Last year roughly at this time, I participated in the The Genographic Project at the National Geographic. It was a project designed to “chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species by using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.”

It is a five year project and all participants (at least in certain developed nations with the economical means) were expected to purchase a kit to test their DNA. Basically, you swab the inside of your mouth, seal a tube, and mail it in. Easy as that.

The one I took was a male specific test. Results identify the ethnic and geographic origin of the paternal line. Not to bore you with science, but it included a balanced panel of twelve Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat, STR, markers. It is used to affirm or disprove a genealogical connection on the direct paternal line. When another person shows identical results within our database, you are contacted (if you opt in). Just in case, you thought I was smart, I took most of the last paragraph from the company that offers the test.

The screenshots above will show how my genetic markers made their way from Africa towards Spain and Ireland. In layman’s terms, awesome.

Granted, there were privacy concerns and the general consensus of Hollywood that all DNA testing leads to cloning (and eventual Gallagher zombies, perhaps?), but I soldiered on in the name of science. This was all a year ago.

This past year, I stumbled across a website dedicated to Gallaghers the world over and saw an entry for the Gallagher Geneaology Project and was intrigued if only to know that Gallaghers were capable of organizing anything. This way led on to way and I realized that the test I had submitted to National Geographic could perform double duty for the Gallagher Geneaology Project as well.

Long story short, I submitted my test to this project. It was accepted and put against the database of thousands of other Gallaghers who also submitted to the project. My results were further cross-checked against the entire database to see if I had exact matches outsie my family name. The results were fascinating as all 98 of the exact matches (12 point-not absolutely definitive, but close) did not share my family name.

Another set of 12 marker matches with a genetic distance of 1 (not as strong a match as the 98 mentioned before, but still quite strong) were produced and those were all Gallaghers. I have no idea what to make of any of this, but I am absoltuely hooked on geneaology now.

If interested, give a look at Family Tree DNA, the organization that provides the test, the database, and the research.

Below is a chart from the Gallagher Clan site showing the breakdown on Gallagher households in Irish countries from 1848-1864 (post famine). Donegal it is, then. Endlessly fascinating.


By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

3 thoughts on “My DNA Journey: From National Geographic to Donegal”
  1. Michael – and did you happen to match up with any Quinn’s in Donegal? In particular, in the area around Ballintra, Greaghs, Laghy (among a few more.) I’m related to a lot of Gallaghers in that area, and definitely every Quinn who lives there now, and in the past!

    Would love to hear from you and we could compare our DNA’s!

    1. Hello there Patricia!

      This is why I love blogs; random connections with like-minded (and apparently like-chromosomed) people! There is indeed a Quinn on there (as well as a Quinn-Conroy), although I am not sure where they are from (only email address provided). Patricia, that is so nice of you to tell me all of this; a real boon for people like me on the other side of the Atlantic with very little idea as to genealogy. So, you are saying that the Quinn and Gallagher family are quite well related? That is interesting as my exact DNA matches weren’t with any Gallaghers (they were the next step of matches, not exact). Fascinating. So intrigued. You know, I have never been up to Donegal (only Galway, Dublin, etc.) so it looks like I now have a reason to go.

      You want to carry on the conversation a bit? Would love to learn more. Have you tried the DNA test? Very easy and all on the up and up. If you want, contact me at and we can continue this conversation. Was actually hoping to make it to one of the Gallagher events ( at some point. So, Quinn, eh? Thanks Patricia!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.