Norther Ireland Genealogy

A Look at Northern Ireland Genealogy Research – Part I

Editor’s Note: The post below has been adapted from a post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. The topic of Northern Ireland Genealogy is extensive, and what we attempt to address in three parts is merely brushing the surface. We aim to provide a foundation in the history, records, and resources to assist those looking for their roots in Northern Ireland Genealogy. 

Some may find Irish research more difficult than other immigrant-related genealogy. It is not enough to know the unique record categories of Irish genealogy – Title Applotments, Griffith’s Valuation, and the Spinning Wheel Premium Bounty List – to name only a few. Instead, to do Irish research well requires an understanding of its history and jurisdictions as well as its records.

To help you delve into your own Irish-related genealogy, let’s take a brief look at the history of the Northern Ireland, the various jurisdictional divisions effecting Irish records, and a few of the more unique record types. Obviously, these topics are more extensive than we have space allowed here. Even so, the information will be presented in three parts. (Please see Part II to learn more about jurisdictions and records, and Part III for resources to assist your research.)

Ireland – A brief look at the historical perspective

Ireland’s history is characterized by invasion: the earliest arrivals in 6500 B.C., the Danes and the Vikings in the eighth and ninth centuries, the Normans in the twelfth century, and the mid-sixteenth century “reconquest” begun by England’s Henry VIII. As might be expected, these invasions ran into severe resistance and the subsequent uprisings seemed continual. In Ulster, the O’Neills and the O’Donnells fought back unsuccessfully during the Nine Years War (1594-1603), resulting in the “flight of the Earls” in 1607. Their defeat opened the door for the “planting” of English and Scottish families in the northern counties – the Ulster Plantation. Another wave of rebellion occurred in 1641, but was finally extinguished in 1649 following Cromwell’s victory in the English Civil War.

With the advent of a degree of peace, much of the land was removed from the indigenous Catholic ownership and redistributed to individuals in favor with the new government in London. Following the return of the Stuarts to the throne, James II invited many settlers into Ireland, particularly Protestants, in an attempt to stifle rebellion and to gain firmer control over the island.  When James was himself defeated in Ireland by William of Orange in 1690, the resulting rent increases, wide-spread emigration of Catholics, and imposition of the Penal Laws not only restricted Catholic rights, but often applied to Presbyterians as well, prompting their emigration to North American and Canada.

While the beauty of the Irish countryside suggested a bucolic peacefulness, such an image was misleading. In 1800, under the Acts of Union, the Kingdom of Ireland was combined with the Kingdom of Great Britain forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Following the abolition of the Irish Parliament and the transfer of representation to Westminster, unrest became more frequent and vocal.

The rising in 1916, known as the Easter Rebellion, led to twenty-six counties choosing independence and eventually, five years later in 1921, to the creation of the Republic of Ireland [or “The Irish Free State” for those of us who went to school at a certain time]. Six counties, however, – Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Derry, and Tyrone, chose to remain within the United Kingdom and became known as “Northern Ireland.” Modern history attests to the fact that struggle, often violent, remains a part of life in Northern Ireland. Sectarian feelings remain strong and a fragile co-existence has been achieved only within the past decade.

Please visit Northern Ireland Genealogy – Part II which includes civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and Northern Ireland Genealogy – Part III Research Resources (coming soon) to learn more.

Image Credit: Andy Hay, via The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Please visit their website to see the image in context and learn more about RSPB work in Northern Ireland: .



Wood County Courthouse, West Virginia, Court Records, Chancery Records

Law Causes – Beyond Chancery Suits

Editor’s Note: The following is a lightly revised post originally written by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. We’ve been bringing many of Ms. Barkley’s old posts out of the archives, as her depth of knowledge on the topics she covered is exceptional. We’d like to continue to share her wisdom with all of our current readers. 

The post below discusses court records, including chancery suits, and how these cases can be helpful in your genealogical quest. Two publications are particularly helpful in discovering, understanding and utilizing court records: Elizabeth Petty Bentley, County Courthouse Book, 3rd edition, and Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd edition. 

Court records are some of the most revealing records in terms of our ancestors’ actions and the community environment in which they lived. It is important to understand that there are several types of court records and that it may be necessary to examine all of them. Further, it is important to know that the names of specific courts differ among states and time periods and that records may not be extant for all time periods.

Regardless of the locality, but depending on the time period and type of court, you will be able to locate the following types of records:

  • the actual workings of the court itself (dockets, minutes, orders, etc.);
  • land transactions (deeds, grants, mortgages, surveys, plats, etc.);
  • probates (wills, estates, administrations, executors, inventories, sales, etc.);
  • vital records (births, marriages, deaths);
  • taxation (payment lists, delinquency lists, etc.);
  • “law causes” (trials, suits, criminal and civil actions, judgments, etc.) and chancery cases (divorces, land divisions, etc.)

It is this last category, law causes and chancery cases, that often contains the most interesting information. Chancery cases are those in which the “equity” or fairness of a suit is decided; law causes are those governed by a clear determination of right or wrong as defined by the law. The term “law causes” (or “common law causes”) is what is used in my local courthouse (Nelson County, Virginia) to refer to all court cases other than chancery. Your courthouse may use a different term. Continue reading…

Scots-Irish descent, Hatfield, Scotch-Irish

The Origins of the Scots-Irish

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt discussing the migration patterns amongst the Scots-Irish by Dr. David Dobson, who has devoted years to the extraction of information pertaining to the Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish). Among his well researched publications is Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725. In Two Parts [Part One & Part Two]. This work identifies some 1,200 Scots who resided in Ulster between the early 1600s and the early 1700s. In a number of cases, David Dobson provides information on the person’s spouse, children, local origins, landholding, and, of course, the source of the information. Also of interest see Searching for Scotch-Irish Roots in Scottish Records, 1600-1750, which is a roadmap to the available sources in Scottish libraries and archives that could assist persons of Scots-Irish descent. Please see the end of this article for purchase information for other publications on this subject. 

Since the medieval period there had been a continuous small-scale migration from Scotland to Ireland, many of the migrants being ‘gallowglasses’ or mercenary Highland soldiers. From the fourteenth century onward the Scottish Clan Donald significantly increased its power and influence in the western Highlands and Islands. The head of Clan Donald was the Lord of the Isles. The territory controlled by Clan Donald extended to Ireland when, through marriage, it established a branch in County Antrim in the fifteenth century. Scotland’s King James IV successfully reduced the power of the Lordship of the Isles–which he abolished in 1493–and the power of Clan Donald diminished. Clan Campbell began to expand its lands in Argyll, where the MacDonalds had once been supreme. This contributed toward an exodus of MacDonalds and their septs to Ireland.

The settlement by Scots in Ireland during the early modern period began in the late sixteenth century. Turlough Luineach O’Neill married Agnes Campbell, widow of James McDonnell of the Glens and the Isles, and resulting from this in 1580 a force of 2000 ‘Redshanks’ [Highland Scots mercenaries] came to Ireland. The objective was to support the native Irish in their struggle against the Tudor English, who were attempting to gain control of the whole island of Ireland. These fighting men differed from the later Scottish immigrants in that they were Gaelic-speaking Highland Catholics. These men are likely to have been recruited in Argyll and other territories controlled by Clan Donald and would have sailed from various bays and sea-lochs there. The lack of contemporary records, however, means that, apart from the leaders of this expedition, the majority of men or their origins cannot be identified.

The next wave of emigrants from Scotland arrived in Down and Antrim as a result of two Ayrshire lairds, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, acquiring land there from Con O’Neill in 1606. Around the same time, Randall McDonnell, a descendant of the Highland redshanks, was granted much of northern Down. Despite being a Catholic, McDonnell encouraged Lowland Scots Protestants to settle there. The establishment of the Plantation of Ulster itself was a direct consequence of the Flight of the Earls, when the elite of the indigenous Irish abandoned their struggle with England and took refuge in the Catholic lands of Europe in 1607. King James then divided their lands and allocated them to English and Scottish landowners, known as “undertakers,” who undertook to settle the lands with British Protestants.

The Scottish landowners overwhelmingly came from the counties of Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Kirkcudbrightshire, and Dumfries-shire and would have recruited settlers for their Ulster estates from among their own territories in Scotland. For example, Hamilton and Montgomery would have brought people from Ayrshire and in all likelihood shipped them through the port of Ayr, while the MacClellands enlisted settlers from their lands in Galloway and are likely to have shipped them via Kirkcudbright to Londonderry.

Scottish migration to Ireland unfolded in distinct stages, firstly the Highlanders and Islanders in the late sixteenth century, then the Hamilton-Montgomery Lowlanders, followed by the Plantation period from 1610 to 1630, in the 1650s following the close of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, in the 1670s following the failure of the Covenanters Risings in Scotland, and finally in the 1690s resulting from successive poor harvests in Scotland. While the Highlanders arriving in the late sixteenth century were Catholic, the Lowland Scots arriving during the seventeenth century were mainly Protestant, Episcopalian at first and after 1641 overwhelmingly Presbyterian, apart from a few Catholics such as the Hamiltons, from Paisley, and their servants who settled in Strabane.

The migrants of the seventeenth century sailed from various ports in southwest Scotland, and landed in Ulster ports from Strangford to Londonderry. The Scottish ports were Girvan, Ballantrae, Irvine, Port Glasgow, Ayr, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries, Glasgow, Port Patrick, Largs, and Greenock. These ports originally were engaged in trade or fishing, but as Scottish settlement in Ireland increased, trade increased, and with more merchant ships bound for Ireland the opportunity to emigrate there increased. East Ulster ports had strong links with Largs, Ayr, and Kirkcudbright; Ayr also had such with Belfast and Londonderry. The Scottish port books of the period, though far from comprehensive, do reveal trading routes and the commodities exported or imported; however, little or no data survives that would identify passengers. Fortunately, burgh and church records (as well as certain family papers) do on occasion identify people bound for Ireland, and even refugees returning after the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The port books, the kirk session records, and certain family or estate papers can be consulted in the National Archives of Scotland. The port books of Londonderry, Coleraine, Carrickfergus and the Lecale ports for the years 1612-1615 have been transcribed and published, which provides insight to the trading links and therefore immigration routes at the time of the Plantation.

Additional publications by Dr. David Dobson on the Scots-Irish:

Later Scots-Irish Links

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725, Part Three 

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725, Part Four

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725, Part Five  

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725, Part Six 

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725, Part Seven

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725. Part Eight  

Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725. Part Nine

Image Credit: The Hatfield Clan of the Hatfield-McCoy-feud, a both prominent and infamous West Virginia family of Scots-Irish ancestry. Public domain, via wikimedia commons.

Courthouse records, courthouse, chancery

Courthouse Records – Why Visiting in Person is Still Necessary

Editor’s Note: The original post, slightly edited and republished below, was written by the late Carolyn L. Barkley and published in 2012. The information she shares on why it is important to visit a courthouse in person, as well as tips for making your research more efficient while you’re there, is no less relevant today than when she wrote this. Please keep in mind that in the last two years some of the information regarding online record availability or pricing may have changed. 

Get thee to the courthouse!

I think that we genealogists may be in danger of falling victim to the need for instant satisfaction. The ability to look at records on Ancestry or FamilySearch, or any number of online resources, is seductive. We like the fact that we don’t have to leave the comfort of our own homes – or at least, don’t have to go further than our local library – to do our research. The plethora of materials accessible with ease saves us a great deal of time and effort – and for those of us with asthmatic tendencies — prevents exposure to moldy and musty materials. What could be wrong with this image, you might ask? First, the majority of courthouse records are not available online at this time, although some jurisdictions are more open to digital access than others. Second, in my judgment, when we rely too heavily on easy online access, we risk distancing ourselves from the records themselves, depriving ourselves of a more intimate understanding of their content, organization, and relationship with other records in the same geographical area.

The solution to this online dependency is when at all possible, visit a courthouse in person. If distance prohibits such onsite research, consult microfilm copies of the records. Here are some strategies: Continue reading…

Census, Soundex

Using Soundex

Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from Emily Croom’s bestselling Unpuzzling Your Past. 4th Edition Expanded, Updated and Revised, an invaluable guide which provides all the tools you need to begin your family research. More information about Ms. Croom’s book can be found at the end of this article.

In the following, Ms. Croom discusses how to utilize the Soundex code for genealogical research, which states have the information for specific census years, as well as issues you may encounter in your research.

The 1880, 1900, and 1920 federal censuses and parts of the 1910 and 1930 censuses are indexed by state using a code based on the sounds in surnames. This indexing system is called Soundex. It is most often available as microfilm of the cards on which basic census information was written . . . . The Soundex is especially useful when you do not know specifically where the family was living in the census year. It will tell you their county and community and where you can find them on the census.

One drawback of the 1880 Soundex is that it includes only households with children age ten and under. If Great-Grandpa’s children were already over age ten by 1880, you cannot find him in the Soundex unless he lived with a family that included young children.

States with 1910 Soundex (or Miracode, a Similar System)

Alabama          Illinois             Mississippi                 Pennsylvania

Arkansas         Kansas           Missouri                     South Carolina

California        Kentucky        North Carolina            Tennessee

Florida             Louisiana         Ohio                            Texas

Georgia            Michigan         Oklahoma                    Virginia

West Virginia                                                                                    Continue reading…