Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on March 17, 2014 in AncestryDNA, Ask Ancestry Anne

What is Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish? It generally refers to the group of about 200,000 immigrants that made their way to America in the 1700s from the Ulster province of Ireland. They were Protestants who settled in large numbers in Pennsylvania and then migrated either south into Virginia and the Carolinas or westward into Ohio, Indiana and beyond.

The Scots-Irish were originally English and Scottish, and if you are descended from this group you may see English and Irish show up in your DNA. Many of my ancestors started out in Pennsylvania in the 1700s and migrated down to to Virginia. My Wallaces, Donalds and Cashes for sure, and most likely my Gillespies and myriad of other ancestors as well. That 38% of Irish I see in my DNA and 4% Great Britain, I suspect comes in part from my Ulster ancestors.


But where did they come from? In the early 1600s, as the English nobility was taking over the lands that this group lived on in Scotland, they relocated to the Ulster area in Ireland. In fact, you may see them referred to as Ulster Scots, the terms Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish coming into use later. Looking for a better life and a chance to practice their religion as they saw fit, they immigrated to America.

So were they English? Scottish? Irish? And how does that show up in a DNA breakdown. Well it all depends. Who did they marry and have children with along the way? Which pieces of DNA were passed down to you over the last 200 to 300 years? It will be different for everybody, even your siblings.

So are they Irish? Well, sure. Though there will be those who debate that. But if you are, this gives you an idea of when and where you ancestor came to America.

Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.


  1. Lou Foss

    I am not scott-irish, but I do have a question.

    Recently my sister also took the ancestry test. The thing is we both came back with different primary ancestry. She came back with 50% Western Europe, and I came back with 46% Great Britain. We definitely have the same parents.

    Why the discrepancy?

  2. David Pharr

    People have been trying to explain what Scot Irish were for 300 years. No use taking it much further. My Pharr branch is know to be in York C. Pa then over time them migrated to Mecklemburg NC. My Edward has never show to be in Pennsylvania but in Virginia. He moves after his first wife dies to NC. The family spreads out from there but still wonder if there were brothers and cousins left in Pennsylvania. DNA has matched me up with a family in Canada who migrated from New England. We still don’t know how we connect but suspect back in Ireland or Scotland.

  3. Adriana

    I suspect one of my ancestors would qualify as “Scots-Irish.” His last name was Shannon. He was probably born in 1799 in Pennsylvania and then his daughter was born in Virginia. After that, he moved out to Ohio and then into Michigan and Kansas. I never thought about him as Scots-Irish or Ulster Irish, but based on when his family probably immigrated and where they lived, it’s seeming likely.

  4. My husband descends from Samuel Blair, “The Renegade”, a leader in the Hearts of Steel rebellion in Ireland against unjust taxation. He was from Ballyvallough, County Antrim, North Ireland. His ancestor, Brice Blair, was born in Ayr, Scotland in 1600. In 1625 he fled to the north of Ireland with his wife, Esther Peden, and their small daughter Nancy.

    Samuel was captured and condemned to death, but escaped with the aid of his sister Mary. He came to America, arriving in Philadelphia just before the start of the American Revolution. Here he met and married Mrs. Ann Young. Either by choice or out of necessity, Samuel served as a Captain in Pennsylvania’s 1st Regt. After the war, he and Ann moved on to North Cumberland. In about 1797, they with their grown children, moved and settled land on French Creek in northwestern PA in what is now Woodcock Twp. Crawford Co. PA. He is buried on his farm at the top of a hill surrounded by his family and friends in what is now Mt. Blair Cemetery.

    An article about Samuel “The Renegade”, at, contains a description of the Scotch-Irish:

    “The Scotch-Irish often led the way into the frontier as they were more accustomed to the hardships it brought. Frontiersman They were hearty souls on the order of Davy Crockett who could “leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust; could whip his weight in wild cats- and if any gentleman pleases, for a ten dollar bill, he may throw in a panther–hug a bear too close for comfort, and eat any man opposed to Jackson!” As you can see they could also spin a good yarn. The Scotch-Irish women were just has hearty as described here by historian H. C. McCook:

    “Stalwart of frame no doubt they were, with muscles hardened under the strain of toil; hale and hearty, vigorous and strong, able to wield the axe against the trunk of a forest monarch or the head of an intruding savage; to aid their husbands and fathers to plow and plant, to reap and mow, to rake and bind and gather. They could wield the scutching knife or hackling comb upon flaxen stocks of fibers, as well as the rod of rebuke upon the back of a refractory child. They could work the treadle of a little spinning wheel, or swing the circumference of the great one. They could brew and bake, make and mend, sweep and scrub, rock the cradle and rule the household.”

  5. Carol Movahed

    I have a rule if thumb that I personally use but don’t know if it’s super accurate. I say if your family claims they came from Ireland AND they are of the Catholic faith then you are true Irish. But if your family comes from Ireland and they are Presbyterian or Protestant (like mine) then you are Scots-Irish or English.

  6. Patrick

    Hi Anne Gillespie Mitchell

    Thanks for writing about the Ulster-Scots. I have been doing a lot of research on my fathers side, the Redgates. The Redgates came from Londonderry in 1850 and settled in Connecticut. It’s obvious that Redgate is not Irish however, I have a Redgate who was listed as a “Scottish Settler in Ulster” in 1617. My father did the DNA test and he is 91% irish. Trace regions are 4% Scandinavian, 3% Italy/Greece and 1% European Jewish. What surprises me is 0% for Great Britian… Scandinavian makes sence because the Redgate name is of Danish Viking origin and tied to a York settlement called Jorvik Viking Center. some of these vikings did move up to the Scottish borders 15 years after settling in york. Everybody seems to think English would be the primary DNA for my father. Would the Irish region tie more into the Celtic blood which would include the Scots? How canthe more recent English blood be “bred” out and the more ancient Scandinavian still be present. I just found an interesting article on type in Irish DNA in the search field and look for “DNA shows Irish people have more complex origins than previously thought”. A genealogist who researched the Redgates told me that all Redgates in Ireland are related because the name is so rare, and very few in only one location, Londonderry, Faughnanvale, Glebe. Does any one have any thoughts on any of this. His mother, grand mother ggrandmother ect… are all of Irish origin too.


  7. Pat

    Having colonial English ancestry, I was surprised when my AncestryDNA results went from 78% British in the old data base to 60% Irish, 8% British, and 9% Western European in the new data base. When I realized the area they were considering “Irish” covered all of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and a huge swath of England, the results made more sense. “Irish” was the name they were using to designate a group of people sharing a similar genetic ethnicity who were living in that vast region, not a group specific to the country of Ireland.

    One thing I have observed in reviewing my cousin matches is that, in general, the people with Irish ancestors who came to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries seem to have trace amounts of Iberian peninsula DNA whereas the people with Scots-Irish ancestors who came in the 17th and 18th centuries do not seem to have it. Given that many of the Irish immigrants of the 19th century came from the southern counties of Ireland, it would appear there could be validity to the theory that they descend from the original Celts whose DNA is also found in parts of Spain.

  8. Thomas Simmons

    The Scots-Irish did not remain a cloistered social group. Within a generation of arrival they were marrying low and middle status English, Germans, Dutch, and others in moving West And South along the Great Wagon Road – Along the way they became Americans and rarely looked back to the “old country.” Today they are almost entirely assimilated. Most likely they would simply list their nationality/ethnicity on the census as “American.”

  9. Joseph Ascenzo

    Aren’t the Hatfield and McCoys Scots-Irish, and Andrew Jackson. Also would it be true most in the applachia mountains Scots-Irish.

  10. Dennis Pratt

    My Grandmother was a Mahan and her Mother was a Ball, both Scots-Irish. Her extended family was from eastern West Virginia. There are many Scots-Irish in West Virginia. The Scots-Irish migrated south along the Appalachians to the Natchez Trace and into Eastern Texas. Look up family names in Beaumont. Look up the names of the men who fought at the Alamo. Because they were Protestants, they led in the Texas war for independence from Mexico.

    In the deep South they converted to be Baptists and Methodists as there was no established Presbyterian Church there.

    Princeton University was founded by Scots-Irish still has close ties to the Presbyterians. James Madison and Aaron Burr, Scot-Irish descendants, both attended there.

  11. Paul Walmsley

    I reccomend James Webbs book called “Born Fighting ” -a quick history of the Scots-Irish and their impact on the American character and culture. Also known as Appalachians!

  12. Martin Hope

    Hi, one thing that confuses me is that my family traces itself back to Craighall in Scotland, but my dna shows only Irish and English (with one percent Jewish). I realize that many people contributed to my dna, but why don’t the Scots show up at all? Thank you, Martin Hope

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