Scots-Irish in Colonial America - Research
By Kyle J. Betit
Successfully researching a Scots-Irish ancestor back to Ireland will likely require extensive research in records from both sides of the Atlantic. The focus of this article is, however, limited to American sources. Such research promises to be time-consuming and difficult, but at the same time a rewarding and interesting challenge. The truth is that in many cases no definitive proof of an exact origin may be found.
It is necessary to be thorough and methodical as well as creative. There are several general research tips worth keeping in mind. They apply to many kinds of research, but are particularly important in tracing colonial Scots-Irish immigrants:
The fundamental sources of American genealogical research used to trace any ancestor are important to documenting the Scots-Irish. These include church records, land records, probate records, tax records, court records, and vital records. They are all important for tracing movements and identifying associations between individuals. Three excellent guides for American research are The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny; Ancestry's Redbook: American State, County & Town Sources, edited by Alice Eichholz; and Val D. Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy.
The types of records mentioned in the previous paragraph will not usually reveal Irish origins. Some records that may reveal origins include military records, histories, biographies, and genealogies. There are very few passenger lists for the Scots-Irish in the colonial period, and since they were British subjects moving to a British colony they were not naturalized.
Records pertaining to the Scots-Irish are contained in many repositories across the country. These include state archives and libraries, local historical societies, and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City has microfilm copies of many American records as well.
The major wars in which eighteenth century Scots-Irish immigrants served were the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Records from these wars, as well as from state militias and other smaller conflicts, can be useful in tracing the origins of Scots-Irish immigrants. A useful guide to US military record collections is James C. Neagles' U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal & State Sources.
French and Indian War records can be difficult to access. A good place to start is with the relevant state archives which may have some manuscript collections. For the Southern states, an excellent resource is Murtie June Clark's Colonial Soldiers of the South, 1732-1774, which includes records from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The lists in this book often show the age, country of birth, occupation, and residence of soldiers.
The great majority of the Scots-Irish immigrants sided with the American patriots rather than with Britain in the Revolutionary War. Records of the Revolutionary War that can be used to document the Scots-Irish include service records, pension records, and lineage society records.
The pension applications of veterans of the Revolutionary War can give detailed accounts of the lives of Scots-Irish immigrants, including in some cases origins in Ireland and accounts of their migration once in America. Important details from each surviving Revolutionary pension application are abstracted in Virgil D. White's four-volume Genealogical Abstracts Of Revolutionary War Pension Files. This source is particularly useful since all of the pensions for one surname can be scanned to locate information of possible relatives (such as unknown brothers or cousins). It is important to look at the original pensions, since they include more detail than the abstracts. These are on microfilm at the National Archives, the FHL, and some other libraries.
Application forms of several lineage societies can be utilized to gain information on the origins of Scots-Irish immigrants. These include:
For researchers using the FHL, an excellent guide to accessing records from these and other lineage societies is Jayare Roberts' Register of U.S. Lineage Societies. The FHL has significant collections for each of these societies. One important work published since Roberts' register is the new master index to DAR lineage applications: DAR Patriot Index Centennial Edition.
In many cases, the only clue in American records to the origin in Ireland will be found in some published work from the 1800s or in family tradition as recorded in a genealogy. That is why it is important to trace relatives contemporary to the immigrant, as well as descendants for several generations. Then, identify where they lived and search local, county, and state histories and genealogical and biographical collections for any mention of the immigrant's origins. The Library of Congress and the FHL have two of the largest collections of American historical and biographical works.
Because eighteenth century immigrants to America have many thousands of descendants today, the possibility of finding information already compiled on Scots-Irish immigrants is very good. Thus, it is important to search for compiled family histories or pedigrees and to consult manuscript collections where possible.
The FHL and the Library of Congress have particularly large family history collections. The FHL Catalog is particularly useful since it can be used to access genealogies in which a surname is mentioned but is not the primary surname of the family history. Marion J. Kaminkow's Genealogies in the Library of Congress: A Bibliography can be used to access genealogies housed there. Kaminkow's A Complement to Genealogies in the Library of Congress: A Bibliography lists genealogies not in the Library of Congress but found in other libraries with genealogical collections. Periodical Source Index (PERSI), published by the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library, inventories articles published in various periodicals worldwide. PERSI can be accessed by family surname.
For manuscript collections including family information, see National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). NUCMC inven-tories material that has not been published; for references to surnames, look under the topic "Genealogy."
American land records are particularly important for tracing the movement of Scots-Irish settlers. They can also in some cases help determine immigrant origins.
The name a Scots-Irish ancestor gave his property may provide indirect evidence of origins in Ireland. If an ancestor named his/her tract of land in Maryland "Ballymena," then he/she may have come from a place in Ireland called Ballymena.
Land grant records kept by some states can also be quite helpful. For example, in the 1760s and 1770s in South Carolina, groups of immigrants from Ireland were listed together (sometimes with the name of their ship) in the Council Journals when they were granted land en masse. For extracts from the Council Journals, see Janie Revill's A Compilation of the Original Lists of Protestant Immigrants To South Carolina, 1763-1773.