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About the study
Illustration: The Crees Inn at Abernethy, Scotland, whose last Cree publican, Tammy Cree died in 1911. He was a larger than life character whose memory has been passed on to the present-day inhabitants of the town, although no Crees live there now.
The Cree One-Name Study started in 1989 with the publication by Trevor Cree of a booklet listing all Cree entries from the Indexes to Birth, Marriages and Deaths (1837-1980) for England and Wales. Entries from the 1988 IGI were also included.
This triggered genealogical research by several UK researchers. Meanwhile Robert H Cree in the USA had spent a lifetime researching five Cree lines emanating from western Pennsylvania in the late 18th Century.
Trevor continued his index extracts with the Scottish and Irish civil registrations. Development was boosted when it was realised that the spelling CRIE had been the normal spelling of the name in Scotland in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Mike Spathaky traced the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire CREE lines to a single progenitor born in 1644, showing that the line was independent of the Scottish Crees. He then researched the Scottish Cree, Crie and Cre lines and discovered a likely ancestor for them, a merchant who lived in Perth in 1459.
The Cree Family History Society was started in 1991 and reached membership of over 100 by 1999. Conferences were held in Dorset in 1993 and Perth in 1995 and 17 issues of CREE NEWS were published. The Society published five booklets on Cree family history authored by members of the Society. The Society was replaced in 2000 by an informal network based on the existing Cree One-Name Study web site with the addition in 2012 of the Cree Family History Network which, in May 2015, itself topped membership of 100.
The earliest known form of the name is OF CRE (1459) which developed into CRE (1544) and briefly CREY around 1570. CRIE became the normal spelling from about 1600 to 1800 and still survives in a line which was in Maine USA before 1800. English and Irish lines have always used the spelling CREE which is now almost universal throughout the UK. However the variant CHREE survives in an area of NE Scotland. CREA in County Down is also thought to be a variant of Cree.
The possible relationship of CRY in the Isle of Man to Cree is the subject of speculation at present.
It is likely that the Scottish CREE surname derives from a place name, probably Crieff (Perthshire) or Creich (Fife). The English name CREE derives from a surname change between the baptism of James, the son of Alexander MACKREE, in 1644, and James's marriage as James CREE in 1678. It seems likely that one Irish line (now in England) first appeared as a variant of the Irish name CREAGH, probably in County Clare, Ireland. A CREE line from Kent traces back to a Huguenot immigrant named Pierre Carré. There are also a few minor origins of the name, such as the fifteen foundlings given the surname Cree in the register of St Katherine Creechurch in the City of London.
Historical occurrences of the name
Some interesting Cree characters are listed here:
- James Crie and his sons James and Patrick who were all Provosts (equivalent to Mayors) of Perth in the 18th Century, and had dealings with both the Old and the Young Pretender during their occupations of the city during the 1715 and '45 Jacobite Risings;
- John Cree (1707-1796), nurseryman and Procurator-Fiscal of Biggar, Lanarkshire, and his descendants, who were civic leaders in Biggar and innovators in plant propagation;
- John Cree of Ireland (c1752-1795) who made his fortune in the East India trade, was granted arms and bought a country estate in Dorset;
- Edward H Cree RN who sailed the seven seas as a Naval Surgeon for thirty years at the height of British Imperial Power. His diaries and paintings form a unique historical record of British Imperialism;
- Jessie Cree who kept a seaboard diary during her three-month voyage from Scotland in 1861 to start a new life in New Zealand;
- Sam Cree (1928-1980), playwright and comedy writer of Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
There were 955 people with the surname Cree in Britain on Census night 1881. 400 of these were in England, 9 in Wales and 546 in Scotland. In round figures therefore, about 42% of British Crees were living in England, 1% in Wales and 57% in Scotland. But when we take into account the much lower total population of Scotland compared to England, we find that the name had a frequency over ten times greater in Scotland than in England. The actual frequency of the name Cree in each country of Britain (as percentage of total population) was (in 1881):
- England 0.0016% or 16 per million of population
- Wales 0.0006% or 6 per million of population
- Scotland 0.015% or 150 per million of population
- Great Britain 0.0031% or 31 per million of population
Using the benchmarks of the Guild of One-Name Studies, the name Cree was therefore Rare in Wales in 1881, of Low Frequency in England, and of Medium Frequency in Scotland. It was of Low Frequency over Great Britain as a whole. The 1881 Census for Ireland is unavailable but figures derived from telephone directories suggest that Cree is now of Medium Frequency in Northern Ireland and Rare in the Republic of Ireland. Cree is of Low Frequency in Australia (22.4), New Zealand (30.2), United States (12.3) and Canada(19.8). The name CRIE also occurs in France but is probably Rare in that country.
Distribution of the name
Based on 1881 Census records, the name Cree is of Medium Frequency in ten British counties, of which nine are in Scotland, headed by Ayrshire and Perthshire. Dunbartonshire is next and Nottinghamshire (England) fourth. Census data for Ireland are not available for 1881 but we know that most Irish Cree families lived in County Down. Data for the USA suggest that the surname Cree gained Medium Frequency in Pennsylvania by 1850, to which Iowa and New York could be added in 1880.
Data collected include:
- Cree entries from the civil registration indexes of England & Wales, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia (most states);
- Cree entries from the 1881 Census of Great Britain, together with many entries from other censuses;
- a growing collection of Cree civil registration copy certificates;
- Cree entries world-wide from the International Genealogical Index (1992 edition) and the Scottish Old Parochial Registers Index (OPRI);
- Cree wills from the Probate registries of England & Wales and Scotland;
- a collection of published booklets which are now available on-line.
The data are available on-line at the Cree One-Name Study website. (See link above.)
The main effort of the Cree One-Name Study is focused on constructing genealogies of known Cree families. A substantial collection of these can be viewed in the Database Section of the Cree One-Name Study website
A Cree DNA Project has started and early results show interesting links between various USA lines. The current state of this project can be seen at http://www.familytreedna.com/public/cree/.