Monday, April 23, 2012

Expect the unexpected - Genetic genealogy journey - FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA Test - Part 1

I have had a interest in the use the DNA for genealogy research for several years now, but had not pursued it due to the high cost and other uncertainties and reservations I had. I remember my interest was first sparked after reading an article about one man's successful use of DNA in his genealogy research in The Genealogist, the journal of the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies. I think this was probably as long ago as 2003 or 2004. Since then I purchased and read Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree by Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner.

I have always liked having my Irish surname - O'Brien - despite how common it is. And when you are an O'Brien you can speculate that your direct paternal line descends from Irish Kings like Brian Boru, because that sounds impressive...sort of. At the very least you can speculate that your paternal line in Ireland stretches back into the mists of time.

It was with some surprise that, several years ago, I discovered that my O'Brien's went by the name Breen back in Ireland (see my post Those Places Thursday - Aghadavoyle, County Armagh, Ireland - O'Brien/Breen). Other relatives also found this same information (the name Breen) when they visited Ireland. In Australia, all the siblings went by the name O'Brien. In Ireland their brother and sister and parents called themselves Breen. Why? Were we actually O'Briens? Were we descended from Brian Boru? Or were we part of another old Irish family - the Byrne clan perhaps?

I thought for a while that a Y-DNA test for my Dad could solve these mysteries for me. It wasn't until FamilyTreeDNA had a sale at the beginning of this year that I decided to take the first step and order a Y-DNA37 test for my Dad while it was $50 less than the usual price.

The test kit arrived in the mail in January, but we had to put it aside for a while. In March, Dad did the cheek swab and we sent the kit back to FamilyTreeDNA.

Three days ago I received an email from FamilyTreeDNA telling me that the results for the first 12 markers had been posted. Great! The predicted haplotype was one very common in Western Europe. At 12 markers Dad had 2800 exact matches!

Yesterday I received another email from FamilyTreeDNA which told me that the results for 25 markers had been posted. "Oh good", I thought, "that will narrow down the number of matches".

Yes, it certainly narrowed it down. At 25 markers Dad had 0 exact matches. He did, however, have 107 matches at 25 markers when I included results with the genetic distance of 1. One of the resulting matches appears to make sense - Irish, similar name, similar region of origin in Ireland. The other matches? Not quite what I was expecting. I await the results of the 37 marker test with interest.

So far my first journey into genetic genealogy has been interesting, but it has raised more questions than it has given answers. More on this later. 

If your paternal Y-DNA line has a surname like Breen or O'Brien or similar variations, and your earliest ancestor on that line originated in Ireland in counties Armagh, Louth and/or surrounding counties, please consider a Y-DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA (and please also comment on this blog post, I'd love to hear from you). The more descendants of these families take tests the more accurate and useful the results will be for all genealogists. Thanks. 

Some useful articles and blogs I have read this week:

Creative Commons License Australian Genealogy Journeys by Aillin O'Brien is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License.Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at I am in no way affiliated with any companies. Clipart from Open Clip Art Library.


  1. Interesting post Allin. I read Megan's book last year. Thanks for posting the link to the other articles.

    1. Thanks Julie. I brought Megan's book out of my bookshelf and think I might read it again as a refresher to help interpret Dad's results.

  2. John Breen.
    My Breen clan are Co. Kerry, Ireland and I have also had my Y-DNA tested.
    I would be interested in making comparisons with all the Irish Breen clan and descendants.


Your comments are appreciated. Thanks.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...