Friday, 16 October 2020

The Y-DNA signature of the Morgan's of Old Abbey & Dunmoylan

Both the Spearin and Morgan families have lived in Limerick for many generations. We know quite a lot about them because they were landed gentry and some good records survive relating to the more senior branches of the family. Members from both families worked as local militia or as part of the Royal Irish Constabulary. And there have been several marriages between the two families over the years - Lieutenant Edward Morgan married Alice Spierin in 1701 and Patrick Spierin married Mary Morgan in 1828. They would have been my 6 times and 3 times great grandparents respectively.

The two Spierin-Morgan marriages in my ancestry
(click to enlarge)

Connecting with the Morgan's ... after & before 1750

Several years ago, through DNA, I connected with my Dad's 4th cousin George Morgan. George had documentary records that connected our two families and extended our Morgan ancestry back to the 1600s to the Morgan's of Old Abbey & Dunmoylan (about 7.5 miles northwest of Rathkeale, Co. Limerick). The direct male line pedigree of this family is supported by reasonably robust documentary evidence back to about 1636 but prior to that the evidence is less robust and more open to question. I'll be posting another blog post assessing the documentary evidence in the near future. 

These Limerick Morgan's had a long-held belief that they were descended from the Morgan's of Tredegar (near Newport in Wales). Apparently a cadet branch (i.e. junior branch) of the Tredegar Morgan's came over to Limerick some time in the 1600s. And if this is true, then our Morgan's apparently have a connection to JP Morgan, Captain Morgan (rum), and Princess Diana. You can read about how George and I connected with each other in this previous blog post.

Since then, DNA has confirmed the connection between (at least) 38 of the descendants of Edward Morgan 1774-1836 & his wife Jane Dwyer (my 4x great grandparents). This is summarised in the diagram below (with living people privatised) but you will need to click on it to see an enlarged version. More detailed information on many of these descendant branches can be found in my "Dublin Spierin's 2012" family tree on Ancestry. These 38 descendants did autosomal DNA tests (mainly at Ancestry or FTDNA) and these tests have a reach of about 250 years or thereabouts, which should allow us to connect with a common ancestor born about 1750. In order to connect with ancestors further back than 1750, we need to turn to a different type of DNA test ... the Y-DNA test. This is the only hope we have of confirming a connection to Wales.

Morgan descendants who have DNA-tested (ancestors to the left, descendants to the right)
(click to enlarge)

Y-DNA is only passed from father to son and thus tracks back along the direct male line. This makes it an excellent tool for researching surnames (which also track back along the direct male line). Following an electronic "mail shot" in August 2020, several direct male line Morgan descendants were identified and approached for Y-DNA testing. As a result, we now have Y-DNA results for three male Morgan's who have tested so far. Below is an assessment of what the results tell us.

Who has tested their Y-DNA so far?

My cousin George (GM) tested his Y-DNA back in 2017 and he had only one match (suggesting that he had quite a rare genetic signature). This single match was another Morgan (TM) whose ancestry went back to Limerick but who had a Brick Wall at 1837. The results of a third male Morgan (FM; Brick Wall at 1827) came back from the lab this month (Oct 2020) and his only matches on his Y-DNA-67 are GM & TM. We are also expecting Y-DNA results from a 4th Morgan (JM) from Australia and these should be available within the next 6-10 weeks. JM has documentary evidence that connects his Morgan line with mine and cousin George's. So altogether, we will have tested 4 male Morgan’s with ancestry that goes back to Limerick. 

Direct Male Line pedigrees of Morgan men, including those tested thus far
(click to enlarge)

Below is a summary of the current test-takers, their MDKAs (Most Distant Known Ancestors on their Morgan line) and the tests they have undertaken - the Y-DNA tests assess 37, 67 or 111 markers respectively; FF stands for Family Finder (which is FTDNA's autosomal DNA test); and Ancestry refers to the Ancestry autosomal DNA test. The Big Y test is the ultimate Y-DNA test and no one has undertaken this to date - it may be of some use in the future but that possibility has not been assessed as yet.

MDKAs & tests taken by the Morgan men
(click to enlarge)

Note that GM and JM have a documented connection that goes back to 1636 but FM and TM have a Brick Wall in their family tree at 1827 & 1837 respectively. In other words, we currently do not know how and where FM and TM connect to the longer pedigree of GM & JM. However, given that the Morgan's of Limerick are supposed to have arrived there some time in the 1600s, we know that the connection with FM & TM will probably be some time in the 1700s or late 1600s.

What do the Y-DNA results tell us?

I’m going to discuss the results under several headings:
  • the deeper origins of the Morgan direct male line
  • the STR results
  • TMRCA estimates
  • the STR mutations
  • Summary & Next Steps

There are two types of Y-DNA marker that you can test for, namely STR markers and SNP markers. STR stands for Short Tandem Repeats and SNP stands for Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. You can read more about these two types of DNA marker here:
  • Tests for STRs: Y-DNA-37, Y-DNA-67, Y-DNA-111 ... Respectively, these assess 37, 67 & 111 markers on the Y-chromosome.  SNP data is not included in these tests, but we can predict what top-level SNPs someone is likely to carry based on his STR results, and knowing his SNP profile helps us place him on a specific branch of the Tree of Mankind.
  • Tests for SNPs: Big Y (or SNP Pack)
The two types of Y-DNA marker provide us with different kinds of information, but all of it is useful in helping to explore the origins of people with the same or similar genetic signatures. 

GM & FM did the Y-DNA-111 test; TM did the Y-DNA-67 test; and JM is undertaking the Y-DNA-37 test. 

The Deeper Origins of our Morgan ancestors

All of the Morgan men are predicted to belong to Haplogroup I. This is one of the major genetic groups within Europe and you can read more about it by clicking on this Eupedia page here. The Morgan men have been allocated to a subgroup within Haplogroup I characterised by the SNP marker M223. This allocation is written as I-M223. This SNP marker (like all SNP markers) not only defines a particular subgroup (subclade) of men but also the branch of the Tree of Mankind on which they sit. 

The M223 branch is relatively "upstream" (i.e. relatively distant), as opposed to "downstream" which is relatively recent (i.e. towards the present day). This particular SNP marker arose about 15,000 years ago, somewhere in central Europe. However, the Haplo-I Predictor gives us a "more downstream" SNP prediction and suggests (with 87% probability) that the Morgan men belong to the downstream subgroup I-M223-Cont2c which is associated with the SNP marker L623. [1] This is still relatively upstream and was formed more than 4700 years ago. L623 has the following SNP Sequence (i.e. the sequence of SNP markers characterising each branch of the Tree of Mankind as one moves from the upstream ancestors towards the downstream descendants):
  • I-M223 > P222 > CTS616 > CTS10057 > Z161 > L623

GM has also joined the I-M223 Haplogroup Project at FTDNA and the Administrators there have placed him in the group (Cont2c Group 2). This also supports the prediction above. Note the variety of different surnames in this particular group (i.e. Robb, Osterberg, Wilding, Gonzalez, Powell & Lutz). This suggests that the descendants of this particular subgroup have expanded all over Europe. Apparently this L623 subgroup is very rare and (to date) has only been identified in Scotland and Ireland (see section I2a2a3 on the Eupedia page).

GM sits in the Cont2c group of the I-M223 Haplogroup Project
(click to enlarge)

We would need to undertake the Big Y test to confirm that the Morgan men sit on this particular branch and this is something we might consider at a later stage. The Big Y test would also tell us what further downstream SNP markers the Morgan men possess.

Putting the L263 SNP marker into Rob Spencer's SNP Tracker tool gives us a crude (but very pretty) picture of the possible migration route of the people who first carried the L263 SNP marker. Like all human beings, our journey starts in Africa more than 250,000 years ago, we moved across the Arabian peninsula some 60,000 years ago, and from there into southern Europe, and across to southern Britain some 5000 years ago. It would be another 4000 years before we became Morgan's. And (if the family lore is correct) we have only been in Ireland for the last 400 years.

Crude migration pathway of the men who carried L623

However, although these deeper origins of our Morgan line are nice to know, we are more interested in our connections within the last several hundred years. And to explore this further, we turn to the STR results.

STR Results of the Morgan men

When comparing their STR results, all of the Morgan men are close matches to each other. How closely or distantly they are related is assessed by the Genetic Distance (GD, first column below) which is the number of steps away from an exact match. For example, if two men were being compared on their first 37 markers, an exact match would have a GD of 0/37.

At the 67-marker level of comparison, my cousin George only has two matches in the entire FTDNA database (over 700,000 men) and they are FM and TM. His GD to them both is 3/67. Similarly, FM & TM have a GD to each other of 4/67.

Y-STR matches of GM
(click to enlarge)

These results are further evidence that the Morgan genetic signature is fairly rare, and in addition suggest that the Morgan men all share a common ancestor some time in the last several hundred years … but when?

Estimates of Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor (TMRCA)

We can get some idea of how long ago their common ancestor lived by clicking on the orange TiP icon underneath each of their matches’ names. This brings up the TiP Report and by resetting the Display to “every generation” we can see that the midpoint (50% level) in the range of probabilities is closest to 8 generations, with a (roughly) 95% probability that they are related within the last 16 generations. Translating this into years (by allowing 30 years per generation) gives us 240 years ago for the midpoint level and 480 years ago for the 95% level. And this translates into 1710 and 1470 respectively (by subtracting the years from 1950, which we can take as the approximate year of birth of the Morgan men who have tested). 

TMRCA estimates give a range of probabilities for when the common ancestor lived
(click to enlarge)

It is important to emphasise that these estimates are very crude and should be taken with a large pinch of salt, but they do give us some idea of the time period in which the common ancestor might have lived (and it certainly was not more than 1000 years ago).

Also, these estimates are in keeping with what we would expect based on the documentary evidence i.e. a common ancestor some time in the 1700s or late 1600s.

Visualising the Mutations in STR Values

Lastly, on the Project Results page of the Spearin DNA Project, I have grouped all three men together in the group entitled "Morgan's of Limerick" and here you can see a comparison of their STR results. The names of the STR markers are at the top of the page and the values for each marker are the string of numbers beside each person's name. Any differences in the marker values are indicated by the pink and blue squares (pink indicates an increase in value, blue indicates a decrease). You can see that all three men match most of each other's marker values exactly, and it is only a few of the markers where there is a difference. These differences are what go to make up the Genetic Distance calculations discussed above.

STR marker values for the three Morgan men showing mutations in pink & blue
(click to enlarge)

Summary & Next Steps

So, putting this all together, what do the Y-DNA results tell us so far? 

The first big message is that the three Morgan men have a shared Morgan ancestor and he probably lived some time in the 1600s or 1700s. 

All three men have ancestry that goes back to Limerick but at this stage we don’t know how FM & TM connect to each other, or how they connect to the extensive pedigree of GM & JM (which we can refer to as the main Morgan line). Further research in the surviving records may help solve this particular mystery. Also, because FM & TM have Brick Walls that are within the reach of autosomal DNA testing (which has a reach back to 1750) it may be possible to use autosomal DNA (e.g. the Ancestry test) to identify some of their 3rd or 4th cousins, and this information could help us determine where the families of FM & TM connect to the main Morgan line. We are also helped by the fact that the number of possibilities for the common ancestor is quite limited ... given the fact their MDKAs were born in 1827 & 1837 respectively, it is likely that FM & TM's ancestral line connects with the main Morgan line sometime at or before 1800, and (because we have identified a lot of ancestors above this point) there are a limited number of people that it could be (assuming that the list is comprehensive, which of course may not be the case).

Direct Male Line pedigrees of Morgan men, including those tested thus far
(click to enlarge)

So, in summary, the Y-DNA results we have collected so far have allowed us to characterise the Y-DNA signature of the Morgan’s of Old Abbey & Dunmoylan in Limerick. Autosomal DNA results (from over 38 testers) have supported the accuracy of their family trees, and also have linked other Morgan descendants (e.g. women, and those not on a direct male line) to the main Morgan line. 

As for next steps, a fourth test is underway (JM from Australia) and his line connects with the main Morgan line in 1774 (we have a solid paper trail for this). And I am hoping we will have a 5th test in due course (and that person has a paper trail back to 1655).

After that the next step is to see if we can bridge the gap between Limerick and Wales. The Morgan’s of Old Abbey & Dunmoylan had a family lore that they were descended from a junior branch of the Morgan’s of Tredegar (near Newport in Wales) whose Morgan surname was a fixed inherited surname since at least the 1400s (the family being aristocracy). However it remains to be seen if a) any descendants have survived to the present day, and b) have been Y-DNA tested, and c) have avoided any DNA switches (NPEs) along their direct male line (apparently there are 3 known DNA switches on this line so this could represent a major challenge to establishing a link between the Irish & Welsh branches of the family).

And further autosomal DNA testing (preferably with Ancestry, as it has the largest database) will help other Morgan families to connect with the main Morgan line and, with a bit of luck, take the jump with the rest of us back to Wales.

Everyone is welcome to join the Spearin DNA Project, no matter what gender you are or what type of DNA you have tested - that way you can collaborate with other people in the project and keep up to date with any project progress reports. If your DNA is already in the FTDNA database, simply click on this link here and follow the instructions to join the project. If you have tested with another company, you can simply transfer a copy of your DNA results to FTDNA for free (instructions here) and then join the project.

Other direct male line Morgan's are welcome to test and join the project. I recommend starting with the Y-DNA-37 test from FTDNA and upgrading only if need be. If you are a woman, or not on the Morgan direct male line, I recommend testing with Ancestry and transferring your data to other companies (including FTDNA) for free - that way you get more value for money.

Maurice Gleeson
Oct 2020

Update December 2020

The Y-DNA-37 results for the 4th Morgan to test (JM) have just come back from the lab and he is an exact match to GM (i.e. Genetic Distance 0/37). This confirms that JM & GM are very closely related and supports the accuracy of the genealogical data that describes their common ancestral couple being Edward Morgan 1774 & Jane Dwyer (in green below). It also confirms that there has been no DNA switch (i.e. NPE) on the respective direct male lines of JM & GM since 1774.

Direct Male Lines of the Y-DNA tested Morgan men
(click to enlarge)

The results of the first 37 STR markers for the 4 Morgan men tested to date
(click to enlarge)

I am still hoping to recruit more Morgan men, in particular, descendants of James Morgan 1655 & Susan Allen (in orange above). I will try to encourage a few people to get tested over the Christmas Sale period.

And when the British Library opens again, I will need to do some research work on some relevant books therein, including Burke’s Peerage and similar volumes.
Maurice Gleeson
Dec 2020


[1] the Haplo-I Predictor gives us a "more downstream" SNP prediction and suggests the following 3 possibilities for downstream subgroups with strongest probability (87%) for the first one:
  • I-M223-Cont2c => 87% ... associated with SNP marker L623, which has the following SNP Sequence (i.e. the sequence of SNP markers characterising each branch of the Tree of Mankind as one moves from the upstream ancestors towards the downstream descendants):
    • I-M223 > P222 > CTS616 > CTS10057 > Z161 > L623
  • I-M223-Cont1a => 6% ... associated with SNP marker L1198, which has the following SNP Sequence:
    • I-M223 > P222 > CTS616 > CTS10057 > Z161 > L801 > Z165 > CTS6433 > S2364 > S2361 > Z171 > CTS8584 > Z185 > Z180 > Z166 (a.k.a. L1198)
  • I-M223-Cont2a => 5% ... associated with SNP marker CTS6433, which has the following SNP Sequence:
    • I-M223 > P222 > CTS616 > CTS10057 > Z161 > L801 > Z165 > CTS6433
This predictor uses out-of-date information relating to Haplogroup I and the second possibility in particular may no longer apply.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

John Miller of Limerick

In the Will of Rebecca Speiran (née Carter) from 1680, it states that she died an intestate widow and administration of her goods was granted to John Miller Esquire "for use of Elizabeth Baynham, daughter & next heir". This implies that any other children of Rebecca Carter & George (II) Spierin were dead by that time (Rebecca 1638, Mary 1641, & George 1646), leaving Elizabeth as the sole surviving heir.

Further details of Elizabeth's life is included on our The London Spering's page of the main website:
George and Rebecca's first daughter Elizabeth married Isaac Baynham in May 1679 but it did not last long - he died 6 months later in November and is buried in St Andrew Undershaft. It was a very late marriage and she was about 45 years old at the time. Furthermore, while she was getting married in London, her mother was in Ireland - why were the family separated?
On her death in 1680, Rebecca would have been aged somewhere between 65 and 80 years old. So ... how did she get over to Ireland? If her children (bar Elizabeth) were dead, did George III have any family before he died? If not, how did the Spering name get into Ireland?
The Will of Elizabeth Baynham was written 30 years later in December 1710 in London. She had kept in close touch with the Pennington's (in-laws from the marriage of her aunt Alice to John Pennington in 1598) and one of them was Executrix of her will (Mary Bramston, nee Pennington). However, nowhere is there any mention of land in Ireland. Did she dispose of it some time before this? or did she inherit any land at all? And why is there no mention of her putative nephews Matthew and Luke Spierin in Limerick?

John Miller is a relatively common name and there may have been several of them around Limerick in the late 1600s and early 1700s. And they may have had sons called John too.

We can say from the 1680 Will that there was a John Miller Esquire (i.e. gentleman) in Limerick at that time.

Furthermore, a 1719 land grant indicates that a Lieutenant John Miller owned 378 acres of land in Cappagh ("Keppagh and Killnokappagh") which was subsequently leased to "Luke Sperrin of Killtonan". Is this the same John Miller who was administrator of the 1680 Will? or was it his son?

If he was a Lieutenant in the army, there should be army records for him.

This transcript is from the Dillon Papers available from a JSTOR publication (page 45)

Luke Spierin of Cappagh made a Will in 1726 (and died about 1728). He left the lease of the lands at Cappagh to his eldest son Hartwell.

Thus the name "John Miller" provides a direct connection between the 1680 Will (John Miller Esquire administrator) and the 1719 land lease to Luke Spierin of Cappagh ("in the tenure of Lieut. John Miller"). As there is a 40 year gap between these two documents, it is probable that they are not the same person and that Lieutenant John Miller may be the son of the first John Miller Esquire.

From the sources below, it seems that the latter John Miller (the son) had moved up the social ladder to "gentleman" by 1723 when he was Barrack-Master of the garrison at Limerick. He also paid for the upkeep of the infirmary at Limerick until at least April 1725.

He was still Barrack-Master in 1734 as his account of repairs to the Barracks were quoted in a House of Commons Enquiry into the misuse of funds allocated to Barracks-Masters (published in 1745).

Journals of the House of Commons, 1745 (p759 onwards)

In two books published in 1736, John Miller Jun (junior) is listed as Barrack-Master in Limerick.

The Gentleman & Citizen's Almanack (1736)
The Present State of Great Britain and Ireland (1736)

Further research is warranted as it may reveal further details relating to the Early Limerick Spierin's.

Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2019

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Project Update 2019 - Part 2: Bridging the Gap

In the first part of this update, we illustrated how Genetic Family 1 (GF1, the Limerick Spearin's) sit on a very isolated branch of the Tree of Mankind with very few clues as to the origins of the group. Big Y testing by the outliers in GF1 (namely Laveaud, Wall, Graham, & Church) might provide some additional pointers but we might be more successful in addressing the question by targeted recruitment of English Spearing's and European Spiering's (targeted outreach via Facebook is ongoing).

In this update we will look at building a "family tree" for the Limerick Spearin's of Genetic Family 1 (GF1) using their DNA data to reconstruct the branching structure of the tree back to the Early Limerick Spearin's (Mathew, Nicholas & Luke, the presumed sons of George Spearin born in London in 1646).

Can we bridge the gap?

Most of the GF1 members have well-characterised Brick Walls in their family trees at around about 1800. Before the 1800 timepoint, there is a gap of about 2-4 missing generations - Mathew, Nicholas & Luke were probably born in the late 1660s, their children in the 1690s-1700s, their children in the 1710s-1720s (Missing Generation 1), their children about 1740 (Missing Generation 2), their children about 1770 (Missing Generation 3), and their children were the Brick Wall ancestors we see in the family trees of many members of GF1.

Slide from Project Update YouTube video (2015)

One intriguing question is: would it be possible to bridge the gap by using DNA? In other words, could we use DNA to help define the branching pattern among the 14 members? If we could, we might be able to say that one group of families descend from 1 son, another group from another son, and a third group from the third son. We might never be able to say which son was which (Mathew, Nicholas or Luke) but knowing the branching structure of the tree would help us focus our research. We might never be able to identify every ancestor in the 3-4 missing generations but the DNA could potentially provide a framework (i.e. the branching structure) for the missing generations.


It is possible that both Y-DNA and Family Finder results (i.e. autosomal DNA) might be helpful in defining the branching structure. Let's take a look at Y-DNA data first.  

Using Y-DNA to extend the Family Tree into the gap

A previous attempt was made in 2015 to build a "family tree" based on Y-DNA data (specifically the STR results generated by the standard Y-DNA-37 test - see diagram below). This is reviewed in this YouTube video here. Since then, a few additional members have joined the project, others have upgraded from the 37-marker test to the 67 marker test (Y-DNA-67) or 111 marker test (Y-DNA-111), and we have additional SNP data available (thanks to Big Y testing of 2 project members which is reviewed in a series of earlier blog posts starting here).

Family Tree for the Limerick Spearin's (GF1) based on Y-DNA data (2015)

There is also a new online tool called the SAPP tool which allows us to combine genealogical data, STR data, and SNP data together in order to produce a "best fit" family tree for everyone in GF1. Using this new tool, a family tree containing data from the 14 Spearin's of GF1 was produced - see below; details in footnote [1]. Sadly, it does not give us much more information than what we had already produced in the earlier version of the "family tree". However, it does give a more accurate date for the overall MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) for the entire group, namely 1750 (range 1650-1850), which roughly ties in with the known genealogy.

The "best fit" family tree generated by the SAPP tool (Spearin_7 MHT)
Note: the ID numbers reflect: the order of the group members on the Results Page, their initials,
the last 4 digits of their kit number, and the family to which they belong.
(click to enlarge)

Translating this diagram into a more user-friendly version gives us the family tree diagram below. This shows the following features:
  • the Y18109 9-SNP Block discussed in the previous post (which was presumably also carried by George Spearin who was born back in 1646)
  • the various branches with their STR mutations identified from the standard Y-DNA results
  • the family ID  for each of the 14 members (you can see the pedigree for each family here) as well as the individual ID numbers (initials and last 4 digits of the kit number) and the S numbers used for SAPP
  • the number of STRs tested by each member
  • the Private / Unique SNPs possessed by the 2 members who have done the Big Y-500 test [2]
  • the number of potential STR mutations identified among the additional STR markers (up to 450) included in the Big Y-500 test (note that this test has been updated to the Big Y-700 as of 2019 and this new test is anticipated to detect about 50% more SNPs than the Big Y-500 and provide up to 200 additional STR markers)

User-friendly version of the "best fit" family tree generated by the SAPP tool.Shared mutations are highlighted, but only orange highlight 
indicates branch-defining shared mutations.
(click to enlarge)

There are several important points to note about this "best fit" family tree:
  • Despite the STR & SNP testing carried out to date, the DNA has been practically of no help in defining specific branches:
    • DNA predicts a branching point (CDYb>42) within the ON1 family (George 1775), which we already knew about from the known genealogy.
    • And it predicts another branch (pre-1790) based on a mutation in the STR marker CDYb (it decreases in value from 41 to 40) which suggests that families ON2, NSW2 & NJ1 share a more recent common ancestor than the other families. However the CDYb marker is notorious for flipping back and forth in value from generation to generation so this may be a false conclusion and I don't trust it.
  • There are 20 mutations identified via STR testing (up to 111 STRs) and (at least) an additional 3 mutations identified via the extra STRs tested as part of the Big Y-500 test. [3] This gives a total of 23 STR mutations.
  • Most of the 23 STR mutations are not shared i.e. they occur in a single individual.
  • There are 11 shared mutations, and of these, 5 of them are potentially branch-defining (CDYb<40 is shared by 3 people and CDYb>42 is shared by 2 people). The rest (6) are Parallel Mutations i.e. the same mutation occurs by chance in two separate lines of descent (413b>23, CDYa>34, & 712>21, each occurring in 2 people).

The Way Forward with STRs?

In order to define branching points within the "best fit" family tree, we need a lot of mutations (both STR & SNP) that are shared by some members but not by others. And so far we have only identified 2 branch-defining STR mutations (CDYb<40 and CDYb>42, discussed above). So what are the chances of identifying additional branch-defining mutations via more extensive Y-DNA testing (e.g. by upgrading to 111 STR markers, and/or doing the Big Y-700 test)? And would this allow us to define the branching structure of the missing 3-4 generations?

The short answer is: we wouldn't know until we did it, and the chances are probably low.

Here's why.

14 mutations were identified among 14 people who tested the first 37 STR markers (markers 1 to 37)
4 mutations were identified among the 7 people who tested the next 30 markers (markers 38-67; n=30)
2 mutations were identified among the 2 people who tested the next 43 markers (markers 68-111; n=43)
3 mutations were identified among 2 people in the Big Y-500 STR panel (markers 112-561; n=450)
This is summarised in the table below.

STR mutations (yellow/green) among the 14 members of GF1

From this we can calculate crude mutation rates as follows:
  • Markers 1-37 ... ... 14 / (37 x 14) = 0.02702   = 27 / 1000
  • Markers 38-67 ...    4 / (30 x 7) = 0.0190476  = 19 / 1000
  • Markers 68-111 ...  2 / (43 x 2) = 0.0232558  = 23 / 1000
  • Markers 112-561 ... 3 / (450 x 2) = 0.003333 = 3.3 / 1000

This suggests that most mutations will occur among the first 37 markers (which supports the use of the Y-DNA-37 test as the standard initial test for those joining the project). However it also suggests that a significant number of mutations would also be found by testing to 67 markers and 111 markers (although this conclusion is based on only 7 and 2 participants respectively).  The STR Panel associated with the Big Y-500 test has the lowest mutation rate, but because there are 450 STR markers in this panel, it will still generate significant numbers of mutations. Upgrading from Y-DNA-37 to Y-DNA-111 would cost about $190 whereas the Big Y-700 test would cost about $500 so both options are costly.

Of the 23 STR mutations identified thus far, 11 (48%) were shared mutations, and of these 6 (26%) were Parallel Mutations (according to the "best fit" family tree) and 5 of them (22%) were branch-defining mutations, arranged in 2 sets - 2 people shared CDYb>42, and 3 people shared CDYb<40. (And to repeat, the latter may be a false finding as the CDY markers are very fast-mutating markers and may shift back and forth in value from one generation to the next).

So, based on these data, we would predict that testing everyone to 111 markers would generate a further  (4+12=) 16 mutations, and of these about 20-25% (3-4) would be shared, branch defining mutations. And about 40% of these (1-2) would be in the period of the 3-4 missing generations (approximately 1690 to 1800). And you need at least 2 people with a shared mutation to form a new branch, so the most we could hope to identify with STR markers is 1 new branch.

But this is merely an estimate based on the data we have so far. The final picture (if everyone upgraded) could look considerably better ... or considerably worse.

Could SNPs help?

Similarly, if everyone did the Big Y-700 test, what's the best we could hope? How many unique SNP mutations might it reveal?

The 2 members who did the Big Y test are reported to have 2 unique SNP mutations each. [2] Even if all the group members had 2 new mutations each (28 in total), not all of them would be branch defining within the 1690-1800 time period of the missing generations. We could guesstimate that 50% (14) of the new mutations would be unique (private) SNPs to individual members, and 50% would be shared (i.e. branch-defining) with other project members, but only about 25% (7) would be in the missing generations period (1690-1800). This gives us only 7 branch-defining SNPs ... but this is just a guestimate.

And as it takes a minimum of 2 shared mutations to define a branch, only a maximum of 3 branches could thus be defined within the time period of the missing generations. And this would allow us to separate the 14 members into 3 distinct family subgroups (at most) within the 1690-1800 time period.

So we could define 1 new branch with STRs and a maximum of 3 with SNPs (potentially), and this gives a maximum of 4 new branches within the 1690-1800 time period. And that might help considerably to answer the question: can we bridge the gap?

But this is only an estimate.

And is it worth it?

What do you think?


This has been a very useful exercise. But there remains considerable doubt as to whether upgrading everyone to 111 markers or the Big Y would produce meaningful results. And it would only have the best chance of working if everyone upgraded (and we know that not everyone will) because we always need something to compare the results to - a single result in isolation is essentially worthless. Currently (for comparative purposes) we have 14 sets of Y-37 results, 7 sets of Y-67 results, 2 sets of Y-111 results, and 2 sets of Big Y-500 results.

I am currently using the General Fund to upgrade 2 members (the ones who did the Big Y test) from Y-DNA-67 to Y-DNA-111. It only costs $29 each and it may produce some interesting results so it is worth doing. It would bring the total number of members who have done the Y-111 test to 4.

However, cost is an important consideration. The cost of everyone upgrading to the Big Y-700 would be in the region of $6000 (for 12 people). And that is a lot of ice cream. Would the money be better spent elsewhere?

Therefore I would not recommend upgrading to Y-DNA-111 or doing the Big Y-700 test unless you are particularly curious. And the reason for not recommending this is because there are serious doubts as to whether it is capable of addressing the particular issue at hand i.e. trying to bridge the gap of the 3-4 missing generations by defining the branching structure of the family tree in that particular tranche of time (1690-1800).

Might we be better using Family Finder data (i.e. autosomal DNA, atDNA)? This will be explored in the next blog post.

Hang in there!

Do good things come to those who wait?
Maurice Gleeson
Aug 2019

Footnotes, Sources & Links

[1] the SAPP tree was generated in a series of steps. A Mutation History Tree (MHT) was generated for each step from Step 2 onwards and a sense-check was performed.
  1. firstly a text file was generated with the crude data
  2. floating STRs (from results transferred from HeritageDNA) were removed, missing values (markers 31-35) for S03 were taken from S05 (same person, duplicate test), labels were added
  3. Z166 modal was used as an anchor, SNP & genealogy data was added
  4. floating STRs were restored & missing STRs (tentatively) imputed from GF1 modal
  5. CDYa&b were ignored
  6. CDYa&b were reactivated, outliers ignored, S03 ignored (duplicate of S05), George 1775 added
  7. CDYa&b changed in Z166 modal from 34-39 to 33-41 to reflect GF1 modal, MDKA birth locations added where known

[2] The 2 members who have done the Big Y share the 9-SNP Block headed by Y18109. Presumably all of these SNPs were shared by the overall common ancestor for GF1 (which we presume to be George Spearin born in London in 1646, son of George Spearin & Rebecca Carter).

These 2 project members also appear to several "Private" SNPs i.e SNP markers that are unique to each of them individually (and not shared by anyone else in the entire FTDNA database). However, because of the way FTDNA present the data, it can be very difficult to identify which unique SNP belongs to which person:
  • The GA1 member (PMS-4729) has 1 unnamed variant 
    • 8480410 = Y47137 (discovered by YFULL in 2015) 
  • The LIM10 member (JS-1223) has 2 unnamed variants
    • 4503779 = BY58131 (discovered by FTDNA in 2018)
    • 8769214 = Y47666 (discovered by YFULL in 2015)
From this we might expect them to have 3 Non-Matching Variants but only 2 are recorded in their respective Big Y results:
  • ZS2445 (position 14,706,801; discovered by Victor Was in 2014) ... where did that come from?!
  • 8480410 = Y47137 (discovered by YFULL in 2015)
The first SNP was discovered in 2014, a year before the 2 members tested (Aug 2015), so this is probably not unique to our 2 project members. But we simply don't know. The second SNP is probably a unique SNP possessed by the GA1 member (PMS-4729).

And this highlights the problem with the way FTDNA present the Big Y results - you can never be sure if the SNPs are a) genuine / reliable; b) unique / private SNPs; and c) to which particular individual do they belong.

However, both these members have had their Big Y results re-analysed by YFULL and here is what YFULL says:
  • GA1 member (PMS-4729)  has the YFULL ID YF04104.
    • He has 1 private/unique SNP of acceptable quality ... Y47137
    • He also has 42 unique SNPs of ambiguous quality and 1 of low quality. 
  • LIM10 member (JS-1223) has the YFULL ID YF04316.
    • He has 2 unique SNPs of "best quality, namely ... Y47666 (as above) & BY58131 (as above)
    • He has 1 private/unique SNP of acceptable quality ... Y54303 (where did that come from??)
    • He also has 9 unique SNPs of ambiguous quality and 1 of low quality. 
So from the above, it would seem that YFULL identifies 3 unique SNPs (of best or acceptable quality) for the LIM10 member and 1 unique SNP (of acceptable quality) for the GA1 member. This give 4 in total between the 2 members, and thus an average of 2 per member ... and this latter figure is consistent with what FTDNA describe in the Big Y Block Tree, namely: Private Variants ... Average: 2

It is only by comparing these assessments to additional Big Y data that we can judge which of these SNPs are important and which ones are not.

[3] There may be more STR mutations among the 450 additional STR markers that come with the Big Y-500 test but we would need at least one more person to do the Big Y test in order to ascertain this. This is because at least 3 people are needed to generate the modal value for each STR marker.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Project Update 2019 - Part 1: the Tree of Mankind

The Spearin Surname Project has been running for some 8 years now and has already succeeded in answering several important questions about the first group within the project - Genetic Family 1. We have established the following:
  • all Spearin's with origins in Limerick are genetically related and go back to a family of Spierin brothers who probably arrived in Limerick in the late 1600s. Before that they are linked to a family of goldsmiths in London going back into the mid-1500s, and before that there are links to Flanders where they possibly followed the profession of bookbinding.
  • several variants of the name are all closely genetically related - Spearin, Speerin, Speiran, Spearing, Speering, Spierin, & Sperin.
  • the common ancestor to the whole group was probably born about 1650.

However there are several questions that remain unanswered:

1) Where did they originate? Are their roots in Flanders (modern Belgium) as the genealogical data suggests, or alternatively are they descended from English Spearing's (a surname concentrated in and around south-west England)?

2) How are the various families among the Limerick Spearin's related to each other? Many hit a Brick Wall at the 1800 timepoint in their individual family research - can we use DNA to try to establish who is more closely related to whom?

The good news is that it may now be possible to address this second question and that will be explored in the second part of this update. For now, let's look at where we are with the project.


The project currently boasts 112 members. Recruitment to the project has been steady over the past year with approximately 1 new member joining each month. The most frequent test in the project is the Family Finder test (70) followed by the Y-DNA test (63) and mtDNA (23).

The Project Recruitment Graph shows steady recruitment to the project
(click to enlarge)

Genetic Groups

The Y-DNA test explores only the direct male line and thus follows the surname. Members who have tested with Y-DNA have been divided into genetic families on the project's Results Page.

The largest group is Genetic Family 1 - the Limerick Spearin's. There are 20 members in this group. Fifteen (15) of them belong to a "core group" of Spearin's (one is a duplicate so there are only 14 individuals) and 5 are outliers (with non-Spearin surnames) who have been included in the group for comparison purposes (more on them later). The 20 group members and the results of their first 37 STR markers are below.

There are very few mutations (pink & blue squares) among the core group members (indicating a tightly knit group) and a lot more mutations among the outliers (indicating a more distant relationship to the core group).

Placement on the Tree of Mankind

Genetic Family 1 belongs to Haplogroup I and the subgroup I-M223 (which used to be called I2b1 and is now called I2a2a). Two members of the core group have previously undertaken the Big Y-500 test and have both tested positive for the Terminal SNP Y18109. The SNP Progression* associated with this SNP is as follows:
  • Core Group ... I-M223 > CTS616 > CTS10057 > Z161 > L801 > Z165 > CTS6433 > S2364 > S2361 > Z171 > CTS8584 > Z185 > Z180 > Z166 / L1198 > Y17535 > Y18109
* A SNP Progression is simply the sequence of SNP markers that characterises each branching point on the Tree of Mankind, starting "upstream" at the level of the Haplogroup (I in this case) and progressing all the way "downstream" (i.e. towards the present day) to the Terminal SNP. Comparing SNP Progressions helps us see exactly where each Terminal SNP sits on the Tree of Mankind and helps identify the SNP of the common ancestor between 2 or more people.

This particular subgroup of Haplogroup I could be associated with a variety of early Western European tribal groups, such as the Franks, Anglo-Saxons, Goths and Vikings. However there is (currently) insufficient evidence to say which of the origin theories is more likely - the Flanders origin theory or the English origin theory. You can read more about the deeper origins of this subgroup on Eupedia here.

The section of the Haplogroup I tree where the Limerick Spearin's sit (green arrow).
The common ancestor (L801) is about 4000 years ago and started in Germany.
(click to enlarge)

We can see where the Y18109 branch sits on the Tree of Mankind on FTDNA's new Big Y Block Tree (below). The Y18109 branch is characterised by not 1 SNP but 9 i.e. it is a 9-SNP Block and the first SNP is Y18109. The others are Y18112/3/4/5/6/7/8 and BY37502.

From the diagram below it appears that the nearest genetic neighbours to the Limerick Spearin's are two men, one called Bowden (with origins in England) and the other called Murdock (with origins in Scotland) and they sit on the upstream branch Y18110. Their common ancestor with the Limerick Spearin's lived about 1100 years ago** (i.e. pre-surnames).

Beyond that, the next neighbours are a man (probably called Braz) from Portugal and 2 men from Cuba, and their common ancestor with the Limerick Spearin's would have lived about 2150 years ago and sat on the upstream branch Y17535. Two other people may also sit on or below this branch - Laveaud & Manning (according to the I-M223 Haplogroup Project).

**This time estimate is crudely calculated by counting the number of SNPs up to the shared branching point and multiplying this by 100 years per SNP i.e. 11 x 100 = 1100. A value of 130 years per SNP might be more appropriate and this would give a TMRCA estimate of 11 x130 = 1430 years ago. TMRCA stands for Time to Most recent Common Ancestor. The TMRCA calculation for the Y17535 branch above it is as follows: [1100 + (5 x100)] + [27 x100] / 2

The Big Y Block Tree - the Spearin's (Irish flag) sit on branch Y18109
and the nearest neighbours sit on the branch above (Y18110)
(click to enlarge)

So the Limerick Spearin's sit on a relatively isolated branch of the Tree of Mankind with only very few genetic neighbours. And of particular note, there are no neighbours from Belgium or the surrounding areas. So there is no data to suggest an origin for the group in Flanders. In fact, the nearest genetic neighbours are English & Scottish which might suggest a British origin for the Limerick Spearin's ... but I would be reluctant to draw any firm conclusions on the basis of only 2 matches. Simply put, we need more matches with more data.

Thus there is still only limited genetic evidence regarding the deeper origins of the Limerick Spearin's (i.e. prior to Limerick and London). Several project members have recent ancestral origins in Belgium, Netherlands & Germany but none of them match the Limerick Spearin's. Hopefully as more people join the project we will get one or more matches between the Limerick Spearin's and someone who has either Flemish or English ancestry and that will help definitively settle the origins question.

The Outliers

We now turn to the 5 outliers in Genetic Family 1. They all have differing surnames: Flodmark, Laveaud, Wall, Graham, and Church. The question is: are these very distantly related individuals or has there been a relatively recent Surname or DNA Switch (SDS)?

In the first scenario, the common ancestor between the outlier and the core group would have lived >1000 years ago, before the time of surnames. In the second scenario, a switch in DNA or surname could have occurred sometime within the last 1000 years. This could have been due to an adoption, a legal name change, a young widow remarrying, etc, etc. And it could have happened either way i.e. Spearin DNA became associated with a different surname, or different DNA became associated with the Spearin surname. It's a classic case of: which came first - the chicken or the egg?

But we can help answer the questions with SNP-marker testing (such as the Big Y) and two members of the the core group have done this. They share the Terminal SNP Y18109 whereas the Flodmark member has the Terminal SNP BY46958. These are on very distinct branches of the Tree of Mankind, a fact that is appreciated when you compare their abbreviated SNP Progressions* ...

  • Core Group ... I-M223 >> Z161 >> Z166 / L1198 > Y17535 > Y18109
  • Flodmark ...... I-M223 >> Z161 >> Z166 / L1198 > FT73935 > BY46958

In the above case the common ancestor would have tested positive for the SNP marker Z166 (a.k.a. L1198) and this is at least 2900 years old. So clearly, the connection between the Flodmark member and the core group is before the time of surnames (roughly 1000 years ago in Ireland) and does not represent a recent Surname or DNA Switch (e.g. adoption, illegitimacy, infidelity).

Assessment of the other outliers is more difficult because none have done the Big Y test which would place them definitively on the Tree of Mankind and answer the question (in the same way that we have done for the Flodmark member above). So instead we have to rely on Genetic Distance (i.e. compare their STR marker values to those of the core group and thus calculate the number of steps away they are from an exact match to the core group). Here are the GD values for the remaining 4 outliers.

GD Matrix for Outliers shows Church & Wall may be related recently (green)
(Key: no. of markers tested in grey along the diagonal;
yellow = match, green = close match, white = no match)

Here are the conclusions we can draw from this comparison:
  • Wall and Church do not match the core group (GD 10/67 & 19/111) but may be related to each other within the last 200 years (GD 2/67, TMRCA via TiP Report = 1860 [90% range 1710-1950]). 
  • Laveaud is a match to the core group (GD 9/111) and has tested positive for Z166 (on a single SNP test) but there is no information on any SNP markers downstream of this. Hence it is not possible to say definitively that there is no recent connection (i.e. within the last 1000 years). The Laveau family name has a fascinating history that you can read about in this previous blog post here.
  • Graham is the closest to the core group (GD 5/67) but without Big Y  data it is impossible to say if the common ancestor is before or after the advent of surnames (i.e. about 1000 years ago). If it is after the advent of surnames, then which name was first associated with this particular DNA signature - Graham or Spearin? We simply can't tell for certain based purely on the DNA. However, as discussed in a previous post, there is a Surname or DNA Switch on Mr. Graham's direct male line - his father's father is unknown and the name Graham was taken from his paternal grandmother. So he could very well have a Spearin on his direct male line. The estimated Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor between Mr. Graham and the core group (using the TiP Report tool) is about 8 generations (with a 90% range of 3-16) which crudely translates as a common ancestor born about 1710 (90% range 1470-1860). So it is conceivable that he may be descended from the Limerick Spearin's. On the Family Finder test, he doesn't appear to match any known descendants of the Limerick Spearin's, so this suggests that any connection (if it exists) has to be no closer than 4th cousins. Ultimately it may be the Big Y test that will help confirm or refute this potential connection.

Conclusions & Next Steps

The Limerick Spearin's sit on an isolated branch of the Tree of Mankind. Further matches are needed to determine if they originally came from Flanders (as suggested by the genealogical evidence).

The outliers in Genetic Family 1 (Laveaud, Wall, Graham, Church) should consider undertaking the Big Y test. This will help place them on the Tree of Mankind which in turn will help answer the question: is their connection to the Limerick Spearin's after the advent of surnames (about 1000 years ago) or before it? If the connection is after the advent of surnames, then there has probably been a Surname or DNA Switch some time in the last 1000 years and that raises the question: which came first - the Spearin chicken or the foreign egg?

FTDNA just launched their Summer Sale and there are significant discounts on the Big Y test as well as upgrades to higher marker levels (67 and 111). So now would be a good time to take advantage of these discounts if you are thinking of upgrading.

However, we may be more successful in determining the origins of Group 1 by targeted testing of English Spearing's and European Spiering's. This is an ongoing task and the subject of occasional Facebook recruitment campaigns. Despite our efforts, all the Spearing's and Spiering's who have tested  so far have not shown any match to the Limerick Spearin's ... or each other. This suggests that there may be several distinct genetic signatures among both the English and the European groups. This will only become clear as more people test.

In the next part of the update we will take a closer look at the connections between the members of the core group of the Limerick Spearin's and explore techniques (using both Y-DNA and Family Finder data) to determine who is more closely related to whom.

Maurice Gleeson
Aug 2019 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

FTDNA Thanksgiving Sale

There are some incredible discounts in the current FTDNA Sale which lasts from now until Nov 22nd. And there will probably be a Christmas Sale after that. So now is the time to start thinking about getting that upgrade or that extra kit.

Below are the sale prices and they are the lowest I have ever seen.
Y37 for just $99 ...
Family Finder for just $49 ...
and $100-140 off Big Y upgrades.

This feels more like Crazy Eddie's Second Hand Car Deals!

If you have any questions about your own particular situation, just drop me an email.

Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2018

Thursday, 30 November 2017

DNA reveals a major Welsh connection?

One of the main reasons for using DNA as a genealogical tool is to help you break through Brick Walls in your family tree research - those dead ends or roadblocks where you are currently stuck and can't go back any further. Only this year DNA helped me achieve a major breakthrough on one of my ancestral lines which has taken me on a wild adventure that is continuing to shock and surprise. This particular breakthrough throws new light on the Early Limerick Spierin's and the social circles in which they moved. And it also reveals that some of us within the project may have ties to the English monarchy.

The most useful of the three tests for genealogical purposes is the autosomal DNA test. We each have 46 chromosomes in every cell in our body and the autosomal DNA test assesses all 46 of these in women and 45 out of the 46 in men. (The remaining 46th chromosome in men is the Y chromosome and the Y-DNA test is the primary focus of the Spearin Surname Project).

I did my first autosomal DNA testing with FamilyTreeDNA back in 2010. I tested myself, my father and my maternal aunt. We each had several hundred matches, most of them distant relatives with no obvious common ancestor despite comparing respective family trees. This is what it was like in the early days of autosomal DNA testing - the various company databases were small and close matches were not common. That has all changed in recent years with currently about 9 million customers in the top three company databases (Ancestry 6 million, 23andMe 2 million, FamilyTreeDNA 1 million). This number is set to reach about 25 million by 2020 and more and more people will find close matches in the databases. By a close match I mean someone with whom you share a common ancestor in the relatively recent past, say up to a third cousin (and therefore common great great grandparents).

As time moved on, I tested several other family members, including more distant cousins. And several other distant cousins became interested in DNA testing and they paid for their own tests (all with FamilyTreeDNA). Then, about 2 years ago, it came to my notice that four of my family members who had tested all descended from the same ancestral couple - Patrick Spierin (PS) and Mary Morgan (MM), my great great great grandparents, and one of my Brick Walls. This is illustrated in the diagram below. The four family members were my Dad (MHG), his paternal first cousin (COC), his 2nd cousin once removed (KS), and his 2nd cousin twice removed (EW). The line of ascent from my Dad to PS & MM is indicated by the green rimmed boxes. It occurred to me that any matches that they shared in common with each other were likely to be related via PS & MM. And by contacting these shared matches, one of them might hold the clue that allowed me to break through the Brick Wall I had at that level and allow me to push my family tree back an extra generation.

Triangulating on Patrick Spierin & Mary Morgan

That was the theory at least. But could I prove it?

So as an experiment, I compared their respective lists of matches (each had about 1000 matches at this stage) and extracted those matches that any two of the four family members shared with each other. This was relatively easy to do as FamilyTreeDNA allows you to identify such Shared Matches and download them into a spreadsheet as an Excel or csv file. You can see the actual numbers of Shared Matches shared among the four family members in the diagram above. I ended up with a spreadsheet of 135 Shared Matches and after removing duplicates, I was left with 100 people.

I next wrote 100 individual emails to all the people on the list, explaining that they match two or more of my four family members, all of whom were descended from PS & MM and asking them if they had any Spierin or Morgan ancestors in their family tree.

The response rate to this exercise was pretty good and over the next several weeks I received 49 replies, trickling in slowly and tantalisingly. Each email reply was eagerly opened. Would this be the one that held the treasure? And each reply was a polite no. No Spierin ancestors, no Morgan ancestors. I quickly learnt to expect disappointment.

And then came the 50th reply. From Tony in Arizona.

"YES!! We have Morgan ancestors!"

I was thrilled. Had the experiment worked? I quickly sent Tony a link to my online family tree so that he could see what information I had about Patrick Spierin & Mary Morgan. I knew that they were married in Tipperary in 1828 but I had no date or place of birth for either of them. Presumably they would have been born sometime between 1800-1810. They had several children and the baptism records revealed that Patrick Spierin was variously a Police Constable and a "Sargent at Arms". I searched for him in the records of the Royal Irish Constabulary but he was not there. It is probable that he served in the Peace Preservation Force (PPF, an armed militia) but sadly there are no surviving records related to the PPF. However I found mention of him on several occasions in local newspapers of the period. Apparently on one occasion he was involved in a riot and shot someone. And on another occasion (in 1838) he was the arresting officer in the notorious murder case of Wayland and Cooper, two local landlords who were set upon by the Whiteboys, a local vigilante gang that intimidated landlords who evicted tenants, for this was the time of many "agrarian outrages". Four men were charged with the murder and the case made constant headlines in the papers. Two of the men escaped, one died in prison, and one was hanged outside Clonmel gaol. The case sparked the Devon Commission enquiry into land ownership in Ireland.

But by 1845, Constable Patrick Spierin had had enough. He next appears in Dublin as a porter for the Great Southern and Western Railway. It may be that Tipperary was getting too hot for him. Maybe people singled him out as "the man who got Con Hickey hung", and so he left with his family and moved them to the relative safety of Ireland's capitol. And that is where they lived out their days. He died in 1872 and Mary in 1878.

And that was all the information I had on them. And this is what I shared with Tony from Arizona. I also asked if I could see where his Morgan line appeared in his tree. And that is where we hit a problem. Tony knew there was a Morgan connection but nobody in the family knew where it fitted in. But it was plainly written for all to see on the gravestone of the wife of John Morgan in St Laurence's Cemetery in Limerick.

The gravestone erected by John Morgan

The gravestone states that John Morgan's wife had died in 1879 (aged 78) and he had erected the stone in her memory. But also buried in the gave is John Morgan's great nephew, John O'Dwyer who tragically died in World War One on 23rd Feb 1917. Now Tony's family knew this great nephew well, and knew where he fitted into the more recent family tree, but nobody had any idea who John Morgan was nor how he was related to John O'Dwyer. Assuming that John Morgan was roughly the same age as his wife, he would have been born about 1800, which is around about the same time I estimated that my great great great grandmother Mary Morgan was born. Could it be possible that John and Mary were brother and sister?

Another member of Tony's family agreed to do a DNA test (Tony's first cousin) and she too came back as a match to some of my four family members. This certainly supported a family connection via the Morgan's but it was a distant match and we could never be sure that there wasn't some second connection on some other ancestral line in either of our respective family trees. And despite an exhaustive search of the usual genealogical records, we could not precisely place John Morgan in Tony's family tree.

Sadly, after several months of flurried activity, we were going nowhere and we put the research aside.

Two years later, I received the 51st response.

In fact, this was a new match, someone who had recently done an autosomal DNA test. And Andrew informed me that he too had a Morgan ancestor - Patrick Morgan, born about 1812. And he had served for many years in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Bells started going off. My Patrick Spierin had been in the Peace Preservation Force. Were the two men associated with some sort of traditional family occupation?

Andrew sent me Patrick's picture, taken in the 1860s, in all his fine regalia, including a wonderful ceremonial sword. Could Andrew's Patrick Morgan have been a brother to my Mary Morgan and Tony's John Morgan?

Photo of Patrick Morgan (c. 1867)

I took out all the old research and started emailing back and forth with Andrew. I searched online for new clues. I searched on Ancestry for records and other family trees containing Andrew's Patrick Morgan. No luck. I googled Patrick Morgan RIC and generated pages of search results. And then one of them caught my eye. It was a family tree on GENI ( And sure enough, there was a family tree that contained Andrew's Patrick Morgan. But wait ... it also had his parents! Oh wow, I thought, this could be a breakthrough for Andrew! And it also had siblings for Patrick Morgan, and sure enough one of them was a John Morgan, who was married to a Mary! Hey, that could be Tony's ancestor - that could be a real breakthrough for Tony! Two for the price of one! And then as I looked further along the line of siblings, I came to someone called Patrick Spierin, married to a Mary Morgan! Hey! Those are mine! What are you doing with my ancestors in your tree?!

The Morgan family tree on Geni ... with all the key players therein!
(click to enlarge)

After the initial shock, I searched desperately for sources. Where did this information come from? What wonderful records had I missed in my own research? But there were no sources. It was just a tree with names. I could not verify any of the information against independent primary sources. This was disappointing because this meant that the only way I could access the sources would be to contact the owner and the tree had been created in June 2009, eight years previously. I had severe doubts that any email I sent to the author of the tree might take another 8 years to be answered. I was disappointed and feared the worst. I wrote a brief email making gentle enquiries about the source of the information and sent off the email into the ether with few hopes of receiving an early response.

And how wrong I was! A few days later I received a wonderful reply from George. "You ask what my sources were" he said. "Quite simply, the notebooks of Professor Wardell". "Who was he?" I asked. The reply: "Professor of Military History in Trinity College Dublin at the turn of the century. He undertook a study of the Morgan surname in Ireland and had access to all the records that went up in smoke in the Public Records Office fire of 1922. And he recorded everything in his notebook. And I have his notebook."

George's source for the family tree was Prof Wardell's notebooks from the early 1900s

It is not very often that I stare at my computer in complete astonishment but this was one of those times. Could we actually have solved the mystery, united the three Morgan's as siblings, and pushed back the family tree one extra generation?

In fact we did much more than that.

George, Andrew and I started exchanging emails left, right and centre. Suddenly huge amounts of information started flooding in, not just from the notebooks of Prof Wardell that George had in his possession but from a whole array of associated records. And in fact Prof Wardell's notebooks not only established that our three Morgan ancestors were siblings, but it pushed the Morgan family tree back five generations to the Morgan's of Dunmoylan and Old Abbey. You see our Morgan's were landed gentry and went all the way back to Limerick in the 1600s. All the way back to Lieutenant Edward Morgan who in 1716 (or thereabouts) married Alice Spierin, daughter of Luke Spierin!

The Morgan's of Old Abbey - note the Luke Spierin connection

Not only that, but they claimed descent from the Morgan's of Tredegar in Wales, who have a pedigree that goes back to 1089.

Not only that, but on a recent visit to the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I discovered an old pedigree that states that the Morgan's of Tredegar are descended from "six Kings, five Lords, and a Ducke". And during that visit I met Jim who informed me that he too is descended from the Tredegar Morgan's (making us something like 13th cousins) and that some of our Morgan relatives (fellow Morgan descendants) include somebody called JP Morgan, someone else called Princess Diana, and someone else who was a Captain in the Caribbean and gave his name to a bottle of rum.

And because the first Morgan settler in Ireland married the daughter of Luke Spierin, any of her descendants will automatically tie in to the Morgan's of Tredegar and their connections to the English monarchy.

So I am still reeling. And suddenly we have an awful lot of fact-checking to do. And lots more blog posts to write!

But what incredible adventures awaits us!

Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2017