The Great Highland Migration began in the 1730s and intensified thereafter. Much of the Highland emigration was directly related to a breakdown in social and economic institutions. For example, Highland chieftains abandoned their patriarchal role in favor of becoming capitalist landlords. Accordingly, voluntary emigration by Gaelic-speaking Highland farmers began in the 1730s. The social breakdown was intensified by the failure of the Jacobite cause in 1745, followed by the British military occupation and repression in the Highlands in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. In 1746, for instance, the British government dispatched about 1,000 Highland Jacobite prisoners of war to the colonies as indentured servants. Once in North America, the Highlanders tended to be clannish and moved in extended family groups, unlike immigrants from the Lowlands who moved as individuals or in groups of a few families. The Gaelic-speaking Highlanders tended to settle on the North American frontier. The best example of this pattern was in North Carolina, where they first arrived in 1739 and moved to the Piedmont, to be followed by others for over a century.
Another factor that distinguishes research in Highland genealogy is the availability of pertinent records. Americans seeking their Highland roots face the problem that there are few, if any, church records available that pre-date the American Revolution. In the absence of Church of Scotland records, the researcher must turn to a miscellany of other records, such as court records, estate papers, sasines, gravestone inscriptions, burgess rolls, port books, services of heirs, wills and testaments, and especially rent rolls.
In 2005 Clearfield Company launched a series of books by David Dobson designed to identify– by consulting the kinds of records that are available in the absence of parish registers–the origins of Scottish Highlanders who traveled to America. This book is the second volume of Highlanders from the county of Inverness, a location from which many of the pioneer emigrants who settled in colonial Georgia, Pennsylvania, upper New York, Jamaica, and the Canadian Maritimes originated. Inverness-shire is also the county where the Fraser’s Highlanders regiment–which played a prominent part in the French and Indian War and in the settlement of Canada–was raised. Emigration from Inverness was also significant during and after the Highland Clearances of the 19th century. This volume (drawing on fresh sources like the Mackintosh Muniments, 1442-1820 and the Letter Book of bailie John Stewart of Inverness, 1714-1752) identifies about 1,500 additional Inverness Highlanders by name, a place within Inverness-shire (birth, residence, employment, etc.), a date, and the source. In some cases we also learn the identities of relatives, the individual’s employment, vessel traveled on, and so forth.