Matches and a Digression on Irish Ethnicity Matches

At the estimates of the geographical origins of my ancestors based on my autosomal DNA ( are reported along with a list of other people who have submitted their DNA to the service and are my “genetic matches.”

On, I am currently matched with 282 people as 4th cousins or closer. The list of more distant matches is approximately 4500 and the number increases with each update. Having DNA that matches that of another person does not mean that I share a recent common ancestor with them. The possession of identical segments of DNA can be coincidental. offers confidence levels that I share ancestry with those identified as matches based on the “amount of shared DNA” between me and my matches using the number of centiMorgans -cM – ( shared across the number of DNA segments.

Only two of my matches are people that I previously knew to be relatives. In both of these cases we knew that we shared common ancestors on our Creighton line before being told by the service. Our common ancestor(s) are included in our individually created family trees. However, has also used my DNA to provide a list of potential ancestors and relatives connected to them who are not yet listed in my family tree.

A Digression on Irish Ethnicity – Ulster Irish

Some of these potential ancestors have names that are familiar to me. I simply have not worked on constructing a tree that goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries. I still have some important gaps in the late 19th century and I am trying to be as systematic as possible. I did allow myself to be distracted by information on my potential European ancestors. I experienced an “a ha” moment that is the subject of this digression.

I have tried to explain to one of my cousins why I was surprised by the European ancestry estimates from and from NatGeo. The estimates for my European ancestry are 20% Europe West and only 1% Great Britain. The NatGeo estimates on the other hand say 24% Great Britain and Ireland.

While relatively high estimates of Irish ancestry seem on the surface to make sense in light of certain aspects of oral family history, I have some difficulty reconciling that with my own life experiences and my knowledge of history. Some of my reasoning took place during my early childhood and is very simplistic.

As a small child, I had seen Catholic churches in Mobile, as one might expect given its French and Spanish history.  However, I never saw a Catholic church in  my hometown or in the surrounding area through which I usually traveled.

My introduction to Catholicism took place when I was moved to Chicago and started the second grade at St. Columbanus ( When I was a second grader, St. Columbanus was still an Irish Catholic Church in the very early stages of becoming the African American Catholic Church that it is today. In order for me to attend the school, my mother had to pay tuition and agree that I could attend mass and catechism. *

The term “Irish Catholic” continued to be a part of my vocabulary for years. During my Chicago childhood, the name Daley appeared to be synonymous with the word “mayor” and the Daley family was the public face of the “Irish Catholic” community. By the time I was an adolescent living in Senator Barry Goldwater’s Arizona, the Kennedy family had become the national face of Irish Catholicism.

The fact that the Europeans who settled near my home place built no Catholic churches forced me to wonder if they were Scottish rather than Irish. The historical information on the potential ancestors suggested by provides a hypothesis that I can explore. The DNA of these potential European ancestors may read Irish. However, their ethnicity reads Ulster Irish, also known as Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish.

The term Scotch-Irish is uniquely American. Some historian and genealogists prefer the term Ulster Scots, which more accurately reflect this group. The term Scotch-Irish is ambiguous because it does not mean people of mixed Scottish and Irish ancestry as the name seems to imply, but refers to the descendants of the Presbyterians from lowland Scotland who settled in Ulster — northernmost province of Ireland in the 17th century and subsequently emigrated from there to America.

Having ancestors who were “low land Scots” would explain why the area in which I was born has more Presbyterian than Catholic churches.  It  would also explain the estimate of my European ancestral origins as Europe West, with a trace amount of Scandinavian, rather than Great Britain and Ireland.

Lowland Scots are an ethnic group with many bloodlines: Gaels, Britons, Romans, Scots (who were Celtics from Ireland), Norse, Normans, Flemish and English.

When I understand more about my African ancestral origins it will be time to find some reading materials about the history of Ulster Irish in the black belt of Alabama.The idea of being an African American descendant of Ulster Irish immigrants to the US whose early education was turned over to Irish Catholic nuns and priests is definitely the kind of irony that makes me smile.

NatGeo Partners with Family Tree DNA

I transferred my raw data from NatGeo to their partner Family Tree DNA. This service offers a third interpretation of my ancestral origins. The first thing that captured my attention is the fact that it only purports to explain 99 rather than 100 percent. I am perfectly willing to admit that I appreciate a tad of the unexplained in any analysis of data. Other than that, the FTDNA analysis of my ancestral origins match those of the other two services: 65% African and 34% European.

The second aspect of the FTDNA myOrigins analysis that differs from the other two is the extent to which the graphical representation of my origins extends into more eastern and southern areas of Africa. The numbers did not change. However, at the urging of my daughter, how I am willing to think about the numbers did.



FTDNA Family Finder also provides a lengthy list of genetic matches from others in its database. I only recognized two of them as also being matches on For the sake of brevity (go ahead and laugh), rather than explain how FTDNA identifies matches I am going to stop this discussion here and provide the link to the FTDNA YouTube channel.

One of the most important things to remember is that and FTDNA only allow you to find matches that have used their services. Next time I will discuss GEDMATCH, a service that allows you to upload your raw data from other services. The only warning that I have is that when you access GEDMATCH, you will need to be prepared to download your data base and to save your matches to your own computer. You will also need a notebook.

* The maternal grandparents with whom I spent much of my early childhood had a marriage that was mixed in tetms of Christian denominations. My grandmother attended the Church of God and Christ. I attended with her, seven days a week, excepr for the first Sunday of each month when I attended communion services at a Baptist Church with my grandfather.

The school that I attended in Alabama was racially segregated and had a Christian orientation. Each day started with “Chapel.” The school song was “I come to the garden alone.” My teachers and my principal were empowered to administer corporal punishment.  I got lots of spankings from Monday through Friday. When I got spanked at school,  the walk home was a walk of shame. Every housewife on Preacher Street knew of my misdeeds and informed me that the spanking at school was nothing compared to what I was going to get at home.   My misbehavior was an embarrassment to the entire community.

Then on Sunday,  I had to face God. At the Baptist Church in Alabama my first grade teacher was also my Sunday School teacher.  In Chicago, I felt perfectly at home in Catholic School.  I was comfortable with religious based education, spankings for misbehavior,  and with the idea that if I did not shape up, I would be doomed to hell.

Of course,  I also started to pay attention to denominational differences in doctrine. On a visit to Alabama I told my maternal grandfathet that I wanted to talk to him about religion. I wanted to know if it was simply bread and wine that had been blessed or if it was truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

My grandfather,  who was at least 6″6′ leaned down and said to me. “What is important to know about religion is that the Baptists has got all the members and the Episcopalians has got all the money.”   That was one of the moments in which my sociological imagination started to take shape and I became a conscious student of comparative religion.

My transfer into Chicago Public Schools was a real culture shock.  The students were out of control. The teachers could not hit them and they did not fear GOD. From grade four through grade nine, every day that I attended school was a day that I feared for my life. My public school experiences also tested my faith. God was not hurling thunderbolts at children who acted up in class. Angels were not protecting me from bullies and gangbangers.







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