Monday, August 9, 2010

Difficulties Researching Scottish Emigrants, Part I

I have been spending time this past week re-assessing the mounds of family data I collected on “my Scotch Settlement peeps” – double checking family connections and links between individuals in the Access database I constructed. I thought this would be a good project for the summer so that someday I can publish this genealogical data along with bits of the dissertation. It has turned into a way huger project than I had anticipated. Why huger – I started a week ago and am only up to the McDonalds, which sounds like half-way; but this is a Highland community and I swear a third of them have surnames that start with Mc.

I have also been reminded of several problems of researching Scottish Emigrants. The first is differentiating between Lowland Scots, Highland Scots, and Ulster-Scots. (And this doesn’t even included those born in America to immigrant parents). Culturally each group is reasonably distinct, however, it is nigh on impossible to tell the groups apart just by looking at lists of names in a census. Additional documents – primary and secondary – must be examined. The first to try are nineteenth-century county histories; they are great sources. The easiest group to identify are Highlanders as they do have some first names that are generally only seen in this group – like Farquhar. Also, a quick glance at the literature will usually mention the fact that they spoke Gaelic.

A problem unique to this Gaelic speaking community, and perhaps others, is the use of English equivalents for Gaelic names. Men undoubtedly called Dòmhnall is Gaelic were referred to as Donald in Scottish records and as either Donald or Daniel in American ones. There was more variety in the women’s names. Anna, in Gaelic, became Ann or Nancy in the United States. While the Gaelic Sìne (Jane) and Seònaid (Janet) are different names in Gaelic, in American Jane, Janet, and Jeanette are used interchangeably as were Helen, Ellen, Nelly and Eleanor for the Gaelic name, Eilidh. These name “changes” aren’t so bad once the reasons behinds them and the Gaelic versions are known and understood.

Scottish émigrés lived in “mixed” communities. They did not segregate themselves as much by region or parish as did other groups (although no European regional community in the US was every isolated from other groups). Even if one regional group was dominant, there were frequently settlers from other regions as well. Caledonia, New York had settlers from Invernesshire and Perthshire. In Scotch Settlement there were people from the Highlands (Invernesshire, Nairnshire, Sutherland,) the Lowlands (Ayrshire) and people with origins in Ulster, although they themselves were born in the United States. The “mixed” nature of this community is likely due to its proximity to Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York and because the Ohio Valley was the heartland of Covenanting theology in nineteenth America; it was a magnet for devout and conservative Presbyterians. So how does one distinguish between a William McLane born in the US from a William McLane born in Scotland. What about the Irish Alexander McDonald and the Scots Alexander McDonald, as the two men are referred to in several Columbiana County records. [Irish, here, as in pre-1850 America generally, referred to those from Northern Ireland. The term Scots-Irish (scholars now prefer Ulster-Scots) became more popular after 1845 in order to distinguish this group from the “Famine Irish.”]

More problems and solutions tomorrow....

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