Research Strategies for Scots-Irish Ancestors in Ireland

Research in Ireland requires more than just a knowledge of the records and sources available. This knowledge may be found in American records and sources.  

Here are some key strategies along with the sources that make them work:  What religious faith did your ancestors accept and where did they physically go to church? If you don’t know…

  • Check tombstones and pay special attention to the artwork. Where in the public cemetery are they buried? Or what private graveyard do family members visit on special occasions? Are they interred in a churchyard?  The Ulster Historical Foundation has published more than 25 volumes of Monumental Inscriptions for Belfast, County Down, and County Antrim. These are available in many genealogy libraries or can be ordered: Unit 7, Cotton Court, Waring Street, Belfast BT1 2ED Northern Ireland UK. Surname-Given name Index to their online Gravestone Inscription Database of more than 59,000 entries is available to members only.
  • How do your ancestors spell their surnames in American records—Kelley is Protestant and Kelly is Catholic in West Virginia court records.  Persons with these surnames came into court to preserve their spellings.  In Scotland and Ireland Irish surnames are often spelled differently by religion—MacMaster (S=Prot) and Masterson (I=Cath); Doyle (S=Prot) and O Toole (I=Cath); Swan (S=Prot) and McSweeny (I=Cath); Graham (S=Prot) and McGrimes (I=Cath). These same spellings will accompany them to Pennsylvania and beyond.
  • What given names do they select for their children? Many kids are named for Saints. Which names do you find on your family group sheets? Basil, Stephen, and Agnes are Catholic. Check a good list of Saints at your public library or at any major bookstore.
  • How much tax did your ancestors pay in America? Hidden Catholic origins are buried in the tax rolls—where they paid double, triple, and even quadruple taxes depending upon the circumstances. In England, Catholics (called Popish Recusants to distinguish them from Quakers and other non-conformists) were double taxed in 1625 and from 1692-1794, when the double tax was abolished.  Discriminatory taxes were usually abolished in America as the states put constitutions into service.
  • Was their land confiscated? Did they change occupations frequently? Were they skilled craftsmen by tradition? You will enjoy looking at “Miscellaneous Forfeitures: English and Welsh Popish Recusants, 17th c.,” MS #17057E, National Library of Wales. FHL 826554, it.1.
  • Did your surname have an alias? Whitfield alias Blackett. Entries in the IGI preserve the alias. Watch carefully. The first surname is the Catholic family, the second is the nearest Protestant family who would inherit the land and estate in the normal course of inheritance. That way the lands could be protected and the Crown secure that the Protestant family was loyal. See also Forster Papers on Catholic Recusancy in Northumberland and Durham, 16th-18thc. 13 microfilm reels, FHL. Filmed 1986. Includes pedigrees, tax rolls, court affidavits, and other documents.
  • Folly of searching only northern Ireland or the Kingdom/Republic of Ireland.  Landholdings originally were granted first by the Crown to their retainers and then by these retainers to their own tenants in long narrow strips or in small segments within the townlands.  And to ensure that no retainer could muster enough military support to challenge the king, grants were awarded singly in several counties–spread apart. For example, the Hamilton Family land holdings were located in County Tyrone, County Donegal, Dublin Castle, Renfrewshire, Scotland, Paisley, London, and Bentley Priory.  The Alexander family held lands in County Tyrone, County Armagh, County Donegal, eventually spilling over into the area around Dublin.  Records for these landed estates can be found in both Irish Record Offices as well as several local archives and estate muniment halls.
  • The English government continually investigated the Irish and their affairs.  The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Law Library has a complete run of Parliamentary Reports published by the English government on Ireland and those published by the Irish Parliament.  Let’s consider two reports and their contents:
  1. Report of the Commissioners of Irish Education Inquiry.  Second Report, Dublin, 16th September 1826, presented by his Majesty’s Command to both Houses of Parliament (England). (FHL 1559450)  Appendix 22:  Parochial Returns, County of Antrim.  Includes the barony and parish, diocese, name of townland or place where the school is held, name of the master or mistress, religion of the master or mistress, free or pay school, total income of master or mistress arising in all ways from the school, descriptions of the schoolhouse and probable cost thereof, number of pupils in attendance by the Protestant Return and by the Roman Catholic Return, societies and associations with which the school is connected or assisted by, scriptures whether read in school or not.
  2. A Copy of the Registry of Freeholders in the County of Cavan, from 1 Jan 1825 to 1 Jan 1826. Cavan:  James OBrien, printers, 1826.  Describes the division of lands–contributing to the Irish Famine and shows WHY THE IRISH STARVED!  Provides the name of the freeholder, place of abode (townland), situation of freeholder, name of landlord, value, names of lives or other tenure, place and date of registry.

Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Watch for the use of designations as outlined in Blog 2 Mar 2013 in the sources listed above.  When matched with the underlying assumptions described here, you can make considerable progress with your ancestral lineage.  You just have to match the information on both sides of the ocean–not just what you find on the internet.

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