American Scots-Irish Research - Strategies And Sources In The Quest For Ulster-Scots Origins
American Scots-Irish Research - Strategies And Sources In The Quest For Ulster-Scots Origins
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American Scots-Irish Research - Strategies and Sources in the Quest for Ulster-Scots Origins; by Dwight A. Radford; Foreword by Wendy Bebout Elliott, PhD; Diagrams, Charts, and Maps designed by Wade Hone; 84 Illustrations; August 2020; 284 pp; 8.5x11; ISBN: 978-1-62859-280-1; Item # FR0151

If you have Scots-Irish ancestry, this is the book for you! The volume covers the many aspects of researching families whose people came from the historic Ulster province. Many record categories are covered including the pre-1850 census, church and land records, military and immigration records, as well as tax and vital records. Chapters are dedicated to female ancestors, lineage societies, migration patterns and family histories. Four "Special Strategy" chapters are included covering: Using Ulster Records; The Latter-day Saint Connection; the Southeastern Native American Connection; and the United Empire Loyalists

This volume outlines and details the tactics that may be necessary to find your Scots-Irish place of origin. Besides the professional strategies, Dwight lists numerous websites and databases. The bibliographies found throughout the volume are extensive. Both black & white and color maps, charts and illustrations are found from cover to cover - eighty-four in all!

Initial reviews are found at the end of this post.

Dwight Radford has lived in Salt Lake City, working as a professional genealogist for over 30 years.He has conducted extensive research at archives throughout the U.S., Ireland, and Northern Ireland. During his decades of employment experience on others’ genealogies, he has been able to explore techniques that do and do not result in breakthroughs in tracing lineages. In the pages of this book, he shares exactly how he, as a professional, would analyze and evaluate sources to develop plans to track ancestors from ethnic and cultural populations who had few early or complete records.

The Scots-Irish present the ultimate challenge in implementing unconventional research methods because of the scarceness of documentation for the group before immigration to the United States. The information herein is limited to Ulster, where most Scots-Irish were born, and mainly underscores records and strategies from the U.S. that will assist in proving or at least indicating the birthplace of an ancestor from that province.

The historic province of Ulster includes counties on both sides of the post-1921 border, which today separates Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They are Antrim (NI), Armagh (NI), Cavan (IRE), Donegal (IRE), Down (NI), Fermanagh (NI), Londonderry (Derry) (NI), Monaghan (IRE), and Tyrone (NI). The focus of this book is on non-Catholic families, because the majority of what is termed Scots-Irish or Ulster-Scots belonged to a denomination not of the Catholic tradition. Yet most people think of the Ulster-Scots as being Presbyterians, which is also a little narrow. Many came as Anglicans, Brethren (Plymouth) and Gospel Hall, Methodists, Moravians, Mormons, and Quakers. The people who did arrive as Presbyterians became unchurched for a couple of generations on the frontiers of the U.S. because few, if any, clergy or schools were in a number of areas. The Scots-Irish would convert to or reunite with the Presbyterian Church during the revivals on the frontiers, leaving the impression that they always had been Presbyterian.

Search tactics are indispensable in finding answers to investigations as difficult as those for the Scots-Irish and other groups. American Scots-Irish Research: Strategies and Sources in the Quest for Ulster-Scots Origins concentrates on strategies. When researchers know how to use documents effectively, even some with no apparent relevance can be helpful. As an example, tax books do not have birthplaces, and so novices probably would not look at them. For seasoned researchers and as his mentors taught him, tax rolls can be a most important tool for discerning who is who, and where and when they were living.

Dwight has observed researchers, each spending years looking for a piece of paper stating where a person was born in Ulster. If one is found, it is remarkable, but in most cases, the pursuit is more complex. In the large majority of cases, the paper is nonexistent. What is required is not only identifying the immigrant, but also tracing his or her life step by step for clues. It can be necessary to document the children and grandchildren of the immigrant in the hope that someone from a branch of the family preserved the knowledge of an Ulster birthplace. You may be the one who designs a new pattern of analysis that works for your family problem. The same tactic may not be successful for someone else’s genealogy, but it may yield discoveries for you because of the circumstances in which your ancestors lived.

This is not a book for those seeking effortless answers. It is intended to disclose research strategies that perhaps have not been considered before. Dwight asks that researchers not think in linear terms. If Scots-Irish research, especially in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, were easy, the place of origin in Ulster would have been found long ago. Linear thinking, which seems to promote the notion of the existence of a document stating a place of birth when, in fact, it was never created, typically will hinder research and waste time. In most cases, an entry noting where someone was born in the 1700s is not in an archive in either Ireland or Northern Ireland. Therefore, it remains a U.S. research problem. The assertion is not that Irish sources cannot be used effectively, but that records of births for documenting most Ulster-Scots during the 1700s are scarce. For 1800s immigrants, registers of birthplaces may be in Ulster. The same is true from the U.S. side of the research process, yet even that depends on the period, the sources, and the circumstances in which a family found itself.

The Following is from the Front Matter and Table of Contents:

  • Dedication
  • Abbreviations Referenced in Maps and Text
  • Image/Chart Reference List
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword - by Wendy Bebout Elliot, PhD
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Who Were the Scots-Irish?
  • Chapter Two: Census Records to 1850
  • Chapter Three: Church Records
  • Chapter Four: Female Ancestors: Maiden Names
  • Chapter Five: Land Records
  • Chapter Six: Lineage Societies
  • Chapter Seven: Migration Patterns
  • Chapter Eight: Military Records
  • Chapter Nine: Naturalization and Citizenship
  • Chapter Ten: Passengers’ Lists (Pre-1820)
  • Chapter Eleven: Published and Internet Family Histories
  • Chapter Twelve: Tax Records
  • Chapter Thirteen: Vital Records
  • Special Strategies
  • Chapter Fourteen: Special Strategy: Using Ulster Records
  • Chapter Fifteen: Special Strategy: The Latter-day Saint Connection
  • Chapter Sixteen: Special Strategy: Southeastern Native American Connection
  • Chapter Seventeen: Special Strategy: United Empire Loyalists
  • Index

Initial Reviews of American Scots-Irish Research

This is an essential resource for the study of Scots-Irish genealogies. Radford uses his encyclopedic knowledge of this ethnic group to guide the reader generation by generation back to their Scots-Irish ancestors and then to their place of origin in Ulster. He does this firstly by telling the reader how to best use core genealogical record types to best advantage when tracing a Scots-Irish lineage. Radford extends his guide from the usual census, vital and church records to sources such as tax records and published and Internet family histories. One of the strengths of Radford’s approach is its emphasis on methods of record analysis and how to follow clues from one source to another.

The other, often neglected, strong point is Radford’s discussion of records of the various groups the Scots-Irish associated with such as the native American tribes of Southeast, the religions they became part of such as the Latter Day Saints and the social groups they may have been part of such as the Loyalists. These chapters are rich with references to key resources for studying these groups, especially sources that discuss the Scots-Irish as parts of these societies.

Tom Rice, PhD, CGSM is the managing editor of The Septs, the quarterly journal of the Irish Genealogical Society International ( Radford has written many articles for The Septs.


Radford’s new informative Scots-Irish guide is essential to enable researchers to break through long-standing brick walls and is a necessary addition for every researcher’s library. This valuable work provides proven strategies for family historians and genealogists, while connecting historical events that impacted these families. He discusses records and techniques needed to follow migrations within the U.S., as well as bridging the Atlantic to locate former residences. (Note – Wendy went on to write the Foreword for the volume).

Wendy Bebout Elliott, PhD; Professor Emerita of History, California State University, Fullerton; Past President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies; Distinguished Service from Utah Genealogical Association; Retired professional genealogist and author.


Since the catastrophic destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 the work of archivists in identifying and accessioning records of historical importance has resulted in a vast amount of material being available for the genealogical researcher to peruse. In addition, there are other repositories in Ireland where the collections have survived virtually intact. Together these records help us form a better understanding of the past and the lives of the people of this island. This includes the Scots-Irish, mainly, though not exclusively, Presbyterians from the province of Ulster.

However, for those researching Scots-Irish forebears the issue is where to start. Frustratingly, for many people the vital piece of information on where exactly their ancestors lived in Ulster has not been passed down through the generations to the present. In this book Dwight Radford brings his three decades of experience as a genealogist to bear in outlining different lines of attack in searching for Scots-Irish ancestors. In a series of chapters, he discusses different categories of records in the United States, including church and land records, documentation relating to naturalization, and passenger lists, among others.

This book, however, is much more than an overview and explanation of source material in America. One of its great strengths is the way in which the author challenges researchers to consider carefully how best to approach the task at hand. For many people a degree of lateral thinking will be necessary, and the tactics required to overcome obstacles might not fit the conventional pattern of genealogical research. The Chapter titled ‘Special Strategies’ will be very helpful for researchers and it is not going too far to say that the sections on the ‘Latter Day Saint Connection,’ the ‘Southeastern Native American Connection,’ and ‘United Empire Loyalists’ will be revelatory for most.

In conclusion, this is a book to be read by everyone seeking their Scots-Irish lineage. Those who do so will be much better equipped for what for many will be the ultimate - a research trip to Ireland and perhaps, just perhaps, an opportunity to visit the ancestral homestead.

William J. Roulston, PhD, Queens University, Belfast; Research Director, Ulster Historical Foundation Author of Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors: The Essential Genealogical Guide to Early Modern Ulster, 1600-1800 (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation 2018).


I have known Dwight Radford, as a colleague and mentor, for many years and value his creative approaches to solving genealogical problems. In his latest book, Mr. Radford details several unique research strategies for wringing out clues held within a wide variety of sources – some of the record groups he analyzes will be familiar to most researchers, while others, included in his “Special Strategies” section, may be more obscure.

As a Canadian family historian, I wondered what relevance Mr. Radford’s American Scots-Irish handbook would have to Canadian researchers. First, I found that his detailed strategies for manipulating a vast number of records can be applied to any type of historical research, even if that research delves into non-US created records. Secondly, many Canadians have ancestral roots that reach back into the United States and the British American colonies. While focused on Scots-Irish origins, Mr. Radford’s book is generally invaluable to reconstructing early American family histories and discovering European origins. It is also an important lesson in “thinking outside the box.”

The Special Strategies chapters are a fascinating exploration of some under-used resources. I found the “Southeastern Native American Connection,” to be particularly comprehensive.

Many of our Canadian Scots-Irish ancestors found their way to Canada as refugees from the American Revolution. Those who remained loyal to the British crown had no choice but to leave their land and possessions in the US and flee for their lives, with Canada being the closest place of refuge. These refugees were known as Loyalists and Mr. Radford includes a “Special Strategies” chapter on the vast number of records that were created by this important group.

Comprehensive bibliographies plus websites where one might be able to access digitized records and indexes are included for each chapter in Mr. Radford’s book. I was particularly impressed by the coverage of various religious records, including records of the clergy (and why these are so important in locating one’s Scots-Irish kin). Mr. Radford also devotes a chapter on helpful approaches for discovering women’s maiden names. Readers will certainly appreciate the step-by step information on creating census substitutes, interpreting the statistical information found in the pre-1850 US census records, using land records to reconstruct family units and cluster-immigration groups and the historical background presented on the creation of many of the record-groups covered in this book.

Lineage Societies are not typically covered in much detail by genealogical handbooks. Mr. Radford devotes a chapter to these societies where he details the resources of 47 lineage societies, including the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada.

I would highly recommend American Scots-Irish Research: Strategies and Sources in the Quest for Ulster-Scots Origins as an excellent, thorough and thought-provoking handbook. I am sure it will be key in solving many genealogical brick walls.

Claire Smith-Burns; Genealogical Research & Educator; Kelowna


If you have Scots-Irish ancestors, this new book from Dwight Radford is heaven sent! Tracing the Irish origins of Scots-Irish immigrants in America is one of the most challenging types of genealogy research, and we all can rejoice that Dwight shares his vast knowledge of the subject and his keen sense of strategy in this book. Over the past three decades, Dwight has pioneered Irish immigrant research and taught countless family historians and professional genealogists how to be successful. I am fortunate to count myself among his students.

In his book, Dwight gives us not only a detailed discussion of the relevant record sources, but also explores the history, religious doctrine, and culture we need to understand our ancestors’ stories and to follow them back in time. He explains what the available American and Irish records are, and how to use them effectively, from his decades of experience working for genealogy clients. Dwight spends particular time on sources he has found essential for researching the Scots-Irish, like lineage societies and military records. He also discusses other vital topics such as migration patterns and female ancestors’ maiden names.

If you feel stuck seeking your Ulster-Scots origins, Dwight’s imaginative chapters will suggest avenues of investigation you haven’t thought of. Have you considered your Scots-Irish family’s potential connections to Native Americans, Mormons, or United Empire Loyalists? You will now! This book should be standard reading for Irish and Scots-Irish genealogy enthusiasts. I congratulate Dwight for bringing forward, in this valuable work, the fruit of many years of extensive study and practice. Get ready for a fascinating and educational journey!

Kyle J. Betit; Genealogist & Ancestral Travel Expert; Co-Founder, AncestryProGenealogists®