Friday, 25 October 2013

Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2013

Last week I spent four enjoyable days in Dublin participating in the first ever Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference which took place at the Back To Our Past show at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge just outside the city centre. Back To Our Past, now in its third year, is the premier genealogy event in Ireland, and is the Irish equivalent of Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Back To Our Past is held alongside the Senior Times Over 50s show which takes place in the same building, and for the price of a single ticket people can attend both events. Around 20,000 people attended last year over the course of the three days, and I'm sure that just as many people if not more will have attended this year's show.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland was sponsored by Family Tree DNA and organised by ISOGG - the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. Family Tree DNA were exhibiting at the event for the first time this year. FTDNA's involvement at Back To Our Past was the initiative of volunteer project administrator and US ISOGG member Derrell Oakley Teat, who suggested the idea to FTDNA staff back in January this year. Another ISOGG member Maurice Gleeson, the administrator of the Spearin and Irish Caribbean DNA Projects, had attended Back To Our Past in 2012 where he gave a very successful and well received lecture on DNA testing. He became involved in the organisation at an early stage and assumed responsibility for arranging the genetic genealogy lecture programme.  He approached the task with considerable enthusiasm and energy, and put together a fantastic and varied programme of talks. Katherine Borges, the Director of ISOGG, and Cynthia Wells, the administrator of the Lay/Ley DNA Project and co-administrator of the Talley DNA Project and the Wells DNA Project, both flew over from the United States to give presentations and to help on the FTDNA stand (or "booth" as they call it in America!). Some speakers came over from England and other speakers travelled to Dublin from all over Ireland. The full lecture schedule can be found here. It says a lot for the dedication of our genetic genealogy community that all the speakers paid their own way to attend the conference.

   The entrance to the Back To Our Past show 
at the RDS in Dublin.

I was invited to present two lectures. My first talk on Friday 18th October was entitled "Chromosomes, conquerors and castles: DNA testing and the Cruise/Cruse/Cruwys one-name study". On Saturday 19th October I gave a talk on "DNA for beginners: the three tests". Both of my talks seem to have been very well received. There was apparently a sudden rush for the FTDNA stand after my DNA for Beginners talk on Saturday! I was only able to attend the first two days of the conference as I had already been booked to do a talk for the Abingdon branch of the Berkshire Family History Society on the following Monday so I had to fly home on Sunday and consequently I missed the last day of the show which I understand was really busy. In contrast to WDYTYA Live, where Sunday is traditionally the quietest of the three days, several people told us that Friday is the quietest day at BTOP and Saturday and Sunday are always the busiest days.

During the first two days of the show I was helping out Derrell, Katherine and Cynthia on the FTDNA stand in between presenting my talks. John Blair and Geoff Swinfield also joined us later in the day. We had a non-stop stream of people visiting the stand to ask questions and to take DNA tests from the minute the show opened until late in the afternoon. It was difficult to find any free time to get away just to buy a drink or to get something to eat. Some people knew nothing about DNA testing and were coming up to the stand to find out how the process worked. We had a large quantity of leaflets from FTDNA and such was the interest that they had all run out before the end of show on Sunday. A lot of people wanted to know if their surname was represented in a project before deciding to test. We couldn't access the FTDNA database at the show so we sent them home with instructions to look up their names on the website. I suggested to several people that if they weren't able to test at BTOP they should wait until December to order a kit in the sale. I'm sure there will be an upsurge in orders from Ireland in the coming months. Other people, and especially those who had attended some of the talks, were happy to take a test there and then, and they will be able to look forward to receiving their results in the next six weeks or so. I spoke to a number of people who were interested in setting up DNA projects for their family history societies or their surname. A representative from the North of Ireland Family History Society came to speak to me after my talk and his society seem to be very keen to get involved in DNA testing. He insisted on taking a photo of me for their Facebook page! I was particularly pleased to meet up with one of the members of my Cruise DNA project who lives in Ireland and had come along to the show especially to meet me. He's very kindly offered to take me on a trip to Cruisetown (now known as Cruicetown), the former stronghold of one of the Irish branches of the Cruise family, the next time I visit Ireland.

I was very surprised at the number of visitors from America, all of whom were particularly interested in the Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference. There was one American visitor in the audience for one of my talks who introduced himself to me afterwards and said that he'd read both of my books! We tested quite a few Americans on the FTDNA stand. Two FTDNA project admins from America, Jim O'Halloran and Mike Carragher, had been thinking about a trip to Ireland and when they heard about BTOP they decided to plan their trips around the show. They were both hoping to travel around Ireland afterwards to test more people for their projects. All my American friends commented on how welcoming the Irish people were to Americans - they welcomed them back as long lost cousins. We all loved the Irish sense of humour and their relaxed attitude to life.

The long queue waiting for the doors to open
 for the Over 50s Show at the RDS.

A number of project administrators offered to sponsor DNA tests for people with their surnames. The free DNA tests are already a well-established tradition at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, and they went down very well in Ireland too. It's always pot luck as to whether or not someone with the right surname comes along to the show, but a number of projects were lucky to get new project members. We did free DNA tests for the surnames DOOLAN, HUDSON, KNOWLES, TAYLOR (2) and WATSON. I haven't seen the full list and other projects might have been successful too. There is a page on the Genetic Genealogy Ireland website which lists all the surnames for which sponsored tests were available. Even if you were not able to attend BTOP do check out the list and the comments section to see if your name is featured. I'm sure the project admins would be delighted to hear from you. There is also an additional listing of surname projects offering free DNA tests on this page in the ISOGG Wiki. Some of the names in the Wiki were not included in the Irish offer so do check out this page as well.

 A quiet time on the FTDNA stand
towards the end of the day on Saturday.

We had some enjoyable get-togethers in the evenings. It was a pleasure to meet Margaret Jordan who runs the large Ireland Y-DNA Project which now has over 5000 project members and is the third largest DNA project at FTDNA. Margaret told me that there is now a growing interest in DNA testing in Ireland. When she first took over the project the majority of project members were in the US but in recent years Irish people have begun to embrace DNA testing and Irish residents now comprise about 20% of her project members with the numbers increasing every week. I was also pleased to meet Elizabeth O'Donoghue/Ross, Nigel McCarthy and Finbar O'Mahony who run the Munster Irish DNA Project. I was also pleased to meet Gerard Corcoran who is ISOGG's representative in Ireland.There is a lot more DNA activity in Ireland than I had realised, and it is good to know that we have so many people living in the country who can help with the educational process.

Unfortunately I did not have time to attend any of the lectures as we were so busy on the FTDNA stand, though I did manage to catch the tail end of the L21 discussion panel on Friday. Maurice Gleeson worked hard co-ordinating all the lectures, introducing the speakers and making sure that all the equipment worked properly which was not an easy feat. He recorded all the lectures and, where the speakers have given permission, he has uploaded the recordings to the new Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube channel.  I gave two talks at the conference and both of my talks can now be seen on YouTube. On Saturday the subject of my presentation was "DNA for beginners: the three tests". On Friday I presented a lecture entitled "Chromosomes, conquerors and castles: DNA and the Cruise/Cruwys/Cruise one-name study"The handout for my talks can be downloaded from my Dropbox account.

Maurice Gleeson speaking to 
a packed audience at Back To Our Past.

All in all I think it was a very successful event. The DNA lectures seemed to be very well attended and were often more popular than the talks in the main lecture programme. We sold lots of FTDNA test kits on behalf of FTDNA, and I rather suspect we will all be back again next year.

Further links
- Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2013 website
- Genetic Genealogy Ireland on Facebook
- Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube channel
- ISOGG Wiki

© 2013 Debbie Kennett

Thursday, 10 October 2013

My new position as Honorary Research Associate at UCL

I am very honoured to have been conferred the status of Honorary Research Associate in the the Department of Human Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. The appointment took effect from 1st July and runs for five years ending on 30th June 2018. The letter confirming my status has only just arrived so I have not been able to announce the news before.

Professor Mark Thomas and Professor David Balding kindly nominated me for this position. I first met them at Who Do You Think You Are? Live in February this year and have worked closely with them since then to help counter some of the inaccurate and sensationalist genetics stories that have appeared in the press while at the same time clarifying the legitimate genealogical applications of DNA testing. My appointment will allow me to have access to the considerable library and e-library facilities at UCL to help with my research, and I will be able to participate in seminars and lab discussions. I very much look forward to the collaboration continuing.