Monday, June 18, 2012

What's in a Name?

Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish is a term that we hear frequently mentioned in the Southeastern Appalachian region. Until recently, I rather assumed that the term referred to both Scottish and Irish settlers to this area. I thought that the settlers to this area came to be called Scots-Irish/Scotch-Irish because the two groups had mixed to such a degree that they had, over time, become indecipherable one from the other.

It turns out that I was wrong. The term Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish actually refers to the Scottish immigrants (also known as Ulster Scots) that came to this country via Ulster, or as we may more commonly know it, Northern Ireland.

According to Ron Chepesiuk, author of The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America (2000), the Scots that came to this country from Northern Ireland (Ulster) had first been transplanted to that region by King James I after he decided to create an Ulster plantation in an effort to make England less vulnerable to outside attack from that direction. He gave free land to any Scottish or English takers, and the result was that for the next one-hundred or so years, there were Scottish families living in Northern Ireland.

It isn't clear, however, if over time the Scots and the Irish intermarried - something that would have resulted in a truly Scots-Irish, or Scotch-Irish line. Apparently there aren't any marriage records available from Northern Ireland (Ulster) for that time period, so the question remains unanswered.

Upon learning this, I got to thinking. With DNA testing being what it is today, wouldn't it be possible to test the DNA of Ulster-Scots/Scots-Irish/Scotch-Irish and determine what they are? That may even be something that is currently being done, I don't know. I do know that the popular TV show, Who Do You Think You Are? has, I believe, relied on this type of DNA typing to identify regions of the world from which the ancestors of that week's subject hailed. It's amazing to me just how far science has come!

Thanks to a website that my professor shared with our class - Ancestry Ireland - I was able to look up two surnames from my own family tree - Harris and Cannon. We know that the Cannons came through Galway on their migration to North Carolina in the States, and because of that, I had always assumed that they were from that area. However, after learning that my family migrated to a region of the United States during a period when large numbers of Ulster-Scots were arriving and settling that same area, it made me curious. So, I began searching the website, and it appears that it is possible that my family could've originally come from Ulster/Northern Ireland. The Harrises even more-so than the Cannons, as that name is very well represented in that region.

That discovery led me to the question of nationality - is my family Irish as always thought, or are they actually Scots-Irish, which is to say, not Irish at all? I can see the summer including some time in the library researching this very intriguing question.

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