Scotch-Irish and Ulster Scots Family Research


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-- From Donegal to Butler, PA circa 1790.

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How to Get Started with Research

The focus of these pages is pre 1820 research, largely in Ireland -- or how to get to that point. For 1820 and later, you use standard US methods. You have at that point censuses and ship lists. But before 1820 both are in short supply.

Usually you must locate the place of origin in the USA or country to which the family emigrated. You must do that because, with a few exceptions, there are no emigration or ship lists of people who left Ireland. Yes, there's enough to fill some webpages, but if you think that they identify all immigrants-- you are naive. It is also good to bear in mind that the experts say more Irish people left from Liverpool than from Irish ports. So a search focused on Irish ports, statistically speaking, isn't wise.

Also you must gather as much information as possible about the person and family to assist you in your Irish research.

Ship Records

Generally speaking, ship records are not helpful for those researching the Scotch Irish (who came between 1718 and 1800) because it was not until 1820 that the USA required that ships identify all incoming passengers. However you can find almost all mentions of arriving passengers in published format. The most important source is Filby. Follow the link for more information.

In some cases we are not sure what country our ancestor came from. He may have come from Scotland by way of England. He may have been an Ulsterman or an Irishman who was waylaid in England and sent off. He may have arrived as an indentured servant or a criminal. Benjamin Franklin estimated that a third of all American colonists had arrived as "immigrants in chains". The fondness of the British government for dumping criminals on American shores was one of the colonial governments' grievances.

Many people in Ireland and Scotland were kidnapped off the streets and shipped off. The merchants of Aberdeen had a fine business going selling children into what amounted to slavery in the Virginias. and some entepreneurs were permitted to round up homeless vagrants from London streets and transport them into exile for the crime of being homeless. Due to the shortage of women in Barbados, Irish women in particular were waylaid and sent off to service. Many of the names of these criminals and unlucky individuals are in British government and merchant records. Lucky for us, they have been published in the series of books mentioned on the Nara webpages.

In addition to the resources listed by NARA for locating NARA films, LDS has them. They are in Salt Lake and most are also in the Santa Monica LDS in Los Angeles. You can order them at your local LDS center.

Here are three basic immigration guides:

They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins by Loretto D. Szucs

They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor's Ship by John Philip Colletta

American Passenger Arrival Records by Michael Tepper. Find them at Ancestry or a local library.

THE book for understanding the conditions under which the Scotch Irish emigrated to America is Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-75 ; Dickson, R J (Ulster Historical Foundation). You can purchase it from the Foundation or from an internet bookstore.

Research on CD

The latest trend has been to burn these resources into CD. This makes searching very much easier and faster. Here are CD's for sell by Family Tree Maker at

  • Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776 (#350) This CD contains approximately 140,000 names. It includes the texts of six books by Peter Wilson Coldham: The Complete Book of Emigrants (four volumes), along with The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage and its supplement. Peter Wilson Coldham, the foremost authority on early English emigration, compiled this data from a myriad of original English sources over several decades.
  • Immigrant Histories: Huguenot Settlers in North America and Europe, 1600s-1900s (#600)
  • Immigrants to the New World, 1600s-1800s (#170)
  • Passenger and Immigration Lists: Boston, 1821-1850 (#256)
  • Passenger and Immigration Lists: Irish Immigrants to North America, 1803-1871 (#257)
  • Scotch-Irish Settlers has the key books for Scotch-Irish Research. These are Scotch Irish Pioneers In Ulster and America by Charles Knowles Bolton.

    The Scotch-Irish. Or the Scot in North Britain, North Ireland and North America, by Charles A. Hanna.

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725 by David Dobson.

The Scotch-Irish in America by Henry Jones Ford.

Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia, Extracted from the Original Court Records of Augusta County, 1745-1800 by Lyman Chalkley.

The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania by Wayland F. Dunaway.

Pennsylvania Genealogies, Chiefly Scotch-Irish and German 2nd edition by William Henry Egle.

Vital Records of Londonderry, New Hampshire, 1719-1910 by Daniel Gage Annis.

Scotch-Irish Migration to South Carolina, 1772: Rev. William Martin and His Five Shiploads of Settlers by Jean Stephenson.

Note that Family Tree Maker will also sell you access to the CD on line for a period of time.

Publishers of books and CDs

A major publisher of genealogical material, search here for cds and books. .


Before 1850 most Ulster Scots/Scotch-Irish were Presbyterians, but of course not all. It's not understood that Presbyterianism is a form of church government and that there are several churches of Presbyterian form. Dissenting Presbyterians are particularly important in Scotch-Irish research. They may not deposit in the Presbyterian Historical Society. For more info see the links section. Here's a couple additional suggestions.

Presbyterian Church (USA) Department of History (Montreat) 318 Georgia
Terrace Montreat, NC 28757 704-669-7061 William B. Bynum, Research Historian

Specialize in Presbyterian Church Records from southern states. Organization formerly known as the Historical Foundation of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.

Presbyterian Historical Society 425 Lombard Street Philadelphia, PA 19147 215-627-1852. The society cannot do genealogical searches for patrons. They do assist visiting researchers and refer inquirers to people familiar with the records who will search for a fee.

Listmember John Carpenter says:

The historical center for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has two repositories, one in Philadelphia, and one in Montreat NC.  The Philadelphia one came from the northern church and now acts as repository for churches from the northern part of the US and that in Montreat belonged to the southern church.  They now represent north and south, regardless of which branch the congregation belonged to.  For instance, Ft. Davis, Alpine, and Marfa TX all had northern churches established by the same minister, but now their records (at least what if anything they've sent in)will be at Montreat.  The addresses are:
Presbyterian Historical Society (Department of History and Records Management Services)

425 Lombard Street

Philadelphia PA 19147-1516

The Montreat address is just Montreat NC 28757.  Since Montreat is basically a Presbyterian center, all you need for it is the town and zip. They have some things from every branch of the Presbyterian church, but the primary center for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church is in Memphis.

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© 2008 Linda Merle. Do not duplicate without the written consent of the author.