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Lawrie Genealogy

Many years ago, I asked myself who were the Lawries? I had spent my early years in Manchester before my mother took us back to her home in Inverness for Secondary schooling. Were the Lawrie kindred of Scottish or English origin? Where could I find the earliest trace of them?

I started with published works on names in Scotland and England. How did the name come about? There may be various possibilities, perhaps a relationship name from the Scottish personal name Laurie, or a diminutive of Laur (a pet form of Laurence or Lawrence). Compare with Laurison and the English surname Lawry.

The Oxford Dictionary of names: lists variants: Lawrie, Lowrie, Laurie, Lowry, Lourie • Current frequencies: in GB 3979, and in Ireland 24
In 1881, the disctionary gave the GB frequency as: 2812 occurences with the greatest GB locations in Midlothian and Lanarkshire:

Early bearers of variants of the name in Scotland:
Gilbert Lowrie of Coldingham, 1497 in Black ;
David Lowry, a kings officer, of Edinburgh in 1529 found in Irvine Muniments (Irvine, Lanarks);
James Lowrey, appointed a burgess and freeman of the City of Glasgow in 1600,

IGI: Margaret Lourie, 1564 in IGI (Dunfermline, Fife);
Robert Lawrie, 1604; Lowrie, 1648; Issobill Lourie, 1649 in IGI (Aberdeen, Aberdeens);
Robert Lowrie , 1613, James Laurie , 1628 in IGI (Glasgow, Lanarks);
Johne Lourie , 1619 in IGI (Leith, Midlothian);
Agnis Laurie , 1654 in IGI (Dalkeith, Midlothian);
Robert Lourie , 1689 in IGI (Corstorphine, Midlothian).

In England: Laury , a pet form of Laurence or Lawrence.
Early bearers: England: Simon filius Lari, 1197 in Feet of Fines (Lincs);
William Larie, 1279 in Hundred Rolls (Bucks);
Robert Lowri, dated 1332, in the "Subsidy Rolls of Land Tenure of Cumberland";
John Laury, 1459 in Cornish Lands (Saint Ervan, Cornwall);
Richard Loury, 1499 in Cornish Lands (Saint Breock, Cornwall);
Grace Lawrye, 1572, Margaretta Lawrie , 1586 in IGI (Saint Mellion, Cornwall);
Mary Laury, 1600 in IGI (Saint Germans, Cornwall);
John Lowry, 1619 in IGI ... Joseph Lourie , 1789 in IGI (Newburn, Northumb).
Gavin Laurie was an early governor of the colony of New Jersey, in 1757.

The apparently earlier origin of the name in England is due to the earlier use of surnames in England and better survival of records rather than any migration of Lawrie ancestors North of the border! The common factor is likely to be church dedications to St Laurence.

There are many documented variations on name: Lari, Lauri, Laurie, Laurri, Laury, Lawrie, Lawry, Larrie, Larry, Lowry, Lourie, Lowrie, Loury, Lowrry. ("y" is usually Scots-Irish) Prior to the 19th century spelling variants are not important, the keeper of the register would write whatever he heard, so Lowrie, Lawrie, Laurie can be recorded over a period for births to the same parents.

Despite the preponderance of the name in the Lothians and Lanarkshire, and with other Lawrie families in the Borders and South-West from the fifteenth century, including the barony of Maxweltoun (family of Annie Laurie of the ballad); there could be an origin in North-East Scotland from Angus to the adjoining county of Aberdeenshire.
Lour is a place in Inverarity near Forfar, Angus. (Lord Lour became Earl of Northesk).
This group with the name could be derived from James de Lour (ad1250) and Jacobus de Lur, a juror 1257.
William Lowar, a burgess of Arbroath 1458.
John de Lowre was a councillor to the Earls of Crawford in 1458.

there were at least 11 medieval churches, 6 chapels and 2 hospices dedicated to St Lawrence around Scotland. Foundlings were often named after the local saint.
From: Ancient church dedications in Scotland, McKinlay, James Murray; Edinburgh, D. Douglas, 1910-14.

Churches: Lundie; Edzell; Rossieclerah; Portmoak; Forres; Fordyce (Banffshire); Burray (Orkney); Rayne (Aberdeenshire); Slamannan (Stirling); Morebattle (Roxburgh); Bondington (Berwickshire)
Chapels: Bankhead, (Cunningham, Ayrshire); Overkelwood (Dumfries); Fairgirth (Kirkcudbright); Perth; Stonehouse (Lanarkshire); Beaufort Castle (Inverness-shire).
Hospices: Peebles; Haddington. The modern surnames Lawrence and Lawrie with all their variants have multiple origins.

The name has also been suggested as deriving from the Gaelic "Labhruidh" meaning "the spokesman". Griogair Labhruidh (pronounced Low-ri) is a Gaelic poet, musician, and Hip Hop producer/MC with strong roots in the Gaelic tradition of Ballachulish in the Scottish Highlands. In 2014, he became the main vocalist for the Gaelic supergroup Dàimh.

The more usual derivation is from the Latin "Laurentius", which meant "victory". (Hence the laurel crown awarded in Rome to a victorious legate). The early church at Edzell, Forfarshire, was dedicated to St Laurence the Martyr who was martyred in Rome in 258 A.D. A well in the churchyard of Edzell may have been named the 'lourie'; Also the bell donated in 1351 to St Nicholas church in Aberdeen was also known as 'the lourie'.

“Placenames of W. Aberdeen”, Spalding Club, 1899, gives Lowrie as a the name of a field in Nether Dumeath, Glass parish (Banff) on the Deveron, 7 miles West of Huntly.

I have tested my DNA with FTDNA.COM. So far, I have no close matches among the people who have tested so far. My nearest, though distant, match is in the Netherlands. FTDNA indicates the probability of our comon ancestor at 99% between 20 and 24 generations, or 600-800 years. I found, from searching European birth indices, that 17th century variants on the name - such as Laurijs - are quite common. Therefore it is quite possible that my Lawrie ancestor had migrated to Scotland from the near continent at some time before 1650. It appears that from the 12th to 17th century such migration of sailors, traders and craftsmen to the East coast burghs was quite common.

I have come to the conclusion that ‘Lawrie’ and its variants are likely to be of multiple origin with no one single founding eponym or place of origin. It could be that some descend from foundlings named for the local church dedication to St Laurence. These multiple origins may explain why I have not, so far, found a match to any of the Lawries who have tested their DNA (Lawry group on FTDNA for instance, and two independent testees whom I have contacted).

The Clan MacLaren list "Lawrie" as a recognized sept of the clan. I read somewhere that their justification was based on a fugitive 17th century MacLaren who found refuge in NE Scotland and adopted Lawrie as an alias. However, their current claim appears to be that all Lawries and Lawrences, however spelt, are automatically MacLarens!

It was also the case that in the later 18th century, Highlanders trying to obtain work on the estates bordering the Highlands encountered considerable prejudice and often had to change their name, thus MacTaggart became "Priest", Macaree became "King" and so MacLaren might become "Lawrie".

The Clan MacLaren claim that their eponym or founder was Laurence, the Abbot of Achtow in Balquhidder, who supposedly lived during the thirteenth century.
An alternative, according to Hilton Lamar McLaurin, is that the claim for a Balquhidder origin is based on errors in interpretation of 15th century documents by W F Skene in 1837 and particularly by James Logan in 1845. McLaurin's view is that the Abbot of Auchtow in Balquhidder never existed. Laurence de Ergadia, who was  born around 1220, became Bishop of Argyll in 1264 until his death in 1299. His descendents took the Gaelic name mhic Labhruinn (pronounced VicLaurin). They were minor tenants of the Stewarts of Appin. A few of them appear to have been transplanted to the area around Loch Earn, including Balquhidder as part of the expansion of the Campbells in the early 16th century.

Thus, the MacLarens do appear to descend from a clerical Lawrence - which does not in any way make all Lawries members of Clan MacLaren!

As an aside, Lowrie is a Scots word referring to a fox or a crafty person. Perhaps a character definition of one possible ancestor?

Moving on to my research into my own antecedents, my Aunt Jean Lawrie (who died aged 97 in 2016) informed me that the family had come to Lancashire from Tillicoultry in Clackmannan. Jean's grandfather (my great-grandfather) John Lawrie and his brother Robert had relocated to Rochdale in 1876 or 77 when unusually heavy rain over the Ochil Hills caused extensive flooding and damage to the mills which depended on the usually manageable streams which flowed down the hillsides. In Rochdale, the brothers set up a business distributing boots and shoes.

My next step, assuming that the Clackmannan area had been the family origin, was to consult the memorial records for the burial grounds around Tillicoultry but found hardly any Lawries there.

Eventually, in the 1871 census, I found John Lawrie (1789-1873) living with his grandson, Hugh Lawrie, in Union Street, Tillicoultry. John's place of birth was recorded in the census as Turriff in Aberdeenshire. I subsequently discovered that John had a sister Janet, born in 1786, who had married James Fife in Turriff. Their son, John Fife, was listed in the 1851 census of Tillicoultry, where he was lodging in the house of his cousin, Hugh Lawrie.

So the trail now took me to Turriff, and the next step was to call up the old parish records (OPRs) on microfilm for Turriff and the adjoining parishes in Western Aberdeenshire: Gamrie, King Edward and Montquhitter. In a painstaking study from the end of the films back to the beginning, I noted down every occurence of a Lawrie birth or marriage (including spelling variants). Once I had reconstructed the families of these farm workers, I was able to go to the coastal burgh of Banff for the most likely birth of John Lawrie in 1712 (yet another one - there are nine generations of them!!). The Banff OPR is one of the rare but brilliant and meticulously kept sources. I wish there were more like it! The OPRs for the Aberdeenshire parishes are not as good as that for Banff, with gaps in the sequence. I have to stress that assuming that the John Lawrie in Gamrie, King Edward & Montquhitter with children born to Margaret Bannerman between 1751 and 1769, is the same as the John Lawrie born in Banff to William Lowrie and Jean Anton in 1712 is my best guess based on the sources available.

However, this took me back to William Lowrie, his possible great-grandfather who had family in Banff in the 1650s and who appeared in a number of censures by the Kirk session for misdemeanours, such as being "drunk in kirk" and fighting.

Then I found the (Presbyterian) minister of Banff and Boyndie in 1562 (immediately after Reformation) was William Lawrie, MA Glasgow. Following up on the reference in 'Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters’, 1560-1633 I ordered Durkan's University of Glasgow 1451-1577 and found this on page 200 - "William Lawtie (not Lawrie?), the future minister of Banff and Inverboyndie, graduated Master in Glasgow in July 1543, aged about seventeen and is later found with the archdeacon in Peebles, the archdeacon's prebendial kirk. From there he went to Cullen, where the collegiate church was of the archdeacon's foundation, becoming chaplain of St Anne's and song schoolmaster. It is only because he was registered as a notary in February 1564 that we learn that before moving to Cullen he was a clerk of the Glasgow diocese and born near Glasgow at Lochwinnoch. However, I do have considerable doubts as to whether Lawtie and Lawrie are variations on the same name.

Banff session and parish records start in the mid 17th century, so I speculated from the Lawtie Minister in 1562 to fill gap to 1650.
A William Lawtie (Lawrie?), who was born in 1526, graduated MA Glasgow 1543, and was appointed the Minister of Banff, Cullen, Fordyce, Inverboyndie from 1562. He died in Banff 1589 leaving a widow and family (according to the Fasti). If perhaps, he married in the 1560s, it is possible that a grandson, or great grandson might be the William Lowrie I refer to. However, as I mentioned my doubts above, I have come to the conclusion that Lawrie (and its spelling variants) are not the same as Lawtie. I note on that in the 1841 census there were 4 Lawtie families living in Banffshire, which represented 100% of all the recorded Lawties in Scotland. This makes one wonder what happened to the Lawties of Lochwinnoch from whence he came?

It is clear from the documentation on the location of early Lawries around Scotland that the majority lay in two groups, some around Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife, while the others were in the Western counties of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. Very few can be found in the North-East. There was one well-to-do Lowrie in the hearth tax list who was a merchant in Aberdeen.

The 1696 hearth tax list for the parishes of Aberdeenshire (List of Pollable persons within the shire of Aberdeen) included just these individual Lawries.
In the Toune and Freedom of Aberdeen: "Charles Lowrie, merchant, stock above 10,000 merks, for himselfe and wife, no child ; servants, William Lowrie".
listed elsewhere in Aberdeen was "Lawrie Marnoch, for himselfe and wife, no child nor servant" - I'm not sure if this was a firstname or surname?
In King Edward parish, at Milnseatt, "Walter Lowrie, grassman there and Margaret Smart his spouse" were sub-tenants of Alexander Baxter;
In the parish of Turriff, "George Laurie, a servant" under Alexander Pantoun in Slap;
In the parish of Auchterless, "John Lourie, a servant" under John Neper at Miln of Towie;
In Ruthen & Botarie, (now the parish of Cairnie in Strathbogie) "Walter Lowrie with Walter, Jane & Issobel his children;"
An equivalent list of polled persons in Banff does not survive, only the summary return.

As shown in my page on William Lowrie (circa 1650) in Banff, he appears to have been a solitary who gave rise to a number of descendent families with occupations of weaver, workman or gardener in Banff who had a less than respectful relationship with the burgh authorities. My contention is that several of these moved in the early 18th century into the adjoining parishes of Western Aberdeenshire, perhaps adding to the very few already there in the 1696 hearth tax list.

There was a good reason for assuming a movement of labourers from a coastal burgh into the inland farming zone at the start of the 18th century. "King Billie's ill years" was a period of national famine in Scotland during the 1690s, caused by an economic slump and four years of failed harvests (1695, 1696 and 1698–99). The famines of the 1690s were remembered as particularly severe and the last of their kind. It has been estimated that starvation probably killed 5–15 per cent of the Scottish population, but in Aberdeenshire death rates reached 25 per cent. The Old Scottish Poor Law was overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, although provision in the urban centres of the burghs was probably better than in the countryside. The famine led to migration between parishes and emigration to England, Europe, the Americas and particularly Ireland. In terms of my investigation into the Lawries, a shortage of farm labour may well have tempted John Lawrie, or perhaps his father William to take a fee along the coast in Gamrie, with John later moving inland to King Edward and Montquhitter.

North-East farmworkers at the time worked on a fee basis, being hired for 6 months or a year at a time. Unmarried workers might lodge with the farmer, but married workers could expect a basic cot house. Thus the observed movements of John Lawrie and Margaret Bannerman as identified by the baptism of their nine children in three adjoining parishs of Gamrie (on the coast next to Banff), King Edward and Montquhitter might be typical of this class of farm labourers in the 18th century. I believe the births of John & Catherine's children - Janet & John Lawrie - in Montquhitter (close to Turriff, a growing local population centre) in 1786 and 1789 does tie in to the last three baptisms of John & Margaret's children in Tillymauld, Montquhitter.

I have noted in the Mormon records available online a different analysis of the 18th century Lawrie families found in these parishes, but I consider that to be wrong.

One can enter the genealogy by clicking on any of the following links. Each page has links forwards and backwards as well.

1. Family of William Lowrie (circa 1650) in Banff
2. Family of Walter Lowrie (circa 1650 to 1733) in Banff.
3. Family of William Lowrie (1675 -1758) in Banff.
4. Family of John Lowrie (1688-1742) in Banff.
5. Family of John Lawrie (1712-1781) in Gamrie, King Edward & Montquhitter
6. Family of John Lawrie (1789-1873) in Perths & Clacks
7. Family of Hugh Lawrie (1830 - 13/4/79) in Tillicoultry
8. Family of John Lawrie (3/6/1855 - 3/7/1890) in Rochdale, Lancs
9. Family of William MacFarlane in Blackford
10. Family of John MacEwan in Monievaird & Muthil
12. Family of John Ferguson in Kilbryde, by Dunblane
13. Family of John Forbes Lawrie (30/4/1886 - 17/8/1967) in Manchester
14. Maps showing property of John Forbes Lawrie in Blackley and Harpurhey
Family of Samuel Cheetham (1826-1862) in Rochdale
Family of William Cheetham (b.1700) in Rydings, Lancs
Family of William Hartley(1703-1789) in Heptonstall