If you had early immigrants to America (17th and 18th century), chances are they were Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots. After the Nine Years' War (1594-1603) which culminated in the Flight of the Earls, the government embarked on a plan to to parcel out the confiscated lands to English and Scottish undertakers. Known as "servitors" they were responsible for populating the land, primarily with Protestant settlers, known as the Plantation of Ulster. The Church of Ireland (Anglican) was established as the state church and initially, the Scots worshipped within the church.
As Presbyterianism took hold, the government began to clamp down on these dissenters, and when the ministers refused to denounce their religion, they were excommunicated. As early as 1636, the first group of Presbyterian ministers, along with 140 members of their congregation set sail for America, however, because of storms, they were forced back to Ireland. By 1690 there were twelve Presbyterian congregations in America and between 1700 and 1774 emigration continued at a faster pace.
The emigration of the Scots Irish was typically in groups... a family or a group of families or even an entire congregation. This differs from the later emigration of the Catholic Irish who frequently practiced chain migration...one person emigrating and sending back money to bring over the next family member. A strategy for those trying to trace their Scots Irish back to Ireland therefore, is to look at the migration pattern of the immigrant and their neighbors to see if they came as a group. An important figure is the minister of their congregation and researching that individual to see if a connection can be made back to a congregation in Ireland.
Research of these early immigrants is complicated by a lack of records both here and in Ireland (many Presbyterian church registers in Ireland don't begin until after 1820). Begin with any available family records; look at land transactions, letters of transfer in church records, tax lists; research witnesses and adjacent property owners. Finally identify the minister and his origins looking at congregational and denomination histories, biographical sketches and county histories.
I have added a Scots-Irish category to my Links page and you can find a link to Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors by William Roulston and Ulster Emigration to Colonial America 1718-1775 by R. J. Dickson on my Store.
Here's an interesting article I picked up from the NEHGS Weekly Genealogist, Vol. 14, No. 34, Whole #545, August 24, 2011, Edited by Lynn Betlock, Jean Powers, and Valerie Beaudraultnewsletter.
New England Scots-Irish Study
Is your Scots-Irish family from New England? If so, you are invited to participate in a study of 21st-century Scots-Irish being conducted by Michael Roe, a professor at Seattle Pacific University (IRB #091002001R. Exp date: 8 June 2012) and a research fellow at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. For the past decade, Dr. Roe has been researching present day Scots-Irish in the U.S.
The study is designed to collect personal and family stories of New England Scots-Irish. Dr. Roe is looking for men and women, 18 years of age or older, to participate who are (1) of Scots-Irish ancestry rooted in New England, (2) consider themselves to be Scots-Irish, (3) are interested in their Scots-Irish history and family stories, and (4) are willing to describe their experiences — to be storytellers in fine Scots-Irish tradition.
Participants will respond in writing to a series of questions about their family roots and their present day activities, opinions, and identities as Scots-Irish. Confidentiality will be maintained. The entire experience should take no more than one hour — although participants can spend additional time if they choose. Past participants enjoyed describing their Scots-Irish roots, and so our expectation is that this study will be a positive experience.
In previous studies the Scots-Irish participants primarily located their family histories and traditions in the South. It will be an important contribution to understanding Scots-Irish identity and to the wider literature on the Scots-Irish to have a strong contingent of participants whose roots are in New England.
To participate, please contact Dr. Roe at the email address, mailing address, or phone number below:
Michael D. Roe, Ph.D.
Dean and Professor of Psychology
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle, WA 98119
Phone: (206) 281-2252
One final note, Andrew Pierce, a genealogist from New England, will be traveling to Ireland in October, specifically to research in Estate Records. If you are interested in having him do some research, you can contact him directly.