OK, I'm an addict. No, not that kind of addict; it's my genealogy. The more I discover about my roots, the more my cravings increase.
It started out quite innocently as I wondered about this paternal great-grandfather I never met. All I knew was his name was Neal O'Neill, he came from somewhere in Ireland and his headstone said he died in 1878 at age 53.
I soon learned all important civil records, such as the censuses, had been destroyed either in the Irish Civil War or by the English. Catholic Church records, the only significant surviving sources, were too numerous without a specific locale, so I was stuck.
Then I found that DNA, just as it is used to identify criminals, is also useful in genealogy because, for certain DNA parts, a man passes his DNA onto his sons, virtually unchanged.
The implications were that my deceased father and I had virtually the same DNA, as did my O'Neill grandfather and his father; and so on back along the O'Neill paternal line.
I then enlisted other O'Neills to join in being DNA-tested in the hope one of them with known genealogy back into Ireland would have DNA similar to mine, allowing me to find where my O'Neills might have lived. Many other O'Neills joined in and submitted a saliva specimen to Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) for analysis.
Over time, I found many O'Neills had DNA almost identical to mine, implying a common O'Neill ancestor. Amazingly, two of these had documented genealogies traceable to the celebrated Royal Tyrone O'Neill line, men who were kings or rulers of Ireland for almost 650 years and who had documented accounts of their lives.
Wow! Not only had I traced my O'Neill ancestry back into County Tyrone in Ireland but I was of royal blood.
So far I have not asked my friends to call me "Your Highness" but I'm keeping my options open.
But wait. Exactly who were these ancestor "kings and rulers"? Reluctantly I found these "kings" were not like royalty of today but were warriors, leading armies to secure territory and possessions. And many were not the type of person I would invite over for dinner. In fact, some were just plain ruthless.
These O'Neills of yore warred against other Irish clans such as the O'Donnells and the McLaughlins, and against the English. They also fought among themselves.
If an O'Neill "king" lost in battle, he paid the price, such as Brian Catha O'Neill, killed by the English in 1260. His head was shipped to London.
On the other hand, if they clashed and defeated an opponent, they demanded payments of land, cattle or produce and, to ensure payment, took hostages, often family members of the defeated opponent. For instance, Sean "the Proud" O'Neill, killed in 1567, kept the hostage wife of an adversary locked in a dungeon, except when he brought her to his bed; she had children by him.
In short, my O'Neill kings were more like warlords than the kings we see today. But these are the O'Neills whose blood flows through my veins and, finally, I know something of my O'Neill distant roots.
That's where I am today, warts and all. I still do not know specifically where that Neal O'Neill great-grandfather lived in Ireland before immigrating, so the addiction hasn't gone away. I'll keep plugging. I must. I owe it to my "subjects."
Ed O'Neill is a retired engineer and amateur genealogist who lives in Mount Pleasant.
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