Is your Virginia Ancestor Scots?

When I find myself yawning in the midst of a dicey genealogy puzzle, I walk to the book shelves at the Family History Library–or any Library where I am working that day, including my own shop–and read the titles of the books. I pull specific books and read the tables of contents and the lists of illustrations and the conclusions and the bibliography of sources consulted.

Strange way to relax and build some new cells–Right?

And it works–always–it works. What I find chases the yawns away and re-energizes my whole being. I’m ready to go back to work with some zest. I learned this research technique from my beloved colleague, Afton Reintjes. When confronted with a seeming dead-end, she would say, “I am going over to the Library and read the book shelves until I find the answer.” And off she would go. When she came back, she would stand in the doorway and spread her arms wide: “Tah dum! I found it.”

Sometimes it took an hour; sometimes a day; sometimes longer. And the answer might be a new category of records or a new source to be carefully researched. As long as you have records and sources to search, you do not have a “dead-end” ancestor.

Well then, please add this source to your reading list (for I will bet you haven’t discovered this important study: Charles H. Haws, Director of the Institute of Scottish Studies, Old Dominion University, Norfolk VA, gave permission to the Family History Library to copy his book Scots in the Old Dominion, 1685-1800 on microfiche: #6087317. Published Edinburgh: John Dunlop Publishers, 1980, this book includes 19 pages of Scots who came to Virginia from Scotland, in alphabetical order “as an aid to both students of Scottish Ethnic History and to genealogists in search of family histories.”

I ran the list of names and found some real surprises. Most of the names in Haws’ list are  not included in other compilations of Scots immigrants. Here are some entries so you can see the format, which includes the source:

Giffin, Robert. 1743-1829. From Kildoul, Argyllshire. Settled Virginia and died in Wheeling (DSE, 133/1869).

Graham, Richard. Merchant. From Dumfries. Settled Prince William County VA (DSE, 144/2026).

McKenzie, John. Weaver. To Westmoreland County, VA by 1755 (VMH, ii, 49).

Each entry is documented so you can trace the sources. The bibliography identifies many of the Scottish trading companies which employed these men (and some women) and where their records have been deposited–very significant when it comes to documenting the origins of these Scots. And the chapter of the Scottish merchants on the Norfolk and Portsmouth tidewater fills an important gap in our knowledge of how early the Scots came, where they settled, and their contribution to Virginia ancestry.

Inability to trace Scottish immigrants, and to actually differentiate them from their Scoots-Irish duplicates, is often inadequate research. This kind of digging takes time and considerable effort–a dedication younger generations seem to lack. These budding genealogists want instant ancestors captured from online databases on their smart phones. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, if you’re tracking an ancestor you can’t find, prepare a profile of who he was and where he lived–what you currently know. Then check to see if he could be Scottish! Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Happy Thanksgiving! And please remember to express your gratitude for authors like Charles H. Hawes who collect ancestors to help us all.


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