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

Talk Title:
The Ballycarry DNA Project – Initial Findings

  • 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?

The Ballycarry project is examining a geographic area through DNA and attempting to find connections between people descended from families who lived there in days gone by. By testing people who would never otherwise test we have gathered unique evidence that can be used to build family trees backwards and sideways to recreate family trees long since forgotten.


Martin's previous talks at Genetic Genealogy Ireland

GGI2019 BelfastWhy testing at Ancestry is not enough ... Due to the promotion of DNA testing by the North of Ireland Family History Society and ISOGG, many people within the nine counties of Ulster have now tested their DNA and more are testing all the time. This provides people throughout the world with a better chance of finding relatives of their North of Ireland ancestors. This talk gives tips and advice on how best to maximise your chances of using your DNA results to find relatives of those elusive Irish ancestors. Uploading your DNA to other sites, using chromosome browsers and joining projects will help you in ways that Ancestry DNA can't.

GGI2018 Dublin: Raising the Dead ... I will give a few practical examples of how autosomal DNA can be used to identify specific ancestors and explains how ancestor reconstruction can be used easily as a constructive tool to further your DNA research. This is something that isn't as complicated as it sounds and might just help you to break through that Brick Wall that refuses to come down.

GGI2018 Belfast: DNA and NIFHS - A Winning Combination ... 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).