Wednesday 29 October 2014

Back To Our Past and Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014

I've had a somewhat hectic schedule in the last month or so, and have not had much time for blogging but I hope to catch up in the next few months. I was in Canada in September where I was presenting a series of lectures at the BIFHSGO conference, and we stayed on in Canada to enjoy a wonderful holiday. I hope to write about my experiences in Canada shortly. Soon after getting back from Canada I travelled to Ireland to attend the Back To Our Past show at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) where I was invited to give a presentation as part of the associated Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference. This is the second year that there has been a genetic genealogy component to Back To Our Past, and it now looks set to become a permanent fixture of the show. Genetic Genealogy Ireland was sponsored by Family Tree DNA and the lectures were organised by volunteers from ISOGG - the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.
The RDS in Dublin - the venue for Back To Our Past
and Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014.
For much of the show I was helping out as a volunteer on the Family Tree DNA stand answering DNA-related questions and swabbing customers who wanted to be tested. FTDNA were doing brisk business each day and the stand only started to quieten down by about 5.00 pm. I don't yet know the final tally, but around 95 kits had already been sold by the end of the second day. Last year 99 kits were sold over the course of three days so the total is certainly going to be well up on last year. A number of ISOGG surname DNA project administrators were offering sponsored tests, and some lucky project admins were fortunate to have their offers accepted. I don't yet know the full list of names but free tests were done for the following surnames: CASSIDY, DALTON, FITZGERALD, GOUGH, KENNEDY, LLOYD, LYONS (2) and TAYLOR.  The offers for the free tests are collated on the free DNA tests page on the ISOGG Wiki. Most of these offers are still valid so do check out the list to see if your name is included.
A busy FTDNA stand.
Pretty in pink on the FTDNA stand.
One of the members of my own Cruwys/Cruse/Cruise DNA project called in to say hello to me, and he updated me on the progress of his genealogical research. I also had the pleasure of meeting for the first time a fellow Cruse researcher with whom I'd corresponded previously. She ordered a mitochondrial DNA test for herself and she took a kit away with her so that her dad could be tested. He is descended from a Cruse line that can be traced back to Sampford Arundel in Somerset, and I shall look forward to seeing his results in due course.

I managed to escape from the FTDNA stand every now and then to attend some of the lectures. Most of the talks have been recorded, and the recordings are gradually being uploaded to the Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube channel in the order in which they were presented. The lecture programme can be found online here, and the speakers' biographies are on the Genetic Genealogy Ireland website. I will leave you to enjoy the talks for yourselves, but I will just comment briefly on some of the highlights.

Cathy Swift, Director of Irish Studies at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, gave an excellent talk on the subject of  "Emerging dynasties in a maritime world - hunting for Brian Boru’s genetic legacy". I was not able to attend this talk in person but caught up with the recording on YouTube. Cathy provided a very interesting insight into the evolution of surnames in Ireland. She acknowledged the "intellectual curiosity, involvement and enthusiasm" of all the citizen scientists who run surname and geographical projects. However, as the science is advancing so rapidly and so much of the work is taking place outside universities, it can be very hard to keep up to date with the latest advances and to form judgements about whose work can be relied upon. Cathy argued for increased collaboration between the "fusty dusty ivory tower people" and people like the volunteer project administrators who are working "at the coalface". Cathy is running a Y-chromosome research project which is using surnames and DNA to investigate the extent of Viking ancestry in Limerick. You can read more about the project and the surnames which have been selected for inclusion on the Mary Immaculate College website. I had a chance to chat to Cathy at dinner on Friday night and again during the conference. She has some very robust views on the interpretation of historical evidence in combination with DNA results, and she is very keen for historians to collaborate with genetic genealogists. I think we will all enjoy collaborating with her in the future for our mutual benefit.

Kirsten Bos from the University of Tübingen in Germany gave a fascinating talk on the subject of the "Plagues of our ancestors as revealed through ancient DNA". Her talk is not yet up on the YouTube channel but I highly recommend watching it when you have the chance.
Kirsten Bos on the plagues of our ancestors.
I was not able to attend Maurice Gleeson's talk on "Solving adoption mysteries in your family tree", which was the closing lecture on Saturday but I understand that the audience was moved to tears when Kirsten Bos's husband, who is himself an adoptee, gave a spontaneous and very personal account of his own DNA success story. There are apparently 50,000 adoptees in Ireland and as the autosomal databases continue to grow we can expect to hear of many more such success stories.
Maurice Gleeson on solving adoption mysteries in your family tree.
I've been following the progress of the People of the British Isles Project for some time so I made a particular point of attending the talk by Daniel Crouch from the University of Oxford. I've written previously about the project, and much of the material was already familiar to me. The good news is that the long-awaited POBI paper is going through the final stages of the peer review process and with any luck should be out in the next few months. This is the first study that has been able to identify distinct regional genetic clusters within a country. The maps are quite stunning and show, for example, that the people of both Devon and Cornwall can be broken down into different genetic groups. The dating of the clusters is, however, proving more controversial. The research has now moved into the next phase and Daniel is starting to explore the connections between genetics and our facial features.
Dan Crouch on the People of the British Isles Project.
For me one of the highlights of the conference was Rob Warthen's talk on Sunday afternoon. Rob founded the DNAadoption website and DNAGedcom, both of which he works on in his own free time on top of holding down a full-time job. These sites are an example of citizen science at its best. Genetic genealogy is an emerging and rapidly evolving discipline and it is often the users who step in and provide the tools that are missing from the commercial providers. DNAGedcom provides a range of tools for advanced autosomal DNA analysis, including the popular Autosomal DNA Segment Analyser, a program written by Don Worth which works in tandem with the tools that Rob provides. If you are familiar with the application of triangulation to autosomal DNA data then I highly recommend that you experiment with the ADSA tool as it takes all the hard work out of identifying the "in common with" shared segments and presents the results in a easy-to-understand visual format which conveniently avoids the need for creating complicated spreadsheets. Sue Griffith has provided an excellent introduction to using ADSA on her Genealogy Junkie website. Rob's websites were originally set up to help the adoption community in America. In many states in the US, adoptees are denied the basic human right of having access to their own birth records, and they are increasingly turning to DNA in an attempt to connect with their biological families. The methodology used by the DNA adoption community is equally applicable for all genetic genealogists who are interested in doing a more detailed analysis of their autosomal DNA matches. Rob's talk was entitled "Finding Sue - how one quest grew into the DNAGedcom and DNAadoption websites". The Sue who is the subject of the talk is Rob's wife who was herself adopted. Sue joined Rob for the first half of the presentation, and the two of them told her story together. They are an engaging couple and Sue spoke from the heart. I won't spoil the story for you and I urge you to watch the presentation for yourself but make sure you have your tissues handy, especially at the point where a surprise guest in the audience reveals the part that he played in the quest and how it affected him.
Rob and Sue Warthen on how a Genographic Project DNA test
given as a Christmas present started a journey of discovery.
I only managed to catch the tail end of Emily Aulicino's excellent presentation on autosomal DNA. The Family Finder test was the most popular test at last year's show and there is clearly a great thirst for knowledge on the subject as Emily was speaking to a packed audience. Emily was selling copies of her book Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond at the show and not surprisingly she sold every single copy.
Emily Aulicino explains how autosomal DNA testing
can be used to help to verify family relationships.
I understand that Michelle Leonard gave an excellent presentation on the Fromelles Project, and John Cleary's talk on "How to enhance your Y-DNA results through surname and haplogroup projects" was very well received so I'm particularly looking forward to watching these two presentations when they become available. I'm also looking forward to hearing Patrick Guinness's views on the prolific Y-DNA genetic signature in north-west Ireland that has been misleadingly associated with the semi-mythical figure of Niall of the Nine Hostages.
John Cleary speaking on how to enhance your Y-DNA results
through surname and haplogroup projects.
Brad Larkin gave two talks at Genetic Genealogy Ireland. I was busy answering questions on the FTDNA stand after my own talk when Brad was speaking on the future of genetic genealogy, but I'm interested to hear his views and will catch up with this talk later.
Brad Larkin on the future of genetic genealogy.
Spencer Wells was the keynote speaker for the conference, and gave a presentation on the Genographic Project.
Spencer Wells on the Genographic Project
On Saturday I attended the presentation by Mike Mulligan, the International Product Manager of AncestryDNA. This talk was part of the main BTOP programme and was therefore not recorded. I will write about AncestryDNA in a separate blog post.

My own presentation was on the subject of "DNA for Beginners". You can watch my talk by clicking on the image below.

A PDF file of my presentation can be downloaded here. I've included clickable links for all the websites that were mentioned. The handout for my presentation can be downloaded here.

One of the best parts of attending a conference is the opportunity to meet up with old friends, make new friends and to network with fellow genealogists and genetic genealogists. I called in at the Guild of One-Name Studies stand and had a chat with my fellow Guild members Fíona Tipple and Sean Colfer. They were kept busy dealing with enquiries from researchers with a range of experience from complete beginners to knowledgeable experts.
The Guild of One-Name Studies stand.
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet Claire Santry for the first time. Claire runs the Irish Genealogy Toolkit website, which is a first-stop resource for anyone researching their Irish ancestry. She also writes prolifically on her Irish Genealogy News blog and can always be guaranteed to be up to date on all the latest genealogical developments in Ireland. Claire has already written a comprehensive report from Back To Our Past which includes all the genealogical news from the event. As you will see, she mentions that I talked to her into taking a DNA test though I have to say she did not need much persuading! I wonder if Claire will be writing more about DNA testing on her blog once she gets her results!

I also had the pleasure of meeting Seán Quinn. We had a long chat and discovered that we have many interests in common. Seán has been researching his Irish ancestry for many years and has a particular interest in Irish surnames and his own surname Quinn. He has a website on Irish surnames where he has published the fruits of more than ten years' research. He's also the author of several books. Seán very kindly gave me copies of his books Surnames in Ireland and An Introduction to Irish Ancestry, and in return I gave him a copy of my book on DNA and Social Networking. (All my copies of The Surnames Handbook had already gone by this stage.)

On Saturday evening all the genetic genealogy speakers and ISOGG volunteers were invited to a very enjoyable wine reception in Bewley's Hotel. The reception was hosted by the APGI (Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland),

On the Monday after the show ISOGG members were treated to a special Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014 day out which had been carefully planned by Gerard Corcoran, the ISOGG regional representative for Ireland. Gerard put together a fabulous programme for us. We met in the morning at the National Library of Ireland where we had some free time to do some research. We then headed over to the Dáil (the Irish National Parliament) where we were introduced to Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy who is the TD (Teachta Dála - member of parliament) for the constituency of Laois-Offaly. We had our photographs taken on the steps outside parliament, and were then treated to a guided tour of the Dáil.
ISOGG members with Marcella Corcoran Kennedy outside parliament.
We headed off to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary) for lunch where he had the pleasure of meeting Kingsley Aikins, the CEO of Diaspora Matters. After lunch we met up with members of the Genealogical Society of Ireland and we were given a guided tour of the magnificent new DLR Lexicon - the official name of the new Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Library - which is due to open some time in December. This was followed by a reception at Dún Laoghaire County Hall in the presence of Councillor Marie Baker, the Cathaoirleach (chairman) of the County Council, who also very kindly consented to provide a DNA sample to join the Family Tree DNA database! I had a chat with Seamus O'Riley who is the Genealogical Director of the Irish DNA Atlas Project. I also had the pleasure of meeting Michael Merrigan who is a fellow member of the Guild of One-Name Studies. Michael is the co-founder, director and general secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland and also serves as a county councillor. He is also a strong advocate for academic rigour in the interpretation of historical records and DNA evidence so we had much in common. In the evening we were treated to a meal at the Chinese restaurant Ka Sheng in Dublin city centre. were our hosts for the night and we had the opportunity to quiz them about the launch of their autosomal DNA product in the UK and Ireland. I will write about this in a separate blog post. It was a very successful day and Gerard has already promised us that he will arrange another special ISOGG outing for us next year.

All in all Genetic Genealogy Ireland was a great success. There was a real buzz around the event and a sense of excitement that we were all at the start of something very special. There have been some vigorous debates in the Genetic Genealogy Ireland Facebook group, but the fact that we are having these discussions is testament to the energy and enthusiasm that has been generated. New friendships have been formed, new links have been forged between genetic genealogists and academics, and I am sure that next year's event will be bigger and better than ever.

Particular thanks are owed to Derrell Oakley Teat who was entrusted by Family Tree DNA with the task of organising the FTDNA stand. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make all the arrangements and also co-ordinated our week-long social programme. Maurice Gleeson did a magnificent job of organising the lectures and he chaired the sessions throughout the course of the three days with both charm and good humour. However, all the hardworking volunteers and speakers played their part, and especially those who flew over from America at their own expense to participate.
Maurice Gleeson with a captive audience discussing
 "Which DNA test is best for you?"
I travelled to Ireland at my own expense and paid for all my own accommodation. As compensation for presenting a lecture at Genetic Genealogy Ireland I received a free DNA test from Family Tree DNA. I have not yet claimed the test though I intend to use it to do a Family Finder test on a cousin.

My report on AncestryDNA at Back To Our Past can be found here.