Sunday, 12 October 2014

Michelle Leonard - Speaker Profile

Talk Title: Using GenomeMatePro & Other Tools

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

  • Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) 
  • International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)
  • Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN)
  • Society of Genealogists (SOG)


Michelle Leonard of Genes & Genealogy is a Scottish professional genealogist and DNA detective. 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 specialises in solving unknown ancestor and adoption mysteries using DNA but also undertakes traditional genealogical research, living relative tracing, historical and television research, tutoring and speaking engagements. Additionally Michelle is a freelance writer and blogger and the official genetic genealogist of She spent several years working on the Fromelles Genealogy Project tracking down appropriate DNA donors to identify WWI soldiers buried in a mass grave in France and served as the Genealogical Consultant on the official Fromelles documentary. She is a regular speaker at major genealogy events.
Day Job - Owner at Genes & Genealogy: Professional Genealogist, Genetic Genealogist, Researcher, Writer, Speaker and Historian

Night Job - I think I've got enough day jobs! My day jobs regularly turn into night jobs, though, and I'm often to be found feverishly checking out new DNA matches into the wee small hours! I'm also the official genetic genealogist or #genesgenie of #AncestryHour on Twitter and I help run the hour itself every Tuesday evening from 7-8pm (GMT) - Ancestry Hour is a really fun platform where anyone, amateur or professional, with an interest in genealogy can come along to chat, ask questions, exchange tips and promote their services, events or anything genealogy-related to the community. Additionally I'm an FTDNA Project Administrator for several projects.

How did you get into genealogy?

I've been "into" genealogy since I was a teenager but really I've been interested in my family history for as long as I can remember. I believe this stems from the fact that my paternal grandparents died long before I was born and my maternal grandparents when I was too young to remember them. 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 I was desperate to put names to all of the familiar yet unfamiliar faces. I also became aware of a couple of family mysteries at that time and I wanted to play detective and solve them 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 collateral branches that veer off overseas to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa 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 professional 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, if not superceded, by my love of genetic genealogy - I am passionate about using DNA testing in conjunction with traditional research methods in order to get the most out of both and to solve mysteries that regular paper trail research alone never could. I see DNA testing as an essential tool that every genealogist should make use of in their research. My first involvement with it came in 2009 when I started on what would turn out to be several years of tracing DNA-appropriate donors for WWI soldiers who had been found in a mass grave in Fromelles, France. I spoke about this at Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014 and there is a link to that presentation in the Links section below. 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 have personally taken almost every autosomal test on the market as well as the Mitochondrial Full Sequence Test and have tested my direct paternal line via my brother's Y-chromosome. I have also tested a multitude of family members and plan to test many more. 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 I have had a number of personal 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. Through my business, Genes & Genealogy, I now specialize in the use of DNA testing for genealogical purposes and, in particular, solving adoption, unknown parentage, NPE, illegitimacy and other unknown ancestor mysteries. I spend my days (and nights at times!) working on these mysteries and thoroughly enjoy being able to help people find answers to their questions. DNA has revolutionised the work I do and the way I research my own family history; I sing its praises to anyone who will listen!

So what will you be talking about?

This presentation will delve into the world of DNA segment data and how to use it to enhance your genealogical research. Michelle will explain how to use both the tools provided by the main testing companies and the most useful currently available third party tools. She will use practical examples to demonstrate how to make best use of segment data tools such as GenomeMatePro, GEDMatch (Tier 1) and DNA Painter. These tools can help with understanding, interpreting and organising DNA results and, ultimately, can contribute to how successful you are in identifying matches and making breakthroughs via DNA testing.

Previous talks by Michelle at GGI

GGI2018: Using autosomal DNA to maximum effect
"I will be talking exclusively about autosomal DNA this time around and specifically using autosomal DNA to maximum effect. To begin with I will go over the basics of autosomal DNA and explain inheritance patterns; I always say you don't have to be a geneticist or have advanced scientific knowledge to work with your DNA results but it does help to understand inheritance patterns and a few elementary concepts. I want to show people how to get the most out of their autosomal DNA results from what to do when they get their results through to my top tips for working with their matches. As always I will use case studies and successes from my own research to show just how much can be achieved with autosomal DNA testing. I find people get more excited about what it can do for them when they see real examples of how it has helped others. Additionally I will go over who the best relatives to test are because, with autosomal DNA in particular, testing other relatives besides yourself can be hugely beneficial. I will also talk about the importance of the X chromosome and give a brief overview of the best third party tools to use with your autosomal DNA tests."

GGI2017: I will once again be giving a talk on the basics of DNA testing for beginners - I will go over all the main types of testing that can be undertaken and explain the rudiments of how DNA is inherited. I always say you don't have to be a geneticist or have advanced scientific knowledge to work with your DNA results but it does help to understand inheritance patterns and a few elementary concepts. I will also give some advice on the most important steps to take after you get your results and use some case studies and successes from my own research to show just how much can be achieved when you work with your DNA test and matches. I will also talk about the importance of the X chromosome and give a brief overview of third party tools. DNA really is dynamite when it comes to what it can do for your family history research.

GGI2016, 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 at GGI2014 and you can see a video of her presentation below.

Further information on Michelle and her research interests




APG Profile:

Michelle's article on DNA Testing For Unknown Ancestor Mysteries written for #AncestryHour:


Michelle's article commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle published in Forces War Magazine:

Channel 4 documentary about the Fromelles project:

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

Fromelles Project Update 2013:

The Australian Army's Fromelles webpage:

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 ;-)