Scottish genealogy

Scottish Genealogy Research and Resources

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited and updated post originally by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. In this piece, Ms. Barkley provides guidance on getting started with Scottish genealogy in particular, and lists websites, publications and other resources that may be of interest to those digging into their past in Scotland and the British Isles. 

Americans have always displayed interest in British Isles genealogy. The fact that the Family History Library in Salt Lake devotes an entire floor to British Isles resources illustrates the depth of that interest. With the 1995 success of the movies Rob Roy and Braveheart, the interest in all things Scottish, and the desire to discover Scottish ancestors, has grown exponentially in United States.

In 1999, under the leadership of Sen. Trent Lott, the United States Senate passed Resolution No. 155 establishing Tartan Day as a day of special significance for all Americans, particularly those of Scottish descent. The date was not chosen randomly, as it was on 6 April 1320 that the Scottish declaration of independence, the Declaration of Arbroath, was signed. Some 450 years later, this seminal document would provide inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence. The Senate, by establishing Tartan Day, created an official date on which Americans of Scottish descent come together to celebrate their shared heritage, as well as the richness of the contributions that Scottish Americans have made in the history of our nation, and indeed of the world. (For example, forty-eight recipients of the Nobel Prize were born in Scotland or are of documented Scottish descent.)

The basics of Scottish genealogical research revolve around the “three C’s” of church, census, and civil registration records. Later research can then involve testaments, sasines, military, immigration, and many other types of records. A very (very!) brief summary includes:

The Old Parish Registers (OPR) are the records of births/baptisms and banns/marriages kept by individual parishes of the Established Church (Church of Scotland) before the introduction of civil registration in 1855. Deaths and burials were recorded infrequently and, if found, usually record the rental of the mort cloth – the pall draped over the coffin. The OPRs provide the opportunity to research these events beginning as early as 1553, depending on the parish. These registers are easily accessible at LDS Family History Centers through the Scottish Church Records database and through extracted data online at FamilySearch. In addition, they may be accessed online (fee-based) at Scotlandspeople, the official government source for genealogical data for Scotland. Please note that there may be more information available through the Scotlandspeople site as the general record offices are constantly updating their indices as errors or misinterpretations in the original documents are identified. Before using these records, researchers should read about the history of the official church in Scotland to understand which church was official and which records were created during a specific time period, as well as the records that may be available for nonconformists.

Several sources and websites can provide a great deal of assistance as you research your Scottish roots. Some of my favorites, in addition to those I will discuss in more detail, include the following:

The Scottish census is available online from 1841 to 1901 (check the Ancestry website for subscription pricing or check the subscription to AncestryPlus at your local public library) and from Scotlandspeople [fee based] from 1841 to 1911. The index to the 1881 census is a free index on Ancestry and on FamilySearch. Again, read about how the census data was collected. Unlike the United States, the British census is a snapshot of the people in a household on a given night and can therefore include people who were visiting overnight and who might normally belong to a household elsewhere. If Aunt Phebe was visiting an old childhood friend (a name probably unknown to you) in another town or area of the country, it will be difficult to locate her in that specific census.

The Statutory Registers (civil registration) are the official records of births, marriages, and deaths in Scotland from 1 January 1855. These records were compulsory, were unrelated to religious denomination, and followed a standard entry format. Indices to many of these records are available on the fee-based website Scotlandspeople. One caveat (as with any research) is that indices do not include all of the data in the actual register entry (for example, birth indices do not include parents’ names, and marriage and death indices include only the year of the event – the full date is in the actual register entry). In addition, restrictions apply to which full records may be viewed online. Due to privacy restrictions, images of birth entries are available from 1855 to 1910, marriages from 1855 to 1932, and deaths from 1855 to 1960. For records in years that cannot be viewed online, you can still use the indices to help you decide which record abstracts you may wish to order.

Image Credit: Robert Modern‘s map of England, Scotland, and Ireland (the “British Isles“), c. 1680. By Robert Morden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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.