Genetic genealogy is exciting for many reasons, but the applications for Irish genealogy has to be toward the top of the list, especially for traditional researchers who have stared at brick walls for decades. Those walls are coming down, and we’re building bridges across oceans, literally, from Australia to North America, learning the identity of cousins we would have had no other way to find.
Irish research is difficult. Whether it be the displacement of many of our ancestors and their families due to the Great Famine, the Great Fire that destroyed many records, or Ireland’s history in general, there are many reasons for that. Actual records can only take us back so far, and some of us are plagued by a common Irish name and only “Ireland” as their place of origin, making it difficult to go any further.
While we may still be “stuck” at Irish ancestors born in the early 1800s or late 1700s in our trees, unable to confirm their parents due to a lack of records, with DNA, it is as if we stepped into a time machine and warped back to their day. We are finding their contemporaries, their neighbors – their aunts, their uncles, their brothers, their sisters, their 1st cousins, their 2nd cousins, and beyond – their extended family – through those relative’s descendants, our DNA matches.
While we may only share a segment or two with these distant relatives, the discovery is still remarkable. It allows us to look at the traditional records that do exist with a new light, taking a closer look at godparents, witnesses, and other family groupings. Even if the records don’t go back far enough to place them exactly where they belong in our family tree, it’s comforting to find kin who share our Irish roots. And with careful research, it’s a great way to confirm a parish of origin for our family or a county of origin, and determine where our ancestors’ kin lived.
To maximize discoveries, the modern-day researcher needs to be extremely organized and methodical. Segment by segment, family by family, geographic location by geographic location. Every piece of Irish DNA – and the matches who share that same DNA – can offer clues about our family origins. Our personal DNA is an important piece of the puzzle, but so is the DNA of our older relatives if they are willing to test, as they have more of our immigrant ancestors in their blood than we do.
The more DNA you have to work with, the more discoveries you can make. New matches pop up all the time, fresh puzzle pieces to work with, part of the fun of genetic genealogy. And you never know when that groundbreaking new match will pop up from Ireland itself.