Thursday, 28 August 2008

Genetic Genealogy Conference in November

Many Ulster families, both in Ireland and the Diaspora, are turning to Y chromosome DNA testing to recover family history. It is very effective, my own family located our Irish cousins in 2003 through DNA testing. The notice below is for the November conference for administrators of DNA projects. There are now a host of Ulster family DNA projects and then there is also the Ulster Heritage DNA Project which is open to all people of Ulster ancestry.
The UHDP uses the Family Tree DNA labs. The host web site for the Ulster Heritage DNA Project is:


Family Tree DNA, the world leader in genetic genealogy, will host its 5th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy for Group Administrators on November 8-9, 2008 at the Sheraton North Houston in Houston, Texas.

Each year, world renowned experts in genetics and science present cutting-edge developments and exciting new applications at this two-day educational forum which draws attendees from Family Tree DNA’s Group Administrators in North America and throughout the

Among the speakers at the upcoming conference will be members of Family Tree DNA’s own highly respected scientific advisory board, as well as representatives from NationalGeographic’s landmark Genographic Project.

Founded in April 2000, Family Tree DNA was the first company to develop the commercial application of DNA testing for genealogical purposes that had previously been available only
for academic and scientific research. Almost a decade later, the Houston-based company continues to establish standards and create new milestones in the increasingly popular and rapidly growing field of genetic genealogy.

Today – with more than 200,000 individual records – Family Tree DNA claims the largest DNA database in genetic genealogy, a number that makes it the prime source for anyone researching recent and distant family ties. Additionally, Family Tree DNA’s database encompasses over 76,000 unique surnames and close to 5,000 surname projects in addition
to lineage and geographic projects.

In 2005, Family Tree DNA was selected by National Geographic and IBM as the designated DNA testing company for their Genographic Project, a history-making study of the migrations of mankind. To date, the company has processed more than 200,000 Genographic Project
DNA test kits, and, last year, Family Tree DNA’s own laboratory –the Genomics Research Centre—participated in the Genographic Project’s first published paper.

Offering the most popular and wide-ranging DNA-testing service in the field of genetic genealogy, Family Tree DNA prides itself on its commitment to the practice of solid, ethical science. Since its beginnings, the company has associated itself with leading researchers
and scientists in the field, many of whom will be speaking at the November Conference. Among these prominent names are Dr. Michael Hammer, Dr. Doron Behar, and Thomas

* * * * *
Online registration is available at
For more registration information, please contact:
Leah Wark — tel: 713-868-1438; e-mail:
Media contact for Family Tree DNA: Sharon Weisz, W3 Public Relations—tel: 323-934-2700
For media information on The Genographic Project, please contact: Lucie McNeil at National Geographic—tel:
202-857-5841 e-mail: or Michael Loughran at IBM—tel: 914-499-6446 e-mail:

Sunday, 17 August 2008

The McCanes of County Laois

One of the joys of running the Ulster Heritage DNA Project is meeting people in Ulster or that have Ulster roots. Our readers have perhaps noticed a bias toward McCain news, this is not by design, rather the McCain family DNA project was the first large and successful projects that used Y chromosome DNA testing to locate family members in the Diaspora and Ireland. It was the prototype project in many ways and its success was the nucleus from which the Ulster project grew. This is why so many McCain families appear in our news. They are not all the same family however. There are at least five McCain 'clans' that have been located. Some are Irish and others are Scottish or Manx.

There are the McCains of Antrim and Donegal from which Senator John McCain is a descendant. Other McCains descend from the McDonald clan chiefs. Another other source of McCains in Ulster is the very old and distinguished Ó Catháin clan of Derry and north Antrim. Via DNA tests we confirmed that some of the Ó Catháin branches anglicised their surnames as McCain, McCane, etc., in addition to the more common O'Kane, Keane, etc. We also have noticed the surname Mac Canna being anglicised as McCain and the surname of Mac Eáin in turn sometimes being anglicised as McCann rather than the normal McCain. It is complex, but with DNA testing we can thankfully sort out who is who.

In the photo above are two participants in our DNA project, Aidan McCane of Portlaoise , County Laois Ireland and Dr Giles Keane of Dartmouth , Devon U.K. (formerly of Co. Clare). Dr Keane's family is listed in Burkes Peerage and they have Family Seats at Clare and Waterford. Aidan McCane and Dr Keane met to discuss some of the finer points of McCane and Keane genealogy and explore possible links between the two families.

Aidan McCane's family has a fascinating and true oral history of being from the North, either Ulster or the Isles, and the patriarch of their family coming south to fight in the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. During the retreat north after the battle their man settled in Porlaoise giving rise to the McCane clan of that district. I think John McKane the well known UK country musician is also of this line.

DNA confirmed Aidan McCane's people belong to the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages haplogroup and his closest DNA matches are to two men surname Cain and McCann. The Cain participant is a descendant of the family of Manus Rua Ó Catháin, the famous Irish commander that lead a regiment under Montrose.

Barry R McCain (c) 2008

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Ulster Diaspora in the USA

The fascinating map above is a coloured coded map of the USA according to the ancestry of the population by counties or parishes in the case of the state of Louisiana. I reproduce it here in a small version, the link to see this map with the legend is located below:

As I say, the map is utterly fascinating. The Counties and parishes in the brown colour are listed as 'American.' This curious term means the non-hyphenated people living in the USA. The dominate ethnicity in these areas would be people of Ulster ancestry. It is popular to use an aggregate term Scots-Irish to describe them, but this has always struck me as odd as this population also includes numbers of Highland Gaels, Welsh, Manx, Border English, a few Huguenots, etc.

Does Scots-Irish mean only people that descend from Ulster Scot ancestry or has it grown now to include all the groups living in Ulster that migrated to the Colonies in the 18th Century?

Nomenclature is always difficult when trying to describe Ulster society. When I was younger I read the works of a very talented Texas historian T R Fehrenbach. In his book Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans, he calls this group of people the Anglo-Celts. He was writing in the late 1950s and he too needed a term to describe these non hyphenated Americans with ancestry from the Celtic parts of the British Isles.

With Anglo-Celts he meant they were all from the traditional Celtic areas of the British Isles and had migrated to North America early, had formed their own society using shared folkways they brought with them, and had all gone through a language shift from their Gaelic or Welsh to English. It is a very handy term because it is very inclusive to all the groups within what many call Scots-Irish.

The Scots-Irish population was dominated by Ulster Scots so it is understandable that this term is used of course, but we should remember that what pop histories call Scots-Irish also include many Highland and Isles Gaels, Native Irish, English, etc. in Ulster that migrated to the Colonial backsettlements in the 18th Century. These groups settled together, through marriage and shared values became the people T R Fehrenbach calls the Anglo-Celts and appear in the brown areas in the map above. We can also look at those brown areas on the map above and see the Ulster Diaspora in the USA.

Barry R McCain © 2008

Friday, 15 August 2008

Stranorlar Fair

The poem below written by Finn Valley poet Ivan Knox. There is not enough poetry in the world today, we need more. This is a fine example of Ivan's style. It is a good read about fine times that were and need to be again.

Stranorlar Fair

Have you ever been to Stranorlar,
Or to Stranorlar monthly Fair.
Have you ever seen the livestock,
Or the Crowds of people there.
It’s a day out for the family,
A day without a care.
Where everyone enjoys themselves,
At the Stranorlar monthly Fair.

You will see the great old bargain King,
With his fine wares for to sell.
You will see the shooting gallery,
Put there by Bumby Bell.
You will hear Old Simmie Doherty,
On his home made Violin.
Playing lots of dancing music,
On his magic piece of Tin.

You will hear all kinds of tales been told,
By men in the Pubs,
You will meet all kind of people there,
Including people seeking subs.*
You can have a lovely dinner,
At a cost of half a crown.
And when the evening comes along,
Every one is homeward bound.

The farmers they are busy,
Selling of their stock.
The hawkers and the dealers,
Are busy checking what they bought.
But down in the big horse market,
Held in the street behind McKanes,
Where many a deal was settled up,
With fists, and sticks and reins.

There was three holding pens in town,
For cattle when they’re sold.
The owners of these holding pens,
Charged a Bob a head to hold.
The yards were owned by Bonnar,
McMenamins and John Horn.
The cattle were allowed to stay all day,
But not from night till morn.

Dealers came here from all around,
Like Strabane and Letterkenny,
Others came from Castlederg,
Donegal and Ballyshanny.
Others came from Ballintra,
And dear old Sligo town.
They were all made very welcome,
At the Fair in Stranorlar Town.

Ivan Knox © 2003

*(I was not familiar with the term 'sub' and had to ask Ivan what that meant, he explains it thus, ' When one of these men spend too much cash on drink and the want another one for the road, they would come over to you and shake your hand and say sub me a few dollars or euros, as the case may be, old timer and I will pay you back next week, but the uncanny thing about that is , you will never see your money again. '

Monday, 4 August 2008

From Scotch-Irish to Irish Princes; the McAmis family

Here is a report on the interesting history of the McAmis family from County Tyrone, by genealogist Linda Merle. There was some surprise when their DNA test results linked them to the old Ó Catháin clan…

Around 1770 three brothers McCamish appeared in old Bedford County, Virginia. Two served in he Revolutionary War and were present at Yorktown. One was wounded there. After the Revolution, all three moved to eastern Tennessee where many descendents still live. Family lore claimed they were Scotch-Irish from Ulster and were of Scottish descent – Clan Gunn. But no trace of their origins had ever been found.

left, retired attorney Ed McAmis

Several years ago I did extensive research to locate the father of the three brothers, all born between 1750 and 1757 – so dad was alive until 1757. If in America, he survived the French and Indian (Seven Years) war. This is a good because the war resulted in many military records. There had been a McCamish living near Philadelphia who married a Quaker and died in the 1740s. His will was not proven due to debts, but many years later a man surfaced in Carlisle, PA who forced a sale of property seized by his debtors. Unfortunately this Thomas McCamish disappeared without a trace not long after the Revolution. Also there was a William McCamish who settled far to the west in Old Cumberland (now Franklin County, PA) by 1751. He had several sons, one of whom (Joseph) had an estate in Virginia. Joseph died before the Revolution. A comparison of his heirs and that of a Joseph McCamish in the Northern Neck area of Virginia seemed to indicate they were different men. The Northern Neck man disappeared without a trace, possibly into Kentucky. William’s son James died in the late 1700s. His widow and children sold and moved to Ohio. To date we’ve found no descendents of these people – or any connection to the three brothers.

Tamlaght Church of Ireland

Research also established that they didn’t seem to descend from the McComis family of Maryland. That family left extensive records in Maryland and did send out spurs to the Carolinas and to the future West Virginia. But no one had three sons named William, James and Thomas. We also researched the McCormick family of central Pennsylvania (this Ulster family produced Cyrus), the McCamies of Cumberland Co, PA, various McCormacks, etc…..any one whose name remotely resembled theirs. The McCormicks did have three sons with the right names but they remained and died in Pennsylvania. Military records from the colonial wars allowed us to place almost all of the men of interest named in Virginia military records into a family. It seemed clear their father was in the old country and that they had migrated as adults.

The Old World

Were did they come from then? A quick survey for the surname and its many variants disclosed pockets in various places in Scotland. Some McGregors adopted it after their surname was banned. Also Stuarts. The heads of the Gunn clan in northeast Scotland bore it. There were many on the Isle of Man, once an Irish colony. In Ireland there were two pockets: a larger one in County Down and a smaller centered in southeastern Tyrone. The larger group in County Down usually spelled the name McComish and didn’t use the same first names as the three brothers gave their sons. The smaller group in Tyrone DID share a distinctive first name pattern with the Brothers McCamish.

As probably 90% or more of individuals in 18th century up-country Virginia are believed to have come from Ulster and descendents all believed that they’d come from Ireland (and had details that suggested perhaps they did), we decided to check it out first.
Meanwhile we began DNA testing so that we could identify matches even without a paper trail.. Eventually I located a descendent of the larger Irish group in County Down, Jim, who agreed to having his DNA tested.

We also wondered what the surname was originally. Originally our ancestors didn’t have fixed surnames. The Celtic populations of Britain used sept names indicating descent from a well known ancestor. However when someone accomplished something memorable, his descendents often took his given name as a ‘surname’ instead of the sept name. Many dropped the sept name altogether. Furthermore, Gaelic is an odd language. Often when the case changes, instead of the ending of the word changing, the first part does. Furthermore, consonants were then pronounced differently so that ‘son of James’ and ‘son of Thomas’ are impossible to distinguish because after the Mc both the S of Sean and the T of Thomas are lenited to what sounds to us as h. Spelling was not standardized till very late in English too. The spellings are generally phonetic, meaning people spelled the name as they pronounced it. Thus we’re fairly certain the brothers McCamish always pronounced their name with an A (not an O like McComish) and didn’t harden the ending into ack like McCamack.

Which brings us to the smaller group in Ireland. Until they began moving to Belfast, where the magistrates rapidly confused them with the McComishes of Down, they were always McCamish in the records in Tyrone and Derry.

Finally the results of the DNA test arrived. They showed that the Brothers McCamish had northwest Irish DNA. This distinctive pattern, called R1b1b2e (R1b1c7) was first identified in February 2006 when geneticists in Dublin who had tested men with surnames indicating they descended from the fifth century high Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages announced that these men do share a distinctive DNA pattern indicating that they do descend from the same man (excepting the main line of O’Neills who suffered a ‘non-paternity event’). Most likely the DNA pattern is far older than Niall. It was shared by his brothers who lived in southern Ireland.
Niall’s northern descendents, the Ui Neills, invaded and conquered Ulster. Today 20% of the men in north west Ireland descend from Niall. Jim in Belfast was also in this 20%. But did he share a common ancestor within seven generations with the McCamishes? With 37 markers the results were ambiguous. The experts indicated that if we upgraded to 67 markers it would be clearer. When those results came in, it was clear that Jim in Belfast did not share a common ancestor with the descendent of the three brothers within 7 generations.

Our attentions then turned to the smaller group in Tyrone that used the same first names as the three brothers. Could we find a descendent? It took some time, but eventually we found a lady in Australia who descended from a daughter of a man who was from the village of Tamlagh, Tyrone. Her family had first migrated to Scotland and then to Australia.

the record of Elizabeth McCamish's marriage to Thomas Fulton in 1834, below

An Australian connection is wonderful to find because Australian records are very good. Her ancestress’ death certificate gave her parish of birth in Ireland as Tamlagh where her baptism was also recorded, the names of both her husbands, the names of all her surviving children and the total number. Her surname was Thompson. However when she married in Scotland and registered the births of children she used McCamish and Thompson interchangeably. Because those records also identified her place of origin and her prior surnames – it was clearly the same woman.

The Irish experts had indicated they believed the surname was originally Thomas. Clearly this lady agreed with them. However we needed to find male descendent. With the help of our friend in Australia we contacted several other McCamish researchers before locating the only son of a man from Tyrone. Certificates again conclusively proved that his ancestor had come from the Tamlagh area of Tyrone. We eagerly awaited the DNA test results.

Meanwhile something else interesting surfaced. It was determined that the brothers’ DNA appeared to be a very close match to that of the chieftains of the O'Cahans, one of the major Ui Neill clans. They ruled much of what is now known as Derry, parts of Antrim, and parts of Tyrone for a thousand years. They were long lost princes! But which Thomas might they be named after? We can’t prove it (yet)…but possibly they descend from Thomas O'Cahan, son of Aibhne. Thomas died 1521 after a bitter struggle to retain the title of clan chief. He had two sons. We do not know what became of them, yet. The DNA experts now tell us that they suspect the ancestor of the brothers branched off from the main clan in this time period.

Finally the DNA results arrived. Most amazingly, THEY MATCHED. We had a match with a man whose ancestors were in Tyrone in the early 1800s, whose ancestors used the same first name patterns that the brothers did, and who ‘felt’ like the same people: Protestant tradesmen.
I’ve also compared the McCamish DNA with that of the various families whose ‘paper trails’ came to dead ends. They are DNA dead ends too. The three brothers were not McComis or McCormicks or McCamies, etc. There are no matches in Clan Gunn. Haven’t found any matches at all in Scotland.

I suspect someday matches may show up as Thompsons, McCombs, or some other Thomas derived name, or O’Kane, Kane, or McCane. Consequently, we are fairly certain that the three brothers came from Tyrone or adjoining parts of Derry, an area their ancestors lived in and ruled for a thousand years.

for more information look into the links below

Our project webpages are here:

Linda Merle (c) 2008