My route to a One Name Study began some 25 years ago when I had the good fortune to be able to talk to many relatives, including several elderly great aunts and a great grandmother who gave me access to a quantity of old wills, and insurance policies. But these were my wife‘s relatives from Lincolnshire and Staffordshire, my own family residing in Australia. Thus at an early date I came up against the hurdle of researching my paternal line in Ireland. I resorted to using a local researcher which was moderately successful back to 1845 or so when registration was introduced, but tailed off when research was needed through the many subsidiary records such as Parish Registers, Griffiths Valuation; Tithe Applotments; Muster Rolls and the like.

At this juncture, I took to researching an old family story - told to my father in 1932 by an elderly great aunt of his (she was in her 80‘s and father 18 at the time) of an alleged connection with the family of William Orr of Farranshane. Family stories, as we all know, tend to be gilded in the re telling but may occasionally contain a grain of truth. William Orr (1766 - 1797 ) was a farmer in the townland of Farranshane, Co. Antrim and a member of the ‘United Irishmen‘ whose original aims sought equality for all under the law, regardless of religious persuasion. In the turmoil of those times and fear of war with France an Insurrection Act was passed and it was deemed a treasonable act to administer the oath of membership for the United Irishman. William was alleged to have done so, was arrested and tried.

There was great sympathy for William and many considered it a trumped up charge. Indeed the jury was locked in a room and were copiously supplied with food and whiskey until they reached a decision. A ‘guilty‘ verdict was followed by attempts to have it overturned - the foreman was an elderly man who was so confused he did not know what he was doing and one of the two soldiers who were witnesses was of unsound mind. The judge himself cried when passing down the mandatory sentence of death. Appeals were made to the powers that be but it is clear that the government wanted to make an example of William and he was executed at Carrickfergus, Co Antrim on 14 October 1797, and the cry “Remember Orr” was a watchword in the Rebellion that broke out in 1798. His speech from the dock is a humbling address:

“ My friends and fellow-countrymen-In the thirty first year of my life I have been sentenced to die upon the gallows and this sentence has been in pursuance of a verdict of twelve men who should have been indifferently and impartially chosen. How far they have been so, I leave to that country from which they have been chosen to determine ; and how far they have discharged their duty, I leave to their God and to themselves. They have, in pronouncing their verdict, thought proper to recommend me as an object of humane mercy. In return, I pray to God, if they have erred, to have mercy upon them. The judge who condemned me humanely shed tears in uttering, my sentence. But whether he did wisely in so highly commending the wretched informer, who swore away my life, I leave to his own cool reflection, solemnly him and all the world, with my dying breath, that that informer was foresworn.

The law under which I suffer is surely a severe one-rnay the makers and promoters of it be justified in the integrity of their motives, and the purity of their own lives ! By that law I am stamped a felon, but my heart disdains the imputation.

My comfortable lot, and industrious course of life, best refute the charge of being an adventurer for plunder; but if to have loved my countrv, to have known its wrongs, to have felt the injuries of the persecuted Catholics, and to have united with them and all other religious persuasions in the most orderly and least sanguinary means of procuring redress. If those be felonies, I am a felon, but not otherwise. Had my counsel (for whose honorable exertions I am indebted) prevailed in their motions to have me tried for high treason, rather than under the insurrection law, I should have been entitled to a full defence, and my actions have been better vindicated; but that was refused, and I must now submit to what has passed.

To the generous protection of my country I leave a beloved wife who has been constant and true to me, and whose grief for my fate has already nearly occasioned her death. I have five living children, who have been my delight. May they love their country as I have done, and die for it if needfull

[ Lastly, a false and ungenerous publication having appeared in a newspaper, stating certain alleged confessions of guilt on my part, and striking at my reputation, which is dearer to me than life. I take this solemn method of contradicting the calumny. I was applied to by the high-sheriff, and the Rev. William Bristow, sovereign of Belfast, to make a confession of guilt; who used entreaties to that effect; this I peremptorily refused. If I thought myself guilty, I would freely confess it, but, on the contrary, I glory in my innocence. ]

I trust that all my virtuous countrymen will bear me in their kind remembrance, and continue true and faithful to each other as I have been to all of them. With this last wish of my heart-nothing doubting of the success of that cause for which I suffer, and hoping for God‘s merciful forgiveness of such offences as my frail nature may have at any time betrayed me into - I die in peace and charity with all mankind. “

The researching of William Orr‘s life and times led to in depth reading and acquisition of works about the 1798 Revolution, thence back to The Plantation of Ireland ca 1610. I was fortunate to find a specialist book seller John Gamble, of Emerald Isle Books, Belfast, who kindly copied a manuscript ‘family tree‘ of William Orr that he came across and he found for me a copy of“ Ulster Pedigrees. Descendants, in Many Lines,of James Orr and Janet McClement who emigrated from Scotland to Northern Ireland ca 1607 “ This latter work by Ray A Jones builds on an earlier genealogy by Gawin Orr of Castlereigh (1756 - 1830) that is in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast. Ray Jones‘ book is in the Library of Congress , Catalog Card 77-82468 and on film in the Library of the Latter Day Saints, Utah.

This wealth of information did not, however, take me forward in the research of my paternal line but opened another area of interest - the Orr origins in Scotland. From reading about the The Plantation and the history of the Montgomery and Hamilton families who settled the larger parts of Co Antrim and Co Down from ca 1606, there was a lead directly to the West coast and Renfrewshire. In particular there have been Orrs around the Parish of Lochwinnoch for some 700 years. The earliest found is one Hew Orr who gave an oath of allegiance to Edward I in 1296 (the Ragmans Rolls). There is a record of four persons named Or being called before the Abbott of Paisley in 1503. There is evidence too of the Orr family being supporters of Clan Campbell - John Or was a follower of Campbell of Cawdor in 1578. Orr is an acknowledged sept of Clan Campbell and appears in a list of associated names at Inveraray Castle,the home of His Grace the Duke of Argyll and MacCailein Mor., Chief of Clan Campbell. The name did not, as some may think, stem from a diminutive of MacGregor nor from the French d‘or (gold). The family name existed for at least 300 years before the MacGregor name was proscribed by King James VI of Scotland , James.I of England, in 1603.

Yet another knock on for me was the extent of the emigration from both Ireland and Scotland to the Colonies. We may think of North America, both Canada and the United States, as the main destination but there were other adventurers who went to the West Indies, South America - Argentina, Chile, and literally up the Amazon. Then of course, the deportation of prisoners to ‘the Colonies ‘ and especially to Australia and New Zealand which is said to have led to the nickname “Pommie” from POHMIE - Prisoner of His Majesty in Exile.

Many of these emigrants and adventurers were not only fleeing poverty, religious and social persecution but were enticed by the thought of a better life and free or exceedingly cheap land. To many anything was better than the environment from which they came; they were incredibly resolute and also remarkably mobile for their time. They went to Canada and the wilds of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia; to the humidity of Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia; to New York, Pennsylvania; and the Ohio valley. Some were in the Mormon trek to Utah. In all these places they made their mark by fighting off the native Indians, clearing land and establishing townships some bearing the Orr name - Orrville, Wayne Co. Ohio is such a place named after an early pioneer Judge Smith Orr, son of Samuel Orr who went to America in 1801.Living a hard ,frugal, life the family managed to buy small plots of land and gradually accumulated some 300 acres.Some of this land was used to found the township that bears the family name.

The Orrs also made their contribution to the emerging United States . They were undoubtedly involved in the slave trade and were slave owners. Indeed this is clearly evidenced in several hundred Black American families in the Southern USA bearing the surname Orr. A Hugh Orr (1717-1788) from Lochwinnoch was a manufacturer of edge tools - ploughshares, and invented agricultural machinery. He was also a gun maker who supplied the Revolutionary Army, and later a Senator who represented Plymouth, Massachusetts. His son Col. Robert Orr was the armourer of the arsenal at Springfield. Alexander Ector Orr from Strabane, Co Tyrone was a pioneer of the subways in New York City. James Laurence Orr (1822 - 1873) was governor of South Carolina and Speaker of the House of Representatives. A later Orr - Andrew, was also Speaker.

In my rambles through history I had accumulated a substantial amount of individual Orr data which was not of direct relevance to my blood line and I wondered what to do with it. I knew that it represented some 20 years of dabbling and would probably be of interest to other Orr researchers. How then could I continue my wider interests (as they had become) and build on what information I had ?. Fate, or maybe it was good fortune, directed me to the GOONS. I felt some trepidation in joining the ‘professionals‘ but my aims and objectives were consistent with the Society‘s and so I joined.

When I look around at the extent of some One Name Studies with perhaps only a couple of hundred individuals and their researcher burrowing away in a narrow geographical area I sometimes feel a fraud. My catchment area is the world and the Orr population far greater than I anticipated - 90,000 in the USA (1990 Census statistics); 9730 in the UK (1997 Electoral Rolls) and several thousands more in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I have now passed 100,000 entries in my Orr databases. . Some may regard a study of this kind as ‘stamp collecting‘ in another guise - perhaps it is , but I‘m not proud, I will gladly accept Orr information from anyone anywhere, any time. Who knows, a future Orr researcher just might be glad of my efforts.

On the up side I have acquired a number of Orr family trees from Scotland, Ireland, Iowa, Ohio, Alabama, Australia and New Zealand and made contact with very many ‘cousins‘ around the world. I enjoy it and wish I had started sooner. So if there is a message in my tale, it is for those who ‘hit the brick wall‘ - don`t give up, look around you, there are other ways of pursuing your genealogical interests, why not a One Name Study ?

The substance of this article was first published in The Journal, magazine of the Guild of One Name Studies, Vol.6 No.9,January 1999. with some later amendments made now by the author

Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material