Get Your DNA On

Today is National DNA Day. April 25th commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953. It’s a day given over to learning more about genetics and genomics. For genealogy it’s also an opportunity to pick up some great deals on the various DNA kits available.

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You can find a list of the various sales available from the various genetic genealogy providers here

https://nationaldnaday.com/dna-day-sales/

But if you’re not already familiar with DNA testing for genealogy what do you need to know? What are the differences between the various tests?

The most common test (and the most affordable) available from most of the providers is the Autosomal test, otherwise known as the Family Finder test. It tests back along both the male and female line. It can also provide clues to the ethnic background of the tester. However, this should always be taken with a certain amount of caution. There are any number of variables which can skew the test and sometimes the different providers will provide a tester with very different results. Autosomal tests also have a limited range, only been accurate within seven generations.

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Ethnic breakdown from Family Tree DNA autosomal test

What makes autosomal testing so useful for genealogy however is that it can provide you with direct matches to potential cousins. This can be particularly helpful for getting beyond those pesky brick walls if you can connect to someone who might have been able to progress further in their own research. If you want to narrow your results to a particular branch of your family then a helpful strategy is to test a relative connected to you on that branch. For example if you wanted to find more connections on your paternal line, then ask a first cousin or uncle or aunt, to take the test also. You can then compare any matches in common. Similar can be done with second cousins for information on great grandparents and so on.

If you are curious about the origin of your surname or looking to go back further along the male line, then the test to take is the Y chromosome test. The Y chromosome is passed down along the paternal line from father to son. As such only men can take it because women don’t inherit that piece of DNA. This test can go back much further, roughly 1000 years, hence why it is so useful for tracing the origin of a surname. From my own experience though, it might not tell you a whole lot if you have a common surname like Ryan. Another limitation is that the test won’t necessarily help you find close cousins.

For those looking to trace the origin of their maternal line, they can take the mitochondrial DNA test. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited along the female line for both men and women. It also doesn’t mutate at the same rate as other types of DNA and can be traced back much further. However, because women often change their surname when they marry, it has limitations if you are trying to connect with a specific individual. However, one interesting use of mitochondrial testing in recent years was the identification of the remains of executed 1916 leader, Thomas Kent. By taking a sample of mitochondrial DNA from his surviving nieces, they were able to confirm his identity.

If you are looking for more information on DNA testing then the video below should be of help

There are also plenty of other great articles and blogs out there. You can also find some excellent videos on personal experiences with DNA testing for genealogy on YouTube, courtesy of Genetic Genealogy Ireland.

 

 

 

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Getting Started

With St Patrick’s Day just gone it seems like an appropriate time to talk about Irish ancestors. They say everyone is a bit Irish on St Patrick’s Day but how do you find out? The goal of this entry is to provide some basic tips on some of the initial steps you can take to get you started and perhaps even make it easier if you intend to hire a professional genealogist to undertake research for you later on.

The first step is to try and identify where in your family the Irish connection is. Even if you have a typically Irish name such as O’Connell and O’Neill, you may be surprised to discover your Irish connection isn’t as obvious as you would think. While the largest bulk of Irish immigration took place in the aftermath of the Famine, there have always been Irish people making their way out into the wider world. Just recently I came across an interesting article about how George Washington allowed his troops to celebrate St Patrick’s Day during the Revolutionary War in 1780. Irish people have been settling in the UK and Continental Europe for even longer.

Once you have identified the Irish connection, then the next step is to try and narrow down a county of origin. This isn’t always as easy as it might seem. Too often we have to sort through conflicting information. You might have folklore that has been passed down through the generations suggesting your ancestor came from a certain part of the country but documentation may suggest otherwise. The best way to be certain is to gather as much information as you can, marriage and death certs, census records and if possible, church records. It’s always possible a baptismal record may contain more detail than a standard birth cert. While people had little hesitation in fudging details when it came to government records, they would always be cautious about lying to their priest.

When you are ready to begin your search in Ireland, take a bit of time to become familiar with Irish geography. Remember that the 32 counties of Ireland break down into countless subdivisions of baronies, parishes, townlands, poor law unions, electoral districts etc. Depending on the time period you are examining, having some knowledge of these divisions can make your search much easier.

Irish Poor Law Union Map (Courtesy http://www.workhouses.org.uk)

Surnames can also be a valuable way to find an ancestor. Even common surnames tend to be typically found in certain counties. For example Ryan is most often found in Tipperary and neighbouring counties, Sullivan in West Cork and Kerry and so on. A very useful guide for the distribution of Irish surnames and their variants can be found courtesy of John Grenham on his website.

Irish records have a reputation for being difficult, partially due to the large gaps left by the Public Records Office fire of 1922. But the truth is that there is a lot of information available, starting with the 1901 and 1911 census. Parish records, land valuations, birth, marriage and death records and even historic newspapers can all be extremely valuable in your search.

Once you locate the county of origins for your ancestors it is also worth checking out the websites of local libraries and archives. They may have information and even transcripts of other records unique to that county or city. This may include specific estate records, commercial directories etc. More and more records are being made available so never assume nothing exists.

DNA can also be useful. Ireland may be a bit behind other countries in terms of how many people have taken commercial DNA tests but it is growing in popularity. Only recently, one of our most popular Irish talk shows The Late Late Show was devoted a segment to discussing DNA in genealogy. You can see an excerpt below and watch the full programme here:

Of course DNA testing isn’t a magic bullet. Sometimes it can cause more confusion but if you feel you’ve exhausted every other option then it is worth doing, especially as the costs for the various tests gradually become more affordable. The Internation Society of Genetic Genealogy has a very helpful introduction to the basics of DNA for tracing ancestry.

If you are seriously stuck and at your wits end, then feel free to consult a professional. We don’t bite and are always willing to offer some advice to get you started. You can find contact details for professionals in Ireland here and here. Local archives and libraries might also be able to put you in touch with an expert in the area you are searching.

The final piece of advice is to never lose hope. It can be tough going and there will undoubtedly be many false trails but in the end hopefully it will be worth it.

GENEALOGY OF THE RISING

100 years today on the morning of what was then Easter Monday 1916, a group of armed insurrectionists seized a number of buildings around Dublin. These insurrectionists were members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizens Army and Cumann na mBan. This included the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). Soon after two unfamiliar flags were raised above the GPO and a proclamation read out which declared that Ireland was now a Republic. For most of the following week Dublin would be engulfed by the Rising.

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GPO Dublin

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GPO 1916 (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

 

 

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Original Copy of the 1916 Proclamation (Picture: National Library of Ireland)

This insurrection was the 1916 Rising and it would become the defining moment in the struggle for Irish Independence. By the time the Rising came to an end, 485 people had lost their lives. The majority of these were civilians who had been caught up in the crossfire, including 28 children. 107 Crown forces were killed, including Irish soldiers serving in the British army. 17 policemen lost their lives during Easter Week, only four of them in Dublin.  Of the Rebels, 58 were killed. 16 men were executed for their role in the Rising, including Thomas Kent in Cork and Sir Roger Casement in London.

Much has been written about the events of that week and even a century on there is still plenty of debate about whether the Rebels were justified in their actions and how they should be remembered. A recent Remembrance Wall unveiled in Glasnevin Cemetery on April 3rd caused plenty of controversy because it listed the names of all those who died, including Rebels, Civilians and Crown forces. The names are displayed chronologically.

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Glasnevin Necrology Wall (Picture: UTV.ie)

In some respects we are also still attempting to untangle myth from fact when it comes down to who was involved and what actions they took. Fortunately much work has been done in the last few years, particularly by genealogists. Multiple new record sources have been made freely available online.

One of the best sources to consult is the Bureau of Military History. They have uploaded copies of witness statements taken from those involved in 1916. They also have press cuttings from the period. If you are looking to confirm whether a particular family member was involved in the events of 1916 then it is worth consulting the pensions collection in the Irish Military Archives. The information contained on both these websites can be extremely helpful in determining whether a family member did indeed see action during the period and where they were involved.

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Extract from sworn statement made by Oscar Traynor TD, former Officer Commanding Dublin Brigade IRA, before the Advisory Committee, Military Service Pensions Act, in support of Mathew Stafford’s application for a military service pension under 1934 act

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Undated letter from Eugene Gilbride verifying Linda Kearns MacWhinney’s position as an officer with Sligo Brigade IRA at the time of her arrest on 20 November 1920

The National Library of Ireland and the National Archives have also uploaded much of their collections connected to 1916. Of particular note are the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee 1916 compensation files in the National Archives. These files contain compensation claims from those whose homes or businesses were destroyed during the Rising. They can be extremely valuable if you had family living in Dublin at the time who weren’t directly involved in the fighting but still suffered as a result.

One of the best websites that has come online in recent years is the Letters of 1916 project. This is the first public humanities project in Ireland. It’s goal is to create a crowd-sourced digital collection of letters written around the time of the Easter Rising (1 November 1915 – 31 October 1916). This isn’t limited to Dublin or the Rising, but includes letters from all around the country and on a number of topics. Members of the public are invited to contribute through uploading their own letters from the period and also to assist with transcribing the letters.

Not to be outdone, Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.ie have both made their own contributions.

Ancestry have released Courts Martial Files and Intelligence Profiles connected to the period. They also have access to the Military Service Pension Index and the National Army Census of 1922.

Findmypast.ie have made available their Easter Rising & Ireland under Martial Law, 1916-1921 collection. The 75,000 records include reports and military intelligence detailing the events of Easter week 1916. These records are free to search until April 27th.

This is only a brief listing and there are many other great resources out there. The National Library is currently involved in compiling an archive of many of the websites which were set up to honour 1916.

Regardless of how we view the Rising and those who participated, we can at the very least find out a lot more information on what was actually happening during the period.

Update: I just realised that I neglected to include this fantastic podcast by my friend Lorna Moloney for the Genealogy Radio Show on Radió Corca Baiscinn. It offers a genealogical introduction into the lives of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation.

 

Remembrance Weekend

Great War Memorial on South Mall, Cork

Great War Memorial  South Mall, Cork

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous conflict. What was originally hoped to be a short and limited European war, ‘over by Christmas’, turned into a period of prolonged stalemate which enveloped the world. As part of the British Empire at the time, Ireland became embroiled in the conflict. The current estimate is that 200,000 Irishmen served in the conflict, although this is a difficult number to be sure of. With many Irish living abroad and enlisting in regiments in their new homes, it can be hard to know for certain how many were involved. It is estimated that between 30,000 to 50,000 lost their lives (depending on whether you count just those serving with Irish regiments or Irish enlisting in other armies).

Until recent years it would seem that the role of the rish in WW1 was ignored and overlooked due to the focus on the events of Easter 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence in Ireland. Fortunately perceptions of the conflict have changed, although it still remains a controversial subject for some, especially the practice of wearing a poppy. Our Taoiseach has today laid a wreath in Enniskillen as part of their Remembrance Sunday events and our Minister for Foreign Affairs was a participant in Belfast events. Our President has attended the Remembrance service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association

Members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association

Here in Cork we are fortunate to have a number of groups and individuals who are very dedicated to commemorating those who served in the Great War. Over the last few years the members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association have organised a number of events over the weekend closest to November 11th. On the Friday they hold an Evening of Remembrance in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This is always a truly moving event combining songs, music, stories and poetry. On the Saturday they organise is a gathering at the WW1 memorial on the South Mall in Cork for a wreath laying ceremony. Both the Lord Mayor of Cork and the Mayor of Cork County delivered speeches. On the Sunday a seperate ceremony is held by members of the Royal British Legion, along with a number of special masses.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O'Leary

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O’Leary

Crowd gathered at the WW1 memorial for the wreath laying

Crowd gathered at the WW1 memorial for the wreath laying

From a genealogical point of view these commemoration events can be very important. We don’t have to approve of the War or why and how it was fought. But it is important to remember those who lost their lives in the conflict. Every family in Ireland would have known someone who enlisted to fight in the War and each had their own reasons for doing so. These commemoration events help us to learn more about the lives our ancestors lived and to appreciate who they were. Too often when we read about these conflicts it can seem like an endless stream of numbers and big battles. But by commemorating them, we realise that each of these numbers was a living breathing individual at one point with a story to tell.

As part of the Rembrance weekend, Ancestry have opened up their WW1 records to explore for free. Usually I’m not one to plug the subscription websites, simply because they are so well known. However on this occasion it’s a great opportunity to search for your WW1 ancestors and see what sort of information might be out there.

WW1 Medal Roll

WW1 Medal Roll

Sporting Ancestors

Sundays Well Tennis Club

I was invited recently to deliver a talk on researching Cork ancestry to Sundays Well Boating & Tennis Club. Located near Fitzgeralds Park and University College Cork, I must have passed it a number of times without realising it was there. The club have a monthly Circle Group get together for older and retired members and often invite someone in to give a talk. I was honoured to receive such an invitation, especially when I realised the long history the club has in Cork. The talk was very well received and as is often the case, talking to some of those in attendance afterwards, I learned quite a bit from them. One gentleman in particular had put together a large booklet on his family history and had even taken a number of DNA tests from 23andMe.

One perk of giving the talk was being introduced to the long history the club has in Cork. Founded in 1899 it still has a collection of records dating back to it’s founding. Names of chairmen from it’s founding are on plaques dotted around the clubhouse. Looking at them I could see plenty of familiar Cork names, even a few I would have come across when researching the history of Christchurch. I was also presented with a fascinating book on the history of the club.

All of this got me thinking about sports clubs in terms of genealogy. It’s an area we rarely think of and yet Cork has such a long and proud sporting history. From tennis, rugby, cricket, golf, soccer and of course GAA. The second ever meeting of the Gaelic Athlethic Association was held in the Victoria Hotel on St Patrick’s Street in the heart of Cork City on December 27th 1884. Although the hotel itself has long closed, a plaque still remains on the corner commemorating this meeting. Cork has also produced a number of celebrated boxers and athlethes.

Boxer Mick Leahy

With this level of sporting activity in Cork and throughout Ireland as a whole, it’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors might have been involved with a sporting club in some capacity. Sporting clubs provided (and often still do) a social outlet for people of all backgrounds. Our ancestors might also have helped out in the form of caretakers, groundskeepers or may have even been committee members. Genealogy is about more than just gathering names, for most people it is about learning what sort of lives their ancestors lived. Quite often some records will survive. If the club is still in operation, it’s no harm to check with them to see what they might have. Perhaps one of their members has taken on the role of archivist.

For those clubs that no longer operate or don’t have their records, its possible some information might survive with the Local Studies department of the library. If you are extremely fortunate, the club might have even handed over their records to the local archives. Cork City and County Archives for example holds many of the records from Cork Constitution Rugby Club, which had been founded in 1892 by members of the Cork Constitution newspaper. While the newspaper itself ceased publication in 1924, the rugby club has continued to operate. The archive collection also has plenty of other material connected to sporting activity in Cork, including a number of diaries that describe sporting events. The National Library of Ireland have put many of their old photos on Flickr and it’s worth browsing through their photos of sporting events, even an informal kickabout by a group of workers on their lunchbreak.

Winning oarsmen at Waterford Boat Club c. 1885 from the NLI collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/6078681751

Local newspapers will also often have recorded details on sporting events. In some cases they might even have a full list of the players on each team or perhaps photos of the teams. In some cases websites like British Pathe might have video footage from sporting events. Youtube is also a great source for historic footage.

Sporting records might not seem like the most obvious of genealogical sources but they can be worth delving into simply for what they can tell us about how our ancestors lived their lives. In the days before television and the internet, sport was one of the most popular ways for people to spend their leisure hours and our ancestors would have been no different.

A Genealogical Embarassment Of Riches – Part 2

There was some very good news for Irish genealogy recently with the release of the Catholic Parish Registers from the National Library of Ireland on July 8th

                                          National Library Of Ireland

Previously these records had only been available to consult in the Catholic churches directly or on microfiche in the National Library of Ireland. They were also available on the paid site Roots Ireland.

But why are these records so important for researching in Ireland?

Ballyporeen Parish Record

Ballyporeen/Templetenny Parish Record Excerpt

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts no census records survive prior to 1901, with the exception of some fragments from various 19th century census. Civil Registration for Catholics was only introduced in 1864 and the Public Records Office fire of 1922 has meant that many other records have been lost to us forever. Surviving records such as Griffiths Valuation and the Tithe Applotment books were never meant as census records and typically only list the head of household.

The Parish Registers on the other hand in some cases go back as far as the 18th century, which is much further than most have been able to dream of tracing our family history so far. There are a number of caveats which need to be kept in mind when using these records though.

  • Only baptisms and marriages are covered. Records of Catholic burials weren’t kept up until the early 20th century.
  • The registers kept by the National Library in most cases only extend as far as the 1880s. For anything later than that researchers will have to consult with the individual parishes.
  • The registers are not indexed or searchable. While it’s only a matter of time before one of the big genealogy companies, such as Ancestry or Findmypast gets around to doing this, in the meantime consulting the registers means scrolling through each set of records to find what you are looking for.
  • The handwriting can also prove to be an initial stumbling block. Some people have described it as spidery. Compared to modern handwriting it takes a lot of getting used to.
  • The use of Latin names can also lead to some confusion. Remember this was at a time long before Vatican II, when Latin was still used for nearly everything in the Catholic Church. It’s worth searching online for a good list of Latin names and their English equivalents when examining the registers.
  • Some parishes are missing. When the registers were initially being photographed back in the 1950s some were missed due to human error. This will happen with any transcription of records to another medium. There were also parishes that simply did not exist at this time and only became seperate entities later on.

That being said these records are still an amazing rescource. It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the website design to make it user friendly. You can type the parish name into the search box or zoom in on the map to locate it. The records themselves are clear and legible. You can zoom right in and adjust the contrast settings if a particular page is difficult to view. When you open a record you can also go straight to a particular year, which is a huge bonus given how many baptisms and marriages took place in a typical year. Once you locate your ancestors in the register you can download a copy of that specific page.

There are also some ways to make searching easier. It might sound counter intuitive but when you first start, look for a date you already know about. If you have a specific date for an ancestors marriage or baptism then try to find that first. It will give you an opportunity to understand the layout of the registers and to get used to the handwriting.

There were some concerns from some of the Local History Centres, who run the Roots Ireland website, throughout Ireland that making these records freely available would inevitably mean the end of their business. Up until now they had been the main repository for transcripts of the registers. However it is my belief that the opposite will happen. For a lot of visitors to Ireland looking to trace their ancestors, these centres will still be one of their first stops because they hold transcripts of the records and because of their local knowledge. A subscription to Roots Ireland can also be helpful for using their transcripts in parallel with the registers.

The online registers might not be perfect but they are an amazing resource and hats off to the National Library for all their hard work and dedication in getting them online. The future of Irish genealogy is looking very bright and I wonder what other previously inaccessible records we can look forward to.

You can find the registers online at http://registers.nli.ie/

Ancestral Connections and Dromana 800

The Ancestral Connections UCC Genealogy Summer School is over for another year and what a fantastic school it was. Each year the programme becomes more ambitious and expansive. There far too many great speakers for me to list all of them so I will have to stick to a few honourable mentions.

Volunteers and attendess at the Ancestral Connections 2015

Volunteers and attendess at the Ancestral Connections Summer School 2015

Eileen O’Duill and her husband Sean always help launch the school on the Sunday evening and provide the first full day of talks. It should be required for anyone embarking on researching their Irish ancestry to sit down and chat with both of these lovely people for a few hours. No matter how daunting and scary Irish genealogy can appear, Sean and Eileen provide such great advice that can make finding even the most elusive of ancestors seem possible. They are also fantastic storytellers.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the school are the day trips, where we get an opportunity to put what we have learned in the talks to use in the real world. One of these day trips involved a visit to the lovely town of Youghal. Being genealogists, our first stop had to be a graveyard. Doctor Jane Lyons and John Nangle were our experts on interpreting gravestones.

Dr Jane Lyons and John Nangle guiding us through graveyard research

Dr Jane Lyons and John Nangle guiding us through graveyard research

We also took the time to look around the church itself, which I would recommend for anyone visiting Youghal. Rosaleen Underwood provided us with some history on the fantastic Boyle tomb located in one of the wings of the church. There were also plenty of intriguing memorial plaques along the walls.Youghal Masonic Plaque Youghal Memorial Plaque

Once we were done with graveyards it was on to the Walter Raleigh Hotel for a mouth watering talk by food historian Regina Sexton on what our ancestors ate. Fortunately it wasn’t too long a wait until dinner.

Some of the other notable talks included Steven Smyrl on Probate Genealogy. An extremely important area. Stuart Rosenblatt filled is in on researching Jewish ancestry in Ireland, which also revealed some sources on tracking immigrant ancestors. We don’t always take into account that Ireland has been much more multicultural in it’s history than we realise.

My own talk on interpreting memorial plaques and monuments was the final lecture of the school on the Friday. Since there was an optional tour of UCC campus at the same time I was asked to deliver the talk twice. Fortunately it was well received both times. The actual last day of the school itself involved a trip down to Cobh, Midleton and Cloyne.

It was my first time visiting Cobh Heritage Centre and I found it to be extremely impressive. More than simply about the much celebrated links between Cobh and the Titanic, it also covers much of the maritime history of Cobh along with the history of emmigration in the area.

Cobh Heritage Centre

We also spent some time in St Colman’s Catholic Cathedral, which overlooks the town. An awe inspiring building inside and out. We then spent some time out on Spike Island, billed as Corks own Alcatraz.

St Colman's Cathedral RCSome of our group opted to visit Midleton Jameson Distillery while everyone else decided on Cloyne to see the other St Colman’s Cathedral in Cloyne. This is the COI Cathedral for the diocese and medieval in origin. It still contains much of it’s medieval character and has a wonderful historic graveyard. The round tower also still stands, although it’s missing a roof due to a lightning strike in the 1700s.

WP_20150704_068 WP_20150704_069 WP_20150704_058 WP_20150704_062Even with the Summer School over there was little time for rest. The following day, Sunday July 5th I was among a group of genealogists with Irish Ancestree providing genealogical consultations in Villierstown, Co. Waterford for the Dromana 800 festival. Villierstown Church VillierstownWe met some lovely people down there and got to put our knowledge of genealogy into practice. The always fickle Irish weather even cooperated for the most part.

Planning has already begun for Ancestral Connections 2016 – Roots To The Rising and the preliminary programme should be announced shortly.