Just a quick update for my R-U152 Thompson paper trail cousins in Indiana. They’ve been joined by our Highest Thomson match in R-BY98312.
In a previous post, I’d put about 2000 years between the Thompsons and the Thomsons, but the Thomson tester has narrowed that gap right down to being in the same branch as my family sitting with the Allen match at roughly 1300AD. I believe that it’s likely that the Thomsons and Thompsons are more closely related, but my cousin’s sample was at the end of its life. FTDNA support said that they struggled to get some reads that they suspect are true but didn’t pass all the quality tests. It’s possible that Thomson/Thompson would form a new branch under BY98312 but the DNA sample is spent.
Both the Thomson and Allen testers are 10 big Y STRs away, although the Thomson test has more STRs to compare to 554 for Thomson vs. 537 for Allen. More STR matches suggest a closer relationship, but STRs can be misleading and I’m not sure how to consider Big Y STRs since there seems to be a lot of variability in results.
Since I haven’t been able to communicate with the Thomson test taker and there no real family tree to compare to that I’ve found, there doesn’t seem to be much benefit in me grabbing the results and looking for those SNPs that were on the edge of being called good. Who would I compare the results to? For some odd reason, the Thomson test doesn’t even show as a Big Y match in the matches area…so I have no real clue what to look for and no one to compare notes with. It kind of highlights how genealogy is also a social/informational exchange.
It’s possible that FTDNA will decide to call some of my cousin’s SNPs good somewhere down the road based on other tests that come in (I’ve seen that with the Elmers), but for the time being this is the end of the trail for the Thom(p)sons.
Here in the U.S., it’s Thanksgiving. For many people, that means a lot of good food and time spent with family. Where I am in Michigan, there is light snow on the ground. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, peculiar to the U.S. but not alone in the Northern Hemisphere as far as Fall harvest festivals go. For me, Thanksgiving is the gateway to winter and the starting gun for the rest of the winter celebrations. In my family, that means Christmas is around the corner bringing a mishmash of Northern European traditions in the American style for a mishmash Northern European and West African family.
Typically, I think I end up posting most of my updates around Christmas time because I have a decent break in my work schedule then, but I got tugged back here with a few thoughts over this long weekend.
Changing Roles and Changing People
Like a lot of people, my uncle died this summer. He did not die from Covid 19. His death leaves my dad alone among his siblings. It’s a position my dad explicitly stated that he did not want to hold. I can only imagine the significant loss for my cousins and aunt, but in my mind’s eye, they are comforted by their love, their community, and their great faith.
My mother-in-law died this summer as well. She didn’t die from Covid 19, but she did die suddenly. She was 68, so I can’t say it was unexpected, she wasn’t a toddler or a teenager, but none of us had any reason to believe she would die when she did or that it would be so fast.
For my wife, losing a parent has meant a lot of uncertainty about things that were once certain. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone in the family. Each person has an amount of inertia, an amount of gravity that binds things together that might otherwise drift. With my mother-in-law gone, we’re all finding our place in the new universe that is surrounding that vacuum.
These losses change the trajectory of our lives. Our families expand and contract they split apart and come together and people move forward in their own direction, maybe in opposite directions. Families change, they move, they become something else. There is a strange timelessness to families but also fluidity. Family is adaptable.
They’ll Just Let Anyone in Here
If you were at my mother-in-law’s funeral you would see a lot of people who share similar traits. A gap in their front teeth or almond-shaped eyes. One group carries high cheekbones, another curly hair. When you get them all together, it’s easy to see that they are related. There are another group of people there though who qualify as “family” but aren’t related in any way. There are a lot of ways that people become family and genetics is not required.
I remember after my grandmother’s funeral, sorting through her pictures. It was easy to see the people who were related to her and the people who were related to my grandfather, but then there were “uncles” and “aunties” and “cousins” who are not related. My parents know them, they’ve been there, they’ve made memories with the family but it turns out, surprisingly, that they are completely unrelated to us. They are still part of the family, but you won’t see them on any family tree.
Having a meaningful relationship within the group seems to be the only bar for entry into many of the families I know. Ancestry.com doesn’t have a slot for them that I’m aware of. These people are the undocumented labor of love.
Who Are All These People?
As I was thinking about “family” I remembered that I hadn’t updated all my trees. It’s a sad sort of busywork, adding death dates to your family members, but it seemed dishonorable somehow to leave them empty. As usual, I took a peek at my DNA matches and there was a new name I recognize. It’s one of my cousin’s surnames. The amount of shared DNA suggests one of a cousin’s children, but I don’t recognize their given name. It could be one of the children of a cousin who moved off to one of the Carolinas or…maybe it was Georgia. It could be one of the children of a cousin a few miles outside of my hometown. I don’t know.
My cousins were my playmates in early life but we live in different parts of the state and different parts of the country. We all pulled or were pulled away in our teenage years. I don’t know all of their kids’ names. They all have their own families, and communities, and workplaces. I haven’t seen most of them since we were young adults. It’s possible I might recognize a family trait if I saw their children or grandchildren in person, but I can’t say for sure.
As I scrolled down the matches, that level of knowing someone completely disappears. I see people who are related to my great-grandparents, or to my second great-grandparents. I have no idea who they are or how they fit without a family tree. The names are unrecognizable. I could pass them on the street every day and never know we were biologically related.
For most of my matches, I have to hunt down the relationship in whatever trees I can find. They are very much strangers except for an accident of birth. They are part of my family in the strictest biological sense, but something is definitely missing. Shared genomes are not enough.
Binding, but not Always Legally
I was reminded of some great words from genetic genealogy circles. “Everyone has two family trees”. There is the documented family tree and the biological family tree and sometimes those two line up, but they do not have to. I have been told that I share the Thompson family sense of humor with my paper trail second cousin once removed. His wife is the local expert on the Thompsons in Indiana and so I’ll take her word for it. Clearly, though, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that that family trait is not genetic but handed down through shared experience. A gift from the Thompsons that has no blood quantum. This character trait is part of my heredity that transcends mere genes.
The other related thing that I have been mulling over, it the idea that anyone can become an American. It’s a basic principle that is worth remembering on this very American holiday. The idea is that you could move to France, but you wouldn’t become French. Maybe your kids or grandkids. I’m not sure how long a family would be foreign to the natives.
There are certainly obstacles here in America and it’s not perfect. It never has been. There are some real horrors in our history. The idea stubbornly remains though. Anyone can become an American. A U.S. citizen. It’s baked in there right from the start just waiting for our laws and biases and human flaws to catch up with it.
The idea may not be unique anymore but I think it was revolutionary in its inception. We’re somehow special because we’re a club that anyone can be in. The base of the idea is an admission that we choose to support each other. Our capacity to have meaningful relationships and common goals supersede the boundaries that have been presented to us. It’s a social contract signed by people from all over the world.
It occurred to me that “family” is a social contract too, like becoming a citizen. You could be born into a family, but you can also join one or leave one to join another of your choosing. Family is a social contract that sometimes involves biology. Anyone from anywhere can become a Thompson (and they have) or a Smith…or whatever it is that you are. Families are, by their nature, more than the sum of their parts. The ties that bind us together are deep and meaningful and also ephemeral and hard to pin down in our administrative notion of a family tree.
Sending Out Invitations?
Over the years we’ve been able to add some great people to our family. In a way, I guess, each of these chance meetings is an opportunity to extend that invitation to a new person or people. Who can say how much gravity that next DNA match or new co-worker or classmate or neighbor or congregation member will add to our universe or how much we might add to theirs?
I’m moving along on the supposition that Ed Elmer was probably a solidly middle-class guy, but maybe at the lower end of wealth from Ed Elmer Regular Guy and also following up on my post about the surprising number of Elmers in Essex (although a decided lack of Ed Elmers in available records there) that leaves open the possibility that he was a resident in Braintree or Bocking but that his paperwork is missing.
Of course not all the puritans were from Essex and neither were all the passengers on the Lyon (using this comparison of varying accounts from the Whipple family site as a reference). The source of all knowledge Wikipedia says that nearly half of all puritans came broadly from East Anglia. This random British travel site seems to agree. The Whipple passenger lists have people from Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire, and Northamptonshire. Although fewer in number than the Essex passengers they are not insignificant. Edward ends up settling in Hartford which is named after Hertfordshire after all.
When I was looking at Essex I cast a pretty broad net to get a feeling for how many Elmer families lived there in the early 1600s. Looking at counties like Norfolk, I can afford to be a bit pickier. Where possible I’ve looked up hearth tax records online and I found a great search site at https://www.freereg.org.uk/ that has tons of parish records. My focus for those parish records has been on Edward Elmers.
I’m not from Britain so I may be grouping these towns wrong, but for the sake of some sort of order, I’m going to try to cluster these a bit for context. I’ll bold the Hearth Tax Records which will be roughly 50 to 70 yearslater (1670’s) than the vital records I can find between 1590 and 1620.
The hearth tax records are meant to provide some idea of the general state of Elmers in the area after Edward’s departure. Following the theory that Edward’s remaining family in England would have had some means, we’d be looking at a yeoman class person up to a wealthy craftsman so roughly 2 to 7 hearths.
Elmers from Norfolk
Norfolk is the home county for Bishop John Aylmer. It’s also home to a large amount of Elmers, Ailmers, Elmores and other name variants. It is thick with Elmers. The family and court records I dug up in the past are overwhelming, to the point that I got tired of copying them. If you had to guess where Ed Elmer was from, then I think Norfolk would be the safest guess based on surname alone.
In my record search from 1590 to 1620 there are 138 Elmer records (baptism, burial, marriage) in Norfolk. Compare that to the 22 records I find in Essex or the 14 records I find in Suffolk for the same period and you get an idea of how dense the Elmer population is there.
Because of that, I’ve gotten pretty picky with Norfolk. I’m only looking at birth, burial or marriage records related to Edward Elmers. The hearth tax records are there for the general flavor to show the means of Elmer families in the area after Edward had migrated to America.
You can see the vital records at the top of Norfolk as a red pin near Brancaster. I don’t know if the Edward Elmer buried in 1610 represents the child born around 1605, or his father also named Edward who was married to Isabell just the year before the birth, in 1604, or if the 1610 Edward Elmer is unrelated. All I’ve seen are the indexes. I can see that Edward and Isabell have a son named Edward in 1605, a son named John around 1607, a son Oliver in 1608 and then Isabell is oddly listed alone as the mother of Bridget Elmer in 1616. I couldn’t find any birth records for Edward Elmers born in Norfolk between 1500 and 1612. I suspect that Edward the younger is the death in 1610, but I can’t be sure. I can’t find the death of Edward senior.
Isabell FOULL Edward ELMER Marriage 25 Jan 1604/5 – St Mary the Virgin : Parish Register
Edward? ELMER Baptism 29 Sep 1605 – St Mary the Virgin : Parish Register
Edward ELMER Burial 10 Jun 1610 – St Mary the Virgin : Parish Register
Thomas Elmore 4 hearths
Rich Elmore 2 Hearths
Wiggenhall St Germans
Mr Ailmer 3 hearths.
There are several records for Almer births in Scoulton (Red pin on the map by the Hingham star) with what appear to be a couple of generations in my 1590 to 1620 range. Edward Almer is the son of William Almer who appears to have multiple children in the 1590 and early 1600s. There are also multiple records for Aylmers who may be the same family with a different spelling. Almer seems to be the older record set with Aylmers becoming dominant later. I looked for records of Edward Almer later from 1620 to 1700 in Scoulton to see if he married or died there but I found none.
Edward ALMER Baptism 25 Jan 1608/9 – Holy Trinity : Archdeacon’s Transcript
Edward Almer really caught my attention so I looked to see if Scoulton had puritan activity and found this passage that makes it sound like there was some current of puritanism there. From the google book “Faith, Hope and Charity: English Neighbourhoods, 1500–1640” By Andy Wood
I found no Elmers in Hingham in the 1590 to 1620 range. I have a star on Hingham because it’s history with the Puritans is interesting. A large portion of the town left for America in the 1630’s including the ancestors of Abraham Lincoln. Hingham Massachusetts was settled by people transplanted from Hingham Norfolk. According to sources quoted on Wikipedia “The parishioners who left Hingham had been so prominent in the Hingham community that the town was forced to petition British Parliament, saying their town had been devastated by the emigration. They told the House of Commons that “most of the able Inhabitants have forsaken their dwellings and have gone severall ways for their peace and quiett and the town is now left and like in the misery by reason of the meanness of the [remaining] Inhabitants.”
Hingham is 3 miles from Scoulton.
St Margaret Parish Norwich
This Edward Elmer (Red pin above) is at the top end for birth date I would think. Being born in 1617 would have made him only 15 when he traveled on the Lyon in 1632. I don’t know if that is likely or not. It seems awfully young and it seems odd that he would be traveling alone in 1632. He’s the son of Nathaniell Elmer. I’ve found no record of his marriage or death in Norfolk, although I can see that Nathaniell dies in 1649/1650 in Norwich. Nathaniell was a Worsted Weaver. Nathaniell’s death is recorded at St. Peter Mancroft where there is a tapestry hanging that was created by Dutch and Flemish weavers who came to Norwich according to this article on the 1000 plus Dutch and Flemish strangers. Several of the Elmers with burials at St. Peter Mancroft appear to be weavers or related to Elmer weavers.
Edward ELMER Baptism 14 Aug 1617 – St Margaret : Parish Register
John Elmer – 1 hearth
John Elmer – 2 hearths
Robt Elmer – 4 hearths
Pullham (Market) St Marie
John Elmer – 1 hearth
Wortwell; hamlett of aldeburgh
Isaac Elmer – 2 hearths
Elmers from Suffolk
There are fewer Elmer records in Suffolk from 1590 to 1620 (roughly 14) than I find in Norfolk, although plenty of hearth tax records from 1674. When I extend my vital record searches to 1690 I see more literal “Elmers” showing up in records in the 1660s and 1670s (as opposed to Almers who dominate in 1590 to 1620). It may be that the Elmer hearth records are showing new Elmer families moving into Suffolk…while the low level of “Elmer” vital records (really just the one family from Bury St. Edmunds seem trustworthy) may show a transient Elmer family with the residents from the hearth tax records representing newer families in Suffolk.
From the records in Bury St. Edmunds there is at least one Elmer family. Robert has sons Edward in 1595 and Nicholas in 1594 one record is spelled Ellmer and the other Elmer. I found no other records for the family. I don’t see them in my Suffolk searches, even when I extend it out to 1690.
Edward ELLMER Baptism 9 Nov 1595 – St James : Other Transcript
Robert Elmer – 3 hearths
Sudbury Babergh St. Peters
Step. Ellmer – 3 hearths
Cowlinge in Risbridge
The bulk of the Almer records from 1590 to 1620 are in the general vicinity of Cowlinge. Most are from Lidgate roughly 3 miles away with a few popping up in Wickhambrook about 4 miles to the east. The Almer families show up in vital records in Lidgate until the 1660s.
William Almer – 2 hearths
North and East
Hepworth (north of Stanton on the west side of the map)
Jo Elmor – 2 hearths Grig Ellmer – 3 hearths
Jo Elmer – 4 hearths widow Elmer – 1 hearth
Ashfield Thredling (to the west of Bruisyard and Sweffling)
A sort of dodgy record for an Elinore family came up in my searches from 1590 to 1620 in Woodbridge. I’m not sure what to make of them. It could be a transcription error.
Widow Almer – 2 hearths
Elmers from Sussex
There are 45 vital records for Aylmers (of various spellings) and 8 vital records for Elmers in Sussex between 1590 and 1620. The Aylmers were active in Sidlesham and Boxgrove. I couldn’t find a good source for Sussex hearth taxes online, although it appears there is a book I could order. Here’s a walking map from Sidlesham to Boxgrove roughly 8 miles away.
Edward Aylmer is born to John Aylmer in Sidlesham but dies as an infant.
Edward AYLMER Baptism 28 Feb 1606/7 St Mary Our Lady : Parish Register
Edward AYLMER Burial 09 Mar 1606/7 St Mary Our Lady : Parish Register
Elmers in London
The St. Mary Le Bow Edward Elmores show in my vital records searches from 1590 to 1620. As we found out Edward Elmore senior, a fishmonger, had two sons named Edward who did not survive childhood. He then also died in 1620. The Elmore family maintains a presence in the area, but that particular set of Edward Elmores was a dead end. We have more on the roads we followed trying to tie up loose ends for Ed Elmer here:
That marks the end of my Edward Elmer teasers in England between 1590 and 1620. There are Elmers, Almers, Aylmers, etc. that are active in many counties. These searchable records are amazing but also incomplete. I can’t negate the idea that Ed Elmer is from Northhamptonshire, for instance, but I couldn’t find Ed Elmer records there.
I found the Ed Almer record from Scoulton to be pretty interesting because of timing and proximity to Hingham. Hingham’s exodus happens a few years after Ed leaves for the new world with the Braintree company. It would make Ed roughly 36 when he was married and 60 when he’s relieved of watching and warding and roughly 68 when he is killed.
I suspect Ed Elmer from Brancaster dies in 1610, but I have no way to confirm that. Born in 1605 this Edward would be 27 when the Lyon departed. 39 when he was first married (a bit on the older side). 62 when he was freed from watching and 71 when he was killed.
Ed Elmer from Norwich born in 1617 seems young at first but then fits better later. He would be 15 when the Lyon set sail, but I’ve suspected in the past that Ed was an unmarried young man, possibly under the watchful eye of another family on the journey. Ed is married in 1644 which would make him 27. The average age for a man to marry in Puritan society is about 26 according to womens history blog. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable. He would have been 51 when relieved of watching and 59 when he died. The average life expectancy seems to be around 70 for men in New England at the time and Ed didn’t die from natural causes.
Edward from Bury St. Edmunds seems to be pretty long in the tooth. He would have been in his late 30’s for the trip and almost 50 when he was first married and 81 when he was killed. This Ed Elmer just seems unlikely.
Just for Fun
Out of curiosity, I wanted to see where the other two close Y DNA families might be in England at the time of Edward’s birth.
Lunsfords, Lunsfords in England
The Lunsfords are the second closest family roughly 700 or 800 AD for a common ancestor. Doing the SNP trick with two new big Y results I get 15 * 83 for us and 13 * 83 for them. That’s 1245 + 1079/2 = 1162. 1950 – 1162 = roughly 788 AD for a common Y ancestor with the Lunsfords. Here are the Lunsfords from 1590 to 1620. I dropped back to 1500 with them as a kind of survey and they still seem clustered around Sussex and Kent.
Lunsfords in Hastings
William LUNSFORD Baptism 07 Jun 1590 Sussex Hastings : All Saints : Parish Register
William LUNSFORD Baptism 7 Jun 1590 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
Joan LUNSFORD Burial 2 Mar 1593/4 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
William LUNSFORD Burial 10 Jan 1594/5 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
Agnes LUNSFORD Baptism 23 Nov 1595 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
Elizabeth LUNSFORD Baptism 14 Dec 1606 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
Bridgett LUNSFORD Burial 2 Nov 1609 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
….LUNSFORD Burial 18 Nov 1609 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
Joane ROGERS Thomas LUNSFORD Marriage 05 Sep 1610 Sussex Hastings : St Clement Old Town : Parish Register
John LUNSFORD Burial 24 Jan 1617/18 Sussex Hastings : All Saints : Parish Register
Lunsfords in Kent
John LUNSFORD Burial 02 Nov 1593 Kent Benenden : St George : Other Transcript
Sarah LUNSFORD John KNIGHT Marriage 10 Aug 1620 Kent Tenterden : St Mildred : Parish Register
Knowltons, Knowltons in England
Currently our closest non-Elmer Y DNA relatives, the Knowltons are still far enough back that we likely don not have a common male line ancestor in the time of the common use of surnames in England. Testing shows our families diverged 7 Y SNPs before Edward Elmer was born. Most estimates have shown a shared ancestor around the time of the Norman invasion. When I do the trick of using SNP calculations I get 12 Big Y SNPs for the Elmers back to the common Y SNP. So 12 * 83 years. Then 5 SNPs for our Knowlton tester with old Big Y: 5 * 125 years. That’s 996 + 625 = 1621. 1621/2 = 810.5 years. 1950 – 810 years is roughly 1140 AD for the common ancestor with the Knowltons.
Here are some vital records in the range of 1590 to 1620 for Knowltons (and spelling variants). I’m limiting them here to just 1590 to 1620 but it’s worth noting that there are many Knowltons of various spellings in Kent and Middlesex between 1500 and 1600. These are Knowltons who would be roughly the same age as Ed Elmer.
Knowltons in Essex
Allis NOWLTON Baptism 30 Apr 1592 Essex West Bergholt : St Mary the Virgin : Parish Register
Knowltons in Norfolk
Elizabeth NULTON? Baptism 02 Apr 1609 Norfolk Hevingham : St Botolph : Archdeacon’s Transcript
Margaret KNOULTON Burial 23 Apr 1597 Norfolk Halvergate : St Peter and St Paul : Parish Register
Knowltons in Yorkshire
Tho. WOLTON (OR NOLTON) Baptism 30 Jan 1609/10 Yorkshire, West Riding Leeds : St Peter : Other Transcript
Knowltons in Hampshire
Richard KNOWLTON Baptism 12 Oct 1600 Hampshire Church Oakley : St Leonard : Parish Register
Margerys KNOWLTON Baptism 22 Jan 1603/4 Hampshire Church Oakley : St Leonard : Parish Register
Knowltons in Surrey
Susan KNOWLDEN Baptism 26 Dec 1610 Surrey Bletchingley : St Mary the Virgin : Parish Register
James KNOWLDIN Baptism 27 Sep 1618 Surrey Bletchingley : St Mary the Virgin : Parish Register
I recently watched what I thought was a really good piece from CBC Marketplace on Twins getting DNA tests in 2019. They test with several companies and get different ethnicity estimate results between the various companies and it appears that sometimes their results differ from each other within the same company. They also interview people on the street about whether DNA testing is science and if the ethnicity estimates are true or false. They also show the famous or infamous Ancestry commercial featuring a guy who thought his family was German but found out through DNA testing they were “Welsh or Scottish”. They present videos and commercials with people who got surprising and sometimes life-changing results. People whose identity is changed as a result of these tests.
CBC Marketplace interviews some of the companies about their differing results and a professor about ancestry testing in general. In 20 plus minutes, they do a good job of explaining that your Ethnicity Estimate results are only as good as the company’s sampling around the world, that your results will change over time as sampling gets better, and that these are only estimates. In the end, stressing that this is science entertainment and your cultural affinities are not tied to DNA. So if you grew up in a first nation as part of Native American culture and it turns out you were adopted from a Polish family, sure…look up Poland and learn about that, but you’re still Native culturally at the end of the day. That’s your culture. You get culture from your family and community and even your own interests…but not from DNA.
I’ve done several posts myself comparing ethnicity estimates, watching them change, and seeing how they are different for myself and between my family members. Based on my own experience, I agree, ethnicity estimates are fun and sometimes useful, but not necessarily definitive.
Overall, I thought it was a great message, but I also had this nagging feeling that their piece was short enough and so focused on ethnicity as the end goal, that it could be a bit misleading.
Short Attention Spans, and Easy Answers
Take the Ancestry commercial. It does seem like they’re saying DNA made Kyle say “Goodbye Lederhosen, Hello Kilt”. It is also unfortunate that Kyle would give up what is portrayed to be a long-standing family tradition so easily. You would expect that they have friends and family in the German community that would not be so easy to leave behind. Kyle gets an easy answer and makes sweeping life changes, quickly. He’s Scottish now.
But that is not exactly what the Ancestry commercial is saying.
Kyle, in the commercial, is not finding any German relatives in his family tree. The scenario presented is that he’s doing research first and then gets a DNA test when his research doesn’t match his expectations. He gets to a point in his paper trail research and says…where are all the Germans?
The question that Ancestry’s commercial doesn’t answer, but should, is did Kyle’s DNA ethnicity results better resemble what he found in his research?
If you’ve read any of my past postings about my aunt, you may remember that I was surprised by her large Irish ethnicity estimate at 23 and me (and also at Ancestry DNA). It seemed clear that she was getting a large Irish component that I could not place. Once we used DNA to find her real paternal genetic family among the Roberts, I could easily see that her grandmother was an immigrant from Ireland. The estimates of “Irishness” varied between companies, but they weren’t bogus.
When looking at Robert families that I had identified by slogging through segment matching people from Quebec and the U.P., I wondered how these DNA companies were coming up with a really high Irish component when all I was finding were French people and confusion. The amounts were so enormous and found broadly enough between companies that they warranted some explanation.
In the end, they are best interpreted through the lens of the other real work I did to identify her paternal family. Now, having done my homework, her ethnicity estimates better resemble what I found in my research and that gives them some more weight.
Of course, it helped my research that her 2nd cousin in the Robert family had a test and then they had her first cousin tested, but watching the ethnicity begin to make sense and that puzzle piece fit, almost uniquely, in this single family was amazing. The ethnicity estimate was “more right” than I knew.
DNA testing is a “long game” and it’s hard to cover the nuances of a long game in a 30-second commercial or a 20-minute consumer journalism piece.
While I share the frustration expressed by CBC Marketplace with DNA company marketing that promises easy magical answers without you (the consumer) having to do any work, I think focusing solely on ethnicity estimates as the goal of DNA testing, and marking DNA testing as Science Entertainment, is also misleading and catering to short attention spans in a different way.
What Are Your Goals?
Culture is not tied to DNA although sometimes they go hand in hand. I know many people who love cultures they were not born into, no blood quantum required. Being raised in a culture always trumps DNA. If your DNA causes you to learn more about a culture, great. If you love a culture but don’t have the DNA to back it up, great, you go ahead and keep on loving.
The value you get from your DNA testing and whether it’s entertainment or serious business should map to your goals.
If you’re looking for a quick way for DNA to assign you a fun culture, then you’re in the realm of Science Entertainment. My advice is to stick to the big numbers like 45% British Isles. That’s a big amount, there’s probably some validity to it. When you get into the weeds, things get weirder. That 2% Middle Eastern may swap over to 1% North African down the line. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Try out some themed restaurants and learn some language, maybe appreciate some art or history and travel. There’s nothing wrong with that. You just have to know what you’re buying and that it is not 100% accurate. The broad brush strokes are probably real enough for some edutainment, the fine details…maybe not so much.
If your interest is in tracing your family and you find 56% Western European or 90% African to be accurate, but unfulfilling, you’re probably ready for some science work. Dig into your paper trail and then return to DNA to find repeating families among your larger (and closer) matches. Try to pin matches to your paper trail family. Test your parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to get direction and compare to yourself. Work on segment mapping and triangulation to find out which segments of DNA belong to which family. You will probably uncover some genuine mysteries and may find interesting answers, but it will take some time and effort to put together the puzzle that is you. I think you’re worth it. We all are. Everyone deserves to know these things about themselves.
DNA testing is a tool kit you can use along with other tool kits like historical records and even family stories, to learn more about you. Ethnicity estimates are one part of the DNA tool kit and I would say that they’re not the best tool in the arsenal. They’re like that weird little toothpick in the swiss army knife, sometimes useful, but clearly not the best part. If you only focus on ethnicity then I feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity to do more and learn more.
Our Ethnicity Estimates
You can see my comparisons of ethnicity estimates at different times with various family members, along with a comparison of a friend from Britain (and the specificity he has regionally in the isles that I don’t have) in 2020 here: Ancestry Composition, Origins, Ethnicity Estimates…Oh My
You can see the difference in my old 2011 ethnicity estimates here: Genome Analysis
As a side note, where I feel that Ancestry DNA is making great gains for European Americans in ethnicity estimates and Locational DNA is in their “Communities” feature. I say European Americans because all the tests I have access to fall into that category or straight European. Communities require special permission and access to an ancestry DNA test. I have several African American relatives that I suspect will share the Ohio River Valley/Northern Blue Ridge Mountain DNA with me through my Finks family and their part in slavery in the U.S., but I haven’t seen their full communities report.
Here is an update for me in 2021. I gained two more specific communities:
As another point of interest. My aunt’s ethnicity estimates, likely because of bans on genetic testing in France, barely register her Quebec roots, but they shine through in Communities with featured genetic matches:
Recently the kind admins at the U106 forum posted about a DNA data update from David Reich with updated Y haplogroups in it (2019 ISOGG groups). A quick glance at some of the .anno files shows 5 R-Z18 men who seem to be on the R-L257 branch and one R-DF95 man. The data contains both ancient and modern DNA and it turns out the R-DF95 man is the modern tester from Utah, which I think was the first R-DF95 person discovered. There is a lot of data there and others may find different results but in the easy finds…no DF95 ancient DNA. I’m always waiting for one of our brethren to show up in some Saxon village, Viking mass grave, or post-Norman dig site, but no luck this time.
T2A1A mitochondrial DNA though does appear several times along with some cultural notes, age dating, and latitude and longitude coordinates for the gravesites. I covered some of these in my previous post about my all mother, but several are new to me too.
I dug up an NCBI article that estimates that T2a1a first appears around 6000 years ago, so roughly 4000 BCE and moves into Europe during the neolithic from the near east (ncbi article). That makes 4k BCE the date to beat for ancient DNA samples. The samples in this data are about 1000 years away from that source, so we catch T2a1a while it is on its journey.
For reference here is “the near east”
I grabbed the locations and images with help from google maps and gps-coordinates.net. With images of locations, I tried to get as close as I could. Many of these gravesites are near modern-day towns and some are within a current city.
The Steppe Influence
Near Yelo Russia Roughly 3000-2900 BCE (Before Common Era aka BC).
It is hard to imagine these places, so I’ve tried to grab pictures from google maps that are near the areas of the burials. Here are a few pictures that were taken in or near Yelo in the Altai Republic in Russia.
There are two men and one woman in different digs (Elo 1 and Tyumechin 1) all listed as “Russia_Afanasievo”. Tomsk_1950 (sample I5269), Tomsk_1952 (sample I5271) and Tomsk_1959 (sample I5273). These were the oldestT2a1a people in the data set.
Wikipedia has a nice article on the Afanasievo culture, linking it to the Yamnaya or a proto-Yamnaya culture. The Yamnaya live large in the Y Haplogroup R world as movers and shakers in Europe. Here is a migration map for the Yamnaya that shows Afanasievo off to the east in orange around 3000 BCE (marked as -3000). The article talks about them being an early offshoot creating artifacts dated to around 3300 BCE.
The oldest T2a1a in the data set is from a far eastern arm of an early Yamnaya or proto Yamnaya migration, suggesting to me that they traveled with the Yamnaya. I want to point out the proximity of the Yamnaya central dot on the map to “the near east” just south of it.
The Afanasievo owned domesticated cattle, horses, sheep, and goats, used wheeled vehicles, and worked metal. Allentoft is cited as coming to the conclusion that the Afanasievo were genetically indistinguishable from the Yamnaya and later studies looking at Y and MT DNA concluded there was an initial migration from the pontic steppe.
I can never seem to remember where the pontic steppe is although it seems to be pretty important to my genetic journey. Here is a map of that (and again to the south of it “the near east”).
Near Remontnoye or Elista in Kalmykia Russia circa 2900 – 2100 BCE
These are RISE547 and RISE552 (both male) that I mentioned in “My All Mother“. They are listed as Yamnaya culture. Here is their burial pin followed by a map of the Yamna Culture (also called the pit grave culture) from Wikipedia.
For some context, these T2a1a people are in the Yamna heartland, 4000 km from their cousins near Yelo.
Estonia Near Ardu 2800 to 2500 BCE
Listed as Ardu1, male Corded Ware culture (CWC). Looking for some information on whether the T2a1a person was a local or migrated in I found this in an article from Current Biology: “The CWC individuals displayed a more diverse set of mitochondrial hgs, including H5a, T2a, and J1c, that first appeared in Europe during the Neolithic. ”
Later in the article: “The Estonian CWC individuals on the other hand clustered closely together with a bulk of modern as well as LNBA (Late Neolithic/Bronze Age) populations from Europe, consistent with being associated with the migration of Yamnaya culture people from the Steppe region of the Eastern European Plain.
Interestingly, CWC people showed a higher affinity to Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer (CHG) DNA than to European Hunter-Gatherer DNA unlike earlier people in the area and people living there today.
These CWC people carried a “clear Steppe ancestry with some minor Anatolian contribution, most likely absorbed through female lineages during the population movements”.
They conclude that the genetic evidence shows that farming did not arrive through a slow migration of Anatolian farmers or through cultural exchange, but with a migration of Steppe people into Estonia (current biology article).
I take this to mean that T2a1a wasn’t resident in Estonia at the time It was carried there with the Yamnaya migration (along with farming and animal husbandry).
Amesbury Down, England 2500 – 1700 BCE
Listed as I2459 female (2500 to 2100 BCE) and I2460 female (2100 to 1700 BCE) from the Beaker Culture.
Almost 4000 km west from Remontnoye (using that as our rough center point in the data) are Amesbury Bell Beaker burials that appear to tell the story of a fairly dramatic bronze age replacement of neolithic people in Britain.
This paper at ncbi contains the graves of I2459 and I2460 as part of its evidence and suggests a 90% replacement of the local population in Britain with people who have steppe ancestry and move in from the continent. Among the beaker burials, they see new MTDNA haplogroups that were present in beaker associated populations from continental Europe but not in Neolithic Britain, suggesting that both men and women were involved in this population replacement.
According to the tables other branches of T2 (T2b, T2c, T2f) existed in Neolithic Britain, but T2a1a seems to be limited to these bronze age samples. That makes some sense when you consider that T2a1a appears to be fairly young at 6000 years ago while T2a1b appears circa 13000 years ago, T2f roughly 17000 years ago.
As a side note, the authors also tracked alleles that are associated with reduced skin and eye pigmentation (rs16891982 in SLC45A2 and rs12913832 in HERC2/OCA2) and found a considerable increase in frequency in the beaker and bronze age remains. The arrival of migrants associated with Beaker culture altered the pigmentation of British populations. Lactose tolerance still was not popular at the time though.
That analysis lines up with isotope analysis of the Amesbury Archer that suggested a childhood in the alps before settling in Britain.
Near Norra Asum, Sweden roughly 1500 – 1300 BCE
Listed as RISE210 female, Nordic Bronze Age actual burial place is Ängamöllan. RISE210 is part of a dataset used to examine population genomics in bronze age Europe and draws some conclusions on Indo-European language groups and population movements. New Perspectives on the Bronze Age talks about RISE210 more specifically as a person in a gallery grave (along with several others) from the early bronze age. If I’m reading it correctly RISE210 has a very normal atDNA makeup for a European in the bronze age with Caspian-Steppe heritage owed to the Yamnaya but is likely not a local. She is also listed as a commoner based on burial style and a lack of grave goods. This shows that there was high mobility among different social classes. The paper suggests that the changes in the style of burials suggest that there was an intense exchange of people and goods from south Germany and West-Central Europe.
The conclusion I draw from these finds is that T2a1a is kind of a latecomer in Europe and seems to be pushed around the continent riding the wave of Steppe influence both east and west, and as far north as Sweden over the course of centuries.
In this particular set of data, beyond this point, there is a big leap in time. Roughly 2000 years until we pick up a saxon grave.
In the Common Era
Oakington, South Cambridgeshire, England 400 to 600 CE (AD basically).
I0774 Early Medieval Saxon female. Listed in this article from Nature as O3 showing mixed heritage, likely Danish admixed with the local British.
The authors write: “For sample O3, which appeared to be of mixed ancestry in the allele sharing analysis, we find highest likelihood for merging with the Danish branch. However, in this sample there is also a notably higher likelihood to merge onto the same Northern European ancestral branch point as seen for the Iron Age samples. This is consistent with O3 being of recently mixed indigenous and Anglo-Saxon origin, although we can not rule out more complex scenarios involving prior mixed ancestry of this individual during the Romano-British period.”
“There is some differentiation amongst the Anglo-Saxon era samples with samples O1, O2, HS1 and HS3 having highest likelihood of merging onto the Dutch branch while O3 and HS2 have highest likelihoods of merging onto the Danish branch, although in some cases the difference in likelihood between these two possibilities is small.”
Of interest in the article was an observation that all the graves (despite different ancestry) were very similar with the best grave goods associated with a native British person. Suggesting that the new immigrants were often poor.
Without O3’s parent’s genomes to look at, it would be hard to know if her T2a1a had hitched a ride from Denmark or if it was the local British variety that had been on the island for at least 2000 years. In the data, she is listed with “no relatives detected”.
Salme, Estonia 700 – 800 CE, just up the road from the Viking Burger
Listed as VK481 and VK511 both males assigned to early viking period.
I’ve stolen this quote from a posting in groups.io. In the powerpoint, VK481 is listed as a warrior in the boat burial.
The men of Estland came down from the interior with a great army, and there was a battle; but the army of the country was so brave that the Swedes could not withstand them, and King Yngvar fell, and his people fled. He was buried close to the seashore under a mound in Estland; and after this defeat the Swedes returned home.” – From A saga of Noble King Yngvar who met his end while raiding in Estonia around 600. Written in 1225. (Viking ships 1 and 2)
There is some conjecture that VK481 was half Estonian at Anthrogenica. That may be total speculation, but since T2a1a was 250km away in Ardu Estonia (see above) 3500 years earlier it would seem reasonable that VK481’s mother may have been from the Baltic or from Estonia.
Looking at supplemental material from Population Genetics of the Viking World VK481 in table 6 shows the most affinity (almost equally) for Swedish and Finnish populations, but VK511 also T2a1a did not. His affinity was twice as high for Sweden which would suggest to me that both parents were from Sweden. We know from RISE210 above that T2a1a was in Sweden around 2200 years before VK481 and VK511 were killed in Estonia.
VK511 must not have gained enough interest. Other than general listings I can’t find a lot of information on him other than he’s in the same vicinity and has the same MTDNA as VK481, although a different Y.
Near Over Randlev Denmark, 850 – 900 CE.
VK339 Danish Viking period female.
from Population Genetics of the Viking World: “The cemetery is located approximately 1 km south-east of the parish village Over Randlev and 3.8 km from the coast of Kattegat. Over 80% of those interred in the cemetery were women.” VK339 did not appear in the ancestry estimates portion of the supplementary material so I’m unsure what populations she was most like (My suspicion is that she would fall into the Danish group but that could be wrong).
Of interest, the paper did say they had some struggles telling the difference between Anglo Saxons from the Danish Viking population.
“Outside of Scandinavia, the genetic legacy of the Vikings is consistent, though limited. A small component is present in Poland (up to 5%) and the south of Europe. Within the British Isles, it is difficult to assess how much of the Danish-like ancestry is due to pre-existing Anglo-Saxon ancestry” In the media going along with the paper, they specify that Denmark was particularly hard to place because its best match was the UK population probably owing to Anglos Saxon heritage. They speculate that the Danish Viking contribution to England was around 6% while Norway was around 4%.
Near Igaliku Greenland, 890 to 1100 CE
Early Norse Eastern Settlement. VK187 female 890 to 1020 CE. VK6 female 900 to 1000 CE.
“Viking individuals with Norwegian-like ancestry travelled to Iceland, Greenland, Ireland and the Isle of Man”. “In terms of genetic ancestry of the Greenlandic Norse, we find evidence of admixture between Scandinavians (mostly from Norway) and individuals from the British Isles, similar to the first settlers of Iceland, which supports the archaeological and historical links between the Greenlandic Norse and the Icelandic Vikings”.
“The farm site of E64 is located in Igaliku Kujalleq, a small side branch of Igaliku fjord in the Norse Eastern Settlement. 12 features have been recorded on the site among which are a small church belonging to the group landnam churches that were established from the late 10th century-around 1000. The church yard was excavated in 2007-08 led by Jette Arneborg. The excavated skeletons were radiocarbon dated within the period from late 10th century to about 1200. Sr isotope analysis indicates that several of the buried were immigrants from Iceland“.
In the ancestry estimate material, VK187 is roughly half “Norwegian like” Roughly a quarter “Southern European” and then an eighth British and an eighth Danish. Neighboring graves like VK1 came back over half Norwegian with a quarter British and VK186 came back about half British with the other half mainly Norway and about an 8th Southern European. Definitely a mixed group in the later abandoned settlement in Greenland.
Comparing Modern and Ancient MTDNA
With the older samples, I’m not knowledgeable enough to extract the datasets in a meaningful way. In fact, I looked at the instructions and specialized extractor software, downloaded some things, and made an attempt then decided I wasn’t there yet. So all my information on graves, etc, came from already extracted metadata, where they kindly list things like MTDNA haplogroup and coordinates. I couldn’t really compare the data on the MTDNA outside of the haplogroup they were assigned.
The data I later grabbed from Viking studies already had things like MTDNA polymorphisms listed out. All the T2a1a samples had the exact same set of “found” polymorphisms.
Since I’m an MTDNA noob, I compared the Viking polymorphisms to my results at FTDNA.
Looking at the rCRS values, they were an exact match to me except that I have a few extra bits they just didn’t have results for. I have 16519C in the HVR1 and 309.1C and 315.1C from the HVR2 section that didn’t appear in the Viking DNA. I’m not sure if that is significant or not.
Without the actual data from the older T2a1a, I’m not sure if there are any noticeable differences between what could be tested in 3000 BCE T2a1a and my test results today and without full sequencing of the Viking results, I’m not sure how close they really are.
At Family Tree DNA, I do have very many people who are a genetic distance of 0 (so a perfect match across all the available testing regions in MTDNA) with a wide mix of Americans, speckled with people from France, Ireland and Sweden and Norway and probably a host of other places I’ve forgotten.
There are T2a1a people who have larger Genetic distances from me though, people who are not a perfect match. I imagine if we were to compare apples to apples and full sequencing was available (or even possible) across the board, that there would be a range of matching and mismatching with these ancient people as well. Then we might know that a Viking sample was best matched with a 3000 year old sample from Estonia or whether it best matched a 2000 year old sample from Sweden.
Wrapping Up My Tour
One take away from mulling through all these papers (not necessarily related to T2a1a) is that people are wonderfully complex and that the human story is the story of movement. In some instances, it looks like wholesale replacement of genomes in an area with genomes from some other area. In other instances we see the mixing of people who subscribe to the same cultural identity, seemingly without a genetic component. We have people in England buried at Stonehenge from the Alps and Vikings with Asian DNA and people like the Danes and UK samples so admixed that they’re difficult to tell apart. Mitochondrial DNA is part of that story.
To me, given the resources I found, T2a1a is relatively young for Haplogroup T. Other branches of T are twice as old or older and already dispersed around Europe in the Neolithic. From what I see in T2a1a samples as a layperson is a “newer” branch (if 6000 years old can be considered new) that moves into areas, maybe along with the steppe people, in the early several thousand years of its existence and then may just be resident in these areas at low levels beyond that. In the graphs of MTDNA samples from some of these papers, T as a whole is no slouch, although smaller than some it forms a fairly sizeable group. T2a1a seems to be a smaller sliver of that larger T pie piece. My guess would be that is because it is a fairly new resident in these areas due to its delayed start.
Again these are my thoughts and conjecture on what I see, not scientific facts. Y DNA is much more granular and I don’t think mitochondrial DNA is as granular as it could be right now. In the past, with Y DNA you would get R1b or R1a for ancient samples. Now they are getting well down into the branches of R1b. Although I’m not as versed in mito it seems like my testing is more precise and has more values in different areas for comparison that these ancient samples don’t have. That makes me think it’s possible that further MTDNA haplogroups might be defined in the future as other coding areas get included in the ongoing analysis of both modern and ancient humans.
I normally look at ancestry composition, DNA origins and ethnicity estimates as a guessing game. More for entertainment than for specific work in genealogy and that is mainly because you can get some dramatically different results depending on the company you test with and the version of the estimates you’re using. As testing companies add more samples the estimates should get more precise, but it’s also kind of like weather forecasting. There is science in there but sometimes you get thrown for a loop and get things you don’t expect.
The biggest issue for companies I think has been sample size. As I recall, autosomal DNA testing in France is illegal. French citizens have tested, but it is not widely advertised so it is difficult to call it out and you may see overlaps with Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands trying to get some French DNA on the radar.
That post contains one of my favorite estimates because Mr. McDonald identified Middle Eastern and African segments that were unexpected and ended up coming from my mom’s side of the family. He described me as “English or British with significant input from the continent”.
One of my first DNA relative contacts at 23 and me was from Morocco so African DNA seemed to make sense although I couldn’t really explain it. 23 and Me has periodically picked and then dropped similar populations from their estimates over the years.
I also used 23 and Me and to an extent Ancestry DNA’s origins for my aunt Cheryl to ponder a large amount of Irish DNA she carried when compared to her half-brother. It was a large percentage of her DNA and it seemed to be more important because of that large size. As it turned out her paternal grandmother was from Ireland.
The estimates can be useful but it’s hard to know how much weight to give them and they seem to break down beyond the big-ticket items.
I thought I already had a nice post about the differences I see at these companies, but I seem to have misplaced it, so here is my 2021 version.
Ancestry DNA Origins
Here is a look at my ethnicity estimates from Ancestry DNA circa 2015:
Here is my Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate in 2019:
That 2019 estimate image may be hard to read. So I’ll repeat it here:
England, Wales & Northwestern Europe 70%
Germanic Europe 11%
Ireland and Scotland 9%
After an update in 2020 my ethnicity estimates at Ancestry DNA have changed again.
Again, the image may be hard to read so I’ll list them here:
England and Northwestern Europe 44%
Germanic Europe 10%
At Ancestry DNA I seem to drop southern and eastern European influences for Scandinavian influences and a more specific breakdown of the British Isles, now peeling off Scotland and Wales as independent entities. In each iteration, over the years it has been hard to hang my hat on anything other than that I am European by hundreds of ways. I’m not sure why Sweden, but I do have Scandinavians in my family tree along with Germans, Scots, English, Irish and Welsh. Of note, they don’t seem to recognize any West Asian, Middle Eastern, or African influence in this round.
For reference here are the results of a friend of mine from Britain (with strong Irish roots as well), you can see how specific his results are to regions in Great Britain and Ireland:
I post his results to show that Ancestry seems to be working pretty hard to be precise and have some pretty narrow assessments when the playing field is likely also narrow and fairly recent. With an American like me who has some late 1800’s British Isles, German, and French immigrant ancestors jumbled in with a ton of intermixed colonials 400 years ago, it’s got to be really hard to get specific by regions within European countries. I imagine I look like a North American European toe in a sea of other North American European toes. If you look back at my 2011 analysis, using Dodecad, the group I’m most like is “white people from Utah”.
Where I really like Ancestry DNA’s analysis is the part below the ethnicity in Communities. Northeastern States settlers, New England and the Great Lakes, New York and Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana settlers. It’s less about ethnicity and more about migration. Is this map wrong? All my evidence says no. To me, it feels like an attempt to be as precise with my more recent history as they can be. The overview presents several genetic matches in my family with our shared roots in these movements and there is a sliding scale that actually taps your family tree to show these migrations with your genetic relatives highlighted along with your documented ancestors.
Family Tree DNA My Origins
My Family Tree DNA ethnicity circa 2015:
Of note, FTDNA has me as 19% Scandinavian in 2015 as compared to less than 1% Scandinavian at Ancestry DNA that same year. They do broadly categorize 3% of my DNA as Middle Eastern.
Here is an updated FTDNA estimate in 2020:
That image may be hard to read so I’ll list them here:
England, Wales and Scotland 55%
Central Europe 13%
Sardinia less than 2%
Magyar less than 2%
Like my results at ancestry, I seem to become more Scandinavian over time although I can’t say that I’ve found more Scandinavians in my family tree. I cannot account for the extremely high amount of Scandinavian they attribute to me. It seems like it might be a stand-in for some unknown quantity. At Family Tree DNA specifically, I seem to have traded in my middle eastern for Sardinian and Hungarian (Magyar).
Are they be wrong? Being generous, I could suspect that where they are veering away from my family tree and ethnicity estimates at other companies is where their Scandinavia bubble overlaps Scotland and Germany/Denmark. I could possibly make a case that there are underlying Scandinavian markers in populations that saw Scandinavian settlement in England, Ireland, Scotland…etc, but I can’t say that that is the case with their findings. It is difficult to ignore a group that makes up 30% of my DNA in their estimation, but I’m not sure where it’s coming from or why.
23 and Me Ancestry Composition
My ancestry composition at 23 and me circa 2015:
Of note to me 23 and me recognized some African segments along with southern european influence, which you could say that Ancestry DNA also picked up on in 2015. 23 and me and Ancestry also seem to agree that I have very little Scandinavian DNA in 2015, while FTDNA ranks it pretty high. I don’t recall finding these results abnormal given the outside analysis I’d had in 2011.
My ancestry composition in 2019:
I’m rounding these values because I’m lazy, but it’s good to note that 23 and Me gives decimal points in their percentages.
Northwestern European 95%
British and Irish 50%
French and German 20%
Scandinavian less than 2%
Broadly NW Europe 23%
Southern European 2%
Eastern European less than 1%
Broadly European less than 2%
In 2019, 23 and Me did have a breakdown of likely location matches in Britain and Ireland as well as France/Germany. They show more Scandinavian than previously but not to the extent that Ancestry.com does in 2019 or to the extreme of FTDNA. My African DNA was no longer included.
The 2020 update to Ancestry Composition.
Of note for 2020, my West Asian/Middle Eastern/North African DNA is back. I’m rounding these values where they do not.
Northwestern European 98%
British & Irish 57%
French & German 36%
Scandinavian less than 1%
Broadly NW European 5%
Western Asian & North African less than 2%
North African less than 1%
Arab Egyptian Levantine less than 1%
Broadly Western Asian & North African less than 1%
Broad Brush Strokes
In 2011, my ethnicity results from 23 and me were 100% European and so it was a little surprising to get contacts from Morocco and later contacts from genetic relatives who are Roma. My 2011 Analysis with Mr. McDonald identifying African and Middle Eastern DNA along with those contacts have left me wondering about a Roma/North and West African influence on my mother’s side of the family. I have no proof of a connection but it continues to roll around on the periphery for me.
I assume there is something there in my ancestry that is throwing these estimators for a loop as a small percentage of my DNA continues to be assigned to eastern and southern locations that you can’t really find in my family tree.
That is the take away again for me of the last decade of ethnicity estimations. I know there is some DNA in there that is hard to pin down and companies either display it or ignore it. It’s real, but as I learned in 2011 likely impossible to pin down genealogically as well given that Europeans in the U.S. and people who could pass for Europeans in the U.S. would not want to advertise their non-European heritage. I’d have to say that this minor amount of DNA is probably the most “interesting” DNA I have and has a great or terrible story attached to it that I’ll never know.
The other take away is that I’m still mostly British Isles with continental Europeans bulking up the mix and possibly some Scandinavian influence. I would also say that my closest groups and most meaningful matches are North American Europeans (“white people from Utah” all over again). I shouldn’t get too wrapped up in the percentages other than to be skeptical of wild fluctuations and maybe to question the vast amount of Scandinavian DNA that FTDNA sees in my results.
A decade in, things are getting more precise as far as locational DNA at these companies, which is pretty neat.
This year started off where last year ended. I had my own Big Y results back (before a human review) and tried to make sense of those results and the new FTDNA block tree. I had my MTDNA results back with the deepest testing I could do and tried to relate that information to time, place and my own genealogy. I’d also gathered a lot of information on Elmers and Elmores circa 1600 in Essex as a survey of possible Elmer and Elmore families for Edward Elmer (there were a lot of them).
Fresh off tying up some of my own DNA testing wants, I also ordered tests for my Thompson cousins in Indiana (the actual descendants of Levi Thompson) and a Big Y test for one of our DF95 men from Denmark. In the early months, I was able to post about the progress the DF95 Baker clan made in Big Y testing branches on the non-458.2 side of the house and I was able to post some conversations and research on R-ZP125 (a brother branch to my own).
Disengaging in Context
I may have mentioned before that I left a lot of social media behind. I was never really engaged in Twitter and I found that most of my time on Facebook was spent trolling strangers, and then acquaintances and eventually people I like and admire. Outside of a few instances of genuine communication, I was spending time angry or making other people angry and being manipulated as a guinea pig in social/emotional studies and by misinformation campaigns.
I realized that I was scrolling through my feed looking for people to hurt and people were scrolling through their feeds looking to hurt me. These “people” were my friends and loved ones and the dark path I was on was very clear. I posted some red flags about what I saw happening to me and to others, got the flurry of negative attacks I expected, and…didn’t comment.
It was hard. Too hard. Eye-openingly hard not to engage. I took it as the starting gun for change and slowly, one step at a time, buggered off.
I don’t remember exactly when I dropped it off my desktop it seems like it’s been three or four years. It took a bit longer to remove it from my phone as it was entwined with messages, but I didn’t know how to keep it from notifying me of Facebook activities meant to suck me back in through messenger so I had to quit it and any product related to it.
The withdrawal from communications with my DNA groups begins there. Once you see yourself trolling and don’t like what you’re becoming, you start to see it in other places. Do I need to comment on this email forum? Am I adding value or knowledge or even asking a question or am I trolling people in slow motion? Are they serious about what they’re saying, are they educating me or are they just trolling me for the lulz?
I had to pull back, reassess, and find some new direction. I eventually decided to go back to school.
Covid 19 and Life
Flash forward to 2020 and In the process of wrapping up my bachelor’s degree and working full time as an IT person with a family and biting off some large home improvement projects, I had become even more withdrawn from my genealogy projects and from writing and communicating in general. I was clustering my interests and my correspondence during breaks in classes rather than picking at them all year long.
Then of course the pandemic really got rolling here in Michigan and ironically, as IT staff for a college, I began working more hours. We were desperately trying to get all these paper processes and systems that rely on buildings and local networks online and remotely available for staffers and teachers who were now all remote workers with all remote students. Many students and staff didn’t have access to the internet from home or computers to use for newly minted online courses.
I have been LUCKY to remain employed through this pandemic, I see what has happened to friends and neighbors, but by no means have I been able to kick back and take things slow. I find myself here at year-end, officially on paid leave but having worked every day but Christmas…safe…warm and isolated (all things to be thankful for) but still working.
I did have time to myself between my own schooling and working for a school and getting my kids through remote school, but much of that has been devoted to home improvement projects. When you work at home, you now can teleport directly into replacing a kitchen countertop at 5pm and finish placing it in time to get a few hours of sleep before the 1 a.m. calls about whatever is happening to the database server.
In this lockdown, I’ve still somehow managed to injure myself, bulging a disc in my neck and paralyzing my left arm and then while my arm was useless, falling in my own house and breaking my leg (pro tip, paralyzed arm is not going to catch you when you fall).
My process of withdrawal which started with abandoning my Facebook accounts several years ago has become real near-total isolation that didn’t lend itself to contemplation and deep thought, but somehow became a more frantic lifestyle of work, stress, schoolwork, fear, injury, and stomach ulcers. As weird as it’s been, I’m still glad for the lack of social media feedback looping in my life, it could have been worse.
I advocate for people being involved in Y DNA Haplogroup projects at Family Tree DNA and taking part in any haplogroup projects you happen to fall into along with any surname group or regional projects you can get.
There is a lot to be gained from discussions in the groups at FTDNA or on social media and forums or in other online group discussion boards. There are usually experts who can help and people who are not experts but who are on the path and have experience which can be valuable in navigating the world of DNA testing.
Having said that, I have to also say that I haven’t been an active participant in the broader communities for several years now. I haven’t been engaged in the chatter in any of the larger discussions going on in R1b, U106 or Z18 for a while.
I also haven’t been actively recruiting R-DF95 testers for several years outside of my own Elmer/Elmore group (which gets the bulk of my attention) and a few minor attempts to get in touch with some of the better Elmer Y STR matches and a group of German Y STR matches I pick up better than the other Elmers. I see them, but I feel like they’re under-represented in Big Y testing. The response rate is really low though and I don’t feel the urge to put too much effort there.
I’ve made myself content this year to hear what others are thinking when they want to tell me and help out when I’ve been asked and to see some of the seeds planted a long time ago bear fruit.
I’ve withdrawn quite a bit for a lot of different reasons but I’m still filled with wonder about the possibilities in DNA testing and looking forward to new discoveries as they filter in.
Oh and I did manage to graduate, just a few days ago, so I am now qualified to be a bachelor. I’ll have to let the wife and kids know.
I’ve been talking about various Y DNA matches in Denmark for…well the whole time I’ve kept an online journal. In 2010 testers from Denmark appeared in my matches at YHRD, SMGF/Ancestry, Genebase and Ybase.
It was exciting in 2015 when I got permission to further test one of the Cumberland men who had ancestors in Denmark (Jensen) who was a 458.2 like me. This January I quietly ordered a Big Y test for Jensen around the time I ordered my test for the U152 Thompsons to keep some of those promises I made and take advantage of the testing before the samples could no longer be used.
For years, I’ve wondered where Jensen would fall on the Y DNA family tree. I suspected he would be somewhere between my group and Lund, our tester from Norway who branches off at R-ZP85. Currently there are two branches under R-ZP85, one with Lund and Rathburn and one that contains multiple families and branches which the Elmers, Lunsfords and Knowtons are on (among many others). My hunch was that Jensen would be at the top of my side of R-ZP85 as an early branch, possibly all by himself.
That is not the case.
Jensen is well down the Lund/Rathburn branch under R-ZP85 currently labelled under the shared SNP R-PH1934 aka R-ZP193 which represents about 14 SNPs in a line. In the block diagram for R-ZP85, you can see R-PH1934 now Jensen, Rathburn and Lund with 2 branches, and on the right the branch the Elmers are on under R-FGC78528 with 22 branches.
Diving in further, Jensen is more closely related to Lund than the Rathburn tester (and another tester in a branch with Rathburn). Jensen shares 6 more SNPs with Lund on a branch currently designated by R-PH2557.
Lund and Jensen have an average of 8 private SNPs between them. DIY age estimating says 8 X 83 would be 664 years. Normally you would add the number of SNPs multiplied by years together for each tester and then divide by the number of testers, but that would just get us back to 664 years. Without knowing the age of the testers to average out a birth year, we’ll go with 1950. That gets us to 1286 AD which, if you read my recent post on the U152 Thompson Big Y results, should seem familiar.
We learn something with every Big Y test and getting to the 1300’s for a match for Lund is an excellent end to this testing saga and a long time in the making. I only wish our Jensen tester had lived to see it.
I was able to get big Y results for the direct descendants of Levi Thompson. This will likely be the last best test I can do for posterity. Few Y DNA matches have tested to this level.
At Y 111, we have a single match with a person descended from Francis Ireland b. 1787. The family tree at FTDNA is forbidden to me for some reason, but a quick google search shows at least one Francis Ireland with similar secondary family surnames like Simpson, who was born in Yorkshire England. The Ireland match is a genetic distance of 7 at Y111.
Several testers have gone to Y67 and tested individual SNPs on the path towards my U152 Thompsons. We’ve got a GD 3 match with a Mr. Davidson, GD 4 with Mr. Ireland above, GD 5 with John Thomson, about 1815 who tested to R-FGC4166 but only Y67 (that will come into play later) and GD 6 with multiple members of the Wilson family, one of which tested to R-FGC4166. Of note in these Y67 matches is one listing Joseph Allen, Gainesville, GA, USA who is in R-BY98312 but doesn’t make it to the Y111 STR match list.
At Y37 there are a few Allen/Allan matches at various distances who have only tested Y37 to add to the list, it’s possible there is an Allen tribe there like the Wilsons who are just different enough or untested so they don’t appear at higher testing levels.
The U152 “Indiana” Thompsons in my family are listed as R-BY98312 along with Mr. Allen. I have posted a lot about R-DF95 (U106 “Michigan” Thompsons) being a lonely branch but the sons of Levi Thompson have us beat. Here is the block tree as it stands in December 2020.
it’s okay to leave it zoomed out. The Thompson and Allen are in the right hand column. There are 27 SNPs between the Thompson/Allens and the next group of men. This whole group of men is under R-FGC4166 (note Thomson above untested below R-FGC4166), We’re part of a group beneath that with R-BY123080 and BY142256 forming a base but that’s it. The Thompson/Allen group now defined by R-BY98312 represents a lot of time. I don’t have age dating for the U152 branches but it’s a lot of time even just adding up 83 year generations per SNP is over 2000 years between the Thompson/Allens and the next group.
Given the number of Y STR matches though, I’d suspect there are more Allens, some Wilsons, Davidsons, Douglases, a Duncan an Ireland and a Thomson that would probably fall in that right hand column somewhere, they just haven’t been tested.
The cluster of Allen/Allan Y STR testers (with one big Y tester in their midst) that my U152 Thompsons fall in with isn’t really clear on origins although one family tree points at Scotland the others have origins in the U.S. just like Levi Thompson. I’m 99.99% positive the Thompsons are borders English or Ulster Scots as advertised but can’t quite get them there with a paper trail.
The average (for the two testers) in the Thompson/Allen group is 8 SNPs. There are only two testers. My Thompson cousin has 10 SNPs in the private SNP list so the Allen tester must have 6. DIY aging for the shared group with big Y 700 uses 83 years.
10 X 83 = 830. 6 X 83 = 498. 830 + 498 = 1328. 1328 / 2 (testers) = 664 years. Without knowing the average birth year of the testers, I’ll go with 1950 – 664 = 1286. Roughly 1300 AD plus or minus a few generations for a common ancestor.
For Y DNA, 1300AD is great, but genealogically not so helpful unless you’re a member of the nobility. It’s a start though and my hope would be that we will see some people break up that big column or get closer to my Thompson cousins in the years to come. Over the years, I worked my way closer to that Thomson R-FGC4166 tester, now we’re well beyond them 2000 or more years down a path and will have to wait for others to catch up.
With the dust settled a little bit from my big Y 700 test and the Big Y 700 results from an Elmer cousin, I thought it would be good to revisit my place in the tree and compare that to my spot in the family tree.
FTDNA Big Y Block Tree a Good Place to Start
Here is the current Big Y block tree for the Elmer family as of July 2020:
My branch is in the middle highlighted in black. Because no one further down my branch has tested I’m shown coming directly off R-A2284 which is associated with Ed Elmer 2 born in 1654. You can see our cousin to the right listed as R-A2276 who is descended from Ed Elmer 2’s brother Samuel. To the left in R-A5920 are my closer cousins who are also descended from Hezekiah Elmer.
Right now the striking thing is that this is what FTDNA knows about my family given the current crop of FTDNA testers. It’s accurate to a point, but not the whole picture.
The actual family tree more closely mimics this Y DNA testing tree we put together in the Ed Elmer group:
As family trees go, I’m more closely related to the men who are under R-A5920 because I’m descended from Hezekiah Elmer (1686) through his son Dan (1730). The R-A5920 men are descended from Hezekiah’s son Samuel (1732).
As you can see on the testing tree we have an STR test mixed in with our SNP tests, a DYS449 test. STRs change with time, so they can only suggest a relationship, not prove one, but we did notice a pattern of men related to three sons of Hezekiah (1686) Dan, Samuel and Jacob and that is that all of us (5 testers in total) have DYS449 = 29 while all our cousins have DYS449 = 30. So it seems possible that that particular STR mutation occurred in Hezekiah (1686). We can only wait for other testers to break the pattern.
The block tree only shows SNPs and has nothing to do with STRs let alone family trees, so it is at once completely accurate, but in my case a bit misleading.
The tester I’m grouped with in the block tree is R-A2284 like me and so we expect he’s related to Ed Elmer 2 since that SNP isn’t carried by men descended from other sons of Ed Elmer. Unfortunately, we’re blocked in his family tree. We have several lost sheep in New York state who appear to be related to Ed 2 but we have no family trees or documents to connect them to Ed 2 (usually stuck in the early 1800s) and none of them match each other’s private SNPs.
The block tree is grouping us based on our common SNP but it would be more accurate to put the two of us into our own separate blocks because we only have private SNPs beyond that point. Just based on SNPs We should each be an individual straight line with our private SNPs above our names.
The block tree can make a bunch of straight lines look like a cluster of more closely related men.
Going back to our testing tree in the Ed Elmer group, you can see that we’ve already SNP tested down the line for Ed Elmer (1610) son Samuel (1646) listed as the R-A2276 branch to the right of me. He has actually tested to R-A6928 along with another man who tested at YSEQ. Both are related to Samuel’s son Jonathon and his son David and then split there. Because we don’t have any more sons of Jonathon to test down, we can only assign that R-A6928 to David (1725).
FTDNA is not aware of that YSEQ or Full Genomes Corp testing and so they can only assign our cousin on the right all the way back up the tree at Ed Elmer (1610) and R-A2276.
Looking at the block tree one more time it is accurate, but misleading because it makes me look more closely related to one Elmer than to my two (actually more closely related) cousins on the left. The block tree can’t know that I am really more closely related to them. If we ignore my family tree and focus on the SNPs that FTDNA knows about then technically, to be less misleading, what is labeled as “my branch” should be a twig for me and a twig for my counterpart with our private SNPs listed separately.
Even if I had a closer cousin tested, like my second cousin, the block tree would still be misleading because they would put us in our own group under R-A2284 which would be accurate as far as SNPs go but again might confuse a layperson.
The block tree also isn’t aware of non-FTDNA testing so we have no facility to represent the cluster of men that should appear on the right.
The FTDNA block tree is accurate from its perspective but not definitive for this family because of a slightly misleading layout and a lack of data from other sources.
Why am I beating up on the block tree?
The block tree is an awesome way to view Y DNA as a point in time and to watch the major structures change as new test results come in. There is only so much you can do with the screen space you’ve been allotted. So the block tree is being efficient by clumping results together. From a standpoint of organizing the major segments of the Y DNA tree it makes total sense, but (there is always a but) someone could take this representation of data the wrong way and that can hinder research or cause hard feelings.
My Private SNPs
When I originally looked at my Big Y 700 results I was warned that they had likely not been reviewed by a human. I had a list of 7 private SNPs at that point and registered some dismay that they were already named (which would make me think they’re not exactly private).
This was that list:
10926150 – FGC78529 – C to T
11048867 – BY84358 – C to T
15413588 – FT207533 – A to G
21824986 – FT208074 – A to G
3232865 – FT206108 – G to C
4031585 – FT206255 – T to G
6535656 – FGC78523 – G to T
Since that time I believe my human review was completed and I’ve also had my results analyzed by Full Genomes Corp (which means they have also named my private SNPs). The list has been whittled down to these four:
15413588 A to G FT207533+ FGC93151+
21824986 A to G FT208074+ FGC93152+
3232865 G to C FT206108+ FGC93149+
4031585 T to G FT206255+ FGC93150+
You might notice that FGC78529 has made an appearance in the block tree image above. It was discovered in one of our lost sheep testers from NY. It also appeared in my list and then in the big Y 700 results of one of the R-A5920 men. So it’s been placed up with R-A2284. It’s possible that it is older than that, but I would need to individually test men for it at YSEQ to find out (or wait for more testers at FTDNA).
FGC78523 was moved up as a shared SNP with the Knowlton family. Of note, the Knowltons now show 5 private SNPs along with this new SNP while previous notes show them with 4 private SNPs, so I suspect they’ve had an upgrade to big Y 700 or FTDNA has been able to mine more results from their Y 500 test. They remain our closest Y family with a rough estimate of 1100 AD for a common ancestor (if they’re big Y 700 then it might bump to 1200 AD).
BY84358 has been removed from my list, although also acknowledged by FGC as a positive SNP for me. At FGC it did not occur in any other Z18 person including other Elmers. I’m not sure what to make of that.
With full genomes Y-Elite testing for one man under Ed Elmer 2 and Big Y 700 for two of us, I think this list of SNPs is the go to list for testing men on this branch of the Elmer family: Ed1 -> Ed2 ->Hezekiah -> Daniel: