And that is what I have noticed in the hundreds of conversations I have with people of Irish descent – your Irish DNA may be a large, or small, percentage of your makeup. But that quantity of DNA is merely a spark, it takes nurture to really bring your Irishness to life.
So, hopefully this story and James Watson’s comments put DNA testing for Ancestry research purposes into some context! I believe that 99.99% of the people who read this are Irish by nurture and experience – however, it is nice to have that backed up by some specific evidence that can also be used to highlight connections to others who share that feeling of nurture!
Six Conclusions on DNA Testing For Irish Family History
Over the last four years in The Green Room (our members area), we have run a DNA study and come up with six main conclusions to the question: “How useful is DNA testing for Irish ancestral research purposes?” Here they are:
- Don’t Forget the Records. When I look at the goals of some of our readers, I notice that many aim to establish a place, name or connection in their family tree. However, some of these ancestors mentioned were alive in Ireland in the mid 1800s. It would be much more productive to do a current search of the records rather than expect DNA testing to provide this information. I know from one reader that felt they had exhausted this channel of checking the records – however, that was based on research they carried out over 10 years ago. But things are changing – more facts and connections are available online on a weekly basis. I did a quick check for this individual and found the names and dates they were looking for. I found them in the records – they believed they would have to use DNA.
- Ethnic Mix is a moving target. The “ethnic mix” part of your DNA report is a moving target. The testing companies seem to rely on “ethnic mix” as the main way of giving a client a good feeling on opening their report. However, it is based on comparisons to those already on their database – and as the database changes, the percentage mix may also change. Also, this concept of Irish ethnic mix looks highly suspect to a person living in Ireland – many of us are a broad mix already (Irish Gaelic/ Scandinavian/ Welsh/ Norman/ Scots etc). However, most people on this island seems to unite by culture as opposed to DNA – an Ulster Scot is usually just as “up for the craic” as a Munster Gael.
- You are buying the basic test. The tests sold by the DNA testing companies are just a starting point. Most people realise that the “suggested connections” part of the report is the most valuable after a while. More accurate connecting usually requires a deeper (and more expensive) level of testing. Also, you probably need to do testing with all companies if you wish to be exposed to the fullest possible number of people on the DNA databases out there. Having said that, services like GEDmatch are providing a very useful service by allowing people who get tested with one service to connect to people who use a different service.
- DNA Testing is just the beginning. Do not expect answers without quite a bit of effort on your part (reading and learning, reaching out to others – and waiting). The DNA test opens a door – it does not provide immediate answers – although advertisements lead many of us to believe that all will be revealed in an easy-to-read report. DNA testing is the first step in a process that may well extend for years into the future. As new people take the tests and add to the databases, your own testing will yield more useful results. You will also feel the pressure to undertake further testing to connect with these new people in a meaningful manner.
- The Native Irish are Missing. Very few people on the island of Ireland have ever taken – or see the need to take – a DNA test for ancestry purposes. As a result, the DNA databases of the testing companies feature few present Irish natives. That may change as the medical side of DNA testing takes hold. What does this mean to you? Finding relatives who live on the island of Ireland currently may take a few years – you are much more likely to discover distant cousins a few miles up the road from where you are living now. Finding present relatives on the island of Ireland probably means working forward from existing records – and then getting some “on the ground pointers” from local historians and genealogists.
- People want to believe. Finally, the world of Ancestry research in general is full of people who WANT to believe what they are presented with. I have noticed many “facts” being presented by ancestry.com members – and their new connections (often though ancestry DNA testing) were happy to accept these as “facts”. But, there is a lot of guesswork that does not stand up to much scrutiny. It is always worthwhile to check suggested “facts” against available accurate record sources.
So, let’s finish by asking you about your own experiences of DNA testing. How useful has it been to you? Has the experience been frustrating? Exciting? Productive? We do hope you will join us for our upcoming podcast where Carina, Mike and Courtney will share our own DNA testing journeys.
That’s it for now! As always, do feel free to share your Irish surnames – or maybe even a family story or two. We do look forward to you joining us again next week.
Slán for now, Mike & Carina.