Sunday, 12 October 2014

Michelle Leonard - Speaker Profile

Title of Presentation: DNA is Dynamite - How to Ignite your Ancestral Research

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

Member - ISOGG, Society of Genealogists, Scottish Genealogy Network

Michelle Leonard is a Scottish professional genealogist. She holds an M.A. in English and Modern History from the University of St Andrews and a PgCert in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies from the University of Strathclyde. She undertakes genealogical research work, DNA detective work, living relative tracing, historical research, tutoring and speaking engagements. She spent several years working on the Fromelles Genealogy Project tracking down appropriate DNA donors to help identify WWI soldiers buried in a mass grave and served as the Genealogical Consultant on the official Fromelles documentary. She is a regular speaker at major genealogy events.

Talk Synopsis
This talk will give an overview of how AtDNA, Y-DNA and MtDNA can help you solve mysteries in and confirm the accuracy of your family tree. It will focus primarily on AtDNA explaining how AtDNA is inherited and how to use your AtDNA results to find new cousins, break down brick walls and confirm your paper research. Using personal success stories it will talk you through the process from getting your results to matching with cousins and offer practical guidance on the best steps to take to succeed. It will also cover the importance of X-chromosome matches and the use of third party tools.

Day Job - Professional Genealogist, Genetic Genealogist, Researcher and Historian (plus my less relevant jobs - I also work for a cycle development charity as a cycle trainer and ride leader and I am a political campaigner).

Night Job - I think I've got enough day jobs! My day jobs regularly turn into night jobs and I'm often to be found feverishly checking out new DNA matches way past bedtime!

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 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 have worked on my own tree for many years now (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!) I've also helped many friends, family members and people looking for assistance with brick walls online via forums and websites to whom I volunteered my time and expertise. This has led to virtual genealogy friendships with people in many different countries. Since turning professional some years ago I feel like I have turned my passion into my profession.

What about your involvement with genetic genealogy?

In recent years my love of traditional genealogy has been matched by a growing love of genetic genealogy too - I am passionate about using them in conjunction with each other and I see genetic genealogy as a fantastic supplement to traditional research. My first involvement with it was several years spent tracing DNA-appropriate donors for WWI soldiers who had been found in a mass grave in Fromelles, France which I spoke about at Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014. I also studied genetic genealogy as part of my postgraduate course and at that time began testing myself and my family; little did I know then how addictive it would become! That was the beginning of what I freely admit is now an obsession! I mainly work with autosomal results but have also tested my paternal line via my brother's Y-chromosome and taken the Mitochondrial Full Sequence test myself. I have spent a great deal of time over the last few years working with my own results as well as other people's results and have had a number of successes. DNA testing has enhanced my family tree, confirmed the accuracy of a number of my lines, proven some hypotheses and broken a brick wall. I sing its praises to anyone who will listen!

So what will you be talking about?

This will be a talk for beginners giving an overview of the basic information required to understand the three main types of DNA testing available for ancestral research. Michelle will explain how each test works and talk you through the first steps you should take once your results arrive. She will provide easy to follow hints and tips on how to get the most out of those results and apply them to your ancestral mysteries. Practical real-life examples will illustrate how DNA testing can be used to connect with previously unknown cousins and confirm the accuracy of your family tree.

What DNA tests will be discussed?

All three main tests will be discussed (Y-DNA, mtDNA and atDNA).

Previous talks by Michelle

At GGI2014, Michelle gave a talk on Using DNA to Solve Family Tree Mysteries. Here's how she described it: "I will be talking about my dual loves, genetic genealogy and traditional genealogy, and how adding DNA testing to the mix can help people with their traditional family tree research. My talk will primarily focus on Autosomal DNA and I will explain how autosomal DNA works and why it is so helpful for genealogical purposes. I will explain what you get when you take an autosomal DNA test and how to use those results. Using practical examples from my own research I will show how to go about working out who the common ancestors you share with the cousins on your match list might be. Matching new genetic cousins can lead to the breaking of long-standing brick walls and, just as important from my point of view, can help confirm lineages on your family tree. I will outline some of my personal success stories to show it can be done. I will also cover the significance of X-chromosome matches and third party tools."

Michelle has also spoken about the Fromelles Project and you can see a video of her presentation below.

Further information on Michelle and her research interests

My LinkedIn page -

A Channel 4 documentary about the Fromelles 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 Michelle's 2014 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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michelle
    Please can you tell me how the name Leonard arrived in Ireland?
    All the best
    Michelle Leonard too ;-)