The Difficulty of Irish Research Summed Up in One Chart

There are so many great resources for Irish genealogy online. If you look around, you’ll probably come across the name Dr. Maurice Gleeson.

Dr. Gleeson is a genetic genealogist who blogs at DNA and Family Tree Research. He operates several surname-based DNA projects, including for the family names O’Malley & Ryan. He’s also done several excellent presentations on Irish genealogy & the use of DNA to make breakthroughs.

This chart, from his presentation “Challenges with Irish autosomal DNA genealogical research,” says it all:

Simply put, anyone who does Irish genealogy is bound to hit a brick wall in that 1750-1800 range. Anyone. We all hit that wall. And for some branches, that wall is around 1800-1835.

Breaking down the chart piece by piece – most of us who test are born in the mid to late 1900s, somewhere toward the bottom of this pedigree.

If our parents or grandparents were born in Ireland, they likely fall in that orange “BMD” territory (1870-1930), when we should be able to find civil records documenting their birth (or maybe their marriage). The 1901 & 1911 census could also be useful for this time period.

But before that, and for most of us, Irish research gets much more difficult. You have the Griffith’s Valuation (1847-1864), and you have church records that may go back as far as about 1800, but usually begin a few decades after that. Before that? Just about everyone’s brick wall.

Anyone who has done Irish genealogy research – we all know it. That’s why it’s so important to collaborate with other researchers and use autosomal DNA to find living kin, and piece our families together, bit by bit.

Dr. Gleeson notes in his presentation that most matches are distant, further back than predicted, and the lack of records makes it almost impossible to figure them out. But he also gives reason for optimism:

  • Focus on closest matches first
  • Y-DNA surname projects may be a useful anchor

On Y-DNA, we often think about our own surname. But it’s only a small fraction of our total DNA, and a fraction of our full family tree. Whenever possible, you should try to identify Y-DNA male candidates for other surnames in your tree, because they could take that branch back a few more centuries – in terms of who else you match, where you match them, etc. Coupled with old Irish documents, rare records, and the ever-growing field of clan research, there is hope yet.

There are other reasons to be hopeful:

Watch Dr. Gleeson’s full presentation that includes the “Brick Walls” chart:

Want to show off your Irish pride? Have a look at these:

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