Wednesday 7 October 2020

Plans for the next Genetic Genealogy Ireland

Unfortunately the GGI2020 conference in Dublin has been cancelled due to the ongoing problems with COVID. The conference was due to run on Oct 17-18, 2020 but due to COVID restrictions, this is no longer possible.

However, the past 6 months has seen an explosion in online webinars and conferences and the word ZOOM has now acquired an entirely different additional meaning. Moves are afoot to try to have GGI2021 as a virtual conference some time next year. Further details will be released in due course.

In the meantime, you can enjoy presentations from previous years of GGI. You will find details of every single presentation on our Speaker Profiles page starting with GGI2020 Belfast and going all the way back to GGI2013 Dublin (10 conferences in total). Many of these presentations were recorded and you can watch them on our YouTube Channel and our dedicated page on Legacy FamilyTreeWebinars.

Some of the most popular videos are included below. Just click on them to view.

Maurice Gleeson
Oct 2020

Origins of the Irish 

Prof James P Mallory

Professor Jim Mallory's talk from 2018 in Belfast is the most popular of the GGI videos with over 42,000 views. This is an excellent talk and Prof Mallory's wit and intellect shine brightly throughout. His comments about his chapter on DNA in his book of the same name are particularly amusing and insightful. New DNA evidence from ancient remains is causing major reworking of previous theories about who are the Irish and how did they get there. This is a must see!

Viking DNA in Ireland. Do you have some and where did it come from? 

Peter Sjölund

Peter Sjölund is one of Sweden's foremost genetic genealogists and his talk at GGI2016 struck a chord with the Irish audience (commanding over 31,000 views). Everyone in Ireland is fascinated by the Vikings and want to know if they have inherited any Viking DNA. Peter discusses recent advances in the understanding of Scandinavian DNA which has allowed us to trace the DNA of the Vikings back to different parts of Scandinavia and all the way back to when people first colonised Scandinavia at the end of the Ice Age. If you suspect you are a Viking, this is for you.

DNA vs the Irish Annals 

Brad Larkin

Back in 2014, Brad Larkin gave his first talk on how DNA is helping our understanding of Irish Clan system, as described in the Irish Annals and the Traditional Genealogies (some of which are the oldest in Europe and stretch back over 2000 years). Brad gave a follow-up talk in Belfast at GGI2018. Irish Clan research has received a lot of renewed interest in recent years, helped by the plethora of Irish surname projects at FTDNA together with major advances in the study of ancient Irish DNA (Prof Dan Bradley & Lara Cassidy of Trinity College Dublin have been regular speakers at the conference). We can expect increased cross-fertilisation between ancient DNA and citizen science over the course of the next few years and Irish Clan research promises to be a popular topic for the foreseeable future. Between his two presentations, Brad has garnered more than 33,000 views.

Thursday 12 March 2020

Thank you, Belfast !

A great time was had by all at GGI2020 Belfast (Feb 14-15). It's always great to see old friends and make new ones and this year's event certainly did not disappoint on that score - the good food and superior company at dinner each night is always a high point of the event. This was the third time that Genetic Genealogy Ireland (GGI) was run in Belfast (as part of the Back to Our Past event). And no sooner was it all over than everyone jumped on a plane to RootsTech! So now that all that is over, here is a brief recap of the Belfast weekend in photos.

Back to Our Past runs in Belfast in February & Dublin in October

The ICC at the Waterfront Hall is an excellent venue and it was a pleasure to return there for the second year in a row. The iconic TV programme Game of Thrones was filmed in Belfast. This lovely stained glass window has been erected outside the Waterfront Hall and we passed it each day on the way to the conference. Which characters from the TV show do you recognise?

(click to enlarge)

The FTDNA stand stretched for a good 30 feet and as it was at the entrance to the event, we captured quite a few punters on their way in. As always, the power behind the FTDNA stand was our very own Dee (Derrell Oakley Teat). This is her 10th Back to Our Past event in Ireland and she runs the stand like a well-oiled machine.

The FamilyTreeDNA stand drew a lot of attention and enquiries

Joining Dee at various times during the day was Mike Sager (Mr Big Y) and a host of ISOGG volunteers including James Irvine (pictured), Cathal McElgunn, Candy Jones, Linda Horton, Andy Hochreiter, and many more. The folks at the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS) stand also lent a hand from time to time.

The FTDNA stand with posters, list of free DNA tests for surname projects,
and the DNA Lecture schedule on the TV screen

The FTDNA stand saw a steady stream of customers, especially on the second day of the event. Sales included at least 4 Big Y tests, which were offered at a very attractive discount by FTDNA (who were the only DNA company advertising at the event so they had a captive audience).

Martin McDowell helping a customer with the NIFHS stand in the background.

Everyone who tested at the FTDNA stand was automatically entered into the North of Ireland DNA Project (unless they requested otherwise). Project membership is fast-approaching the 5000 members milestone and the Society works very hard to recruit local people for DNA testing. They run regular Introductory Courses on DNA and have two regular DNA Special Interest Groups. If you have ancestry from the North of Ireland, you need to join this project - you are highly likely to find DNA cousins among its membership. Transfers from other companies are especially welcome.

Speakers featured above are Martin Hayden, Andrew Kane, Peter McWilliam, Cathal McElgunn,
Jonny Perl, Donna Rutherford, Martin McDowell & Paddy Waldron (photo: Gerard Corcoran)

Admission to the event was free and there was very good attendance at both the DNA Lectures (organised by my good self) and the traditional genealogy lectures (organised by Martin McDowell of NIFHS). A Big Thank You has to go to the speakers, ISOGG volunteers, and of course our sponsors, FamilyTreeDNA for their continuing support - this is a team effort and everybody's contribution goes towards making this event a great success.

Mike Sager discusses the incredible growth of the Tree of Mankind,
thanks in large part to the Big Y test from FTDNA (photo: Gerard Corcoran)

We were delighted that FTDNA were able to spare Mike Sager and loaned him to the community for a few days. Mike gave an inspiring talk on the Tree of Mankind, informed by his unique insights as the Big Y guru. He is the one man in the World who knows more about the Tree of Mankind than anybody else - he builds new branches every day! The size of Haplogroup R is truly astounding, accounting for about 50% of all known branches in the Y-Hapolotree. And this is just present-day branches - think of all the other branches that have gone extinct over the passage of the last 250,000 years. Mike highlighted this consideration when he spoke of the huge distance between the early branches of the Tree: A-L1090 is a SNP Block of 432 SNPs, and A-L1088 is a SNP Block of 2674 SNPs - this is greater than the distance between that latter branch and the most downstream branch today. The potential number of extinct branches is mind-boggling - we only see the survivors.

Martin Hayden discusses the power of X DNA

We also had 6 new speakers at this year's GGI. It was great to see this new talent emerge and many of the new speakers were from the North of Ireland so there was a distinct local flavour to the proceedings. A full list of the talks can be found in this blog post here and biographical sketches of each of the speakers can be found on our Speaker Profiles page. We also had Expert Panel Discussions on both days and the second one turned into a very interesting exploration of DNA and adoption searching in Ireland, which raised some very interesting ethical considerations.

Each presentation was recorded live and these videos will be available over the course of the next several weeks. Some speakers have opted to have the video of their presentation hosted on the GGI YouTube Channel where they can be viewed for free. There are three videos from 2019 there already and 6 more (from 2020) will be added over the course of the next few weeks. Further information on the new arrangements for accessing GGI videos can be found here.

The GGI YouTube Channel

The rest of the recorded presentations are going up on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website where there is a new special section for Genetic Genealogy Ireland. You will find most of the videos from the 2019 GGI events there now - they were uploaded just before GGI2020 Belfast. Legacy Family Tree Webinars is a subscription service and the monies raised help the speakers to cover their travel expenses. But at $50 per year, it is a very cost-effective way of gaining access to their entire library of educational videos - it would cost a lot more to attend a single conference. Full details of how to access the videos are included here.

Some videos are hosted on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website

The day after conference is a traditional time for rest and relaxation. This started with a morning tour of Queens University Belfast and a stroll through the Botanic Gardens and the fabulous Palm House Conservatory. We were all glad of a bit of tropical heat which contrasted nicely with the crisp chill of the Belfast morning.

The Glasshouse (photo: Donna Rutherford)

GGI2020 coincided with the Northern Ireland Science Festival and the group attended two lectures in the impressive Whitla Hall at Queens University Belfast. Adam Rutherford gave a very thought-provoking talk on genetics and racism, and Prof Alice Roberts took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of her BBC TV series The Incredible Human Journey, charting the journey of Man out of Africa and into the rest of the World.

Adam Rutherford - on stage at Whitla Hall (photo: Donna Rutherford)

And then, before you knew it, it was all done. Gallileo adequately captures how everyone felt when the day drew to a close - it's always sad to say goodbye to friends and colleagues. Who else will listen eagerly to us spouting off about genealogy?

I've no one to talk to about DNA ...

If you'd like to be part of the fun, the next GGI event is on in Dublin in October. However, the usual dates have been moved forward by 1 day to 17-18 Oct (Saturday & Sunday, not Friday). And we will have a special ISOGG Day Out on the Monday (Oct 19th). The following weekend (starting on Sunday) is the MyHeritage annual conference which this year is in Tel Aviv (25-26 Oct), and 2 weeks after that is the FTDNA Annual Conference in Houston (13-15 Nov).

I'm sure I'll see you at one of them!

Maurice Gleeson
March 2020

Thursday 13 February 2020

FTDNA has the largest "local DNA database" in Northern Ireland

In this guest post from Martin McDowell of the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS), he explains how FamilyTreeDNA has the largest "local DNA database" in the North of Ireland (compared to the other direct-to-consumer companies). This is of huge importance if you are researching your North of Ireland ancestry - in short, you must add your DNA to the FTDNA database and join the North of Ireland DNA Project ...
Maurice Gleeson
Feb 2020
Are you fishing in the right pool?

We all know how important finding a DNA match is. What we might not all know is that different companies have more market dominance in certain parts of the world and therefore might be more useful when pursuing matches in a particular locality.

No one can doubt Ancestry and 23andMe have sold the vast majority of autosomal tests to American and Canadian customers. It is my view that MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA are stronger than Ancestry in other parts of the world such as Australia and New Zealand.

The reason for this dates back a number of years before Ancestry, MyHeritage and Living DNA had entered the DNA market. 23andMe and Family Tree DNA were the only testing companies for people testing around the world and as Family Tree DNA was the cheaper option internationally it tended to get the bulk of the non-US business. Even when Ancestry started selling DNA tests in 2012 they didn’t sell outside of the United States and Canada until 2015.

People may not be aware that even in 2020 Ancestry only offer DNA tests for sale in 34 countries:

By contrast, Family Tree DNA will sell autosomal DNA tests to anyone in any country (except Sudan or Iran as noted on their website). So if you are looking for matches in another country you need to be aware that testing with Ancestry is not enough on its own and that you need to be in one of the other databases too – preferably as many as possible!

The NIFHS has a strong presence at all the
major genealogy events in the UK & Ireland
My work as a project administrator with Family Tree DNA has left me surprised on a number of occasions when someone from a country/ethnicity has tested that I do not expect to receive many matches for - and yet they do. South Africa and Jamaica are two countries that spring to mind. And having spoken to people in Norway and Sweden about their matches it is also clear that Family Tree DNA also have large numbers of testers in the Scandinavian countries. As do MyHeritage. And this is something that the genetic genealogist needs to be aware of when they test - if you are not fishing in the right pool then you won’t catch a fish!

Within Northern of Ireland I can confirm, without any fear of contradiction, that Family Tree DNA is the major testing company used by local people. This is partly because the North of Ireland Family History Society has promoted DNA testing for a number of years, during many of which Family Tree DNA was the only real option. The rest of Ireland is also well represented on Family Tree DNA where they are well known as the only sponsor of Genetic Genealogy Ireland and where they can be found taking a stand at many local genealogy events.

Recruitment to our DNA Project continues to grow at a very fast rate
The result of all these efforts is that the majority of people with a Northern Irish background get a higher number of matches on Family Tree DNA than other testers receive from countries that are not as well represented on the database. These regional differences are crucial to success and an important factor to bear in mind when you are looking for a match.

Another benefit of Family Tree DNA is that they also have some of the earliest autosomal DNA tests. As FTDNA started selling Y and MT tests before they introduced Family Finder in 2010, their DNA storage policy meant that even people who had died prior to the introduction of Family Finder in 2010 could still have an autosomal DNA test performed on their sample. And this is still providing benefit. One of my 4th cousins had a Y-DNA test done in 2009. Although he died in 2012, his family paid for an autosomal test in 2019 and I got a match with him shortly after.

With results for new Northern Irish testers coming through within the North of Ireland DNA Project almost every day, the database is now far more useful than in previous years. These tests are more beneficial as we have been running an education programme to encourage and support people to add family trees and to use the family matching tool. And the family matching tool is now much more useful than previously as you can link DNA matches to your tree (no matter what distance that relationship is) and the family matching will identify which of your other matches are maternal or paternal. It’s a feature I use daily with great success.

Many new testers within our project are receiving over 7,000 matches when their results arrive and at the same time a higher proportion of larger matches. This is a massive increase on the 2,000 we expected only a few years back. One of my testers in the north of the province commented to me recently that he felt that within our project we were already receiving better DNA matches on a routine basis than he had previously thought he would see in his lifetime. Long may it continue!

Martin McDowell
NIFHS, Feb 2020
The NIFHS runs regular courses in genetic genealogy

Wednesday 12 February 2020

DNA Test sale prices at Back to Our Past - Belfast

Here are the discounted sale prices for the various DNA tests and upgrades that you can order from the FTDNA stand at the Back to Our Past event in Belfast this weekend (Feb 14-15, ICC, Waterfront Hall).

The Family Finder test is now only £40 ($49) - this is a great first test for anyone starting off with DNA testing. It will connect you with cousins (thousands of them) with whom you share a common ancestor some time since the 1700s.

And the Y-DNA-37 test is only £80 ($99). This helps you track back along your direct male line and will take you back before the 1700s and well into the deep and distant past. This is a great test for exploring the surname of one of your ancestral lines and may connect you with a particular Irish clan.

And there is good news for people who have already tested and want to upgrade. There are discounted upgrade prices for all tests - so for example if you have done a Y37 test and want to upgrade to the crème de la crème of Y-DNA  tests, the Big Y-700, it only costs £250 ($319). This test will place you firmly on a specific branch of the Tree of Mankind and is the definitive test for establishing the deeper ancestral origins of your direct male line.

So there is something here for everyone.

The FTDNA Stand is at the entrance to the event so see you there!

Maurice Gleeson

Feb 2020

Tuesday 11 February 2020

How big is the FamilyTreeDNA database?

This guest post from Martin McDowell describes a new method for estimating the size of FTDNA's autosomal DNA database based on a clever analysis of kit number prefixes. The estimated database size based on this analysis is almost 2 million, much higher than previous estimates ...

Family Tree DNA Database Size

As Family Tree DNA traditionally does not release a figure on the size of its autosomal DNA database, I decided to look at the various kit numbering systems to see if I could come up with an assessment of database size that takes into account its predominance in some countries around the world (such as the North of Ireland).

Luckily kit numbers are consecutive at Family Tree DNA and we also know which prefixes they use ...

New estimates for the FTDNA database size are larger than previously
Any attempt to estimate database size based solely on a comparison of matches across the various companies isn’t going to be representative due to the fact that FTDNA has a large international component that may not show up in any individual’s list of matches. They also have a different way of working out exactly what constitutes a match. The other factor that needs to be taken into consideration is that many people who have transferred from another company did not receive their full list of matches as for a period of time those testers only received matches up to a 3rd-5th cousin level. So looking at tests in the system is a much more accurate way of estimating exactly how many people they have in their database. However an additional complication which arises is that FTDNA has some people in their database who have only taken a Y-DNA or mtDNA test but luckily they do report these numbers so we can take this into account.

I have used the kit prefixes to calculate a database size that takes into account autosomal testers around the world as well as in the US market. I used the highest kit ID numbers I could find for each prefix in the North of Ireland DNA Project (n = 4629). Using this method, I found kit numbers in excess of ...
  1. 925,000 (non-prefix kits) 
  2. 84,000 (IN kits) ... International - a test kit that was ordered through the FTDNA website alone (not with other kits) that is being shipped internationally 
  3. 67,000 (MK kits) ... Multi Kit - a test ordered through the FTDNA website at the same time as several other kits, all of which are being shipped domestically 
  4. 54,000 (MI kits) ... Multi Kit International - a test ordered through the FTDNA website at the same time as several other kits, all of which are being shipped internationally 
  5. 32,000 (AM kits) ... test was ordered through 
  6. 27,000 (BP kits) ... Basic Packaging. Kits sent out in the basic plastic packaging rather than the colourful cardboard box 
  7. 271,000 (N kits) ... transfer from the National Geographic Genographic Project 
  8. 612,000 (B kits) ... transfer of Y-DNA or autosomal results through a lab transfer program (i.e. from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage)
  9. 71,300 (all other prefixes) ... I searched the public Results Pages of a variety of haplogroup & geographic projects to try to identify the highest kit number for the remaining (19) prefixes. Those for which no kits could be found were assigned a value of zero.
    • A kits ... highest number > A2700 (in Jewish DNA project)
    • E kits ... highest number > E37900 (in Europe East project)
    • K kits ... highest number > K2400 (in Kazakhstan DNA project)
    • M kits ... highest number > M11400 (in Arab DNA project) 
    • T kits ... highest number > T1900 (in Libya DNA project)
    • U kits ... highest number > U4000 (in British Isles by county project)
    • V kits ... highest number > V7400 (in Jewish DNA project)
    • Z kits ... highest number > Z3600 (in Brazil DNA project)
    • all others ... zero
First I added up the totals for items 1-6 and 9 in the list above. I then reduced the total by 20% to take into account those who either did not take a Family Finder test (or did not migrate atDNA results from another company to an existing kit). In other words, this sum total was reduced to 80% of its value. In my experience many more than 80% of test-takers have autosomal results - probably closer to 90% - but I am taking this conservative figure of 80% in order to reduce the risk of overestimating the database size. 

I then added in transfer kits from other companies (all of which are autosomal) - these are the B kits in item 8. It is important to include transfers from other companies as their inclusion is a relevant component of the FTDNA database size. This is also the same reporting method used by other companies who accept transfers such as MyHeritage and, of course, Gedmatch.

Lastly, I added in the N kits (item 7) but I applied a more conservative reduction of 50% of its value (instead of the 20% reduction used with the items 1-6 and 9).

Thus, the actual numbers were as follows:
  • sum of items 1-6 and 9 = 1,260,300
  • 80% of above total = 1,008,240
  • plus item 8 (612,000) = 1,620,240
  • plus 50% of item 7 (271,000) = 1,755,740 (sum total)

So based on these kit numbers, and the conservative approach, my estimated total database size for January 2020 comes to 1,755,740. If a 90% figure is used instead of 80%, the total estimate would be 1,881,770. Both these estimates are a lot higher than previous estimates of the FTDNA database size.

Whilst this estimate still places Family Tree DNA below the big three, it does show its importance in the marketplace and particularly in the countries and regions where their kits make up a sizeable proportion of DNA tests taken (such as the North of Ireland).

Martin McDowell
NIFHS, Feb 2020

Martin McDowell is Project Administrator for the North of Ireland DNA Project

Monday 10 February 2020

GGI videos now hosted by FamilyTreeWebinars

I am delighted to announce that the videos of the presentations at GGI2019 Dublin and Belfast are now available on Legacy Family Tree Webinars. The 2020 recordings from Belfast should be added within a few weeks.

I hope these live recordings give you a feel for the buzz and excitement these lectures create among the Irish audience - you will hear me facilitating the questions and answer session after each lecture, and you will find some fascinating discussions there!

Legacy Family Tree Webinars is the new home for the GGI videos

We have been running this annual conference in Dublin since 2013. It consists of 2-3 days of DNA Lectures from leading genetic genealogists in Ireland, the UK and Worldwide. In 2018, we started a second DNA Lecture series, this time in Belfast, which proved just as popular as the Dublin lectures. 

These two annual conferences report on all the latest developments in genetic genealogy, with a special focus on their application to Irish genealogy, which (as we all know) can be particularly challenging. Admission to these lectures is completely free and traditionally the speakers do not get honoraria or travel expenses so all their hard work is a reflection of their love for genetic genealogy and a desire to advance the field. The move to Family Tree Webinars will hopefully help the speakers recoup some of their expenses. Membership costs $49.95 per year and gives you access to hundreds of educational videos on all aspects of genealogy - check out their list of videos here. This initiative also exposes GGI to a whole new customer base and helps spread the word about the benefits of genetic genealogy.

Previously the video recordings of the GGI lectures have been uploaded to the dedicated GGI YouTube Channel and you will still find over 100 educational videos on that channel. These videos will continue to be available for free, as a service to the community. And additional free videos will be added from time to time. You can see a complete list of all the topics and speakers at each conference from the past 7 years on the GGI website here.

The GGI YouTube Channel has had over 340,000 views

You should also check out our associated GGI Facebook group - it's free to join and has over 6000 members who are eager to help you with your genealogical queries. 

I hope you enjoy the videos and maybe one day we may even see you in person at GGI. You would be most welcome! 

Maurice Gleeson
Feb 2020

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Using Sponsored DNA Tests to break through Brick Walls

A big thank you to Linda Horton for this guest post about the value of sponsoring Free DNA Tests for people from the "home countries" and how this can help you in your own genealogical research. Linda offered Free DNA Tests for several of her ancestral surnames and as a result made major breakthroughs in her own research. Below she discusses four Case Studies, each using a different approach and methodology. These examples may help you in your own research. Read on ... 

Y-DNA test sponsorship as a way to find cousins in other countries
By Linda Horton

Genetic genealogy hobbyists enjoy the opportunity to meet cousins and thus learn more about their extended families. It is particularly exciting to make contact with DNA matches in other countries. With autosomal DNA testing such as AncestryDNA, the FamilyTreeDNA FamilyFinder, and 23andMe, however, it can be difficult to identify the Most Recent Common Ancestor.

Those of us whose ancestors migrated to the British American colonies many years ago will have few matches in the old countries. All my ancestors migrated from Europe to North America before 1760, coming from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. While I no doubt have many distant cousins in these countries of origin, the common ancestors are very far back, and considering the distance in relationship it is unlikely that few European cousins and I share the same segment of autosomal DNA from a shared ancestor.

Because of the relative stability of Y-DNA going back many centuries, and because of cultural practices that associate a patriline with a surname, Y-DNA testing offers a way to locate cousins in other countries. Kinship can be shown with certainty, when two men who have tested not only are close Y-DNA matches, but also share a surname. And there is no question about the lineage in which the Most Recent Common Ancestor will be found—it will be on the patriline for that surname.

I have four success stories to share about how I found Y-DNA cousins in other countries. In each case, the Y-DNA match/cousin became a friend. In hope that this information is helpful to others, I asked that it be published on the Genetic Genealogy Ireland blog in advance of the upcoming GGI/Back to Our Past conference in Belfast on 14th-15th February 2020, where free kits will be available for men with certain surnames. In 2018 I attended the first GGI/BTOP Belfast conference, and I will be there again this year. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about genealogy and to meet interesting and nice people.

Case Study 1 - Sproule/Sprowl: locate a close cousin to test and then post on the ISOGG website an offer to sponsor Y-DNA testing of men in the country of origin with the same surname (or variants).

2018 in Florida: Ed Sprowl,
the author's mother's half 1st cousin
a. My close cousin who Y-DNA tested at my request is Ed Sprowl, my half 1st cousin once removed—my mother’s half 1st cousin, as they had the same Sprowl grandfather but different grandmothers (he had remarried after his first wife’s death). In 2017, I posted several offers of free kits for men with certain surnames, including Sprowl (various spellings) on the Free DNA Tests page of the website of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG).  The offers I published applied to men with the surnames Bryan or Keele or Sproul/Sprowl in the UK or Ireland. (Recently I added offers for men in the UK or Ireland with the surname Braxton, Cochran/Cockerham, Owings/Owens, or Richmond). I knew to look for Sprowl cousins in Ireland and Scotland, because my mother had long ago explained that our Sprowl ancestors were Scots Irish (Ulster Scots).

b. In 2017, an Irishman named Ivan Sproule was doing genealogy research and came across my offer on the ISOGG website. We corresponded, Ivan tested, and he matches my cousin, Ed, on both Y-DNA and FamilyFinder (autosomal testing). With results upgraded to Big Y 700 and analyzed by YFull, Ed and our Sligo cousin are among a growing set of men of this surname (Sproul, Sproule, Sprowl, Spruell, etc) whose Y-DNA results match in varying degrees. Participants live in the USA, Canada, Ireland (mostly Northern Ireland), and Australia. The surname project is blessed with highly skilled and energetic administrators. It is hoped that men of this surname in Scotland will test, especially those whose origins are in the region south of Glasgow (Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire).

Ivan Sproule, Sligo & Roy Sproule of Castlederg, Co. Tyrone
c. While in Ireland in 2018 for the first GGI/Back to Our Past conference held in Belfast, I was able after the conference to meet Ivan Sproule in Sligo, where he lives on the farm owned by his great grandfather, and his family. Another Sproule cousin—Roy Sproule—had driven my daughter and me from Belfast to Sligo, stopping along the way at sites of genealogical and historical interest (further details in this previous blog post). Roy lives in Castlederg, County Tyrone, and is a Y-DNA match with Ivan, my Florida cousin Edwin, and many other men with this surname including Joe Sprowl of Delaware, the very capable lead surname project administrator. I subsequently have made free DNA kit donations to other Sproule men in Northern Ireland.

Case Study 2 - Horton: ask the surname project administrator to post an offer to sponsor Y-DNA testing by men with a given surname who reside in the relevant country of origin; counties can be mentioned.

Raymond Horton, author's brother
a. At my request, my brother Raymond Horton did Y-DNA testing. He matched several men with the Horton surname and, for these matches, in this well-documented colonial Virginia family it was easy to identify the Most Recent Common Ancestor such as a 5th great grandfather born in 1717. One of these Horton cousins told me about several known Non Paternal Events in the early 1800s, resulting in men living today who match Hortons but have different surnames.

b. In addition to these known NPEs, my brother matched men with a variety of other surnames, including Patterson, Reaves, Williams, and Whitehead. Several of these fellows trace back to a common ancestor with the surname Patterson, born in 1825 in South Carolina. One of my brother’s Y-DNA matches insisted that our Hortons are “really” Pattersons. To help resolve the question of what is “really” the surname of this cluster of Y-DNA matches, I asked the administrator of the Horton surname project to post on the project’s website an offer from me to sponsor Y-DNA testing of Horton-surnamed men in England, and particularly in Yorkshire. Lucky me, I only had to sponsor two tests. Although the first Horton-surnamed Yorkshireman to test—my now friend, Richard Horton—did not match my brother, his fiancée referred to me another Horton-surnamed Yorkshireman named Kris Horton, whose testing I sponsored, and whose test results DO match my brother!

2017 in Yorkshire, Kris Horton
c. Richard Horton had come across the Horton surname project website while doing genealogy research. This experience shows that, in addition to posting a Y-DNA scholarship offer on the ISOGG free kits page, it is useful to make a Y-DNA scholarship offer on the relevant surname project website. During my 2017 trip to Yorkshire and Edinburgh with two sisters and a cousin, Richard Horton spent a day driving us around to various sites associated with Horton families in Yorkshire. Also, we met both Kris Horton, my brother’s Y-DNA match, and his Horton grandparents, Barry and Sylvia Horton. These grandparents live less than 15 miles from the church in which our immigrant ancestor Isaac Horton was baptized in 1611. He migrated to Virginia colony in 1636. The Most Recent Common Ancestor between Kris’s family and mine likely lived in the 1500s. My theory is that the common ancestor was a John Horton (1552-1617) of Halifax, Yorkshire. Considering the date of my Horton immigrant ancestor came to America, my brother’s match to the Yorkshiremen provides strong evidence that, regardless of surname, the matches whose Y-DNA results lie between those of my brother and of our Yorkshire cousin are also Hortons.

2017 in Yorkshire: Linda's sister Laurel with Sylvia and
Barry Horton, Linda and her 1st cousin Carol Horton Graf

Case Study 3 - MacKay: locate a close cousin to Y-DNA-test, study their matches seeking to identify ones in other countries, and make diligent efforts to establish contact.

2017 in Kentucky: Linda and 3rd cousin 
Archibald C. McKay II
a. The first two examples describe instances in which men with certain surnames found my free kit offers on a website, either the ISOGG Free DNA Tests page or a surname project site. Sometimes you get lucky and a match falls in your lap without effort or expense. Here is an example.

b. To learn more about my great grandmother Lizzie McKay’s ancestors, I contacted my 3rd cousin who lives in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Lizzie was born in 1850. Her great grandfather Richard McKay had migrated to Kentucky from St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where our McKays from the far north of Scotland landed in about 1660. My 3rd cousin, Arch McKay, was happy to hear from me, met with me the next time I was in Kentucky, and agreed to do Y-DNA testing as a way for us both to learn more about our shared McKay ancestry. This was in 2013.

2017 in Edinburgh: Laurel, Linda and Robin Horton with Hugh MacKay
c. Imagine my delight when my Kentucky cousin’s only match, at 67-5, was to a man with the same surname, spelled MacKay, and with an email address that strongly suggested residence in the UK and employment at a law firm. Unfortunately, several emails to this Nigel Hugh MacKay went unanswered, and internet searches failed to locate the correct individual. I gave up the search. But when I was planning the trip to Scotland in 2017, I contacted a surname group administrator who helped me locate a street address in Edinburgh for the Scottish match of my Kentucky cousin. I typed and posted a letter in which I provided my email address as well as my travel details and information about the Kentucky Y-DNA cousin. One week later I received an email from a very excited Hugh MacKay. He confirmed my hunch that, after doing Y-DNA testing with FamilyTreeDNA in 2010 (and having no matches at that time), he retired from the law firm, and it did not occur to him to provide FamilyTreeDNA with his personal email address.

2018 Kentucky: the author, Beth Wilder of the
Jeffersontown (Kentucky) Historical Museum,
 Arch McKay of Bardstown Kentucky and
Y-DNA match Hugh MacKay of Edinburgh
d. My Scottish MacKay cousin invited me, my two sisters, and my cousin to stay in his home when we reached Edinburgh. We did, and we all got along so well we invited him to visit us. So in 2018 Hugh flew over for a four-week road trip around U.S. southeastern states, with driving shared by my husband and me, my sister Robin, and my son Jonathan.

e. In Alabama, Jonathan and Hugh participated in an 80th birthday celebration of my brother-in-law Stephen Ho, the brother of my first husband, Henry Ho (1937-1987), father of my children. Hugh said he enjoyed meeting my Chinese American family and spending time with my son! (My daughter and I missed the celebration because we needed to be at her son/my grandson’s family weekend in Michigan.)

f. Then in 2019 my daughter, grandson and I stayed a couple of nights at Hugh’s home in Edinburgh.

g. Y-DNA cousins Hugh MacKay of Edinburgh and Arch McKay of Kentucky have met twice, first in Kentucky as part of Hugh's road trip (see photo) and then, in 2019, when Arch and his brothers Lud and John traveled to Scotland and got together with Hugh while in Edinburgh.

h. In 2017, the Y-DNA tests of both Arch and Hugh were upgraded to Big Y. Their matching variants, shown above, resulted in a new haplogroup assignment for both men, and a new McKay/MacKay twig on the Big Tree!

This twig can be found below the MacKay/McKay twig, found in the center of the image of below, part of a display pertinent to men whose haplogroup is P312>Z290>L21>DF13>Z39589>DF49

I believe that the common MacKay ancestor was back in the 1500s or possibly a century or two earlier. I theorize that my 10th great grandfather Aodh Mackay (1510-1572) is the Most Recent Common Ancestor of Hugh and me. Hugh hit a brick wall with his 3rd great grandfather, John MacKay (born 1765 in Bighouse, Sutherland) and we cannot easily bridge the 200+ year gap back to Aodh. 

Case Study 4 - Cochran/Cockerham: post a story on your tree describing your interest in sponsoring Y-DNA testing of a man of a certain surname, sharing with you a certain ancestral line.

a. This example is not yet a success story, but I am hopeful it will be! Here I need to credit the ingenuity of my 4th cousin, Bella Garstang, who shares with me ancestors with the surname Cockerham, often simplified to Cochran. Two years ago, I returned from the Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference in Belfast and told Bella I had given away two kits to men in Northern Ireland who planned to regift them to Cochran-surnamed men they knew there. However, I needed to find an American male cousin with the surname Cockerham or Cochran for this testing of Irishmen to be worthwhile. Bella offered to post on various Cockerhams on her tree a story containing the plea “I AM LOOKING FOR LIVING MALE COCHRAN/COCKERHAM—PLEASE CONTACT ME THROUGH ANCESTRY.” I thought this a great idea, and soon the entire Cockerham branch of my tree had a host of Ancestry green-leaf hints announcing cousin Bella’s new posting. Soon she was contacted by a woman whose maiden name was Cochran, and who shared the same Cockerham ancestry as Bella and me. The woman’s father was elderly and, with his daughter’s help, tested. William W. Cochran is my 3rd cousin twice removed, and on autosomal testing he matches two of my siblings as well as my father’s first cousin, whose grandmother was a Cockerham, strengthening the case that we succeeded in finding a Cochran American male in the same family. Unfortunately, the two kits for Cochran males that I gave away in Ireland have not been used.

b. To increase the chances of finding a man in Ireland or Britain with the surname Cochran to do Y-DNA testing, I recently added this offer to the ISOGG Free DNA Tests page: 

I am hoping that, behind the ISOGG table at the upcoming Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference in Belfast, there will be a large poster listing surnames for which free kits are being offered. Perhaps a Cochran man will come up to the table and accept my offer of a free kit. And maybe he will match William, my cousin.


I expect that some of you reading this post will wonder about the expense of sponsoring Y-DNA testing as well as the travel I have undertaken to meet cousins identified through such testing. I admit that the testing and the travel do get expensive, and in closing I will share a few ideas to help defray the cost.

Sometimes surname projects collect donations to go toward testing of men in origin countries. Perhaps, within a family, several members might be willing to contribute toward the testing of potential cousins in other countries. One economy I use is to always purchase kits, with only the bargain FamilyFinder autosomal test included, when FamilyTreeDNA is holding a sale. During a sale, a kit with FamilyFinder is generally priced at $49. The sample can be collected and the kit sent to the FamilyTreeDNA lab. Then when Y-DNA tests go on sale, I can order Y-DNA upgrades for male test-takers. I maintain a priority-based wish list of tests I wish to upgrade when sales occur and the family budget can tolerate the expense.

I tell people that genealogy is the perfect hobby—it involves history, it involves science, and it involves US! One of the greatest rewards from the investment I have made in this hobby is meeting cousins and forming lasting friendships.

I hope my real-life examples will be helpful to others seeking cousins in other countries. And perhaps I will see a few of you in Belfast!

Linda Horton, a Kentucky ex-pat living in Maryland
January 28, 2020

If you are interested in sponsoring a Free DNA Test, please contact Maurice Gleeson at mauricegleeson AT