Genealogy research often encounters this issue, and this particularly applies to people who can claim Scots or Irish descent. Why is this so?
Let’s start with the Scottish diaspora, which has spread far and wide around the world – you will find people with Scottish ancestry in many places.
Scattering of People
There are two very important reasons which contributed to the scattering of the Scots – the battle of Culloden in 1746 (the last battle fought on British soil) and the Highland clearances.
When the Scots (made up of mostly Highlanders) went up against the army of the Duke of Cumberland fighting on behalf of the then monarch King George II, they were subject to a very thorough and comprehensive beating (and you can read a comprehensive account of the battle here). The battle lasted less than an hour, killing some 1,000 men of the Highland army (compared to less than 50 in the Royal army. But the results of that battle were much longer-reaching.
Cumberland’s army went after the clans throughout the Highlands, looking for and killing Jacobites, and putting women and children out of their homes. Tartan and the Gaelic language was banned, and thanks to the death of so many and the destruction of homes, famine ensued.
Culloden’s aftermath and the later Highland clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries (called Fuadach nan Gàidheal in Gaelic) which forced families off land in order to put sheep in their place, meant that the Scots scattered far and wide. They were looking for better places to live, and those places they headed for included the New World territories of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The reasons for the Irish diaspora are similar. Potatoes were the main food crop of Ireland and the Great Potato Famine of 1845 (an Gorta Mór in Irish) resulted in mass starvation and disease – and the emigration of more than 1 million people.
Recessions, wars and a desire for religious freedom and the right to own land were the motivators for subsequent emigration. Between 1820 and 1975, some 4.7 million Irish people are thought to have settled in the US, for example, and in 2002, more than 35 million Americans considered themselves of Irish descent.
Lots of Research Tools
If your family has a Scottish or Irish connection and they have spread around the world, how can you go about tracing your relatives? There are lots of tools which can help you do this, including the popular family tree research websites such as ancestry.com and genesreunited.co.uk. You can also use the National Archives to trace records of emigration, and you can also look at the immigration records of countries, which are widely available.
Obviously, it is easier if your family emigrated to English-speaking countries when it comes to tracing them abroad through records held in other countries. A good guide to family history research in general, and what to do when tracing relatives abroad is available on the BBC’s website.