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So, how Irish are you? Tell a family story this St. Patrick's Day

Published Mar. 15, 2017

How Irish are you?

The answer this week is probably "very," especially if you enjoy green beer and outrageous amounts of corned beef and cabbage. But it's also possible you're a good bit Irish year-round, given that Irish is the second most common ancestry among Americans, according to the Census Bureau. (Edging it out at No. 1 is German, which you might've guessed in Oktober. We Americans do like to claim some heritage, especially when it involves beer.)

According to that Census data from 2013, 34.5 million Americans listed their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish, a number about seven and a half times the population of Ireland (4.6 million).

Sometimes it's evident in a name, as this Caitlin O'Conner can certainly tell you. And sometimes it's in family stories.

Even before I went on a genealogy kick in my teens, I could tell you the story passed down about my most prominent Irish ancestor, great-great-great-grandfather James O'Conner, who came from Wexford, County Wexford, as a teen in the 1850s. James and his brothers, Peter and John (from a quite Catholic family, one can surmise), were stowaways when they reached New York, where, the story goes, they found out big city life wasn't for them and moved down to Georgia.

It's one of the many tales about "how we got here," and I've always been fascinated by them. (The other side of my family self-describes as "Heinz 57" and has an even crazier story about a guy who may or may not have been from Sweden.) The real fun comes in digging into the stories and figuring out how much is fact and how much has been misunderstood or misrelated through the generations.

If you're intrigued but don't know where to start, professional genealogist Donna Moughty talks 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday about "Strategies for Finding Your Irish Ancestors" at the Largo Public Library. Call (727) 587-6715 for more info.

My own "story" took an interesting turn last year when one of my brothers took one of those DNA heritage tests you see ads for on TV, the kind the celebs take to "find their roots."

The verdict: 28 percent Irish.

What? Just 28 percent?

That was good enough for second place after 47 percent "Great Britain." It wasn't all that surprising — especially compared with the 1 percent "South Asian" the test showed — but it was a little weird after spending years calling ourselves "mostly Irish."

Digging further into how those heritage tests work will show you that those percentages are an average within an estimated range (which says we could be anywhere from 12 to 44 percent Irish), and the geographic area that certain descriptions cover may in fact not be quite so pin-pointed as you think.

So, how Irish are you? The answer, really, is covered in shades of green.

Celebrate 'em all this week. Sláinte!

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