Friday, 12 August 2016

The final DNA Lecture Schedule for GGI2016

We have a great line-up of speakers for GGI2016, which once again is kindly sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.  Below is the final schedule. 

This is the fourth year of Genetic Genealogy Ireland. We have 21 speakers and 21 presentations, making this the joint largest genetic genealogy conference in the world (along with WDYTYA in the UK).

This year's theme is: 
Remembering 100 Years Ago
And this theme is very much in line with all the 1916 / 2016 activities that have been going on in Ireland all year to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising and the continued Irish involvement in World War One. We are now in a decade of centenaries in Ireland, starting with the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and culminating with the emergence of modern Ireland as a Free State in 1922.

Several of the presentations speak directly to the theme. Jens Carlsson from University College Dublin will be talking about the amazing journey he took in helping to identify the remains of Thomas Kent, one of the 1916 rebels who was executed and buried in Cork Prison. Jens will discuss how the techniques he used have revolutionised the field of genetic archeology. Maurice Gleeson will discuss recent cases of how DNA can be used to help in the identification of soldiers who were killed in World War One and whose remains continue to be found on a regular basis in northern France. Many Irish names figure among those that have been identified.

We have a range of talks for beginners (from seasoned professionals Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan, and Michelle Leonard) as well as talks focussing on how to interpret your DNA results and use them to greatest effect (Diahan Southard, Jennifer Zinck, John Cleary, Debbie Kennett). There is a special focus this year on autosomal DNA test results with several tantalising case studies from Paddy Waldron and Diahan Southard (the latter relating to an adoption mystery).

We also have the pleasure of welcoming a host of international speakers. Peter Sjoland from Sweden will be exploring the genetic links between Ireland and Scandinavia. Peter runs the Swedish DNA Project which has over 4000 members and so is one of the largest geographic DNA projects in FamilyTreeDNA's database. Dennis Wright and Dennis O'Brien are coming all the way from Australia and will be discussing the DNA of the Dál gCais, one of Ireland's most influential dynasties. This in turn gave rise to many of today's Irish clans, including the O'Brien's, whose famous ancestors included Brian Boru, High King of Ireland up to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Keeping with the theme of the old Gaelic Clans, Maurice Gleeson will be discussing the trials & tribulations of trying to tie in Surname Project DNA results to what is written in the Ancient Irish Genealogies.

There is also an increased focus this year on Y-DNA SNP markers and what the "SNP Tsunami" of recent years is finally beginning to reveal. Robert Casey & John Cleary will be tackling this topic and discussing the promise this area holds for the future of surname studies, human migration studies, and population genetics. 

There are two presentations on "Ancient DNA" that will draw a particularly large crowd. Professor Dan Bradley hinted last year that there would be new developments in this field of particular interest to Ireland and in December last year a paper was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which reported on his team's genetic analysis of four ancient Irish humans dating back as far as 5200 years ago. Dan will be talking about these recent findings and perhaps giving us a glimpse of what we might expect in the next few years as more ancient Irish remains are analysed.

Complementing this presentation will be a dual presentation on the fascinating Barrymore Project. Jim Barry is the first person to undertake a private ancient DNA project in Ireland. His quest to identify the ancient remains of the Earls of Barrymore is a fascinating tale of challenges and discoveries. Jim will be sharing this presentation with René Gapert, a forensic anthropologist, who supervised the recovery of human remains discovered in the Barrymore mausoleum. This project will pave the way for similar "citizen science" projects in Ireland and elsewhere, and may become the template for such future research.

Another tag team of presenters is Ann Marie Coghlan and Maggie Lyttle, both of whom are heavily involved in the running of Family History Societies, Ann Marie in Cork and Maggie in Ballymena. Both of them have introduced DNA testing to their respective societies and here they will tell us how it made a difference.

Last but not least, Ed Gilbert will give us an update on the important and ever more interesting Irish DNA Atlas project. As more and more results come through, the mysterious contours of the genetic landscape of Ireland are beginning to emerge and paint a picture of how different historical migrations have left their indelible genetic marks.

Looking forward to seeing you all at GGI2016.

The DNA Lectures at GGI2016
(click to enlarge)

Maurice Gleeson
August 2016

Monday, 8 August 2016

Diahan Southard - Speaker Profile


A microbiology graduate, Diahan Southard has spent 15 years in the genetic genealogy industry. In her current position as Your DNA Guide, she provides personalized, interactive experiences to assist individuals and families in interpreting their genetic results in the context of their genealogical information. 

She is also the author of DNA Quick Guides, producer of a video tutorial series, as well as a featured author for Family Tree Magazine and regular contributor to Your Genealogy Today.

What do you do as a Day Job? 

This is it!

What do you do as a Night Job? 

I am a mom.

How did you get into genealogy?

Can I just say divine providence? My high school English teacher advised all of us seniors to get involved in research as soon as we started college. So, I did. I walked into the Microbiology department at Brigham Young University and asked to see a list of research interests of the professors in the department. After a boring list including bacteria and viruses I saw “Arceogenetics” and I was hooked. I started immediately working for Dr. Scott Woodward on using DNA to investigate the origins of some ancient Egyptian burials. That project turned into the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, the first genetic genealogy database effort.

I worked for SMGF and its sister companies, including Relative Genetics and GeneTree until SMGF was sold to With some, okay with A LOT of encouragement from friends and colleagues I spent about a year working with Ugo Perego as Your Genetic Genealogy Consultant, and then went out on my own as Your DNA Guide, where I now happily reside.

Tell us about your involvement with genetic genealogy

As mentioned above, I have been in genetic genealogy since it has been an industry. I have done it all, from the actual bench lab work, to the analysis, to the marketing, to the training of CEOs and CFOs who didn’t even know what DNA was.

I started lecturing and gathering blood samples for SMGF when I was still in college, traveling to wherever they would take me, and lugging home coolers full of blood, and folders full of pedigree charts. My passion is definitely teaching. At first I did it in the form of what we called VIP reports that we would create for influential people that we were trying to convince of the merits of the SMGF database effort. I created YDNA family reports for the early adopters of that technology – and I think those are still my favourite cases.

But I slowly learned that writing everything out on paper and handing it over still left people with questions. I am very much enjoying the one-on-one interactions that now form my consultation sessions, where we are live in real time and I can assess the level of need and understanding and adjust our conversation accordingly.

I still never tire of those “aha!” moments. It reassures me that anyone can learn this stuff!

What will you be talking about?

I will be covering two topics at this year's conference:

Five Tips To Make Sense of Your DNA Testing
At some point in the recent past you were convinced that DNA testing could help with your genealogy, so you went through with the testing. But now you are faced with confusing results and a long list of matches. This lecture will refresh your biology knowledge, create the foundation of genetic genealogy knowledge, and most importantly, cover basic to intermediate strategies on how to turn your list of cousins into ancestral discoveries. You will leave with a solid understand on how to start actually using your autosomal DNA testing in your genealogy. DNA is the universal language, and learning how to navigate the website where you are tested can help anyone make breakthroughs in their family history.

The Marriage of Genetics and Genealogy: A Case Study
My mom was adopted from an unwed mother’s home in Seattle, Washington. Come learn how we were able to use a combination of genetic and genealogical tools to connect with our biological family, and how it has affected our lives. Leave with concrete ideas on how to apply these same methods to your own personal genetic genealogy endeavors, weather you are looking for your father, or your 3X Great Grandfather.

What questions will you address during your presentation?
  • What is the first thing I should do upon receiving my autosomal DNA test results?
  • What do the relationship ranges of 2nd-4th cousin really mean?
  • How can I navigate the company’s website?
  • Which are my best matches?

What DNA tests will be discussed – Y, mitochondrial, autosomal DNA?



Thursday, 4 August 2016

A brief overview of the Easter Rising 1916

If you are coming to Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2016, there will be many talks and tours around the centenary of the Easter Rising.

Irish politics and Irish history are not the easiest to understand at the best of times, but John D. Ruddy has put together a great little video that gives you the key facts about the Easter Rising in a very digestible fashion.

He has also created an excellent video on World War One, which serves as the backdrop to the Easter Rising.

Thanks John!

Maurice Gleeson
August 2016

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:

Regular News Updates On Tracing Your Irish Roots
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Ireland's Only Dedicated Genealogy and Family/Social History Event Returns to the RDS for the 7th Year!

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