On the Trail of Scotch-Irish Ancestors
By Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG

The term Scotch-Irish is used only in America and does not refer to people of mixed Scottish and Irish ancestry.  It is a term given to the descendants of the Presbyterians from lowland Scotland who settled in Ulster, the northernmost province of Ireland, in the 17th century and subsequently emigrated from there to America.

Some 200,000 Scots went to northern Ireland and at least two million of their descendants made a second move across the Atlantic.  Approximately one in every 30 Americans has Scotch-Irish forebears.

In 1717 a large-scale migration from Ulster to the American colonies began.  This lasted about 60 years.  Peak periods were: 1717-18; 1725-29; 1740-41; 1754-55; and 1771-75.  You are likely to trace your immigrant Scotch- Irish ancestors to these dates.

The migration trails of your so-called Scotch-Irish ancestors (more properly Ulster Scots) are not clearly marked.  If they came to America in the Colonial period, you'll probably encounter them on the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas.

The term "Scotch-Irish" was first used in 1695 and by the 1750s was fairly widely used throughout the Colonies.  Originally it was not a complimentary term, but it finally gained acceptance when these Lowland Scots wanted to dissociate themselves from the Irish Catholic immigrants of the 1840s.  These Scotch-Irish, as we call them, went to Ulster (Ireland) as early as 1608-1618.  They were overwhelmingly Presbyterian an important fact for genealogical research.  Another 10,000 of these Lowland Scots migrated to Ireland in the 1630s, and more went after the Cromwellian War of 1652.  Many of these Cromwellian settlers in the province of Munster, intermarried with the Irish, but the other transplanted Scots did not.

The large-scale emigration from Ulster of our Scotch-Irish ancestors actually occurred in the 18th century.  A number of Scotch-Irish settlements were established earlier than that in the Chesapeake Bay colonies, particularly on the eastern shore of Maryland.  These settlements became the cradle of the Presbyterian church in this country.

It was in 1717 that the big wave arrived from Ulster.  During the following 60 years many of our Scotch-Irish immigrant ancestors arrived.  On the eve of the American Revolution there were about 250,000 Scotch- Irish in America.

Emigration was stimulated not only because of religion, but by the recruiting activities of merchants and ship captains.  There were five Ulster emigrant ports: Belfast, Londonderry, Newry, Larne and Portrush, and agents combed these areas in search of passengers.

Ulster, the earlier home of our Scotch-Irish, was an important source of bound labor for the American colonies.  Those who could not afford the fare to America, got here by becoming indentured servants.  They usually signed contracts pledging their labor for three or four years.  Some came as redemptioners.  This meant that on arrival in America they had a brief time in which to find an employer who would recompense the ship's captain.  If your Scotch-Irish arrived in the 1720s they probably came as indentured servants or redemptioners.

The Scotch-Irish first headed for New England, but they were not well liked there.  In 1718 several hundred were sent from Boston to the frontier, and before long there was an arc of Scotch-Irish settlements stretched along the frontier from western Massachusetts to the coast of Maine.  A look at the place names in the region today reveals the influence of these Ulster Scots: There's places called Belfast, Bangor, Londonderry, and Antrim.

The New England Puritans did not like the Scotch- Irish because of religious differences, and the fact that many of the poor ones remained in Boston and became economic burdens.  The hostility in New England and the promise of William Penn's colony are the reasons for the mass migration of the Scotch-Irish to Pennsylvania after 1725.  The earliest Scotch-Irish settlements in that state were near Philadelphia in 1720s and in Chester and Lancaster counties.

From then on the Scotch-Irish trail would almost always be westward.  By 1750 the entire length of the Cumberland Valley was sprinkled with Scotch-Irish settlements.  The west migration was temporarily halted by the Allegheny mountains, the Indian wars, and uncertainty of land titles.  By 1728 the Scotch-Irish were settlers in the trans-Allegheny region.  They flocked to the vicinity of what would become Pittsburgh and into southwestern Pennsylvania.  After 1730, when liberal land policies of Pennsylvania ended, they began to migrate southward into western Maryland and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and then into the backcountry of the Carolinas.

By the 1750s there was a chain of Scotch-Irish frontier settlements along the 700-mile Great Wagon Road, which ran parallel to the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia.  There was also a migration directly from Ulster to the Carolinas and Georgia. In 1731 Protestants were invited to settle in townships 60 miles or so inland from Charleston.  They were given free transportation, grants of land, provisions and tools and a 10-year exemption from quitrents.  Several shiploads of immigrants from Belfast settled the Williamsburg township on the Santee River.  Then in 1761, more immigrants from the north of Ireland went to Georgia.  Several hundred Scotch-Irish were brought to that colony between 1769 and 1774 by a group of Indian traders and land speculators.

After the Revolutionary War, (in which most of our Scotch-Irish ancestors participated as Patriots), the emigrant ships from Ulster brought an average of about 5,000 passengers per year from the 1780s to the 1790s to the new country.  And despite official disapproval and hazards of war, it is estimated that 100,000 people left Ulster for the United States between 1783 and 1812.  Many of them joined the Scotch-Irish settlements on the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, but substantial numbers settled in such cities as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh became the chief Scotch-Irish stronghold in the United States.  Another great emigration from Ulster occurred after the War of 1812.  Between 1815 and the so- called Famine Years, it is estimated that a half million people from that region most of them Scotch-Irish migrated to America.

To most of our Scotch-Irish ancestors, Ireland rather than Scotland was considered the "old country," but to trace such line will probably necessitate that you follow them back to the numerous frontier settlements of young America, and then to Northern Ireland and beyond that to the Lowlands of Scotland.

If you have Southern roots, you probably have some Scotch-Irish ancestors.  Since these ancestors tended to be ardent American patriots, you also are likely to find them in Revolutionary War records.  Therefore, most researchers will need to spend a great deal of time working in American records before being able to do any "old country" research.  Some Northern Ireland records are available, though most were lost in a 1922 fire.  However, some indexes have survived and some records have been reconstructed from other sources.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has some on microfilm those pertaining to Northern Ireland are listed under "Ireland" in its catalog.

While original marriage bonds, 1625-1857, issued by the bishops of the Church of Ireland, were destroyed in the fire, there are indexes, which give the names of the bride and bridegroom and date of the bond.  These records are in Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in Belfast.

Other pre-1800 records include some "Voters, Poll and Freeholders," "Rent Rolls," and "Hearth Money, Subsidy and Poll Tax."  The Hearth Money Rolls list people, parish by parish, who paid a tax of two shillings on each hearth and are especially valuable to those searching for 17th-century ancestors.  There are extensive manuscript collections available at PRONI, each with pedigrees of individual families.

However, PRONI offers no research assistance.  If you need help, contact Ulster Historical Foundation.  Ask first for an application form and include two IRCs (International Reply Coupons).  IRCs are available from major U.S. post offices for about $1.05 each currently.  When you receive the form, fill it out as completely as possible and return with the specified registration fee, and IRCs.  The form states the rates and conditions for research by the foundation.  This research is expensive.  An initial search runs about 15 pounds (ca $35-$40) and an average search and report may cost 75 pounds or more.  If you cannot provide a precise location (city, village, townland or parish) a county is not enough and the religion of your ancestor, it is unlikely that a search can be made.

Check at your library for Margaret Falley's "Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research," and for "The Scotch-Irish," by Charles A. Hanna.

The Los Angeles Times Syndicate
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