McCargar Genealogy and History

The McCargar History

The ongoing debate over the ethnic origin of the McCargar name, whether it is Scottish or Irish, is not easily resolved. There are records that associate the name with Northern Ireland, but as this area was predominantly settled by Scottish who considered themselves Scotts not Irish, even the records don’t help resolve the issue. If, as indicated below, McCargars were in Ireland a hundred years before the brothers, Joseph and Thomas, were born (all the indicators lead us to believe that they were born in Northern Ireland), then the question becomes “how long do you  have to be in a country before you assume it’s nationality?” Additionally, while some believe “Mc” is Irish and “Mac” is Scottish, both ethnic groups used “Mac”, and its abbreviation “Mc”, as a prefix to mean “son of”.


The McCargar name does not appear on Scottish surname lists, but a Kirkudbright County librarian noted that the name appeared in the “Dictionary of Scottish Names” as being of Galloway origin. Unfortunately, she found no evidence of McCargars in their Kirkudbright County records, and we have been unable to confirm her report of it being in the “Dictionary of Scottish Names”. However, there is a striking similarity between “McCargar” and names appearing in the Galloway region of Scotland (an area of the southern uplands embracing three counties: Kirkudbright, Dumfries and Wightown). Also, there has been a considerable population interchange between the Galloway region and County Antrim, Ireland, as only a few miles of water separates the two.

It does not appear that the McCargar name was very common, and was certainly not the name of a clan or a well-known sect.


Most likely, the first McCargars in Northern Ireland were among the Scotch settlers “planted” there between 1600 and 1650.

In 1653, “The commissioners for the settling and securing the Province of Ulster” resumed the original plans of removing “all the popular Scotts” out of Ulster. A proclamation was published by the “Commissioners” specifying the conditions on which it was proposed to transplant the leading Presbyterians in the counties of Down and Antrim to certain districts in Munster.  This proclamation included a list of two hundred and sixty persons, including all those who, by their attachment to monarchical and Presbyterian principles, and by their station and influence, were most obnoxious to the reigning faction. They were required, within a specified time and under certain penalties, to embrace the terms offered. On this list from the area of Broadisland and East Quarters of Carrickfergus, (near Belfast) is the name of John M’Kerger.

Since the “Car” and “Ker” are virtually interchangeable, and we know that our earliest known North American relatives, Joseph and Thomas McCargar, interchanged the “ar” and “er” ending to their names, “M’Kerger” is probably either an earlier form of or an alternate spelling for McCargar.  Civil records at the time were notorious in their spelling deviations, and both “M’” and “Mc” are accepted abbreviations of “Mac”.

Records in the “Old World”

There are very few records of McCargars in the “Old World”, but the ones that do exist prove that the McCargar name was not created in the Americas. However, there are not enough records to provide any sort of history or comprehensive lineage.

The oldest records of McCargars we have found are from County Antrim, in Northern Ireland, for Hearth Money Rolls for the year 1669. The Hearth money was a tax based upon the number of hearths in the household, and amounted to two shillings per hearth.

Extract from Hearthmoney Roll for County Antrim, 1669
McCargar, John, of Ballindrock, (Ballymuldrock) Upper Part of Islandmagee, Belfast Barony, County Antrim 2/-d (1 hearth)
McCargar, John, of Ballymackelroy, Drummaul Parish, Barony of Toome, County Antrim 4/-d (2 hearths)
McCargar, William, of Drumramer, Ahoghill Parish, Barony of Toome, Country Antrim 2/-d (1 hearth)

The next oldest records of McCargars are from the late 1700s:

Thomas McCarger of Antrim, Ireland appears in an “Index of will proved in the Diocese of Conner” in 1759. Unfortunately, the will itself was destroyed in a fire, and only the index remains.

John McCargor appears in an April 1772 Belfast Newsletter article about a riot in Antrim, Ireland.

Bryan and James McCarghar are mentioned in an August 1774 Belfast Newsletter land sale advertisement.

The only census records we have from the “old world” are from the late 1800s:

1851 - Newton On Ayr, Ayrshire - Margreat McCargar born about 1827 in St. Quivox, Ayrshire
1871 - Glasgow, Lanarkshire - Margaret McCargar, with family, born about 1801 in Glasgow
1851 - Dunaghy, County Antrim - Robert McCarg born about 1816
1891 - Margaret McCargar, widow, 53, born in Ireland with 6 children all born in England

We have found no information to link these “old world” McCargars to the North American McCargars. Unfortunately, the scarcity of records means that it is very unlikely we will ever be able to establish a comprehensive genealogical history in the “old world”.

We have found 22 McCargars in the US census records who have declared their place of birth as being in Ireland (18), England (1), Scotland (2), and Poland (1). While these records do not provide proof of birth place, they cannot all be bogus declarations, which indicates that there were McCargars in the “old world” up to the late 1800s (the latest birth date from the US census records is 1884).

Meaning of the Name

There is no Gaelic word “Cargar”, so our name is either a derivative of another Irish or Scottish name, or a result of misspellings (many commoners were illiterate and could not spell their own name).

Of the Gaelic words resembling “Cargar”, the closest are “cargan”, “cargen”, and “cargin”, which roughly mean “a little crag” or “a rocky place”. An alternative spelling from Scotland is “Kargan”. Other close Gaelic words are “carraig”, “caraig”, “carraic”, and “carragh” which mean rock or cliff. Adding “an” as a suffix is a diminutive form, thus “carracican” or “carriagan” are equivalent to “cargan”, “cargin” and “cargen”, which are also diminutive forms. Another word “carragh”, that means an erect stone or monument, forms the root of the name “McCarragher”, which shows up in the US census records.

An example of misspellings is for Nicholas McCarghar who appears on the rental rolls of Portaferry Estate, County Down, Ireland (an area settled by the Scotch from Galloway). On the same rolls, Nicholas also appears as “McCarcher” and “McCaricher”. The “er”, “ar”, “ch”, “gh” and “ich” all to appear to be used interchangeably, so it is possible that “McCargar” might be a simplification of “McCarragher”. The Scottish names “Mackerchar”, “Mackeracher”, and “Macherracher” are also likely ancestors to “McCargar”, particularly when you consider that “ker” and “car”, and “gh” and “ch” are also interchangeable.

The North American brothers, Joseph and Thomas McCargar, had their names spelled in at least three different ways: “McCargar”, “McCarger”, and “Macargar”. There are even examples of two different spellings in the same document. One has to realize that in the early days, the spelling of names was not taken as seriously as it is today. Frequently, the educational level was such that many couldn’t write or spell their own names, thus clerks recording names often spelled it the way it sounded, or the way they thought it sounded (if your last name is McCargar, think how often educated people have misspelled or mispronounced your name). The difference between McCargar and M’Kerger may well be nothing more than a clerk’s interpretation.

The following is a list of variations found in the US census records, all of which can be traced back to known descendents of Thomas McCargar:

McCargar McCarger McKargar McKarger MacKargar
McArgar McGargar McCargan McCargen Cargar
McCaragar McClargar McCaroagar McCarker McHargar

Many of the census enumerators, even those with relatively good handwriting, when encountering the McCargar name seemed to use the old adage of “if you can’t spell it, scribble it”. We seem to encounter more than our share of illegible surnames on the census records. However, the uniqueness of our name helps to compensate, as misspellings and scribbles can often be identified and corrected.


Updated: October 1, 2010