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House in Kells

March 18, 2019

When I started my search for my Irish roots, I figured it would be a typical story of ancestors arriving in the United States during the Great Famine. Nope! Little did I know that my Irish took a much older and longer path from Scotland to Ireland to America. Yes, Scotland!

Ulster Irish, or as many Americans have called them, Scots-Irish, are Presbyterian Scots who traveled to Northern Ireland in the early 1600s with the Plantation of Ulster. These Scots were from the lowlands of Scotland where life was harsh. The English, wanting to colonize Ulster with Protestants, encouraged these Scots to travel to Ulster to start a new life. However, life was not as rosy as they were led to believe. Around the 1700s, this group began immigrating to America. Their migration patterns took them to Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee (where my ancestors settled), and Georgia. 

Many sources that genealogists use to trace ancestors, such as vital records and passenger lists, are not readily available for this group during the 1700s and early 1800s, so other sources are necessary. One place to look for Ulster Irish immigrants is the Belfast Newsletter, a daily newspaper in Northern Ireland where many passengers would thank the ship's captain for safe passage. You can access this newspaper through the Irish Newspaper Archives database on the Library’s website. There are many other Irish newspapers available in this resource, some dating as far back as the 18th and 19th Centuries. 

Another resource for tracing your Scots-Irish ancestry are classes offered at the Midwest Genealogy Center, notably Irish Records Research: The Colonial Period, Irish Records Research: Waves of Migration, and Tracing Your Immigrant Origins. These classes are offered throughout the year and will give you resources for tracing your immigrant ancestors.

The Findmypast database (in-library use only) is also a great resource with various Irish and Scottish records available for searching as well as our Topical Guide, Researching Your Irish Ancestors. Like my Scots-Irish ancestry, you never know what surprises you will learn!

Sheri V.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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