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Latest Findings from the Barry YDNA Surname Project (May 2018)

Summary of Findings

The history of the Barry family in Ireland has been complex and diverse, and DNA testing through the Barry DNA Project has identified nearly 40 different paternal lineages among men with the Barry surname or its variants.  The most common origin cited for the Irish Barry surname is Anglo-Norman, springing from an individual who came to Ireland during the Cambro-Norman invasion in the 12th century.  (Recent research suggests a Flemish origin.) There are other documented origins, including three Irish clans, O’Baire, O’Beara and O’Beargha, the Scottish Barrie and the English or French Berry. Historical research and DNA testing confirm this diversity and also indicate that there were discontinuities in some of the Barry family’s lines of descent.  These factors make it challenging to determine which of the living men with the Barry surname are direct genetic descendants of the Anglo-Norman invaders and which might be of Irish, Scottish, English or French origin. 

Provisional Assessment

Historical records on the Barry family indicate that direct paternal descendants of the earliest Anglo-Norman Barrys were alive at least in the early part of the 19th century.  Although there are no conclusive records that identify other direct descendants, within the first three generations of the family in Ireland there were at least 10 men born whose descendants were not documented because they were not titled. There is a strong statistical probability that the paternal line survived among these and later branches of the family.   DNA testing is consistent with that conclusion.   YDNA (paternal lineage) test results from more than 150 men with the Barry or Berry surnames indicate that some are almost certainly genetic descendants of the earliest Anglo-Norman Barrys in Ireland, while others are of native Irish, Scottish or English heritage.

The Anglo-Normans

The Barry DNA Project includes a large cluster of men who share a close YDNA match and appear to be the best candidates to have Anglo-Norman Barry ancestry.  They had a common ancestor with the Barry surname in Ireland within the past 800 years.  Their family origins converge near the Barrys’ ancestral homelands. They also have a shared deep ancestral group common in northwestern Europe, which is consistent with evidence that points to a Flemish origin for the Barry family.  Several of these men trace their family origins to locations near Barry strongholds in County Cork, however none have direct documentation of a relationship to the earliest Barrys.   

The men in this group are the closest genetic matches in the Barry project to remains found in the Barry family mausoleum in Castlelyons, Cork, which may be those of James Barry, 4th Earl of Barrymore (1667-1748) or one of his descendants.  The test results on those remains are fragmentary, however, when combined with the other evidence, they make a strong circumstantial case that the men in this group represent the original Anglo-Norman Barry family. 

This group represents one quarter of the lines of descent enumerated in the Barry YDNA project.  This implies that about 4% of the births in each generation since the Barrys’ arrival in Ireland would have involved a different surname origin or a discontinuity in the paternal line such as adoption, surname change, out of wedlock birth or incorrectly attributed paternity.  This seems consistent with the history of Irish families.

Another possibility is a family whose ancestors emigrated from England where they used the surnames Barry and Berry. This family has a strong tradition that they are related to the Earls of Barrymore, and has a distant but plausible DNA match to the remains in the Barry mausoleum.  However, no documentary evidence has yet been found to corroborate the relationship.  Additional DNA testing and historical research are needed to confirm or refute the family tradition. 

Irish Clans and Other Origins

There is a group of men who trace their origins to an area of County Limerick where there is a tradition that the Barry families living there are related to the Viscounts Buttevant, one of the Barry titles.  There is no documentation of this belief, however, and the DNA results for this group of men, while a possible match to those from the Barrymore crypt, do not fit as well as those for the first two groups.  They may be descendants of an Irish clan, O’Beargha, which lived in that part of Limerick. There are also two men with unusual DNA results who may be part of that clan or another, O’Beara of Mayo.

A group of closely related men with West Cork ancestors may be related to the O’Baire clan, part of the Corca Laidhe group that flourished in that area.

Among the other groups in the Barry DNA Project are others with deep Irish ancestry who may also be related to the O’Baire, O’Beara or O’Beargha clans. Several men appear to be from Scottish of English families that are unrelated to the Anglo-Norman or Irish Barrys. Finally, there are other groups of men who do not have DNA matches with the Barry surname outside of their immediate families and thus they may have had discontinuities in their lines of descent or their surnames may have had a different origin.  In some instances family members have been able to discover the probable origin of these discontinuities while in other cases they appear to have occurred so long ago that any record of them has been lost. 

Conflicting Evidence

There are several men who trace their ancestry to three sons of Colonel Charles Barry (1660-1730). Published histories link Charles to the original Anglo-Norman Barry family through the Barrys, Barons of Santry.  However, the DNA test results from the descendants of the three sons indicate that they are not paternally related and thus no more than one of these lines can be confidently linked to Charles Barry.  Moreover, none of them is a genetic match to the remains from the Barrymore crypt. In addition, there are some gaps and inconsistencies in the historical records that raise questions about Charles Barry’s line of descent. More research is required to resolve this conflicting evidence.

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