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iCARA  irish caribbean ancestry - reconnecting through dna


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How DNA can help pinpoint your Ancestral Homeland

As humans spread out from Africa and gradually populated the globe, mutations occurred in their DNA (over thousands of years) and unique genetic signatures developed in the different groups who migrated to different parts of the globe. So even though all humans developed from a very similar genetic signature, different signatures evolved over time. In Ireland, most of the genetic signatures belong to Haplogropup R1b (about 80%) and I2b (about 15%), whereas in Africa, most of the genetic signatures belong to haplogroup A, B, and E1b. So, knowing your haplogroup will tell you a lot about where your Y-DNA ancestors (on your direct male line) may have come from.

In addition, simply by looking at the names of the people you match and where they (and their Most Distant Known Ancestors, MDKA) come from can give you a crude idea of where your ancestors on your direct male line may have come from. 

Localising your genetic homeland in Ireland

For people with likely Irish genetic signatures, Dr Tyrone Bowes has developed a methodology that allows people to trace your genetic homeland by analysing your DNA results and the names of your close matches, and by so doing attempting to pinpoint the location of your genetic homeland. A detailed description of the process involved and some practical examples can be found on his websites IrishOrigenes and GeneticHomeland.

Here's a short description of how it works. When you get your Y-DNA results back, you will have a list of matches. These matches are your genetic cousins and you share a common ancestor with them some time in the past - it may be 100 years, a 1000 years, or 10,000 years. If your Y-DNA came from Ireland, you may find that you match someone or several people who have the same Irish surname as yourself. You would probably share a common ancestor with these people within the last 1000 years because that is roughly when surnames first started being used in Ireland. However, you would also probably have a lot of matches with people with completely different surnames. You probably share a common ancestor with these people but BEFORE the time when surnames were introduced - in other words, more than 1000 years ago. But if you look closely at the names, you will recognise that a lot of them are Irish names also, just like yours. These would be more distant relatives, connected via a common ancestor going back more than 1000 years, who ended up living in the same area and whose descendants were therefore the neighbours of your distant ancestors who bear your surname.

So the steps involved in pinpointing your Irish genetic homeland include:

  1. check what haplogroup you are - is it one of the haplogroups commonly found in Ireland (such as  R1b, I2b1)?
  2. check the names of your matches - are many of them Irish surnames?
  3. check the locations of the MDKA's of your matches - do many of them trace their roots back to Ireland? (use the Ancestral Origins & Haplogroup Origins features in FTDNA to do this)
  4. use the automated service at www.genetichomeland.com  to localise where in Ireland your ancestors are most likely to have come from.
  5. join the specific surname project for your surname (if there is one) and any relevant Irish projects (such as the Ireland Y-DNA project, the Munster Irish project, or the various clan projects). You should also join the relevant project for your haplogroup.
  6. if you want to take it further, iCARA will help you get in contact with people from your likely ancestral area through the nationwide network of volunteers established by Ireland Reaching Out. We can then encourage local people to get tested to see if they match you. If they do, these are your cousins who stayed behind. 

Localising your genetic homeland in Africa

When it comes to pinpointing your African ancestral homeland, a somewhat different approach has to be taken. This is because there are more people of European descent and fewer people of African descent in the databases that are currently available. Hopefully this will change over time as more and more people with African ancestry are tested, and the next 10 years should see major advances in this direction.

At the moment, there are various companies that will test your DNA and compare your DNA results with those in their database. Different companies have different databases and it's a pity that they don't pool all this data together but for commercial reasons they don't. Some of these companies include AfricanAncestryAfricanDNA, and Roots for Real. Prices for the various tests they offer vary from company to company and you should consult the relevant websites to judge if any of these tests on offer are right for you. At this point in time, there is no concensus within the genetic genealogy community regarding whether one company is better than another.

Also, because of the Bantu Expansion and later the African Diaspora, it is difficult to say that one sub-group is definitely from one region or another, or belongs to one tribal group or another. However, by keeping up with the literature, one can certainly get an idea of what tribes have been tested and the frequency / probable origin for the different Haplogroup sub-clades. Many articles will have gradient / frequency diagrams that help provide you with a point of consideration for your direct male line origin. 

However, there is some good news. There are a few databases that are freely accessible to the public, where your DNA results can be uploaded and compared to those results already in the database. These include Y-search, YHRD, and the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF). In due course, other databases may become publicly accessible including those at the National Genographic project, the African-American Roots Project at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and the Roots into the Future project at 23andMe. 

So the steps involved in pinpointing your African genetic homeland include:

  1. check what haplogroup you are - is it one of the haplogroups commonly found in Africa (e.g. A, B, E1b1a)?
  2. check the names of your matches - are many of them African surnames?
  3. check the locations of the MDKA's of your matches - do many of them trace their roots back to Africa?
  4. you can use FTDNA's TiP calculator to rank the genetically closest matches (at 37 and 25 markers) - this may help further narrow down the possibilities for likely ancestral origin  
  5. upload your results to publicly accessible databases (Ysearch, YHRD, SMGF) and search for further genetic matches (iCARA can help with this)
  6. Join African projects on FTDNA such as the African DNA ProjectYou should also join the relevant project for your haplogroup.
  7. consider further DNA testing to help narrow down your search (iCARA can help advise on this)
  8. use the Academic Literature and have Google Alerts set for the general Haplogroup and its various Sub-groups. You don't have to understand the technical aspects but can be aware of cladograms, new SNPs, migratory patterns, etc. You can also search the ISOGG Y-Haplotree - many articles are linked to the SNPs and sub-groups.


What is DNA and how can it help?

How DNA can help pinpoint your Ancestral Homeland

How DNA can connect you with distant cousins

Joining the DNA Project

What to expect from your results

Sponsored Surnames

Seeking Sponsorship List

The DNA Results







Maurice Gleeson

June 2013

Copyright 2011-2013 (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~spearinAll Rights Reserved.  Creative Commons License
iCARA and the Spearin Surname Project at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~spearin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Information and data obtained from iCARA and the Spearin Surname Project must be attributed to the project as outlined in the Creative Commons License. Please notify administrator when using data for public or private research. 

Last update: June 2013

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