Friday, 14 November 2014

Another successful year at Back to Our Past

This second year of Genetic Genealogy Ireland proved even more successful than the first, and a huge thank you has to go to FamilyTreeDNA for sponsoring the event yet again. Long may it continue! 

Due to the foundations that we laid down last year, publicity & promotion around the event was both easier and more effective this year. The Facebook campaign advertising the regular blog posts on this website resulted in 12,000 hits in the 4 weeks prior to the event. Ireland was the country with the most traffic after the US, indicating that the target audience was being reached. 

Back to Our Past is organised in conjunction with the Over 50’s Show and the Irish Coin & Stamp Fair – as a result BTOP benefits from people interested in attending all three shows in one. Although overall attendance at the show appeared to be down on last year, traffic to the FTDNA stand increased. 

Full credit goes to the ISOGG volunteers who helped out at the FTDNA stand including Derrell Oakley Teat, Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan, Nora Probasco, George Valko, Joss Ar Gall, Brian Swann, Debbie Kennett, and many more. 

The triage system worked very well indeed. ISOGG volunteers would mill around the stand and engage people in conversation, educating them about DNA, and answering any questions. This kept customers at the stand, created a buzz around the area, and attracted more people. It also meant that by the time the customers sat down at the table to be swabbed, they knew exactly what they wanted and could be processed quickly - this streamlined system improved efficiency and turnover. 

The stand was much improved on last year thanks to the addition of several posters on the basic aspects of DNA. These posters were well worth the investment - they attracted people to the stand, helped engage people in conversation, and generated discussion. They will remain in Dublin and can be used again for subsequent events. 

Once again there was two-way traffic between the stand and the lectures with the lectures driving people to buy DNA kits and volunteers on the stand directing interested people to find out more about DNA at the lectures. 

In total, 136 kits were sold over the 3 days of the event (approximately 40, 55, and 40 on Days 1, 2, and 3 respectively). This is up from 99 kits last year, an increase of 36%. The number of tests ordered also went up, from 113 to 148 (an increase of 32%). These figures are very similar to those from London when FTDNA first started attending Who Do You Think You Are back in 2009. Hopefully the number of customers testing in Dublin will continue to increase as they did in London (earlier this year 485 kits were sold at the WDYTYA event). 

The choice of tests bought by customers was very similar to last year. The Family Finder test was again the most popular, accounting for just over half of all tests. Y-DNA came in second place accounting for 40%, with mtDNA accounting for 9%. 

The Free DNA tests sponsored by Project Admins proved very popular and several customers availed of these. These Free DNA tests resulted in additional project members for the following surname projects: Cassidy, Dalton, Fitzgerald, Gough, Kennedy, Lloyd, Lyons (2) and Taylor. 

Both Debbie Kennett and Emily Aulicino had copies of their books for sale at the event and they all sold out – a further indication of the interest among the Irish in the use of DNA testing as an additional tool for Family Tree Research. Both Debbie and Emily have written excellent blog reports on the event and these can be seen by clicking on the links below. 

Debbie’s blog –

Emily’s blog –

Thanks again to FamilyTreeDNA for supporting the genetic genealogy community - without you, none of this would have happened!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Special low prices for DNA tests at BTOP

Everyone coming to Back to Our Past 2014 can get a DNA test for lower than the usual price. This is good news for anyone whose name is not on the list of Free DNA Tests.

FamilyTreeDNA have announced that they will have special discounts on the DNA tests being sold at Back to Our Past, which in fact is a double saving because buyers also save on the cost of postage and packaging.

The good news is that these special discounts apply to all three main DNA tests.

Y-DNA-37 ... €102 
The Y-DNA-37 test, which traces the fathers father's father's line, is useful for both deep and recent ancestry, and is the standard test for anyone interested in researching a specific surname within the family. It is usually $169 if bought directly off the website, but at BTOP it is on special offer at $129. In euro, that's about 102 euro instead of 133 euro. Anyone taking this test should also sign up to the appropriate surname project to get the most out of their Y-DNA results. And that part is completely free.

Family Finder ... €70
The Family Finder test is also at a special discount. This is the most popular test among customers and accounted for 50% of kits bought by the Irish public at last years event. The usual price is $99 (plus additional shipping costs) but at BTOP it is going for $89 (about 70 euro). This is the test that tells you your ethnic makeup and connects you with genetic cousins with whom you share a common ancestor within the last 6 generations or so - that will potentially take you back to your 4x great grandparents (all 64 of them) who probably lived some time between 1700 and 1750.

FMS ... €133

People interested in researching their mother's mother's mother's line can now get the Full Mitochondrial Sequence (FMS) test for $169 instead of the usual $199 (that's 133 euro instead of 157 euro). Like the Y-DNA test, this mitochondrial DNA test is useful for tracing both deep and recent ancestry. It will show you the "route" your ancestors took out of Africa 60,000 years ago and will give you clues as to where they settled along the way. It may even help you identify ancestral homelands.

And for those who simply want to dip their toe in the genetic water, the cheapest DNA tests are the Y-DNA-12 and the mtDNAplus. You can upgrade either of these tests at a later stage if you want, without having to give another sample. The Y-DNA-12 test is available for $59 (about 46 euro) and the mtDNAplus test for $69 (about 54 euro).

If you're not sure which DNA test is best for you, read our handy guide here (Which DNA test is best for you?), or ask one of the ISOGG volunteers at the FTDNA stand. And to learn more about how DNA testing is revolutionising the world of family tree research, come to the DNA Lectures at the show and immerse yourself in the wonderful world of genetic genealogy!

These lectures are sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy).

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Migration of Man

Spencer Wells has been studying your oldest ancestors for more than 20 years. And he's coming to Dublin to tell you what he found.

Spencer is giving the Keynote Address at Genetic Genealogy Ireland - 3.30 pm, Sat 18th October 2014 at Back to Our Past at the RDS, Dublin.

The earliest humans originated in Africa, and eventually made their way out to the rest of the world. There were several migrations out of Africa over the millennia, but all of them died out. It is only the last exodus of humans that has survived, and we are the children of that exodus.

All human beings in existence today descend from one single man who lived in Africa about 330,000 years ago. So the genetic evidence tells us. And both archaeological and linguistic evidence supports the incredible story that is being revealed by our DNA. Spencer is one of the pioneers at the forefront of this genetic research into the incredible human journey.

TED Talk by Spencer Wells - the origins of human diversity

In his engrossing book and documentary "The Journey of Man", Spencer describes how humans migrated out of Africa, developing mutations in their DNA as they went. These mutations act as "markers" that allow us to track the route that they took. These mutations happen all the time, in all humans, and develop slowly over hundreds of years, serving as a "paper trail" that allows us to follow these markers back in time to their source.

The earliest groups of humans (known as  anatomically modern humans or homo sapiens sapiens) first emerged some 200,000 years ago. We find their present-day descendants among the San people of southern Africa. These people are key to the study of human migration and the development of human diversity. And because the various peoples in Africa are the oldest peoples on the earth, there is many times more genetic diversity within Africa than outside of it.

This documentary follows Spencer and his crew as they scour Africa, and the rest of the world, for indigenous people with deep roots in one place, asking for samples of DNA to test, in order to piece together our "big family" genetic tree. There are plenty of surprises along the way. It is particularly fascinating to see the diverse ways in which people and tribes react when Spencer returns with their DNA results and they discover what their DNA says about who they are and where they came from. 

Here is the entire documentary in thirteen parts.

Maurice Gleeson - Solving Adoption Mysteries in your Family Tree

Name - Maurice Gleeson


Day Job - psychiatrist, pharmaceutical physician, & genetic genealogist

Night Job - Organiser of Genetic Genealogy Ireland; Project Administrator for iCARASpearin Surname Project, & Irish mitochondrial DNA project

How did you get into genealogy?
My Dad has been "doing the family tree" on and off since I was a teenager. I remember him having long conversations with my granny on Sunday afternoons when we used to visit her in Clontarf. I think we still have the roll of engineering graph paper on which he drew his first version of the tree. It's up in the attic somewhere. I joined the fray about 8 years ago and quickly became addicted. I've been an avid genealogist ever since.

What about your involvement with genetic genealogy?
I first tested in 2008 and have since used DNA to trace one line of my family (the Spierin line) back to the 1600's in Limerick. I've also set up the iCARA project to help people with Irish surnames in the Caribbean find their Irish ancestral homeland and even distant cousins living in Ireland today. I'm also co-administrator of the Ireland mitochondrial DNA project. Now I speak on DNA and family tree research at genealogy meetings - this past year I have presented in London, Los Angeles, Washington, Glasgow, and Birr, Co. Offaly.

So what will you be talking about?
I have two presentations at this years conference. My first presentation is "Which DNA test is best for you?" and I will give a detailed description of the 3 main types of DNA test.That way you can decide for yourself which test might be best to help answer the questions you have relating to your own family tree research.

The second presentation is called "Solving Adoption Mysteries in your Family Tree". Many family trees have an individual who was adopted. It might be the person researching the tree, one of their parents, or one of their grandparents. There may be documentary evidence, there may not. In both cases, DNA testing can answer questions that the documentary evidence has failed to address. And in some instances, DNA testing can circumvent the need for documentary evidence entirely. There is a full explanation of how this can be done on a dedicated page on the GGI website here - Solving Adoption Mysteries in your Family Tree

What DNA tests will be discussed?
All DNA tests will be discussed in both presentations ... Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA.

Where can people get more information about you or your topic?
For more information just click on the links below:
  • The ISOGG wiki is a great place to get general information about DNA testing
  • For those researching their Irish family trees, there is a useful guide on the GGI website here - Finding your Irish Ancestors

These lectures are sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy).

You can watch a video of the presentation by simply clicking on the image below. To watch it in Full Screen, click on the "square" icon in the bottom right of the screen.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Michelle Leonard ... Identifying the Fallen Soldiers of WW1 - DNA on the battlefield

Name - Michelle Leonard
             University of Strathclyde

Qualifications - MA in Modern History & English (The University of St Andrews) and PGCert in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies (The University of Strathclyde)

Member - Society of Genealogists

Day Job - Genealogist, Freelance Researcher, Historian (plus my less relevant jobs - I also work for a cycle development charity as a cycle trainer and ride leader, I am one of the organisers of Glasgow's women's cycling group Belles on Bikes and I am a political campaigner).

Night Job - I've got enough day jobs I think! I do sing in an alternative community choir sometimes though.

How did you get into genealogy?
I have been "into" genealogy since I was a teenager and finding a census return entry meant scrolling through microfiche in the Mitchell Library for 3 days! I have been interested in my family history for as long as I can remember and I believe this stems from the fact that my paternal grandparents died long before I was born and my maternal grandparents when I was a baby. Since I grew up without these connections I was always curious about them and those who came before them. My passion for the process of genealogy, however, began when I found a box of 19th and early 20th century family photographs as a teenager and was desperate to put names to all of the familiar yet unfamiliar faces. There were also a couple of family mysteries that I became aware of at that time that I wanted to solve so I began actively researching my family tree via the microfiche and paper records in the Mitchell Library and have been hooked ever since. I love the challenge of putting a tree together, the process of following every lead and the satisfaction gained by solving mysteries along the way.

My lineage is predominantly Scottish on my maternal side and chiefly Irish on my paternal side but I have many branches that veer off overseas to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. I worked on my own tree for a number of years (and still do when I can which isn't often - the curse of the genealogist is that you end up spending more time on other people's trees than your own!) before helping friends, family and those looking for assistance with brick walls online via several forums and websites especially RAOGK to whom I volunteered my time and expertise. This has led to virtual genealogy friendships with people in many different countries.

What about your involvement with genetic genealogy?
My only real involvement with genetic genealogy is via the Fromelles Project and having to learn about which relatives would be appropriate DNA donors. I have also studied genetic genealogy briefly as part of my postgraduate course and had my own paternal line tested via Family Tree DNA. I find the concept and results fascinating and feel this is a field that will grow and grow in the coming years.

So what will you be talking about?
I will be talking about the Fromelles Genealogy Project.

In May 2008 250 WWI soldiers were discovered in a mass grave in France. This led to the instigation of a ground-breaking project to discover who these men were via DNA testing, anthropological study and genealogical research. I have worked on the Project tracing DNA-appropriate donors since that time and was the genealogical consultant for the official Fromelles documentary made to coincide with the opening of the cemetery in 2010. This presentation will talk about the project and specifically how genealogical work has so far helped to identify 144 of those men and give them named graves in the first military cemetery to be built in France in over 50 years. It will tell the story of the battle, the fight to discover the mass grave, the discovery itself and the questions it threw up, the DNA testing program, how DNA-appropriate relatives were traced, the process that led to the identifications and the individual stories of some of the men.

What DNA tests will be discussed?
I'll be talking about how Y-DNA and mtDNA was used in the project to help identify the soldiers.

Where can people get more information about you or your topic?

My LinkedIn age -

A Channel 4 documentary about the project -

The story of Fromelles as published in issue 44 of Wartime -

These lectures are sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy).

You can watch a video of the presentation by simply clicking on the image below. To watch it in Full Screen, click on the "square" icon in the bottom right of the screen.

Friday, 10 October 2014

John Cleary - How to enhance your Y-DNA results through surname and haplogroup projects

Name - John Cleary

Member - ISOGG Scotland

Day Job - John teaches in a languages department at a university in Scotland, and has previously taught in colleges and universities in Germany, Japan, Malaysia and the UK. He has been involved in educational development projects on teaching modern European languages, which have led him to travel widely in Eastern Europe and central Asia. In a previous life he also worked in a museum and wrote a history of the people who had built and inhabited medieval almshouses.

How did you get into genealogy?
When working in the museum John developed an interest in the histories of communities and families. Some idle questions about some family mysteries led to him poking into his own family past, and he has since traced his own family back in each of Ireland's four provinces, as far as he can. Which isn't far enough – DNA research might be a way to see past that early horizon created by those Irish records that went up in smoke.

What about your involvement with genetic genealogy?
Like many people John began by testing himself and finding unexpected results, which fuelled the interest to discover more. He is a member of ISOGG in Scotland, assists as one of the volunteer administrators of the Scottish DNA Project, and helped establish a DNA Interest Group for Scotland which began meeting in Glasgow in 2014. He has used it to trace the shared origins of people with a shared but unusual surname, and to look deeper into how those surname bearers came to be in Ireland. More recently he has been using DNA to open up the history of the Scots captured in the Civil War and transported to forced labour in the American colonies, and whose descendants are trying to reconstruct their stories.

So what will you be talking about?
This talk is going to focus on DNA group projects - what they are; the different types; and how the family historian can get involved and use them. It will be of interest to anyone researching less common Irish surnames, especially those with possible origins in other parts of the Isles - or further away, and so may remain rare in Ireland. It's aimed mainly at those people who have taken a DNA test already and want to do more to compare their test with other people’s to extract more value from their results. People who have not tested but are thinking about doing it may also find this a useful source of ideas.

We'll look at group projects - especially surname projects and how they can increase the value of taking a DNA test. Part of the talk will look at how a surname project discovered more information about a particular surname that historical documents could not reveal. We'll look briefly at haplogroup projects – these capture “deep ancestry” (that is before surnames were used), but offer a lot to the family historian too. Then we'll introduce another, newer type, heritage projects, looking at a new project exploring the fates of Scottish prisoners transported as captives to America after defeat by Cromwell in 1650. This may interest Irish genealogists, too, given the huge numbers of Irish who also endured this fate under Cromwell and after. These show how DNA testing can be taken beyond conventional genealogy, opening up new ways to recount the history of peoples, communities and their migrations across the planet.

What DNA tests will be discussed?

To which surnames is this presentation particularly relevant?
  • Kemp (two Irish lineages of this name); also: Kempton, Cummings, Jacobs, Anderson, Adams, Connell, Small – all good Irish names. 
  •  The talk will be of interest to anyone who wishes to research a surname, but will also cover other uses of DNA in genealogy.
Where can people get more information about you or your topic?

The Kemp Surname Project -

The Scottish Prisoners of the Civil Wars Project -

These lectures are sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy).

You can watch a video of the presentation by simply clicking on the image below. To watch it in Full Screen, click on the "square" icon in the bottom right of the screen.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Katherine Borges - DNA Testing Basics

Name - Katherine Borges

Member - I am a member of Southern California Genealogical Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, and Colonial Dames of the XVII Century.

Day Job(s) - Director of ISOGG, President of the Salida Chamber of Commerce

Night Job - I co-founded and became Director of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), which promotes and educates about genetic genealogy to over 8,000 members in 70 countries. We work to increase professional standards in the practice, research, and discussion of relevant issues in DNA testing, interpretation, and ethics. I now give many presentations on genetic genealogy to groups across the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as administering several surname, regional, and haplogroup DNA projects.

How did you get into genealogy?
I started doing genealogy in 2000 after the passing of my last grandparent. I realized that if I didn't start doing genealogy now, a lot would be lost.

What about your involvement with genetic genealogy?
I learned about genetic genealogy from a speaker at a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting and became a DNA Project Administrator 11 years ago this month! (Oct).

So what will you be talking about?
I'll be discussing the basics of DNA testing and helping people understand what test might be best for them to take. This is perfect for the complete beginner or for people who have heard about DNA but want to know a little bit more detail. I'll be talking about all three types of DNA test and what each type of test can do for you. By the end of the talk you should have a much better idea of what kind of questions in your own family tree DNA can help you answer.

What DNA tests will be discussed?
Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA.

To what surnames is this topic relevant?
It's relevant to anyone who has hit a Brick Wall in their family tree and wants to get beyond it.

Where can people get more information about you or your topic?
  • Everyone should join ISOGG - there is loads of support and a dedicated community of genetic genealogists just waiting to help you
  • The ISOGG wiki is a great place to get up-to-date information about the latest to do with DNA and DNA testing
  • One of the projects I administer is the Ireland mitochondrial DNA project

These lectures are sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy).

You can watch a video of the presentation by simply clicking on the image below. To watch it in Full Screen, click on the "square" icon in the bottom right of the screen.