Tag Archives: genealogy

Afterthoughts

If you missed it, read my first post on this here.

About that Dead Files episode shot in my town and in downtown Columbus. If you missed it, fear not. You can see it by clicking the link below:

https://dai.ly/x7sbj75

Everything is Shorter than it Was

Huh? Well, there was more to my interview than made it into the episode. That’s to be expected. Some things end up on the cutting room floor, as they say. There was actually some stuff I thought was pretty interesting that didn’t make it in so I thought I’d share some it here.

I was not aware of all that would be included. I did not know the family or what their issues were. I did not know what other “experts” would appear and what other evidence they found. The producer had mentioned a plane crash, so I wasn’t surprised by that part. Not much was said about the Geis family. Theirs was a tragic tale than touched me, but it didn’t fit in that well with what the medium sensed so out it went. She did say she sensed an older woman needed care and maybe cancer. But that was about it. If you want to hear more about them, keep reading. But first, the Shambaugh family.

Too Much Death

Thanks to my friend Michelle Levigne for this literal screen shot!

For many families in the late 19th and early 20th century, infant deaths were sadly quite common. If you’ve done some family research, you’ve most likely encountered this fact. In 1900 in some cities in America the infant mortality rate was as high as 30%. People had more children then. Birth control was not widely available, and what people did have to use was not very effective. My grandmother was born in 1900. She was one of nine children. Children died of diseases now curable. There was no understanding of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) but it still occurred. We believed at least one of the Shambaugh babies died from SIDS. She simply stopped breathing. That was something in the interview that ended up on the cutting room floor.

A Shambaugh grave marker, likely from someone related, at Pataskala Cemetery.

The focus on the show was the fact that there was too much death in and close to the property. For the Shambaughs that meant three of seven children died and not long after, Mr. Shambaugh passed away from a painful kidney disease. You will see on the show that I said, “And then she died.” She died 13 years after her husband. Something else that didn’t make it? She was much younger than her husband. I think it should have been included because in the walk through Amy did note “young woman” (if you’re lost at this point about “walk through”, remember to read my previous post linked above because I explain how the show is set up). In fact, I think Amy said it more than once and Steve pointed out that Lizzie was 47 when she died. (Something people have been stringing him up for on social media, haha! That’s young!)

True that was how old she was when she died—and that’s young to die—but she died 13 years after her husband. She would have been a very young mother when some of her babies were born and died.

One last note about Lizzie Shambaugh. Her death notice states that she died in 1913 in Franklin County. Her husband died there on the property in question, but she did not. That is said by both me and Steve and in the reveal Amy says this woman might not have lived in that very house. Still, not being into this paranormal stuff, I don’t know if folks believe a dead person can haunt a place that is not the location where they died. Maybe that happens. In their world and in their understanding, that is. In the narrative we originally talked about, we discussed how after all that death on this property, Lizzie Shambaugh packed up and got out of town just a few years after her husband died. Steve mentions that briefly in the show. Amy speculates that this woman may have had mental problems and was sick. I’m sad about that. I get caught up in the human stories I research and this was no different.

The Geis Family

This is a more recent family that lived at the address where Feliza and Kevin now live with their grandchildren. But not the very house. Ellenor died three years or so before this house was built, at least according to the information I found on the age of the house. Why the previous owner would tell Feliza that Ellenor died right there in the living room is beyond me. Even if it were true, why say that? That’s not exactly a selling point. I don’t get that.

However, what a terrible tragic tale the Geis story is. Both Ellenor and Paul Geis were injured when they were hit by a drunk driver in December of 1979. Ellenor had it much worse than Paul did. They filed a lawsuit against the driver. The show was going to report that, but again, that was cut out. You can read about that here. There is no evidence of a ruling on that lawsuit that the show ever found. Yes, they looked. Yes, they did a lot of work that was never used. It doesn’t appear the Geises ever got anything. Another thing that got dropped was their occupations. Ellenor worked at a lab and Paul was a gas station attendant and probably held other jobs later in life. Their lifestyle was severely altered as a result of this accident through no fault of their own. Ellenor died just over three years after the accident. She did develop cancer in the area of her injury. I don’t know what her medical report looked like but in the lawsuit she claimed the cancer occurred because of the injury. The show had found some evidence of an auction that showed that Paul sold off what he and Ellenor had owned, suggesting that they did not get a settlement from the accident.

That’s basically all we learned about the Geis family. I think it was brought into the show because someone told Feliza that a woman named Ellenor had died in the house, which wasn’t correct, and Feliza said in the show that she believed the presence, or one of them, was Ellenor. Ellenor died in Georgia. But she’s buried in Pataskala cemetery. In our interview, Steve had said, “So she came home again.” And I repeated that. That was cut because it wasn’t needed for the show, but i thought it was a fitting end to this part of the story. Paul Geis died in 2003 and is buried beside her. Again, I felt bad for them. I was pleased, however, to learn that Ellenor was not blamed for any of the paranormal activity in the house.

(I also thought it was good they did not blame the client’s nephew who had reportedly killed himself for haunting the young boy in the house. Seeing the young man’s photograph, Amy said, “Oh, no.” Glad she said no. I can’t image the pain the family would have dealt with otherwise. You can see that in the episode, which I think is a statement that this show doesn’t want to hurt people.)

Genealogy Research is About the Dead, After All

There are probably many stories about every property. Why do some people believe their homes are haunted? I have no idea. But they do because The Dead Files has not run out of material and are now filming their 13th season.

Amy says she talks to dead people. I listen to dead people. Not actual voices, but I listen by uncovering details about their lives.

on Unsplash.com Roman Kraft
@romankraft

The Takeaway

This is just my opinion, but I think we all need to learn the stories of the people who lived before us. If we listen to the stories of their lives, appreciate the pain and sacrifices made, we can learn and appreciate them so that their memory never dies. I think it’s a mistake to think we are the only ones who have dealt with whatever problems we are experiencing. Pain, sorrow, death… all a part of the human experience. Acknowledging that teaches us that we are not alone. The survivors had to press on. We have to too. And knowing that they did, that Lizzie survived the death of so many children and then the sudden death (it came very quickly) of her husband and lived for 13 more years tells us that it’s possible. I don’t know how well she coped. If any of her descendants find this I’d love to hear more of the story. But she did carry on. By selling her land. Perhaps by moving in with relatives or finding employment. There is ALWAYS more to the story.

And that’s another takeaway point. There is more to all of these stories. That’s why I thought I’d share just a little bit beyond what you saw on this episode. Now I’m curious about the other things mentioned that I didn’t know about. That doctor? That airplane pilot? And what about the dogs Amy mentioned. Yes, always more to discover.

If You Watched, What Was Your Takeaway?

 

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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My German, yes German, Ancestors

Ancestry Connections

I remember my father talking about his grandmother, Mary Ellen Myers Peters, being German. He did not remember her. He was only 2 when she died. I think he was going entirely by her surname. If you follow my blog or read my books, you know my interest has mostly been in my Irish, Scottish, and very recently Welsh roots–all from my father’s side of the family, by the way.

But by following one of those green leaf hints on Ancestry.com I uncovered this photograph of this Myers family. I contacted the man who posted it (his name is Mike) and discovered that we are distant cousins and my great grandmother Mary Ellen is in this photograph (number 11), as is her husband seated in front of her. Because it was taken circa 1902, I realized that the child sitting on my great grandfather’s lap is my grandfather when he was about a year old.

Researching German Roots

So, I’m off on a new adventure. Mike will be sending me his files and photos on this family. (By the way, he does not know the identity of the man whose portrait is being held up by my great great grandfather. A mystery I’d love to solve!) Mike knows from where in Germany the family came, and that they
immigrated in the 18th century. It seems all of my lines I know of thus far have lived in this country before we were a country. I’m a deeply rooted American!

Where are they from? Voerstetten, Freiberg, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. I’m shaking my head. I know so little about that country and culture!

Who else is on a German ancestry quest? Click To Tweet

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!

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.

Living in a Land of Immigrants

Immigrants--author Cindy Thomson

Scottish immigrants at Ellis Island

The Melting Pot

Once when I was at a bed and breakfast in Ireland sitting at a table with folks from other countries, a German photographer noted that while both America and Canada are populated by immigrants, America is different. He didn’t quite say what he meant by that because the conversation drifted to 9-11 and Obama and other subjects that non Americans seem to want to hear about from Americans. While I didn’t ponder further at the time about why Canadians and Americans are different (I’ve met many Canadians and don’t consider them THAT different from me, eh?) I did think about living in a land of immigrants. I wonder if that’s why genealogy is such a popular hobby. Everyone seems to want to get back to their “immigrant ancestor”–the one who came over.

How Did We End up in America?

Well, I was born here, but only because my ancestors came over. There is some rumor about a bit of Cherokee blood, but mostly I believe I’m of Celtic descent. Really must do a DNA test sometime. Have you done one? (Please share in the comments.)

There are several reasons our ancestors might have come over, not to mention the different time periods when North America saw waves of immigrants. I’ve written a lot about Ellis Island immigrants because of the setting of my latest novels. My ancestors, however, came over earlier. One branch came from Ireland right before the Revolutionary War. There were several periods of Scots-Irish immigration in the 18th century. I wrote about that here. Of course many people can trace their Irish ancestors to the middle of the 19th century and the Potato Famine. I recently found another branch on my tree that came over

Immigrants--author Cindy Thomson

Irish famine cottage eviction

much, much earlier, in the 1680’s from Wales. Once you know when your ancestors came over, you can probably determine why just by looking at history. They didn’t come over on a fluke. They were driven by famine, crop failures, and political unrest. Some, like many Italian immigrants, came to seek their fortune and then go back home. (Some stayed on even though it wasn’t their initial intent.) Once you hear these stories, you’ll better appreciate how they paved a way for you.

Why Keeping the Culture Alive is so Important to Us

For Americans, it’s always been important to celebrate the culture from our mother country. Festivals and feast days, ethnic neighborhoods, food, dance, song, stories….

I have attended several Irish festivals to promote my books. Groups from Ireland, especially Northern Ireland and the Saint Patrick Centre–say they have nothing quite like this at home. They have attended these festivals and encouraged tourists to come visit them. It worked on me!

Dir of Saint Patrick Centre Tim Campbell with Author Cindy Thomson

With Tim Campbell, Director of the Saint Patrick Centre at Milwaukee Irish Festival in 2007.

Tim Campbell, Dir of Saint Patrick Centre with Author Cindy Thomson

With Tim Campbell at the Saint Patrick Centre, Downpatrick, Co Down, in 2010.

Get Involved in Preserving Culture

There are so many clubs, cultural organizations, genealogical societies, and groups I haven’t even thought of where you can get in touch with your roots. I think that’s mainly an American thing. Correct me if I’m wrong. But our roots are shallow in this country, so I think it’s only natural that we seek our immigrant ancestors.

Celebrating Culture--author Cindy Thomson

San José Library via Flickr

What groups are you involved in?