This article was originally published in The Irish At Home and Abroad journal of Irish genealogy and heritage (volume 2 #1, 1994/1995).
No longer published.

Colonial Scots-Irish Immigrants:

The Irish Records

By Kyle J. Betit

This article focuses on using Irish records to trace the origins of Scots-Irish immigrants who came from Ulster to North America during the colonial time period. For the purposes of this article, the term "Scots-Irish" refers to people who lived in Ireland but whose earlier origins (whether personal or ancestral) were in Scotland. They were also known as "Ulster Scots." Many of the Scottish immigrants came in the early 1600s during the "Plantation of Ulster" by King James I. For a helpful source of information on this subject, see Perceval-Maxwell's The Scottish Migration to Ulster in the Reign of James I.

Most of the Scots-Irish came from the historical province of Ulster (including the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone that are now in Northern Ireland, and the counties of Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan that are now in the Republic of Ireland).

General Strategy

  1. *Before using Irish records, it is vital to accumulate all possible documentation on the immigrants from records abroad. The vast majority of the Scots-Irish immigrants in the colonial time period went to the American colonies that eventually became the United States. Through American records, it may be possible to determine a county of origin or the names of other relatives from the same place in Ireland. Such information is vital to research in Irish records. When searching Irish records, use every clue that can be gleaned from family tradition or American records: as to place of origin, names of relatives, occupations, unique given names used in the family, anything that may help to narrow the focus of research or prove that a particular individual in Irish records is ancestral. For information on using American records to trace Scots-Irish immigrants, see Kyle J. Betit's article, "Scots-Irish in Colonial America," The Irish At Home and Abroad 2 (1994): 1-8.

  2. *If a townland or parish is known, then research can proceed directly to examine whatever records (such as church records or estate papers) can be found for that locality. These records can be used to gather all possible information on the surname and family in that locality to try to piece together how the immigrant fits in.

  3. *If nothing is known about the origin in Ireland, or even if a county is known, the origin will have to be narrowed further before local records can be examined. Sources covering all of Northern Ireland or Ulster are useful in this regard (such as the PRONI's "Card Index to Names"). These sources may be used to determine where the surname(s) of interest were present or concentrated, and then local records for those areas can be used to try to determine whether the immigrant ancestor came from there.

  4. *Some Irish sources which were generated after the colonial time period (such as the Tithe Applotment Books and Griffith's Primary Valuation) can be particularly useful for examining surname distribution. Since not all family members emigrated, descendants bearing the surname may be found in later records. The later sources can be used to determine where particular surname(s) were concentrated, and then earlier local sources can be consulted for information on the immigrant ancestor.

  5. *The success of research often depends on how common the ancestor's name was. It is important to not assume that a record in Ireland of an "Alexander Brown" necessarily refers to the ancestor, since there may have been many men with this name. For example, the "Alexander Brown" on the Mormon IGI should not be assumed to be the ancestor, since the Irish records extracted in the IGI are quite limited. Combining an ancestor's surname with the spouse's surname or other identifying information can help determine which "Alexander Brown" is ancestral.

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