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Digging Through the DNA

My father descends from Daniel Ryan (1829-1863). Born in Ireland, Daniel immigrated to the United States sometime before 1851 and settled in Illinois. We know nothing about his life in Ireland. The frustrating search for his roots continues.

We have not been able to isolate census records or a ship passenger record for Daniel. A marriage record tells us his parents’ names, Edmund Ryan and May Junk, but so far these names have led nowhere. The commonality of the Ryan surname compounds the problem.

I have hoped that DNA matches might help. Although we match several people with Ryan ancestors, none of their Ryan families seem to match up with one another. The descendants live all over the place—the United States, Ireland, England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

I have searched for the earliest Ryan ancestor for all our matches. Most online trees extend back only to the early 1800’s, about the time our Daniel’s parents would have been born. No one has ancestors named Edmund and May.

The strongest matches fall into these family lines and groups:

  1. Denis Leonard (1802/1810 – 1866) and Mary Ryan (1811/1819 – 1865) of Pallasgreen, Limerick. This group looks promising because Mary’s father may have been named Daniel, and she named a son Edmund. Our closest match in this group matches my father at 55.7 cM.
  2. Timothy Ryan (1825-1881) and Bridget McDaid (1832-1882) lived on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Their descendants match us at 54 cM and 38 cM.
  3. Ellen Ryan. This match has two ancestors with this name, and he matches us at 52.5 cM.
  4. Timothy Ryan. This man’s descendant matches us at 43.6 cM.
  5. John Patrick Ryan (abt. 1795-1862) and Margaret Maher (1798-1866). This couple may have lived in Tipperary. We match at 43.2 cM.
  6. Cornelius Ryan (1807-1877) and Bridget Real (1807-1880), like Denis Leonard and Mary Ryan above, lived at Pallasgreen, Limerick. He had a half-brother named Richard, and our Daniel named his son Richard. Our matches in this group share about 42 cM with us.

All other Ryan matches fall below the 40 cM threshold. Our most common ancestors would have lived long ago, too far back to research easily.

I need to focus on the half dozen strongest matches and try to learn more about their families to see where my Daniel might fit in. I think it likely that all come from Limerick or Tipperary where the Ryan name is so common.

My plan will be to begin with our closest match, the great-grandchildren of Denis Leonard and Mary Ryan. Mary’s parents on some trees were reported to be Daniel Ryan (1787-1831) and Catherine Brien. Did he have a brother named Edmund?

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