By: Margaret O’Shea-jordan

Collaboration and communication are essential in Y-DNA testing, including within a Group Project and among administrators. Margaret O’Shea-Jordan gives an overview of how DNA testing and Group Projects have helped her achieve her goals.

I got into using DNA as a genealogical tool when I was trying to find my late father’s birth parents. I didn’t have much information to go on; therefore, using science to find his family of origin appealed to me. In early 2003, I ordered a kit from FamilyTreeDNA for my father (surname O’Shea) to do a Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) test.

I was aware that one other man with the same surname had also tested just ahead of my father. Over the next few months, several men with the O’Shea surname or a variant of the surname did a Y-DNA test through FamilyTreeDNA.

It was time to set up a project to keep track of results, learn more, and share this information with project members.

The O’Shea Y-DNA Project

O'Shea yDNA Group Project

We administrators of the O’Shea yDNA Project were DNA enthusiasts who wanted to learn more about the origin of the O’Shea surname and how our patrilineal lines are connected to each other. It was always exciting to send off another DNA sample to FamilyTreeDNA, but it was tortuous waiting for the results. It still is! Communicating with project members is a priority, and helping them understand what their results mean is vital.

In the early years of the project, we actively recruited O’Sheas from areas in Kerry, Cork, Tipperary, and Kilkenny. We felt it was essential to have Y-DNA from people who still lived in areas of Ireland where the O’Shea surname has been present for hundreds of years.

Sharing Ideas and Learning

Collaboration is extremely important in Y-DNA testing. This includes collaboration within a Group Project and among Group Project Administrators. Y-DNA haplogroups, Y-DNA geographic groups, and surname groups all contribute to our collective learning. Online communities share ideas and new achievements gleaned from Y-DNA.

FamilyTreeDNA sent a representative to the Clans of Ireland meeting in Mallow, Co. Cork, in 2005 to talk about DNA testing.

Matthew Kaplan at Clans of Ireland Meeting in 2005
Matthew Kaplan, Laboratory Manager at FamilyTreeDNA in 2005, presented at the Clans of Ireland Meeting in Mallo, Co. Cork.. Image from

This was exciting to the administrators of the O’Shea Surname Project, and we were delighted to get the opportunity to meet the representative afterwards and discuss Y-DNA.

As the O’Shea yDNA Project grew, we kept up to date with what was going on in the DNA world, especially developments relating to Irish Y-DNA. In Ireland, in the mid-2000s, several Y-DNA research papers were published by the Genetics Department, Trinity College (TCD), Dublin. In 2010, the first Irish genome was sequenced by a team from University College, Dublin (UCD).

How SNP Testing Helped Our Results

In the 2000s, we administrators had been mainly using Y-STRs as we tried to predict which Y-DNA haplogroups our members’ Y-DNA belonged to. As SNP testing became more available, we used SNPs to figure out where the O’Shea Y-DNA fit on the Y-DNA haplotree. A Y-DNA results chart is one of the basic tools provided by FamilyTreeDNA. This means that administrators can group people as they see fit.

O'Shea yDNA Group Time Tree from FamilyTreeDNA Discover™

We established several groupings based on mutational differences in Y-STRs and added SNP results as they became available. It was exciting to find a new SNP that confirmed the groupings we had created based on Y-STRs. We were learning that men who carried the O’Shea surname could be grouped into several disparate groupings that had not been connected on the male line for thousands of years.

Family Finder’s Role in Our Research

In 2010, FamilyTreeDNA introduced “Family Finder,” their autosomal DNA test. This expanded DNA testing enormously. I used this successfully in my own quest to find my father’s close male line by asking his closest Y-DNA matches to do an autosomal test in addition to the Y-DNA test they had already done. Having their original samples stored in the lab in Houston helped with this.

Using autosomal DNA and Y-DNA enabled me to narrow the possibilities down to the point where I could focus on a specific family line and ultimately identify my father’s biological father.

Ancient DNA Contributes to Our Research

Newgrange, Ireland's largest Neolithic passage tomb, c. 3200 BC. One of the Boyne valley tombs By Tjp finn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Newgrange, Ireland's largest Neolithic passage tomb, c. 3200 BC. One of the Boyne valley tombs By Tjp finn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I remember attending a Bioconnect Ireland meeting in Dublin in early 2013, where Professor Daniel Bradley (Genetics Dept., TCD) mentioned ancient DNA in his presentation. In recent years, ancient DNA has become an integral part of the genetic genealogy world, and FamilyTreeDNA incorporates results from ancient Y-DNA samples into its Big Y timeline.

FamilyTreeDNA Conference

Later, in 2013, the first Genetic Genealogy Ireland event was held in Dublin.
This event was sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and was a great way for Irish Project administrators to meet each other and chat with visitors from the USA and other places.

Big Y Testing

In 2014, the Big Y test was rolled out by FamilyTreeDNA. Next generation sequencing (NGS) was used, and this was a game changer. We could now let FamilyTreeDNA do the heavy lifting to find new branches of the Y-DNA haplotree. It was an eye opener as the Y-DNA haplotree became more and more detailed.

Additional Group Projects

In 2006, I was asked to join two others as administrators of the newly formed Ireland yDNA Project.

Ireland yDNA Group Project

This project was set up to take Y-DNA results for men with Irish patrilineal lineages. It caters to all Irish surnames.

Y-DNA Group Projects

Men who had tested with the Genographic Project could also transfer their Y-DNA data to FamilyTreeDNA. Having an Irish Y-DNA project for them to join was seen as important, especially when there weren’t very many Irish surname projects in existence at the time. The Ireland yDNA Project became very popular, growing to over 10,000 members.

Y-DNA is shining a light on the origins and development of surnames in Ireland and the wider context of the migrations of ancient peoples to the country.

I was an administrator of the Ireland yDNA Project for over 16 years, but in 2022 I decided to step back and concentrate on helping smaller surname projects that focus on the south of Ireland.

Meaney Surname Family Crest

So, as well as the O’Shea yDNA Project, I am involved with the Meaney, Lucey, and Kelleher surname Group Projects. I am eager to utilize the Big Y-700 test in these projects in order to learn more about these surnames.

Autosomal Group Projects

Some years ago, I set up a NW Co. Cork Family Finder Project that covers the Millstreet-Macroom-Banteer area of Co. Cork, an area that relates to the paternal side of my own family.

NW Cork Ireland Family Finder Group Project

People who can trace one or more ancestral lines back to this area can join if they have done autosomal DNA testing and see if they match others within the project. They can share family information, compare family trees, and try to find common ancestry.

I would like to finish by saying that Irish surname Group Projects are benefiting hugely from the Big Y-700 test and reports, which greatly aid the analysis of results.

Margaret O'Shea Jordan

About the Author

Margaret O’Shea-Jordan

Group Project Administrator at FamilyTreeDNA

Margaret O’Shea-Jordan is a retired secondary school teacher (Maths & Physics) in Ireland. For the past number of years, she has been a genetic genealogist, specializing in helping people find birth family using DNA. She is administrator for the O’Shea surname DNA project, as well as Kelleher Y-DNA and Meaney Y-DNA of Ireland, and co-administrator on the Lucey-Ireland project.

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