The Ulster Heritage DNA Project uses DNA testing to research Ulster family history and genealogy. Anyone from Ulster or of Ulster ancestry can participate in the project. Ulster is comprised of the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone in Northern Ireland and the counties of Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland. The goal of the project is to study the surnames, families, clans, of the people of Ulster and their descendants throughout the Diaspora, and to allow Ulster descendants in the Diaspora to locate their kin still in Ulster and to communicate with them.
Ulster has several factors that make family research and surname study problematic. Since the early 1700s the nature of Ulster history is one of emigration and Diaspora and there is in far too many cases a lack of paper records and primary sources to rely upon for family history and genealogy research. Most genealogists have encountered the infamous ‘brick walls’ in their research. These ‘brick walls’ occur when there are no primary source paper records and the research dead-ends. DNA testing can confirm paternal relationships and go around these brick walls.
DNA testing can be used by genealogists and historians to:
• provide geographic locations for further genealogical research
• determine the ancestral homeland
• discover living relatives
• validate existing research
• confirm or deny suspected connections between families
• prove or disprove theories regarding ancestry
The project uses a Y chromosome DNA test for surname research. The Y chromosome is passed from father to son and is the perfect tool to research a family’s paternal ancestry. Y-DNA follows the direct paternal line (from father, to father's father, etc). Women do not inherit the Y-chromosome and cannot take a Y-DNA test, however for those women researching a paternal line, they can use a father, brother, uncle, or cousin in that male line, who can take the test in their place.
The Ulster Project also uses mitochondrial DNA tests. This type of DNA is present in men and women and both can participate in mtDNA testing. Mitochondrial DNA testing provides information about ethnicity and when done at the higher levels can also provide data on kinship groups.
The Y-DNA test results are a series of numbers that represents the participant’s genetic signature, which is known as a haplotype. The results are presented in a clear, concise manner which is easy, even for those people not familiar with genetics, to understand. DNA matches are very obvious as the haplotypes will match with very little difference between one result and its match.
The chronology, or time to the shared paternal ancestor, is revealed in the number of mutations that separate the matches. For example, in a Y-DNA test that used 37 markers it is normal that 37 out of 37 will match with first cousins and closer relations, but with seventh cousins from the early 1700s, it is not uncommon that two or three mutations might have occurred in that time frame and this will appear as 35 out of 37 or 34 out of 37 level matches. It is possible to locate branches of a family from much early times also, even going back to era when surnames were being introduced. In Ulster it is not unusual for a member of a patronymic Gaelic clan to locate cousins that date from the 1500s back to medieval times, or with an Ulster Scot, to locate distant cousins in Scotland.
DNA testing can be useful in many ways in family genealogy. Matches to families of the same surname can provide a windfall of new family history and genealogy if the new connection is with a family that retained their history. DNA testing can be used to confirm a relationship to a family where a connection is suspected, but where there are no paper records to confirm. By confirming a connection many families have been able to ‘solve’ their origins, to confirm an immigrant ancestor, and even locate their family in Ulster. In many cases DNA testing reveals a definite geographic location which tells a family from where they originate and allows that family to focus their research on a given township or district.
Many participants in the Ulster Heritage DNA Project have successfully recovered lost family history and have reconnected with distant cousins in Ulster and around the Diaspora. The opportunity to travel to Ulster and meet with distant relations is particularly rewarding and renews a sense of family and clan that is so important to the Ulster way of life.
Another benefit of DNA testing is the ability to research a family’s deep ancestry. Ulster has a very interesting history in which native Irish Gaels, Gaels from the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides, Vikings, Normans, Lowland Scots, Frisians, and English settlers have all played a part. Each one of these groups carries a unique genetic signature that provides fascinating insights into a family’s deep past.
The Ulster Heritage DNA Project is an exploration of the people of Ulster through genetic genealogy. It is an incredibly accurate tool that allows a family to reconnect with its relatives and ancestors.
For information about the Ulster Heritage DNA Project visit:
The Ulster Heritage project is run by Barry R McCain of Oxford, Mississippi and Jim McKane of Wiarton, Ontario, Canada.