Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Bart Jaski - Speaker Profile

Bart Jaski
Talk Title

Irish genealogies and DNA: back into the mythological past


As a student in the Netherlands, I became interested in medieval Irish history, and ended up studying in Cork and Dublin, where I did my PhD. I published Early Irish kingship and succession in 2000, and later became a lecturer at the Celtic Dept. at the University of Utrecht. Since 2007 I’m keeper of manuscripts at the Utrecht University Library.

What do you do as a Day Job?
As keeper of manuscripts I care for about 700 medieval manuscripts and thousands of other documents. Our biggest treasure is the Utrecht Psalter. I’m usually busy with teaching, presenting, digitisation, publishing, making exhibitions, everything to bring the collection out in the open.

What do you do as a Night Job?

I’m still interested in medieval Irish history, and I still publish about it, such as in the Dutch online open access journal Kelten, of which I’m also one of the editors. I’m particularly interested in Irish medieval genealogical texts and how they relate to each other, and in the Irish origin legend (the medieval Irish legend or myth how Ireland became populated in successive invasions).

How did you get into genealogy?

You cannot understand medieval Irish society without appreciating their obsession with genealogical recording. Some of the Irish genealogies are very detailed and very old, more so than anything else in Europe and perhaps even the world. This genealogical recording was necessary to understand claims to land and rights to rule. The Irish did not adhere to primogeniture but to succession according to age and qualifications, so that brother often succeeded brother (women were excluded). There was a lot of competition for power among relatives. Powerful royal dynasties created branches with distinctive surnames who occupied neighbouring territories. And so Connacht surnames such as O’Connor, McDermot, McDonagh, O’Teigeand O’Geraghty are all related and share the same ancestry in the male line. It is this process which defines medieval Irish society, and which does not exist elsewhere in medieval Europe. This is what makes the Irish situation so special.

Tell us about your involvement with genetic genealogy

Genealogy and DNA: it’s a fascinating match with lots of possibilities and pitfalls. I got interested in it when the research about the DNA of the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages was published in 2006 (“A Y-Chromosome Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland”). This opened up new ways of investigating the interrelationship between the various medieval Irish royal dynasties (and surnames), but it also showed that people researching DNA do not always understand the process of the formation of Irish surnames. In 2013 I wrote an article entitled ‘Medieval Irish genealogies and genetics’, to deal with this question. Since then I’ve tried to keep up with recent developments to see where and how DNA and genealogical research can meet.

What will you be talking about at GGI? 

When people research their Irish family history and ancestry, their surname is probably the most important part of their identity. Surnames are inherited from father to son, and certain Irish (Gaelic) surnames can be traced back to ancestors who lived more than a thousand year ago. This makes Irish surnames unique in the world, and they are therefore also important for DNA research worldwide. This research can take us even further back in time – perhaps even into the ‘mythological’ past before the coming of Christianity when Irish tribes dominated the island.

Where can people get more information about you and the work you do?

You can have a look at the webpage Here you find publications such as ‘Medieval Irish genealogies and genetics’ (link), and 76 tables of medieval Irish royal dynasties (link).

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

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