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Scotch-Irish Ancestry: My Family Roots

Updated on July 29, 2018
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

The Thistle & The Shamrock

This should have a shamrock with it to symbolize the Irish while the thistle is the Scottish symbol.
This should have a shamrock with it to symbolize the Irish while the thistle is the Scottish symbol. | Source

What Does the Term Scotch-Irish Mean in Genealogy?

When tracing your family tree, some terms like Scotch-Irish can confuse the novice genealogist.

My mother had heard many times that her family, the McGhees, were Scotch-Irish. It wasn't until she started tracing her genealogy that she realized what that meant. Originally she assumed it meant there were Scots and Irish names on the family tree. As the generations blend in the American melting pot, she thought the blend of Scottish and Irish ancestors made her Scotch-Irish.

In reality, the term defines a particular migration of Scots into Ireland and from there on to America. Here's more about this heritage that had quite an influence on America. It is estimated that 27 million Americans are descendants of the Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish immigration.

Scot VS Scotch

The correct wording would be Scots-Irish, but the term Scotch-Irish is in common use in genealogy.

Where is Ulster?

The northern province of Ireland (called Ulster) includes the following counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan.

Map of Ireland Showing the Counties

Map showing the counties of Ireland. Look towards the top of the map to see the areas where the Scots-Irish were.
Map showing the counties of Ireland. Look towards the top of the map to see the areas where the Scots-Irish were. | Source

Scot-Irish/Ulster-Scot in American History

Learn about the Impact of Scotch-Irish Immigration on America - Video from YouTube

I found this video very informative and I hope you'll take a few minutes to view it. It is less than 4 minutes in length.

One of My Scots-Irish Ancestors - David Kennedy's Gravestone


Some of My Kennedy Family History

My sister researched thoroughly on the desk she inherited. Dad said it was from his grandfather Kennedy and here's the story of the desk. To give you more background on how the Kennedys ended up in Kansas, read my mother's research in Blackjack on the Trail which was published in Prairie Schooner Genealogy Magazine, Volume 1, No. 2, January-February 1997, pages 2-5.

After I posted about the McGhee and Kennedy ancestors here, I was contacted by another descendant of David Kennedy. We are in the early stages of sharing what genealogy information we have and I'm hopeful that we can push this branch of the family tree back even further.

Names on My Family Tree

McGhee and Kennedy are my Scots-Irish ancestors. Other names on the tree like Buckland, Ashlock, Bates, Tower, Bixby, Martin, Vining and Joy are from England.
McGhee and Kennedy are my Scots-Irish ancestors. Other names on the tree like Buckland, Ashlock, Bates, Tower, Bixby, Martin, Vining and Joy are from England. | Source

What I Found about My McGhee Family History

While working on this lens, I started to poke around on the internet sites looking for McGhee genealogy information. My mom had researched it back to her great-great grandfather, William Newton McGhee, who fought in the Civil War. I was thrilled to find on GenForum some information connecting that ancestor to his parents and grandparents.

I now know the name of my great-great-great-great grandfather who was born in 1765 in Virginia. Here's what I found:

WILLIAM MCGHEE was born 1765 in Virginia. He died probably in 1840 in Washington Co., Tennessee.

He married CHARLOTTE GILLIAM on December 12, 1791 in Albemarle County, Virginia. She was born about 1765.

After her death, he married LEAH ANN BROYLES on September 26, 1793 in Washington, Tennessee. Leah Ann was the daughter of NICHOLAS BROYLES and DOROTHEA CHRISTLER. She was born May 20, 1775 in Culpepper Co., Virginia and died about 1861 in Perry Co., Arkansas.

A son from the second marriage is the line I follow. This information was posted by Theresa Hazlerig.

More Resources from Amazon - Research Your Family History

Here are a few more resources I have located which may help you in your search for your roots. Most of these have excellent reviews on Amazon by other family history buffs.

  • From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina

My McGhee Family Came Through North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and finally to Kansas

A 1950s gathering of my McGhee relatives.
A 1950s gathering of my McGhee relatives. | Source

Places in the U.S. Where My Scot-Irish Ancestors Settled

Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas.

An Excellent Video History of the Scotch-Irish


This Is the Kind of Log Cabin They Would Have Lived In

This log house in in Indiana.
This log house in in Indiana. | Source
A log house in Kentucky.
A log house in Kentucky. | Source

© 2010 Virginia Allain

Do You Have Some Scotch-Irish in Your Background?

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    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      4 months ago from Central Florida

      I suggest joining a genealogy group on Facebook that specializes in Scots-Irish ancestry. They might help. DNA is another way to approach it.

    • profile image

      Pat Sprague 

      4 months ago

      I was always told , by my father, we were Scotch Irish. I haven’t been able to find the family name, Burns, anywhere. I was told they were in Co Tyrone. Any one out there that could give me help would be greatly appreciated

    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      11 months ago from Central Florida

      That's fascinating. I'm trying to sort out all my DNA matches now and hope to move the McGhee and my Kennedy lines back a few more generations.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      11 months ago from Beautiful South

      Terrific article, Virginia. I just love reading genealogy articles. I am from the Ulster branch of the Johnston Scots-Irish Clan and was damn proud of it. But then my brother had a DNA test and we learned that there was a Clendenin in the woodpile somewhere in the old country. Our paternal DNA is actually Welsh. I had trouble coming to terms with it and wrote a hub about it.

      I am also a native Arkansan and have friends named McGhee here. Maybe they are your kinfolk. I loved the informative video with the great music. My distant cousin's branch of the family in Tennessee had common ancestry with President James K. Polk, and my great great grandmother here in Arkansas was a sister of Nathan Bedford Forrest, so the U.S. is a "small place" when it comes to the Scots-Irish.

    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      11 months ago from Central Florida

      Eldon MacBeth - If you are using any of the paid sites like Ancestry or My Heritage or the free site Family Search, keep checking back on those. They add more records all the time.

      I'm hoping that having taken the DNA test that one of the 8th cousin matches will unlock my mysteries.

    • profile image

      Eldon MacBeth 

      20 months ago

      My great grandfather came over from Ireland mid 1800's. However he told my grandfather that the family originated from Dundee Scotland. Can't seem to find any trace in either country.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      How do i find out if i am scots-irish living in ireland or just irish?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Yes! And I'm an ancestor of Robert The Bruce, Charlemange, William Wallace, and many Kings and Queens of Scotland. I'm also related to the English Royals. Where was my invitation to that fancy wedding? Wonderful lens!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      5 years ago from So Cal

      Ancestry DNA says I'm 38% Irish and 48% Europe West. I think that qualifies me as Scotch-Irish. I am looking at the other side of the family I have ignored and find Ireland was the place to be. This has been helpful because I haven't spent much time looking at the Irish side.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wonderful Lens! I am a descendant of Scotch-Irish who immigrated from Antrim, Ireland. That is as far as our research gone and I'd love to find more generations or more information about my distant grand parents.

    • heytoto profile image

      Karen Kolavalli 

      6 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      I have several of the books you recommended (you have good taste!) Another excellent resource is Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. The folkways covered are Puritans, Royalist Cavaliers, Quakers and Scots-Irish. It's a wonderful cultural history!

    • heytoto profile image

      Karen Kolavalli 

      6 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      @JohnTannahill: John, I'm wondering if you're related to the Tannahills here in the southeast Kansas area?

    • GenWatcher LM profile image

      GenWatcher LM 

      7 years ago

      Yep. When I was young, I knew that some of ancestors had come over from Ireland about 1720, so I assumed that they were Irish. They were actually Scots, and had only spent two generations in Ireland, having left Scotland during the Reformation.

    • Virginia Allain profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      @JohnTannahill: Fascinating. My ancestors left well before the famine for America. I want to explore this topic further.

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 

      7 years ago from Somewhere in England

      No, I have Ulster Scots ancestry though. These are people from the northern counties of Ireland who are culturally closer to Scottish than Irish - typically Protestant Presbyterians. There are some famous examples like Van Morrison. Like all parts of Ireland they were affected by the famine and my ancestors left at that time or shortly after and settled in Scotland (Glasgow.) Many traveled further though.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I believe I do but I didn't know what the term meant either. Very interesting. I need to come back and check out the resources again.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      As far as I know, tracing my family history back, we are English with no "foreign" blood, but I have so far only been able to trace back to the 1700's. Of course "Payne" is of Norman (French) origin, so originally we came over from Normandy - I guess... Our family has so many branches in the UK, that is is hard to trace back any distance with ease. I love family history research. Nicely done, blessed.

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 

      8 years ago from Washington KS

      Oh yes, we all have a wee bit of the Irish in us, and I'm no exception.

      I'm what Mom used to call a "Duke's mixture" -- Scot-Irish-English-German-Cherokee.

      Loved the lens.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 

      8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I'm Scot-Irish too :)

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm Scottish on my father's side (Clan Gunn) and Irish on my mom's. Not technically Scotch-Irish, as you've outlined here. I enjoy learning more about it. Thanks!

    • ajtyne profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      I will have to look into this much more carefully! My grandmother used to tell us we were "part English, part Cherokee, part German and part Scotch-Irish. Well, I always thought that meant a mixture of Scottish and Irish. When I was in my teens, people started laughing at me for saying Scotch-Irish, telling me it was Scottish Irish or Scot Irish. So now I find out my grandmother was right, and Scotch-Irish is its own "special" signification. Thanks for letting me know! (Tyne is a pen name, that is based on my Nigerian married name, so it is no clue).

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image


      8 years ago from McLaughlin

      My husband's family is Scotch-Irish! Fun lens!

    • Nancy S Oram profile image

      Nancy Oram 

      9 years ago

      Yes, I do! Great lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Nay, I do not -- but my "hubby" does -- and I've tried to get him to want to travel there to research his roots.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm a Border Reiver, one of the so called 'reiving or outlaw' clans from the Scottish English borders, with family names like Arnstrong, Graham, Nixon, Bell, Johnston, Kerr, Charlton, Robson, and a few more, all of whose names can be found on the famous Cursing Stone in Carlisle Cumbria UK. I am a Riley on my mothers side so possibly a smidgen of Irish too!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      9 years ago from USA

      Not I, but I wanted to tell you how terrific this page is!


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