“Genetic heritage” to find Irish ancestors

An exciting prospect for those interested in exploring their Irish heritage lies ahead with the work of a new company called Ireland’s DNA. Set up to help trace a person’s genetic heritage, the company is launching in Dublin today (Thursday 3rd May).

genetic heritage ireland

Within the article (published in the Irish Times newspaper), Dr Gianpiero Cavalleri, a biomedical research lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and one of three founders of the company states:

“With DNA you can really go deep into the past to learn where your ancestors came from.”

A decade ago it was tremendously expensive to deliver a complete genome but today prices have fallen and it is feasible to think of using DNA technology to identify ancestry. About 20,000 genomes have been completed so far by labs around the world and this has opened up the possibility of direct Y chromosome comparisons between individuals and groups.

The more genomes completed, the more the resolution improves, and the better the ability to see back in time. “Up until recently we might have had a genetic signature for the northwest of Ireland collectively as being Irish. What has happened since is we can split up the Irish type. The higher resolution comes from the sequencing of the human genome.”

It all comes down to comparisons. “We look for markers and see what they are telling us,” he says. “A marker is part of the DNA that is different between people. Those differences arise with each generation.”

Most of our genome is a mix of our mother’s and father’s DNA, but the Y chromosome does not mix in a substantial way. Cavalleri likens it to the Olympic torch as individual runners carry it from city to city on the way to the games.

The same torch is passed from person to person but imagine that each person is able to leave behind a mark on the torch, a small spelling change in the DNA. “By looking at those spelling changes you get a sense of how those people have moved. After all, we are part of one big pedigree.” It is all about knowing what markers are hidden in a genome pointing towards one ancestry or another.

“There is a fascination with this type of work,” he says, and people can now participate via the company. The male Y chromosome can be traced but it is also possible to track female lines via mitochondrial DNA only passed along by female lineages.

It costs €250 to analyse both the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA and €210 for either one or the other. Women don’t have a Y chromosome but often co-opt either a brother’s or a father’s DNA to show the ancestry, Cavalleri says.”

This is a really enticing opportunity for anyone who is interested in tracing their roots and as can be seen from the above article, the journey in doing so has the potential to reveal some surprising results.

Millions of people around the world consider themselves to be of Irish heritage and up until now the ability to trace ancestors via genetic science would have been considered out of reach for most – for more information visit www.irelandsdna.com or read this article in full on the Irish Times website.

17 thoughts on ““Genetic heritage” to find Irish ancestors

  1. I think I have family of Irish descent in the county Cork, but I have not been able to retrace what I am sure i once found…can you help? Dotson name, my mother’s name was Sheagley from Indiana in US. Father from West Virginia (Darreell Paul Dotson…Lois LaVonne Sheagley).

    • Hi Clyde,

      Thanks alot for your comment – you can join the Walsh Clan (plus get a free Walsh Clan Membership Certificate) and connect with fellow members of the Walsh Clan at http://walshclans.com where you’ll find features, blog articles and discussion forums all relating to the heritage of the Walsh Clan.

      Hope this helps,

      Irish Clans Network

  2. I was told that we are also from the county cork irland can you help me find my family ancesters? my father was john micheal O’MARA my grandmothers name was WATERS her mothers Name was BOYLE or does anyone else know of any of these familys

  3. My Family name was not listed, ergo my Clan was missing. My Great-Gandfather, William, who was a linen-maker/horse trader in Armagh/Cavan, Ireland. He died in approximately 1848/49, and his oldest son, Mathew came to Canada, settling on land in the Carlsbad/Ramsayville are (Ottawa) in 1849 to buy farmland. His mother, Amelia, and her other 3 sons, Newberry, Alexander and James came to joing him in 1851. Please see if you can find any other information. I have found many Dancey families on different Ancestry message boards.

  4. I have ancestors from Offally (Bovyn near Birr) they were part of the “Plantation” and intermarried with the Carrols and Coghlans, raised regiment or 2 for James Stuart against that imposter/invader William of Orange and lost the lot in the process , land, lots of lives. After the treaty of Limerick most of them went with James to France and Spain, one became ADC to the Stuarts in exile promoted from Captain (on the battlefield over many years to Brigadier-General under Charles. Where if anywhere do I fit in? I enquired in Crinkhill and found as landlords we are still “remembered with affection”. Long memories it was 300 years ago!

  5. Grandfather James O’Conner–born Longford, IR, widowed, moved to 8 Pears Court Wellington Rd St. Stockport, Stockport Second, District 12, County Cheshire. Occupation Out Porter. Eventually (?) married Maude Robinson, son Joseph Richard Robinson, July 23, 1908. As per 1911 Census. Any information will be greatly appreciated.

  6. There are many relative versions of the name Mackie as I have found… Other versions; MacKie, McKie,Magee? Looking for possible relations… I believe people with this surname migrated to the United states,several generations ago… Any help is appreciated…

  7. I found a website once showing how to find my clan from my last name. It showed my Crest and said my Variants were Merrigan & Maragan. My Creast heriatage is Muireeagain. I would to have help finding more information .If can help me, please email infomation/ Thank You!

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