Return to:  Original Format  |  Index of Guides

RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees
Guide No. 21:  Irish, Scots-Irish and Scottish



IRISH
Back to Top

Fianna Guide to Irish Genealogy
(more than 500 pages of information on Irish research)

Hosted by RootsWeb.com

Learn everything possible about your immigrant Irish ancestor and his family in the country of arrival (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) records. Clues to the ancestral village or town are often found in family papers, on tombstones, in church records, naturalization and military papers. If the information is not in records for your ancestor, perhaps in those of his brothers or sisters.

Emigrants often moved in groups. If you cannot determine the origin your ancestor, trace one or more of the families who might have moved with him or lived near him. They often stayed near each other after settling in the new country.

Keep in mind that family traditions may be entirely incorrect. Your ancestor might have said he came from Belfast, Dublin, Cork or Waterford, when in fact he sailed from that port, but he was actually from elsewhere. Prior to about 1850 ships did not have exact sailing schedules. This forced some of our ancestors to move to a seaport town for a short time. Additionally, many small ships took Irish passengers to England, especially Liverpool, where they had to wait for a larger ship going to North America.

Ask yourself the following questions to help formulate your research strategies:

  1. Where did my family come from in Ireland? It is usually essential to know at least a county of origin before using Irish records.
  2. What religion was my family in Ireland? If they were Protestant, to what denomination did they belong? Were they Presbyterians, Church of Ireland (Anglican), Methodists, Quakers, Huguenots, Baptists or Congregationalists? This information is most important in accessing church records and other sources.
  3. What was my family's social status in Ireland? This information is important for developing a strategy pertaining to which record types should be consulted, or in which order.
  4. Where can I search records or have them searched? What can be done in the country of arrival should be done here rather than in Ireland. People sometimes spend enormous amounts of time, money and energy conducting research in Ireland when some of the records are actually more easily accessible in North America.

Irish roots in the New World go back to Colonial days, but since 4.7 million Irish came to America between 1820 and 1920, this is the time period many Americans discover their Irish family arrived on these shores.

Irish research is seldom easy due to the destruction of the Record Tower in Dublin Castle in the early 18th century and the disastrous 1922 fire in the Public Record Office, which nearly obliterated civil records. Successful research for Irish ancestors, therefore, depends in large part on access to parish records.

While the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library in Salt Lake City has many Irish records on microfilm it does not have ALL the records. This library has a sizeable collection of Irish church records, but the majority are not microfilmed and can only be searched at the parish house or by an agent in Ireland.

The most critical piece of information you need to continue your research in Ireland's records is a precise address — and the more common the surname you are researching, the more critical this advice is. You will not be able to find your John Kelly — Kelly being the second most common surname in Ireland — until you know exactly where he came from.

Ireland's civil register of births, deaths and marriages, which start in 1864, is a good source for genealogists seeking information about their families who came to America in the 19th century. The government began registering non-Catholic marriages as early as April 1, 1845. If you know when the parents of your immigrant died, their death certificates may give the family home address. Marriage certificates will reveal the addresses of both partners, and birth records also indicate the parents' address.

If you have difficulty finding your ancestors in Irish indexes it may be because:

How far back can you realistically trace Irish ancestry?

Most Catholic lineages can typically only be traced back to the early 1800s.

Prospects for a Protestant family may be better, but it depends largely on the social status and what records have survived. In the case of gentry or a landed family, pedigrees may exist tracing the family into antiquity. In the case of a Protestant family where church records have not survived and they were of the tenant or leasing class, prospects for lineage extension may not be any better than those for the average Catholic family.

 


SCOT-IRISH
or SCOTCH-IRISH
Back to Top

Scotch-Irish vs. Ulster Scots

The term Scotch-Irish is uniquely American. Some historian and genealogists prefer the term Ulster Scots, which more accurately reflect this group. The term Scotch-Irish is ambiguous because it does not mean people of mixed Scottish and Irish ancestry as the name seems to imply, but refers to the descendants of the Presbyterians from lowland Scotland who settled in Ulster — northernmost province of Ireland in the 17th century — and subsequently emigrated from there to America.

By the time of the first migration to America, many of these Ulster Scots had lived in Ireland for four generations or more, and had become quite a different people from their Scottish forebears. Whether you prefer to call your ancestors Scotch-Irish or Ulster Scots, millions of Americans — probably 1 in every 30 — find them hanging upon their family trees.

Most of us know there are Highland Scots and Lowland Scots because somewhere in our history lessons relating to Great Britain that distinction was noted. That distinction becomes most important in genealogy. Determine when your Scottish families emigrated as it is the migration patterns that will lead you to proper identification. Genealogy cannot be understood without the study of history. And to track down your Scottish forebears you have to determine whether they were Highland or Lowland Scots, because they belonged to different peoples.

Highland Scots spoke Gaelic and wore kilts.

Lowland Scots are an ethnic group with many bloodlines: Gaels, Britons, Romans, Scots (who were Celtics from Ireland), Norse, Normans, Flemish and English.

James I of Great Britain (formerly James VI of Scotland) accessioned the throne in 1603 and the crowns of England and Scotland became united. He supported the Anglican Church (Church of England) and curbed Roman Catholic nobles' powers in Ireland and Scotland, giving Irish lands to Protestant Scots and English in the Plantation of Ulster in 1611. If your Scottish family went to Ulster (Ireland) in the early 17th century, then they are probably Lowland Scots. Many of these families or their descendants came to America early in the 18th century.

Rack-renting, an exorbitant rent equal to the full annual value of a piece of property, drove many Scots to find homes elsewhere. A tenant farmer would spent his money and time improving a farm and then the landlord would raise the rent because the property was worth more.

It is very likely you may discover your Scottish blood has come via families who settled first in Canada and migrated to America generations later.

Not every Scottish family belonged to a clan. The clan system of the Highland Scots was based on the ownership of the land, which was vested in the chief of the clan. Your surname may be traceable to a clansman who adopted the surname of a Highland chief — some related, some not. Some who kept their own surnames became known as septs of the clan. Obviously all the MacDonalds in this world did not descend from one Scotsman named Donald.

One must be careful about assuming anything about one's genealogy strictly from a surname. In the 17th century many native Irish families were rooted out and replaced by settlers from England and Scotland. Three-quarters of the leading families in Ireland today still bear names which show that they were derived from England or Scotland.

 


SCOTTISH
LINKS
Back to Top

Scotland opens virtual door to its vital records

The General Register Office for Scotland is trailblazing on the World Wide Web by offering a fully searchable index of Scottish birth and marriage records from 1553 to 1899, and death records from 1855 to 1924 at Scot Origins.

The service is not free, but the convenience of being able to search these indices is an incredible break-through for genealogists. For a payment of about $10 (American) you can see and download up to 30 computer-screen pages of index data, and for an additional fee highlight a particular index entry and send an electronic order for an extract of the full record to which the index entry relates. This extract will then be sent to you via ordinary mail.

When accessing the database for the first time you will be taken to the payment server, where a form appears. This is a secure site (it does not transmit or store your credit card number), and after your credit card has been successfully debited, you will be able to access the database.

The so-called "Old Parish Registers" date from 1553 to 1854. The parish ministers or session clerks of the established Church of Scotland in some 900 parishes kept these registers. They recorded births and baptisms, proclamations of banns and marriages, and deaths and burials, but they are not complete. The oldest register relates to baptisms and banns at Errol in Perthshire in 1553, but for some parishes the earliest dates are from the early 19th century, and for other parishes there are no registers at all.

After statutory registration was introduced in 1855, the Registrar General compiled a register of births, deaths and marriages proved to have occurred in Scotland between 1801 and 1854, but which had not been entered in the old parish registers. Since 1855 civil registers have kept the vital records of events occurring in Scotland. Additionally, there are the marine registers of births and deaths (from 1855). These are records of births and deaths on British-registered merchant vessels at sea in any part of the world, where it appears that one of the child's parents or the deceased person was usually a resident of Scotland.

This index is said to include nearly 30 million names and you can search by surname, event type, sex, forename (given name or first initial), year of registration (or range of years) and other options.

Scottish Archive Network

ScotlandGenWeb


Suggested Reading & References


Additional Resources


Links in this Guide
(in order they appeared)

counter