• David Joyce

Research Methodology: Using Y-DNA to Research your Scots-Irish Ancestors


One of the hardest tasks in colonial Virginia genealogy is proving the Scots-Irish heritage of one of your ancestors. While it is true in some cases their Scots-Irish ancestry can be proven with traditional genealogy, but in many instances, is it difficult to prove a Scots-Irish connection. However, thanks to modern science, y-DNA can often prove a link to Northern Ireland and Scotland.


But first, let us briefly go over what y-DNA is, and how it can help. Passed down from father to son, father to son, over the hundreds of years, all males today have a specific y-DNA signature that was carried by their forefathers. In our modern day and age, men can test their y-DNA to explore their deep and recent ancestral heritage. Thankfully for genealogists interested in proving a Scots-Irish link, this advance in science has become a great research aid. For the purposes of this article, I will use the study of Alexander Joyce (1720-1778) and Thomas Joyce (1722-1780) as an example.


In traditional genealogy, both brothers appear in Louisa County, Virginia in the early 1740’s and later move to the Scots-Irish settlement of Cub Creek in Lunenburg County, Virginia. From this perspective alone, we cannot see their place of origin, but only that since they arrived in Louisa County, they have been part of Scots-Irish community. While it is true that Alexander Joyce served as a Presbyterian elder in the Scots-Irish community,1 this alone isn’t enough evidence to uncovered their ethnic roots. But rather, it is only by studying the y-DNA of descendants from both brothers, that a connection to Northern Ireland and Scotland can be found.


For men that have tested their own y-DNA, they have access to a list of matches and additional information, but for the general public, the Family Tree DNA Y-DNA Joyce project can be referenced. In the provided image, is the section where the descendants of Thomas and Alexander Joyce are documented. Here, you can see a number of Joyce men who have confirmed they descend from William Joass (abt. 1640 in Banff, Scotland). This is, however, only a database of those Joyce and Joss males that have joined the project, and does not include the other known Joyce and Joss males who have tested. As a result, the evidence concerning their lineage to William Joass is not fully shown, nor is the traditional evidence documenting the birth of Alexander and Thomas in Ballyanhinch County Down, Ireland presented .2 But despite this lack of information, you can still see the general lineage of this line of Joyces, or any other male ancestor you are researching. And if in doubt, you can always ask the y-DNA project administrator of any project for more information.


For many people trying to prove their ancestors were Scots-Irish, it is a daunting task, but it now has become easier. Easily accessible on Family Tree DNA, there are plenty of y-DNA surname projects one can study to gain new insight into the said ancestor. You may not always find that your line has tested, but if it has, it may be of benefit.



Documentation and Suggested Readings:

1. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.; Hanover Minutes, 1755-1756; Union Presbyterian Seminary, Microfilm

2. Ros Davies, “Welcome to the People’s Names of Co. Down, Ireland,“ Ros Davies Co. Down, Northern Ireland family Research Site (http://www.rosdavies.com : accessed 26 November 2018), entry for Thomas Joyce and Mary Blakley, citing Ballynahinch Presbyterian Church Registers.


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