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Biographies of Famous Scots

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Scottish Genealogy and Family History

Tracing your Scottish genealogy is a real challenge for most Americans, since accurate immigration records are relatively new and few of our Scottish ancestors were in the mood to perserve family records from the "old country" when they came to our shores.

In the case of those who were brought by force or had to slip away under cover of darkness (yes, many of our ancestors had "fishy" reasons for high-tailing it out of wherever they came from) they were unable to bring family records with them. Many had no records to bring.

For example, one of the first Scottish settlements in the United States was established in South Carolina in 1684 for Presbyterian dissidents. Many Scottish immigrants of the 17th century were deported as criminals (they weren't) or because they were Covenanters, refusing to accept anything less than complete religious freedom for the Kirk. Naturally, these folk were unable to bring much with them. Many had lived in Ulster, Ireland, before moving on to America, further obscuring their Scottish origins.

The first step in your Scottish family history search might be to collect what information is already available from parents and grandparents, paying particular note to the towns, counties and states where your ancestors lived. Thousands of Scots emigrated first to Virginia and the Carolinas, then tamed the Kentucky and Tennessee wilderness before heading further west.

In particular, the years 1763 through 1775 saw a huge influx of Scottish refugees from the Highlands -- the result of the harsh measures taken against them following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746.

Many more highlanders came in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when forced from their ancestral homes by outrageously raised rents as the new landowners moved toward sheep farming and forced their tenants out.

While some Scots arrived with nothing but a willingness to work hard, many Scots immigrants were highly skilled artisans, craftsmen, merchants and teachers and, later on, engineers, scientists and inventors. For the most part, they were well-educated and literate (as has been true in most of Scotland for a very long while).

Another area which might provide clues to your ancestors is your family's religious history. While most Scots were Presbyterian, many Highlanders were Catholic, and some Scots started new religions here in the United States, for example the Disciples of Christ, a protestant denomination which broke from Presbyterianism and was founded by men named Stone and Campbell in Kentucky and Southwest Pennsylvania in the first decade of the 19th century. Church records can yield a wealth of information.

Once you've gathered readily available information, it's time to work your way backward, and that's where the Scottish genealogy resources on this page and the many outstanding genealogy sites on the internet can provide the guidance you need.

To get really good access to information you need (for example, databases containing land records, birth records, etc. from long ago), you will most likely want to pay for these services through one of the online genealogy sites, rather than attempt the leg work yourself. \However, the cost is more than worth it if you are able to determine for sure just which clan, branch or sept you belong to. Imagine a trip to Scotland to visit your ancestral home.

For information on Scotlands' clans and tartans, visit our Tartans and Clans page.

Tracing Your Scottish Family History
Tracing Your Scottish Family History

By Anthony Adolph

Easy to use guide to exploring the documents and records available in Scotland (or through the internet), as well as a fascinating history of the evolution of Scottish names, DNA and more.

Genealogy Online For Dummies
Genealogy Online For Dummies

By Matthew and April Helm

The Dummies books are the best - they never let us down.

The Original Scots Colonists of Early America, 1612-1783
The Original Scots Colonists of Early America, 1612-1783

By David Dobson

A scholarly work, but may have something helpful if you are having trouble crossing the gap between American family records and departure point from Scotland.

The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy
The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy: Use the Web to trace your roots, share your history, and create a family tree

By Kimberly Powell

Newly revised second edition of the highly rated and comprehensive guide to doing genealogy research on the internet.

DNA and Genealogy
DNA & Genealogy

By Colleen Fitzpatrick

All the science you need in an easy to understand and entertaining style.