Thursday, 21 July 2016

Commemorating the Irish in World War I

The Battle of the Somme started this month 100 years ago and lasted for 5 months. 

Over 1 million soldiers lost their lives and many of them were never recovered from the battlefield. Every year the remains of about 30 to 60 soldiers are recovered from the fields of northern France during routine farming and road widening works. In all probability, some of these men are Irish.

Over 200,000 Irish men fought in the British Army and over 3500 lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme. Nearly 2000 were from the 36th Ulster Division and 1200 from the 16th Irish Division.  

In total, it is estimated that at least 35,000 Irish soldiers were killed in World War One (a figure that is likely to increase as research continues). That represents almost 20% of the total number of Irish men who joined up.

Identifying our war dead will be one of the topics at Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2016.

Irish soldier fatalities by county in WWI

Maurice Gleeson
July 2016

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Speakers announced for GGI2016

Once again, this year's Genetic Genealogy Ireland boasts a host of fabulous speakers on a diverse range of topics.  These DNA Lectures at Back to Our Past have grown in popularity since they first started in 2013.

The event has proved so popular that this year we have quite a few people coming from overseas to speak at the conference, as well as our own more local academics and genetic genealogists from the Hibernian Peninsula!  We are truly blessed to have such top quality speakers.

This year we commemorate the centenary of 1916 and what a tumultuous year it was, for both Ireland and Europe. The Easter Rising in Dublin was followed by the Battle of the Somme. Thousands of people lost their lives and the course of history was changed forever. Both these events, which had such a huge impact on the Irish people, are reflected in the topics for this year's DNA Lecture schedule.

The lineup of speaker's at GGI2016 include the following:

  • Prof Dan Bradley, Trinity College Dublin (IRL)
  • Dr Jens Carlsson, University College Dublin (IRL)
  • Ed Gilbert, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (IRL)
  • Dr René Gapert, Human Remains Services Ireland (IRL)
  • Debbie Kennett, University College London (ISOGG, UK)
  • Michelle Leonard, University of Strathclyde (ISOGG, Scotland)
  • Jim Barry, The Barrymore Project (ISOGG, USA)
  • Dennis O'Brien, O'Brien Surname DNA Project (ISOGG, Australia) 
  • Dennis Wright, Irish Type III R-L226 Project (ISOGG, Australia)
  • Robert Casey, Casey Surname Project (ISOGG, USA)
  • Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide (ISOGG, USA)
  • Jennifer Zinck, Zinck DNA Project, (ISOGG, USA)
  • Peter Sjoland, Swedish DNA Project (ISOGG, Sweden)
  • Maurice Gleeson, Gleason/Gleeson DNA Project (ISOGG, UK & IRL)
  • Katherine Borges, Ireland mtDNA Project (Director, ISOGG, USA)
  • Linda Magellan, Magellan DNA Project, (ISOGG, USA)
  • Gerard Corcoran, ISOGG Ireland representative (IRL)
  • Paddy Waldron, Clare Roots Society (ISOGG, IRL)
  • John Cleary, Camp & Kemp Project (ISOGG, Scotland)
  • Maggie Lyttle, NIFHS Ballymena (ISOGG, N.IRL)
  • Ann Marie Coghlan, Cork Genealogical Society (ISOGG, IRL)

Topics include ancient Irish DNA, the Irish DNA Atlas project, linking DNA to the Ancient Irish Annals, identifying our war dead, Scandinavian DNA, introducing DNA to your Family History Society, DNA & adoptees, and a range of practical presentations on how to interpret your DNA results and get the most out of your DNA test.

I am really looking forward to what will be another excellent set of lectures at Genetic Genealogy Ireland.

Maurice Gleeson
July 2016

GGI2016 is sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

New Look for Back to Our Past

With Who Do You Think You Are just finished in Birmingham, we can look forward to Back to Our Past in Dublin, which this year runs from October 21st - 23rd.

The Back to Our Past website has been redesigned and this year will usher in some new changes to the exhibition too. There is already an exciting line-up of speakers at this year's Genetic Genealogy Ireland (the DNA Lectures at BTOP) - more to follow shortly!

Here is a recent announcement from the Back to Our Past team:

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Welcome to the first newsletter of Back to Our Past, brought to you by the organisers of the Back to Our Past Exhibition which takes place in October every year in the RDS. Over the next few months we will be updating you with news not just on this years event, but on genealogy/family history in general. So if you have an interest in this field, we'd like to hear from you 
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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Metrics for Genetic Genealogy Ireland

This Genetic Genealogy Ireland website came into existence in July 2013 and over the course of these past 3 years it has attracted quite a bit of traffic. Below is a break down of the metrics associated with this website and the associated Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube Channel. Both sets of metrics use Google Analytics.

How much traffic is the website getting?

So far, the website has been viewed more than 130,000 times. Because the Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference occurs each October, the highest volume of traffic to the website occurs in the few months prior to this time. This is also the time when most of the blog posts are posted. October is the peak month for traffic with 6000 views in October 2013, 13,000 in October 2014 and 10,000 in October 2015. But even during its quiet time, the blog attracts about 100 views each day.

Website traffic since inception

Who is the audience for Genetic Genealogy Ireland?

Not surprisingly, the country with the most views is the United States, with over 60,000 hits. There are an estimated 35 million people of Irish descent in the US - that's 5.5 times greater than the number of people living in Ireland today. [1]

Ireland is the country with the second highest number of views, so clearly the website is reaching both Local Irish and Diaspora Irish.

The UK comes in third with 13,000 views. And again, this comes as no surprise given that up to 25% of the population are thought to have Irish ancestry. [1] That's about 15 million people. 

The big surprise in the country list is Russia, which comes in fourth place, and to an extent France as well, which is placed fifth. Why the Russians are interested in Irish genealogy I don't know, but all I can say is "Radushnyye, tovarishchi! Vse zhelayushchiye" (and hope that Google translator is working properly). And while I'm at it, I might as well add "Bienvenue à tout le mode!" Maybe there are a lot of recent Irish emigrants in Russia and France. The same reasoning may apply to Germany and Ukraine, and even South Korea (placed 7th, 8th & 10th respectively).

Canada is in 6th place with 4500 views. The Irish diaspora in Canada was just over 4.5 million in 2011 or roughly 14% of the total Canadian population.  And Australia is in 9th place with 2400 views. Over 2 million people in Australia (>10% of the total population in 2011) said they were of Irish descent. [1]

So, the appearance (and rank order) of the English-speaking countries in the list comes as no surprise, but it is the popularity of the website in the non-English-speaking countries that gives one pause for thought. Maybe the Irish diaspora is more widespread in these countries than "official figures" might suggest. Either way, it is clear that the Genetic Genealogy Ireland website is reaching a substantial international audience.

Ireland's diaspora ratio (US population vs home country population) is greater than that of other countries [1]

How do people arrive at the website?

Most of the referrals to the website come from Facebook. As each new blog post is issued, announcements of its publication are made on a variety of different Facebook pages, including the associated Genetic Genealogy Ireland Facebook group (current membership 2600). This is the main form of active promotion of the website and its blog posts. The four main Facebook sources account for over 16,000 referrals.

The second greatest source of referrals is Google (>10,000 in total), the website itself (2700) and the Back to Our Past website (1000) where there are links to the GGI website and the schedule of DNA Lectures.

What are the most popular Pages & Posts?

Next to my own Speaker Profile page (I knew I wasn't being paranoid), the most popular post relates to the Free DNA Tests. Yes, people will always like free things, even me. Only yesterday I got some free cat food - "Buy One, Get Two Free" - I couldn't resist! Now I need to buy a cat.

Another popular post was an analysis of the type of customer who bought DNA kits at Back to Our Past 2013 in comparison to those at Who Do You Think You Are 2014. And the announcement of the DNA Lecture schedule for each year understandably attracts a lot of traffic. We need to bear in mind that some post have been up for much longer than others so these figures will be skewed.

In terms of Pages (the more static parts of the website), again Free DNA Tests was the most popular, accounting for about 50% of the views in this section. Other popular Pages were the short guide to Finding Your Irish Ancestors and Which DNA Test is Best for You?

Let's turn our attention now to the Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube Channel and examine the metrics there.

How much traffic is the YouTube Channel getting?

The YouTube Channel consists of 14 videos from the 2013 conference, 17 videos from the 2014 conference, and 14 from the 2015 conference. Altogether, the channel has been viewed over 49,000 times for a total of almost 586,000 minutes. That translates into 1 year and 41 days of continuous viewing.

Viewing has tended to peak immediately after the October conference as the new videos are uploaded to the Channel and people who have not been able to attend the conference in person can view them for free in the comfort of their own homes. Interestingly, for the rest of the year, until the next conference, the average daily viewing time was about 2-3 hours in 2014, 8-10 hours daily in 2015, and 18-20 hours daily in 2016 (thus far), so the channel is clearly growing in popularity as more videos are being added and news of its presence spreads.

The YouTube Channel has 356 Likes, 123 Comments, 212 Shares, and the videos were added to viewer's playlists 770 times since October 2014. It's popular!

Most of the videos (85%) are watched directly on the YouTube website, but 15% of them are viewed on other websites where they have been embedded. Most people watch the videos on their computer (71%), 13% watch them on a tablet (like an iPad), 8% watch them on their phone, and 6% watch them on their TV.

Who is the audience for the YouTube Channel?

Well the first thing to note about the audience figures is that Russia does not even feature and France is 9th. Not a bad placing for France, but why was the GGI website so popular in Russia but not the GGI YouTube channel? I think there may have been a Russian robot somewhere climbing over the webpages, but for what purpose I do not know. In fact, I seem to remember some strange traffic from Russia back in 2014.

(click to enlarge)

The US accounts for the majority of the audience with a whopping 64% of minutes watched. This is followed by the UK (10%), Ireland (with a decent 7.9%), and then Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. If these viewing figures are expressed as a ratio to the population of each of the countries [2] we get the following (which can be regarded as a kind of Country Penetration metric):
  • US ...     64/324 =  0.20
  • UK ...    10/65 =    0.15
  • IRL ...   7.9/4.7 =  1.68
  • CAN ... 7.8/36 =   0.22
  • AUS ... 4.7/24 =   0.20
  • NZ ...    1.0/4.5 =  0.22

This changes the order of the countries and gives us an idea of how popular the videos are in each country. With this new metric, Ireland comes first, followed by the next 4 countries in almost joint second place (Canada, New Zealand, US & Australia). The UK comes in 6th place which is a bit surprising, all the moreso when one considers that the population of Northern Ireland is probably included in the viewing figures for the UK (it's difficult to be certain of this).

What isn't a surprise is that English-speaking countries are in the first 6 positions, but these are followed by Germany, Sweden, France and Mexico, so there is still evidence of a reach into non-Anglophone countries. And this suggests that there is a customer need and desire for video presentations on genetic genealogy in general (as well as, perhaps, Irish genetic genealogy in particular) and that this need extends far beyond the normal bounds of what one might expect. Either way, it is very encouraging to see that the videos from Genetic Genealogy Ireland are helping to fill that educational gap and satisfy that customer need.

What are the demographics of the YouTube audience?

Even though genealogy is predominantly a female pastime (a hobby practiced by woman of a certain age?) there is a preponderance of men watching the videos. Maybe women like to pick up a book, and men prefer to plonk down in front of a screen ... hmph! Typical! This gender difference is more pronounced in certain countries, such as Ireland, Sweden, Germany & the Netherlands where the percentage of male viewers is 73%, 78%, 91% and 93% respectively.

There is a much greater proportion of younger men than younger women watching the videos. In fact, 15% of viewers are under the age of 35, and there are even a few teenagers in there too. It's nice to see there is growing interest in genealogy from a younger audience - we are encouraging the genealogists of tomorrow!

What are the most popular videos?

I know ... this is the moment you have all been waiting for. Well, I need to temper your expectations. We have to bear in mind that some of the videos have been up for 2.25 years, others for 1.25 years, and the last batch for only 0.25 years (if that), so this will have an obvious effect on viewing figures. Ideally, we should divide the viewing numbers by the time they have been up on YouTube to make it an even playing field (so to speak).

So for what they're worth, here are the videos that currently have the most views. There are no Oscars or Golden Globes here - everyone's a winner.

(click to enlarge)


Genetic Genealogy Ireland has certainly surpassed my expectations since it was set up 3 years ago. I thank the day that Derrell Oakley Teat emailed me and said "Let's ask FamilyTreeDNA to sponsor a stand at Back to Our Past so we can sell DNA kits in Dublin!" If it wasn't for Derrell's idea, none of this would have come to pass. 

But it did. And now we have a great conference, with excellent topics and speakers, that champions genetic genealogy, particularly among those with Irish ancestry, and that we can share with the rest of the world by making full use of the internet and social media. And from the above metrics, it is evident that GGI has a reach that extends to both Local Irish and Diaspora Irish alike, wherever in the world they may be.

Maurice Gleeson
February 2016


1. Ireland's Diaspora Policy. Dept of Foreign Affairs & Trade. March 2015.
Available at 

2. Countries in the world by population (2016).
Available at

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Free DNA Tests at Back to Our Past

If your surname is on the list below, you may qualify for a Free Y-DNA test at Back to Our Past 2015. Check the relevant surname on the ISOGG WIki's Free DNA Tests page to see a full description of the offer. If you think you do qualify either contact the Administrator of the project in question or ask at the FTDNA stand at Back to Our Past (RDS, Dublin, Oct 9-11 2015).


Monday, 5 October 2015

Jean Manco - Speaker Profile

Title of Presentation - Who are the Celts?

So what will you be addressing?

This is a controversial topic, since it has become fashionable to deny that anyone in Britain or Ireland was ever a Celt. Indeed the extreme version of Celtoscepticism aims to blot the Celts from history altogether. In essense this is an argument about ethnonyms employed in Classical sources. I aim to show that these need a more sophisticated interpretation, and to be combined with evidence from archaeology, population genetics and linguistics. Such a multi-disciplinary approach can shed light on the development and migrations of the peoples that I am happy to call Celts. 

What is your background?

What is a building historian doing delving into the days before buildings or history? Incurable curiosity is my only excuse. Though I have been interested in the human journey all my life, there has been little time to pursue this passion into the far past. Over the last quarter-century I have been too busy researching buildings and settlements from Saxon to modern, resulting in many reports and publications. Happily a convalescence coincided with an exciting time for lovers of prehistory, which I would have been sorry to miss. The winds of change are blowing through our vistas of the past. One source is the whirlwind of activity by population geneticists. New studies appear constantly. Most enlightening are those pushing hard at the boundaries of the possible in retrieving DNA from ancient bones and teeth. Meanwhile a paradigm change is spreading through archaeology. The idea of migration in prehistory, so long out of favour, has come bouncing back.

Since it helps me to distill what I have learned if I pull it into a narrative, a collection of articles found themselves being written on the fly and posted onto my website. The advantage of putting material online is that others can comment on it. Then it can easily be revised and updated. All my writing specifically for the Internet is aimed at the general reader. Yet much of this material is so new that it demands references. The end result was a strange hybrid of popular and scholarly writing. When readers pressed for a printed version, the hybrid was transferred into book form as Ancestral Journeys (2013), leaving online my collation of ancient DNA results. In autumn 2015 Thames & Hudson published a revised reversion of Ancestral Journeys in paperback and a new book Blood of the Celts

What DNA tests will be discussed?

Y-DNA, autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA

Where can people get more information about the topic?

Jean's books (including eBook versions) are available from online booksellers such as Amazon
Jean's website has a wealth of information about human migration into Europe - 

Some of Jean's academic papers are available at

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Maine Irish Heritage Centre - Speaker Profiles

A chat with the Team from the Maine Irish Heritage Centre

Deborah Sullivan Gellerson is a Board Member of the Maine Irish Heritage Center, a genealogist from Portland, Maine, an Irish citizen via her mom, and an organizer and volunteer for many local organizations.

Margaret Feeney LaCombe is a genealogist who has been researching her own family roots and the Irish of Maine for over 15 years, and started the Center’s DNA project along with Maureen Coyne Norris, and created and maintains the Center’s genealogy database with help from the Center’s other genealogists like Deb Gellerson, author Matthew Barker, Krista Heatley Ozyazgan, Maureen Coyne Norris and Patricia McBride Flood.

Maurice: So what will you be talking about?

MIHC: The Maine Gaeltacht Autosomal DNA Project. Our presentation will give an overview of the Maine Irish Heritage Center and explain how to run a successful autosomal DNA project (as opposed to a Y-DNA project) using the DNA project at the Center as an example.

The MIHC has been using Family Finder tests to successfully reconnect broken family links due to immigration, and actively tests people in Ireland as well as in the United States but this model can work for any population.

Maurice: Personally, I think your project is really important for a variety of reasons. It will be the first autosomal DNA project ever to be presented at Genetic Genealogy Ireland; it focuses on the West of Ireland which is an area that has never been properly addressed at the conference; and your project may encourage others to set up similar projects, not just in Ireland but anywhere in the world - yours may be the template that everyone else hopes to emulate! But let's start at the beginning. Can you say a little bit about the MIHC

MIHC: The Maine Irish Heritage Center (MIHC) is a non profit heritage center in Portland, Maine. Housed in the former St Dominic's Roman Catholic Church which was built by the Irish for the community’s Catholics.

Maurice: And what is the Maine Gaeltacht Project all about? what are its aims and objectives? 

MIHC: The project is about connecting the diaspora with the native Irish still living in Ireland, with a focus on County Galway, and, more specifically, in Connemara. It hopes to help people discover common heritage that has been lost due to time and emigration. Portland, Maine had high immigration from County Galway, especially from the Connemara region.

Maurice: How did it all start? 

MIHC: Very simply really. We had a robust genealogy program and added DNA testing.

Maurice: What data do you collect? Y-DNA? atDNA? mtDNA? documentary data? 

MIHC: We are primarily an autosomal DNA focused project, but we encourage YDNA and mtDNA testing too. But the core of the project is the MIHC genealogy database which contains about 130,000 individuals. We request our project members to submit a brief pedigree upon joining our study. The purpose of collecting pedigrees is to see if we can connect them to other families already in the database. Also, in the event they are not accessible, we can compare data with people who inquire about matching.

Maurice: How does the project actually work? 

MIHC: We have so much fun with this project. We started off with a very large genealogy database of Portland Irish families. Then we started autosomal DNA testing. We also encourage people to test their YDNA. Trust plays a very important part. Building trust is important because most project members are people we know in our community. We also personalize the service we offer - we sit with them to show prospects what the testing involves, what results look like. We assist with testing (swabbing) and help go over results when they come in. We offer workshops about using DNA for genealogy as well as teach them how to get around on their accounts, set up accounts, use various features of the accounts. We also can help with DNA transfers from other companies.

Maurice: How do you recruit project members? are people targeted? via Facebook, for example? 

MIHC: Most of our testers are walk-ins at the MIHC who have heard about the project and wish to join. But we also do recruitment of targeted testees in Connemara and the U.S., particularly people who live in or have ancestry from specific townlands or islands, and people of certain surnames that have a long history of being in a specific area. We have also established collaborations with people and heritage centers, such as in Carna and Spiddal. We haven’t "recruited” on social networking sites but we do tell people of Galway heritage they are welcome to join our project. We have tested people everywhere - in their homes, in nursing homes, and even out in the fields!

Maurice: How do you analyse and interpret the data? 

MIHC: We find that we don’t require an advanced level of genetic genealogy skill to maintain our project. This is because we have the genealogy database and a team of researchers who know the history of the people and areas of interest very well. With the genealogy database, it’s been fairly easy to figure out closer genetic relationships (most within 3-4 generations, but some have been as far out as 5-6 generations). 

We can sometimes even infer where someone’s people lived (townland) based on the frequency of ancestral surnames among their matches. For instance, it is easy to tell Maureen’s people are from in or near Carna versus Margaret’s maternal people who are from Spiddal based on the ancestral surnames of those whom they match. 

We corroborate some matches found using autosomal DNA, by testing Y-DNA and mtDNA. 

If testers want deeper genetic analysis, we encourage them to read blogs, watch learning videos, and reach out to the ‘experts.’ 

Maurice: How do you encourage collaboration and net-working? 

MIHC: Many of our project members are local to Portland Maine or local to Connemara, such as Carna, so a couple of things are already going on. People see each other at these centers, and meet us and each other in social gatherings we host when we go to Ireland, and they can compare and discuss things in person. The can also collaborate by phone, email, Skype, or social networking sites. 

The addition of the myGroups feature to the FTDNA Group Projects has been great. In this way members, who choose to, can have online collaboration within the project. It’s like a social networking side of the DNA testing. Our myGroups activity feed is set to “group members only” as we want all our project members to feel comfortable posting and sharing information.

There’s also a Galway Genealogy Facebook group, so some testers belong to that group and the project is mentioned - they can exchange information that way too.

Maurice: How do you go about collecting further documentary data? 

MIHC: We only require basic pedigrees. We get that information added to the database and then cross check/verify accuracy with available records, such as on Ancestry, FamilySearch or with records in Ireland. Most times, we already have ample documentation already in our database for the Connemara folks, and we have Irish testees with super local and family history knowledge and who will visit neighbors to gather more information.

Maurice: What are the particular challenges and obstacles to the project? 

MIHC: Getting people to submit their pedigrees! One way we are overcoming this is requiring a brief pedigree with a join request. Getting people to interact with each other instead of coming to us is also a challenge. No one knows his or her ancestry better than the person themself!

Maurice: What particular successes have you had?

MIHC: We’ve had many successes and will highlight a few in our presentation. We have also solved a few NPE* mysteries.

Maurice: What new possibilities has this project opened up for you? for the local communities? 

MIHC: We realized almost immediately the potential this project had because of the resources that we already had in place, and that have subsequently come together to make it so successful. We believe we are a model for communities in Ireland and their diaspora communities to work together. We are reconnecting broken links between families in Ireland and their immigrant cousins in America.
Maurice: What are the next steps? what are your hopes and plans for the future? 

MIHC: Getting more Y testers. Continue to keep doing what we are doing. Fine tuning. And more testing by townland, to create a DNA profile for each townland.

Maurice: Well thanks for talking to us. Good luck with the project and I hope you enjoy your visit to Ireland.

MIHC: I'm sure we will!

Maurice Gleeson
4th Oct 2015

* NPE, Non-Paternity Event (e.g. adoption, illegitimacy, etc)