Long Wittenham - the ancestral home of our Brooker line.

St Mary Long Wittenham Berks - geographorguk - 331096jpg
St Mary's, Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire.  By John Salmon, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12512201

I'm ready to accept the connection.  I've talked to people with more expertise than me concerning the confusion over the ages of my couple on the census.  I've found the baptism on a transcription CD for Long Wittenham from Oxfordshire FHS.  It's perfect.  The cream on the cake though, is that I found someone else with a tree on Ancestry.com, that had already come to the exactly same conclusion.  Okay, I don't normally take much notice of trees on Ancestry.com, but this one appeared well researched, and I've both checked and added to the details on that tree.  Third time lucky.

G.G.G.G.G.G. Grandparent Generation

I can now go back to an ancestor named John Brooker, there's a few of them, so let's call him John Brooker I.  He might have been born somewhere in the Thames Valley, during the early 1720's.  He married a Mary, my G.G.G.G.G.G Grandmother Brooker.  They settled (if they didn't originate there) at Long Wittenham in Berkshire, near to the River Thames.  She gave him at least six children between 1749 and 1763:  Mary, Anne, John, Edward, Martha, and Sarah.

G.G.G.G.G Grandparent Generation

Their son, Edward Brooker (or Brucker), was our ancestor.  He was baptised at Long Wittenham on the 16th January 1757.  When Edward was 29 years old, he married local girl Elisabeth Gregory, on 24th October 1786, at Long Wittenham.  So you see, that photo above of the church of St Mary's there, is a part of the story.  Our 18th Century Brooker ancestors were baptised, and sometimes married there.  Some of them are also buried in that church yard.  Indeed, that was where Edward himself later ended up, when he was buried there 23rd September 1832, having died at the age of 75 years.

His wife Elisabeth had also been born at Long Wittenham, the daughter of a William and Anne Gregory.  She had been baptised at the above church on 15th November 1761.

Edward and Elisabeth Brooker appear to have lived in Long Wittenham all of their life.  They had five children baptised at St Mary's between 1789 and 1796: John, Dinah, James, Richard, and Joseph.

G.G.G.G Grandparent Generation

Our ancestor John Brooker II was baptised on 18th January 1789.  At the age of 25 on 31st October 1814, John married Elisabeth Seymore at the nearby market-town of Abingdon-on-Thames, in Berkshire.  Elisabeth was born circa 1797 at a village north of the Thames in Oxfordshire, that in later life on a census, she referred to as Drayton.  Most likely, this is the village of Drayton St Leonard.  It's only a mile or two across the river from Long Wittenham.

I should at this point explain why I sometimes refer to long Wittenham as in Berkshire, and at other times a in Oxfordshire.  Historically, it is a Berkshire parish, and is on the south side of the Thames.  However, in 1974, it was transferred to Oxfordshire County Council.

The couple moved, and they moved around twelve miles.  That chucked my attempts to trace them for a long time.  They moved to Rotherfield Peppard in South Oxfordshire, down river.  They turned up there on the 1841 census.  They must have moved soon after marriage, as their children were born in Oxfordshire.  John was employed as a labourer, most likely a farm worker.  Between 1815 and 1836, they had seven children: Frederick, Phoebe, John, Elizabeth,Mattew,Emma, and William Brooker.  Later in life, they moved to the next village of Rotherfield Greys.  It was there on the 1861 census, that I finally picked up their origins.  John died in 1867.

G.G.G Grandparent Generation

Our ancestor, John Brooker III was baptised at Rotherfield Peppard on 23rd April 1820.  In the 1841 census, he turns up in a house of multiple adults on Hamstead Farm in the next parish of Sonning Common.  Although technically north of the Thames, and in Oxfordshire, it actually belonged to a parish south of the river in Berkshire.  John was an agricultural labourer.

On the 1st February 1845, at nearby Shiplake in Oxfordshire, John married Mary Ann Edney.  They lived at times in both the South Oxfordshire parishes of Shiplake, and of Harpsden, both close to the town of Henley-on-Thames.  Between 1847 and 1870, Mary gave birth to at least ten children: Hannah, Charles, Arbina, Phoebe, Emma, Thomas, William, Henry, Alice, and Ellen Brooker.

Mary Ann Brooker herself, was the daughter of Thomas Edney, a thatcher at Shiplake, and his wife Hannah (nee Hedges).

John lived to a good age.  During the 1901 census, he was living with his eldest daughter, Hannah Belcher and her husband.  He was 81 years old, and working as a shepherd.  John finally passed away in 1912, at the age of 91 years.

G.G Grandparent Generation

Our ancestor Henry Brooker was baptised at Harpsden on 5th December 1863.  An early appearance as a young man on the 1881 census, lists him as a farm worker, at Harpsden Bottom Cottages.

Henry had itchy feet though.  He wanted to move right down the river, into London.  A few years later, on the 29th September 1883, Henry married Elizabeth Rosina Shawers, at Fulham, London.  Elisabeth was born at Haggerstone, London on 11th September 1858.  her father, Henry Shawers was a harrow weaver, but her mother Elisabeth (nee Durran) also hailed from Oxfordshire.  I've traced her ancestors to the area around Woodstock and Deddington.From Fulham, the couple next moved to Bethnal Green, and then to Deptford.  I only know of two children, born between 1884 and 1887.  Perhaps something prevented Elisabeth from carrying again.  Their children were: John Henry Brooker, and Elisabeth Rosina Brooker.

They later moved down river yet again, to Lewisham.  Henry worked mainly as a carter, driving a horse and cart in the East End of Victorian London.  I've long suspected that he may have worked on the docks.  However, by 1908, he was recorded as a store keeper.

The above photograph is of our great grandfather's sister, Elisabeth Rosina Brooker.

I don't yet know when or where Henry passed away.  However, I do know that Elisabeth spent her last days living with her son at Sidcup, Kent.  She was buried there on 2nd May 1939.

Great Grandparent Generation

Our Ancestor John Henry Brooker was born 25th June 1884 at Deptford, London.  However, the rest of the story - still needs to be written, or has already been written in other posts.

John Henry Brooker and his partner Mabel Tanner in 1933.

The Y chromosome.

I have so far been tested to have the Y haplogroup L-M317, or L1b if you prefer.  It means nothing, except that is incredibly rare and enigmatic sub clade, particularly in NW Europe.  It may mean that at some point, my paternal line lived in Eastern Anatolia, south of the Causacus, or near to the Black Sea.  I'm waiting for further testing, but it looks quite possible, that it is linked to the Pontic-Greek ethnicity that lived in that area.  I have no autosomal evidence of anything from that part of the world, so it is likely to have been in England or NW Europe for quite some time.  It might for example, have arrived here via the Roman Empire.

Why mention that now?  Because until it meets an NPE (non parental event), it should follow the surname line.  If I ever met another Y chromosome descendent of my Thames Valley Brookers - another person that has descended directly through a strictly father-to-son paternal line, I'd love to know if they've had their Y haplogroup predicted.

An Anglo-Saxon Bias Confirmed

We want to understand the past, our past, but how we interpret that past always depends on our own personal bias.  Our culture, our class, our political and religious stance.  Doing history is about writing a story, and you do it from a perspective, rarely as an objective.

My perspective is that of a 21st Century rural working class guy in his fifties.  My bias is that I am an atheist and a liberal that grew up in a Post Fordist society, during the Arms Race, followed by 911, and the War on Terror.  That sounds ridiculous, but the truth is that how we see the distant past, is tempered by our life time experiences.

During the early parts of the 20th Century, British antiquarians and archaeologists would proudly raise different shaped skulls, bronze axe heads, and pottery shards at conferences, announcing that they represented the "collared urn people", or the "pond barrow culture" the "La Tene" or what not.  These time travellers had grown up and experienced times of imperialism, colonisation, international upheaval, world war, and genocide.  They were as often as not, politically conservative, middle class, men, and yeah, if it matters, white.  They saw every trench level of artefact changes as evidence of population displacement, invasion, genocide.

Then following years of relative world peace, anti-war protests, and social reforms, the universities and colleges started to churn out a new breed of professional archaeologist - from a variety of backgrounds.  They argued that "pots were not people", they argued for "continuity, admixture, and cultural exchange".  As they saw it, a change in artefacts, cultures, even perhaps of languages, did not always prove displacement.  They grew up in a time of peace.  They saw peace.

That age recently ended.  The past six or seven years has seen a resurrection of ideas of invasion, displacement, Indo-European expansion, and maybe even of ancient genocides.  It is as though we have returned to those antiquarian conferences, only the actors are no longer middle class historians, but online enthusiasts, and it is no longer bronze weapons or pots that they hold up as their artefacts, but haplogroups, DNA, and PIE (proto Indo-European language).  A popular revolution with a conservative theme.  Pots might not always be people, but SNPs (snips) may well be, they jeer.

So in this post 911 World, here I am acknowledging my prejudice, my bias.  I am not opposed to the new popularist wave of displacement hypothesis.  Some of it does sound dangerously nationalist, even xenophobic.  A struggle for survival, as one Y chromosome replaces a less fit haplogroup, almost as if proposed by a perverted social take on Darwinism.  The online bulletin boards on the front line of this debate are full of posts by banned members.  I actually welcome the new ideas, the revival, the challenge of acceptance.  That so many online enthusiasts are involved, rather than the merely elitist professionalised academics has to be a good, more democratic thing.  However, I also tend to look for a concession.  I think yes, the revisionist archaeologists out of the post-war universities went too far.  But as do many of the new genetic warriors today.

With that in mind, I'm going to share my own prejudiced view of the origins of Anglo-Saxon England with this post.

The humble Dutch immigrant

People have been building boats and travelling out of sight of the coast, for a very long time.  More than 8,000 years ago, Neolithic farmers were doing it, to colonise places like Cyprus and Crete.  Britain had long been an island, when the first Neolithic farmers arrived here.

Britain has two main spheres of influence.  1) The West (or if you prefer "Celtic West", looks to the Irish and Atlantic seaboards that connect the West of Britain to Ireland, Brittany, the Highlands and perhaps even Northern Iberia.  2) The East (or if you prefer the English south-east), that is a part of the "the North Sea World", looks to the low countries, the north German coast, and even to Scandinavia for trade, influence, and exchange.  How far back do these two spheres go?  I'd say all of the way back.  People didn't simply wait until AD 410 to hop onto a boat, I cannot accept that.

My first confession of bias, is that I do not believe that Anglo-Saxon England was born in AD 410.  I think that it had a North Sea influence much earlier than that.  Perhaps that is what the POBI 2015 study (people of the British Isles) found when they assessed the English to be a very homogeneous population, but with a mystery shared ancestry with the French, that appeared to date back long before AD 410.  Perhaps we should take more notice of Caesar's assertion, that the British Isles had recently been colonised by the Belgae.  Perhaps we shouldn't dismiss all of the suggestions by Stephen Oppenheimer, that there was an ancient Saxon presence in south-east Britain, and that the Belgae were a part of their story.

That is my first confession.  I think that the English have been around Britain longer than from AD 410.

My second confession.  I don't see an Anglo Saxon invasion, simply followed a few centuries later by a Viking army.  I see instead, immigrant farmers from what is now Belgium, the Netherlands, Northern Germany, and Denmark, arriving in South-east Britain in drips and waves between perhaps late prehistory, and the 12th century.  Immigrants more than invaders.  Fitting in where they could.  Grabbing what was available.  Perhaps they were fleeing fealties and bonds in their own countries.  Late Roman Britain suffered from uprisings, disputes, insecurity, and political weaknesses.  The economy collapsed, administration collapsed, society was in tatters.  It was easy to row past immigration control in the forms of the deserted Roman shore fort at Burgh, evade paying a tax, and to land at Reedham.

I can imagine that when they landed, they would have been met by others, already familiar with their dialects, eager to trade, and to sell services.  Guide them to the best cut of new land, or land that could be drained.  The economy was in collapse, local elites would have been ready to break with tradition, make deals with hard working immigrants.  Allocate land to work.  Who cares if it had bypassed the Imperial authorities, it was cheap and flexible.

So what I am suggesting is that the Anglo-Saxon invasion in places like the coastline and river valleys of East Anglia may not have been such a big hitter.  Instead of helmeted Angles and Saxons roaring up the beaches waving their swords, that the change could have been a little gentler, less confrontational.  Gildas and Bede, with their stories of Hengist and Horsa, could have been the outraged Daily Mail Editorial of their day "invading immigrants, raping our women, nicking our land!!".  Recent studies of cemeteries in the Cambridge area, have supported this hypothesis, with evidence that a) locals mimicked the culture of the immigrants, b) they inter-married, and c) the poorest were actually recent immigrants.  Source.

I'm not saying that it happened this way, it's just an alternative perspective.  Poor Dutch and German farmers looking for a better life in Britannia.  That might have been the scene in 5th Century East Anglia.  Of course, the good times couldn't roll forever.  New elites emerged, and started to exploit the fealties again.  Once again, the poor got poorer.  Feudalism established....

The trickle of immigrants probably continued.  The trade and contact across the North Sea didn't just go away.  Perhaps there was a secondary wave during the 9th Century AD, that which we associate with the Dane-Law.  Perhaps they were from the area of Denmark, but were they raging horned helmeted Vikings?  Sea levels had recently dropped ever so slightly, making new land at Flegg in Norfolk, actually of use, with just a little bit of drainage - as other new land would have been.  No wonder places like that are dotted with Anglo-Danish place-names.

Was this period though, just a continuation of what had preceded?  We could extend this in a way.  Norwich and Great Yarmouth became host to a number of Dutch protestants during the early 15th Century.  Later it was the Huguenots.  There always was a Dutch influence in East Norfolk.  During the early 20th Century, Anglo-Dutch sugar beet consortiums even carved up the landscape of the area.  Was this nothing new?

But I'm biased...

More posts like this one:

There was no British Genocide

There was no British Genocide II


On the trail of the Brookers of Oxfordshire

The Parish Church of All Saints, in the South Oxfordshire village of Rotherfield Peppard.  Taken on my phone cam during a recent ancestor hunt in this area.  Rotherfield Peppard is the location of my earliest verified Brooker ancestors.

Background

Many years ago, perhaps nearly twenty years ago, I had traced my surname family line to a John & Elizabeth Brooker that lived in the South Oxfordshire village of Rotherfield Peppard during the 1841 census.  My trail came to a dead end with that John Brooker.  He was my G.G.G.G grandfather, and was born circa 1787.  John fathered another John, who fathered Henry, who fathered John Henry, who fathered Reginald John, who fathered my father.  My surname trail has been stuck there ever since.

Until perhaps very soon into the future.  I lost interest in genealogy around twelve years ago or so.  Really, my interest started to drift away perhaps soon after discovering the above dead end on my surname line.  Then an impulse buy of a 23andMe kit this January, and inspired by the new genetics side of the interest, I returned to genealogy a few months ago.  I discovered the advantages (and some of the downfalls) of 21st Century Internet Genealogy.  I've expanded my family tree in several directions using these new resources.  But that old surname, that continued to frustrate.

You see that 1841 census, it left me with a teaser.  Later censuses record the actual parish of birth, and actual age of each person in England & Wales.  The 1841 census however, merely asked people if they were born within the county of residence or not, and summarised their ages into five year round ups.  Elizabeth stated that yes, she was born in Oxfordshire.  John on the other hand said No!  He was born outside of Oxfordshire.  I remember the long drive home from the Oxfordshire County Record Office many years ago, and considering that answer.  I knew that the nearest other county was Berkshire, and that I kept seeing Brooker families in Berkshire.  I speculated that he most likely was from Berkshire.  It was a bit of a surprise, because my wife at that time, and the mother of my children had ancestors herself nearby in Berkshire.

The Y Factor

That 23andMe DNA test revealed a number of surprises.  One of them was that I had an incredibly rare Y-DNA haplogroup for North-West Europe.  As a Y haplogroup, "L" is mainly found in any percentages in South Asia, particularly in South India, and also around Pakistan.  My actual sub clade however, is rarer, and is mainly found south of the Caucasus in Western Asia, where Anatolia meets the Levant.  One ethnicity that it has been linked to are the Pontic Greeks that traditionally lived around the Black Sea.  I'm presently investigating it with a thorough ftDNA Y111 STR test, followed by an ftDNA Big Y test.  Yes, I've chucked too much money at it.

Okay, it's just a genetic signal, just a marker.  It doesn't have any value nor effect on who I am.  But it does link me to a part of the World in a kind of personal, measured way, that I never imagined.  I do want to know, so far as I can, how this Y haplogroup got into Europe, into North-West Europe, into Britain, and into my Brooker surname line.  Can I use it to link to any distant Y cousins, that live today or perhaps in the past (ancient DNA) in other ethnicities?  Will any Brookers directly descended from the same Oxfordshire cluster of Brookers, ever test, and record their haplogroup online?  If I don't test and record myself, then no, that will never happen.  I'm not expecting recent cousins.  I hope to merely find very distant cousins.  In a sense I already have.  I have many in India, Pakistan, Armenia, Syria, Chechnya, etc.  We all do.  However I know have a link that I can measure.

This has forced me to re-launch my investigation in my surname line.  Will I find any clues to how and when it entered the line?

"There aren't many Brookers around here"...

It should be easy right?  Even local genealogists have said to me "there aren't many Brookers around here".  Wrong. There are a lot in the Thames Valley, and they've been there quite some time.  Most researchers of the Brooker surname, end up in Kent/Sussex.  That is because Kent is the English county, with the highest density of the Brooker surname today in telephone directories etc.  At first, I thought that my Brooker line came out of Kent, because my great grandfather lived at Sidcup for many years.  However, I later discovered that his father actually originated in South Oxfordshire.  There are scatters of Brookers across England.  There's even one family established in Suffolk.  The Oxfordshire / Berkshire Brooker cluster however, is second only to the Kent/Sussex cluster.  They've been in the Thames Valley quite some time.

So, on returning to genealogy, I start to use the new Internet resources.  FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.co.uk, FindMyPast.com.  I search for John Brooker born circa 1787 anywhere, but particularly in Berkshire.  I narrowed it down to about three candidates, and then by a process of elimination down to one, my most likely candidate.  I check censuses to see if John Brooker of Berkshire disappears before my validated John Brooker of Oxfordshire emerges on the 1841 census, married to Elizabeth, with several kids.  Finally, I settled on my favourite.  He was born at Hurley, Berkshire.  Only four miles away from a major bridge over the Thames into Henley, Oxfordshire, and seven miles from Rotherfield Peppard.  I even travelled down to the area, to check it out.  It was all so plausible.  I'd cracked the puzzle after all of these years.  Noone else on Ancestry.com sharing my Brookers had come up with the same answer.  Most were stuck at 1841, or later.  One had a silly proposal to a highly improbable ancestor.  I had reached Hurley.

In Hurley, I took this new extension back to another John Brooker, before him a Richard Brooker, before that another Richard Brooker, as well as some of the maternal lines.  A cracking breakthrough.  I was back to G.G.G.G.G.G.G grandparents on my surname line.  I was chuffed, even announced it here and on Facebook.  Hurley was the ancient home of the Brookers.

And what a beautiful village!  The church at Hurley above.

But it was incorrect.  A nagging feeling that I really had not searched thoroughly enough, that this John Brooker of Hurley, totally disappeared before mine appeared in Rotherfield Peppard.  I want all of my genealogy to be well validated and properly sourced.  But particularly for my surname line.  I'm spending a lot of money on those Y chromosome tests.  I don't want to tag it to a bad, untrue ancestry.

So I took another look.  I found a doppelganger in the Hurley area.  He had children there, in the parish next to Hurley.  He fit the John Brooker born in Hurley during 1789 even better than my ancestor.  I had rushed, messed up.  I was too quick to accept the link.  I made another mistake.  It meant deleting a whole bunch of ancestors from my family tree.  But it had to be done.

So many Johns and Elizabeths

I kept looking online.  I kept seeing other John Brookers.  I even kept seeing more John and Elizabeth Brooker families!  Everything that I checked out on Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.com fails tests.  I need good evidence.  It was the free LDS service at FamilySearch.org though that provided the next candidate.  I see references to a number of children born to a John and Elizabeth Brooker at Sonning, Berkshire.  The children were all slightly older, and had different names to any of those later at Rotherfield.  I looked up Sonning.  Sonning Common was actually north of the Thames, right next to Rotherfield Peppard!  I even discover that my G.G.G grandfather John Brooker (Junior) was living there in 1841!  Eureka (again)!

I'm recording everything now.  I even buy some marriage and death certificates from the GRO, looking for any link whatsoever.  Any correlation.  Any new note or mention.  I also start to purchase CD-ROMS of transcripts of parish registers from the Oxfordshire FHS, and to consult them by email.  When I look closer, I can see that if this family really were mine, then the mother, Elizabeth, must have been incredibly young at marriage, around sixteen.  I'm starting to have doubts again.  A researcher from Oxfordshire FHS replied.  They explain the confusing situation with Sonning Common.  It belonged to a parish south of the river, in Berkshire.  They also doubted the connection.  The births just didn't fit.  My CD-ROMS start to arrive.  They didn't fit.

I'd chased the wrong connection again, for a second time.

If you don't succeed at first...

The latest attempts.  I'm not giving up yet.  Hurley was wrong.  Sonning was wrong.  I can still get this.  Then the other night, I played with some more online searches, and I see something on the 1861 census of Rotherfield Greys, that I hadn't spotted before!  There was an old couple living in another neighbouring parish by the name of John and Elizabeth Brooker.  Not only that, but the 1861 census recorded their parishes of birth.  This John Brooker was born at Long Wittenham, Berkshire.  Elizabeth was born at Drayton, Oxfordshire.  It fits.  Elizabeth Brooker born inside Oxfordshire, her husband John born outside of Oxfordshire!  And so close!  Have I done it this time?

There is a problem with the connection.  The ages are wrong.  According to the 1841 census, my ancestor John was born between 1787 and 1791.  The 1861 John was born 1781 - according to the enumerator.  Equally, in 1841 Elizabeth was recorded as being born between 1797 and 1801.  This 1861 Elizabeth was recorded as being born 1786.  They're too old.

However...  a search for a John Brooker baptised at Long Wittenham, produced two transcripts of a John, son of Edward and Elizabeth Brucker baptised 17th January 1789.  Wow, if this is the same guy at Rotherfield Grey in 1861, then his age is wildly out, and he fits into the age of my 1841 John after all.  It can happen.  They were old.  They could be deaf, or the person reporting to the enumerator could have had senile dementia.  A neighbour could have helped out, but got their ages wrong.  How many John & Elizabeth Brookers could be in the Rotherfield area?  I have yet another expensive Oxfordshire FHS parish register transcript CD-ROM on the way.  I feel increasingly pressured to spend a few days in the Oxfordshire and Berkshire record offices.  Long Wittenham has changed county.  It is near to Abingdon, on the south side of the Thames, and it was in Berkshire at that time.  It is now in Oxfordshire.  Drayton, is on the other side of the river, not far away.  The couple in must have met and married in that area of the Thames valley, and later, moved around twelve miles down river to the Rotherfield area.

Are they my 1841 couple though?  I have decided to add them to my tree - but subject to removal or verification, as I research them further.  If that baptism date pans out, with no earlier doppelganger being born in Long Wittenham, I'll start to feel happier.  If they do work out, then I have already found two new generations by the looks of it.  As I said above, this John, was the son of an Edward and Elizabeth Brucker.  He in turn, may have been the Edward Brooker baptised at Long Wittenham on 16th January 1757, to another earlier John and Mary Brooker.  It's taken me to a new and unexpected area of the Thames Valley.

Lessons to be learned

I doubt that anyone else ever reads these lengthy boring posts.  However should there be anyone out there, this is what I can pass to you:

  • Internet Genealogy is hazardous.  Not just because of the forest of diseased, incorrect, badly researched, badly sourced trees out there, that Family History websites push into your face.  It is also hazardous because it is incomplete, but easy.  It is easy to believe that all paper records are online.  They are not by a long chalk.  Even the paper record is actually incomplete.  Many parish records have been damaged, lost, destroyed.  Some even evaded them.  Some have not been handed over to archives.  It is too easy with Internet Search to look for a Joe Bloggs, find a Joe Bloggs, any, and to grab them.  However, did you grab the right one?  Was it simply the only one on the Internet, in that particular database entered transcription?
  • Don't be at a rush to grab your Joe Bloggs.  Take your time.  That is my weakness.
  • Don't be afraid to have doubt.  Keep going back.  Check, verify, check again.


Autosomal DNA Tests for Genealogy

First a disclaimer.  I'm very new to the whole world of genetic genealogy.  I'm not new however, to traditional genealogy, and I do have a pretty good amateur understanding of relative archaeological and anthropological discussions over the past fifty years.  The following is not meant as a critique of genetic genealogy, so much as a review, or my experience, of ancestry composition based on autosomal DNA analysis.

Let's start with my paper trail.

Traditional Genealogy

I am English by ethnicity, British by nationality, and a subject of Queen Elizabeth II (often now referred to as a UK Citizen).

My paper recorded ancestry consists of the genealogical records of:

  • Generation 1 has 1 individual. (100.00%)
  • Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 5 has 16 individuals. (100.00%)
  • Generation 6 has 29 individuals. (90.62%)
  • Generation 7 has 49 individuals. (76.56%)
  • Generation 8 has 35 individuals. (27.34%)
  • Generation 9 has 24 individuals. (10.16%)
  • Generation 10 has 10 individuals. (2.34%)
  • Generation 11 has 4 individuals. (0.39%)
  • Total ancestors in generations 2 to 11 is 181. (9.04%)

All 181 ancestors, reaching back to the 1690's, appear to be English born, of English ethnicity, with English surnames.  The majority of them (100% on my mother's side, and 81% on my father's side) were East Anglian, with the vast majority of that percentage being born in the county of Norfolk.  Religions recorded or indicated were CofE Anglican or non-conformist Christian.  No sign of any Catholicism, Islam, or Judaism.

Therefore it would look pretty likely, that I can claim English heritage, wouldn't you agree?

Genetic Genealogy and Ancestry Prediction

There are three aspects or avenues of inquiry, available for genetic genealogy.  First of all, the two sex haplogroups; the y-DNA, and the mt-DNA. These two "signals" are referred to as haplogroups.

  1. The y-DNA.  This follows the Y chromosome.  It is only carried by men.  It is passed along the paternal line, and only by that line, from grandfather, down to father, down to son, until the line is broken.  What a lot of people do often misunderstand, is that it does not represent 50% of your ancestry.  It does not represent all of your biological father's ancestry.  For example, his mother's father, and her brothers, although on your father's side, would most likely carry a different y-DNA haplogroup.  It only comes down an uninterrupted strictly paternal line.  Even at Generation 7 (g.g.g.g grandparents) above, it would have been carried by one out of my sixty four biological ancestors at that generation.  The other thirty one g.g.g.g grandfathers for that generation may have carried different Y haplogroups.
  2. The mt-DNA.  Although a very different type of DNA, this one works as the opposite sex haplogroup.  It is a signal that is passed down the strictly maternal line, from grandmother, to mother, to her children.  Yes, we men do inherit our mother's mt_DNA, but we can't pass it down.  Only our sisters can.
  3. The au-DNA, better known as Autosomal DNA.  Whereas the former two sex haplogroups are handy, because we can measure their mutations, and track their formation and movement across thousands of years, au-DNA really is the stuff that we are made of - all of the SNPs on our chromosomes that personalise us within the human genome.  We inherit our au-DNA from all of our recent ancestors.  Roughly 50% from our biological mother, and 50% from our biological father.  Equally, we could say on average, 25% from each grandparent, or 12.5% from each great grandparent.  However, it is messy.  At every reproduction (meiosis), it gets messed up by recombination.  Not only that, but go back much more than six generations, and it becomes more and more likely that you can lose entire lineages.  You can have no surviving trace of any DNA from for example, a particular g.g.g.g.g grandparent.

Autosomal DNA is what makes us individuals, gives us our hereditary traits.  It is passed down from many ancestors, via our parents.  However, the sex haplogroups are of interest because they can be traced across the globe, and the millennia.  As we gain more and more data - both from living populations, and ancient DNA from archaeological finds, so we will be able to track the STR and SNP mutation data more precisely.

However, what about poor old messed up autosomal DNA?  It represents our entire biological heritage over many generations. It is what we are. However, making sense of it is less easy, less precise.  Genetic genealogists are making progress, but it is far less of a precise science than either of the haplogroups.  They use calculators, that measure the segments of DNA cross the chromosomes, looking for patterns that they recognise from a number of known reference populations.  From that, these calculators predict an ancestry.  Exactly what and when that ancestry refers to, does seem to vary from one calculator to another.  There is an argument that the precision can be improved if you also test close known relatives including at least one parent.  The results can then be phased.  I'm actually waiting for the results for my mother, so that I can see my own au-DNA ancestry results phased and corrected.

So lets have a bit of fun, and see what some of the calculators suggest for my autosomal DNA, at least before any phasing with my mother's DNA.  What do they make of my 100% English paper ancestry?

23andMe.com Ancestry Composition Standard Mode

99.9% European.

Broken into:

83% NW European

17% Broadly (unassigned) European

I think that's pretty cool.  As I'm getting to know au-DNA predictions, so as I'm learning to appreciate it when they get the right continent, and the right corner of that continent.  That is more than they could do a decade or two ago.  The prediction is correct, I am a NW European.  I'm not a West African, a South Asian, or a East Siberian.

23andMe.com Ancestry Composition Speculative Mode

100% European

Broken into:

94% NW European

3% S European

3% Broadly (unassigned) European.

Whoa, where did that South European come from?  It could just be a stray incorrectly identified signal, or it could be telling me that one of my ancestors, maybe around Generation 6, were from down south!  Lets break down the prediction further.  First, the NW European:

32% British & Irish

27% French & German

7% Scandinavian

But surely I should be 100% British & Irish?  Not only 32%.  I have my own ideas about this.  I think that although 23andMe claims that Ancestry Composition only represents the ancestry of the past 300 to 500 years (the so-called migration period, as sold to USA customers), that it gets confused by earlier migrations across their reference populations, including those during the early medieval period, and perhaps even some of those during late prehistory.  I've noticed that across Ireland and Britain, the further to the east, the more diluted the 23andMe British & Irish assignment.  People of solid Irish ancestry get between 85% and 98% British & Irish.  My East Anglian results, mixed between British & Irish, French & German, and Scandinavian, are actually rather more like those received by Dutch customers of 23andMe.

As for that Southern European prediction, how does that break down?

0.5% Iberian

2.4% Broadly (unassigned) South European.

Which if taken seriously, might suggest that I have an unknown Spanish or Portuguese ancestor around Generation 6.  If I did take it seriously that is.  I wonder what my mother's test will reveal?

DNA.Land.com Ancestry Composition

This is a third party site, that you can upload your 23andMe V4 raw data to, and see what their calculators predict for your ancestry.  It has recently had it's ancestry composition revised.  What did that make of my 100% English au-DNA?

West Eurasian 100%.

I like that designation, the amateur anthropologist in me prefers that broad designation over "European".  Broken down:

77% North/Central European

19% South European

2.4% Finnish

1.3% unassigned.

What?  Why not 100% North/Central European?  Finnish?  Did some early medieval Scandinavian settlers of East Anglia bring it?  Or is it a false signal?  Misidentified au-DNA?

That darned South European kicked in again.  I'm here looking at a biological cuckoo NPE (non-parental event) at around Generation 5 or even more recent!  Did a great grandmother secretly have a South European lover?  But this South European breaks down further:

13% Balkan

6% Italian.

Oh my goodness, whereas 23andMe speculative mode suggested SW Europe - this one suggests SE Europe!  Do I have a secret Albanian great grandfather?  Or is it all nonsense?

WeGene.com

This is a cracking new third party DNA analyser.  It is based in China, and it's predictors appear to calculate mainly for a Chinese market.  It not only predicts your ancestry composition, but also your two sex haplogroups, and lots of traits and health predictions to compliment those of 23andMe.  It even tries to predict your genetic disposition to sexuality!

It will allow you to send your 23andMe V4 raw data direct to it's own calculators.  However, at the moment the website is almost entirely in Chinese (Mandarin?).  There are two options.  1) At the bottom of the webpages is a hyperlink to English, which gives, in English, a basic ancestry composition, and your haplogroups.  It does not include English versions of the health and trait results.  2) use an online translator, such as the one built into the Google Chrome browser.  It actually serves pretty well.

On sex haplogroups they give my Y-DNA as

L1.  Not bad, but they didn't make it to L1b or L-M317.

My mtDNA?

H6a1a8.  Very good.  Better than 23andMe's H6a1, and the same as the mthap program.

But this is about au-DNA, how did they do, what did they make of my 100% English ancestry?

81% French

19% English/Briton

Now, that sounds pretty awful, but on closer inspection, I'm impressed.  No South European great grandfather.  Okay, so most of my DNA has been placed on the wrong side of the Channel.  However, I know that French and English DNA is actually very close.  Recent surveys even suggest that the English have inherited a lot of common ancestry with the French during unknown migration late in prehistory.  So again - they very much got the right corner of the right Continent.  Well done WeGene.

GEDmatch.com Eurogenes K13

GEDmatch is a website that you can upload raw data not only from 23andMe, but from a range of testers, and from V3 chips as well as V4.  It hosts a number of tools and predictors - some Open Source.  Some of these predictors are for Admixture or ancestry composition.  They measure your ancestry in terms of distance from known reference populations.  The lower the number, the closer you are to their reference.  They use calculators known as oracles to predict ancestry, including mixed ancestry or admixture.

The oracles on the Eurogenes K13 and K15 calculator models have a good reputation at working with West Eurasian ancestry.  So how does K13 first, score my 100% English ancestry?

On Single Population Sharing, it rates my DNA against the closest references.  In order of closest to not so close, the top five are:

1 South_Dutch 3.89
2 Southeast_English 4.35
3 West_German 5.22
4 Southwest_English 6.24
5 Orcadian 6.97

I think that's a cracking result.  Okay, it thinks that I'm closer to South Dutch, than I am to SE English, but so close - and my East Anglian ancestry most likely does include a lot of admixture from the Low Countries from the early medieval period.  I really like Eurogenes K13.

Okay, let's now use the Oracle 4 option, to suggest admixture.  First on three populations admixing to create my DNA, what comes closest?

50% Southeast_English +25% Spanish_Valencia +25% Swedish @ 2.087456

Well that's interesting!  The SE English hit the net.  The Swedish?  Could be ancient Scandinavian admixture - but the Iberian prediction has reemerged!

On four populations admixing?

1 Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Valencia + Swedish @ 2.087456
2 Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Murcia + Swedish @ 2.147237
3 Norwegian + Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English @ 2.216714
4 Danish + Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English @ 2.225334
5 Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Swedish @ 2.230991

Oh my goodness.  K13 agrees with 23andMe AC, that I have an Iberian link.  I'm now really starting to wonder.

Let's finish off by trying K15 on my 100% English ancestry:

GEDmatch.com Eurogenes EU test V2 K15


Using Oracle for single population first, the top five closest:

1 Southwest_English 2.7
2 South_Dutch 3.98
3 Southeast_English 4.33
4 Irish 6.23
5 West_German 6.25

Okay, I'm SE English, not SW English, but pretty impressive again.

Using the oracle 4 for three population admixture, what mix comes closest to my auDNA?

50% Southwest_English +25% Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon +25% West_Norwegian @ 1.080952

That Iberian back again!

Top five mix ups of populations closest to me?

1 Southwest_English + Southwest_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon + West_Norwegian @ 1.080952
2 Irish + North_Dutch + Southwest_English + Spanish_Galicia @ 1.111268
3 North_Dutch + Southwest_English + Spanish_Galicia + West_Scottish @ 1.282744
4 Southeast_English + Southwest_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon + West_Norwegian @ 1.295819
5 North_Dutch + North_Dutch + Southwest_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon @ 1.304939

I can't help preferring the K13 results to the EU test V2 K15 - simply because it recognises me better as SE English, rather than to their SW English reference.

Conclusions

If anyone ever bothers reading this far too lengthy post, I hope that I have imparted the following lessons:

  • Don't expect DNA Ancestry tests to pin point an actual country of ancestry.  They're not no where near that good yet.  The populations of West Eurasia, and elsewhere, are actually all mixed up, or share a lot of recent admixture.  In addition, many European nation-states are quite recent inventions.  I've seen the borders of Europe change in my short lifetime.
  • Don't expect precision.  If for example, you are an American, and a 23andMe AC test suggests only 32% British & Irish, then you could actually have 100% English ancestry over the past 300 years!  We're so mixed up, that these tests are struggling to part and identify us by nationality.
  • If you are willing to share your raw data (there are privacy issues), then have fun trying out all of these third party calculators.  It's a lot of fun as you can see.  They rarely agree.  There are other tools on GEDmatch for example, where you can compare DNA along with .gedcom genealogical files with other users - and look for shared segments on the chromosomes.  You can also compare your DNA to that of ancient populations.
  • Treat au-DNA differently to haplogroup results.  au-DNA is very interesting, and represents so much of our ancestry, if we could just sort some of the mess out.  You can partially do this by phasing your results with those of close relatives.  It is worthwhile phasing with at least one biological parent, if you can.  However, haplogroup results, provide by their mutations incredible stories over much longer periods - thousands of years.  A different kind of genealogy.  As we gather more data, and reference it also to ancient-DNA, so it will tell us more and more about two lines of descent.  Perhaps even into historical times.

Giving up Ancestors

I don't have to give these two up. My great grandfather Fred Smith, holding the hand of his daughter and my late grandmother Doris Smith around about 100 years ago in Norwich.

Trimming the branches

I make mistakes.  Genealogy is rarely perfect.  A part of the fun of the pastime, is in validating, verifying, and proving descent.  Sometimes though, the desire to simply add branches and histories, overtakes the quality control.  I'm guilty of that.  I've recently made a number of mistakes in my genealogical research.  A very good researcher would not make those mistakes in the first place.  They would research methodically and carefully, recording every data, looking for correlations - before they accept descent.  I on the other hand, still have a lot to learn.  However, I am willing to sometimes go back, check, check again, and if I'm not happy, remove ancestors, remove branches, remove histories.

With my recent return to genealogy, and my baptism into internet genealogical resources, I've witnessed the pitfall of the new age of research.  Family History websites push other people's trees and research at you.  However, so, so many of those that I've looked at, are erroneous, poorly sourced, and copied around like a mutated gene.  I want to create an ancestral record and history that is better than that.  I have an awful lot of work to do.

My recent mistakes have been shameful.  I made the above mistake - allowing MyHeritage.com to add branches to a couple of lines.  On checking their sources, and researching for myself, I couldn't validate the connections.  I removed them.

I wrongly identified a service record as belonging to a great grandfather.  That one hurt.

I extended my paternal surname line with too much haste.  I grabbed at a probable ancestor.  Later checks revealed a doppelganger.  I've had to go back to the drawing board, removing three generations from that line.

I don't regret these mistakes.  I'm always checking for validity.  A good quality family tree is better than a massive, old, but incorrect record.  The fun is after all, in the research, and that seems to go on forever.

Number of ancestors report

I'm continuing to have some success in adding ancestors to the tree, while at the same time I'm verifying, adding sources and citations, and adding flesh to bones.  I've been hitting Ancestry.co.uk and FindmyPast.com pretty hard while I can.  I also sometimes use the NORS facility on the Norfolk FHS website.  Finally, I've collected my old paper records and certificates from my old days in pre-Internet genealogy.

In some cases I have removed some proposed ancestors.  During a moment of weakness, I allowed the My Heritage website to add some branches to my tree from those of other researchers.  I wont do that again.  Looking closely, and checking for sources myself, I disagree with the authenticity of them.  I also found that I was barking up the wrong service record for my great grandfather.  I'll learn by these mistakes.

New branches or ancestors that I've recently uncovered include the Particular Baptist Tovel family of Suffolk, and the Daynes of Garvestone, Norfolk.

I found another handy feature on the open source Gramps genealogy software.  A Number of Ancestors Report.  It generated the below stats for me.

I think that it is typical for a family tree - recorded ancestors as a percentage of the biological generation, really start to rapidly fall away from Generation 8 (G.G.G.G.G Grandparent Generation).  Until then, most of the missing ancestors are down to illegitimacy events:

Number of Ancestors Report 11 April 2016

Generation 1 has 1 individual. (100.00%)

Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 5 has 16 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 6 has 29 individuals. (91%)

Generation 7 has 49 individuals. (77%)

Generation 8 has 37 individuals. (29%)

Generation 9 has 26 individuals. (11%)

Generation 10 has 16 individuals. (3.5%)

Generation 11 has 4 individuals. (0.4%)

Total ancestors in generations 2 to 11 is 191. (9.53%)

The Three Ages of Genealogy

The above image was made from an opportunistic photocopy of a photograph held by a second cousin.  it is a portrait of Samuel William "Fiddler" Curtis.  He was one of my sixteen great great grandparents, and was born at Hassingham, Norfolk in 1852.  He worked as a teamster - an agricultural labourer that drove a team of horses in the fields.

1. The Past - Record Office Genealogy.

This was how I did genealogy almost exclusively twenty two years ago.  It still exists as a method.  It is still the most qualitative, and traditional research method.  It could be represented by a pair of white gloves - the sort that many record offices and archives insist that readers wear, while handling conserved records.  There is of course a cost.  Some parish registers for example, will suffer from handling, regardless of the level of care.  Otherwise I would recommend that all present day genealogists should practice it from time to time - in order to reference to the most original documents, or simply for the experience of handling these wonderful links to our ancestors.  I remember reading some parish records that I knew had been personally kept by my parish clerk ancestors.  I visited county record offices in Norfolk, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, and Glamorgan.  I visited archives and the GRO in London.  Genealogy meant leaving the house and travelling.

Twenty two years ago, Digital Genealogy was in it's infancy.  The "IGI" was on microfische.  Censuses up to and including 1881 were available on microfilm.  Some parish registers were just starting to appear in the microfilm/fische room, but for many, I had to produce my readers card, don the white gloves, and carry a soft lead pencil.  Good times.  But sometimes frustrating.I had many dead ends.  If an ancestor moved more than a few parishes away, and preceded a census, you had to either spend years looking in so many parishes - or rely on a bit of luck.  You could of course find other researchers with shared interests.  They would advertise these interests in the columns of genealogy magazines, and in printed annual directories.

By the time that my personal interest drifted away from genealogy, things had already changed an awful lot.  Many more records had been photographed onto film or fische - to protect the original records from a growth of interest in family history.  Here in Norfolk, amateur genealogists were encouraged to use the film/fische reading rooms, rather than access the original documents.  Although some negatives were hard to read, it was much faster than ordering and waiting in a reading room by a ticket system.  People were also increasingly using the Internet as a way of sharing.  The IGI moved online.  We were also using database software programs such as Family Tree Maker, and sharing our .gedcom files online.

I then totally moved away from genealogy totally, for perhaps 12 years.

2. The Present - Internet Genealogy

My interest in genealogy and family history returned after that long break way.  What had changed?  What do I think of the current scene?  So many documents have been digitally photographed, transcribed, indexed, then fed onto online databases.  It's incredible.  Within a few months, my family tree has grown and grown.  I've picked up so many dead ends.  The IGI has evolved into FamilySearch.org, an incredible free online resource.  National archives have growing online collections.  There are commercial online subscription based resources galore competing - Ancestry, FindmyPast, MyHeritage, TheGenealogist, GenesReunited, FamilyLink, Genealogy, etc.  FreeBMD grows.  We can not only browse the England & Wales census online, but since I started researching 22 years ago, we now also have 1891, 1901, and 1911.  With a subscription we can even view them from our homes.

It gets much better though.  So much has been transcribed and indexed - then added to databases.  This means that we can database Search for missing ancestors.  This is the greatest advantage to Internet and database transcriptions - this ability to find them, where we might not have looked.  Also to find new details, to flesh out the bones of our ancestors - military records, criminal records, transportations.  In the old days, we would have needed to either visit a number of difficult archives in London, or hire an experienced professional genealogist to do this for us.  This is the sort of stuff that can now be accessed by the amateur from the comfort of the home.  There is a lot that is positive about the Present.

What can be depressing is that the margin for error has not only increased through badly transcribed indexes, but the ease of Internet search, and of copying previous research - duplicating error has greatly increased.  When I uploaded a skeleton direct ancestral tree to MyHeritage, I was plagued by the website, to add other people's work to my tree. However, when I look at their trees, very often, I don't agree with their conclusions.  I see what I believe to be errors.  Wrong generations married up.  Desperate looking links from parents many miles away - that when I investigate them, I can't verify.  I've very quickly learned to distrust other people's online trees.  I'll use them only as suggestions to investigate.

3.  The Future - Genetic Genealogy

The title of this section is a bit of a tease.  I was a bit of a sceptic of genetic genealogy.  Even now, I feel that people wishing to use DNA evidence for extending family trees should in most cases, save their cash.  However, I can see that one day in the future, genetic genealogy could be a serious tool.  What it presently lacks, particularly outside of the USA, is data!  It can only work, when enough people have recorded and shared enough DNA data online.  Even then, for anything else than measuring quite close relationships up to say, second or third cousin, autosome DNA does not offer much to the genealogist.  Most of our DNA is autosome.  Very useful for checking for recent non-paternal events.  Useful for example, for finding close biological relatives.

What I think will be of more use in the future, will be haplogroup DNA.  The Y-DNA and mt-DNA, and then - only when many, many more people, have submitted and recorded their DNA.  Even then, it will not produce a family tree.  It will identify common biological relations between researchers and other submitters.  Y-DNA will increasingly tie to surnames - and also mark the non paternal events where the haplogroup jumps from one surname to another.  FamilyTreeDNA are the forerunners in that field, with their DNA Projects.  Surname and geographic projects link actual family lines to certain haplogroups, clusters of haplogroups, STR markers, SNPs etc.  It's a great idea, but it's in it's infancy.

Imagine a future though, where not only most researchers have registered DNA data, but that of past generations - parents, grandparents, and even ancient DNA from archaeological sites.  This is where genealogy overlaps with anthropology.  Traditional genealogy traces ancestors from recent centuries.  DNA haplogroups show promise for tracing the general movements, admixtures, displacements of ancestors from thousands of years ago.  At the moment, genetic genealogy rarely supports traditional genealogy - rather, it compliments it with very different material.  In the future though, as if we continue to tie more SNPs and STRs to actual family lines, it'll start to mean something more to the historical period.  Actual surnames will start to attach to clusters.  At least that is how I see it.  I'm sure that the shareholders of the DNA testing companies would also like us to see that vision.