologies. This alone can helpful clue to confirm or debunk some of these scenarios.

Name etymology

The surname comes from several sources. Patrick Hanks describes three of these for Cromer:

Cromer (2830) 1. French: from a Germanic personal name Hrodmar, composted of hrōd ‘renown’, ‘glory’ + mār ‘famous’. 2. English: habitational name from Cromer in Norfolk, recorded in the 13th century as Crowemere, from Old English crāwe ‘crow’ + mere ‘lake’. 3. Variant spelling of German and Jewish Kromer.

Patrick Hanks, Dictionary of American Family Names

Compare this to the Scottish etymology quoted in Competing Theories on the “How” of Cromar, repeated here for reference:

Cromar (Aberdeen), Crò Mhàrr.
“The enclosure of Mar”. Braes of Cromar is Bràigh Crò Mhàrr and Bruthaichean Crò Mhàrr.

Mac an Tailleir, p 34

So there are basically four different origins for these phonetically similar surnames: one Scottish, one English, one French, and one German. We do well to keep these distinct origins in mind as we take a critical look at the parallel universes that contain Peter.

Parallel Universe I: Noble roots

Some researchers allege an ancestry for Peter associated with nobility. According to this tree, Peter is the son of John (alias Jhon) Cromar (alias Crommar), with some claims of a Margaret Roch as his mother. John is claimed to be the son of Thomas (alias Thomae) Cromar and Elspet Margaret Garrioch, and Thomas the son of Sir Christian Cromar, a knight, and an unknown spouse. Christian in turn is claimed to be the descendant of Sir James and Sir William, who are High Sheriffs of Kent in England. This William is the son of Sir William, a Lord Mayor of London and another Sheriff of Kent — such titles were often hereditary, though it’s unclear if that is the case here. This line eventually peters out with a Thomas J Cromar in medieval Kent. There are several trees at Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Geneanet which feature variations on this lineage, which I have synthesized.

Synthesis of a hypothetical tree linking Peter to English nobility

Pros | There is some room to consider the linkages between Peter, John (Jhon), and Thomas (Thomae) as having some plausibility, and we’ll explore that more below.

Cons | At best, we can say the link between Thomas and Christian is an aspirational attempt to discover noble origins for the Cromars. This hypothesis leaves a lot to be suspicious about:

  • A lot of genealogical work is done with the chief goal in mind of finding noble or royal roots, and can be subject to confirmation bias whenever such a hypothetical link is “discovered.” Any claim of this nature should be backed up by documentation, and it’s difficult to say in nearly all the expressions of this lineage what documentation, if any, is being used to back up this particular claim. The power of an echo-chamber multiplying a spurious claim of noble ancestry into several instances, thus feeding confirmation bias, is hard to resist.
  • Any claim of a farmer in Aberdeenshire in the northeast of Scotland, sharing family roots with nobility in Kent in the far south of England, should be treated with a high degree of skepticism based on geography alone. The etymology of the Cromar name cited above should be enough to debunk this hypothesis. Cromar (associated with Peter) and its variants Cromer or Crowmer (which are associated with this Christian) are distinct habitational names rooted in particular places, Marr in Scotland and Norfolk in England respectively.
  • The nobility kept meticulous family records to defend hereditary claims of social status, so this kind of documentation is not difficult to find and use. In the case of Christian Cromar in particular, we do find this person is likely to be the offspring of the Sheriffs of Kent and Mayors of London. However this Christian is a demonstrably a daughter to James, not a son and certainly not a knighted “Sir.” A chart at Stirnet by Peter Barnes-Graham is but one example that compiles a lineage based on historical documentation in support of this. Follow the system down generations 1.A.i.a.(1)(A)(i)(d) to find Christian’s entry, where you can see she marries one John Hale:

I’m unsure when and where a conflation first happens between this Christian Cromer and a Christian Cromar, father of Thomas, nor is it clear who first developed the gender identity and geographic shifts that make it possible, but it is certain that many researchers have echoed variations on this hypothesis without a deeper investigation.

Conclusion | Based on a lack of primary source evidence, etymology, and historical documentation to the contrary, any hypothesis linking Aberdonian crofters to Kentish nobility contains a vanishingly small degree of probable truth.

Parallel Universe II: A Jacobite cousin

While the notion of Christian Cromar as the father of Thomas is doubtful, the analysis above still gives some quarter to the hypothesis of Thomas as a grandparent to Peter. Some researchers have expanded on this family group to claim brothers for John (Jhon), son to Thomas and father to Peter. These brothers, James and Robert, have some validity that we’ll explore below. According to some of these researchers, each brother has offspring, and in the case of James, one of these sons has the very non-Scottish name Johannes Andreas Cromar, even though it is claimed he is born in Leochel-Cushnie. One researcher in particular resolves this oddity by connecting Johannes Andreas to the Jacobite battle at Culloden in 1745. Born in 1722, his dates would support a hypothesis that a 23 year old John Andrew Cromar fought at Culloden, escaped capture, fled to Belgium, Germanicized his name, created a cover story that he was born in Bavaria, and eventually married twice, raising two families on the Continent. This person would be a first cousin to Peter.

Synthesis of a hypothetical tree featuring Johannes Andreas Cromar

Pros | The following facts generally support this hypothesis:

  • The dates of the battle and the birth of Johannes do not contradict.
  • The locations associated with the persons shown (Leochel-Cushnie, Oyne, Clatt, and Aboyne) are sufficiently adjacent to be plausible.
  • Jacobite activity in this part of Scotland is well-documented, and instances of Jacobite refugees escaping to the Continent are not uncommon.

Cons | The following findings cast some doubt on this hypothesis:

  • More than one researcher claims that a Bavarian birth is not a cover story, but rather that Johannes Andreas Crommar was indeed born there to a father named Andries. Though without apparent primary source, this hypothesis is no more or less valid than the apparently unsourced claim it contradicts.
  • Etymology can otherwise support that claim, where other hard evidence is lacking. Recall the name Cromar along with its variants Crommar and Crommer can be French or German in origin. Both French and German are spoken in Belgium, and parts of the German province of Bavaria are less than 400 km from westernmost Belgium.

Conclusion | While not utterly implausible, a lack of documentation pro or con, combined with etymology, make this hypothesis fairly unconvincing.

Parallel Universe III: A Perthshire wife

While I have explored the lack of clarity surrounding the origins of Peter Cromar’s wife Janet Bonar, several researchers seem confident enough in the record at ScotlandsPeople tying Janet to Laurence Bonnar as a father, with a birth date of 21 June 1696 in Forgandenny, Perthshire, that they place this data in their trees.

There’s no disputing the record that a Janet exists who is Peter’s wife, and there’s equally no objection to the record of a Janet existing who is Laurence’s offspring. But what case can be made these are one and the same?

Pros | The following facts support this connection:

  • The dates are plausible. Peter is born in 1690, their wedding is in the record on 9 October 1716 in Kincardine O’Neil, and first child Robert is born in 1717. That would make Janet 1696 a 20-year-old bride and 21-year-old mother.
  • There is no record that ties any one of the many other persons named Janet (or Jannett) Bonar (or Bonnar or Bonner) to Peter.

Cons | The following facts challenge this connection:

  • By the same logic that supports our second pro point, there is no record that explicitly exempts all other Janets: the data is being cherry-picked. There are 5 or 6 Janets in the record at ScotlandsPeople that are within a reasonable date to marry in 1716. If dates are the sole criteria to establish a connection, then who is to say our candidate is not Jean Bonnar of Perth in 1684, a bride aged 32, or Jannet Bonnar of Torryburn in 1698, a bride at 18?
  • But dates are not the sole criteria: geography matters. Among all the above-mentioned Janets and variants in the record, we find Forgandenny of course, but also Wemyss, Perth, and Torryburn. Relative to Kincardine O’Neil, these places are, respectively, 76 miles, 80 miles, 70 miles, and 100 miles away. These distances in this time period should be investigated with a healthy skepticism.
  • All of the above assumes that every Janet Bonar and variants can be found in the record. It’s clear that records of this era are incomplete. There is an alternative unsourced claim in FamilySearch, which a researcher likely based on probability alone, that Janet was born to Adame Bonner and Margret Thomson, who are recorded as married in Kildrummy, north of Tarland and near Alford, in 1687. Kildrummy is reasonably close to Aboyne (16 mi) and Kincardine O’Neil (18 mi), documented sites for other life events for Janet, as well as Leochel-Cushnie (8 mi), the documented birthplace of mother Margret, that such a hypothesis is plausible in the absence of a birth record.
  • Further investigation uncovers a death record for a Janet of 9 September 1789, in Strathmiglo, Fife. This is far away and very suspicious if we assume a Kildrummy birth for our Janet. Geographically, however, one might hypothesize the Janet born to Laurence in Forgandenny is the very same one who dies in Strathmiglo: these settlements are separated by only 12 miles.

A hypothesis for Peter’s spouse Janet Bonar, circumstantially based on the marriage date of Adame Bonner and Margaret Thomson, and factoring a marriage date with Peter combined with birth dates of their children.

Conclusion | While a lack of additional primary birth record exists substantiating Kildrummy as Janet’s origin, we can at least build a strong argument that Janet, daughter of Laurence from Forgandenny, is not the Janet we seek.

Parallel Universe IV: Aberdeenshire roots

In debunking noble roots for Peter, we did concede that a portion of this line merits further scrutiny. Thomas Cromar, an alleged grandparent in Leochel-Cushnie, and his son Jhon, an alleged father in Leochel-Cushnie and Auchindoir, are in the record. Peter’s possible siblings Patrick, William, John, Jean, and Alexander are also clearly documented in Auchindoir, as are Jhon’s brothers James and Robert, both in Leochel-Cushnie. This Robert’s son Robert is documented in Oyne. Various spouses and parentage of the same are also in the record. Is there enough material in these records to hypothesize a synthesized lineage as illustrated below? Is Peter the product of a deeply-rooted Aberdeenshire family?

A hypothetical tree, synthesized from other researchers, for Peter Cromar’s direct ancestors, along with aunts, uncles, and cousins

Pros | Supporting this hypothesis we find the following in the record:

  • Birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates, where they are found in the record, generally do not conflict.
  • Geography among this entire group, where found in the record, is plausible (see map below). The furthest distance in this group, from Oyne to the Boat of Charlestown, is 26 miles, an 8.5 hour journey on foot. Leochel-Cushnie, which figures in many of these relationships, is a solid mid-way point between northern and southern places of record. Thomas, if he is a progenitor, is born there and therefore lies mid-way between family groups that migrate north (to Oyne, Clatt, Alford, or Auchindoir) or south (to Kincardine O’Neil, Aboyne, or Boat of Charlestown)

  • Peter’s birthplace in 1690 (a date indicated on his memorial stone) is unknown, but there is a record for an unnamed Cromar, son of Jhon, being christened in Clatt in 1692 sharing an unsourced claim of a birth date of 9 September with Peter. This is only 5 miles away from Auchindor and Kearn, the birthplace of all his alleged siblings: Patrick, William, John, Jean, and Alexander.

Cons | Challenging this hypothesis we observe the following:

  • There are some weird echos between the children of Peter and Janet and those of Peter’s alleged uncle Robert 1677 of Leochel-Cushnie, and his wife Jean Matthewson 1685 of Oyne. Peter and Janet have a son Robert 1717 of Aboyne, married to Jannet Dun (alias Dune) 1714 of Kincardine O’Neil. Some researchers have assigned a son Robert 1717 of Oyne, married to Janet Dunn 1720 of unknown origin, Robert and Jean. I’ll refer readers to Jannet, Margaret, and Isobel untangle the post-Jacobite Roberts, where I detail the invaluable work done by Kevin Cromar of Utah in his study of the Roberts. This tangle, found just about everywhere one finds research that pre-dates Kevin’s work, probably explains this echo.
  • While there is a lot of documentary evidence among members of this tree, there’s simply not enough to make a hard and fast theory out of this hypothesis. Documentation is just too full of holes. Examples:
    • There is no primary source that definitively links Peter to Jhon, only circumstantial evidence.
    • There is no primary source that established Janet’s origin beyond doubt, again only circumstance.
    • Peter’s alleged father Jhon is not documented by birth in Leochel-Cushnie, whereas his brothers Robert and James are.

Conclusion | This hypothesis is plausible, but only if we are willing to accept circumstantial evidence in place of primary source documentation.

Parallel Universe I: Glencoe roots

The possibility that Peter Cromar or his forbears began as members of the Clan MacDonald or a sept thereof, became refugees of a persecution most likely being the infamous Massacre of Glencoe, and took the name Cromar after landing in Aberdeenshire, remained a persistent rumor in my family’s oral history. But a rumor it remained for many decades, unsubstantiated by any kind of record. After all, if you are trying to hide, you don’t leave breadcrumbs, right?

When I started this journal and acquainted myself with Ron Cromar’s genealogical work, echoes of this same oral history informed his conclusion that this rumor was true. Again, there is no objective record to corroborate it, but the fact that this same story, with the same details, existed independently for so long in two branches of the family having no contact with which to coordinate said details, is not insignificant.

Now comes a third instance of this story.

I’ve lately had the pleasure of collaborating with Wendy Cromar Mathers and her daughter Jessica McDonald, both residing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Wendy’s branch of the family includes her father Colin Douglas Leslie Cromar. Her discovery of my entry for Colin in Peter Cromar’s descendancy database began a collaboration that in part has helped her and Jessica create an e-publication, The Cromars: an account of our ancestors and, therefore, ourselves, published this past Christmas.

There is much to enjoy about their work, and I plan to incorporate their findings into my own research when I return to a long-delayed exploration of the Cromar-Robb diaspora. But most striking in pursuit of the Glencoe hypothesis is the story they tell, from which I quote here liberally:

Peter [Cromar] has an almost primogenitor-like standing at the apex of this descendancy, due to his appearance seemingly from nowhere, and what also seems like a very dominant memorial monument in the same local graveyard, installed by a later Cromar generation sometime after 1915 that marks the beginning of their lineage with his name.

With the Pollbook of 1696 to help us identify all the possible living people who could have been his parents, how is it possible that we reach a dead end? Believe it or not, the answer may lie in the family lore clue of a Macdonald ancestor who fled the Glencoe massacre.

-from The Cromars: an account of our ancestors and, therefore, ourselves

From there, Wendy and Jessica provide an account of the well-known Massacre, then continue:

When Jessica Mathers became engaged to Michael McDonald, several family members commented that she was really already a McDonald, albeit spelled as Macdonald (to which Michael commented that the McDonalds were originally MacDonalds, but that is another story).

As we pieced this together, it appears that it partly stems from detailed handwritten notes by Colin Cromar, which were stored away inside his book “The Prehistoric Antiquities of the Howe of Cromar” which had been handed down to and kept by his daughter Wendy. Her husband John, who was a detailed reader of every book and with a great interest in history, had internalized these notes and quoted them back at this point to Jessica.

When Jessica mentioned it to her grandmother Violet, she recognized and validated this history and further added to it that her husband, Colin Cromar, had all their lives together had a habit of constantly repeating the off-colour chant “the Campbells are coming, the Campbells are coming, ye ken by the smell”.

This was further substantiated by Jessica’s mother Wendy, who says it was a constant refrain and that there was a first line to this verse, quote: “the Campbells are coming, the Campbells are coming, they’re kicking up hell”.

-from The Cromars: an account of our ancestors and, therefore, ourselves

So what does the presence of a third instance of the Glencoe origin story mean?

Pros | Multiple versions of an oral history support this hypothesis thus:

  • All three oral histories are closely aligned in their detail. This alignment is significant because these three oral histories were kept by three different branches of the family, independently and without cross-corroboration, in three different places (the west coast of Canada, the east coast of the USA, and Aberdeenshire) for decades.
  • The likelihood that there is no truth to back up each of these independent oral histories is vanishingly small: what is the probability that three family branches in three widely dispersed places would fabricate exactly the same origin fable?

Cons | The challenge faced by this construct:

  • If we are not to be hypocritical, we must apply the same standard of documentation here that we’ve applied in our critiques of all the other hypotheses above. This oral history is still hearsay until documentation is unearthed.

Conclusion | If we can claim a scientific method standard of repeatability has any bearing here, the presence of multiple independent instances of an oral history might elevate the status of this from hypothesis to theory.

Having said that, Wendy and Jessica are proposing ways to develop a record that would support our theory. Among other things they have a Victorian ring with a Cromar hair sample that can be subjected to DNA analysis, and they have proposed the creation of a DNA group that could bring the ancestors of Glencoe survivors together in a community. I hope to do what I can to assist with that effort!

A New Year post-script

I’d like to note in passing that 2022 saw an explosion of interest in this journal: over 300 visitors accessed the site for over 1000 page views. Altogether, since I founded Cromarville in May 2021, over 500 visitors have access over 1600 page views, and comments have led to several instances of collaboration. For a boutique blog with a hyper-niche subject and mission, I consider this great success and I thank all readers for this!