In the genes: Local people urged to find out about DNA Ancestry testing

Dan Hull from Salt Lake City will be hosting the the Genealogy event in Derry next week.
Dan Hull from Salt Lake City will be hosting the the Genealogy event in Derry next week.

A descendant of the foreman who oversaw the building of Derry’s iconic City Walls has urged local people to consider using DNA testing to help verify their own family trees.

Dan Hull will host sessions next week aimed at assisting people from across the north west to find out more about DNA and its usefulness in helping them to look into their own ancestry.

Derry Walls.

Derry Walls.

The ‘Utilising & Analysing DNA for Genealogy Research’ event will take place over two sessions next Wednesday, June 13, from 11am to 12.30pm, and from 7pm to 8.30pm, at the Foyle Family History Centre, Racecourse Road (Latter Day Saints Church and Centre).

Dan, who has spent the past 25 years researching his Irish roots, is currently visiting from Salt lake City, Utah. He has found out that his family lived in Dungiven for 250 years and he is a descendant of Peter Benson, who was the contractor/builder of the City Walls in Derry.

Dan has worked as a consultant on Irish lines at the Family History Library in Salt Lake for the past two years and is former president of the Utah Genealogical Association. He said DNA has become an important tool in verifying and completing genealogy research, as proven by his own case. “As a wee boy I would go to family reunions where I am from and they would always tell about Peter Benson. I always thought it was pretty fantastic, but I had no idea what that meant,” he said.

“So I was able to come here for three months this time -I’ve been here on three other occasions - and this time I’ve spent a lot of time just focusing on where Peter Benson lived, his family, all of that.

“Before building the Wall, they gave Peter 1,500 acres in Stranorlar, they gave him basically the whole town. As a contingency back then, Planters who were lords had to put so many families on the land and they would pay rent to him of course, and that was how it was set up. There’s a list of all the people who came there. He helped build a few castles, and built some houses inside the city and had some land.

“We have worked with Mark Lusby from Friends of the Walls and Brian Mitchell, historian and genealogist, and they have been very helpful.”

Dan has also been able to find out that his ancestral roots among the most powerful dynasties in the north west branched out beyond the Bensons. “The Bensons married the Carys and the Carys married the Beresfords so that they all kept the lands together, and then the Bensons moved to Birdstown on the other side of Muff. Then we went to the Carys, and they owned Whitecastle, Redcastle and Cary Castle, all along the Foyle towards Moville. We visited all those places. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m probably related to half of Donegal!”

Dan said being able to back up so much of his research via DNA testing has spurred him on to try and help people here and elsewhere find out about where specifically their Irish roots lie. “In my family search I used DNA to verify things so when I go and find a family I want to connect with, a family I know they are probably related, I ask them to do a DNA test, and then I use that to verify the genealogy to make sure we are really related. It’s not used a lot here but that’s why I’m giving the class,” he said.

“It’s a great tool and there are some really good results now. Many of the companies have over a million cases of DNA tests done and now they are hooking all the genealogy to the DNA. One of the companies has put dates on the DNA. Now they can say ‘you were here in Ireland, but before that you were here’. That will get more specific as we do more testing and they can combine the genealogies that we have. We need more Irish people to do the testing. We have always got Americans but we are downstream too far. I might say I’m 97 per cent Irish, I know that but the trouble is I don’t know how I’m connected to them, but if someone else is connected to me that helps my test, and then my test helps their test.”

Keith Moore, a Director from the Foyle Family History Center, who has also had his DNA tested, said it can be crucial in backing up research.

“When it came back I realised I already and the paperwork, the ‘tree’ work, but now I had the proof with my DNA to back that up. It’s always good to get your DNA done,” he said.

The event in Derry, which is open to all, will look at what DNA is, what is does, how it can help verify research into your family tree, and compare prices and results for each of the main testing companies.