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But I Thought We Were Irish?

Red head with shamrocks painted on cheeks in leprechaun hat

DNA testing has become quite trendy over the last few years. A survey conducted by in February of last year showed that 21% of Americans say they’ve taken a DNA test. Why are so many people testing? It seems that most testers are interested in their ethnicity (where their family comes from), or trying to find out if they are related to somebody famous.

Have you noticed, like me, that there are a lot of empty trees and some complaining about how DNA tests are "inaccurate?" Why do people think that? I'd wager the reason for a lot of the supposed inaccuracy in DNA testing is that there is no accompanying genealogical research to go with those results.

I have been searching for the European ancestors of a family that pops up in South Carolina just after the American Revolution (born 1780). As anyone who has tried to research in SC will tell you, the records are limited. There was no state-wide recording of births, marriages, etc. until the 1910's, and very few censuses and none of those were for the entire state.

Ancestry sent me a DNA match alert for the oldest living member of this family, saying that a 1st or 2nd cousin had been found. How surprising and delightful! I opened up the matches info, and found an individual with 880 cM* of matching DNA.

Relationship Chart
Shared cM Project from &

1st Cousins share an average of 396 - 1397 cM (2nd cousins share less, come on, Ancestry!!). But you will notice that Great-Grandparents normally share 887 cMs. And that's who we have here, a Great-Grandparent and a Great-Grandchild. Had we not already done the work and done the genealogical research, we might have gone barking up the wrong Family Tree!

We have discussed in prior blogs that ethnicity results can vary from testing company to testing company, because of the sizes and sources of their databases. They sort out our DNA and compare it to everybody else's DNA that they already have to come up with our ethnicity.

Ancestry has the largest DNA database, but MyHeritage has more European test takers than Ancestry does. Both companies bundle some of the countries together for ethnicity purposes, but the bundles don't match. Below, there is a group called "Northwestern Europe" which for Ancestry includes Belgium, France, Germany, Isle of Man, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales.

Ethnicity chart and map of Europe from

This family believed that they were Irish. However, the DNA said they were 39% Scottish, 31% Northwestern European, and only 2% Irish. This was not the result they were expecting! Now, the genealogy research kicks back in, which includes World History, right? How is it that Scottish people would end up thinking they were Irish? We have King James I of England to thank for that.

In order to quell the rebellion in Ireland, Scots were sent to take over newly available (confiscated) land in Ulster in the very early 1600's in what is known as "The Ulster Plantation." King James populated the Irish county closest to England with loyal Protestants. This also gave him allies between him in England and the dreaded enemy, Spain. However, the transplanted Scots were not allowed to OWN the land, and they had to pay tithe to the Church of England, and not to the Scottish Presbyterian Church.

Coincidentally, the Jamestown Colony was being formed in America at this same time, and there soon began a migration of Scots-Irish to the new colonies over the rest of the 17th and into the 18th centuries. According to Lees-McRae College, "Before the American Revolution, more Scots-Irish emigrated to the continent than almost any other group, and it is estimated that at least 250,000 Scots-Irish lived in the American colonies by the 1770's."

Here is a fabulous map showing the migration patterns of the Scots-Irish and Revolutionary War battle sites of significance. This map is available for sale at

Map of Colonial America Scots Irish history
Scots-Irish Migration Routes & Revolution Sites

You may have noticed that there was a green line that leads to Philadelphia, Chester, and New Castle, Pennsylvania that reads "From Ulster 1715-1775." You know who else was anxious to leave England and come to America, and especially to William Penn's Pennsylvania? The Quakers! They broke with the Church of England in the 1600's and were facing persecution there.

This family's maternal line were amongst these Quaker Scots who first moved to Ireland for a time and then brought their very well documented ancestry to America with them. They moved from Pennsylvania to new settlements in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Eventually, four generations later, the two clans would be joined in Texas.

Irish claddagh crown heart hands in circle with shamrocks

So yes, they did COME from Ireland. And since they do have 2% Irish DNA, we know some native Irish people made the DNA contribution that has been passed down (probably through that Y chromosome), as the son's Irish ethnicity is only on his paternal side. But without doing the genealogy, the DNA ethnicity was "wrong" as far as the family lore was concerned.

As Beverly Sills (the opera singer) once said, "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." You have to do the work. The only time DNA testing can be a great shortcut is in researching adoptions, but then, the genealogy must be done to prove the DNA results. Genetics and Genealogy work great TOGETHER.

Onward through the microfiche, my friends! You will be rewarded eventually! If I can help with a look at your tree, drop me a line. Always a free evaluation.

Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with me,

Leslie Ryan


*cM or centiMorgan is an inferred unit for measuring genetic linkage along a chromosome. It is not a true unit of measure per se.

More info about Scots-Irish in Appalachia (and bluegrass!)

More info about Quakers:

Another chance to buy that Scots-Irish Migration map

No compensation is received for any links or referrals. No copyright infringement is intended.


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