Research Your Scottish Ancestry

Robert WilbanksThe Scots-Irish

by Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Chief Genealogist & Historian, C.S.A.

With the month of March upon us, and since in America March is often noted for the Irish people and St. Patrick’s Day, this would be a great time to talk about Ireland’s connection to Scotland.

The people of Ireland and Scotland have a common ancient heritage to the Celtic Peoples who existed all over the European Continent possibly as early as the Bronze Age, 1200 to 500 BCE. On the eve of the British Iron Age, which began about 800 BCE, Celtic peoples from Europe began migrating into the British Isles. By the end of the 6th Century BCE, all of the British Isles spoke the Celtic language. Eventually the languages and cultures of Ireland and Britain began to split into two, or more, different branches.

By the 4th and 5th Centuries AD, as the Roman Empire began to collapse and remove itself from the British Isles, the Picts of north Britain were pushed eastward by the invasion of the Scots from north Ireland into western Scotland. Eventually a merger of the Scots and Picts in north Britain created the Kingdom of Alba by 900 AD.

By our modern time, Ireland and Scotland had become two entirely different lands, with different peoples, different cultures, and different religions. But both countries had a common enemy . . . the Kingdom of England. England began the invasion of Ireland under Henry II in 1171 AD, and Edward I began to take control of Scotland in the late 1200s to early 1300s AD. By the mid-1500s AD, the Tudor Kings began the re-conquest of Catholic Ireland, and later began the plantation system, taking Irish lands and resettling them as colonies with Protestant English and Scots.

The Ulster Province in Northern Ireland was the last part of Ireland to surrender to the Tudor Armies when James VI of Scotland was now James I of England. Ulster was converted to a Plantation Colony settled by over 20,000 English and Scottish Protestants by the 1630s. These settlers primarily came from the Scottish Lowlands and Northern England. By 1697, over 200,000 Scottish Presbyterians had settled in Ulster.

While in the British Isles these people are more commonly referred to as Ulster Scots, in the United States they are mostly, incorrectly but familiarly, referred to as Scotch-Irish. These Scots-Irish people became a significantly important part of early American history, with over 200,000 migrating to America between 1717 and 1775. Mostly settling in the back country of the original colonies, these Scots-Irish people greatly influenced American growth, religion, politics, music, and so very much more. Commonly recognized early American Scots-Irish names include Calhoun, Jackson, Crocket, Boone, and many more. Twenty US Presidents have Scots-Irish ancestry.

So, for the many Americans, and Canadians, whose research encompasses the Scots-Irish, beginning with the typical research in American and Canadian records is to be expected. Identifying where specifically in Northern Ireland the family is from is the key objective. Once that is accomplished, then understanding genealogy research and records in Northern Ireland is the next step. As always, the FamilySearch wiki on Northern Ireland Genealogy is very helpful in getting started in learning about Northern Ireland records and resources.

The following link is to a great FamilySearch webinar on “The Scots-Irish: Plantation and Settlement of Ulster in the 17th Century” by Craig Foster. This video outlines events surrounding the plantation schemes and the settlement of Northern Ireland from the London Companies and the large landed Estates in Scotland. Craig will walk you through the key sources for tracing the Scots-Irish in Ireland and their specific origins in Scotland.

As always, researching history, locality about records and resources, and more, is very important in your continuing genealogy research. There are many websites, blogs, videos, webinars, and more, where you can better learn about Scots-Irish American or Canadian history and research, history and genealogy research in Northern Ireland, and of course eventually leading to research in Scotland’s records.

This is another of a series of articles in which I show you the basics of searching for your family history, discussing the use of family records, public records, and online resources nationally and internationally, etc. The previous articles are now available on the Genealogy Section of this website.   See “Genealogy” in the menu options at the top of the web page.