We genealogists love our cemeteries and tombstones. So here’s a question for you—have you ever come across a grave marker that boasted about the county where the deceased was born? So-and-so was “a native of Erie County, Pennsylvania”?
Who does that, right? Well, I’ll tell you….
Irish immigrants are often very proud of their origins.
It’s not uncommon to find a final resting place that announces to the world exactly what county in Ireland was an important part of Terence or Bridget’s identity and sense of self. (See image 1, for example.)
Image 1. Terence Meehan grave marker, Dunn Cemetery, Hamilton Co., IN; (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11067067). Photo by suncacher.
Not every Irish ancestor left behind such vivid clues about his or her birthplace, but the importance of place persists. It’s a vital part of our story.
It can also be a challenge for many of us, if the emigrant left Ireland before the 1850’s. Almost no public records survive from that period to document the lives of poor tenant farmers. And we aren’t all so lucky with our family tombstones. I think in some really tough cases DNA may be the missing key.
This is the case with my Flynn origins.
Some of you may be regular readers of this blog, and perhaps you’ll find inspiration or a takeaway for your own genealogy brick walls. (See suggestions at the end.) Others may have received a link to this post, inviting them to help with my Flynn Kin project. Did you? If you did, it’s because your genealogy work and/or your DNA might be just the puzzle piece needed to solve the mystery of our immigrant Flynns.
Here’s a photo of my most recent Flynn: my great-grandma Mary Flynn, who was born near Stratford Ontario to James Flynn and Kate Lawlor in 1871.
James Flynn was born somewhere in Ireland and emigrated as a child with his parents and siblings in the 1840s.
Image 2. Mary Flynn, ca 1895. Photo in collection of the author.
I think I’ve exhausted nearly all the documentary sources on this Flynn family, and their friends, associates, and neighbors too. And I haven’t found anything pointing to a specific county in Ireland. So I’m turning to DNA.
Using genetic genealogy tools and traditional research, I’ve identified certain relatives who may hold the key to our success, and placed them into two networks, or groups.
- Group A Flynn Kin descend from James Flynn or from any of his five brothers. These are fourth cousins to me, or closer. As Blaine Bettinger says, we should “test descendant lines that preferably branch as close to the mystery ancestor as possible”, so having descendants of James’s brothers is very important. I’ve also included some closer relatives, because DNA is random and you never know who will have the vital match. Relatives on this line who are a generation older than me are invaluable too; potentially, they have twice as much Flynn DNA as I have.
- Group B Flynn Kin are likely more distant genetic cousins. We share identical DNA segments passed down from a common ancestor, but I don’t know exactly who that person or couple is yet. People in this group match multiple people in Group A, so I think my Flynns are related to Group B’s Irish ancestors. Some people in this group have Flynn ancestors who were still living in Ireland when census records and vital records are available.
By comparing the DNA and family trees of these two groups, closer cousins and more distant, I hope to tease out evidence of just *where* in Ireland my immigrant Flynns came from. (Figure 1 shows where Flynn heads-of-household lived in Ireland in the mid-1800s. Which one of those dots belongs to our family?)
Figure 1. John Grenham, “Irish Surnames” (https://www.johngrenham.com/findasurname.php?surname=Flynn : accessed 29 Feb 2020).
How can you help the Flynn Kin Family Origins Project? Any of the following would be valuable!
- Share your DNA results. If you’ve tested at AncestryDNA, there is a setting you can select to let someone else—like me—see your match list. That would help a lot! It’s easy to do. Click the link to Kitty Cooper’s excellent blog post with instructions here: https://blog.kittycooper.com/2020/01/how-to-share-ancestry-dna-results/.
- Upload your DNA data to other companies. It would also be very helpful if you’d consider copying your DNA data to other companies, like FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritageDNA or GEDmatch. That way, you can discover new genetic cousins who tested at a different company than you did. It’s not difficult to copy your data, there are free options, and I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the pros and cons of different options if this is something you’re willing to discuss.
- Share your family tree research. Got a tree you can share? Or is there a genealogy buff in your family you could connect me with?
How can the Flynn Kin Family Origins Project help you? In return for your participation:
- Learn their stories. I will share what I’ve discovered about our common ancestors. (For example, I’m writing family sketches—sometimes 15 or more pages—on each of my direct ancestors, with references, maps, etc. I can share those narratives about our immigrant Flynns with you.)
- I can help you expand your family tree. I’m a board-certified genealogist with subscriptions to several sources and utilities I can use to help us connect our trees.
- DNA help: Do you sometimes feel like you could be getting more from your DNA results? I can answer your questions on how to use the tools and maximize the benefits of GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritageDNA, AncestryDNA, or 23andMe.
There you have it! If you’ve been invited to collaborate on our Flynn Kin Family Origins Project, and you’re willing to help in any way, please email me at DNAsleuth@att.net and we can take the next step toward solving our family mystery.
And if you’ve read this far, but aren’t Flynn Kin, I hope one takeaway is that sometimes we need to identify not just who but where, and DNA matches may help us find that new place to look for records. And another important takeaway is this: We can’t always do it all ourselves. We may be able to make a lot more progress if we actually reach out to our DNA matches. Some may not reply, but some may. And even if they don’t have the answers we seek, they may have new leads, or even photos or stories to share that help expand our understanding of the lives and challenges and choices of our extended family.
I’m very grateful to each of my cousins, near and far, who has helped me on this challenging-but-fun journey; I couldn’t do it without you!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
© Mar 2020, Ann Raymont, CG®