Scots-Irish in Colonial America - Church records
By Kyle J. Betit
During the colonial period, Presbyterianism was not one homogenous denomination. The various Presbyterian groups in America have, since colonial times, undergone a series of separations and unions. Resulting from this were such groups as the Reformed Presbyterians ("Covenanters") and Associate Presbyterians ("Seceders"). It is thus important to be aware that a Scots-Irish ancestor may have belonged to one of several branches of Presbyterianism, each of which generated its own records.
It is relatively rare for records to have survived for American Presbyterian churches in the pre-1776 time period. There are exceptions, however, especially for churches in larger towns. For example, records of the Federal Street Presbyterian Church in Boston (founded by Scots-Irish immigrants) survive from 1730. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, it is more common to find surviving Presbyterian church records.
Some Presbyterian records are available on microfilm at the FHL. Other repositories of Presbyterian church records include:
Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Presbyterian Church USA, Presbyterian Office of History Library, Dept of History, 425 Lombard St., Philadelphia, PA 19147; Tel: (215) 627-1852; FAX: (215) 627-1852.
Presbyterian Church (USA) Department of History (Montreat), 318 Georgia Terrace, PO Box 840, Montreat, NC 28757, Tel: (704) 669-7061, FAX: (704) 669-5369.
In addition to baptism, marriage, and burial records, early session minutes survive in some cases for American Presbyterian churches. These minutes record the proceedings of meetings of the elders of the congregation. The minutes often contain information on members who had transgressed church laws. In some cases, information on members transferring in or out of the congregation is also given.
While the Scots-Irish came to America as Presbyterians, many of them joined other Protestant denominations after they arrived. In New England, many became Congregationalists. Presbyterianism and Congregationalism are closely related, and in 1801 an agreement was made between the churches by which ministers from one denomination could serve congregations of the other. Some Presbyterian churches in the North eventually became Congregational churches (such as the Federal Street Church in Boston, mentioned above, which changed in 1786). In the South, many of the Scots-Irish became Baptists, Methodists, or Disciples of Christ (Christian Church). The records of their adoptive religions must be considered when tracing the Scots-Irish.