Saturday, June 9, 2012

What I Learned From A DNA Test

Posted by Craig on 6/09/2012

I've been researching my family tree since 1998, and I've long been curious about DNA as a way to learn more about your roots. The technology has come a long way in the last decade, and it's become more affordable too. Finally, I went ahead and ordered a Y-DNA test (for my paternal line).

Last night, at 1:30 a.m., the results popped in my email inbox from the FamilyTreeDNA lab in Houston, Texas!

When I logged in to see the results, 29 "matches" popped up - these are living people today who I share a common direct male ancestor with in about the last 1,000 years. (To be clear, the Y-DNA only passes father to son, so this traces my father's father's father, etc., and same for them.) These matches live in Ireland, England, Scotland, South Africa, the United States and presumably elsewhere (some don't list a location).


Of course, for any matches to come up, I need to have living blood relatives through the male line who took DNA tests themselves. And I'm so grateful and excited that two people I'm about to address did...

I had *two* close matches, genealogically-speaking, and the rest were more distant. The surnames to those closest matches? A Kennelly and a MacNeely, variations of my own last name. They both live in Ireland!

My relationship to the MacNeely, who I learned is about 28 years old today and lives in County Mayo, Ireland, goes back to a common male ancestor with the surname Kennelly (sometimes Mac an Fhaili in Ireland), MacNally, or McAnally who lived around the 1600s.

My relationship to the Kennelly is closer. He lives in Ireland today in County Cork near the border with County Limerick (where my great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Kennelly was born -- he immigrated to Canada during the Potato Famine). We seem to both descend of a Kennelly born in the 1700s.

What makes the connection to these two men so interesting, most Irish genealogical records burned in fires in Dublin and don't exist today. Without them, it's hard to trace Irish roots any further back than the 1800s. But nonetheless I've made links with long lost cousins, prior to that time so many Irish researchers hit a brick wall.

I've written emails to both of them and hope to hear back!


The rest of the matches are more distant, though interestingly I found both a McKee and a McGee, who I have a common male ancestor with in Ireland who lived around the 1400s. Also a McSorley, a Koster, a Walker, a Crauford and a Hannon who I go back to about the same period, perhaps more likely the 1300s.

But what I found most interesting of the distant matches -- the ADAMS connection. Three of my matches were males with the last name ADAMS. There was also one female whose maiden name was ADAMS and one Smith who says he traces back (father's father's father, etc.) to a male Adams. There was a second Smith who I suspect could also go back to an Adams.

In all, that's five Adams descendants, possibly six, in my 29 matches. And sure enough, I learned the DNA subgroup / family group of former U.S. presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams matches my own.

John Adams and John Quincy Adams trace their Adams roots back to southwestern England, right across the water from southern Ireland, where my Kennelly roots lie.

My matches showed that my genealogical relationship to the Adams family lies in a common male ancestor way back, around the 1100s or 1200s. It's my best guess that an Adams, or a member of the same family in which male relatives took Adams as a surname, migrated from southwestern England to Ireland around that time period or shortly after, and that my Kennellys descend from this family.

It's also possible, however, that the connection goes back to before surnames were used at all, as they were just sprouting up around that time.

Either way, there is no doubt that I am blood related to the Adams family if you trace back through Y-DNA (my father's father's father, etc., and theirs). Eventually, we hit a single male figure who we both come from. And that's pretty cool.


I did some more research on my Y-DNA haplogroup, R1b1a2, and if you keep going back (through my father's father's father, etc.), my direct male ancestors were Celtics. They seem to have lived in Western Europe at the time of Jesus Christ and the Ancient Romans and Ancient Greeks likely saw them as uncivilized barbarians. They were likely tribal people in B.C. times, nomadic herders, moving around as famines and droughts hit.

Migration patterns show that my DNA group likely originated in western Asia, in the Middle East or Black Sea region (modern day Turkey), living there 20,000 and 30,000 years ago. There are relatives with similar DNA going thousands of years back in what is now Iran, India, Syria, Israel and Turkey. This family group also branched off into Africa, where the Y-DNA is alive and well in Central Africa. One branch ended up in Egypt specifically, and the Egyptian Pharaoh King Tut belongs to the same haplogroup as I.

After the Ice Age around 10,000 B.C., the larger haplogroup I come from R1b is believed to have brought agriculture to Europe from western Asia. It ended up becoming one of the most popular family groups in Europe, with some 50% of Western Europeans and Americans tracing back to them and 90% of those in Ireland.

My more specific subgroup R1b1a2a1a1b4 seems to have lived in southern Ireland, northwestern Ireland, and southwestern England in the last 1,000 years or so.


I was so excited by these results that I upgraded my account to trace my maternal line too. I also put in a "Family Finder" request so it gives me a rough overall breakdown of my genealogical DNA (what percentage I am Western European, what percentage other origins, etc.).

My DNA is already at the lab, so now I just have to wait another month or so, and I'm sure to find more interesting things.

Until then, I hope to hear back from my Kennelly and McNeely cousins overseas, who I emailed as I said earlier. I may contact some of these more distant relatives as well.

And later on, in November, I'm going to Ireland for the first time ever. I hope to track down Mr. Kennelly, Mr. MacNeely or at least more of my roots based on the new evidence I've uncovered. The power of DNA… it's really something.

9 comments on "What I Learned From A DNA Test"

Unknown on June 11, 2012 at 4:55 AM said...

You may wonder how you can match many individuals with diverse surnames? The answer is very simple, about 1000 years ago your direct male ancestor picked his surname (the Kanalley Adam) while living in a small area surrounded by people with whom he shared ancestry, but who crucially picked other surnames, jump forward 1000 years and there will be lots of descendants of that small group some of whom will today purchase a DNA test.
So what you are seeing with your DNA results is actually a snapshot of your medieval ancestors neighbours (when he took his surname 1000 years ago). Here's the remarkable thing! You can use those surnames to literally pinpoint where (within a 3 miles radius) your direct male ancestor lived 1000 years ago. This is because in Ireland those surnames can still be found concentrated in the areas where they first arose, so when you plot where the surnames of your genetic matches are found you will reveal your 'Genetic Homeland.'
The Genetic Homeland is the small area where your ancestors lived for 100's if not 1000's of years, where your ancestor lived when he picked his surname, where they left their mark in the castles, placenames, and in the DNA of that areas current inhabitants. Your distant relatives probably still there and a simple DNA test should confirm the link.
I do this professionally for a living and have set up a number of websites to help people pinpoint their Irish, Scottish, or English Genetic Homelands. As a scientist I used this method to interpret my own DNA results and there are some Case Studies and You Tube tutorials on each of the websites that shows how the method works.

Kind regards

Dr Tyrone Bowes

debi on August 23, 2012 at 6:46 PM said...

I'm doing the's been a year, but no one has came or no one, i'm frazzled...i've been looking up john heise sr, suppose to be from germany or hungary, then he came across the ocean in 1887 or 1895[thats what it says on the census-1920-1930]i do not know where he came too...the 1920 census & 1930 census thats all i got...he was buried at Beverly Hills Cemetery Park, Morgantown, WV-aug 10-13 1932...HELP ME!!!

debi on August 23, 2012 at 6:50 PM said...

along with DNA, its under my brothers name, John Richard Heis

Elizabeth J. Neal on July 19, 2013 at 9:58 PM said...

This being the official 50th Bounce-Bounce-Bounce comic, I thought it would be a good time to explain the thinking behind the name.

Anonymous said...


I am a President Adams and Abigail Smith descendent too. Your blog popped up when looking for dna/geneology groups that I could compare with other descendants.


Unknown on February 13, 2016 at 9:33 AM said...

This is also a very good post which I really enjoy reading. It is not everyday that I have the possibility to see something like this. aabb dna testing for uscis

elysa222 on April 14, 2017 at 10:37 AM said...

I found this when searching for the haplogroup (R1b1a2a1a1b4). I am also a direct Adams descendant through my paternal line (my 2nd great-grandmother, Emily Adams (1826 - 1917). My tree goes all the way back to my 18th great-grandfather, John Adams ( d. abt. 1360) England. I find it interesting that the genetics supports this connection.

r on June 4, 2018 at 8:53 PM said...

Hi how r u I read your post I am also related to John Adams the president weird my email is gmann4440@yahoo. Com I would like to know more

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