26 July 2009

Ireland: A Focus on Genetic Genealogy

Genetic Genealogy, the use of DNA testing to aid traditional genealogical research, is the most accurate tool a genealogist has. it can prove or disprove a lineage, help genealogists pass through brick walls, assist in locating lost relatives, and aid an adopted person in finding family.

A short history of Genetic Genealogy

Over the last nine years DNA Testing for genealogy has developed from one man's quest to find his ancestors to a world-wide interest for modern genealogists. That one man is Bennett Greenspan, a genealogist, who in 2000 established Family Tree DNA, the largest company focused on genetic genealogy. The company has remained in the forefront ever since. It offers the most genetic markers applicable to genealogy and has the largest database with which to compare a tester's results. This International business has expanded its offices to Europe, has participated in the 2009 Who Do You Think You Are? Conference, and was the only DNA company present at The Gathering 2009 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Since 2000 many other companies have been established with some now gone and new ones taking their places. In those short nine years, Genetic Genealogy has come a long way and is still progressing quickly! Geneticists and genealogists now work together in some realms of this science. The popularity of DNA testing is constantly increasing as more and more genealogists realize its value in their research.

Why is Ireland a major focus?

Currently, the highest concentration for genetic genealogy testing is done by Irish populations. Three major reasons place the focus of DNA Testing on Ireland:

1. The Irish Diaspora

2. Trinity College's paper A Y-Chromosome Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland (December 2005)

3. National Geographic Society's Genographic Project

Irish Diaspora

Since the seventeenth century Irish families have left Ireland for various reasons, including the Potato Famine, the opportunity of acquiring land not accessible under the inheritance laws at the time, and deportation by the English. Various sources state that Irish emigrants and their descendants are found in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, states of the Caribbean, and continental Europe. It is estimated that over 80 million Irish people live outside Ireland. This number represents over thirteen times the population of the island itself (6.11 million in 2007). This massive exodus has led many genealogists to long for knowledge of their ancestors who once lived in Ireland as well as the hope of finding living cousins.

It is clear that Ireland recognizes her lost cousins and finds value in identifying them as stated by Ireland's former President Mary Robinson in her 1995 address entitled Cherishing the Irish Diaspora: On a Matter of Public Importance, given to the Houses of Oireachtas:

The men and women of our diaspora represent not simply a series of departures and loses. They remain, even while absent, a precious reflection of our own growth and change, a precious reminder of the many strands of identity which compose our story.

Ireland obviously cares about its departed family. Descendants of the emigrants have proudly announced their Irish heritage for all these generations. Sadly, what is lost in time are the ancestors who connect the Irish throughout the world. With the vast numbers of these expatriates around the globe it is understandable why Irish Diasporas plays a prominent role in the focus on Ireland.


Trinity College in Dublin is a pioneer in Irish genetics for using the old genealogies in genetic testing. In December 2005 Trinity published its paper on Niall NĂ³igiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages) whose dynasty ruled Ireland for six centuries. Irish pedigrees were used to determine the surnames that could be related to descendants of the male lines of Niall which became the Clan O'Neill. Living males with surnames found in Clan O'Neill were located and tested. The study's findings suggested that about one in twelve men share the same Y-chromosome as the 5th-century warlord. Their work indicated that 21.5% of the men in Northwestern Ireland are estimated to have his DNA signature.

Trinity College's study sparked an interest for Irish genealogists everywhere. For scientists to use genealogy and DNA testing to determine who among the living is related to a particular fifth-century clan was a major step in placing Ireland on the Genetic Genealogy map.

National Genographic Project

In April 2005 the Genographic Project was created by the National Geographic Society, IBM, and the Waitt Foundation. This five-year anthropological study was established to test indigenous people throughout the world in order to better map the migration patterns of our most ancient ancestors. Anyone can submit their DNA to this project as ti is one of the few scientific studies that allows the general public to participate. As a result of this venture, many Genetic Genealogists established various geographical projects to provide a permanent place for the public's test results since at the end of this study, the results will be available, but the DNA Will be destroyed, thus not allowing an opportunity for anyone to upgrade their test in the future.

The Ireland Y-DNA Project was created in December 2005 as its administrators saw the need to preserve the Irish DNA that the Genographic Project collects. The Y-DNA Project's roots lie in Ireland as two of the three administrators live there, thus providing the expertise needed to help Irish genealogists. This project is the largest Y-DNA project with over 3,300 testers, not including those from other companies which raise the number closer to 5,000. With the expert help of the administrators and the vast number of testers, the project results are revealing that some DNA signatures are more prominent in certain counties of Ireland. This provides a probable location for a researcher whose family left Ireland years ago to being their search in the mother land. The size of the Ireland Y-DNA Project is testimony to the inter st in the Emerald Isle.

In genetic genealogy the Y-chromosome is used to test the all male line (top line of a pedigree chart with the tester as number one on that chart) as this chromosome is consistent over time. For this reason a living male can be tested to determine the DNA signature of his ancestors in his all male line. The same is true of sections of the mitochondrial (mtDNA) which tests a person's all female line (bottom line of the pedigree chart if the tester is number one on that chart). Men can test both their Ydna and their mtDNA as every mother passes her mtDNA to all her children. However, only the daughters can pass the mtDNA to her children. Women can only their their mtDNA, as naturally, they do not carry their father's Y-chromosome. As Ydna mutates (changes that do no harm the species) more often it is possible to determine matches between testers within genealogical time. The mtDNA is slower to mutate, thus common the common ancestor of testers who match is not always within genealogical time. Testing the mtDNA has been immensely useful in solving specific problems for genealogists. Refer to SUCCESS STORIES at www.isogg.org for examples.

The next article in this series will focus on Irish DNA Success Stories.

Family Tree DNA
President Mary Robinson's address
Trinity College paper: A Y-Chromosome Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland
National Geographic Society's Genographic Project
Ireland Y-DNA Project
FTDNA site for the Ireland Y-DNA Project

09 July 2009

Will Genetic Genealogy Lose Its Place?

Currently legislation is being passed that will curtail the use of DNA testing for genealogy and cause it to be more expensive. Some states have already passed laws controlling companies who market DNA tests to the public and more laws are being established.

As this is a very important topic, I felt it is necessary to share an article written by Doris Wheeler with you so that everyone knows and understands how DNA testing may be jeopardized. Being that DNA testing is the most accurate tool a genealogist has, it is important that all of us understand the impact a few can have on many. There are geneticists that think genealogists do not understand genetics and that we believe everything any company claims (i.e., if you have a certain results for some markers you will get some disease or you can be a track star). There are many genealogists and genetic genealogists who believe that some geneticists as well as people from the medical field do not understand how DNA testing is helpful to genealogy. They wish to protect us from ourselves!

As a result we are seeing government legislation trying to protect the poor, dumb consumer. RIGHT! This type of legislation will greatly harm the genealogist's access to DNA testing thus prohibiting an opportunity to break through their brick walls.

Doris Wheeler addresses this topic clearly and urgest that all of us must become informed. I urge you to take action locally and not let misinformed scientists and legislators control our hobby. Write those editorials, call your legislators. Do what you can to protect the most valuable and accurate source we have for finding our ancestors.

Thank you Doris, for permission to post your article.

The following article was written by Doris Wheeler for her blog Genealogy and DNA at http://genealogyanddna.blogspot.com/

Will Genetic Genealogy Lose Its Place?

A small but vocal group of scientists and legislators are clamoring for government regulation of DNA testing. A few states have already succumbed to this hysteria, and Washington has dipped its toe into the murky waters.

What does this mean to family genealogists like us? It could mean that we would have to have our family doctor submit an order for us to obtain a simple Y-DNA test. And the results would go to him or her. (Could there be a touch of self-interest on the part of the scientific and medical community?) As genealogists, how many of us would be willing to involve our personal doctor in our genealogy quest – and pay for the privilege? What does our family doctor know about genealogy, and does he care? Is he really the best qualified person to interpret results for us? Did you ever think you would have to get your family doctor to approve before you could do genealogy? It all sounds rather silly to me.

One argument in favor of such regulation is that people do not understand what they are getting when they buy a test. But isn’t this true of many things? Isn’t it up to the consumer to research and understand what he is buying? Another is that there are claims being made by some companies that promise far more than they can deliver. But this is a fact of life. It is up to the consumer to evaluate these claims.

I am proud to know that Family Tree DNA (the company I have chosen for all my DNA Projects (see links in the sidebar) is the acknowledged leader in the business of genetic genealogical testing and, in fact, was awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Award for Excellence in customer service. Its website has been designated as the "Best Cutting Edge Web Site" by Family Tree Magazine. Even more important is the fact that Family Tree DNA (and ISOGG, the International Society for Genetic Genealogy) provides references to an extensive library of books, videos and scientific journals for its customers’ edification. It has knowledgeable people on staff (as well as a full complement of scientists) who can and do answer questions in a timely manner. It is deeply involved in scientific research to find new SNPs and STRs that offer new avenues to pursue for those who are interested in both anthropology and genealogy and in getting as much as possible out of their testing experience. (SNPs are the portions of DNA that reflect deep ancestry – thousands of years ago. STRs are the markers used for genealogical purposes.)

Another service provided by FTDNA is its support for “projects.” All project members benefit from that support by having access to significantly reduced prices and special promotions that are only available through projects. Additionally, volunteer project administrators like me are provided with ongoing education so that we can better serve our clients. We seek to educate and to help explain test results so that our clients do understand what they are buying and why, and what the results mean.

While the line between genetic genealogy and genome testing for health reasons is quite sharp, the naysayers are beginning to disregard that line and lump all genetic testing together. That is a sad day for genealogists who are just now beginning to reap the solid rewards of having databases that are large enough to provide answers to sticky questions. Ever larger databases of test results help all of us learn more about our family history and answer the age-old question, “Where do we come from?”. Any disruption of the flow of new testees is a disservice to those who have already tested and to the cause of genealogy for everyone. The jury is still out regarding the viability of genetic testing for disease. Obviously, again, the size of the database is critical and our knowledge will grow only as the database grows. And, in addition to all the reasons given above, there is the simple matter of personal choice that is taken away by increased regulation.

Since the key is an educated public, here are two websites that are highly recommended: www.isogg.org and www.thegeneticgenealogist.com.

Doris Wheeler, 8 Jul 2009

03 July 2009

FTDNA -- July Sale!!!

WOW....FTDNA is offering a sale for the MONTH of July! Read the msg below I received today!
Remember, a person must join a project to get these prices, but I have two that anyone can join (male or female) any time and then move to a more appropriate project (or not) at a later date at no cost. There's never any cost to move to different projects.
Email me if you need help with this or need to know about the two projects anyone can join. (Not every surname has a project AND...females CANNOT join a surname project.)

The email sent from FTDNA...

Dear Group Administrator (That's me! LOL)

This message has the double purpose of thanking you, and announcing a July offer.

So, first, let me thank you for helping us make our recent Y-37+mtDNA sale the most successful in the history of Family Tree DNA. While our lower Y-DNA37 prices combined with the free mtDNA test played an important role in this success, your efforts had a significant impact in this achievement, which made some projects increase their membership by a two-digit number.

We expect that the kits will begin to be returned for processing this week and that results will start being delivered to your project by the end of July or early August.

In light of this success and in conjunction with many reunions or events where one of us will be speaking, including the Clans Gathering 2009 and the Highland Games in Scotland, we have decided to offer for the month of July a variation of our recent promotion:

Y-DNA37 – promotional price $119 (reg. price $149)

Y-DNA67 – promotional price $199 (reg. price $238)

mtDNAPlus – promotional price $119 (reg. price $149)

These are the best prices, marker for marker, of any company in the market.

IMPORTANT: since this promotion will run through the month of July, we encourage you to spread the word starting now, as the natural tendency is for people to order at the last minute, and we will not extend it beyond this month.

We thank you for your continued support and look forward to the sustained growth of the Family Tree DNA matching database.

Bennett Greenspan



If you have any questions, just email me.

If you do not hear from me in a timely manner, just write again...I was buried in email. LOL
Northwest Regional Coordinator and Speaker for ISOGG (www.isogg.org)
Administrator for twelve FTDNA DNA Projects