Category Archives: genealogy

The Day I Was on a National TV Show

Now I’m an Expert?

Sometime last year I was contacted by the production company that produces the Travel Channel Show The Dead Files. I had never heard of it before. I was told that they would be filming an episode in my town and wondered if I’d be interested in appearing on the show as their genealogy research expert. Now, that doesn’t happen every day, does it?

While the show is about paranormal activity, my part had nothing to do with that. I was just the “expert” who talks about the history of the people involved. Genealogy is my thing, and this sounded like fun so I agreed. The film crew kept referring to me as the expert. “Bring your expert in now.” “Have the expert sit here.” And so on. So weird, let me tell you!

I should add here that the show’s “experts” do not get paid. The really nice producer named Jeremy did buy me lunch, though, at The Mexican Place. (Not the actual name of the restaurant, but everyone who lives here will know what I’m talking about because that’s what we call it.)

About The Dead Files

If you haven’t seen the show before, here’s a quick summary. This year is the 12th season by the way, so it’s been around a long time! Basically, someone contacts the show and says they have some paranormal activity in their home and they need help. There are three segments to the show.  Steve DiSchiavi, a retired New York City police detective comes to research what’s going on from a detective-type point of view. He talks to “experts”, collects information, and then talks to the family. The second part involves a medium named Amy Allan who does a walk through of the house to see what she senses. I’m glad I had no part in that. It’s not that I don’t believe in the supernatural, I do. Jesus spoke to demons. They are real. But yeah, that’s creepy. No thank you. Anyway, they really do this in the middle of the night. That part you see on the show is true. Then the third part is where both Steve and Amy meet with the family. They each individually discuss their findings and then Amy tells the family what they need to do to rid themselves of this activity.

 

What I Did

Jeremy discussed with me what they’d found out and asked me to look over it. We discussed the research over the phone. I can tell you, they really do put in the research for these programs and double-check, using a lot of genealogy techniques I’m familiar with. They aren’t making this stuff up. It’s true that truth is stranger than fiction. Even so, some information wasn’t discovered, or at least revealed to me, until the day of the filming. That was because they were continuing looking for new information.

It was a hot Saturday in August. I was nervous, but Jeremy practiced with me until I felt confident I could remember all the names, dates, and details they wanted in my interview with Steve DiSchiavi.

 

Steve is a really nice guy. All the crew were very nice, polite, and patient. It was quite the experience. I’ve done television interviews on baseball topics and on my books before, but this, a full-fledged television program, was different. I kept saying, “This is just not my world.” Steve said, “It’s your world now!”

We met at a bar. We had water in our coffee cups. There seemed to be cameramen everywhere. I welcomed them to Ohio. They said they’d actually been to Ohio a lot. There is apparently a ton of paranormal activity in Ohio. Had I heard of a place called Springfield? Uh, yeah, I have!

 

I had the cord of a mic slung down under my dress and I sat on an extra cushion on my barstool because…yeah, because I’m so short! All the bottles at the bar had to be turned so that the labels didn’t show. The whole crew had to be completely silent during the filming. My glasses pushed up just right on my nose. Little details like that fascinate a novelist like me!

I made some mistakes. They just shot those parts over again. Sometimes an idea came to the producers so they decided to have me say something different. Sometimes Steve ad libbed something that he decided would work better. And there was the time I handed Steve a death certificate and he just smiled and handed it back to me. It was actually an obituary so I had to do that over again. They kept telling me I did great. They were super encouraging. At the end I told them I knew that I appeared terrified but I actually enjoyed it. Both Steve and Jeremy assured me that I did not look terrified. If I had, they would have done it over. They even asked if I’d be willing to do it again if they came back this way. Well, apparently that’s a possibility since it’s Ohio!

Season 12 Episode 5

It airs Thursday, February 27th on the Travel Channel. I have YouTube TV and the Travel Channel is on there now. There are other services if you don’t have cable, but you may not be able to see it right away.

I hope I don’t look dumb!

I don’t know who the family is. You’ll find out when I do. I do know the location of the house. Not because they told me, but because I don’t totally suck at research. I hope the people there are not truly in distress. I hope they find what they are looking for. There are two families mentioned in my part of the research, families who used to live on that property. Some are buried in the local cemetery. The oldest family name mentioned on the show is buried there too. I came across that plot by accident when I went to the cemetery to find the grave of the woman I mention in the show to pay my respects. I do hope she’s resting in peace. As a Christian, I also hope that God brings all those involved in this episode some peace, the peace of Jesus.

My 15 Minutes of Fame?

I hope not really. I’d rather be remembered for my books. Research is my passion, though, and seeing how this show goes about researching was fascinating. Seeing a national TV program filmed was educational and fun. I’m pleased they asked me!

Writing Your Genealogy

My Library Presentation

on Unsplash.com Roman Kraft
@romankraft

I was asked to make presentations at four branch libraries in Belmont County, OH. It was so fun to do this because the topic requested was how to write your family’s story after you’ve done the research.

Beyond Facts, Dates, and Sources

What genealogy enthusiast hasn’t tried to tell his or her family the genealogy story and been disappointed with the response. Eye rolling, blank stares…

Well, what is needed here is a story! If you are not a writer that could seem daunting, so I’ve made up a little outline to help. (Click to enlarge picture)

Timelines Are Essential

The main thing I want to point out here, the best way to get started, is to use a historical timeline. There are many online. Once you decide what ancestor you are going to use in your story, look at the times he/she lived in. Some of what happened may not have effected him/her, some may have, and some things certainly will have. Look at local history along with political events and natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods. Once you see what was happening at the time, a story may surface.

Of course we are always looking at wars: Civil War, WWII… but there are other things that happened: inventions, discoveries, industrial advances, labor strikes, mine disasters, train wrecks, protests, crop failures. Sometimes you will need to look for lesser known events.

For instance, I looked at the period of time in which my maternal grandfather was in the army, 1904-1906. It was not wartime, and yet it was an interesting time in history.  I’ll share the story I wrote about him, the one I shared with the library groups.

William Taylor Brown

WT Brown

William Taylor Brown (referred to as Taylor or WT) traveled from his home in the rural, rolling hills of Kentucky to the big city of Lexington to embark on a journey that would ensure he would never again be an isolated country boy unfamiliar with the ways of the world.

Born in 1880, during the time of violent family feuds in Kentucky, Taylor grew up in a family of eleven children. The industrial revolution passed rural Kentucky by. Nearly every family farmed for a living, most raised tobacco. Opportunities were few. Not many children continued their education beyond elementary school because they were needed to work the farm. Taylor had many scars on his body, as noted when at the age of 22, in April of 1904, he enlisted in the United States Army. Those scars may have been the result of farming injuries or perhaps he obtained them from fights. It is not known if his family participated in the feuds taking place all around them. His enlisting officer noted him as having good character.

He was sent to report to the Presidio in San Francisco, California. One can only imagine the train ride across the country. Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona were not yet admitted to the Union. Utah had only become a state eight years earlier. He would have marveled at bison on the plains, cattle drives, dust storms, and mountains much loftier than those he was used to in the east and snowcapped. He may have ridden the rails with folks ill with tuberculous who were bound for Colorado since the trend was to recuperate there at the time.

Photo by 223 223 on Unsplash

The Presidio had been a military establishment since it was founded by Spain in 1776. The U.S. Army took residence there beginning in 1848. It was the departure site for troops deploying to the Philippines when Taylor Brown was sent there. President Theodore Roosevelt visited the year before. It was a bustling military base near the city of San Francisco decades before the Golden Gate Bridge was built but 55 years after the Gold Rush ballooned the population.

Photo from the California State Archives online

Taylor Brown shipped off to the Philippines on June 1, 1904. It took 25 days to sail there, yet another adventure for the Kentucky boy. Six years earlier Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. Not wishing to be ruled by yet another nation, the people rebelled, and war broke out until the insurrection ended in 1902 and a provisional government was set up.

Clashes and guerilla warfare still broke out, however, over the next decade, thus the need for an American military presence and the reason Taylor Brown ended up there for eight months. A law was passed stating the island country would become independent eventually. It’s possible Taylor was involved in construction while in the Philippines. (Military history of Pasay Garrison during his stay is available in NARA but I have not yet explored it.)

He returned to San Francisco in March of 1905. His enlistment was for three years so he remained at his station and was there when on April 18, 1906, the great earthquake hit just after 5:00 in the morning.

Army troops provided security, fought fires, and provided all kinds of aid including building shelters. Later Taylor Brown would speak of fighting fires after the ’06 earthquake to his children.

WT with wife Lola and some of their children.

Almost exactly a year later Taylor was discharged from the army and returned to Kentucky. He worked as a laborer hauling logs and farmed. He stayed single for nine years. (edit: I believe he was married before marrying my grandmother, but it looks like relationships were difficult for him.) Perhaps he was not ready for family life after all he’d seen and done in the army. Or perhaps it was his childhood that influenced his choices. While he loved his children, his marriage was filled with strife and separation followed.

Family lore says that he was a hard man, although he loved his children. He stayed in the hills where he had been raised until his death at age 65. Perhaps the hardships he’d seen while serving affected him. Perhaps his upbringing poorly prepared him for family life. While these are only speculations, understanding his military service may help explain some of his future difficulties. He did raise a child who loved him, my mother. And that may be his greatest legacy after all.

A Story Is Better

Don’t you think? I could have said my grandfather was married twice and had served in the army and was in San Fransisco during the Great Earthquake. But for me, those facts only bring questions. With a little thought and a little historical research, you can help your relatives become just as interested in genealogy as you are. Every life has a story…or two.

A Sad But Romantic Story From My Genealogy Research

A True Story

This weekend I uncovered such a touching story and I mentioned I’d found something on Facebook. Many of you are wondering what it was. So now, I’ll tell you. It’s a story from the Thomson family about one of my husband’s distant cousins.

First, How We Found It

It’s true, I got Tom hooked on family research. His long-ago cousins helped, though. One, Clement Rutter Thomson, recorded some family history and put it in a book. Over 200 hand written pages recorded in 1888. And he found it in the State of Ohio Library right here in Ohio. I mean, who has that kind of luck! (I  might be a little jealous.)

However, most of it is not about his direct line. It’s still a fascinating history, though. He’s been trying to connect some dots. When his grandpa was living he wrote down some family history that he’d been told. It goes back to the 16th century in Scotland, but we haven’t so far been able to verify it. In Grandpa’s notes, he said his uncle had found this Scottish information in the library and gave his research to his eldest nephew. So, we thought we’d try to trace this nephew who by now had to be deceased, but maybe he had kids and grandkids and they had it. We discovered he only had one son, who was named after him, both them being Burdette Thomson. Fortunately not a common first name. And then we discovered that Burdette Jr. had also passed away leaving no children. He is buried in Ohio, but had died in Florida in 2003. His wife, Christa, died in 1963.

Christa Made the Newspaper

Someone on Ancestry typed out the newspaper story that appeared in April 1960. I discovered that several papers across the country carried it. It explained why there were no children. Here it is:

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) – Christa Thomson holds her breath each time she strokes a canvas with her brush. She paints with her teeth.

Paralyzed from the shoulders down, the pretty 34-year-old German refugee has solved the problem of enforced idleness.

Four years ago she and her fiance, Burdette Thomson Jr., went swimming at nearby Indian Lake. Christa dived into shallow water and broke her neck.

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I Am an American!

Family Tree. Tracing your Scots-Irish roots.

With my interest in genealogy, you might think I’d call myself Irish, or Scots-Irish, or even Welsh. But I don’t. I’m an American born to American parents. My family tree is so rooted in America no one remembers who came over (until I did the research, of course.) But we know someone did. We’re Americans, after all. Not Native Americans.

My Birthplace

Ohio Barn www.cindyswriting.comI was born in Kansas, but I don’t identify with Kansas (sorry.) I only lived there the first three months of my life. My mom packed me and my sisters up and moved us to Indiana while my dad served in the army in Korea. When he came back we went to AZ, then Alaska. Then he retired and we returned to AZ. A few years later we moved to Ohio and I’ve been an Ohioan since the second grade, which I believe makes me more of a Buckeye than anything else. Yes, I’m an American.

My Roots are in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England

High Cross www.cindyswriting.comMostly. So I tell people who ask I’m American with Irish roots. (If they want to know more, I’ll tell them about the rest of my lines.) I know some people visit Ireland and tell the Irish people that they too are Irish, when actually, they are American. This can be offensive to some people because it sounds like you are marginalizing their ethnicity and cultural pride. If you didn’t grow up eating at a chipper, don’t know what colcannon is and can’t pronounce taoiseach, stop insisting you are Irish. Instead, embrace being an American.

What Americans Understand That Others Don’t

American Flag

Lee Coursey

If you know the rules of baseball, you’ve been to at least two Great Lakes, have eaten sweet corn in July, have seen a tractor pull, eaten cotton candy, played corn hole, eat turkey on Thanksgiving but not usually on Christmas, you are an American. 🙂

Americans understand that states have rights. They appreciate the veterans of (too) many wars for protecting their freedom. They believe in freedom of speech. They hold to the faith that every voice should and will be heard, and that majority rules–like it or not. They are a bit “old-fashioned” at times and completely unorthodox at others. History matters to most Americans, even history that is not that old in European terms. They are as varied as a people can be, but stand together when terrorists threaten.

Be Proud!

Flag of the 89th OVI Civil War

Battle flag of the Ohio 89th, Civil War unit my ancestor served with.

I seriously feel a strong pull to Ireland. If you follow me, you know that. I always want to know more about the land, history, and its people. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m proud to be an American. I don’t want to live anywhere else. Visit? Absolutely! Move? Never.

This was my patriotic post for the year. Happy 4th of July!

 

Comment if you are proud of where you come from!

Books by Cindy Thomson

Writing Globally

Recently on Twitter I saw this picture:

On Twitter

American Politics Abroad

And it immediately reminded me how many people we met while in Ireland who asked about how we felt about the Clintons or about Obama or Bush. They wanted to know how Americans felt, and I quite honestly said that I didn’t feel right speaking for all Americans. Perhaps it’s the size difference in countries or how they view politics. I just didn’t understand it. So, when I saw this, I posted a response saying how I didn’t understand why other countries jump into our politics.

Maybe I should have worded it differently. Maybe it sounded snooty. I meant it literally. I didn’t say this but looking at that tweet I wondered… “their” candidate? As I said, I don’t get it. And for me, I dread the upcoming election. I’m tired of politicians and their games. Why would you want to get into this when you didn’t have to? (I know lots of people are politically active. No criticism intended.)

And then I got this:

On Twitter

 

Woo. I tried to keep the conversation going, saying, no, I am puzzled. But David, it seemed, was finished. I’d been judged.

To Whom Does a Country Belong?

To Whom Does a Country Belong? Click To Tweet

And of course, this got me thinking some more. I have never claimed to be anything but American. We know because of a current ethnic denial that the public looks down on this sort of thing, for the most part. I know I’m American. My research has shown my family has been in America long before we were even a country, about 150 years before in one line. Sometimes at book signings people ask me if I’m Irish and I reply that I have Irish roots way back.

af90c-dunluce-meme

How do you define your ethnic connection? Does it matter? Author Cindy Thomson discusses on her blog. Click To Tweet

So why write about a country that you personally are not from? Well, if I wrote about Kansas, where I was born, I wouldn’t know much about it. I only lived there the first three months of my life. I haven’t done the research. But I have researched Ireland because of my genealogy search and just because it interests me, greatly. Is that wrong? I never thought so. I still don’t. David on Twitter was just spouting off. I’ve met plenty of people from Ireland who seem to appreciate my work. My first two Irish books were published by a British publisher. They didn’t mind I was American. If you research, you can write about any country in the world, and in fact, by doing so you help enlighten the people in your own country, who will be primarily the ones who read your stuff anyway.

I have a friend who lives in Northern Ireland. Most of his writing is about Americans with Irish roots. He has traced their history here, and he knows a lot about it, more than most Americans know. He is writing often about his kin, those who left Ireland and came here, and I am doing just the opposite when I trace my line from here back there.

America is a Melting Pot That Some Want to Deny

Students at Ellis IslandA few months ago I was scolded by a Scottish man for claiming a connection to Scotland (He might have had too much whiskey because his posts consisted of scattered thoughts.) Well, it’s a historical fact that at least one of my ancestors was born in Scotland, moved to Ireland, and then on to America. I do have a Scottish connection, whether he liked it or not. (You can search for his comments here on this blog if you’re interested. I’m not going to link to it because….well, it was just silly.)

Here is where I think the misunderstanding comes from. The United States is by and large a country of immigrants. And as such, we identify with many other countries. In contrast, those whose families have lived in an area for many generations, as far back as can be remembered, identify themselves as wholly that–Irish, Scottish, French, German or wherever they’re from…and some of them have a strong dislike for Americans who seem to want to say they are one of them. They aren’t at all, in their minds. I’m all for pride in one’s heritage, but I think that’s taking it a bit too far.

Tom&Cindy Thomson, Ireland 2010

Our 2010 trip to Ireland, taking at Inch Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland.

To be fair these people who pop up on Twitter or Facebook or even this blog are few compared to those who are welcoming, helpful, and interested in the stories from Americans about those who immigrated. I’m thankful for that. It helps lead to understanding and peace, no matter their political preference.

What do you think?

Our Ancestors’ Memories

This Book Made Me Think

contentI just finished The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Actually, I listened to an audiobook that was titled Sophia’s Secret, because it was later retitled. It’s the same book.

A novelist gets caught up in her fictional world. That’s not unusual, believe me. But in this story these are her ancestors and she begins to realize their memories have been passed down to her. There is some mention of “genetic memory” and the possibility that DNA, something we don’t completely understand, could also pass down memories.

Genetic Memory

I don’t know anything about Assassins Creed. It’s a video game and apparently uses this concept as well, but here is a fun summary of what this genetic memory in our DNA is about.

We talk all the time about inheriting traits, saying certain things are in our blood. But this goes a bit further, suggesting that genes might have more influence than we thought. Sure, we will learn skills and have opinions and phobias based on how we were raised, but what if a memory was impressed into our DNA that has nothing to do with our experience? It’s fascinating to think about.3103598269_b377f5d4f4_m

Ancestors’ Memories

Have you ever thought about memories being passed down through DNA? Click To Tweet
Cindy Thomson's grandparents

My grandparents

One of the things I really enjoy about the series Who Do You Think You Are is when the subject of the show realizes that something they know about themselves was evident in previous generations. If they have leadership qualities, it is gratifying to find out an ancestor was a senator or led a woman’s suffrage movement. If someone likes music, how cool to find out an ancestor was the church organist or started a music school. Perhaps, if they are a strong believer in social justice, they find out something about an ancestor that helps explain that strong belief.

Passing it Forward

I’m not sure what science will reveal about DNA and genetic memory in the future, but I think it’s clear today–to those who pay attention–that important traits, strengths, beliefs, are passed down. What do you think?

C’mon People Now, Smile on Your Brother

In light of being called a bigot for writing about the Scots Irish, I decided to reflect on the attitude held by some of those whose ancestors never left the homeland toward those of us living in the immigrant melting pot called America.

Students at Ellis IslandLabeling our Ancestry

If your ancestors have lived in a country or region for hundreds of years, you might feel a sense of pride in your heritage. You might resent others who claim that heritage but who were never born in your country, but if you do, you are surely short-sighted, or at least, uninformed. America was populated for the most part by people who came from other countries. Some recently, but many from the 18th century to the massive immigration period of the 19th century. That means we have a short past on the North American continent and are likely to identify with the countries from which our ancestors came. Immigrants

Some like to call themselves Irish, English, Italian, or whatever, but what they really mean is they have roots in those countries. If they themselves were born in America, they are American. They might say they are Irish-American, African-American, or Chinese-American, but if they do, they are only referring to the land where their ancestors were born. This is not meant to defame any native born people. I wish people would not take offense. (Personally, I only say I’m American or sometimes American with Irish roots, or Scots-Irish roots, or Welsh roots, because I can positively trace my ancestors to those countries.)

What This Labeling Really Means

Irish famine immigrantsIt means we appreciate the sacrifices those ancestors made. It means we respect their decision and we understand how much they missed the land of their birth. But perhaps even more important, it means we recognize there was family left behind. Sometimes we long to reconnect what our ancestor was forced to sever, even if we can only do it in a small way.

This sums that up so well: Letter to My Irish Ancestor

What the Labeling Does NOT Mean

Flag of the 89th OVI Civil WarIt does not mean we aren’t proud to be Americans. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that. Ever. We live in the land of the home and the brave, the land so many people come to to seek freedom, the country so many people today depend upon to protect democracy or to bring humanitarian relief all over the world.

American Flag

Lee Coursey

We ARE Americans, first and foremost. But to ignore where our ancestors came from would be to ignore part of ourselves. Some do, of course. They are not interested in genealogy. But many, many others care very much.

We Are Family

Truly the entire human race is connected somewhere along the way. Who can truly say he/she is native? People have moved about since the beginning of time. Can anyone truly hold on to his/her ancestry and say it only belongs to those currently living in a particular country? I don’t think so. And if you think so, I say let’s compare DNA. Let’s start living as though we are all long-lost cousins, because in fact, we are.81fa7-congregationpast350

That’s my view.

Getting Out There to Learn About the Scots-Irish

Part Two from Finding Help With Your Scots-Irish Line originally appearing in Tracing Your Irish Roots, Moorshead Magazines Ltd., 2012 ©Cindy Thomson.

 How Ireland Can Help Researchers

Family Tree. Tracing your Scots-Irish roots.Tracing a family line back as far as the 17th century might seem daunting, but records do exist. And where better to get help and learn about this group’s culture than a society established for that purpose?

A special school for genealogists researching Northern Ireland roots is offered in conjunction with several Northern Ireland agencies, such as the Ulster Historical Foundation; the University of Ulster; Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, County Tyrone; and local historical societies. Past participants came from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, The Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland, to enjoy a holiday researching with the help of local experts. Billed as “An Activity Holiday with a Difference”, the program stretches over a week and involves local history lectures, research visits to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and visits to historical sites. It is these visits to important sites within the homeland of our ancestors that help make this school intriguing to many, but the value of having access to local historians and genealogists should not be underestimated.

Previous students have enjoyed touring Belfast City Hall and Parliament Buildings. They

Tracing Your Scots-Irish Roots, Cindy Thomson

Ulster American Folk Park

also visited historical locations in the countryside, such as Sentry Hill House, and the Ulster American Folk Park and Centre for Migration Studies at Omagh. The Duke of Abercorn gave a personal tour of his home at Barons Court.

[Since this article appeared, I’m not sure the school is still running. But for research assistance options, check this site.]

One benefit is that because this effort is being supported by the University of Ulster, registrants will have access to that university’s library and electronic resources for genealogy research.

Short of making the trip, there are some materials available that can aid your research. Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors by William Roulston, published by the Ulster Historical Foundation, 2005, is said to be the first comprehensive guide for family historians searching for ancestors in 17th and 18th century Ulster.Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors

The society also offers two pocket histories/fold out maps entitled “The Scots in Ulster Surname Map and Pocket History” and “The Plantation of Ulster: The story of the Scots, 1610-1630.” You can order these for only the cost of postage and handling through these links: Surname Map    Plantation of Ulster

An online resource worth plugging your surname into is the Scots in Ulster. I found several hits for Thomson in this database, which could provide some clues for own research.

Closer to Home

In America, researchers should not overlook local organizations where help may be found, such as The Ulster-Scots Society of America, whose stated purpose reads: “The Ulster-Scots Society of America is primarily an educational and social organization committed to the promotion of the Ulster-Scots history and heritage, especially as it pertains to the nearly quarter of a million immigrants who left the north of Ireland (Ulster) during the 18th century and settled in America (often referred to as: The Great Migration).”

The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America is another group to check into. From their website: “The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America was founded to promote and preserve Scotch-Irish history and culture of America’s Scotch-Irish heritage and to keep alive the esprit de corps of the Scotch-Irish people. Membership in the Society is available to United States citizens, and to legal permanent residents of the United States, who are of Scotch-Irish descent.” The Center publishes issues of the Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies.

[I had more links in the article, but since links are hard to keep up to date, I won’t repeat them all here. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments. And by the way, did anyone else find it amusing that the Scotch-Irish Society used French to describe themselves, or is it just me?]

Tom&Cindy Thomson, Ireland 2010

Our 2010 trip to Ireland, taken at Inch Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland.

These are just some of the resources available, but by consulting those who have gathered together to promote research and understanding of the Scots-Irish people, you will find like-minded people who can help you along your research journey.

Scots-Irish?

This article first appeared in Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 2012, Moorshead Magazines Ltd. ©Cindy Thomson

In genealogy research, as in most things in life, it’s helpful to have a guide. That is what magazines such as this one seek to accomplish. But when it comes to real hands-on research, there is no substitute for real, live contacts who have made this work their main occupation. So, if you are among the 22 million Americans, or several million Canadians, who have family lines labeled Ulster-Scot or Scots-Irish, go where the records and events exist.

Who Were the Scots-Irish?

Learning about the Scots-Irish with author Cindy ThomsonThese ancestors were Irish, but they were Scottish as well, and perhaps, even English. They are identified as an ethnic group coming from the English-Scottish border to Northern Ireland (Ulster) in the early 17th century.

In the 18th century, many of these people came to America because of economic or religious reasons. To understand this migration, you have to go back to the 17th century, when Scottish and English land-grant owners sought tenants to populate the northern region of Ireland and drive out the native Catholics. The Lowland Scots fit the bill. They were Protestant, mainly Presbyterian, and they spoke English. The down-trodden Lowlanders had suffered endless cattle raid, had, themselves, resorted to such raids because of their poverty, and had lived on infertile, over-farmed land for centuries. The prospect of large, bountiful tenant farms in Ireland, a short jaunt across the Irish Sea, was more than appealing. But as the decades passed, the transplanted Scots because known as dissenters. They did not vow allegiance to the Church of England, detesting tithing to a church they didn’t support, and were governed by the Penal Laws, which oppressed them as well as the Catholics. The British government gave these statues the title: “Law in Ireland for the Suppression of Popery”, but they were commonly known as the Penal Laws and prevented dissenters from voting, bearing arms or serving in the military. Dissenters could not be married, baptized or buried with the assistance of any minister who was not ordained by the official church of the state; thus, their own church sanctions were invalid and illegal.

Inch Abbey. Learn about the Scots Irish with author Cindy Thomson

Inch Abbey, Downpatrick, County Down

Even so, by the time many of these people came to North America in the 18th century, some of the restrictive laws had loosened. The damage had been done, however, and the dissenters were bitter. To further aggravate the situation, when rents came due on many of the farms they lived on, the cost doubled, or more, in a practice called rack-renting. Those who worked in the linen industry also suffered at this time, because the Crown had begun to prevent the Irish from exporting their product anywhere but to England.

Family members who had already ventured to the New World sent back glowing reports about the ample, fertile land. Ship owners dispatched men to Ireland’s countryside peasants to extol the benefits of emigration. While some departed seeking adventure, most Ulster men and women did not want to leave Ireland, but their backs were against the wall. Ireland held no opportunities for these families.

When Did They Come?

Antrim Coast. Scots-Irish with Author Cindy Thomson

Antrim Coast

There were five time periods when the Scots-Irish emigrated in large numbers: 1717-18, when a destructive drought killed crops, the linen industry was crippled and rack-renting prevailed; 1725-29, when continued rack-renting and poverty prompted such a massive departure that even the English Parliament because concerned it might lose the Protestant majority in the area; 1740-41, when a famine struck and letters from relatives living in America were persuasive; 1754-55, the time of a disastrous drought; and 1771-75, when leases on the large estate of the Marquis of Donegal in County Antrim expired and the tenants could not afford to renew them. Years when economic pressures in Ireland were the greatest was when large exoduses occurred. The numbers dropped during the years of the French and Indian Wars (1754-63) and came to a crashing halt at the onset of the American Revolution. The Scots-Irish of the 18th century considered themselves Irish. Many came from families who had lived in Ireland for 150 years. It wasn’t until the Irish immigrants of the 1845-49 potato famine era arrived, that this group began distinguishing themselves as Scots-Irish. Today, the distinction helps researchers identify the group.

Where Did They Settle?

The early Scots-Irish pioneers to America settled in the western part of Pennsylvania where they found the Quakers more to their liking than the Catholics in Maryland or the Anglicans in Virginia. By 1730, the Scots-Irish had made their way into the lush Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the most western region of the British Colonies. The Scots-Irish, serving as a buffer against the Indians, enjoyed religious freedom because they were virtually ignored by the tidewater Virginians. A large number settled in the area covered today by Augusta and Rockbridge counties.

Always on the move, the Scots-Irish populated the Piedmont country of the Carolinas in the mid-18th century. Many of these settlers were new arrivals from Ulster who found Pennsylvania and Virginia too crowded for their liking and moved southward. Some were previous immigrants, pulling up roots for the second, third or even fourth time.

After the war with England ended in 1783, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which had declared lands west of the mountains off-limits to white settlers, was ignored. The restless Scots-Irish led the way behind such trailblazers as Daniel Boone.

Come back tomorrow for the rest of the article and learn where to find out more about this immigrant group.

Stepping Into the Past

Deadman's Curve NYC, www.cindyswriting.comHow to Go Back in Time

How many of us have remarked that we wished for a time machine. We have to see and experience things ourselves to truly understand them. But since that’s not possible, we can do the next best thing (something I always try to do when writing historical fiction) and read the words and thoughts of those who lived before us. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Read Their Words

ThomsonFamilyBook

Thomson Family Book

There is nothing like a diary or journal to get into the mindset of the people of the past. Did you know John Adams kept a diary? Here is a fascinating list of online historical diaries. There are slave narratives (audio believe it or not) on the National Archives web site.

You can find more at local historical societies and libraries. Sometimes they are hard to read but worth the effort. My husband found a hand-written genealogy written in 1888 by one of his relatives. It’s not just a genealogy, though. It has memories and stories that relatives told as well, including one man who was a chaplain in the Union army and accompanied the troops on Sherman’s march to the sea. It has remembrances about how one man’s mother was distressed when he joined a different church until a pastor set the mother straight, and even one interesting story about a trip to a fortune teller.

Live in Their Society

Nothing beats contemporary newspapers for learning about the world our ancestors lived in. Of course you can look for names and dates, but to get a feel for how they lived their lives and what events influenced them, read newspapers and magazines. The magazines often contained serial fiction that later was put into books that you’ve probably heard of. In my novel Annie’s Stories I talk about Harper’s doing this, and you can even read some issues online here. For historical newspapers look here.

Russian Immigrants at Ellis Island, www.cindyswriting.comLook at Photographs

There are many sites where you can find old photographs, and just doing a Google search will bring up many. If you’ve ever seen photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island, you’ve probably seen Augustus Sherman’s photographs. He makes a cameo appearance in my novel Grace’s Pictures. I love to study the expressions, but you can also learn a lot from the clothing (were they rich or poor?) and even from the setting (in a studio, at home, outside?) Those Ellis Island photographs often depict people in their native garb, something they may have quickly discarded once they stepped foot in Battery Park when relatives met them with more American clothing (so they wouldn’t stand out.)

Dutch Immigrant at Ellis Island

These are just a few things that help me go back in time. What other ideas do you have?