Jack O’ Lanterns and Genealogy: Scotland to Ireland to the American South

An old Irish legend (and older legend in Scotland) tells of the ne’er-do-well Jack who bargained with the devil for a drink in exchange for his soul. The devil would become a coin to pay for the drink. Jack kept the coin in a drawer next to a silver cross so the devil could not go back to his normal form until the devil agreed to give Jack back his soul.

Jack’s unsavory character made him unfit for heaven and the devil could not claim him for hell either–so Jack wandered forever with only a small ember to light his way–which he placed inside a hollow turnip with holes to let the light through.

Our Scots-Irish ancestors brought their celebration of the dead on All Hallow’s Eve to the American South. Since pumpkins and gourds were bigger, jollier and, easier to carve, we now remember Jack O’ the Lantern each Halloween. More than any other symbol of this unofficial holiday, the jack o’ lantern reigns on Halloween.

5 Easy Clues that Tag your Ancestors as Scots-Irish:

  1. Kinship by Blood or Marriage. The primary commitment in Scots-Irish life was, and is, family relationship–the kinship. Examine your family charts: cousins marry cousins, become business partners, settle in clusters together, serve in the same military units, attend the same church congregation (even when they have to travel to do so), and perpetuate the family feud (called “blood feuds”–when your family called, your ancestors showed up dressed alike)–THINK kENTUCKY. Your Scots-Irish ancestors kept their assets and their lineage in the family! See Patricia Benton, “Agusta County Regiment, 1742-1992,” Donegal Annual 44 (1992).
  2. Separation of Church Affairs and State Control. Government-controlled-and-supported religion drove your Scots to Ireland and finally to America. They embraced Presbyterian doctrine by National Covenant in Scotland in 1638 and pledged, before God, to resist government restrictions on worship. They carried that Covenant with them to Ireland. When the English government revoked their rights to worship, declared their marriages invalid, their children illegitimate and unable to inherit family property, your Scots-Irish ancestors poured across the ocean to America–primarily into the South. Zachariah Johnston said it best: before the Virginia House of Burgesses, this quiet Irishman challenged Patrick Henry–“…I was born a Presbyterian and I shall die a Presbyterian! But that day that Presbyterianism should become the established religion of this country, I shall cease to be a Presbyterian!”
  3. God’s Frontiersmen. Your Scots-Irish ancestors are always on the move into areas where formal government structure does not yet exist or is still weak: into New Hampshire and Maine, into Tennessee and Kentucky and Ohio, into Pennsylvania and western Maryland, through the Great Valley of Virginia into North Carolina and the back country of South Carolina and Georgia. They organized their own rule by agreement or covenant and all signed their names to the documents. They intermarried and traded with the Native Americans to live in peace and grow their wealth. Most Scots-Irish families have traditions of a “…Little Bit of Indian.” To order the book by that name, written by Afton Reintjes, and published by the Genealogical Institute: Return to my Home page and click on Books on the left-hand menu to order your personal copy of this best-seller. It’s filled with specific Scots-Irish/Indian connections along with their documentation.
  4. Fierce Land Hunger. Land was the source of wealth, the basis for political power and voting rights; the anchor for family stability and growth. Your Scots-Irish ancestors earned or bought military land warrants as a commercial investment. They speculated in “Western Lands.” And these shrewd Scots-Irish forebears carefully marked and protected their boundary lines every 2-3 years by actually walking the boundary lines with their neighbors from the age of 16 years on. Every male resident in each military district knew his neighbors’ boundaries as well as his own and could so testify in a court of inquiry. Their determination to preserve their property rights and to pass those rights on to their own heirs resulted in less than 40% (males) and 20% (females) writing wills. They settled their own estates before they died.
  5. Willing to Fight for their Rights: Right to bear arms–your Scots-Irish ancestors were called “Long Hunters” by others whites and “Long Knives” by Native Americans. Right to distill and distribute their own whiskey rather than pay a tax on it. When the Whiskey Rebellion broke out in 1795 over attempts to tax their brew, Washington County Pennsylvania alone had over 570 distilleries. Right to plead and sue in court for redress of grievances –your Scots-Irish ancestors were “Sons and Daughters of Liberty” in cities and towns across settled America on the eve of the American Revolution. They served with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys and with Francis Marion in the swamps of South Carolina. They served at the Alamo and at Gettysburg. They could be counted on to show up surrounded by their kin to fight for their rights!

Each of these amazing markers confirm that your family background is Scots-Irish. These are footprints for you to follow and use to trace and document your genealogy. These clues set your ancestors apart from others who have the same names or travel along the same migration pattern. See also Afton E. Reintjes, Scotch-Irish Research, published by the Genealogical Institute. You can order your own copy by clicking Books on the menu on our Home page. This volume is filled with migration maps and research tips to help you track these awesome S/I ancestors.

Tennessee’s Forgotten Children: Apprentices   3 vols. compiled by Alan N. Miller from original, unindexed, county court minute books.

  1. East Tennessee, Apprentices from 1778-1911, viii, 207 pp. 2000. repr. 2005.
  2. Middle Tennessee, Apprentices from 1784-1902, xii, 347 pp. 2004. repr. 2005.
  3. West Tennessee, Apprentices from 1821- 1889, xii, 218 pp. 2006.

Name of apprentice, date of bond or indenture, age, name of master for each entry, with name of mother or father or siblings if given in the record is supplied. This series covers 89 Tennessee counties and due to the loss of records by fire in this state, these volumes are especially valuable. Thanks to subscriber Donald J. Martin for sharing this new source with us all. Order from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd, STE 260, Baltimore MD 21211 or www.genealogical.com.

My Schedule: I will be speaking at the Cheyenne WY Genealogy Jamboree, 20-21 October. Go to http://www.MyAncestorsFound.com> for a complete list of conference titles and who else will be speaking. I also have booth #8 in the exhibit hall. If you are planning to attend, be sure to stop by. I had a chance to meet and talk with several subscribers at the Northern Utah Genealogy Conference last week. Very fun!

My speaking availability is close to home so that I can work at my Genealogy Library Center processing collections and getting them ready for public access and keeping research reports going out regularly to my clients. Most of the travel I do is limited to field research for clients with tough problems not solved by easy to get-at sources. And I will announce upcoming trips as they are scheduled. If you want to sign on, be getting your stuff together so that when I announce dates and places you will be ready!

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply