Monday, April 14, 2014

Conquering William's DNA

   One of my favorite aspects of y-DNA is that it’s used to prove or disprove that two men with the same last name are closely related. Two family lines with a similar surname can figure out if they have a common ancestor. The DNA matches or it doesn’t. What do you do if the common ancestor you are looking for doesn’t have a surname? If you are researching the British Isles, the surname you are looking for is probably less than 1,000 years old.

   What were the surnames associated with William the Conqueror? To start, who was William the Conqueror? William the ‘bastard’ was born about 1028 in Normandy, the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and Herleva. William was the 3rd great grandson of Rollo, the Viking who harassed the French so much that they gave him Normandy in order to make him stop.

    In 1066, when King Edward ‘the confessor’ of England died, William was a potential heir to the English crown. When he didn’t get the nod, he took the crown by force by defeating and killing King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

    Finding the DNA of William the Conqueror is not that easy. He has no documented living male-line descendants. King Henry I was his last legitimate offspring. If you look in the phone book, you won’t find too many names listed under Conqueror, William T. That makes asking for a DNA sample problematic.

    We have to look at the entire line of Dukes from the House of Normandy to identify the surnames that they would eventually adopt. The line from Rollo to William looks like this – Rollo (846-931) > William I (900-942) > Richard I (933-996) > Richard II (978-1026) > Robert I (1000-1035) > William II (1028-1087). To start, there is some evidence, true or not, that the surnames Clifford, Devereaux and St. Clair have a direct connection back to Richard I and Richard II. It’s not my goal to prove anyone’s genealogy. Many medieval genealogies are pure fiction, geneamyth. Although, with ever story there may be a piece of the truth. Some of William’s companions at the Battle of Hastings were his cousins and it would have made sense for him to surround himself with kin. I collected those names and others that had a tenuous connection.

    I began the process with the following 27 names; Bartelott, Beaumont, Bruce, Clifford, Corbett, D’Arcy, Devereaux, Giffard, Hereford, Lindsay, Molyneaux, Montgomery, Mortimer, Mowbray, Neville, Norman, Norton, Osbern, Pearsall, Ramsey, Spencer, St. Clair, Stewart, Sutton, Talbott, Umfreville and Warren. While this is not an exhaustive list, it did provide 3,800 records to sift through.

    DNA records for these surnames were collected from publically available sources and sorted into haplogroups. Remember, everyone is related. It’s just a question of how far back in time they share a common ancestor. Members of haplogroups I and J may share an ancestor about 30,000 years ago, but my goal is to find as many surnames that have a common ancestor about 1,000 years ago. So, DNA comparison was limited to within haplogroups. Immediately, groups E1b, G2a, I2, J and R1a were eliminated for having no cross surname relationships.

    The first likely candidate was haplogroup I1. I1 would make sense. It is a typical Scandinavian group and Rollo is supposed to be either Norwegian or Danish. There was some good cross surname relationships among 8 of the 27 surnames. More analysis showed that they didn’t form a tight clan and that their common ancestor would have been over 1,250 years ago. That predates Rollo. This doesn’t completely rule out haplogroup I1, but my expectation was that there would be a higher number of surnames and a common ancestor between Rollo and William.

    The next candidate was group R1b, the most populous haplogroup in Europe and having a potential Scandinavian or continental Europe origin. This group clustered well across 25 of the 27 surnames and revealed a genetically related clan. To make sure that this wasn’t a false positive or something symptomatic about the large R1b population, I took a random sample of British Isles R1b y-DNA and ran the same comparison. The random sample did not group well and actually formed multiple clusters.

    This looks very positive for the R1b group. Twenty-one of the surnames are tightly related enough that their common ancestor lived 1,080 years ago (933 AD), coincidentally the birth year of Richard I. All common ancestor calculations come with a margin of error. I’d say this estimate is plus or minus a generation. Clifford, Devereaux and St. Clair, with their genealogical connection remain in this group as well as Beaumont, Giffard, Montgomery, Mortimer, Osbern and Warren.

    The odd thing about this second group of names is that they all, genealogically, connect back to Gunnora, wife/concubine of Richard I. Beaumont and Giffard are descendants of Duvelina, a sister of Gunnora. Osbern is a descendant of Herfast, a brother of Gunnora. None of this common y-DNA came from Gunnora or her sister; being female, they don’t have y-DNA to pass down. We have to look for a common male donor. My theory is that the practice of droit du seigneur – ‘right of the lord’ or primae noctis – ‘right of the first night’ was being used by Richard to increase his genetic success.

    Do you have a connection to William the Conqueror? There is an estimate that 25% of the population of England is related to Bill the Conq. From a y-DNA perspective, this percentage would be lower. If you have one of these surnames; Bartelott, Beaumont, Bruce, Clifford, Corbett, D’Arcy, Devereaux, Giffard, Molyneaux, Montgomery, Mortimer, Norton, Osbern, Pearsall, Ramsey, Spencer, St. Clair, Stewart, Talbott, Umfreville (Humphrey) or Warren and match the 37-marker William the Conqueror Modal Haplotype (WCMH), you may be related.











































































   You might match the WCMH within a few steps and not have one of those surnames. The wealthy practiced polygyny. They had as many mistresses as they could afford. The illegitimate male offspring would have generated countless undocumented surnames and carry these same y-DNA markers.

    I can’t say that this is exactly William the Conqueror’s Y-DNA markers. These values are a mode, the numbers that appear most frequently in the related R1b sample of 152 records. The results that I have found are based on my analysis of about 3,800 y-DNA samples and form a good correlation. New data in the future may change the results.

    The techniques that I have used are similar to the ones used to identify Carthaigh (McCarthy King of Desmond), Niall of the Nine Hostages and Genghis Khan. I predict that as the DNA databases grow, more discoveries like this will be found. My next projects are to determine Rollo’s origin and Charlemagne’s haplotype.


Maglio, MR (2013) A Y-Chromosome Signature of Polygyny in Norman England (

©Michael R. Maglio and OriginsDNA

The DNA of Thomas Jefferson: [Insert Shocking Title Here]

   I’ve been creative with the titles of my articles in the past. It is the first thing people see and it better be eye catching. It’s been said that I'm ‘intentionally provocative’. I enjoy writing about topics that make people think. I draw the line at faulty logic. Many times, I'll draw conclusions from circumstantial evidence, but I always strive for a logical argument.

   Thomas Jefferson was part of the rare y-DNA haplogroup T (formerly K2) and much has been written about his genetics. Not everything written has been logical in its assumptions. Sometimes the story lines misinterpret the underlying science.

“Was Thomas Jefferson the first Jewish President?”

“Thomas Jefferson was Phoenician.”

“If Jefferson was Phoenician, then Charlemagne was also.”

“Thomas Jefferson could have recent origins in the Middle East.”

“Thomas Jefferson’s DNA traced back to Egypt.”

   In these situations the writers took a single data point and ran with it out of context.

   When we look at Jefferson’s DNA and compare it to available records, we only get a handful of matches that don’t tell a complete story. Let’s look at the first headline – was Jefferson Jewish? He didn’t practice Judaism and he wasn’t raised Jewish. He does have one genetic cousin who is a Moroccan Jew, but you have to go back about 2,000 years to find a common ancestor. While haplogroup T does have origins in the Middle-East, I wouldn’t say that it is definitely a Jewish haplogroup. If Jefferson were J1b2, there would be a stronger case tying him to the kohanim Jewish paternal lines. Jefferson also has a Belgian genetic cousin. Perhaps the headline should have been – Was Thomas Jefferson the first Belgian President? Not that exciting. Probably wouldn’t have sold very well.

   Thomas Jefferson was a Phoenician! There are many articles attributing this statement to Spencer Wells as part of his In Search of Adam program in 2005. I can’t find one quote that actual has Wells saying this. In fact in 2008 Wells argued that the Phoenicians were haplogroup J2. Jefferson’s haplogroup T is found in the same places and at the same times as the Phoenician Mediterranean colonies. This may indicate that Jefferson’s ancestors travelled with the Phoenicians as a peer or as a slave. I don’t think that ethnicity by association works.

   If Jefferson was a Phoenician, then so was Charlemagne. This is just plain and simple poor logic and a misunderstanding of genetics. As I mentioned, it doesn’t appear that haplogroup T is Phoenician. While Jefferson may be a descendant of Charlemagne, he is not a direct male descendant. You really need to be a direct male descendant to prove that an ancestor has the same y-DNA. One sample would never be enough to prove Charlemagne’s DNA. Multiple descendant samples and very strong genealogies are required to come close to determining an ancestor’s DNA. You never know where a non-paternal event may pop up.

   Could Jefferson have recent origins in the Middle East? This writer never actually defines recent. We are left to wonder if the Jeffersons lied on their Naturalization applications. Based on ‘time to most recent common ancestor’ calculations, I’d put Jefferson’s ancestors in the Middle East about 3,000 years ago. I guess that’s fairly recent compared to the age of the universe.

   Jefferson’s DNA traced to Egypt! One record match does not make an origin. That one Egyptian genetic cousin actually clusters better with other Moroccan records. This could indicate a back migration from Morocco to Egypt for that one person. A rule of thumb when determining origins is to find clusters of records. Jefferson does have a cluster on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar. This provides a strong argument that Jefferson’s ancestors came through that region and perhaps loitered there for a while. That doesn’t make it his origin.

   How should we define Jefferson’s origins? It is important to define origins with context. Where in Britain did the Jeffersons come from? One biographer puts Jefferson’s family origins in Wales.  Jefferson’s closest British genetic cousin comes from Yorkshire and the Jefferson surname has the highest distribution in Yorkshire. We are still talking about a single point of reference, so I won’t fall into the same trap and pronounce Thomas Jefferson a Yorkie. I can say that it appears that the Jeffersons were British and that the family had been in Britain for at least a 1,000 years. There’s just not enough data to be more certain.

   Jefferson’s tribal DNA does leave a sparse trail of breadcrumbs across Europe in the 1,500 to 2,000 years ago range. There are genetic matches that become increasingly more distant in Belgium, France and Spain. We could connect-the-dots and we probably wouldn’t be far off the migration path. For Jefferson’s European origins, we might say his ancestors were Iberian. If we go back another 500 years, the picture changes to a culture that traveled the Mediterranean. The genetic breadcrumbs are in Morocco, Sicily, Cyprus, Egypt and Turkey. We could talk about Jefferson’s haplogroup T origins. A cluster of data suggests a southern Arabian Peninsula origin about 8,000 years ago.

   If we continue backward in time, Jefferson’s ancestors came from East Africa just like everyone else on the planet. Which ‘origin’ you choose for Jefferson is completely up to your specific agenda. I use genetic genealogy to get a better understanding of the world that we live in and the things we have in common as one species. We may learn through DNA that our ancestors sacked Rome or pillaged the coast of England. That’s history, that’s fascinating, but that’s not who we are today. Unless you personally choose to embrace that history. Jefferson’s distant ancestors may have been Jewish, Phoenician or Egyptian, but that’s not who he was.

   We shouldn’t persecute for the sins of our ancestors or sit on the laurels of their accomplishments. We need to keep moving forward in a positive direction.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stephen Hopkins: Saxon DNA?

   As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s a great time to write about our Mayflower ancestors.  So far, I have found two on my wife's side, Stephen Hopkins and Stephen Hopkins.  Ok, that’s really just one, but I have two lines that trace back to him.   This isn’t unusual, estimates put the count of Stephen Hopkins’ descendants at about 2 million Americans.

   What can Stephen Hopkins’ DNA tell us about his origins and his ancestors?  First, I should say that no one has a sample of Stephen’s DNA.  What we know about Stephen comes from tests completed by his male-line descendants with corroborating genealogical paper trails.  The Hopkins families are members of y-DNA haplogroup R1b, the largest genetic population in Europe.  R1b is often associated with the Celtic and Gallic tribes.  Hopkins’ DNA may be able to shed additional light on his birthplace, extend his genealogy further by tapping into an older family line or tell us about his deep ancestral origins.

   One of the first things I like to do is compare the haplotype, (the numeric markers from a y-DNA test) against a public database like  The goal is to find other parallel lines of Hopkins with ancestry that predates Stephen.  This would allow us to work forward in time, connecting to Stephen and his father John, breaking through the current brick wall.  Unfortunately, no such records exist.

   What we do get from ySearch is list of genetic cousins and their ancestral locations.  Plotting these locations generates a distribution from Kent to Cornwall across southern England.  The highest concentration of cousins is in the historic Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex.  The current research on Stephen Hopkins has him baptized in Hampshire, the heart of Wessex.

   What kind of R1b was Hopkins?  Was he a Celt, a Gaul, an Anglo-Saxon or something completely different?  One way to get close to the answer is to look at his genetic cousins again.  Since R1b is such a large group, it is important to focus on both the haplotype and SNP that defines his R1b subgroup.  The SNP that best defines Stephen is S493, which on the 2012 haplogroup tree is R1b1a2a1a1a2.  With the explosion of new SNPs identification and the rapidly expanding and changing subgroup nomenclature, researchers are advocating the use of the SNP rather than subgroup as a naming convention.  Let’s call Stephen Hopkins R-S493.

   When I take all these genetic cousins and run them through TribeMapper®, a pattern forms.  Ancestors start to pile up on either side of the English Channel and an approximate date of migration emerges.  Here’s where we pull out our history books.  If the date were about 2,500 years ago, I would say this was a Celtic migration.  If the date were 2,000 years ago, I might say these were Gaels fleeing the Romans.   The calculations come out to be about 1,500 years ago, putting this migration in line with the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain.

   Why stop there?  What flavor of Anglo-Saxon are we talking about?  Angle, Saxon, Jute?  The great thing about tribe mapping is that we can continuously turn back the clock and get a new picture.  If we find a Danish connection, then we might say Jutes or an association to the Angeln region of Germany, we could say Angles.  We have to be careful as those names and locations were just a snapshot in time when ancient historians catalogued Germanic tribes.  Those tribes, like all tribes, were just passing through.

   Stephen Hopkins’ DNA points to a genetic cluster in modern day Lithuania and Latvia.   This data most closely correlates to the Saxons and their origins on the Baltic coast.  Continuing this process gives us the following migration map.

   The R-S493 data takes us through Finland, Sweden and back to the mainland Europe to the Iberian Peninsula.  This puts the origin of R-S493 in Iberia about 4,000 years ago ± 500 years.

   We can’t be certain that Stephen Hopkins has Saxon DNA.  We can’t even say that all Saxons were haplogroup R1b.  It’s unlikely that they were a single homogenous ethnic group, but the core of the tribe would have had strong familial and genetic ties.  Were Hopkins’ ancestors at the core of this tribe or part of the fringe, picked up along the way?  A broader study of DNA associated with the same places and times would be required to answer that question.

   If we look at the surname Hopkins, its origins are from Hobbes-kin and even further back to the Germanic name Hrodberht.  Stephen Hopkins and his closest genetic cousins are found in the historic Kingdom of Wessex (West Saxons).  Time-wise, there is a correlation to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain.  We can even make a connection to the proto-Saxons along the Baltic coast.  I’m going out on a limb and calling Hopkins a Saxon.

   That Saxon bloodline remained adventurous and served Stephen well as he voyaged to Bermuda, Jamestown and Plymouth colony.

   It’s never obvious where DNA will lead.  Each tribe mapping is an adventure in itself.

© Michael R. Maglio and OriginsDNA

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Myles Standish: Mayflower DNA

My genealogy has one Mayflower passenger, Stephen Hopkins. Seven other passengers are cousins in one manner or another, Doty, Howland, More, Mullins, Standish, Warren and Winslow. Twenty-four of the Mayflower families have living descendants. I have collected the y-DNA records for fifteen of them. (For more on this process watch this short video) It was no surprise to find eight R1b Celts and four I1 Scandinavians among them. But, the three I2a Balkans intrigued me.

The one name that stood out as I2a was Myles Standish. Every first grader knows that name. My first thought was that Myles was descended from a member of the Roman Legions. Perhaps he was a Scythian or Sarmatian. I needed to identify the Standish family tribe and when they arrived in England. If I was lucky, I’d be able to bracket the immigration of his ancestor to the 1st or 2nd century, the height of the Roman conquest.

As the DNA records started to compile using TribeMapper® analysis, an initial pattern developed showing historic habitation on either side of Hadrian’s Wall. This was the beginning of a great migration story and potentially the end to the dispute of Myles Standish’s origins. Researchers have placed Standish’s birthplace as either Lancashire or the Isle of Man. Based on the data, Lancashire emerges as the most likely location. There was no genetic indication that the Isle of Man was a possibility.

If Standish’s ancestors had been conscripted into the Roman Legion, then I would expect their migration pattern to appear scattered like a diaspora. Fathers and brothers and their descendants would be spread across the Roman empire. There would be no focus for the data points representing the period 2,000 years ago.

The actual data points told a different story. They remained focused. At the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, Myles Standish’s ancestors were living in the Balkans. As the ice receded, they journeyed up the Danube River, a major migration highway, until they reached the upper Rhine. The upper Rhine was a Neolithic way station for many tribes coming up the Danube or out of Iberia. The area served as a stopover before continuing over the Alps or down the Rhine. The Standish tribe chose to follow the Rhine down to the North Sea.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, Standish’s ancestors crossed into England and made their way up the Thames to its source. My theory is that they were pushed ever westward by successive waves of immigrants. They found Wales to be well populated already and ventured north to where we find the most recent genetic evidence, in Lancashire.

My initial theory that Standish’s ancestor was brought to England as part of the Roman Legion, to reinforce the troops at Hadrian’s Wall, was wrong. It is always good to have a theory to work toward, but don’t let preconceived ideas get in the way of new evidence. Now that we know that Standish’s origins are pre-Roman we can consider that his family is one of the native tribes of Britain. The most likely Lancashire tribe would be the Setantii, which is a sub-tribe of the Brigantes.

Each one of our ancestors has a unique migration story to tell. Their travels overlap with events that we have read about in history books.

Where did you come from?

© Michael R. Maglio and OriginsDNA

What’s in My gDNA Toolbox

If I were talking about my regular genealogy toolbox, I would be listing links to all the great websites with digital records (e.g. FamilySearch). I would also talk about great repositories like NARA, BPL or the Mass Archives. Or, I would mention tips and techniques like Nearest Neighbor and the Hidden Treasures in old photos.

Now that we are adding DNA as a tool for genealogy, we have to pack a new toolbox.

The Databases – record sources to compare your DNA against

· – Y-DNA database
· – mtDNA database
· – DNA Project database
· – DNA Project database
· – DNA Project database

The Testing Companies – many different testing companies that are not all equal – do your homework

· – DNA testing (my favorite)
· – DNA testing
· – DNA testing
· – DNA testing
· - DNA testing

Sources of gDNA Knowledge – There are many areas of genetic genealogy that are open for interpretation. Read everything and come to your own conclusions.

· – Advocates for the use of genetics as a tool for genealogical research
· Wikipedia - Haplogroup details

Analysis Tools – DNA results love to be compared and analyzed

· – Whit Athey’s Haplogroup predictor
· - Dean McGee’s Y-DNA comparison tools
· - David Pike’s autosomal comparison tools
· - Autosomal comparison tools
· PHYLIP – phylogenetic tree creation

DNA Data Management – you need to organize and manage your DNA records

· Legacy Family Tree – supports DNA records (the one I use)
· Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Ancestral Quest and The Master Genealogist – supports DNA
· Excel – spreadsheet tools

· Google Maps – User defined maps – you never know when you might want to build your own custom map

This is hardly an exhaustive list. I use most of these tools on a weekly basis. I’m always looking for new tools (or creating ones that don’t exist).

What's in your toolbox? Let me know what tools you are using.


Armenia, DNA and Ethnicity

Self-identity, what culture or ethnicity do you identify with? Your current culture? Your immigrant ancestor’s culture? Perhaps you identify with a culture buried deep in your DNA.

See this article as a great primer on the differences between - Ethnicity, Nationality, Race, Heritage, and Culture.

Culturally, my wife is an American. I could even say that she is a New Englander. She grew up in an Armenian family, but she doesn’t know the language. What she does identify with is the food and family. Her immigrant grandfather, Reuben, was born in Turkey. Turkish was his nationality, but culturally he associated deeply with the Armenian heritage that was strong in Adana.

Nations redraw their lines, form and dissolve over the course of decades. If you had lived in central Europe over the past few hundred years, one day you might be French and the next day German, only to be French again in a week.

How long does it take us to lose our ethnicity? If I took my family to Armenia and we stayed there for three or four generations, would they think of themselves as Armenian American Armenians. I doubt it. Each generation would absorb the culture around them to a greater degree. Given enough time, some descendants might think that it was just family mythology that they ever lived in the US. We’ve always been here.

We are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. That goes for the entire planet.

If I look at another side of my wife’s family, they’ve been in America for over 350 years. Their immigrant ancestor, Edward Clark, was ethnically English. In turn, Edward’s immigrant ancestor was Norman and the immigrant ancestor before that was Danish. I can keep going back, Iberia, Asia and Africa. Which culture should they identify with? Nationality is fleeting and uncertain. Ethnicity is in your genes, embrace all the cultures of your ancestors.

About 50,000 years ago, there were no humans in Armenia, or for that matter, Asia Minor. Over the intervening years, folks trickled in from every direction. Let’s look at the current distribution of Armenian y-DNA.

J1c & J2a
Arabic / Semitic
I2a & R1a

This is a snapshot of modern Armenia. Without analyzing individual haplotypes from this dataset, it is difficult to determine which group arrived first. More than likely each group had multiple waves of immigration across history. I’ve created the map below for you to get a feel for the origin and flow of the major haplogroups.

It’s not unusual for groups J1c, J2a and G2a to have high percentages. Those groups also have their origins in that region. The large portion of R1b can be attributed to the crusaders passing through for hundreds of years. Many of the taverns in this region have signs that say, ‘Alexander the Great slept here’. His empire would have contributed the E1b DNA as they conquered eastward and the Dravidian DNA flowed back toward Greece with the spoils. The Roman and Byzantine influence brought the Balkan DNA. The Huns also stopped by on their way to conquer Eastern Europe.

My wife can count Armenian as part of her heritage, with roots on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Someday I will find her living Armenian cousins in order to get DNA tests. Those results will allow me to identify her deeper ancestral ethnicity.

On another line, she is descended from four generations of Sea Captains from Maine with Scottish origins. Should my wife self-identify with all the cultures of her ancestors? Probably not. Should she learn about and understand all those cultures? Definitely. We can pick and choose the best parts of our ancestral heritage and create our own unique ethnic identity. She has a love for the ocean that didn’t come from any early family experience. It’s in her DNA.

Your Mother's Mother

Deep Into DNA*

Your mother’s ancestry can be extremely challenging. Most of us live in a patrilineal society. The wife and the children take the surname of the husband. History shows us that recording the maiden name of the wife was often an afterthought. We have all tried traditional genealogy for our mother’s line. Some of us can go back a couple of generations and have hit brick walls. Some of us have researched a dozen generations. Mitochondrial DNA testing can aid a genealogist in discovering those lost surnames and validating your research.

Two months ago, I wrote about y-DNA and its use in tracing your paternal line. Mitochondrial DNA testing looks at your maternal line. There are many similarities and just as many differences between the two tests.

...continued at The In-Depth Genealogist with a free membership.

*The Deep Into DNA article series is published each month in The In-Depth Genealogist Newsletter and will demystify genetic genealogy and make sense out of DNA testing terminology. Each month we will talk about the types of tests available from major labs and show relevant examples on how to use DNA in your genealogy research.