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Researching Your Scots Irish Ancestors

   I hope you all had a good summer with lots of research opportunities.  As I wrote on my blog introduction page, I was offline for part of the summer and hope to get back on track with weekly blogs.  

   Scots-Irish, Scotch-Irish or Ulster Scots are all names referring to a group of people who initially came from Scotland into Northern Ireland, and then to America.  When the Irish first came to America  in the 17th and 18th century they were known as just Irish.  The identifier as Scots-Irish came about at the time of the famine when they wanted to distance themselves from the Roman Catholic immigrants.

   My Scots-Irish grandmother emigrated in the early 1900s, so my research experience was similar to researching any of the Irish that came later.  She traveled to New York with her sister and brother in 1909, brought over by an aunt.  I had always assumed that she came over with her mother and stepfather, but she and her siblings lived with their grandparents in Leitrim for four years prior to joining their mother.  The last brother didn't come over until 1914…truly a case of chain migration.  I found her in the 1901 census in Ireland, living with her mother and siblings in Louth after her father died.   

   My grandmother was not a very reliable source. As I collected records for her here in the U.S., she sometimes claimed to be born in Scotland, and the dates…well they were all over the place.  But since she was born after civil registration, I was able to get her birth certificate.  I was also able to get her father's death certificate, her parent's marriage certificate and the records on all of her siblings.  Working back, I was also able to obtain information on her grandparents.  My brick wall is with her great grandfather, who appears in Griffith's Valuation, but not in the Tithe.  There are no other Mackeys in the parish so I haven't been able to connect him.  One of these days I'll get back to working on my own family and see what I can find.

   If, like me, your Scots-Irish ancestor emigrated at the time of the famine or later, your research strategies are not very different than the those researching their Roman Catholic ancestors.  If, however, your ancestors were early settlers your research strategies must change.  The key will be trying to get them back to their earliest settlement in the U.S.  Trace them through census, land, probate and church records. Look carefully at the people who lived around them, their community.  

   The earliest Scots-Irish left Ireland for economic reasons and religious freedom.  Over 200,000 emigrated from Ulster to America between 1710 and 1775, some settling in New England but the largest group went to Pennsylvania. From there, many followed the Shenandoah Valley down into Virginia and the Carolinas, and eventually west across the Southern States.  Others moved from Pennsylvania through Ohio, and Indiana into the Midwest.  Looking at the migration path of your family may give you a hint as to where they originally settled.  Once you get them back to the original settlement, find out the name of the minister and research him.  You're likely to find more records on the minister, and that may lead you to where in Ireland the immigrants originated.

   Your strategy for tracing your early Scots-Irish immigrants should focus on records they left in the U.S.  Expand your search to the community in which they lived…who were their Friends, Associates and Neighbors, what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls their FAN club.  When you look at land records as they migrated west, do the same names show up as their neighbors.    That could help you identify a community in Ireland where those names appear.  

   Use the Presbyterian Historical Society to identify what churches existed in the areas where your ancestors lived and what records survive for those churches.  People could become members of the Presbyterian church through examination or by letters of transfer and they are likely, either way, to be listed in the church minutes.  If their membership was through a letter of transfer, it will state where they came from allowing you to backtrack through their migration, and possibly back to Ireland.  The Presbyterian Historical Society may also have information on the ministers and histories of the churches.  The history might tell you that the earliest members emigrated as a group from a specific place in Ireland.

   Finally, share your information.  Put your tree online and look for others who are researching the same family.  Your cousins might have information passed down through another line of the family.

   Happy Hunting!


Check out Family Tree University's Fall Virtual Conference being held this weekend.  


© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018