Scots-Irish Genealogy: Getting Started

Researching your Scots-Irish genealogy is easier if you can identify your ancestors as Scots-Irish! The Scots-Irish put down early roots in Virginia, the Carolinas, and the Appalachian “backcountry” and would likely have come from Northern Ireland or Scotland. Read these important tips for tracing your Scots-Irish family history.

Thanks to Suzanne Earnshaw, Project Manager at Legacy Tree Genealogists, for providing this expert how-to article on tracing your Scots-Irish family history.

Who were the Scots-Irish?

Researchers use the term “Scots-Irish” to identify a people who went back and forth between Scotland and Ulster, Ireland. The North Channel, shown on the map below (click on it to see the original image), is also known as the Straits of Moyle. It connects the west coast of Scotland and the Mull of Galloway at the narrowest part the strait. There, the strait spans only 13 miles. This short distance between Northern Ireland ports and the western Scotland ports made trade and commuting quite common between Ireland and Scotland.

Researching your Scots-Irish genealogy

To find a Scots-Irish ancestor, start with what you do know. For example, my ancestors immigrated to America from Scotland in the 1880s. I traced my great-great-grandmother here in the US through US records, until I found a record which stated that she had emigrated from New Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Then, I began searching Scotland Census records in 1881 to find out more about my ancestors.

Good research methodology includes finding your ancestors in each record possible to get an accurate picture of their life, and collecting data through which you can learn more about the previous generation. As I moved back in time through the Scottish censuses in 1871, 1861, 1851, and finally 1841, I found that some of these family members family on a record were born in Scotland and others were born in Ireland—my ancestors were Scots-Irish and moved fluidly back and forth between Ireland and Scotland. Based on this fact, I then knew to conduct research in records for both Scotland and Ireland to find additional family records.

Scots-Irish Genealogy Resources on

The free genealogy giant has a variety of records available, which are cataloged by collection. To learn what collections are available, go to, sign in for free (click here to learn how and why), click Search and then Catalog. Type in the place you would like to search for record collections.

Records were often kept at a variety of government and church levels, and they might be cataloged differently. To properly research, type in “Scotland” and see what records are available. Then type in a narrower geographic area such as “Scotland, Dumbartonshire” and see which of those records might be of interest to you. The next search would be even more specific: “Scotland, Dumbartonshire, New Kilpatrick.” This increasingly-specific record search process can be done for any place.

If you type “Ireland” into the FamilySearch catalog request, one of your choices is the collection Death records of Ireland, 1864-1870, with index of deaths, 1864-1921. Clicking on this collection takes you to the collection page. There is a note: “Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes are available online” (see #1 in the screenshot below). By selecting that option, you will be able to search an index of names that appear in “1864-1958 births, 1845-1958 marriages, and 1864-1958 deaths, but excluding index records for Northern Ireland after its creation in 1922.” Note that the index extends to 1958, further than the collection name indicates.

Searching this index is a good first step, since it will provide you with the registration district if your ancestor is listed. Type in the name and identifying details. When I searched for “Catherine Halloran” Death 1900-1950, I found the birth that matched and it gave me the registration district as Galway.

To view record images available in this collection, you’ll need to scroll down on the above catalog page. You’ll see the collection broken down into groups of records. Those with a camera icon on the far right (#2 above) have digital images on the site that you can browse through page by page. (Click here for instructions on browsing FamilySearch images.) Unfortunately, images of the original 1931 death records and the original index aren’t on the site; you’d only be able to look at original records through 1870 and the original index through 1921, as the collection name indicates.

More sites for tracing Scots-Irish genealogy This website is free and home to the historic records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths of the General Register Office. Civil registration in Ireland began in 1864. Church records are also available on this website. Most on this website are for the Roman Catholic Church, but they do have some Presbyterian records as well.

The Ulster Irish were mostly Protestant by faith, since many were originally English. The Scots mostly worshiped as Presbyterians (a type of Protestantism). Knowing your ancestor’s religion might be a clue to which records to begin research. This website can help you research your family pre-census. The Primary Valuation was the first full-scale valuation of property in Ireland. It was overseen by Richard Griffith and published between 1847 and 1864. To find your family, enter their surname in the search box. If you know the county you can put in that as well to limit the amount of records returned. Tip: Searching without the location can give you an understanding of the distribution of a surname at the time the valuation was taken.

Tithe Applotment Survey at This site has the Tithe Applotment Survey of 1823-1938 for the 26 counties of the Republic. For information on how to search Scottish records on this official website for searching government records and archives, click here.

Here is my final tip: as you research your Scots-Irish ancestors be sure to thoroughly search record collections by looking for a variety of spellings, using wildcards in your search terms, and reviewing original records page by page when you don’t find them in indexes.

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Trace Your Irish Ancestors with Four Historical and Geographical Tips

Let’s trace your Irish ancestors! Irish research tips are a must-have for this historically violent little island. Senior Researcher at Legacy Tree Genealogists, Kate Eakman, shares with you four historical and geographical tips to get you off to the right start.

trace Irish ancestors tips

By Jonto at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Kate Eakman is a Senior Researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit the Legacy Tree Genealogists website.

Trace Your Irish Ancestors: 4 Tips

Kate Eakman from Legacy Family Tree Genealogists

Irish research can be difficult. Although the island is small–about the same size as the state of Indiana–its violent history and many divisions makes research complicated. In addition, many United States records simply report our ancestors were from Ireland with no indication of the county of their birth. However, knowing a little bit about the history and geography can provide the necessary clues. Here are four tips that can help you trace your Irish ancestors from the United States back to Ireland.

Tip 1: Understand the Island of Ireland Today

There are two distinct political entities on the island of Ireland: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The dividing line was drawn by England in 1922. This is an important date to keep in mind when searching for more recent Irish ancestors.

The Republic of Ireland, or Eire, is an independent nation made up of the southern 26 counties of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is predominantly Catholic, with about 3% of the population identifying itself as Protestant. Indices and links to copies of the civil birth records for the years 1864 to 1915, marriages between 1882 and 1940, and death records between 1891 and 1965 are available for free from the IrishGenealogy website. (These records include those of the Northern Irish counties up to 1922.) Official copies can be ordered from the General Records Office in Dublin.

Map of the counties of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Photo courtesy

Northern Ireland, also known as Ulster, is a part of the United Kingdom–although it is self-governing like Canada or Australia. Although the counties of Northern Ireland are not officially used today, it is comprised of the traditional counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Londonderry (also known by the more traditional name of Derry). Although most Americans believe that Northern Ireland is a Protestant nation, the reality is that today there are almost an equal number of Catholics as there are Protestants in Northern Ireland. Civil birth, marriage, and death records can be ordered from GRONI (General Records Office Northern Ireland).

Tip 2: Turn to U.S. Census Records

From the 1880 U.S. Census through the 1920 U.S. Census, Irish ancestors who immigrated to the United States, or whose parents were natives of Ireland, simply reported they were natives of Ireland. However, since the 1930 U.S. Census was taken after the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1922, it often noted the specific country from which ancestors originated.

In this sample (below) from the 1930 U.S. census, we can see John O’Reilly was born in “North. Ireland,” as were his mother and her parents. His father, however, was from the Irish Free State, or the Republic of Ireland. This information tells us where to search for John’s birth: in one of the six counties of Northern Ireland. His mother’s birth record will also be from Northern Ireland, and probably his parents’ marriage record also, since it is more traditional to marry in the bride’s hometown than the groom’s.

There is the potential that a much larger search will be necessary for John’s father’s birth record unless the marriage record can be found and it specifies in which of the 26 Republic of Ireland counties he was born.

John J. O’Reilly and his mother in the 1930 U.S. Census report. The detail shows where John was born, then his father’s place of birth, followed by his mother’s place of birth. The second line was the same information for John’s mother. Images courtesy

If your Irish ancestor, or the child of that ancestor, is listed in the 1930 U.S. census, pay close attention to where they reported they and their parents were born. You might find a very helpful clue in that census report.

Tip 3: Look to Religion for Clues

While many people associate Roman Catholicism with Ireland, there are many Protestants living in Northern Ireland and fewer in the Republic of Ireland. Knowing your family’s historical religious preference can provide a small hint. If your family has always been Catholic it is likely they were Catholics in Ireland. However, as we have already noted, with almost all of the Republic of Ireland expressing a preference for Catholicism and about 45% of the citizens of Northern Ireland claiming allegiance to the Catholic faith, you can see a Catholic religious heritage is not particularly unique.

However, if your family history includes the Episcopal faith, or there is something that references “the Church of Ireland” in your family’s records, then your family was most likely Protestant when they lived in Ireland. You are also more likely to find your Protestant ancestors in Northern Ireland (with the understanding that there are Protestants throughout the Republic of Ireland).

If your family is or has been Presbyterian, there is a very strong likelihood your family is actually Scots-Irish with your ancestors immigrating to Ireland from Scotland, bringing their Scottish religion with them. You will find most of these ancestors in Northern Ireland.

Tip 4: Move on to Military Records

World War I (1914-1918) was particularly brutal to the Irish. More than 30,000 of the 200,000 men who enlisted were killed in this war. Songs such as “Gallipoli” and “The Foggy Dew” mourned the loss of so many young Irish men in foreign wars, especially since the 1922 Irish War of Independence followed closely on the heels of World War I.

If one of your Irish ancestors fought and died in World War I, you can find his name and more at the website Ireland’s Memorial Records. Many (but not all) of the memorials include the county in which the soldier was born, as seen below:

trace Irish ancestors in military memorials

Memorial for John James of County Wexford. Courtesy Ireland’s Memorial Records.

Another website, Ireland’s World War I Veterans 1914-1918, has created a PDF list, updated every three months, which contains over 35,000 names of Irishmen who fought in World War I. If you know or suspect your Irish ancestor may have served in World War I and survived the experience, this is an excellent place to find a clue about his origins.

Trace Irish ancestors in veteran list

A sample of the list of those who served as created by Ireland’s World War I Veterans 1914-1918.

Although it can be difficult to find the correct place in Ireland for your family’s origins, there are some important clues, both historical and geographical, that can help you pinpoint a place to begin your search in Ireland.

Trace Your Irish Ancestors: In Conclusion

The 1930 U.S. census can provide an important clue to trace your Irish ancestors, as can your family’s religious heritage. If an Irish ancestor served in World War I, you may be able to determine the county in which he was born. A knowledge of the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as their location and the counties within those two countries, can help you contact the proper vital records office for those all-important vital records. So, go n-éirí leat! Good luck!

The team of expert genealogists at Legacy Tree Genealogists can help bust through your brick walls. They do the research and you enjoy the discoveries!

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