On Friday 20 October the CitiGen team gathered in Dublin for our latest network meeting, which was scheduled to coincide with Ireland’s biggest annual genealogy show, Back to Our Past.

Members of the CitiGen team at Back to Our Past (left to right: Sarah Abel, Hannes Schroeder, Pierpaolo Maisano Delser, Eppie Jones, Dan Bradley)

Each year, Back to Our Past offers parallel schedules of expert talks on the themes of genealogy and genetic genealogy, which continue throughout the weekend. This year, Friday afternoon’s session of talks on genetics and genealogy was sponsored by CitiGen, and featured presentations by PIs Gísli Pálsson, Hannes Schroeder, and Dan Bradley, as well as Eppie Jones, a Herchel Smith Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Visiting Research Fellow at the Smurfit Institute, Trinity College Dublin.

Gísli Pálsson speaking on the topic of “Icelandic Roots and Identities”

Gísli’s talk encompassed his own interest in genetic genealogy from the perspective of Iceland, discussing his country’s long tradition of keeping genealogical records, and the recent digitisation of these records in the development of the Book of Icelanders database by researchers at deCODE. Gísli also went on to talk about his recent book The Man Who Stole Himself, a biography of the life of Hans Jonatan, an enslaved man born in the Danish West Indies who ended his days in Iceland, where he currently has around 1000 living descendants.

In his presentation, entitled The Genetics of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Hannes spoke about his work with colleagues from the EUROTAST project, on using different genetic methods to generate new data on the lives and origins of enslaved Africans displaced by the transatlantic trade. His talk described how this research led to further detail on the slave trading system, but also helped demonstrate how slavery fundamentally shaped the cultural and biological experiences of people of African descent around the world.

Eppie Jones speaking at Back to Our Past

Eppie’s talk, “Ancient DNA and the Genetic History of Europeans”, discussed how the ability to recover DNA from ancient human remains is transforming our understanding of the past. Eppie described how information can be harnessed from millennia old bones and what we can learn from studies using ancient DNA, in particular regarding events that happened thousands of years ago, which have shaped the genes and traits of people living in Europe today.

In his talk, Dan outlined research by his team at the Smurfit Institute using ancient Irish genomes and other population data. In particular, he addressed the question of whether the regions of present-day Portugal and Ireland were affected by the same kind of massive, prehistoric migrations that were integral to cultural transitions elsewhere in Europe, and how these migrations can be useful for understanding the origins of modern populations and the languages they speak.

Some of the CitiGen researchers also rounded off the day by taking a personal DNA ancestry test, provided by Family Tree DNA, sponsors of Back to Our Past.

Hannes taking a cheek swab for a DNA test, under the supervision of Katherine Borges of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy