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Breaking a Brick Wall with DNA

   Before I launch into this new topic, I want to remind my readers, especially those of you who may have found this blog later in the year, that my focus this year has been Strategies for Researching your Irish Ancestors.  I began in January with an introduction to research, the principles of the Genealogical Proof Standard, and the process for creating a research plan.  I then moved on to defining the Administrative District in Ireland and how to find the place of origin for your Irish ancestor.  I’ve repeated many times throughout the year, that research in Ireland is all about time and place.  I then proceeded to move through the major resources for Irish research and their locations, both online and off. For the past few weeks I’ve discussed researching in Ireland.  You can go back to January (scroll down to the Archive in the sidebar and select January 2017) to follow the process.

   So what about DNA?  First let me say that I still don’t consider myself an expert on DNA…I’m on the journey and still learning.  I’m sure there are many readers who are much more advanced on this topic and if you are interested in sharing that expertise as it applies to your Irish research, or if you have a success story you’d like to share, please feel free to contact me about writing a guest blog.  

   I tested originally at 23&Me back in 2009, but mainly for health reasons.  I have always been very interested in health history and how genealogy can help provide information to family about health risks.  Although 23&Me provided genealogy information, I didn’t pay much attention to it.  There were lots of names, which I didn’t recognize and when I tried to contact the closest ones, most didn’t respond or if they did, like me they had tested for health reasons.  At all of the major conferences I would attend the lectures on DNA and leave more confused wondering why I would want to do this.  

Jack and Pat Moughty

   My research began when our daughter had an independent project for school and wanted to find out about the Moughty family.  It’s a very unusual name…there are only two families in the US.  On our first trip to Ireland in 1992, we met John “Jack” Moughty of County Longford. The shock for my husband, Brian, was how much Jack looked like his father, Bernard Moughty, who had been death for 12 years. (Jack is on the left and Bernard on the right.)  Through the years I attempted to make the connection between the families, but was unsuccessful in connecting them.  Here’s a chart created through traditional research.

The fact that I had been able to trace the family in County Longford back to the early 1800s was all about the time and place.  Roman Catholic baptismal records in this area went back to 1820. Also, the churches in Longford kept burial records, unusual for Roman Catholic churches and in some entries they gave the age of the deceased allowing me to estimate their birth year back into the 1700s.  So I was able to trace Brian back to Bernard born about 1814 and Jack back to Michael, born about 1816.  But like most Irish researchers, I hit my brick wall.  There were no records that would give me the parents of Bernard and Michael.  However, from the burial records I had some candidates.  

   It was at this point that I decided to try a DNA test.  Jack agreed, and so in 2014 I visited Jack in County Longford with a Y-DNA test in hand.  I also tested Brian.  The results showed that they had a common ancestor…no surprise, I could tell that from looking at them!  But how far back was the common ancestor?  

   The breakthrough for me on DNA was taking the Virtual Institute class on autosomal DNA with Blaine Bettinger. If you are struggling with the concepts of atDNA I strongly recommend this class! The lightbulb finally went off, and I realized that an atDNA test would give me the approximate relationship based on the amount of DNA Jack and Brian shared.  Since the Y-DNA test had been with FamilyTree DNA I was able to simply upgrade it to atDNA.  The results showed 53cM of shared DNA estimated at 3rd-5th cousins.  A check of the ISOGG* Average Shared DNA chart showed 53 cM as likely 3rd cousins or 2nd cousins twice removed.  If you’re not clear on cousin relationships, they also have a great “Cousinship Chart.” If the next missing generation is the common ancestor, then they would be 3rd cousins, once removed.  Because of the way DNA is passed down, there is a range of DNA for each relationship.  Blaine recently looked at this in the Shared cM Project and showed that 3rd Cousins once removed shared between 0-173 cM with the average being 48.  The likelihood therefore is that I am one generation away from the common ancestor.  Now what?   

   I’ll finish the story next week and show how Cluster Research provided a potential solution.

   Happy Hunting!    

*ISOGG - International Society of Genetic Genealogists - check out their WIKI.  This site contains an extensive amount of information on Genetic Genealogy.


Still looking for that locality in Ireland in order to continue your research?  My Quick Reference Guide on Preparing for Success in Irish Records Research will help you focus on the records here in the US that might provide the information.


© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017