More Genealogy Adventures

It has been a very busy and hectic few weeks. It feels like I have barely been home since I got back from my recent visit to the US.

First up was Back To Our Past in the RDS, Dublin. Back To Our Past is the annual genealogical expo and runs alongside the Over 50’s Show. There is also a dedicated strand of DNA lectures organised by Genetic Genealogy Ireland. This year the event took place over two days, on the 18th and 19th of October. I spent most of my time sitting in on the DNA lectures because I felt this was an area where I really need to improve my knowledge. Plus they had some fascinating speakers. It was particularly great to catch up with Mags Gaulden of Grandma’s Genes and listen to the work she has done with the Canadian Casualty Identification Program. I first met Mags at the 2019 Genealogy Show in Birmingham.

Mags Gaulden presenting on the Canadian Casualty Identification Program

One of the best reasons for attending Back To Our Past is having an opportunity to connect with fellow professionals. It seems to be one of the few times we’re able to get most of Ireland’s professional genealogists in one place. I was barely in the door before I bumped into two genealogist friends in the canteen. It certainly seemed like a busy event. I was introduced to a young up and coming genealogist from North Cork who along with some other young genealogists has started a new website, The Hidden Branch, which aims to interest more children and teenagers in genealogy.

 

 

One shout out I must give is to Christine Deakin of Irish Genealogy Solutions. Christine offers a fantastic and much needed service selling materials to help you preserve your paper records and also has some really nice genealogy stationary.

Christine Deakin of Irish Genealogy Solutions

A few days after Back To Our Past I was off to London in order to attend the inaugural RootsTech London. For those unfamiliar with it, RootsTech is the premier genealogy event. It’s been running for a decade in Salt Lake City and this is the first time they have held the event outside the United States. Since a few of my friends were speaking I was very keen to attend. It took place in the Excel Arena, in the London Docklands area. I only wish there had been flights from Cork to City of London Airport nearby. Instead I had to fly into Stanstead and take a taxi out to my hotel, which at least was convenient to the venue. I was very impressed when I arrived. Finding my way around was definitely made easier by the RootsTech app. This is a great idea for such a big event and helps keep track of what’s going on, especially if there are last minute changes to the schedule. You can also download the lecture handouts through the app. I was fortunate enough while I was there to hear some great talks from Joe Buggy, David E Rencher, Dr Penny Walters and Jim Ryan.The keynote on the first day was from historian Dan Snow on his own family history.

With Dr Penny Walters

Dan Snow with a very attentive audience just after his keynote

I also spent a lot of time walking the exhibition hall. While there I met Kirsty Gray of Family Wise LTD. Kirsty is the showrunner for The Genealogy Show. There was a nice chat with Helen Tovey, editor of Family Tree Magazine. I briefly got to meet with some fellow #Ancestryhour participants from Twitter. Nice to put faces to some familiar Twitter handles. Even though I didn’t hear them speak I also got to catch up with Dutch genealogist John Boener of Antecedentia and Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of the Morton Ferrier genealogy mysteries. It was an amazing event and kudos to the organisers for putting together something on this scale.

I would have loved to stay longer but unfortunately I had something else planned for the weekend back in Cork. This involved a trip down to the scenic island of Cape Clear in West Cork for their annual storytelling workshop. I had learned about the workshop after I volunteered for the Cape Clear International Storytelling Festival. We were fortunate to have professional storyteller Claire Muireann Murphy leading us for the two and a half days. It might not have been explicitly linked to genealogy but anyone who does genealogical research will understand the need to be able to tell a good story with what you find. It’s also impossible to escape family history when on a relatively small island. A visit to the old graveyard near the pier displays a multitude of O’Driscoll and Cadigan burials. Chances are that if you have O’Driscoll ancestry you are connected to Cape Clear.

This weekend was the 2019 Virtual Genealogical Association conference. The beauty of a virtual conference is being able to watch it from almost anywhere. There was a great lineup over the three days and I learned a lot, even from the lectures that normally wouldn’t be of much use to me, such as German or Scottish records. I may never have a need to use these records but it never hurts to learn something outside of your own speciality.

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.

Basic RGB

 

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.