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Four years ago, my search for the 1718 emigrants began in earnest. After seeing the success of the 'Migration Project' begun by the New England Historical Genealogical Society, I began to dream of such a project focused on the 1718 Scotch-Irish emigrants. Along the way I have learned some valuable lessons about this ethnic group that makes this project much more difficult.

The Scotch-Irish did NOT stay in their little towns for generations. Considering the times, I find their movement amazing. One man, Moses White, is found in the records of the Dutch Reformed church in Abington, Pennsylvania as an 'early arrival of Ireland' with many others in 1719. Moses is then listed in 1722 as an Elder in the new Presbyterian church in Neshaminy, Bucks County, Pennsylvania just a few miles away from Abington. By 1750, Moses and his sons have moved more then 700 miles away to the highlands of South Carolina in York County. It was in an old school building, on the shelves of the York County Historical Society, that I found the life of this man recorded by his descendants some 250 years later. Imagine searching 700 miles of country filled with towns and counties for one man and his family. Seemingly impossible, but not to his family, whose traditions preserved the knowledge of where to start looking.

The Scotch-Irish began as Presbyterians, but within one or two generations became Methodist, Congregational, Reformed Presbyterian, Baptist, or any other of the numerous denominations that have served our country’s religious needs. There is some valid speculation that many of the second generation of Quakers to Pennsylvania from 1705-1725 were originally Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. That may explain the numbers of Quakers who willingly fought in the Indian and revolutionary wars of the 18th century, despite Quaker traditions. Researchers should not exclude researching in a particular denomination because it mightn’t look Presbyterian enough for a Scotch-Irishman.

The local and national historical and genealogical societies are great resources for 1718 research. By contrast, universities and colleges in America have little or no interest in genealogical research; for them, it simply does not pay the bills. The academic world often does not grasp the fundamental premises of genealogy research, and since conjecture and surmise play a large part in our work, there is little room for genealogy in modern day classrooms. Fortunately, societies which have been in existence since the mid-1800’s have undertaken the preservation and documentation of our nation’s genealogical past. Societies also were first to realize the vast wealth of information and tremendous value of the Internet to genealogical research. Most societies focus on a geographical location. Finding such a society in an area in which a large group of Scotch-Irish lived can be invaluable. The Lancaster County Historical Society in Pennsylvania is such an example: http://www.lancasterhistory.org

There is no such thing as a Scotch-Irish surname. Our names may have originated, and may still be found, in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, even sometimes in France. I still laugh when I enter a genealogical library and the first question is 'What surname are you looking for'? My answer of 'Yes' usually gives me an opening to explain my research. If you have a particular clearly identified surname of interest, count your blessings, but don’t be blind to the inability of American writers to discern the true spelling of that name. Imagine the old English harbourmaster talking to the young Gaelic shipmaster and you can imagine the difficulty both felt in understanding each other. Reverend Parker mentions many times that Gaelic was still used in Londonderry, New Hampshire by the second or third generation of the 1718 emigrants, and we know that the Scots language also survived for several generations.

My generation is largely ignorant of its past. In fact, not until I had completed research on my Boyd family did my 70-something mother discover her Presbyterian roots. She had always thought she was the 'first' in the family to be Presbyterian. Seeing her cry while reading about her ancestors in Londonderry, New Hampshire and Ireland opened an amazing window to my family’s true heritage. Unfortunately, the passage of so many generations and the daily grind of life in America has shut that window for many descendants of the Scotch-Irish. However, the explosion of interest in the Scotch-Irish heritage can be seen all over the genealogical landscape. Over 800 members actively discuss Scotch-Irish research at the Rootsweb site monitored by Linda Merle. This e-mailing group is largely responsible for my involvement with Scotch-Irish research.

No one has yet written a definitive book about the methodology for Scotch-Irish research in America, though William Roulston’s book, Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors.. (2005) is an essential introduction to the Irish background. The pioneer lives of these families, their ability to melt leaving few traces, into widely varying religious and political parties, their distinct distrust of political or religious authority, and their 'wanderlust' make them a hard people to document. I research a family, a town, a church between the time period of 1715 to 1800; given the networks of kinship and neighbourhood within which these people lived their lives, chances are I’ll strike gold, and find information about the families I’m particularly interested in.

 

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