Group Project Administrator Series: Every Day Is Different


21 January 2023
A Typical Day as a Group Project Administrator

What I like about being a project administrator is that every day is different.

We are lucky that our North of Ireland project is one of the larger groups, and that means there is always lots to do. Sometimes I am answering an enquiry from someone wondering how to join, and sometimes it is a query from someone wanting to know which test is best for them. Then on other occasions, people want advice on interpreting results or on how to upload results to FamilyTreeDNA from another company.

Then there is also the fact that Irish records can take a bit of getting used to, so people constantly have questions about where to find the record they need to prove a connection. Others ask for help with adding trees to their account, doing the linking required to use the Family Matching tool, and learning how to use ‘Matches Maps.’ Often, we use Zoom to show people how to do these on an individual basis. We also get requests asking if we will manage people’s accounts after they die using the FamilyTreeDNA beneficiary request form, and of course, we always agree!

All that is before I even mention our successful Ballycarry and Islandmagee projects. With these, we have carried out fundraising to purchase DNA tests for people who live in a specific geographical area, have little to no interest in family history, and/or wouldn’t otherwise test. Finding and approving new testers and then effectively managing their results also takes its toll on my waking hours and adds a whole new dimension to DNA research.

With testers picked to represent the families who lived in this area in the 1700s and 1800s, we have been able to push the boundaries of genealogical knowledge by finding and providing connections between people who are long forgotten and connecting people right around the world. Whilst the majority of discoveries have been made by effectively using the Family Finder test (the Chromosome Browser and Family Matching are particularly useful), we are now expanding into more Y-DNA and mtDNA testing to prove more links and to get a better picture of how everyone is connected.

When I’m not busy doing all of this, I am trying to organise more talks and educational DNA classes. I have found that in order to maintain interest in DNA and keep our project growing, people need to keep getting good matches. To maintain the number of matches coming in, it is important that we continue to recruit new testers.

 have been doing this in a number of unique ways. As well as speaking to a number of local community groups, libraries, and organisations (in person and on Zoom), and I have been working with housing associations to provide genealogical and DNA training for a number of groups. We also attend local fairs and events and hope to do more of that as more opportunities arise in 2023. Thanks to FamilyTreeDNA, we always have a good supply of kits available, so we can take them with us to events and encourage people to test there and then. Our other plan is to use the media more effectively to promote DNA testing and get coverage about what we are doing.

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It’s a Team Effort

Thankfully, I am not doing all of the above alone. I have a very capable and dedicated group of fellow administrators who help me with many of the things we need to do to run an effective project. The only way to make sure things don’t become too much is to split the duties as best we can. Here are some of the people who are currently helping to lighten my load most considerably:

  • Vincent Lavery who processes all our join requests and helps with research and GEDCOM difficulties.
  • Glenyss Glass and Su Topping who help by visiting new testers to swab them for our Ballycarry and Islandmagee projects, explain the process, and post off our samples.
  • Linda Kilby who helps organise our education courses, deals with our publicity, and social media and YouTube channel. She also prepares our two regular project newsletters (one for North of Ireland and another combined one for Ballycarry and Islandmagee), which are emailed to all members via FamilyTreeDNA.
  • Gail RiddellMags Gaulden, and Bonny Cook who do all our Y-DNA and mtDNA subgrouping. Each of them brings years of experience and their own unique skills to the project, and we are delighted to have them all help us out.
  • Anne Johnston, who keeps me right at all times, does lots of our research behind the scenes, and has helped us fully embrace WikiTree as a public-facing genealogical tool. On top of that, she helps me deliver DNA training, talks and to organise our annual DNA Summer School.

Growth, Growth, and More Growth

All of us are helping to make a difference and helping our project grow in both size and usefulness to our members. You can see from the chart below how fast our project has grown over the last few years, and if anything, the rate of growth seems to be increasing, which is reassuring to see.

Using Advanced Matches

I want to take this opportunity to remind you why projects aren’t all about Y-DNA and mtDNA and that they can be equally effective when working with autosomal DNA (Family Finder). Using ‘Advanced Matches’ can help you identify matches within any project to which you belong – in a geographical project, this helps you find others who have matches from the same area of origin. Within the North of Ireland project, this means you are comparing yourself against 8,000 others who have at least some ancestors from one of the nine counties of Ulster.

To do this, go to the ‘Additional Tests & Tools’ section at the bottom of your homepage and click on ‘Advanced Matches.’

You can then select which test you want to compare and in which project before pressing ‘Run Report’ to get your results.

After I do this for autosomal DNA, I usually then click on the ‘Family Finder’ column heading to put these matches in order, with the closest matches first. Alternatively, you can put matches in alphabetical order or organise by haplogroup. You can download this list to your computer if you wish.

As well as giving you a list of actual matches within the project, it also allows you to see the number of matches, which can be useful in and of itself if you are trying to decipher the origins of your family lines. As our project covers nine counties, if people are unaware of where their Irish ancestors came from, they can compare within our project to get a sense of whether they think their origins are Ulster-based or not. If project members get very few matches, that is telling them something in itself and means they are free to leave our project and concentrate on identifying which other part of Ireland might be the location they are seeking.

Big Y-700 Delivers Results

Although we consider ourselves a primarily autosomal project, we are glad to see that interest in Y-DNA and mtDNA has never been higher. At the time of writing, Big Y-700 has become our prime growth area: currently, over half of all Y-DNA testers within our project have upgraded to Big Y-700, and we have another 51 people currently awaiting results. All the new advances in Y-DNA reports —the Time Tree, the Haplogroup Story and the new Ancestral Path features—are enabling people to connect to their results like never before. This is a success story in itself, as getting more Big Y-700 testers in Ulster helps everyone around the world who is descended from those families.

I hope you will agree with me that a project administrator’s work is varied and helps contribute to making their projects more useful for the benefit of all. In the North of Ireland, we feel we have come a long way already, but we are even more excited to see what exciting discoveries lie ahead for all of us.

About Martin McDowell

Martin McDowell is the education officer for the North of Ireland Family History Society and an organiser of their annual DNA Summer School. He is a project administrator for three DNA projects and regularly delivers genealogy and DNA talks to a variety of groups, including local history societies, faith groups, and educational organisations. He also works alongside local government and private companies to deliver a series of genealogy and DNA-related projects across Northern Ireland.