Best DNA Test for Irish Ancestry

Finding out that you’ve got some Irish ancestry in your lineage might feel a lot like uncovering a Leprechaun’s pot of gold. For the most part, the Irish ethnicity is limited in diversity. That’s because for centuries, the Irish have maintained values of kinship and nationalism, with marriages heavily impacted by their intimate communities. Even to this day, most Irish people choose to marry within their own race. So if you’re not of predominantly Irish in descent, discovering a hint of their ethnicity in your blood can be incredibly unlikely and thus quite curious.

Obviously, upon making this discovery, your first instinct was probably to learn more about the unexpected lineage by way of a DNA test. Now, the only problem – there are countless brands that offer DNA testing kits for at-home use and each one is different. So how do you know which one is the best for your Irish ancestry?

While every test brings something unique to the table, you will ultimately have three choices for Irish ancestry research. These are AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, and Living DNA – all of which offer unique benefits that cover different areas of genealogical research.

A Comparison of the 3 Best DNA Tests for Irish Ancestry

 AncestryDNAFamilyTreeDNALiving DNA
Database size15 million1 millionUndisclosed, less than 1 million
Regions500+1500+80 regions
Autosomal DNA testYesYesYes
YDNA testNoYesLimited
mtDNA testNoYesLimited
Family matchingYesYesYes
Health reportsYesNoNo
Raw data uploadNoYesYes
Best forEthnicity reportsHaplogroup detectionFamily matching

What Makes These Tests Best for Irish Ancestry?

So, what exactly sets apart these three direct-to-consumer DNA tests from the rest of the options available? Well, there are a bunch of reasons why you might consider these choices, and they mainly involve the reliability and relevance of the results the tests provide.

1. AncestryDNA

The AncestryDNA company is the largest resource for personal genealogical research and is often considered by many as the quintessential at-home DNA test. Their database contains some 15 million registered DNA profiles, allowing you a wider reach into a more expansive pool of users. For the purpose of family matching, this can be particularly helpful.

But what really makes AncestryDNA helpful is the fact that they have the most detailed account of regional histories. Their database uses historical events to piece together the information from your test. This comes in particularly handy when you consider the fact that Irish historical records for certain decades were completely destroyed.

A fire that swept through the Public Records Office consumed censuses before 1858. Those from 1859 to 1922 were also heavily damaged and burnt beyond understanding. So there are a lot of gaps in the known history of the Irish population, which poses a challenge for DNA testing services who want to offer a clear picture of a person’s Irish ancestry.

Using birth, marriage, and death certificates, AncestryDNA has managed to create some semblance of continuity, bridging the gaps left behind by the fire. They also incorporate information from land titles and deeds of sale to paint a clearer image of the names and individuals who were present in the earlier Irish populations.

2. FamilyTreeDNA

The FamilyTreeDNA testing service – although smaller in terms of database size compared to AncestryDNA – is another indispensable tool for ancestry research. They’re the only major direct-consumer DNA testing brand that offers both the YDNA and mtDNA tests. And for you, that means a more accurate, far-reaching peek into the history of your lineage.

YDNA and mtDNA tests can be especially helpful in isolating your Irish ancestry. With these tests, you can find the specific brand of your family tree where the Irish ancestor might have emerged, leading you to find your Irish roots. What’s more, YDNA and mtDNA tests can trace back your haplogroup, allowing the furthest reach into your family history as personal genealogical research will allow.

3. Living DNA

Ancestry research is often a two-fold process. First, finding your roots by connecting your DNA with registered ancestors and following the traces of their ancestors before them. The second follows a more parallel approach, reaching around your family tree to reach neighboring branches with living, relevant family members.

The Living DNA database might not be quite as large. In fact, the service refuses to shed light on the size of its population. Most experts assume however that the database might be rather small, with just less than a million DNA profiles registered to the platform.

But what makes Living DNA of particular interest to those in search of their Irish roots? Simple – the platform is has the largest pool of users located in the British Isles. Because DNA tests take information from previously registered DNA profiles to fine-tune user results, the Living DNA database becomes a far more reliable source for Irish ancestral tracing.

Very few of the users on the platform come from anywhere other than the British Isles, so you might say its the perfect place to meet and communicate with Irish natives. Plus, it’s also the best online platform to find as many family matches withinin the British Isles area, which can be especially invaluable for your research purpose.

Understanding the Provinces of Ireland

Your DNA test results may be able to reveal specific provincial regions that localize your Irish ancestry to a specific area. Today, there are four main Irish provinces, and the tests above are all able to localize to these specific areas.

1. Ulster

The northernmost part of Ireland, Ulster is mainly populated by ethnic Scots who migrated into Ireland starting some time in the early 17th century. These people have quite a unique culture, showcasing a blend between Scottish and Irish traditions and practices. Often, these people are referred to as Ulster-Scots, although they are Irish by nationality.

2. Munster

Munster, Ireland is the southernmost province, and is heavily invested in traditional folk music. They’re also especially active in sports, with most of the Irish national teams coming from Munster. The location itself is home to a wealth of castles and historical landmarks depicting its colorful history throughout the Celtic, Roman, and Viking influences.

3. Leinster

This east-Ireland province is the largest in terms of population. Also particularly active in sports and athletics, the population is presently known to organize their own sporting organizations within the boundaries of their province. Historically, Leinster was its own Kingdom before the year 1171 until the Kingdom of Ireland consumed the region and turned it into one of its own provinces.

4. Connacht

Bordering the west, Connacht has a modest population of just around 500,000 people. Here, the Irish culture remains well-preserved, with most of the population speaking the native tongue as opposed to adapting English as their main language. The Irish Famine wiped out most of the Connacht population, causing some of their locals to move to other areas of the region.

FAQs About Irish Ancestry

Is it possible to find my ancestral home?

For many of those conducting personal genealogical research, uncovering their Irish ancestral home is the pinnacle of success. Today, many of the historical households that stood in the earlier centuries still exist in Ireland, mainly because of the weight and significance of kinship among people in their community.

The answer is yes – as long as you know your earliest Irish ancestor. With their name and personal information, you may be able to index their household by cross-referencing records from the Primary Valuation of Ireland. Their land and property records are widely available to the public because it serves the purpose of bridging the gap left behind by the 1922 Public Record Office of Dublin.

Can I find my ancestors’ burial sites?

Again, yes, that is possible. As long as you’re able to find out the name, birth and death information of your ancestor, you may be able to locate their grave. The Ulster Historical Foundation has a record of over 50,000 grave inscriptions across a number of historical gravesites throughout Northern Ireland. There are also a number of online resources that map out gravesites and their inscriptions to help you get a visual of your ancestors’ final resting place via the web.

Can I publicly access the birth, death, and marriage certificates of my ancestors?

If you’re diving deep into your research, it is possible to get a copy of the original birth, death, and marriage certificates of your ancestors. There are a number of offices in Ireland that handle such records. The General Register Office of Norther Ireland, the Irish Family History Foundation, the Ulster Historical Foundation, and the General Register Office of Ireland all have their own compilations of these certificates from different regions. Depending on the religion of the person you’re looking for and the date on the certificate, you may need to isolate your research to a specific office.

The Luck of the Irish

Despite having gone through one of the most devastating fires known to ancestral history, Ireland remains one of the most interesting focal points for genealogical research. Through the work of dedicated genealogists and historians, we today enjoy a well-constructed record of Irish history, making it easier for us to find out who we are and where we came from.

So what are you waiting for? Learn more about your Irish history and set off on a brand new journey to discover your roots with AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, or Living DNA.

Resources:

  1. Ruin of Public Record Office marked loss of great archive. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/ruin-of-public-record-office-marked-loss-of-great-archive-1.1069843 on November 8, 2019
  2. A timeline history of Northern Ireland. Retrieved from https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/activities/ancestry/a-timeline-history-of-northern-irelands-people/ on November 8, 2019
  3. Richard Griffith’s Valuation – a mid-19th century gem. Retrieved from https://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Griffiths-Valuation.html on November 8, 2019