Friday, 14 September 2018

Barbara Rae-Venter - Speaker Profile

Barbara Rae-Venter
Title of your presentation: Cold Case Solved: The Use of Autosomal DNA in Identifying Offenders and Victims of Violent Crime.

Brief biographical details
Ph.D. Biology University of California at San Diego, San Diego, California
J.D. University of Texas Law School, Austin, Texas.
Member: ISOGG, Monterey County Genealogy Society (MoCoGenSo)

Day Job: Retired intellectual property attorney; specialized in patenting biotechnology inventions.

Night Job: I am a Search Angel with and help teach the online autosomal DNA classes that we offer to teach adoptees how to use their autosomal DNA to find birth relatives. I also assist law enforcement with identification of unknown crime victims as well as violent offenders using autosomal DNA and work with adoptees and others to identify immediate birth family members.

How I got into genealogy: My mother was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne in England but at the age of 7, she and her family emigrated to New Zealand. Her father was born in Inverness, and my mother was very proud of her Scottish ancestry. Starting in about the late 90’s, with her help, I began researching my mother’s family history. In November 2006, my parents were in a car accident in New Zealand in which my mother was killed. I stayed in my parent’s home during my father’s lengthy hospitalization and I discovered my paternal grandmother’s birth certificate in my father’s desk. To my surprise, my grandmother had been born in New Zealand. I had thought that all of my grandparents were off the boat from Scotland. Clearly there was a lot to be learned about my family and so it began—my addiction to genealogy. Research on my paternal grandmother’s family, revealed not only that her father had been born in Waipu, New Zealand in 1862 but that her mother’s family had arrived in New Zealand in 1839. And my paternal grandfather’s family I discovered had arrived in New Zealand 1851.

Involvement with genetic genealogy: I began doing DNA testing on myself and family members when consumer DNA testing first became available and have personally tested at just about every one of the consumer testing companies. And whenever I travel, I take along some DNA kits. Due to a scarcity of official records, traditional research, especially on my paternal grandmother’s paternal line, is difficult. My grandmother’s family was caught up in the Scottish clearances. They made their way from Sutherlandshire, Scotland first to Pictou and then St Ann’s in Nova Scotia and then three decades later to Waipu, New Zealand where they founded a Gaelic speaking community. Details of this epic voyage: To facilitate research on this branch of my family, I have set up the Normanites Project on FamilyTreeDNA; followers of the Rev Norman McLeod were often referred to as Normanites. Matches with adoptees led me to take a class with DNAAdoption in 2012 to learn how to solve unknown parentage cases. I have now taken that knowledge and applied it to solving unknown parentage cases of a different ilk, those involving identification of violent crime offenders and victims of crime whose identity is unknown.

What I will be talking about: I will explore the use of autosomal DNA testing in solving cases of “unknown parentage”, from adoptees, to the unknown victims of violent crime, to violent offenders. I will also discuss some of the issues raised by the use of public databases such as GEDmatch in solving these cases.

Information about me and the work that I do:


video: adoptee reunion ...

Adam Keim’s story (adoptee) ...

Forensic Magazine Article on solving cold case ...

Boston Globe Article on the aftermath of identifying Lisa’s mother ...

Boston Globe article on identification of Lisa’s abductor ...

New York Times Article on identifying The Golden State Killer ...

Friday, 10 August 2018

DNA Lecture schedule for GGI2018 Dublin

Genetic Genealogy Ireland returns to the RDS in Ballsbridge, Dublin from 19th to 21st October 2018.   Admission is free by simply registering at Once again the lectures are kindly sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG. And this year a whole new stream of lectures is being added to the lineup - privacy, data protection & ethics.

The DNA Lecture Schedule

This is a timely addition to the programme. The past year has seen the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation - the new EU law introduced on May 25th) and as a result there have been sweeping changes to privacy and data protection which have had a huge impact on the way all companies operate. It has also had some pretty devastating effects on the genetic genealogy community with the loss of the website (and all the Surname Projects hosted there), the closure of genetic databases (Ysearch, mitoSearch) and the barring of EU residents from accessing products of companies such as Full Genomes Corporation and scientific journals (e.g. SurnameDNA journal). Click on the links and see if you can access them!

There have also been extensive improvements to the FamilyTreeDNA website and the way that Project Managers can manage their DNA Projects.

All of the above changes have been associated with knee-jerk reactions, teething problems, uncertainty, and much discussion over the best way forward for the genetic genealogy community and the institutions and organisations which serve it.

Then in April we were alerted to the good news that "Buckskin Girl" (a murder victim who had remained unidentified for 37 years) had finally had her identity restored and her family could now find peace. The shocking part of the story was that the identification had been made by the use of Gedmatch - a public DNA database set up by members of the genetic genealogy community. On the one hand the news was not that surprising - for years we have been using the same technique (i.e. DNA & Genealogy combined) to help adoptees and foundlings trace their birth families. So in many ways this was simply an extension of the technique to a new area - identifying murder victims and solving cases of "missing persons". But it did create a hot debate on the use of our DNA by law enforcement agencies and it raised many questions including: what safeguards are needed to protect the public from the misuse, misapplication or misinterpretation of the DNA results by law enforcement agencies? These questions became even more pertinent when the police announced they had used similar techniques to identify a prime suspect in the Golden State Killer case.

The field of genetics is advancing at an incredible rate. This applies to genetic genealogy and ancient DNA in particular. But it won't be long before there are similar major steps forward in forensic genetics and medical genetics. There is (and always will be) a need for public discussion on the issues raised by these new developments as they occur and this is reflected in the programme for GGI2018.

Talks dealing with these topics include the presentation by James Irvine on GDPR and what it means for us, Debbie Kennett's talk on finding missing persons, Barbara Rae Venter's talk on how DNA can be used for the Greater Good, and my own talk on DNA testing options at the former Mother & Babies Home in Tuam (where the bodies of 800 children may be buried in a disused pit). These talks will address some of the hot topics that are being discussed not just within our own community but by the larger general public.

There are also associated Panel Discussions to discuss both ethics and data protection which will allow the general public at the event to address any questions they may have.

We are delighted to welcome seven new speakers to GGI. These newcomers include Barbara Rae Venter, Lara Cassidy (Trinity College Dublin), Andrew Millard (University of Durham), Dwayne O'Neill, Cathal McElgunn, John Brazil, and Martin Curley:

  • Barbara will discuss the societal aspects of DNA and the Greater Good
  • Lara will give us an update on the current state of Ancient DNA
  • Andrew will introduce the newly launched WATO tool and how it helps you manage your atDNA matches
  • Dwayne will summarise the findings from the O'Neill DNA project and what it tells us about this powerful Irish dynasty
  • Cathal will discuss an unusual use of third party tools and the ethical issues raised
  • John brings us a discussion from a Haplogroup Project perspective and the challenges deciphering the morphology of a particular branch of the Tree of Mankind
  • Martin will reveal the many successes associated with DNA testing of a local population (in this case, Galway). This latter presentation will be followed by a Panel Discussion on Autosomal DNA Projects, with hints & tips of how to run such a project should you want to set one up yourself.

As well as these new speakers and new topics, we have a regular stream of Beginners talks (courtesy of Martin McDowell, Linda Magellan & Donna Rutherford), a stream of Y-DNA talks (Dwayne O'Neill, John Brazil & John Cleary), and a stream of autosomal DNA talks (Katherine Borges, Andrew Millard, Cathal McElgunn & Martin Curley). 

Several of the talks deal with third party tools. Katherine Borges will discuss the use of DNA Painter - the user-friendly tool developed by Johnny Perl that helps us manage our atDNA matches. And Andrew Millard will discuss WATO - another helpful tool co-developed with Johnny Perl & Leah LaPerle Larkin.

So there is something for everyone. Is it any wonder that the theme for this year's conference is: 
To Boldly Go ... (where no one has gone before).

See you in October!

Maurice Gleeson
August 2018

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

BTOP & GGI return to Belfast

The dates for Back to Our Past and Genetic Genealogy Ireland have been announced for next year in Belfast. Once again, this will be a 2-day event running over Friday and Saturday, 15th & 16th of February, 2019.

The first event took place earlier this year (2018) in the iconic Titanic Belfast museum on Belfast's waterfront and was a great success. So much so that the organisers are expanding the event next year, including more exhibitors, and moving it to a larger venue - The Belfast Waterfront.

This award-winning multi-purpose venue was built in 1997 and has been voted Best Event Space 2017 and (in 2002) the Second Best Conference Centre in the World. As well as conferences, conventions and exhibitions, it hosts concerts by the Ulster orchestra; plays, operas & musicals; and the ever-popular TV show Britain's Got Talent. If you're lucky, you might get an audition while you're there.

The Belfast Waterfront - the second best Conference Centre in the world 

The venue itself is located in the heart of Belfast City, minutes walk from Belfast City Hall. Nearby hotels include the Hilton Belfast, the Malmaison Belfast, and the oh-so-affordable Premier Inn. The Titanic Belfast museum is a mere 20 minutes walk north & slightly east. The address of the Belfast Waterfront is 2 Lanyon Place, Belfast, BT1 3WH, Northern Ireland.

Ideally located near ... well, everything!

The DNA Lectures will take place in Hall 2B which has a capacity for 300 people - so plenty of room for everyone! You can go on a virtual tour here.

The DNA Lectures of GGI2019 Belfast are in Hall 2B (top left)

See you in Belfast next February!

Maurice Gleeson
July 2018

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Back to Our Past 2018, Dublin

Back to Our Past is back at the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin from October 19th to 21st.

Kindly sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and jointly organised by ISOGG volunteers from Ireland, the UK and the US, Back to Our Past features 3 days of DNA Lectures from the créme de la créme of genetic genealogists.

These international speakers will cover a range of topics relating to all three types of DNA test (Y-DNA, mtDNA and autosomal DNA) and there will be several Expert Panels over the weekend where a host of experts will contribute to discussion of the hot topics in genetic genealogy.

Audiences in 2017 reached an all-time high

In addition there will be an exhibition hall featuring stands and booths hosted by a variety of different organisations and institutions of general interest to all genealogists.

Floor Plan of Back to Our Past (DNA Lectures are upstairs)

If you are interested in coming you will find some practical information about travel, accommodation and logistics on this page here.

Looking forward to seeing you in Dublin in October!

Maurice Gleeson
July 2018

Tickets are 10 euro per day or can be booked in advance from the Back to Our Past website

Monday, 23 April 2018

Galway Genetic Genealogy, May 5th, Mountbellew

Martin Curley is organising a 1-day conference on genetic genealogy on May 5th in Mountbellew, Co. Galway (9.30-15.30). The admission fee of 10 euro includes a light lunch. A local tour is available after the conference. The agenda for the conference is below, and includes introductory talks as well as a presentation on DNA options in relation to the Tuam Mothers & Babies Home.

Venue: The conference will be held in Holy Rosary College, on the Caltra side of Mountbellew, just a short walk from the square. Coordinates: 53.4695915, -8.4974634. Or simply click on this map here. Parking is available onsite and also close by.

Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew

There has been good deal of interest generated over the past few weeks and the Heritage Office in Galway County has helped promote the conference. On the day there will be AV and breakout rooms with IT facilities for the workshops.

For more information, or for bookings (10 euro admission fee), please contact Martin Curley via email by clicking the link here.


9:00 Registration Tea & Coffee

9:30 Welcome and Introductions

9:45 Introduction to Genetic Genealogy & making use of DNA results (Maurice Gleeson)

10:25 The Bellew DNA project and the use of DNA in tracing family links (Seamus Bellew)

11:10 Break

11:30 Update on ISOGG activities and projects (Gerard Corcoran)

12:10 Combining archival, oral and DNA evidence to recreate family histories (Paddy Waldron)

12:50 Creating a Parish / DNA project (Martin Curley)

1:20 Lunch

2:00 Tuam Mother & Baby Home – options for DNA testing (Maurice Gleeson)

2:30 Practical Workshops on Tracing Family Connections 2 x 30 minutes

Civil Records | | Census | Census Substitutes | Y-DNA tests

3:30 Final Comments & Conclusion

Location of Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew

Monday, 5 March 2018

ISOGG Ireland commentary on the proposed Adoption Bill 2016

Last year a group of us within the ISOGG Ireland group wrote a 27-page commentary on the proposed Adoption Bill (Information & Tracing) 2016. The Irish government is in the process of passing this legislation into law and our ISOGG Ireland group provided feedback and comments on the proposed legislation in June 2017. The entire document can be downloaded for free from the ISOGG Ireland wiki page here ... Media:Adoption_Bill_2016_-_ISOGG_submission.pdf

The commentary was sent to Minister Katherine Zappone at the Department of Children & Youth Affairs and to a variety of TDs (Teachta Dála, members of the Irish Parliament) who had previously expressed an interest in adoption policy. I subsequently attended a very constructive one-on-one meeting with officials from the Department, explaining the key points of the commentary and addressing the various questions they had. The Adoption Bill is currently undergoing review and as yet there is no definite date for its enactment.

Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Ireland

Below is a summary of the key points made in the ISOGG Ireland commentary.
  1. DNA testing is here to stay. It has become an integral part of researching family history. 
  2. There are currently over 7 million people worldwide in the databases of the major DNA testing companies. 
  3. This number is growing exponentially and is predicted to hit 25 million by the year 2020. 
  4. This exponential growth has largely abolished anonymity, in particular for sperm donors and birth parents. 
  5. The “right to anonymity” is not absolute and must be clearly distinguished from the “right to privacy”, which is also not absolute. 
  6. Many Irish people are reconnecting with relatives via DNA. 
  7. The adoptee component of the worldwide “genetic genealogy” community is disproportionately large and increasing. 
  8. Success rates for adoptees finding immediate birth family via DNA currently vary from 21% (non-US) to 52% (US). These numbers will increase as the databases grow. 
  9. There is a considerable amount of help and support available for adoptees from the genetic genealogy community (via Facebook groups, Forums, websites, etc) 
  10. DNA testing is the only avenue of investigation for those people who were illegally adopted or whose birth information is grossly inaccurate or non-existent. 
  11. DNA testing should be a routine part of the Agency’s tracing service. 
  12. The cost of DNA testing should be borne by the Agency. 
  13. Professional genetic genealogists should be an important part of the Agency’s tracing service team. 
  14. There is an urgent need for education, training and support for adoptees to help them contact and (if desired) develop a relationship with immediate birth family via DNA testing (including birth parents, full & half-siblings & close cousins) 
  15. The government's dilemma always has been (and still is) to balance the rights and responsibilities of adopted people and the rights and responsibilities of their birth parents. There is no need for genetic genealogists to take sides in this debate, other than to point out that the solution must acknowledge the DNA revolution, and any proposed solution that does not acknowledge the DNA revolution will be doomed to immediate failure. 
  16. The genetic genealogy community has the knowledge base and skills to assist in the process, and we are ready and willing to help the Minister in any way we can.

In October 2017, a group of us from the ISOGG Ireland group were invited by the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies to give a training day on DNA testing and how it can be used by adoptees to help trace their birth family. This training day (morning and afternoon) was attended by about 45 social workers and other adoption agency staff from all over the country. It is encouraging to note that some adoption agencies in Ireland are now starting to refer clients to genetic genealogists within the ISOGG Ireland group when the usual routes for tracing family have been exhausted.

Ancestry were kind enough to give me 10 free DNA kits in 2017 for my pro bono work with Irish adoptees and as a result of these tests I am happy to report that (so far) several Irish people have been reconnected with their birth families. One of them was of mixed African-Irish heritage and she has been reconnected with both her Irish and her African family. Such is the increasing power of DNA.

Maurice Gleeson
Mar 2018

Thursday, 1 March 2018

GGI2018 presentations on YouTube

Over the course of the next few weeks, the presentations from the DNA Lecture schedule at GGI2018 Belfast will be going up on our YouTube channel. Sound quality is good as we had a dedicated room for the presentations, away from the noise of the main exhibition area.

The first of these is the excellent talk by Debbie Kennett on "Mysteries of the Titanic solved by DNA". This was a very poignant presentation given the historic setting of the conference in the Titanic Centre.

You can also view this video on YouTube here.

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

The video presentations from GGI2017 Dublin will be uploaded AFTER the Belfast videos (as the sound needs to be optimised given the background noise in the auditorium which was unfortunately beyond our control).

Maurice Gleeson
Mar 2018

Monday, 26 February 2018

Two Weeks in Ireland for Genealogy

Our first GGI Conference in Belfast was a great success. There were no technical hitches, the lectures ran smoothly, and the team of ISOGG & NIFHS volunteers attracted over 100 DNA testers during the 2 days of the conference.

And more than anything else, it was great fun. We had a lovely bunch of people visiting from Ireland, the UK and the US. One of them was Linda Horton and below she gives an account of how the trip helped her break down a few Brick Walls in her own family tree.

Here is Linda's account of her adventures.
Maurice Gleeson
Feb 2018

Two Weeks in Ireland for Genealogy

by Linda Horton

I have just returned from two weeks in Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland focused on genealogy. I participated in the wonderful Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference organized by Maurice Gleeson and held alongside the Back to Our Past genealogy conference in the magnificent Titanic Belfast Centre, February 16-17. 

It has been announced that BTOP will return to Dublin October 19-20, 2018 and very likely to Belfast again, sometime in 2019. A Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference is likely to be held in parallel with each of these events.

I might add that many of us involved in assisting at the FamilyTreeDNA table at BTOP went on two Game of Thrones tours on the Thursday that was just before the conference and the Sunday that was the day after the conference--both were great fun! Although it helped to have read the books/seen the TV series, even those who hadn't, enjoyed the tours. And certainly I can strongly recommend the BTOP/GGI conferences to anyone thinking of going to them.

I will write first about findings concerning my R-M222 McCoun ancestry. I was very happy to have found the tombstone of my 8th great grandparents James McCoun I (1601-1706) and his wife Margaret Hamilton (1609-1706) at the cemetery of the Old Magheralin Church near Moira in County Down, Northern Ireland. Yes, he was 105 years old when he died, as is stated on the tombstone! 

James McCoun died aged 105 years old (his wife was 97)
I wish I knew the identity of his parents. Maybe the answer is awaiting discovery in Scotland as long-time histories of the family say James McCoun I was born in Linlithgow in 1601. I had never seen any photos of the tombstone on or FindaGrave so was happy to place these photos on my tree, the Kentucky Horton and Bryan Family Tree for cousins near and far.

My McCoun cousin who has tested for me to Big Y--my father's first cousin Robert Coldiron McCoun--is one of the R-M222 fellows who, due to convergence in this haplogroup, has nearly 700 matches at Y67. See specifics below, under my name. Robert's closest match is a McCuin--same surname. After that he matches closely several McClanahans and Wyatts. A genealogist assisting Larry McClanahan had indeed identified this County Down area southwest of Belfast as being a place where both McCouns and McClanahans resided. As McCoun means "son of the smith" in Gaelic, we may have difficulty finding ancestry much earlier than my James McCoun I who was born in Linlithgow in 1601.

Linda & Colleen at the grave of James McCoun
These tombstone photos include my daughter, Colleen Horton, and me, and were taken by Roy Sproule on Thursday, Feb. 22. More about cousin Roy follows, below. And the next day, Friday, Feb. 23, I was at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast, where I had in my hands the church register of the Magheralin Church in which the 1706 burials of James and Margaret Hamilton McCoun were recorded. The records from Magheralin Church at PRONI were well preserved on pieces of vellum of irregular dimensions mounted on paper pages in the Register. The records confirm that James and Margaret died days apart in March 1706. A transcription of Magheralin Church's vestry records, typed in 2006, also is on file at PRONI. This document shows a James McCoun very active in this church's affairs. This fellow may have been James McCoun III (1660-1735, grandson of James I memorialized in the tombstone) as James McCoun II (1637-1690) had died in the Battle of the Boyne on the Williamite side. As noted below, we visited the Battle of the Boyne site as well.

This Magheralin church is, and has apparently long been, Church of Ireland, which surprised me because the great grandson of this couple (James McCoun IV, 1716-1800), who was my immigrant ancestor and an early settler of Fort Harrod in Mercer County, Kentucky, was most definitely Presbyterian. He was a founder of the New Providence Presbyterian Church there and the funeral of his wife Margaret Walker was the first held in this church and the famous Presbyterian evangelist David Rice presided over this ceremony. Maybe in the era of James McCoun I and Margaret Hamilton McCoun, it was easier to 'switch than fight' given the disrespect at the time for Presbyterian baptisms, weddings, and burials. 

The Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Magheralin (photo: Revd Gareth Harron)

Now about my RU-106 cousins named Sprowl/Sproul/Sproule etc.: Roy Sproule is a genealogy-oriented tour guide and distant cousin. I was put in touch with him by Joe Sprowl of Delaware USA, who now is Sproul surname group administrator, and who had met Roy on a previous trip to Ireland. Joe and Roy both match my cousin (my mother's 1st cousin) Edwin Sprowl of Florida as well as Ivan Sproule of Sligo (who contacted me as a result of my posting on ISOGG's free-kits site). Ivan, Roy and I had a Sproule mini-reunion in Sligo near Ivan's home. Roy, from Castlederg in the North, and Ivan, of Sligo, Republic of Ireland, had not previously met. Ivan's lovely wife and two children joined us for a brief while, and early the next morning Ivan took us around Sligo to see archaeological sites, the Sligo Abbey, and the poet William Butler Yeats' gravesite. 

Sligo Abbey - cloister (cc-by-sa/2.0 - © John Vigar -
These Sproule/Sprowl males are in a haplogroup downstream from RU-106; they are an Ulster Scots family, apparently predominantly in the area of Castlederg, County Tyrone. The migrant from Renfrewshire, Scotland to Co Tyrone was evidently a Robert Sproule (according to a book about Castlederg that I found at PRONI). This migration preceded the early 17th century Plantation by King James I/VI and, according to Roy, resulted from our Sprouls having fought on the wrong side of some conflict. I will try to find out more about this. Roy drove us to "Sproul Road" near Castlederg where we took photos of the road signs. Back in my hometown of Jeffersontown, Kentucky, we have a Sprowl Road named for my great grandfather!

Ed's and my Sprowl line is brick-walled with my 4th GG Sprowl/Ed's 3rd GG who d. in Virginia/now WV in 1785, I hope someday to build back my family tree to where it meets up with the MRCA with our Irish Sproule DNA cousins. Joe Sprowl is working to map out the YDNA relationships. Roy and Ivan both run out of information about their own patrilineal ancestries earlier than approximately their 1st or 2nd great grandfathers, so we will have our challenges identifying the names of ancestors in each line back to the MRCA. At least we know the surname was Sproul (and variants) going way back!


We spent a lot of time in Belfast seeing the many things that city has to offer, and loved it. I will omit details because we went to all the leading tourist destinations, and I will just add the people are extraordinarily friendly, the city is safe, and the food and drink were great. We stayed at the Titanic Hotel two nights and the rest of the time in the Clayton Hotel, which is in a convenient central location and has an indoor pool and health club. I will mention only that the Ulster Museum has a Game of Thrones tapestry based on the HBO TV series (and famous Bayeaux tapestry depicting William's 1066 conquest) that fans of the show will not want to miss. Also on our last night in Ireland we saw Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, wonderfully performed in the Grand Opera House Belfast, tickets I had booked online before the trip.

Highlights from the four-day road trip outside of Belfast, besides the ones mentioned above, include: 

In scheduling travel, I allowed for time after the conference to visit some ancestral sites and meet with Irish YDNA cousins who match my USA cousins who had tested at my request. I gave up my original plan to spend a few days in Dublin. I had been there twice and had seen such treasures as the Book of Kells and Newgrange. Two weeks just wasn't enough time to do what I wanted to do in the north AND see Dublin again.

My daughter Colleen and I were picked up in Belfast on Monday the 19th, the day after the second Game of Thrones tour, by Robert "Roy" Sproule. We visited the Carrickfergus Castle and the Giant's Causeway on the way to Derry, where we stayed at the City Hotel and toured the city the next morning. The next two nights were spent in Sligo (Sligo Southern Hotel) and Monaghan (Four Seasons Hotel) before our return to Belfast for the last two nights. These hotels all have heated indoor pools. Along the way we stopped at sites of ancestral interest as well as important sites like Carrickfergus Castle and Giant's Causeway and St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armaugh.

In walking the city walls of Derry (Londonderry), I realized that my possible ancestor George Walker (1618-90) was quite a celebrity on the Unionist side in Irish history, due to his role at the Londonderry Siege, followed by his role in/death at Battle of the Boyne. I say "possible" because I am now seeing in my tree some implausible connections (from a geographic standpoint among others), and I need to work further on my Walker line dating back from my ancestor Margaret Walker who was the wife of James McCoun IV, the immigrant and early KY pioneer. I suspect that an individual as famous as George Walker might have some genealogies written about him that will help me validate, or disprove, what I now claim about his being my ancestor. Even historians are uncertain of his birthplace (England or County Tyrone).

Cannon on Derry City Walls (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0 - Sean Mack)
Roy took us to the graves of some Love-surnamed ancestors or kin in Donaghedy, County Tyrone. He had located these for me in advance of my arrival in Ireland and even cleared them of moss and other overgrowth of plants so the tombstones can be read. (The Loves are part of our shared Horton ancestry, Jim Richmond, Jane Chapman, and Terry Saunders.)

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Roy drove my daughter and me from the Sproule get-together in Sligo to the 1690 Battle of the Boyne site, where my ancestor James McCoun II had died as well as possible ancestor George Walker. This scenic drive across the heart of Ireland confirms all warnings to allow much more time for travel than is predicted on USA experience, Googlemaps etc. I was glad I gave up my original plans to rent a car and drive. Though I have driven in Scotland and England with little difficulty on four previous trips--a total of five weeks last year on two trips--I concluded that driving in Ireland in February was another matter entirely. (Thanks, Roberta!)

Site of the Battle of the Boyne (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0 Attribution: Pastor Sam)

The Samuel Fulton Stone House that the Mellons moved from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone may have belonged to an immigrant ancestor of mine! I have been brickwalled at a man named James Fulton who migrated from Pennsylvania to Kentucky and whose daughter Elizabeth married with my maternal Ulster Scots (RM-222) Glass ancestors. The Samuel Fulton whose house is at the Ulster American Folk Park had a son named James--maybe mine!

Stoking the turf fire - Ulster American Folk Park (cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Kenneth Allen)

All in all, this was a very worthwhile trip from a genealogy perspective. If anyone shares surnames discussed in this article, wants to engage Roy Sproule as a researcher or tour guide, or is thinking about attending BTOP/genetic genealogy Ireland, please feel free to write me at
Linda Horton
Feb 2018

Addendum for the genetic genealogy geeks: The haplogroup of Robert Coldiron McCoun (493111) is R-BY21168 per FTDNA Big Y and is R-Y34170 per YFull, as follows:
  • R-M222 > S658 > DF104 > DF85 > S673 > DF109 > DF85 > DF105 > BY21168 / Y34170 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Martin McDowell - Speaker Profile

Title of Presentation:
DNA and NIFHS - A Winning Combination

  • 2:1 BA Hons Degree in Modern and Ancient History
  • Further & Adult Education Teaching Certificate

A lifelong interest in local history and family history was re-ignited after Martin got his first DNA test in 2012. As the education and development officer of the North of Ireland Family History Society, Martin is never more enthusiastic than when he is talking about the benefits of DNA testing. As one of the administrators of the North of Ireland DNA Project, Martin is keen to promote DNA testing across Ulster and has delivered a series of talks across the province to family history and local history societies as well as educational and religious groups. These talks aim to make DNA research understandable to the average person and to encourage more people to embrace the rewards of DNA testing.

How did you get into genealogy?
After learning about family trees at primary school I spoke to both my surviving grandparents (one on each side of the family) to get a list of all their brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, parents etc. After getting a pretty good tree I then proceeded to ask them for a family tree for their deceased spouse as well. I wrote all of this out in a little jotter but in those days I didn't really know what else to do. I remember I did nag my father into taking me to the Public Records Office one day but all I got was gravestone inscriptions from the 1700s and that didn't really help so I promptly lost interest and went on to something else. In 2004 after my mother died I found the jotter again and started putting all the names I had into the internet and was astonished by what I could find. My addiction started that day. My first target was to build an online tree of 200 names and I thought that was going to be tough. Years later I have thousands of people on my tree and I'm still going!

Researching both traditionally and genetically has become both my day and my night job!

How did you discover Genetic Genealogy?
Getting my first DNA test was a very good experience. I really didn't see the point in getting an autosomal test and instead went for the Y-DNA and mt-DNA tests. It was ages before I bought a Family Finder test and yet that is the one that has helped me the most! It might be strange for others who know me to hear this but I was very skeptical about what it would give me at the start. Once I realised how much help a test could be and how much reading I had to do to understand it all, I realised that there was a need to raise awareness and help people understand their range of options - and then what to do when they got their results. This is why I started talking to our local branches and developed my Family Finder Training Course.

So what will you be talking about at GGI?
Getting a family tree in Northern Ireland back beyond 1800 can be hard due to the destruction of many of the census records and parish registers that are traditionally used as sources in other parts of the world. That makes new methods of gaining information, such as DNA, particularly useful here. The North of Ireland Family History Society has embraced DNA research wholeheartedly. As well as organising beginners and specialised DNA courses, it now runs the "North of Ireland" project at Family Tree DNA and holds a monthly interest group. Come hear how the growth of the DNA Project means that it has become a particularly useful resource in itself. Now with over 1,000 members it can be used successfully by those with Irish ancestry to help identify common matches who also relate to those elusive pre-1800 ancestors.


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