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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The obscure gems revealed by research

Today we welcome Loucinda McGary, a great fan of research as you'll see from her post below. Like the Posse members, Loucinda is a former Golden Heart finalist. Her first book, The Wild Sight, will be out from Sourcebooks this October. She recently received her fantastic cover. Let's all pause for a moment to ooh and ahh...

Okay, on to the post.

The Niall Marker
By Loucinda McGary

One of the things I love about doing research was expressed very well in the words of Forrest Gump, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

When I was doing research for my manuscript that became my debut novel, The Wild Sight: An Irish tale of deadly deeds and forbidden love, I immersed myself in all things Irish. I read about art, history, mythology, anything related to the Emerald Isle, and that is how I happened upon something called The Niall Marker.

Geneticists have isolated a gender-specific trait that they have traced back to a 5th century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Niall became the founding father of Clan O’Neill and gained his moniker by taking high-born hostages (not quite prisoners but not houseguests either) from the five kingdoms of Ireland, Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Meath, plus one each from Scotland, the Saxons, the Britons and the Franks. This helped keep the peace during Niall’s reign and made his descendants the most powerful rulers of Ireland for the next six centuries.

Being the history geek and lover of trivia that I am, I decided I must incorporate this fascinating bit of obscure information into my novel. And it actually became one of the turning points in my story. Only it turns out The Niall Marker might not be that obscure after all...

A few weeks ago, I watched a fascinating program on PBS about how African-Americans are tracing their roots by studying their DNA. Scientists have perfected a technique that can tell anyone what percent of their DNA is from Africa, what percent is Native American, and what percent is from Northern Europe. The narrator of the program, a professor at Harvard, was quite surprised to learn that over 30% of his DNA came from Northern Europe. But that's not all!

Turns out that he had Irish ancestors. How did the experts know? (drum roll, please) Because he had The Niall Marker. I couldn't believe it! There was my fascinating little piece of trivia that I'd put into my book on national television!

Forrest was right, you never know. And truth IS stranger than fiction!

To find out more about Loucinda and her book, visit www.loucindamcgary.com. Or you can find her hanging out daily at the Romance Bandits blog.

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46 Comments:

At 2:17 AM, Blogger jo robertson said...

Hi, Cindy (aka Loucinda, aka Aunty Cindy), just popping over from the Romance Bandits to say hi!

What a great article. I've heard the story, of course, but how exciting to see the research on the Niall marker in recent news!

I know you've done more research than studying the Niall marker, though. Tell us about your travels to the Emerald Isle.

And can you tell us about Donovan, your hero in THE WILD SIGHT. How does the Niall marker figure into his ancestry?

 
At 2:17 AM, Blogger jo robertson said...

Ooops, sorry, Trish. Waving madly at you too! Thanks for inviting a Bandita into the WNP.

 
At 2:34 AM, Blogger Christine Wells said...

What a fascinating story, Loucinda. No, I'm sorry, I can't call you Loucinda, you'll always be Aunty Cindy to me*g*. Wild Sight sounds like a great read. I love it when an author has immersed herself so deeply in research that the details just seep into her prose.

And of course, you've done first hand research in Ireland as JoMama said. Do any of your real life experiences there feature in your book?

 
At 3:18 AM, Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Hiya Noodlers! Hiya Aunty Cindy! Great blog, AC. As you know, I too love my research. And the stuff I really love is the serendipity moments like the one you're talking about. Found the Harvard professor story absolutely fascinating. And I must say Niall sounds like a pretty smart cookie.

Were there any other odd bits of research you turned up? Anything so strange you thought you couldn't put it in a story because nobody would believe it was true? That stuff often happens to me! Life really can be extremely odd!

 
At 5:25 AM, Blogger Caren Crane said...

Loucinda, I'm glad to see I'm not the only research geek! But, we Romance Bandits have a penchant for geeky things, I've noticed. *g*

I am fascinated by both brain science and DNA research. I would love to analyze my DNA and find out what all is in there! I have a feeling I could be surprised by some of the grab-bag ancestors. *g*

Oh, and I CAN'T WAIT to read 'Wild Sight'!!

 
At 5:42 AM, Blogger Suzanne Welsh said...

Morning, Cindy, Trish, Noodlers and any of the rest of the world! Yet another Bandita swinging in to say hey!

Cindy, love the research inside your book and can't wait to hold the cover...er book in my hands to read the story! :)

You've awakened the semi-scientist in me. Exactly what traits do they connect the Nial marker to? And did they have some of his actual DNA to compare the other samples to?

 
At 6:43 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

This has been family week for me -- the clan descended on central NY for a mini-reunion, and I was totally computerless. But as I catch up, this entry caught my eye because my daughter flew in from Ireland to attend the gathering. Of course, it's unlikely she has the marker, since she's not the least bit Irish except by marriage.

Research can really lead one down fascinating paths. Sometimes it's too easy to get sidetracked. I remember my son saying he hated 'dictionary night' homework because it took so long. Since he was certainly savvy enough in dictionary skills, I asked him why, and he said it was because there was always so much other interesting stuff as he looked up the required words, and he'd have to stop and check out all the other words on the page.

 
At 8:40 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

I see the Bandita invasion has begun. :)

I'm fascinated by how they can trace your makeup of ancestry now. I'd love to have that done, but I'm guessing it's pricey.

Terry, that's cool about your son and the dictionary. I can see where he'd get sidetracked easily.

So, here's a question for all of you writers out there -- have you found something in your research that you weren't looking for but ended up using? For me, once upon a time, I had the idea that I'd write a series of romances that all involved a dog in some way, so I started looking up all the types of service dogs. Not just Seeing Eye type service dogs. The series hasn't really materialized, but my September release, A Firefighter in the Family, has an accelerant detection canine. He's a big black lab named Thor, and he's the heroine's partner. She's an arson investigator, and Thor uses his doggie sniffer to help detect where accelerant was used and the point of origin of fires.

 
At 8:41 AM, Blogger Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Goooood Morning Noodlers! Gosh I know so many of you, between WRW, some of you being our wonderful guests in the Bandit Lair, and of course, Trish being a Bandit as well as a Noodler. Then too, I see your names on the Golden Network posts and roster. Wow. Small writing world. :>

AC, great post, as always. Being a genealogist as well as a writer I LOVE THIS STUFF!! Oh, and then theres's the cool stuff about studingy Matrilinal DNA markers as opposed to Patrilinal DNA markers. Different test, really cool results. :>

Terry, I was LOL about Dictionary Homework. I have to FORCE myself not to go prowling around the page if I go look something up. And heave forfend I check Wikipedia. I always find something about which i want to know more...

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

When I was in Jr. Hi, I read the entire World Book Encyclopedia, sometimes just for 'fun' rather than 'on the way to looking up something else.'

 
At 9:00 AM, Blogger doglady said...

Goodness, it is a Bandita reunion! Great post Aunty Cindy and really fascinating. Ancestry is something that can become an obsession. I just received all of the research my great aunt has done on my Welsh grandmother's family. My great grandfather came to American in 1880 and in the notes it is mentioned he loved opera. That bit of information means a great deal to me.

I LOVE research and what I truly love is those obscure bits of information you find in research that make you think or give you one of those AHA moments!

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

It's Aunty Cindy! Congrats on that lovely cover! You don't see many books in that pretty acqua color. It should really stand out.

Unless the Harvard guy is a professor of color, I'm surprised it was only 30% of his DNA that came from Northern Europe. They don't call it Dead White Guys study for nothing.

Terrio: That's a cute story about your son and the dictionary.
Re: you reading the encyclopedia... (Clearly, your son takes after you.) That's a heck of an achievement! You must be everyone's first pick for the trivia team.

TrishMi! You couldn't have read my book in time to know that the big black Newfoundland in Bound to Love Her is also named Thor. Funny! Angel Joe had a dog with that name when he was a kid. It was a Golden Retriever, which makes more sense from a blond, Viking-god standpoint.

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

So, here's a question for all of you writers out there -- have you found something in your research that you weren't looking for but ended up using?

this happens to me all the time. My The Marriage Bargain came about because I'd been intrigued by a remainder book about being buried alive. I got it into my head that I wanted to bury my hero alive.....

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger jo robertson said...

Terry, your son's comment about Dictionary Night is hilarious. I share the same flaw. Whenever I'm checking the spelling of a word (or if a word actually exists LOL), I get sidetracked in the mesmerizing fasination of all those lovely words!

Your son sounds very clever.

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

My son IS very clever, and I try to use Dictionary.com for looking up words now, or the synonyms in Word as a first choice research venue because there's much less chance of being distracted.

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Terry, wow, the entire encyclopedia? That is an accomplishment.

doglady, that's really cool about the notation that your great-grandfather liked opera. I've done some genealogy work, but I don't seem to have time for it anymore. I need to make the time. I kind of stopped when I got stumped on my paternal line. Oh, if only there were records going back as far as the line. I did find out that, on my maternal side, I could join the DAR if I wanted to. :)

LOL on the two dogs named Thor, Esri! Great minds think alike.

Diane, your poor hero. Buried alive is so incredibly frightening and creepy.

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger Nancy said...

Hi, AC and Trish--

Thanks for a fascinating post! I LOVE quirkly, obscure facts like this, even when they become suddenly less obscure. We really enjoyed the PBS Secrets of the Dead episode in which a scientist used DNA to find the descendants of the Amazons (on the Mongolian steppes, as it turned out) and the National Geographic The Story of Man documentary about a scientist who went around the world collecting genetic samples to look for commonality. We ordered them both.

We used to love Digging for the Truth on the History Channel, but the host left, the new host wasn't as good, and the show's gone, alas.

Buried alive, Diane? Is your hero still speaking to you? The remainder tables at bookstores are often a mess, but sometimes you can dig out a prize, can't you? And it's often so CHEAP *g*. Can't beat a wonderful book for cheap!

Terry, I get sidetracked all the time, and I frequently have to remind myself that the reader won't care about this tidbit and move on. But I care about it. *sigh* Reading the encyclopedia--how cool!

 
At 11:08 AM, Blogger Cassondra said...

Hi Trish, Hi Noodlers!

Thanks for having us over--"us" cuz you know if Aunty Cindy shows up, we won't be far behind. ;0)

I love research too. I think it's what I love most about being a writer--the continued learning. It never stops. For my GH finalist manuscript I had to learn about tunnels, equipment that builds them, sewers, (both storm and OTHER--ugh) and the gases that build up in them...and I had to learn a whole lot about New York City and the upstate mountain ranges. I would never have thought that there was a real life "tunnel" expert right here in my small town in Southern Kentucky, but yes, there is one. Spent an entire afternoon with him. An engineer of course, but all he worries about is tunnels. You just never can tell!

I have to say though, that the research involved in the historical I want to write is what has stalled me on that manuscript. The time and travel it will take to find out the info is overwhelming! I honestly don't see how you historical folks do it.

Great blog Aunty C and I love the story about the Niall Marker. With my Celtic ancestry, now you have me wondering if I HAVE it.

 
At 11:16 AM, Blogger Janet Mullany said...

I love those twilight zone moments when something obscure you've been researching pops up where you'd least expect it.
Great cover, Loucinda, congrats.
I used to have (half) an Irish wolfhound called Niall.

 
At 11:47 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Hi AC, Trish and the Noodlers! (Trish and the Noodlers sounds like a cool rock band name *g*)

Loved the post, AC! I too find research fascinating and often get so sucked into whatever I'm researching the writing time slips a bit ;-)

Which is why when I saw something on The History Channel this morning that had me thinking: Oh! Great story idea! I just made a few notes but did not attempt to start actually researching the topic since then I'd never get my pages done *g*

I can't wait to get my hands on The Wild Sight! October can't come soon enough :-)

 
At 12:06 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Morning Everyone!
WOW, what a great welcome. Thanx so much for inviting me, Trish! And thanx for asking the question about finding odd bits in your research you didn't expect. I meant to add that to the bottom of my post but time got away from me yesterday... We all know how THAT goes!

Christine and Jo, yes I've been to Northern Ireland, where my DH has relatives. But no, the story isn't based on any personal experiences, thank GOODNESS! Though I will say that the cottage where my hero lived as a little boy is actually the cottage my DH's grandmother was born and raised in. Oh, and my hero's brother-in-law Sean Sullivan bears an uncanny resemblance (looks and personality) to my DH's cousin Sean Martin. SHHH!

 
At 12:15 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I'm leaving shortly to take my daughter to the airport - she's flying "home" to Northern Ireland. She lives outside of Belfast, in Lisburn. Some days everything is in synch.

 
At 12:16 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Beth said: October can't come soon enough :-)

FER SURE!!! ;-)

Suz, I KNEW you'd find the DNA stuff fascinating. No, I don't think they have Niall's actual DNA. What they've done is trace this genetic marker back to a common ancestor. And apparently this is easier to do on the Y or male chromosome.

So Terry, we women may be descended from Niall, but the Marker has only been identified for men.

Niall of the 9 Hostages was one of those who straddles the line between history and legend. There really was a 5th century Irish warlord who was the founder of the O'Neill Clan, but whether he actually DID all the things attributed to Niall is doubtful. We Irish have this tendency to er, um... EMBROIDER our stories. So see, I came by my storytelling honestly as my Gramma would say. :-)

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Terry, I stayed in a B&B in Lisburn once! PRETTY lil seaside community!

Foanna and Esri, yes, the Harvard professor was African American and therefore quite surprised to have the Niall Marker. He actually went to Ireland and filmed himself on the hill of Tara (ancient seat of the Irish High Kings) and several people he met told him THEY were related to Clan O'Neill too!

Nancy, I LOVED the program where the guy took DNA samples all over the world! The part where he tied some Navahos to a specific tribe in Siberia blew me away!

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Aunty Cindy -- my daughter says Lisburn is landlocked, but it's on a river, not the sea. Maybe there's another one. They do have a B&B in 'her' Lisburn, though.

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Doglady, that is SOOO KEWL about the research your great aunt did and your Welsh great-grandfather liking opera! You "came by it honest" too! ;-)

Jeanne, I'd forgotten that you are also a genealogist in addition to your other many talents. I wish I had the time (or perhaps the resources in the case of DNA studies) to do more work on my family history. Being the eldest female in my immediate family makes the responsibility rest with me. I do know far more about my mother's family than my father's (the McGarys) but not much before the 20th century. Caren, I have a feeling you aren't alone in those Grab-Bag ancestors! I know FOR CERTAIN that my maternal great grandfather was a moonshiner in southern Kentucky. ;-)

My ex's aunt had researched one side of their family back to Anne Boleyn! So at least my son has some impressive ancestry on one side.

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Terry, OOPS!
I had Lisburn and Larne confused! I stayed in Larne. I think they have a ferry that goes out from there?

How did your daughter come to live near Belfast? And can I go and visit her sometime?!?!?

 
At 12:45 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Aunty Cindy --
She's aware of the ferry but has never been to Larne. She married a British soldier and goes where he goes (as far as being based, but not to combat zones or other hot spots). She's lived in Germany as well. Don't know how long she'll be in Lisburn, but I'm sure she'd be delighted to show you around.

And she's a great brainstorming partner as well as a fight scene choreographer, too.

 
At 12:52 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Diane, BURIED ALIVE?!?! YIKES! You definitely have me intrigued to read your book. GAH! Just what I need, more to add to my huge TBR pile.

Also fascinating about the tunnel expert, Cassondra. I'd have never imagined such a specialty existed, though it actually makes sense. But in southern Kentucky? That IS a bit of a surprise.

As for the research for the historical, I don't normally write them (though often historical aspects show up in my stories) but in reading the GOOD ones (like Fo's, Christine's, Janet's...) I'd say 90% of the actual research never shows up. But as a reader, I can "feel" that it's there. Know what I mean?

 
At 12:54 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Cassondra, I know what you mean about historical research being overwhelming. I mean, you have to research EVERYTHING, even how people spoke, if a certain food was even available to eat then, everything.

Beth, LOL on the Trish and the Noodlers band! Hey, now there's a promo idea. Too bad I can't sing worth a dime.

Cindy, it doesn't surprise me that the DNA guy tied the Navajo to a tribe in Siberia. I've noticed similarities in the language between Chinese and Lakota from watching movies where these languages are spoken. I hope that more programs are put into place to preserve the Native American languages. So many of them have been lost, and the younger generations largely can't speak their native languages.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Janet, aren't wolfhounds big ole luvvers? And I luv the Irish spellings of some names... like Niall (which is NOT pronounced like that river in Egypt no matter what it looks like). In The Wild Sight I have a professor whose first name in Angus, but spelled the Irish way, Aongus, and pronounced more like ONG-us.

And LOL Trish and Esri about you both naming a dog character Thor! LOVE IT! And certainly more evocative than Rover or Fido.

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

DARN! Blogger ate my last post and of course, I have CRS so don't remember exactly what I said...

I KNOW I mentioned to Trish that not only were the languages of the Native American's and Siberians similar but their facial structures were almost identical. No doubt about the common ancestry.

And did anyone see the recent program (I think it was an episode of Nature) that traced all domesticated dogs to a couple of common ancestors in China? FASCINATING!

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Fascinating story, Loucinda! Your book looks like a great read. Love the cover, too. Thanks for sharing!

 
At 1:56 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Fascinating, Loucinda! I'm participating in that genetic marker program and I'm anxiously awaiting the results. But in my research for my historicals, I came across a "genetic marker" of my own. Not a gene per se, but something more obvious and vsible: my little finger.

I have bony, gnarly looking fingers- always have, even when I was a kid, and my little fingers have a pronounced inward bend at the top joint. My mom's hands were just like this too. Recently I discovered this trait can be traced to descendants of the Norse (Vikings) who settled in England in the 9th and 10th centuries. It isn't found in the Norse who remained in Norway, or in the Normans, only those who settled in England.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

HI Theresa!
*waves madly to my fellow Roser*

Thanx for stopping by. I'm still trying to get used to being called Loucinda. As Christine says, it's always been Aunty Cindy! Except for the IRS and my mother when she was mad at me. :-P

Anybody else have that? You knew you were in trouble when your mother called you by your "real" name, but if she called you your real AND middle name you were BEYOND trouble! LOL!

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Delle, that is a fascinating tidbit about your pinky! Who'd a thunk it?!?! LOL!

You do know Anne Boleyn had 6 fingers? And that is actually a dominate trait while 5 fingers is recessive? But because most people have the recessive 5 fingers, many cultures saw the 6 fingers as a sign of evil. Or in Anne's case, folks claimed she was a witch!

I'm going to seek you out in San Francisco, Delle, just so I can see your little finger! Ah yes, we writers are nothing if not ECCENTRIC!

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger jo robertson said...

I know what you mean about 90% of the research not being used, but it's background fodder. As you know, I'm writing a 1909 suspense and the research has been lots of fun. Unfortunately takes me on too many birdwalks!

 
At 3:03 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Delle, that's really interesting about the finger genetic marker. When I still worked at the magazine, I did an article on the Melungeons, a group of people who are mostly from certain areas of Tennessee and Kentucky and who are of uncertain ancestry. One of the markers of this group is a cranial bump at the base of the skull. After reading my article, my mother-in-law found the bump on my father-in-law.

 
At 4:17 PM, Blogger Jane said...

Hey Aunty Cindy,
Just dropping by to say hi. I also saw that program on PBS. Was it the one that had Tina Turner, Chris Rock and Don Cheadle?

 
At 5:31 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Hi Aunty Cindy! Yeah, calling you Loucinda didn't feel right! ha! Lots of fun having you here today.

 
At 6:06 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Jane! (waving madly)
YES! That was the program, Morgan Freeman was on it too. I seem to recall Tina, Morgan and Don ALL had oral family histories that indicated Native American ancestry and yet NONE of their DNA proved that out. And Chris Rock was STUNNED to find that more than 30% of his ancestry was northern European. I was really impressed that the DNA testing could actually pinpoint certain African tribes, something few African Americans ever knew.

Trish, I've never heard of the Melungeons. But after feeling the back of my skull for the past few minutes, I can't find any lumps, so I must not be related! LOL!

 
At 6:17 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hey Theresa!
BIG THANX to you and Trish and all the Noodlers for hosting me today. And BIG THANX to everyone for joining in on the comments. Nice to know I'm not the only geek who finds genetics a fascinating subject.

I truly appreciate everyone's enthusiasm for my book and its YUMMY cover (which I can take no credit for)!

AC

 
At 6:21 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

According to my dentist (one of my most enthusiastic supporters)I have some kind of teeth that are only seen in Native Americans. But all my ancestors came over to the US in the nineteenth century, from Alscace Lorainne and they settled in Pennsylvania and New York.

 
At 7:14 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

We'll have to meet, then- just so I can prove it!

The sixth finger is actually a very common genetic trait, and ran in the family of the Stuart kings of England. Most commonly it is no more than a boneless, non-functioning finger, and often not more than a little flap.

My step-daughter had the sixth finger on both hands, and they were tied off at birth. And guess what family she descends from? The English Stewarts. But whether they are actually connected to the Stuart kings who came from Scotland isn't known for sure. There's some evidence they descended from one of Charles II's bastards. Through my ex-husband's lineage, of course.

 
At 8:04 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Thanks for hanging with the Noodlers today, Cindy. And thanks to everyone who has swung by to comment and ask questions. It's been an interesting discussion.

 
At 10:25 PM, Blogger Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Thanx again for inviting me, Trish! Hope I'm invited back in the not too distant future.

And BIG THANX to everyone for all your comments!

 

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