Wednesday 6 December 2017

The DNA Lecture Schedule for GGI2018 Belfast

The Titanic Centre in Belfast sees the first Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference outside of Dublin. Running over Friday & Saturday 16-17 February 2018, the event forms part of Back to Our Past and includes top speakers from the world of genetic genealogy as well as leading academics.

Below is the final lecture schedule for GGI2018 Belfast. For ease of reference the topics are colour-coded into various categories, including Beginners (yellow), Y-DNA (blue), mitochondrial DNA (pink), autosomal DNA (orange), and ancient DNA (green). Thus the 12 lectures cover a wide range of different subjects.

As well as beginner sessions from ISOGG stalwarts Katherine Borges and Linda Magellan, Martin McDowell will discuss the role of the North of Ireland Family History Society in educating its membership about the value of DNA testing and how their 1600-member DNA Project has made such a huge impact in advancing people's individual genealogical research.  

John Cleary and James Irvine will discuss several surname projects of immediate relevance to the North of Ireland that illustrate what can be achieved by Y-DNA as a tool for researching surnames, their origins, and their evolution.

Debbie Kennett gives a very apt presentation on how DNA was used to solve some of the mysteries of the Titanic and identify some of the victims.

Michelle Leonard and I will cover autosomal DNA (the most useful of the DNA tests for routine genealogical purposes) and how it can be used to connect with cousins and break through dead ends in your research.

Professor Jim Mallory from Queens University Belfast will be speaking on the origins of the people of Ireland based on the combined evidence from the fields of archaeology, linguistics, and genetics. And linked to this is the presentation by Ed Gilbert, who will be presenting the latest results of the Irish DNA Atlas project.

Brad Larkin will be reviewing what DNA tells us about the British Monarchy and the Irish Clans. And Donna Rutherford will bring us on a fictitious journey into Game of Thrones (filmed beside the Titanic Centre) and what DNA testing might reveal about some of the unfortunate characters therein.

Each day will end with an Ask the Experts session where anyone in the audience can ask any question at all to a panel of assembled experts.

And then there is dinner, followed by the usual carousing.

I hope to see you in Belfast.

Maurice Gleeson
Dec 2018

Thursday 23 November 2017

GGI Belfast - our first event for 2018 (Feb 16-17)

Genetic Genealogy Ireland has proved so popular that we are now holding it in Belfast as well as in Dublin. And this first time in Belfast will prove to be an event to remember.

The Titanic Centre with the Harland & Woolf shipyard in the background
(photo courtesy of Christopher Heaney)
The DNA Lectures are once again kindly sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and form part of the Back to Our Past genealogy show. This will take place on Friday & Saturday, 16-17th Feb 2018 (10am to 5pm). And the venue for this year's event will be the iconic Titanic Centre, home to the award-winning Titanic exhibition which has fast become a major tourist attraction since it opened in 2012.

The main part of the show will be held on the top floor of the Centre (in the Titanic Suite) which is a replica ballroom of the Titanic itself. The DNA Lectures and traditional genealogy lectures will be held in adjoining custom-built lecture theatres with modern audio and projection equipment.

The Titanic ballroom with its famous staircase
The DNA Lecture schedule is almost finalised and will include the following speakers and topics:
Prof Jim Mallory ... Origins of the Irish
Ed Gilbert ... The Irish DNA Atlas Project - latest results
Martin McDowell ... DNA & the North of Ireland Family History Society
Donna Rutherford ... DNA & Game of Thrones
Debbie Kennett ... Mysteries of the Titanic solved by DNA
Brad Larkin ... DNA, Clans, & Monarchy
Katherine Borges ... DNA testing for beginners
Linda Magellan ... Introduction to DNA Testing
John Cleary ... A Y-DNA Ulster family Case Study
James Irvine ... Y-DNA of a Scots-Irish diaspora
Michelle Leonard ... Using your autosomal DNA results
Maurice Gleeson ... Triangulating on a specific ancestor
Ask the Experts session ... 20 minutes at the end of each day.
The final schedule with full titles of the presentations will be published shortly. And there will be a social dinner each evening in a local hostelry or restaurant.

Game of Thrones tours - a previous group led by an extra from the cast
Right next door to the Titanic Centre is the film set of Game of Thrones, the hugely popular television series that has amassed a huge following. Whilst tours of the interior set are not possible (because they are currently filming the final series of Game of Thrones  behind a wall of very tight security) it will be possible to tour some of the external locations from previous series. To this end, two tours have been arranged (£40 each) - one to the Iron Islands & the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim (Thurs 15th Feb), and the other to Winterfell and Tollymore Forest in County Down (Sun 18th Feb).

Both tours will be led by extras from Game of Thrones, who have a great local knowledge of the history and geography of Northern Ireland (one was a tour guide at Carrickfergus Castle) and will regale us with tales from the film set. Both tours involve walking 1-2 miles and are rated 18+ in terms of content so are not recommended for children. GOT costumes will be provided for those who want an extra layer of clothing!

You can read about the Iron Islands tour here (Thurs 15th Feb) and the Winterfell tour here (Sun 18th Feb). On TripAdvisor, 92% of the reviews describe the tours as Excellent (5 stars).

The Iron Islands tour takes in the Giant's Causeway (Thurs 15th Feb)

The Winterfell tour includes the ferry across Strangford Lough (Sun 16th Feb)

Book your places on these tours now as they are also open to the general public and places are limited to 30 people. This is on a first-come first-served basis. And make sure that you tell them that you are with the ISOGG party - that way you get VIP treatment!

Other attractions that are a must-see in Belfast include a tour of Belfast city, a tour of the Titanic Centre itself, and a visit to PRONI (Public Records of Northern Ireland).

See you in Belfast!

Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2017

Thursday 16 November 2017

Presentations from GGI2017 live-streamed on Facebook

Another successful conference! And our largest audiences yet - it seems that the interest in genetic genealogy just gets bigger each year. DNA has certainly revived traditional genealogy and is attracting a whole new generation to this fascinating hobby. We had much larger audiences in the DNA Lectures than attended the traditional genealogy lectures.

A big thank you to the entire team at FamilyTreeDNA for yet again sponsoring the activities of the international genetic genealogy community. Without their support we would not be here. As far as genetic genealogy is concerned, FTDNA has put the "citizen" into "citizen science".

Packed audience at GGI2017 - our largest yet. Up to 150 at each talk.

And another big thank you has to go to all the ISOGG volunteers on the FTDNA stand and to our wonderful array of speakers this year. Many of the talks were live-streamed on Facebook thanks to Gerard Corcoran, our technical wizard, and links to each of them are included below. You will have to join the Genetic Genealogy Ireland Facebook group to access them.

Academic Topics
Prof Gisli Palsson ... Icelandic Roots & Identities: genealogies, DNA, & personal names (388 views)
Prof Hannes Schroeder ... The Genetics of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade (364)

Y-DNA Topics
Dave Vance ... Family Trees with SAPP (377 views)
Margaret Jordan ... Y-chromosome DNA & the Ireland Y-DNA Project (710)
John Cleary ... Using SNP testing to build out your genealogical family tree - the Big Y & recent developments (456)
James Irvine ... Surname DNA Projects - a holistic approach (572)
Maurice Gleeson ... What do your Y-DNA results mean? (825)

Autosomal DNA Topics
Roberta Estes ... Autosomal DNA through the generations (499 views)
Roberta Estes ... Nine autosomal tools at FamilyTreeDNA & how to use them (608)
Paddy Waldron ... Matchmaking in Clare using Y-DNA and atDNA (699)
Donna Rutherford ... Autosomal DNA Testing for Beginners (590)
Maurice Gleeson ... Using Triangulation to break through your Irish Brick Wall (508)

Other Topics
Peter Sjölund ... The Power of Mitochondrial DNA (378 views)
Michelle Leonard ... DNA is dynamite - how to ignite your ancestral research (427)
Ask the Experts Panel Discussion ... addressing some of the hot topics in genetic genealogy (434)

The videos were also recorded on my laptop and these recordings will go up to the Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube channel over the course of the next several weeks so watch out for announcements on Facebook as each one becomes available. They will have better audio than the livestream.

The next BTOP event is BTOP Belfast 2018. This will be held in the replica ballroom of the Titanic Centre (Friday & Saturday 16-17 Feb). The DNA Lecture schedule is almost finalised and will be announced in the next few weeks. There will also be tours of the sets of Game of Thrones (which is filmed in and around Belfast) and details will be posted shortly.

Goodbye Dublin, Hello Belfast !

Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2017

Tuesday 10 October 2017

GGI2017 - descriptions of each DNA Lecture

The table below, summarising this years DNA Lecture schedule, only gives you a tantalising taste of what is to come. But have a read of the descriptions of each of the talks below and you will truly appreciate what a great line-up of speakers and topics we have for you this year!

The Speaker Profiles for each of the presenters can be accessed via the Speaker Profiles page and give biographical information as well as further links & resources associated with each of the speakers and their particular topics. Bookmark this page if you are coming to the conference so you can refer to it during the day.

The DNA Lecture schedule in a nutshell
(click to enlarge)

Friday 20th October

11.15 - Introducing DNA for family research
Ann Marie Coghlan, ISOGG, IRL

Why should we add DNA to our personal genealogy toolkit? Ann Marie explains the basics of DNA testing and how we can use genetic genealogy research in understanding not only our own personal family history but also our community history. This is an excellent talk for complete beginners who have never tested before, and a great refresher for those who already have.

12.00 - Making the most of autosomal DNA
Debbie Kennett, ISOGG, UK

Autosomal DNA testing is a useful tool for the family historian. It can be used to confirm existing genealogical relationships and to reunite us with our long lost cousins. This talk will cover some of the basic concepts of autosomal DNA testing and look at strategies for working with your results. We will also look at some of the third-party tools and resources that are available to help you.

13.00 - What do your Y-DNA Results mean?
Maurice Gleeson, ISOGG, IRL

Y-DNA is extremely useful for learning more about a particular surname and where it came from. It can reconnect you with cousins on your direct male line, identify a place of ancestral origin, and even tie you in to specific genealogies in the ancient annals. In this talk, Maurice will take you through your Y-DNA results and help you understand what you are seeing. The next step will be to join the appropriate surname projects, haplogroup projects, and geographic projects. Maurice will discuss how Project Administrators analyse your results and how this can benefit your own genealogical research.

14.00 - Icelandic roots and identities: Genealogies, DNA, & personal names
Prof Gisli Palsson, UoI, Iceland

Gisli is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iceland. He will be talking about the genealogical database The Book of Icelanders and the DNA testing of the people of Iceland. Interestingly, these have helped reconstruct the genome of a runaway Caribbean slave who became an Icelandic merchant in the early 1800s. Gisli will discuss the quest of his descendants for roots and identity, a common desire for many people interested in family history. Genetic research shows that there are significant Irish signatures in the genetic makeup of modern Icelanders, thanks to Norse travels through Ireland. Gisli will compare and contrast the approach to (and interest in) genealogy in Iceland and Ireland.

15.00 - The Genetics of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
Prof Hannes Schroeder, NHM, Denmark

Hannes is Assistant Professor of Archaeology at the University of Copenhagen and one of the lead investigators on the EUROTAST project which explores the genetics of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.  Hannes will discuss the work of the project, why it was started in the first place, what we have learnt, and implications for future research. The project focused on three themes: Origins, Life Cycles, and Legacies, which led to further detail on the slave trading system, but also helped demonstrate how slavery fundamentally shaped the cultural and biological experiences of people of African descent around the world.

16.00 - Ancient DNA and the Genetic History of Europeans
Eppie Jones, TCD, IRL

Eppie is a Research Fellow at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College Dublin and will discuss how the ability to recover DNA from ancient human remains is transforming our understanding of the past. In this presentation we will look at how information from millenia-old bones is harnessed and what we can learn from studies using ancient DNA. In particular, we will explore how events which happened thousands of years ago have shaped the genes and traits of people living in Europe today.

17.00 - Prehistoric genomics at the Atlantic Edge
Prof Dan Bradley, TCD, IRL

It is now known from ancient genomic investigation that massive migrations were part of cultural transitions in European prehistory. It is interesting to discover if Ireland and Portugal underwent these massive migrations. This lecture explores the evidence for such migrations and discusses the implications of the results for understanding the origins of modern populations and the languages they speak.

This year, the four lectures on Friday afternoon were made possible by the kind support of CITIGEN, a HERA Project. CITIGEN is an international collaborative research project that looks at the uses of modern and ancient genomic data in shaping public understandings of the past and our individual and collective identities. 

Saturday 21st October

11.15 – Autosomal DNA testing for beginners
Donna Rutherford, ISOGG, UK

Understanding DNA results can be confusing and complex. If people can learn how to read and understand their results, they will get the maximum benefit from their investment in a DNA test. Donna’s talk will breakdown what a DNA test is, how it works, and how to interpret the results. This will be an easy to understand overview that beginners can feel comfortable attending without any previous experience with DNA. Experienced users most welcome, and hopefully they may pick up some tips and tricks too.

12.00 - Using Y-SNP Tests in Surname & Family Projects
John Cleary, ISOGG, UK

It is 4 years since FTDNA introduced their new Y chromosome sequencing test, the Big Y. This talk will review how this popular test has transformed surname projects in this time, and how the ‘SNP tsunami’ has upended and transformed the shape and size of the Y chromosome haplotree.  Strategies and useful utilities for making sense of the results of Big Y testing will be presented and discussed through a variety of cases where breakthroughs have been made, or new questions answered, about families, names and their origins.

13.00 - The Power of Mitochondrial DNA – a Swedish perspective
Peter Sjölund, ISOGG, SWE

Mitochondrial DNA, the DNA of your mother’s mother’s line, is often underrated by genealogists but has proved very useful for genealogical research in Sweden and neighbouring countries. Peter is one of the founders of the highly successful Swedish Society for Genetic Genealogy and will present success stories from Scandinavian genealogy to show you how to use mtDNA effectively in your own genealogy and how to find your prehistoric relatives.

14.00 - Ask the Experts – topical issues in Genetic Genealogy
Panel Discussion  

Come and ask any question you want to our expert panel. Find out what are the hot topics in Irish genetic genealogy. Discover the face of the brave new world that is fast approaching and where we will be in 5 years time. Panellists include Gerard Corcoran, Katherine Borges, Debbie Kennett, John Cleary, Peter Sjölund, & Roberta Estes, among many others.

15.00 - Using Triangulation to Break through your Irish Brick Walls
Maurice Gleeson, ISOGG, IRL

Triangulation is a simple process whereby you focus on a particular ancestor and try to break through the Brick Wall at that particular level in your family tree. It simply means testing yourself and one or more cousins who are descended from that particular ancestor. Maurice will discuss the completely unexpected breakthrough that recently resulted from using the technique in his own family tree research, and will take you through a step-by-step approach to how you can use the technique in your own genealogical research.

16.00 - Family Trees with SAPP - Automated from STRs, SNPs & Genealogies
Dave Vance, ISOGG, USA

How can you continue building your family tree when your ancestors run out? Dave Vance explains how he is automating the process whereby STR markers, SNPs, & known genealogies can be used to build a "Mutation History Tree" within the context of a surname project. Soon every surname project administrator will be able to build such trees for the larger groups within their surname project. And for the individual genealogist, this means that for particular ancestral lines, the lineage will extend beyond your Brick Wall using DNA markers instead of named ancestors, potentially back to the origin of the surname itself.

17.00 - Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA & How to Use Them
Roberta Estes, ISOGG, USA

Roberta is one of the most eminent genetic genealogy educators in the world. In this talk, she will cover tools to help you interpret your autosomal DNA results. Did you know that Family Tree DNA provides customers with 9 different tools for autosomal DNA matching and analysis? Did you know that you can use these in combination with each other for even more specific matches. Not only that, but within these tools there are lots of ways to utilize the various features. This talk will explore several different scenarios and different approaches to solving brick walls.

Sunday 22nd October

11.15 - DNA is Dynamite - How to Ignite your Ancestral Research
Michelle Leonard, ISOGG, UK

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.  

12.00 - Genomic insights into the history of the Irish Travellers

Gianpiero is Associate Professor of Human Genetics at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The Irish Travellers are a population with a history of nomadism; consanguineous unions are common and they are socially isolated from the surrounding, ‘settled’ Irish people. Previous work suggests a common Irish origin between the settled and the Traveller populations. What is not known, however, is the extent of population structure within the Irish Travellers and the time of divergence from the general Irish population. This talk will discuss how genetic data can shed light on these questions, with a presentation of results from recent analysis of large genetic datasets generated from Irish Travellers, European Roma, settled Irish, British and European or world-wide individuals. No photos during this presentation please.

13.00 - Y-DNA & the Ireland yDNA Project
Margaret Jordan, ISOGG, IRL

Margaret is one of the Administrators of the Ireland yDNA Project which has over 6000 members with reported Irish ancestry. This presentation will discuss the evolution of the Ireland yDNA Project and the data which we are now able to extract from it. The talk will look at the major Y-DNA haplogroups found in the project and some of the smaller ones as well. This presentation will show how this Y-Geographical Project links up with relevant Y-Haplogroup Projects, other Y-Geographical Projects and Irish Surname Projects, which are all run through FamilyTreeDNA.

14.00 - The Irish DNA Atlas Project
Edmund Gilbert, RCSI, IRL

Ed will be presenting the final results of the Irish DNA Atlas project, which has used genome-wide autosomal genetic data to reveal a fine scale population structure within Ireland, and found genetic evidence of historical migrations into Ireland. The Atlas is being run as a collaboration between the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Genealogical Society of Ireland. This work has provided valuable information on the history of the Irish population and compares the genetic makeup of the Irish to that in neighbouring Britain, as well as mainland Europe. It also provides fresh insights into our understanding of the role of DNA in various diseases within Ireland. No photos during this presentation please.

15.00 - Autosomal DNA Through the Generations
Roberta Estes, ISOGG, USA

This talk will explore DNA through the ages - literally! What might you be able to do with DNA matching if you had 4 generations to work with? What could you learn? Looking at how DNA is inherited through multiple generations of the same family is the perfect way to learn about the principles of inheritance. It might also pique the interest of your children or grandchildren – what a fun project to undertake with them.

16.00 - Surname DNA Projects - a holistic approach
James Irvine, ISOGG, UK

James is the Project Administrator of a large surname project, the Clan Irwin Surname DNA Study. There are now 450 participants, including one subgroup of nearly 300 members who all share a common ancestor within the surname era, possibly the largest such branch in any surname project. Thanks to nearly 100 of these members taking Big Y or SNP Panel tests, the project has been able to use SNP data to define a branching structure for a “family tree” which extends down to and within some conventional Scottish and Irish family trees. James will illustrate the various lines of research that a Surname Project can promote by integrating data from Y-STR tests, Y-SNP tests (single SNP and SNP Pack), Big Y tests, autosomal DNA tests, surname diaspora and conventional family trees.

17.00 - Match Making in Clare using Y-DNA & atDNA
Paddy Waldron, ISOGG, IRL

Lisdoonvarna in County Clare is still famous for its annual matchmaking festival.  In previous centuries marriage in Clare and elsewhere was always an economic rather than a romantic transaction.  Paddy will talk about some of the surprising trends in arranged marriages revealed by genetic genealogy.  As co-administrator of the Clare Roots project, Paddy meets and greets members of the project when they visit Clare and introduces them, not to prospective spouses, but to long-lost cousins in Clare. Most of these meetings have provided new lessons about DNA matching which will feature in his talk.  Another type of match making that genetic genealogists engage in involves matching up (a) the oral traditions passed down through the generations, (b) the archival sources used by traditional genealogists and (c) the DNA evidence that often reconciles them, but sometimes refutes the oral tradition.  Paddy will include many examples illustrating these points, using both Y-DNA and autosomal DNA.

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

Sunday 8 October 2017

James Irvine - Speaker Profile

Title of Presentation
GDPR, Privacy & Data Protection

  • The Clan Irwin Association 
  • The Dumfries & Galloway Family History Society 
  • The Guild of One Name Studies 
  • The International Society of Genetic Genealogy 
  • The Orkney Family History Society 
  • The Scottish Genealogy Society
  • ISOGG GDPR Study Group

I was born and live in the south of England but was brought up in Co.Down. After retiring from a career in the shipping industry in 2000 I have been able to indulge in my twin passions of genealogy and Orcadian history. I have self-published several books (including The Orkney Poll Taxes of the 1690s, Trace Your Orkney Ancestors, and The Breckness Estate), edited others (including a transcript of Sir George Mackenzie’s 1672 manuscript Scottish Families for the Scottish Record Society, HMS Hampshire: a Century of Myths and Mysteries Unravelled, and four volumes of The New Orkney Antiquarian Journal), and am now finalising a trilogy of books on genealogy – a biography of Dr.Christopher Irvin, the genealogy of Washington Irving, and the Irwin Surname and its origins.

How did you get into genealogy? 
Picnicking on the Holywood Hills at the age of 17, I was inspired by a great aunt to explore my Ulster Scots maternal ancestry, and my discovery a few years later that my paternal ancestors came from the Orkney Islands led to an enduring interest in the origins of our surname.

What about your involvement with genetic genealogy? 
In 2005 I was persuaded to help found the Clan Irwin Surname DNA Study, and have administered this project from its inception. We now have over 460 participants and a vastly better understanding of the many unrelated branches of our surname and their origins than has been possible hitherto. The largest branch of our surname has over 300 members, most of whom are Ulster Americans and all of whom descended from some unknown Irwin who probably lived in Dumfriesshire in the 14th century. This is probably the largest single-ancestor surname-era cluster of any surname DNA project. Thanks to over 100 of these Border Irwins having taken BigY or SNP Panel tests we have been able to develop and extend our surname haplotree so that it now overlaps some of our conventional Scottish, Irish and American pedigrees – a milestone in genetic genealogy (see This in turn led to my interest in some of the wider issues arising, lecturing on my project at WDYTYA Live and GGI, contributing to the ISSOG Wiki website, and launching the ISOGG Study Group on GDPR.

So what will you be talking about at GGI2018 Dublin? 
I first heard of GDPR a year ago, but quickly realised that it could have a major impact on FTDNA and their project admins. Drawing on my professional experience in international regulations and codes of practice, I founded the ISOGG Study Group on GDPR to lobby FTDNA and to draft the ISOGG Interim Guidance on GDPR for Project Admins. My talk will summarise these developments, summarise the rights of individual testees and obligations of project admins, and discuss the associated uncertainties and possible future developments.

What DNA tests will be discussed? 
All genetic genealogy tests.

Where can people get more information about you or your topic?

GDPR page on the ISOGG Wiki ...

The Clan Irwin Surname DNA Study at

James's previous talks
GGI2018 Belfast: Y-DNA of a Scots-Irish Diaspora - I want to show local genealogists who may be unfamiliar with DNA testing how much their surname studies may benefit from this rapidly evolving aid. Surname DNA projects have moved on from the gimmicks of ethnicity and “fishing for cousins” to become a sophisticated tool for confirming and extending paternal ancestral lines and exploring the origins and development of surnames. With its large size and wide diaspora the Irwins show that many and varied lessons can be learnt from such projects. 

Many of these lessons can be adapted to other surnames using DNA data that is already posted on-line but has not been exploited. I explore the strengths and weaknesses of y-STR testing and issues arising in cost-effective selection of the many single y-SNP tests, SNP Pack/panel tests and NGS tests now available. With a combination of diligence, intuition, peer guidance, genealogical awareness and luck rather than a sophisticated knowledge of biology or mathematics I show that 37 STR markers are often quite sufficient to identify genetic families/surname branches, and one or two SNP Panel tests can be a very cost-effective follow-up to take many testees to near the forefront of this exciting application of citizen science.

GGI2017At GGI 2015 I addressed techniques for interpreting y-STR and y-SNP test data, using our Clan Irwin surname project as a case study. Since then the avalanche of SNPs from BigY test data and low-level SNP Pack tests has lead to major breakthroughs that enable some haplotrees to be merged with conventional genealogy pedigrees. 

These developments have also shown that while STR tests are still excellent for identifying genetic groups (aka genetic families aka surname branches, that are not related to one another within the surname era), STR data is often unreliable and misleading for identifying sub-groups. 

While SNP Pack tests are still less popular than 67 and 111 marker STR tests, I believe they should be more popular and will in time become so: they are much more reliable (no convergence), they don’t need a prediction tool to place them on a tree, and they are cheaper. SNPs may not yet be “today’s news” for surname projects, but they are certainly “tomorrow’s news”, and I predict 67 and 111 marker STR tests will soon become “yesterday’s news”!

It has also become apparent that while for some lucky men we can already merge their paternal pedigrees with their SNP haplotrees, others will be less fortunate, even after whole genome sequencing has become a commercial reality. I will explain why this is so, and how very high resolution STRs, autosomal tests, and conventional genealogical data may help to bridge the remaining gaps between terminal SNPs and pedigrees. This in turn suggests the opportunities for a much more radical, holistic approach to surname projects.

List of Presentations
  • Administering a large yDNA Surname Project to the Guild of One-Name Studies DNA seminar, Cheltenham, 9 Feb. 2013
  • Administering a large Scottish Surname DNA Project to Who Do You Think You Are Live, Glasgow, 29 Aug. 2014
  • A Scots-Irish Case Study - The Irwin Surname DNA Project to the "Back to Our Past" GGI2015 event, Dublin, 10 Oct. 2015 (video version at
  • Surname Projects - Some Fresh Ideas to FTDNA's 11th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy, Houston, 15 Nov. 2015
  • Lessons from a large yDNA Project to Who Do You Think You Are Live, Birmingham, 8 April 2016 (video version at
  • Advanced yDNA testing for Surname Projects to the Guild of One-Name Studies DNA seminar, Cheltenham, 13 Aug. 2016
  • Surname DNA Projects - a holistic approach at the "Back to Our Past" GGI2017 event, Dublin, 22 Oct. 2017
  • Y-DNA of a Scots-Irish Diaspora, at "Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2018" at the "Back to Our Past" event, Belfast, 16 Feb. 2018 (audio version at
  • GDPR, Ethics and Privacy, with Julie Goucher, at the Guild of One Name Studies DNA Seminar, Leicester, 6 Oct. 2018.

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

Saturday 7 October 2017

Hannes Schroeder - Speaker Profile

Title of Presentation:
Back to the Roots: Searching for Origins and Ancestral Ties in the context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Hannes Schroeder is Assistant Professor in Ancient Genomics at the University of Copenhagen. He has a PhD from the University of Oxford (2009) and he now leads his own research group at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. His research interests center mainly around archaeology and ancient human DNA. He is also interested in how genomic data are currently being used to shape public understandings of the past. Alongside Prof Gisli Palsson, Prof Daniel Bradley and others he is one of the PIs of the CitiGen project (, which looks at the societal uses of genomic data, and between 2011-2015 he led a large European-funded Marie Curie training network on the history and contemporary legacies of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (, which is what he will talk about at BTOP. 

So what exactly will he be talking about?
The transatlantic slave trade was one of the largest forced migrations of people in human history. Between roughly 1500 and 1850 more than 12 million Africans were enslaved and forcefully transported to the Americas. Historical sources reveal that the vast majority were shipped from West and West-Central Africa, but their precise origins remain largely unknown. Genome-wide analyses provide a powerful tool for tracing the genetic origins of individuals and in his talk Hannes will show us how modern and ancient DNA analyses can be used to shed light on the ancestral origins of enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Americas. The title of his talk is "Back to the roots: Searching for origins and ancestral ties in the context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade".

This year, the four lectures on Friday afternoon (including Hannes' lecture) were made possible by the kind support of CITIGEN, a HERA Project. CITIGEN is an international collaborative research project that looks at the uses of modern and ancient genomic data in shaping public understandings of the past and our individual and collective identities. 

What DNA tests will be discussed?
Mainly genome-wide SNP data.

Involvement with genetic genealogy?
Hannes is on the scientific advisory board of LivingDNA ( and he is one of the PIs of the CitiGen project (, which also looks at the science and business of DNA ancestry testing.

Where can people get more information?
Research group website:
Personal website:
Twitter account:
Research papers:
CitiGen Project website:
Eurotast project website:

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

Friday 6 October 2017

Gianpiero Cavalleri - Speaker Profile

Presentation: Genomic insights into the history of the Irish Travellers

Associate Professor of Human Genetics,
Molecular & Cellular Therapeutics,
Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland


Prof. Gianpiero Cavalleri leads the Human Genetic Variation Research Group at RCSI. With developments in DNA sequencing technology it is now possible to sequence complete genomes in a couple of days for relatively low cost. As the community of geneticists sequences more and more genomes, we appreciate the amount of genetic variation that exists in the human population. This variation plays a crucial role in shaping human health and performance. The HGVR group at RCSI is working to improve our understanding of the nature, extent and geographic distribution of human genetic variation. In this context, the group has ongoing projects characterising i) genetic sigatures influencing epilepsy predisposition and treatment in humans; ii) regions of the human genome under selection in high altitude/low oxygen environments and iii) exploring human population structure at the genetic level.

So what will you be talking about?

The Irish Travellers are a population with a history of nomadism; consanguineous unions are common and they are socially isolated from the surrounding, ‘settled’ Irish people. Previous work suggests a common Irish origin between the settled and the Traveller populations. What is not known, however, is the extent of population structure within the Irish Travellers and the time of divergence from the general Irish population. This talk will discuss how genetic data can shed light on these questions, with a presentation of results from recent analysis of large genetic datasets generated from Irish Travellers, European Roma, settled Irish, British and European or world-wide individuals.

Further Information about Gianpiero

RCSI page ...

Irish DNA Atlas project ...

Irish Traveler study ...

Gianpiero's publications ...

Talk on the genetics of epilepsy (Brainwave National Conference 2010) ...

Epilepsy Ireland video ...

Talk on Health, Evolution & History with a focus on human adaptation to high altitude ...

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

Thursday 5 October 2017

Dave Vance - Speaker Profile

Title of Presentation: Family Trees with SAPP - Automated Trees from Y-STRs, Y-SNPs, and Genealogies

This from Dave: Dave Vance still lives with his wife and three children on the same planet where most of his ancestors were born. In his childhood his family lived in Europe and the US which afforded him and his father the chance to do local genealogy research on his Irish ancestors, and so Dave has always equated genealogy with exploration which certainly continues into this new frontier of genetic genealogy. For much of his business career Dave was a programmer for IBM where he learned the value of using computers to tackle life's easy questions so we can all agonize more over the unsolvable ones.

I am treasurer of the Vance Family Association and I also run their online blog ( I am also co-admin of the Vance Y-DNA surname project (FTDNA), and an active member of the R1b-L21 and R1b-L513 Y-DNA projects.

What do you do as a Day Job?
I am an IT services executive (client partner and associate VP for HCL America, previously 30+ years with IBM).

What do you do as a Night Job?
See biographical details above!

How did you get into genealogy?
When I was 6 years old my family moved from the US to Belgium following my father’s job transfer. I grew up seeing most of the U.K. and Europe from the back of our family car on vacations, and since my father was also his family’s genealogist, trips to Ireland became his opportunity to research his Irish roots. I probably have a different perspective of Ireland than most tourists; I know the National Library and visited near every graveyard in Donegal but I’ve never seen Cork or Blarney Castle!

Later as an adult I was able to add to my father’s research using the explosion of searchable reference material available on the Internet and connecting with the Vance Family Association. We were finally able to “cross the pond” and find marriage and birth records for our Irish Vance line on the Inishowen peninsula in the late 1700s. Since it is unlikely that Irish records will take us any further, I have turned to general research on the Vance surname and genetic genealogy as the most likely sources of more information about my ancestors. 

Tell us about your involvement with genetic genealogy
When I was working for IBM they were one of the partners for the first National Genographic Y-DNA test in 2005 and I was able to take that test at a reduced price. From there I transferred my results to FTDNA and followed it with an upgrade to 37 markers. At the same time Adam Bradford, one of the early enthusiasts and citizen-scientists in the genetic genealogy community, organized the available test results for the Vance surname and created the Vance surname project, aligning our results by haplogroup. Those results proved that at least one of the major Y-DNA lines of Vances matched our surname’s “origin story” of being descended from a line of minor Scottish nobility. There are however at least 3 other Y-DNA lines of Irish Vances, including my own, which appear to be old (1300-1400s at least) male lines in Ireland. 

As more detailed tests became available I eventually upgraded to 67, then 111 markers, and added a Big Y and targeted testing from YSEQ. Along with a few other Big Ys in my branch of R1b-L513 we were able to map our major phylogenetic block and a few private SNPs along our individual branches. We were also able to map out STR signatures for the major family lines where testing had not revealed identifying private SNPs. Now as co-admin for the Vance surname project, I am applying that experience to the other major haplogroups in the Vance project.

After playing with Fluxus for a few years mapping out our male-line connections into what Maurice Gleeson calls mutation history trees, I grew tired of staring at spider web diagrams trying to understand relationships between tested members in a genealogical timeframe. At the same time, the growing database of SNPs from more recent timeframes needed to be mapped next to the STR mutation history, and project members were clamouring to have their genealogy research recognized along their various branches. So I created the SAPP tool to help automate and visualize the likely trees that fit all the available data, including any known relationships through traditional genealogy research. Now I split most of my genealogy time between the Vance Family Association and the blog, helping other Vance DNA researchers, and tailoring the SAPP tool and helping other projects use it. 

What will you be talking about? 
I’ll be talking about how to combine available STR, SNP, and genealogy data to build a Y-DNA descendant tree, and how doing that through SAPP ( can automate the process so users can focus more on the results. While the topic isn’t restricted to Irish genealogy, with the heavy amount of Y-DNA testing that has been done on the Irish diaspora it is particularly relevant to Y-haplogroups of Irish origin ... like my own! 

SAPP has proved very useful in helping me and admins on other projects automate the more manual tasks of charting Y-DNA relationships between groups of men based on STR, SNP and genealogy data. In my talk I will show how the tool can help speed up this analysis for any project or really any group of tested men, and turn what today for most of us is a very time-consuming and laborious process into an opportunity to quickly model various relationship scenarios to find the most likely descendant tree that fits all the available data. SAPP is perhaps the only available tool that combines all three sources of information (STR, SNP, and traditional genealogy), and it’s free and comparatively easy to use and understand. 

But rather than plugging a tool the session is more about how to build a Y-DNA descendant tree using available data - the tool just simplifies the process so we can focus on the results. So instead of just talking about how a tool works, I’ll cover why and under what conditions SAPP is most useful, and the pros and cons of using automated methods. I will discuss the current state of STR, SNP, and genealogy data and how they will likely change in future. I will compare examples of trees under varying degrees of uncertainty, and show how to use those uncertainties to prioritize further testing. I’ll talk about how SAPP produces TMRCAs for the tree’s branching points and whether they’re really useful. I’ll review what the tool DOESN’T do, and under what scenarios that’s important. And along the way I want to use the example of this tool to prompt some discussion about how to use the data we have available to us and the kinds of tools we need in the genetic genealogy community.

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