Personal DNA Success Story

People who know me well, know that I have been searching for my father’s ancestry since 1997. It has been a long road, full of ups and downs, dead ends and eventually success.

It all started after my mother died in 1995. My Dad and I had some heart to heart chats  during our grieving for my mother, his wife. My Dad had been fostered as a baby in Cork City, Ireland in 1926.  My father had never been willing to talk about his biological family. It had been a mystery to me.  In 1995 I learned that my Dad had no idea who his biological family were and that he had always wanted to find out and ultimately discover who he was.

He was brought up by a kind family at Penrose Square (now demolished), in the heart of Cork City. My Dad was Gerard on his baptismal certificate, obtained from Ss Peter and Paul Church, and his mother was named as Ellen Murphy. No father’s name was provided at the baptism and the sponsors were members of the foster family. The church register, which I have subsequently seen, states that he was “illegitimate”. The other document which my father had, was his birth certificate, on which his father’s name was given as Daniel Shea and his mother’s name was given as Ellen Murphy. The civil birth certificate implied that Daniel and Ellen were a married couple when my father was born and that my father had in fact been born at Penrose Square, Cork City. My father assumed that the information on this certificate was made up by the foster family to cover up the truth of my father’s birth. The fact that my Dad’s birth was registered three months after his birth indicates that there may have been a delay in deciding what to put on the certificate. My father always said that his foster family would “lie to the state but they wouldn’t lie to the church”. By this, he meant that the foster family were very “religious” (Roman Catholic) and fearful of the Catholic Church but they didn’t feel the same way about the state! My father did believe that his mother was actually named Ellen Murphy as this name appeared on his baptismal record and his civil birth record.

While my father was a young child, he was called Gerard Ryan, Ryan being the surname of the foster family. It was only when he went to secondary school, when he had to produce his birth certificate, that he discovered his father’s surname, was Shea. So, he became Gerard Shea and later Gerard O’Shea as, like most Sheas, he added the  O’ to Shea. My father told me, that as an adult, he tried to find out who he was but he had no way of doing so. The foster family were tight lipped and would not willingly reveal anything about my father’s biological family. My father did not know anything about his parents or ancestry.

My father wasn’t convinced that he was really an O’Shea on his paternal line…maybe the name was a complete fabrication? My father did have some clues which he had apparently gleaned from his foster family. He had a notion that his father was some kind of “gentleman farmer” and that his mother’s family had longevity in their family. He had been told at an early age, when he asked about his parents that “they were dead”. Another story my Dad had was that his father had joined the Australian navy.

Two years after my mother died in 1995, my father became ill and while he was recuperating after surgery, in a nursing home in Cork, I spent some time in the Cork City library trying to find answers to his question “who am I”. In 1997, with very few (if any) online genealogical records, I perused the local Co. Cork directories looking for something which might fit what my father knew. In one of the directories, I found a Luke Shea in South Cork in the 1800s, who was a “gentleman farmer” and I thought I had hit the jackpot. I relayed this information to my Dad when I visited him in the nursing home, that day. We were excited. It was the first lead I had found. Over the next several years we explored this lead, making contact with descendants of this Shea family, who lived outside Ireland. However, we could not find a Daniel Shea in this Shea/O’Shea family. But, then again, how did we know if my father’s father was really Daniel Shea. We compared height and build, hair and eye colour and other genetic traits between my Dad and a potential half sibling. We studied photographs of family members looking for similarities.

My Dad and I enjoyed some “field trips” together searching for more information to help with our research. On one such outing, I can remember that we got wet in the rain and ended up in a pub, next to an open fire, warming up over hot coffee. My Dad, who was retired also made trips on his own. He went to the National Library in Dublin and other repositories. In his retirement, he found a new interest. We made trips to the Registry of Deeds, National Archives and other reposiories building up knowledge of the Shea family which we thought was ours.

My Dad and a potential half brother did get to meet up in a small town in the west coast of the USA in 2000. At this stage, my father was convinced he had found his family and we continued to spend time delving into their family history, which actually was very interesting, given that they had been big landowners in the 1800s. To cut a long story short, my father and his potential half brother did a sibship test in 2002 but the results were vague and we discarded them as unreliable.

I became aware of y-chromosome DNA testing and in 2003, my Dad did a yDNA test with Family Tree DNA. At that time it was a 25 marker test. Only one other O’Shea, who lived in the USA, had tested with Family Tree DNA at that time, and he and my Dad did not match each other. Shortly afterwards, by co-incidence, an O’Shea man from Cork tested and matched my Dad 25 markers out of 25. We didn’t understand what this match meant in terms of relatedness. This O’Shea man who matched my Dad had an extensive family tree which did not seem to have any connection with the other O’Shea family we had found and still believed was “ours”.

Over time, another O’Shea from Cork did a yDNA test and he also matched my Dad and the other O’Shea. By late 2004,  all three had upgraded to 37 markers and there were a few mutational differences in their respective results. Yet, they were close matches. Over time the O’Shea yDNA Project evolved and there is a subgroup of O’Sheas in it, with strong affiliations with NW Co. Cork, which includes my Dad.

My father died unexpectedly in December 2004. I was devastated but felt my Dad had known that he was an O’Shea before he died. yDNA had confirmed that his paternal line was Shea/O’Shea. It took me a long time to get a member of the O’Shea family, to whom we had originally thought we were related (but had no solid evidence to back this up), to do a yDNA test. This lack of definitive evidence had niggled at me but when my Dad was alive I couldn’t face up to it as my Dad thought he had found his family. When the yDNA test results came back for this O’Shea, I was shocked to learn that there was no yDNA match. My Dad and the descendant of the 19th century landowning O’Shea family were NOT related on the paternal line. I faced the cold reality and was glad my Dad had not had to cope with the enormous disappointment that we had failed to find his close O’Shea family. On the positive side, I did know he was an O’Shea and that he was part of the NW Cork O’Shea group in our O’Shea yDNA Project.

Over time, I kept trying to establish a paper trail relating to my father’s fostering.  I  looked for information in the Board of Health and Public Assistance  records, held in the Cork Archives. These records can contain information about children who were “boarded out” by the Health Board. Unfortunately, the volume relating to 1926 (the year of my father’s birth) was not extant. The Cork Archives suggested that Department  of Local Government and Public Health reports on inspection of foster homes might be in the National Archives. I contacted the National Archives but was told that there were a lot of records which might include such material but they were not accessible as they weren’t catalogued.

In my search, I also contacted Barnardos but they said that they only deal with children who grew up in institutions. They directed me to the Cork Fostering and Adoption Service section of the HSE but they could find nothing useful for me in their “Boarded Out records”. I also contacted the Records Management Unit of the Department of Health and Children, Hawkins House, Dublin. They were able to check their Access of Institutional and Related Records (AIRR) database which are an index of all children in the care of the state, including institutions and boarded out children (from the 1930s to the 1980s).

I also gathered all the birth, marriage and death data I could, on men with the name of Daniel Shea/O’Shea who lived in the area from which my Dad’s yDNA matches originated. yDNA tests were upgraded to 67 markers and still it was impossible to tell which particular family was closest to mine. yDNA eliminated many O’Shea lines but so many NW Co. Cork  O’Sheas were close matches to my Dad at 67 markers. What about all the other O’Sheas who hadn’t tested! I worked on paper trails, with much help from the two O’Sheas who matched my Dad originally back in 2003. I kept gathering information on potential Daniel O’Sheas hoping that my father’s father was a Daniel as well as a NW Cork O’Shea. My task seemed endless.

With the advent of Family Finder, an autosomal DNA test which is able to identify matches an all ancestral lines up to about 5th cousin, I decided to try this test. As my Dad’s DNA sample was limited, I did the test myself in 2012 and set about investigating my matches, in the hope of finding matches on my grandfather’s (or grandmother’s) ancestral lines. I had a problem deciding which side of my ancestry the matches were on. My mother was Welsh so that helped a bit in separating out the matches. However, many people whom I matched randomly had ancestry which included Ireland and Wales or didn’t know where in Ireland their ancestors came from. Also, these “random” matches were not close matches and I had no real paper trail to work with for my paternal side of the family. I then started to recruit people who had matched my Dad on yDNA to do autosomal DNA testing.  Low and behold, in 2013, I struck the jackpot. I got a “first to second” cousin match with one of them.

In 2013, I also managed to get my Dad’s remaining DNA sample used for Family Finder with the help of Bennett Greenspan, CEO of Family Tree DNA. This, combined with other targetted autosomal DNA tests enabled me to conclude who my father’s father was. Finally, I had closure on this side of my research. I now knew my Dad’s paternal line and I have a family tree for “my” O’Sheas. I am just sorry that my Dad did not live long enough to enjoy it.

Now my search is on for my father’s mother. This is proving difficult but armed with my DNA tools, I am confident that I will succeed.

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Birth and Baptismal Records for Co. Cork

I was recently asked if it was easy to locate a person in Co. Cork, if you had their exact date of birth in 1830. My answer was: “No, it is not easy.”

Why did I say this? Well, civil records started generally in Ireland in 1864 so the church records are all you have to go on up to then except for Church of Ireland marriages which were registered from 1845 onwards. familysearch.org (Mormon site) has the Irish Civil Records Index from 1864 to 1958. Update!!! www.irishgenealy.ie has an enhanced civil records index. [updated 4th July 2014]

Church Records for Cork are available on https://rootsireland.ie/corknortheast [paying site] and www.irishgenealogy.ie [free].

The former link is to the Mallow Heritage Centre (online) which has the Roman Catholic church records for the Diocese of Cloyne. It also has Church of Ireland records. You have to pay for each record but you can search for free, once you register. This site lists the parishes for which it has records. Of course, some parish records didn’t start till after 1830!

The second link is to irishgenealogy.ie and it has free church records for South, South West Cork and North West Cork (where the Catholic Parish is actually in the Diocese of Kerry). Availability of records is listed on the site…note it is not a complete set of records. It does have records for some of Cork City too but some areas of the city are excluded. That is another story (Sin scéal eile)!

So, searching for a person by date of birth in 1830, is not straightforward. You might be lucky but you would need to know the parents’ names to know if you have found the right person or not. Knowing the location helps but often people who are researching do not know this. Using land records such as the Tithe Applotments (1820s-1830s) and Griffith’s Valuation (1850s) can help locate the surname or first name-surname combinations. Later, the 1901 and 1911 Censuses can help.

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DNA, Paper Trails and Family Story

In the past ten years, I have spent a lot of time dealing with DNA results relating to Family History research. I have also done a lot of traditional genealogy. I have tended to favour DNA or, as it is now called “Genetic Genealogy” as it can help to answer questions which the traditional paper trail research cannot answer. Traditional genealogical research can be restricted by absence of records or lack of access to existing records or just not knowing where to start. So, we turn to DNA to break down “brick walls” in our research.

DNA (Genetic Genealogy) can give information on paternal lines, maternal lines and recent family relationships. I have found it to be a wonderful asset in my research and it is offering more and more as the science and technology evolves. However, it often relies on a genealogical paper trail to interpret and make sense of the results.

Even the paper trail is not the full story!

I was reminded of this last night when I looked at the census records for my great great great grandfather Lewis Jenkins. I knew that he was born near Swansea in 1796 and that his grandson, also called Lewis Jenkins had a provisions store in a small mining village in the Rhondda Valley in Wales. However, I had not paid much attention to the fact that Lewis Jenkins, my great great great grandfather had been a collier in the mining village. His wife had died after a few years of marriage. His son William was a coalminer in the 1851 Census, a “Coalminer and Occupier of 4 acres” in the 1861 Census. He was a labourer in 1871 but by 1881, he was a “Farmer”. William died, aged 67 in 1894, of “chronic bronchitis and emphysemia and exhaustion”. William’s son, Lewis was a Grocer’s Assistant in the 1881 Census and married the Grocer’s daughter in 1888. In the 1891 Census, Lewis was in charge of the Grocer’s Shop.

Jenkins shop

The real story is the day to day life of the family, of which the paper trail is a mere chronological listing. DNA provides a glimpse at the molecular level as an aid to filling in gaps. Photos, diaries, family lore etc. help to flesh out the clinical analysis. Let us not forget this.

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Successful Genetic Genealogy Ireland Conference 2013

The Genetic Genealogy Ireland Conference 2013(GGI Conference 2013), held in Dublin, was very successful. Here is a link to videos of the excellent lectures, which were given by the presenters over the three days.

Family Tree DNA had a stall at the conference and ISOGG volunteers worked hard dealing with enquiries. I hope to see more DNA testing in Ireland as a result of the highlighting the benefits of genetic genealogy in family history.

Family Tree DNA stall at GGI Conference

Family Tree DNA at GGI 2013

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Genetic Genealogy Ireland Conference in October 2013!

In October 2013, Ireland will have its first Genetic Genealogy Conference. This will take place as part of the Back to Our Past event in the RDS, Dublin, from the 18th to the 20th October 2013. The conference is a 3-day series of DNA lectures kindly sponsored by Family Tree DNA and organised by the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG).

Topics will include:

Using DNA to break down Brick Walls in your own family tree research
The 3 main DNA tests – which one is best for you?
The DNA signatures of specific Irish surnames
What does DNA tell us about the Irish Clans?
How DNA can help pinpoint your ancestral Irish homeland
Using DNA to connect adoptees with their biological families
What DNA reveals about the migration of peoples into and out of Ireland

Here is a link giving further information:
Geneatic Genealogy Conference 2013

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Link to Information on Sales at Family Tree DNA (June 2013)

Here is a link to a blog which summarises the latest sale prices from Family Tree DNA:

CeCe Moore’s blog

There is so much going on in genetic genealogy, it is difficult to keep up! There is now a new y-chromosome sequencing test. See Y-Chromosome Sequencing for details.

Here is a link to The Legal genealogist’s blog where she lists the top genetic genealogy blogs. [added 15th July 2013]

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Autosomal DNA testing – A Few Thoughts from Ireland

Several companies do autosomal DNA testing for genealogical purposes including Family Tree DNA, Ancestry.com23andMe and the Genographic Project Geno 2.0. ISOGG has a very useful comparison chart put together by Tim Janzen: ISOGG Autosomal DNA Comparison Chart.

I have used Family Tree DNA for my family, a friend has tested with 23andMe and a relative in the USA has tested with Ancestry.com. So, I am most familiar with Family Tree DNA.

As a person living in Ireland some issues come to mind:

Ancestry.com does not send kits outside of the USA. 23andMe attracts a lot of people who test for medical reasons as this is built into their testing. Also, although the 23andMe Relative Finder kits are relatively less expensive than others, there is an incredibly large postage applied to mailing kits to Europe. Family Tree DNA kits are more expensive but postage is less. So, living in Ireland, I can’t get an Ancestry.com kit. A kit from 23andMe is $99+$80 (approx) giving an approx total of $179 (approx). Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder autosomal DNA test is$99+$6 postage (for outside the USA). The Geno 2.0 kit which is available worldwide is $199.95 plus a shipping charge of $20 (as per the chart on ISOGG). Note prices change over time and should be checked.

GEDmatch.com is a voluntarily run website where you can upload autosomal DNA results from Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and also Ancestry.com. This website is as vital to autosomal DNA testing as Ysearch is to yDNA testing. So, Gedmatch enables people from many of the various testing companies to compare results with others who have also uploaded their autosomal results to it.

Some websites and blogs which would be of benefit in the decision about which test and which company to use are:

Testing Advisor
DNA Explained

It is a minefield for the unitiated but price and availability are two critical factors for those of us who are not in the USA!

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