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Genealogy confirms Grassic Gibbon’s crie de coeur, “ … daft the journey, but the journeying good”.  We often start our researches with a clear target in view.  Months (even years) later, after meandering hesitatingly towards the knowledge we sought, we have gone down a host of byways and even a few dead-ends.  The break-through comes when we learn to value the diversions as much as the destination.

My g-g-g-g-g grandmother, Elspet Marr, was married to William Fowler.  Their first child, Jean Fowler, was born in Aberdeen in 1778.  The witnesses at Jean Fowler’s baptism were John Fowler, miller in Aberdeen, and Alexander Marr, farmer in Nether Banchory.  Therafter William Fowler and Elspet Marr resided on the farm of Hilldowntree (or Yieldingtree as it is noted on at least one map) in the parish of Banchory Devenick in Kincardineshire, where William Fowler was a miller.
It seemed at least worthwhile to attempt a search for any Elspet Marr daughter of Alexander Marr in the vicinity of Aberdeen or Banchory Devenick or for any Alexander Marr, farming at Nether Banchory.  St Nicholas OPR records, in 1747, the baptism of Elspet Marr, daughter of Alexander Marr and Jean Marr.  Familysearch then revealed at least one other child born to an Alexander Marr and a Jean Marr (whether the same Alexander and Jean was, of course, at this stage entirely uncertain) in Peterculter in 1741.  The IGI also showed a rash of births of children in a very brief period (late 1740-early 1741) in the parish of Peterculter to a man or men by the name of Alexander Marr.  Peterculter OPR proved they were indeed to one man.
Marr    Decr 30 1740
            Alexr Marr in Pittengullies had a child begot in uncleanness with Margt Smith baptized called Alexander
 Marr    Janry 4 1741
            The @ Alexr Marr in Pittengullies has had a child begot in uncleanness with Margt Margaret (sic) Smith Dghtr to Wm Smith in Inch baptized called Margaret
 Marr    Febry 17 1741
            Alexr Marr in Pittengullies had a child begot in uncleanness with Jean Marr baptized called Hugh
Alexander Marr in Pittengulies had three children baptised within seven weeks.  They were all illegitimate. The first intriguing question however, is whether they were to two or three different women, since the mothers of both the first child and the second child were named Margaret Smith.  Next to be checked were the Session Minutes.  It transpired that on 21 September 1740 the Minister of Peterculter, having been
…informed of Margt Smith in Inch her being with Child in Uncleanness & that she gave Alexr Marr in Pittengullies for the father of it, he had caused them both to be summoned to this Diet, who accordingly being call’d, compear’d Margt Smith & being interrogate as what was laid to her Charge, judicially acknowledged her being with Child & that Alexr Marr in Pittengullies was the father of it, and that it was begot in the month of March last; Al. Marr being likewise call’d compear’d and having had her judicial Confession read to him acknowledged Guilt with her.  They were both examined as to their Knowledge & Sense of Sin, exhorted to Repentance, and Margt Smith was ordered to begin her appearance this day fortnight.
Margaret Smith appeared before the congregation three times in the month of October  “under process for Fornication with Alexr Marr”, was duly rebuked and, on the third occasion, was absolved.
On the 9 November 1740 however the Minister of Peterculter had further, and somewhat embarrassing, information for his Session
 Jean Marr, his Servant had acknowledged herself with Child in Fornication & that he had ordered her to attend this Diet of Sess. who having been call’d compear’d & being interrogate judicially acknowledged her being with Child, and that Alexr Marr in Pittengullies was the Father of it.  She was examined as to her Knowledge & Sense of Sin, rebuk’d & exhorted to Repentance & ordered to attend the Sess. when called.  The Sess. ordered Alexr Marr to be summoned agt tomorrow.
Alexander Marr was not only again accused of fornication but with the servant of the Minister.  The sin had, as it were, been conducted under the minister’s nose.  That same meeting of Session however was to hear another accusation.
Marg Smith Daughter to Wm Smith in Inch having been this day delated as suspected of being with Child in Uncleanness was ordered to be summoned against tomorrow.
This Margaret Smith, noted as daughter of William Smith, is patently the mother of Alexander Marr’s second child, Margaret.  Is she the same Margaret Smith as the mother of his first child, Alexander?  It is not, in principle, impossible for the mother of a child baptised in December to be the same person as the mother of a child baptised in January.  It would require the first child to have been born at least eight months earlier and the baptism to have been delayed some time.  That was not common in Scotland.  Baptism usually followed fairly closely after birth.  The Session minute of 21st September however invalidates this theory.  The young Alexander Marr, baptised on December 30th, was “begot in the month of March last”.  The two Margaret Smiths therefore must be separate individuals.  The consistently used denomination of the second Margaret Smith, “daughter to William Smith in Inch”, (as distinct from the first named Margaret Smith, “Margaret Smith in Inch”) suggests that, given the same names and the same abode, these two women were differentiated in the records by the use of the second’s father’s name.
Alexander Marr appeared before the Session on 10th November in respect of the pregnancy of the minister’s servant, Jean Marr, and, in the customary and frequently repeated formula of the times,
… having had Jean Marr’s Confession read to him, judiciously acknowledged Guilt with her, he was rebuk’d, exhorted to repentance and ordered to attend the session when called. 
At this stage the Session was aware of the pregnancy of the second Margaret Smith, the daughter of William Smith in Inch, but remained unaware of the father of her child.  Four days later however, on 14th November, the minister
 … acquainted them that Margt Smith having acknowledged herself with Child in Uncleanness and given Alexr Marr in Pittengullies for the Father of it, & hearing that Alexr Marr was soon to go off, he thought proper to call them without delay, and therefore that he had order’d the ….. (illegible) Margt Smith and Alexr Marr to be summoned to this Diet, who being call’d compear’d only Margt Smith, and being interrogate as to her being with Child, that Alexr Marr in Pittengulies was the Father of it & that it was begotten in the beginning of May, she was examined as to her Knowledge and Sense of Sin, rebuk’d and exhorted to repentance.
Alexander Marr however was not to be let off lightly.  Non-attendance and the threat that he “ … was soon to go off…” forced on the Session desperate remedies.  Since Alexander Marr failed to appear before the Session, the Session removed itself and appeared before him.
Alexr Marr not compearing, the Sess adjourned to Pittengullies, where Alexr Marr being again called compear’d & having had Margt Smith’s confession read to him, judiciously acknowledged Guilt with her, he was rebuked, exhorted to repentance & summoned apud acta to the Presby to meet at Aberdeen the 26 Current to whom the Sess referred this affair for their direction.
Unfortunately no record survives in the minutes of Aberdeen Presbytery in relation to Alexander Marr’s case.  The Minister however, at the next Session on 30th November, reported that
Al Marr had attended the Preby who had appointed him to appear before the Congregation in Sackcloth, who being call’d in, had the same again intimate to him & was ordered to attend the Sess when called.
His public humiliation therefore was in a harsh and traditional form.  In the weeks that followed, Margaret Smith, the daughter of William Smith, and Jean Marr both appeared before the Session and were rebuked.  On the 21st December Jean Marr
 … compeared craving to be absolved from the process agst her, she was examined as to her Knowledge & Sense of Sin, exhorted to Repentance, & the Minr having promised to see her penalty paid she was allowed to appear next Lord’s Day to be absolved. 
No explanation is given for the somewhat unusual circumstance of the Minister paying the fine for Jean Marr.  It can only be surmised that his embarrassment at his own servant’s failings, and at his own failure to prevent her fall from grace, led to his paying the fine.  On the 1st February Margaret Smith, daughter of William Smith, also appeared before the Session,
… under process for Fornication with Al Marr compeared craving she might be absolved from the Scandal she was under, she was examined as to her Knowledge & Sense of Sin, exhorted to Repentance, & her Father having engaged for her penalty, was allowed to appear this day & be absolved ….
Over the period between January 1741 and January 1742, Alexander Marr appeared six times before the Session for rebuke.  On 10th January 1742 the Session minute notes:
From Presby – Alexr Marr paid in £7 – 16 – 0.
This marks a truly substantial fine for this epoch.  When viewed beside his public appearance in sackcloth, the justifiably differential nature of the judgement against him compared to that against the women, is clear and apparent.
For the next three years nothing is heard of Alexander Marr.  On August 5th 1745 however, he reappears in the minutes of Peterculter Session.
Alexr Marr in Pittengullies having been this day delated to Sess for yoking his horses & leading Peats upon the last Fast Day, whereby Scandal was given, he was ordered to be summoned agst the next Lord’s Day.
And summoned he was, on 11th August.
Alexr Marr summoned to this Diet being called, compeared & having the above Delation read to him, judicially acknowledged the charge, expressed his sorrow therfore & engaged not to be guilty of the like in time.
This Session met of course only weeks after the landing of Charles Edward Stuart in Moidart and the determination to impose a godly discipline upon the population would have been high on the agenda of the courts of the church.  Perhaps that determination was even stronger in respect of those whose obvious moral weaknesses had come earlier to the Session’s attention.
At this point Alexander Marr in Pittengullies slips out of focused view.  On October 31st in 1747 however, in Old Machar parish in Aberdeen,
Alexander Marr Flesher at Windmill Brae of Aberdeen & Jean Marr had a daughter (begotten in Fornication) baptised by Mr James Mitchell, Minr at Old Machar & named Elspet, witnesses John Brown, James Marr & John Kilter. 
Old Machar Session had previously dealt with the parents.  At the Session meeting of 16th August 1747,
Jean Marr unmarried in Windmill Brae being delate as being with child is appointed to be cited to compear before the Session next Lord’s Day. 
She duly appeared on the 23rd August 1747.
Jean Marr unmarried in Windmill Brae, after citation, being call’d compear’d, and being interrogate by the Modr. if she was with child, she confess’d she was.  Being asked who was the father of the child she is with?  She declared that Alexander Marr unmarried, son to George Marr in Windmill Brae, was the Father thereof.  She further acknowledged that this is a Relapse in Fornication she is now guilty of.  Whereupon being sharply rebuk’d by the Modr. for these repeated acts of Uncleanness & exhorted to repentance she was cited apud acta to compear before the session next Lord’s Day to which diet the Session appoint the said Alexander Marr to be cited also. 
Although she named Alexander Marr as the father, the fact that this Alexander Marr is the son of a George Marr in Windmill Brae, suggests that it may well be a different Alexander Marr from the inhabitant of Pittengullies in Peterculter.  Indeed there is a Marr family in Aberdeen at this period which included tradesmen fleshers who were burgesses of the city and it is likely to this family that this Alexander Marr belonged.  The case however was completed and both Alexander Marr and Jean Marr were pilloried by the next (August 30th 1747) Session.
Alexander Marr unmarried in Windmill Brae after citation being call’d, compear’d, and the Modr. having caus’d read (sic) Jean Marr her confession to him, & having interrogate him, if he adhered thereto?  He confess’d he did.  Whereupon being rebuk’d by the Modr. for this sin & scandal of Fornication, the Session did appoint the said Jean Marr to appear in the Pillar this Day eight Days & the said Alexander Marr this Day fourteen Days.
It is not certain whether the Elspet Marr born in 1747 transpired to be the wife of William Fowler.  It is likely, but not certain, that the Alexander Marr in Windmill Brae and the Alexander Marr in Pittengullies were different individuals, and that the Jean Marr in St Nicholas and the Jean Marr, servant to the Minister in Peterculter, were also different individuals.  It is however the likely random coincidence of the names of these two couples which led to both of them being investigated.  In terms of genealogical detective work, these were indeed blind alleys which seemd to lead no-where.    Although the writer cannot reliably place any of these Marrs within his family tree, they are truly lost sheep, the finding of whom has created more joy (and more quiet chuckles) than many a certain ancestor.
This article was first published in the Aberdeen and North East Scotland Family History Society Journal, Number 85, in November 2002

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