When DNA proves your paper genealogy

I love DNA for genealogy research! And love when it all aligns and supports all the paper trail. Here is how I use it…

Let’s look at one of my favourite branches of the tree, the KEENANs. Favourite, because they’ve caused me so much headaches, I’ve grown to love them! I’m still missing many records, and there have been so many inconsistencies in the records I’ve found – I have people appearing in census after they died, people appearing in census in the same year once with their spouse and once with the family of a child, ancestor re-marrying while she was still married after abandonding her family, her sister’s husband completely changing his name out of the blue… then when his wife died, he re-married her cousin, just to give me extra headache trying to figure it out ūüôā It has truly been challenging but fun researching them, and I’m sure there are still many surprises to be uncovered there.

But thanks to DNA I’m now more comfortable that I’ve been on the right track. Here is a list of some of Owen Keenan and Ellen Mullen’s decendents (they had five children), the yellow boxes represent people who have done a DNA test and who match my husband and a known relative. There is obviously more work behind the scene, but visually you can see – there are a lot of cousins there, and everything seems to align as expected.

Now, only if I can figure out where in Ireland did Owen and Ellen come from…

DNA decendents of Owen Keenan and Ellen Mullen (click to see larger version)

On a side note – ancestry DNA tests are currently on offer – if you are interested in doing a test yourself, hurry up! (http://dna.ancestry.co.uk)


Using DNA to add branches to the family tree

I’ve talked about DNA before, and this post is an example of how I use DNA to extend the family tree. I’ve had some pretty cool discoveries – this is an example of one of them!

Sometime ago a match appeared, will call her “Mary” to keep her anonymous.

Screenshot from Ancestry DNA

What caught my eye about this match was that she was a “High” confidence 4-6th cousin match (so likely to find the connection in the last 4-5 generations) and her surname was one of the prominent surnames in my tree.

Ancestry allows you to link a tree to your DNA results, and you can then use that tree to look for common ancestors. In this case “Mary” had a small tree with her mother only – Anna Theresa [surname] but in also included birth and death dates for her mother. Anna Theresa was born and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Thankfully Philadelphia BMD are available online on ancestry and familysearch, so I set to work. I wasn’t aware of any cousins in Philadelphia, but there were some in NY and in Boston, so it was possible somebody moved to a nearby state.

I quickly realised that my match’s surname was her married name, so not relevant to my family tree. However, her grandmother’s name was a nice surprise –  she was a Gallagher! The Gallaghers are a very early brick wall for me but there are so many of them, I have been unsuccessful so far to link anybody to the tree. I hit a brick wall again with Mary’s Gallagher line –  Bernard Gallagher b. 1832 in Ireland and moved to Pennsylvania, no indication where in Ireland or who his parents were. It is still possible there may be a connection there but if so, I haven’t found it yet.

His wife, however, was the breakthrough – Anna Theresa SWEENEY, born 1835 Ireland and died 21 Jun 1912 in Philadelphia. I have seen few Sweeney matches in Philadelphia but never seen any connection. Anna Theresa’s death certificate held the clue:

Death certificate for Anna Theresa (Sweeney) Gallagher, 1912, Philadephlia. Source: familysearch.org (click to see a larger version)


Anna Theresa’s parents were Miles Sweeney and Ann Gorman, who were my husband’s 4x great-grandparents! It still doesn’t list the place of birth, but with a match at this level (3rd cousins on paper) I’m pretty confident that this is correct and I’ve added her to the tree, and hopefully in future this will help linking the other Philadelphia Sweeney DNA matches to my tree.

Unfortunately so far I haven’t been able to get in contact with “Mary” (she is eldery, so may not use the computer much) but I will continue searching for more evidence.

Looking for DNA testers!

I have been a bit absent lately with the blog as life has been busy, but I’ll try to keep on track and post one new post every two weeks, as there is still so much information to share.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been working on my own Bulgarian ancestors, and part of this has been using DNA to support the paper records. I’ve tested over 20 close family members and cousins so far and it has been really interesting – I’ve confirmed relatives and found new and sometimes unexpected connection! Thank you all!

So, I’m hoping to expand and do the same on the Irish lines – apart from confirming the paper trail, it will hopefully help breaking through the brick walls I’ve hit. For example, despite building trees for many Gallagher and McLaughlin families in Derry, I’m still not sure where did William Gallagher and Jane McLaughlin came from! And all experienced researchers I’ve asked have hit a wall too. Another line is the Keenans (all McManus cousins are also descendents from them) who moved to Scotland sometime around 1840s – have no idea where they came from in Ireland. I have built extensive trees in both Glasgow, and then Boston, yet they are still a mystery.

I hope DNA will help! So I’m asking anybody who is interested in testing – to please get in touch. I’m looking for:

  • testing oldest living relatives on any of the lines – Warren, McManus, Kavanagh, Gallagher, as well as any known 1st/2nd cousins to these.¬† The reason I’m looking for the eldest is because every child only inherits half of the DNA from their parents, so with every generation half of the DNA is lost. Testing any living 85-90 year old relatives is like having access to a golden mine!
  • testing any male cousins (age doesn’t matter) with the surnames Warren, McManus, Kavanagh, Gallagher, McLaughlin, Bradley, Cooper, White, or any of the other direct ancestral surnames. This test is a Y-chromosome test and follows the direct male line, and will show where the family came from and who else with that surname are they related. There is also a big Y-DNA Irish project, so you get the bonus to be part of a very interesting country-wide edge-cutting research! ūüôā


(see Irish DNA Atlas project: https://www.familyhistory.ie/index.php/en/2012-04-22-23-12-47)

The tests are with ancestry and FamilyTree DNA and are saliva tests – either spit (ancestry) or swab (FTDNA). It takes few minutes and results come back couple of months later!

I can post a test, so no cost to you (apart from possibly return postage). Let me know, results are really interesting!

Here is an old post how I used DNA to crack through a brick wall:

DNA results are in – it’s HEGARTY!


In a previous post ¬†Who was Richard McManus’s mother?¬†I’ve mentioned I struggled to find a baptism record for Richard and to confirm his mother’s maiden name.

That was until a DNA match appeared on ancestry, that lead me to the theory that Richard had a sister Margaret McManus who settled in New York. Thankfully her death certificate listed her mother as Jane Hegarty. So I built a tree for Margaret, found other siblings, but could still not link her to Richard.  And the DNA connection was a bit too distant to be a conclusive proof.

Thankfully, a kind relative who is two generations closer to the ancestry DNA match had agreed to test Рand his results just came in this morning. He and J are 2nd cousins once removed!


I can now say, without any doubt, that the theory was correct – Richard’s mother was indeed Jane Hegarty (abt. 1821 – 1902)!

The search now continues to find out more about her other children and other possible Hegarty relatives.

(I’m deliberately not including diagrams for the relationship to protect living people’s privacy)

Edited Mar 2018: I’ve since found paper trail that confirms that Margaret and Richard are siblings, but the first clue was still the DNA.

Richard and Catherine McManus (part 5) Who was Richard’s mother?

A birth record for Richard McManus would have obviously answered this question, however I’m starting to think that¬†his birth was either not recorded or his year of birth may be completely off (I’ve manually searched St.Columb’s baptisms and can’t find him around that period). So I’ve been using some more creative techniques to try and find Richard’s family back in Ireland.

In his marriage record his parents are listed as John McManus and Jane, and from a possible naturalisation records his date of birth is 17th March 1845. The year of birth is consistent in other documents, so even if the naturalisation is for a different Richard, the year is a good guide. Searching for John McManus in Londonderry was not very useful as it yielded way too many results.

And here come the DNA!

Genetic genealogy¬†involves using DNA to find or confirm relationships between people, and is often used in combination with traditional paper-based genealogy. With the prices of the DNA kits down as low as $80 it is a very fast growing area. The idea behind it is that every child inherits half of their DNA from each parent. Using autosomal DNA one can confirm with quite high certainty all close relationships. It’s also useful for confirming more distant relationships, but the more distant the relationship is, the higher the possibility of an error. Hence, if you are planning on using DNA to prove your paper-based family tree or to break through brick walls – make sure you test the oldest relatives possible.

My husband did an ancestry DNA test couple of years ago, and based on matches with known cousins we’ve confirmed that two of the lines on his paternal side match the¬†paper records as far back as 1850s (the Hensman/Frost and the Wittnebert lines) I’ve been looking into trying to figure out how some of the rest of¬†the people who share DNA with him fit in his tree.

One of his matches on ancestry, I’ll call her J., was a reasonably close match, ¬†who had a small tree.


What caught my eye were the names in her tree – they were all very common surnames for Derry, but all lived in New York. The tree went back as far as J. grandparents, so I thought I’d extend it further back and in next generation the name McManus appeared!

Margaret McManus, b. 1856, baptised¬†5 Apr 1856 in¬†St Columb’s, Derry city… and the really exciting part – her parents were John McManus and Jane Hegarty! If my theory is correct, J. and my husband are 3 cousins once removed. While the DNA is consistent with this, the relationship is a little bit too distant to be able to conclusively prove it. Thankfully, an older relative had kindly agreed to test, ¬†he is two generations closer, and his results will hopefully be the proof we need.

Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure Jane Hegarty is Richard’s mother, so I’ll continue working on that theory.

John McManus and Jane Hegarty were married on¬†20 Nov 1841¬†in St Columb’s Londonderry.¬†The witnesses were Daniel Hegarty and Ann Bradley. Daniel is Jane’s brother, more on him later, and I’m not sure yet who Ann Bradley is, but the Bradley surname appears in the godparents for the children. Catherine (Richard McManus’ wife, Jane’s daughter-in-law is Bradley, however¬†I haven’t found a connection between her and Ireland yet, and there are a lot of Bradleys in Derry, so it could be just a coincidence with the name)


John and Jane McManus had a number of children, I haven’t found all of them yet as there are gaps in years ¬†the databases available online, but the children I’ve found are:

  • John b.1842
  • Catherine b.1847
  • Mary Jane b.1852
  • Margaret (1852-1925), married Daniel McDaid (McDade) and lived in New York
  • Bridget b. 1857, married Edward Doherty
  • Jane b.1866
  • Philip b.1867

There are a large gaps between the births of some of the children, so it’s quite possible John and Jane had more children who I haven’t yet found. It’s also plausible that Richard b.1845 is their second son.

Jane was still alive in 1901, age 80, living together with her son Philip in the household of her son-in-law and daughter Edward and Bridget Doherty, Fulton Place.


She is¬†listed as a “boarder” not as a mother-in-law. Jane died a year later, and the newspaper notice of her death mentions she died in Fulton Place in her son-in-law’s residence. She died of “diarrhoea 21 days, exhaustion 5 days” ¬†which I’m guessing would mean dehydration. She was 81¬†and a widow. She would have been born c.1821 in Derry City.



The newspaper announcement also mentions she will be buried in the Long Tower Burrying ground, so I’m planning to find and contact the cemetery to see if they have any further records, or do they know if any other relatives are buried with her or nearby.

I’m currently looking into the godparents of Jane and John’s children to see if they give more clues about other McManus or Hegarty relatives.

Remember Daniel Hegarty who was the witness in John and Jane’s wedding – he is most likely her brother. I haven’t found much information on him, but I may have found his son – Daniel Hegarty (Jr) born about 1866 and died 6 Jan 1909 of a heart failure, age 46. Daniel was married twice. His first marriage was to Sarah McNulty on¬†05 May 1887, and they had two children – Daniel (b.1890) and Margaret (b.1896). Sadly Sarah died before 1901 (Daniel was a widower in 1901) and he married a second time – to Caroline McLaughlin on¬†31 May 1902. Daniel and Caroline had a son Joseph born 1904.

I’ll end this post with one last census record from 1901 which was mis-transcribed and I only found it when I was manually looking through all households on Fulton place where Jane McManus lived in 1901.

1901 census, Fulton Place, Derry

The names and ages of John, Richard and Catherine match the names and ages of the three children of Richard and Catherine who were left behind in Derry. The places of birth are not very clear, but seem like Boston, United State of America (and Richard is listed as born in New York) I will be looking to see where were John and Catherine in 1911 (Richard was married in 1909 and in 1911 lived on Bridge Street.

*** Update: ¬†DNA results came in and confirmed Richard’s mother is indeed Jane Hegarty!