5 clues that your ancestors are Scots-Irish–Part III

5) Separation of Church and State.  Government controlled and supported religion drove your Scots-Irish ancestors to America.  In 1560, the Presbyterian religion became the Church of Scotland.  Your ancestors embraced Presbyterian doctrine by National Covenant in Scotland in 1638 and pledged, before God, to resist government restrictions.  They carried that Covenant with them to Ireland.  When the English government revoked their rights, declared their marriages invalid, their children illegitimate, and unable to inherit family property, your Scots-Irish ancestors left for America.

Their basic distrust of government controls and their determination to preserve their family property resulted in only 20-40% Scots-Irish writing wills.  You see, in the British world, the Anglican Church administered and controlled probate until 1858.  Your Scots-Irish ancestors settled their own estates before they died by granting property to daughters and sons at the time they married; or, they disposed of their assets to trustees, called “friends,” until the children reached legal age to inherit.  They did not give their property to the Crown or to the established Church if they could help it.

Zachariah Johnston of Lexington, Virginia said it best:  He stood before the Virginia House of Burgesses in response to Patrick Henry’s stirring speech in support of an established church: “Mr. President, I was born a Presbyterian and I shall die a Presbyterian!  But that day that Presbyterianism should become established as the religion of this country, I shall cease to be a Presbyterian.”  Government had no right to control religion.  Each was separate.

Be sure to search:

  • Presbytery minutes
  • ministers’ diaries–many congregations came to America together with their minister as the leader of the group.  Diaries for John Craig and Charles Cummings (Anglican until he moved to Southwest Virginia where he became a Presbyterian) are available on microfilm or in print
  • Shane Collection–three sections, (all available on microfilm)
  • Draper Manuscripts Collection (available on microfilm)
  • watch for estate settlements in deed books
  • also check for local church histories, church anniversary edition publications, church books extracted and published by local genealogy societies
  • and be diligent in your search for local newspaper gossip columns with weddings, christenings, funerals, reports of church attendance, and special events

Remember that Scots-Irish were active church goers–in Scotland, in Ireland, and in America.  Church records are among the least used of any record category by modern genealogists.  Church records may be hard to find–very bad decision to avoid searching the most significant source, just because it takes search time to find them.  The local members become a mini-census surrounding the migration of your ancestors.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle    http://arleneeakle.com

PS Stay tuned for more evidence that your ancestors were Scots-Irish.  And then be prepared to add new titles to your reading list for the summer.  Most of the books are quite easy to acquire or borrow.


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