Scottish descendants have easy access to more resources and records than ever before. Here's how to look past the plaid and get started finding your real Scottish ancestors.
Kilt-clad Highlanders have long held our attention when it comes to imagining Scottish culture. Alas, most actual Scottish immigrants to these shores were less colorful Lowland Scots. But Lowlander, Highlander or Scots-Irish, they came in droves: Between 1820 and World War I, more than 2 million Scots immigrated to North America, comparable to Ireland and Norway in percentage of the country's population that emigrated.
A few at the top of the economic ladder came to North America just as their poorer countrymen did, but most immigrants left Scotland for economic reasons. A few left for religious reasons, such as Scottish Quakers who left in the 1680s to avoid persecution. These Quakers came to east New Jersey and the Delaware Valley. At the same time, a group of Scottish Presbyterians tried to establish a Presbyterian colony in South Carolina. Sometimes there were both religious and economic motives. Furthermore, some of your immigrant ancestors did not come by choice: Many Scots came as prisoners under Oliver Cromwell, or as a result of the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. Sometimes Scottish prisons were cleared and convicts shipped to the American colonies. Occasionally women and children were even kidnapped to serve as colonial laborers.
Some Scots in the British Army chose to stay in the Mohawk Valley area as landowners rather than return to Scotland following the French and Indian War. They later brought their families from Scotland. Whatever the reason for leaving Scotland, all immigrants left the only lives they had known and came to their new countries with hope for a brighter future.