Does your lineage lead to Ulster? Unravel your family’s migrations with our guide to Scots-Irish history and genealogy.
Since the Colonial period, one of Americas’s most interesting ethnic groups has been the Scottish people who, in the 16th and 17th centuries, answered the call of leases for land in the northern counties of Ireland, known as Ulster, before immigrating en masse to America in the 18th century. Their distinct—some might even say stubborn—sense of independence has hurled them to and beyond the US frontier and even shows up in what to call the group.
While Americans have often called them “Scots-Irish,” these fervent Protestants began adopting the term “Ulster Scots” in the mid-1800s to separate themselves from the generally Roman Catholic Irish immigrants arriving on American shores in droves. (For those not using the term Ulster Scots today, Scots-Irish has generally supplanted the use of “Scotch-Irish” in America.)
Their two-step immigration process—first to Ulster and then to America, separated by a century or two—complicates Scots-Irish research, as do record losses and in some cases, a simple lack of a record-keeping tradition. But despite these difficulties, you can find a bagpipeful of records, documents and methodologies to track down the ancestry of these wandering, pioneering Ulster Scotsmen.