What have the Romans done for us?

I can feel Spring in the air.  So, day off from work, I decided to take a field trip.  Wasn't sure where to when I hit the road, but I ended up at Burgh Castle, the ruin of a Roman Fort of the Saxon Shore.

Information board at Burgh Castle.

Traditionally, the Roman Shore Forts of South-East Britain were seen as Late Roman defensive structures, to protect Roman Britain from attack from barbarians from the other side of the North Sea, outside of the Empire.  This remains a valid view, although I remember attending a lecture by a local archaeologist many years ago, that argued that these shore forts, were a little odd.  With civilian activity inside the forts, and not particularly very defensive.  He was arguing that rather than protect Roman Britain from invasion by Anglo Saxon pirates, they were intended to control and tax heavy commerce across the North Sea.  No I'm not going to take sides, perhaps there was an element of both intentions.

I personally also like to see this fort as a sort of 4th Century AD immigration control.  My mother's 18th and 19th Century ancestors are so strongly clustered nearby at the Reedham area, that I can't help but imagine that at least some of her ancestors lived in East Norfolk way back into the medieval, and perhaps some of them rowed passed this recently decommissioned shore fort during the early 5th century AD.  I imagine them jeering at the now abandoned post of the Empire, as they rowed past.  Arriving into Britain, with fealty free land just for the grabbing, a land of opportunity for rural self sustaining farmers from the Continent.

The view down on the Yare and Breydon Water from Burgh Castle.  Much of this would have been flooded during the 4th Century by higher sea levels and the absence of drainage.

From a population genetics point of view, we are usually told that the 360 year long period of Roman Britain contributed little to our present day DNA.  More important was the contribution of the Early Bronze Age, that carried DNA from the Eurasian Steppes, followed perhaps by the Anglo-Saxon / Danish / Norman Medieval immigration events that followed the collapse of shore forts such as this one.  It is usually suggested that because actual migration from Rome was sparse, and troops were scattered from all over the Empire, that there was little impact on the late prehistoric British genome.

However, whenever an odd haplotype turns up in an old British family, including for example, my own Y-DNA that appears to have originated from the area of present day Iran or Iraq, someone will suggest that it could have arrived during the Roman Empire.  Indeed, in some cases they may well have made their way into North west Europe, even to the British Isles during that time.  Trade and exchange across Western Eurasia was thriving.

I give you Burgh Castle, Norfolk.  They may have built it in order to keep some of my ancestors out.

Medieval Mobility, DNA tests, and the East Anglian

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter c1325-1335 f74v - BL Add MS 42130

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v  See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].

My last post on the Norfolk 16th century surname study has made me look at my medieval East Anglian roots a little differently.  It suggests that there may have been a fair amount of mobility and migration in East Anglia, and from outside, from both Northern England, and from the nearby Continent.  Although current commercial autosomal DNA tests for ancestry are clearly contradictory, behind them lays a common pattern.  My auDNA is little bit more similar to people living on the Continent, in places like France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and also further to the south - than it is for most British testers.  This is despite my known English family history and recorded ancestry.  These commercial DNA tests usually claim to investigate your family ancestry over the past 250 - 500 years only.  I'm convinced that is untrue.  I can't help but see population background, and shared patterns from testers that have no known, or little known migration or admixture in places such as England, and Northern France.  These appear to represent older migration and population admixture events that are shared across local genomes.

However, maybe there is something that these tests are telling me - but only after taking into account to the results of other British testers.  I now believe that I may have underestimated mobility around East Anglia and England between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries - that precedes any of my recorded ancestry.  I also feel the need to reassess Continental migration to East Anglia.  It appears it was not all urban or bourgeois.  The Anglo-Saxon fifth century AD may have marked the most significant migration event to south east Britain, but I know believe that I have underestimated how much migration and exchange has occurred across the North Sea ever since.

Focusing first on movements within East Anglia, and England, I have in my last post,  Norfolk surnames in the sixteenth century, provided locative surname evidence.

Let's look at some more historical research.

"Considerable personal mobility existed from the later Middle Ages.  From the mid fourteenth century the loosening of seigneurial bonds allowed English people to become even more mobile.  Landlords complained that tenants were deserting their holdings for better land elsewhere and that servants and labourers were seeking higher wages from other employers.".

"From the sixteenth century, migration and personal mobility becomes better documented.  A study of tax records for Towcester in Northamptonshire showed a considerable turnover of the population between consecutive years.  In 1525 47 of the 278 men taxed in the previous year had left.  This unusually full source shows that six of the 47 had died and 41 had migrated.  This represents a turnover rate of 16.9 per cent a year - higher than any other communities in pre-industrial England.".

The continuity (and discontinuity) of surnames over a period of time indicates the movement of individuals and families with the same surname in and out of the community.  The small 'close' village of Glynde (population 216 in the 1801 census) lies three miles from the East Sussex county town of Lewes.  Between 1558 and 1812 out of 444 different surnames that appeared in the parish register (excluding people whose only connection with the village was to marry in its church) 261 surnames (58.8 per cent) occurred only once and 71 per cent were found only during a period of 25 years or less.".

Source: The English Rural Community: Image and Analysis. Brian short. 1992.

So, maybe I need to discard ideas of my mother's tight cluster of recorded ancestry as having been so localised for so long.  Although, the density of the cluster does suggest that she probably have some direct ancestry in the Reedham area of East Norfolk for a very long time, perhaps back to the early medieval, there is also a good probability that her medieval ancestry stretched much further across the region, England, and to the Continent.  Indeed, her known ancestral proximity to the coast and a tidal navigable river makes that Continental ancestry more likely.  For my father's ancestry - the majority recorded East Anglian, but with known ancestry going back to Oxfordshire, Berkshire, London, and the East Midlands, this might be even more the case.

Celebrating my Steppe and Beaker Ancestors

Ecoregion PA0814

The Pontic Steppes, by Terpsichores [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I've previously dealt with my Ice Age hunter-gatherer ancestry, as indicated by DNA test result calculators, and with my Neolithic Farmer ancestry.  That leaves the third major late prehistoric contributor to the Western European Genome.  The most recent, and perhaps the most character defining - the Chalcolithic Steppe pastoralists or Yamnaya element.

My Yamnaya ancestors

Y-DNA haplogroup enthusiasts of European descent absolutely LOVE this one.  This is because the majority of men of Europe have a Y haplogroup that arrived here from the Eurasian Steppes with this immigration wave.  All of those R1a's and R1b's.  My personal Y haplogroup didn't!  But I'm a nonconformist with a nonconforming Y-DNA haplogroup. Populations such as the modern Irish men, on the western edge of Europe, can trace most of their R1b haplogroups to the Steppes!  That some of of the earlier hunter-gatherer and Neolithic DNA here earlier still survives in most of us, suggests that this long migration consisted mainly of men.  My mtDNA haplogroup though, as usual, is atypical - because H6a1 is one of the few maternal lineages in Europe that DOES also trace back in ancient DNA samples to the Yamnaya pastoralists.  So, I DO have a Steppe haplogroup, only through my motherline.

The Eurasian Steppes have been a super highway of people, goods, culture, and genes, for thousands of years - linking Asia to Europe.  A long, sometimes narrow corridor of natural grasslands.  The wild ancestors of the domestic horse lived there.  They had adapted to life in harsh environments such as this.

The Yamnaya themselves appear to have been admixed between different earlier Ice Age populations, including Caucasus Hunter-Foragers, East European Hunter-Gatherers, and the enigmatic Ancient North Eurasian Siberian ghost population, that were also among the ancestors of Native Americans.

One of the successes of the Steppe pastoralists, was that they embraced the horse.  They rode their horses, enabling them to control larger herds of sheep, goats, horses, and cattle.  That was one element of success.  They also utilised the wheel, and built the first wagons and carts to be pulled by those horses and ox.  This gave them a greater mobility, to move their livestock seasonally to further pastures.  Biologically they were also adapting to a dairy based diet with lactose tolerance.  Finally, they embraced the new metallurgy of copper, and then bronze working.  The raw materials of this new technology shifted along the Steppes, and through their contact with many peoples, including with the new towns and kingdoms south of the Caucasus.

Another factor that needs to be considered, is that according to some scholars, they brought the Indo-European group of languages to Europe, which are ancestral to most European languages today.

Recent evidence has been produced that suggests that some of the pastoralists carried a plague virus, transmitted from a Central Asian origin.  A new hypothesis is that they may have unintentionally passed this plague onto the Neolithic Europeans, weakening their populations and societies.

Whether this hypothesis ever substantiates or not, the archaeological and genetic evidence is that the Second Millennium BC saw many of these Steppe men (and my mtDNA ancestor) spill westwards into Copper Age Europe.  After 2,900 BC, their arrival, and fusion with local populations and traditions may have inspired the Corded Ware Culture of Central and Eastern Europe.  My mtDNA haplogroup H6a1a suddenly appears in Central Europe, associated with this culture.

These horsemen of bronze, or their descendants didn't stop the Westward advance.  Within a few hundred years, they also dominated Western Europe.  There, their arrival may have spawned another fusion culture - the Bell Beaker.

Above image, bell beaker burial exhibited in the British Museum.

My Bell Beaker Ancestors

The Maritime Bell Beaker Culture may have originated when these horsemen arrived in Iberia.  When I was a keen amateur archaeologist and field walker, I'd feel a lot of contact with them.  Many, if not the majority of the struck flints that I recorded in Thetford Forest were considered "bronze age".  I would also survey the surviving round barrows in the forest, and look for unrecorded examples.  I also spent a week with Suffolk archaeology, studying new aerial reconnaissance photographs, and helping to chart the soil and crop marks of long ploughed out barrows.  I had no idea then, that this barrow burial tradition had actually been brought from the Steppes of Eurasia.  Archaeology at the time didn't see the Bell Beaker as the arrival of people.  They saw it as a cultural transference from Iberia.  Genetics is now telling us differently.

A barbed and tanged flint arrowhead from one of my surveys.  A classic Bell Beaker artifact.

The Maritime Bell Beaker Culture of the Early Bronze Age appears to have gradually evolved by the beginning of the Iron Age, into what we traditionally call the Atlantic Seaboard Celtic Culture, so strong in places such as Ireland and Scotland.  Yet, most Irishmen carry the Y haplogroup R1b SNPs such as L21. A recent Irish DNA Study revealed that they found the modern Irish not only a fairly homogeneous population, but that it had its roots, particularly on male haplogroups, firmly in the Pontic and Caspian Steppes of what is now Ukraine and Southern Russia.  They also studied the DNA from remains of Bronze Age, and the earlier Neolithic people that lived in Ireland, and pronounced them to have had different origins.  The earlier, Neolithic Irish largely descended from population that originated in SW Asia.

http://www.pnas.org/content/113/2/368.full

Here in Britain also, the majority of men carry R1b Y-DNA.  I have a Steppe mtDNA haplogroup from my mother.  Additionally autosomal DNA calculators suggest that maybe circa 30% of my Copper Age ancestors were Steppe.  However, where did my Steppe ancestry come in?  The obvious would be from British Celts - but that is an unsafe assumption.  My recorded ancestry is totally SE English, and strongly East Anglian.  My autosomal DNA "flavour" though is atypical for a Brit, and is unusually Continental, with a tertiary pull from Southern Europe, that I can't explain.  If many of my ancestors two thousand years ago actually lived outside of the British Isles, most likely on the Continent, then they could have inherited much of this Steppe there.

Image above. A local round barrow burial mound hidden in Thetford Forest.

Ultimately of course, I know where maybe a third of my ancestors lived 4,000 years ago.  They were pastoralists on the windy Pontic Steppes, looking to the west, and wandering, what opportunities lay there?

My Ancient DNA Calculators

David Wesolowski's K7 Basal-rich test

Ancient North Eurasian

Another Ice Age hunter-gatherer "Ghost" population, but this one has been associated with human remains and an Upper Palaeolithic culture (Mal'ta-Buret') at Lake Baikal, Siberia.  We know that it significantly contributes to modern West Eurasians, through earlier admixture on the Eurasian Steppes.  Copper Age pastoralists then carried it westwards into Europe with their later expansion.

David gives the English average as 16.6%.  My result is 14.0%

Global 10 Test

The recent Global 10 test, run by my friend Helgenes50 of the Anthrogenica board, resulted in:

  • 38% Yamna_Samara (Eurasian Steppe Pastoralist)

FT-DNA My Ancient Origins

  • 9% Metal Age Invader

My MDLP K16 Modern Admixture

  • 22% Steppe (sourced from ancient genome of European Bronze Age pastoralists)
  • 22% Caucasian (derived from genomes of mesolithic Caucasian Hunter-gatherers)

My MDLP Modern K11 Oracle:

Closest Genetic Distances:

Using 1 population approximation:
1 British_Celtic @ 6.948432
2 Bell_Beaker_Germany @ 8.143357
3 Alberstedt_LN @ 8.426399
4 British_IronAge @ 9.027687
5 Halberstadt_LBA @ 10.273615
6 Bell_Beaker_Czech @ 12.190828
7 Hungary_BA @ 12.297826
8 Nordic_MN_B @ 12.959966
9 British_AngloSaxon @ 12.993559
10 Nordic_BA @ 13.170285

Celebrating my Neolithic Ancestors

Image above, last year, holding an artifact from the Neolithic Tomb of the Sea Eagles in Orkney.

Today in this post, I am celebrating my Neolithic heritage.  Another ancestral genetics enthusiast pointed out that rather than Anglo-Saxon, for a Brit and North West European, I actually had indications of enhanced Neolithic Farmer ancestry on most ancient DNA calculators (more on that below).  I was actually quite pleased to have that pointed out, and this post explains why I love the idea of being a modern Neolithic Man.

I remember being fascinated by the past as quite a young child.  On holidays across the British isles, I craved nothing more than visits to castles.  At home in Norwich, I'd haunt the local museums.  However, a love of the Neolithic took hold during my twenties. First, a fishing and drinking tour of Ireland with my brother, took me to the Newgrange Passage Grave site in the Boyne Valley.  Awesome impact.  Then several years later, I picked up the broken butt end of a Neolithic polished flint axe head on farmland behind my cottage.

The above photo is an image of another broken Neolithic flint axe head that I recorded during a surface collection survey many years later in Thetford Forest.

This eventually pulled me into a phase of looking for more prehistoric flint, which I later formalised into the Thetford Forest Survey.  During that period, in collaboration with the Forestry Commission, Norfolk Archaeology, and Suffolk Archaeology, I recorded thousands of struck flint and ceramic artifacts - many from the Neolithic.

Above image taken at the Castlerigg Stone Circle in Cumbria in 2006.

Any chance that I got, I'd also visit Neolithic sites across the British Isles - and continue to do so, hence last year I had a cycling tour of many late prehistoric sites in Orkney.  Absolutely love the Neolithic.  Even though an atheist, I have to confess that some of these sites give me a special vibe.  I have half-seriously told neo-pagan friends, that If I had to choose some gods, Then maybe they would be those of the Neolithic.  Something about the remote sites.

Above image - sorry for looking so bloody miserable and awful.  Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria.

Our New Understanding of the Neolithic of Europe

What I really want to write about here though, is how recent population genetics, over the past ten years, is transforming how we see the Western Eurasian Neolithic.  Archaeologists had long pondered, our relationship to the British Neolithic people, and going further back and in turn - their relationship to the earlier Mesolithic hunter-foragers of the British Isles.

What recent research of both ancient and modern DNA has so far revealed is that after the last Ice Age, hunter-foragers moved up to Britain from Southern Europe.  Meanwhile, new cultures and economies were developing in the Middle East of SW Asia.  Across the Fertile Crescent, that ran up the Levant, East Anatolia, eastwards, then down the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys - people started to settle, domesticate wheat, barley, goats, sheep, cattle and pigs.  They started to farm for the very first time.  This was the Neolithic Revolution.  The first fired ceramics - pottery was added to the recipe, along with polished stone tools.  Eventually these populations also absorbed the very first metallurgy, literacy, and town building - falling into the southern half of those river valleys in Mesopotamia.

Image above - Standing Stone at Stillaig, Argyll, Scotland.

From the Levant and Anatolia, both along the Mediterranean, and direct across the Balkans by land, Neolithic culture and farming technology spread westwards and northwards across Europe.  Population genetics now tells us that this WAS carried by people.  It was not just a transfer of culture and artifacts.  DNA from South-West Asia was strongly carried across Europe.  The Neolithic farmers were a people, with roots in the Near East.

What happened to the old European hunter-foragers?  It seems a mixture of displacement and admixture.  As the Neolithic Revolution rolled across Europe, it did pick up some hunter-gatherer DNA.  However, few of the male haplogroups.  By the time that the First Farmers reached the British Isles, they would have had an ancestry mixed between Near East Asian and European hunters.  Without a doubt, brides and perhaps slaves were taken along that long route from Anatolia to Britain.  This pattern perhaps continued when they reached the Irish and British Isles, and confronted some of the last hunter-gatherer populations of North West Europe.

Image above.  Ring of Brodgar, Orkney.

All of this was fine.  The British Isles were settled by Neolithic peoples around 4,100 BC.  I've seen many of their monuments, studied excavation reports of their archaeological sites, and held many of their flint artifacts.  It was a dominant culture here for two thousand years.  Religious systems may have come and go.  They erected so many monuments here that still survive.  Causewayed enclosures, long barrows, cursuses, henges, monoliths, cairns, standing stone circles, timber circles, mounds, Silsbury Hill - and of course, the internationally renown Stone Henge.  However, we now realise that they carried much DNA from South West Asia!

They must have thought that they, their beliefs, and their social systems would last until the end of time.  We currently think that their populations and farming declined towards the end of their period.  There is a little evidence that they may have been subject to plague from Asia.  This might have weakened them for the next invasion and displacement.

Image above of Skara Brae, Orkney Neolithic settlement.

Image above of Mottistone Longstone, Isle of Wight.

The arrival of the Sons of the Steppes - the Beaker

I'll write more about these guys in a later post.  Around 2,100 BC, a new people and culture turned up in the British Isles.  Whereas the Neolithic peoples had largely originated in SW Asia, south of the Caucasus (with some European hunter-gatherer DNA picked up on the way), these new arrivals largely originated to the NORTH of the Caucasus, on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes.  Their Steppe ancestors perfected the domestication of the horse, bronze metallurgy, and wheeled wagons. The founder Steppe population has been identified by archaeologists as the Yamnaya.  They rolled into Eastern and Central Europe, where their arrival appears to have spawned the Corded Ware Culture.  Their descendants in turn appear to have spawned the Bell Beaker Culture in Western Europe.  In turn, the Bell Beaker appears to have developed into the Atlantic Seaboard Celtic Culture of fame and fashion.

The Eurasian Steppe male haplogroups absolutely dominate present day Europe.  However, again, they appear to have absorbed some women with Neolithic and even earlier Hunter-Gatherer populations into their genome.

The Three Way across Europe

Across modern Europe, we are a mixture of three distinct late prehistoric populations or genetic out-layers - from most recent to oldest:

  1. Yamnaya or Steppe
  2. Neolithic Farmer
  3. Western Eurasian Hunter-Gatherer

The above image is from CARTA lecture. 2016. Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute.  All Rights Reserved.

As can be seen above, some Neolithic DNA has survived in present day Europe.  It is strongest in Southern Europe.  Yamnaya ancestry is more of an influence in Northern Europe, although, old Hunter-Gatherer survives strong in the Baltic Republics.  The modern population closest to our Neolithic ancestors are the Sardinians.  So close, that when Ötzi, a frozen preserved Neolithic body was discovered in the Alps, his DNA was seen as so similar to present day Sardinians, that some incorrectly suggested that he had travelled to the Alps from Sardinia!

A Sardinian family while reading LUnione Sarda 

A Sardinian family.  With a mandolin.  Therefore perfect for here! By Roburq (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My Neolithic Admixture

David Wesolowski's K7 Basal-rich test

Basal-rich

The Basal Eurasians are a hypothetical "ghost" population derived from DNA studies.  It is suggested that they splintered from other modern humans 45,000 years ago, presumably outside of Africa, somewhere around the Middle East.  They significantly contributed DNA to the Early Neolithic Farmers of the Fertile Crescent and Anatolia, and consequently, on to all of us modern West Eurasians.  

 David gives the English average as 26.5%.  My result is 28.8%

Global 10 Test

The recent Global 10 test, run by my friend Helgenes50 of the Anthrogenica board, resulted in:

  • 55% Baalberge_MN (European Middle Neolithic)

FT-DNA My Ancient Origins

  • 47% Farmer (Neolithic)

My Eurasia K9 ASI Oracle:

  • 27% Early Neolithic Farmer

My Gedrosia K15 Oracle:

  • 25% Early European Farmer

My MDLP K16 Modern Admixture

  • 31% Neolithic (modeled on genomes of first neolithic farmers of Anatolia)

My MDLP Modern K11 Oracle:

Admix Results (sorted):


# Population Percent
1 Neolithic 37.33


Image above.  Grimes Graves Late Neolithic flint mine complex, Norfolk

My Neolithic ancestry appears to be strong, for a Brit.  However - my Neolithic ancestors may not have all - or even at all, have lived in the British Isles.  My Neolithic ancestry may have been picked up along the way, across Europe, by ancestors as they travelled across Western Eurasia.

The most common misunderstanding - mtDNA

I just see so many misunderstandings on genetic genealogy and DNA test forums concerning mtDNA haplogroups, that I feel compelled to try to explain.

DNA testing businesses tend to dumb down a lot of information for their "audience".  I feel that this actually increases misunderstandings, and mtDNA haplogroups are a good example.  Rather than use the lengthy description mitochondrial DNA, or even it's shortened mtDNA, businesses describe it more frequently as Mother Line, or Maternal.  It misleads so many of their customers.  So let us put this straight:

  • A haplogroup is a  "combination of alleles at different chromosomes regions that are closely linked and that tend to be inherited together"  A series of mutations, that are inherited across generations.
  • mtDNA are a series of mutations within the DNA of mitochondria.  Mitochondria exist outside of a cell nucleus.  They have their own independent DNA, apart from the nuclear chromosomal DNA that dictates how we develop, what we are.  We all have mitchondria, in most of our cells.  They actually serve a function by processing energy.
  • As humans, we use nomenclature to group those mutations within a family tree of humanity.  My mtDNA mutations fall within Haplogroup H.
  • mtDNA cannot be passed on to future generations by males.  it is passed down to the children from the mother only.  I inherit H6a1a8 (my haplotype) from my mother, as do my brother and our sisters.  Only my sisters though will reproduce that mtDNA in their children.  My own children inherited the mtDNA of their mother, not mine.

So what does this mean in practice?

  • A Maternal / Motherline / mtDNA Haplogroup does NOT represent your biological ancestry.
  • A Maternal / Motherline / mtDNA Haplogroup does NOT even represent your mother's "half" of your biological ancestry.
  • For example, your father's mother most likely carried a different mtDNA.  Your mother's father most likely had a different mtDNA haplotype.  Only one of your sixteen great great grandparents passed down their mtDNA to you.
  • Instead, it acts pretty much as a single line genetic "marker" that can be traced only along one very narrow, single line of ancestry.  Look at the image at the top of your post.  Do you see?  Just one line of descent. It follows your mother's, mother's, mother line, and so on, all of the way back to a hypothetical "Mitochondrial Eve" 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.
  • It is not a tribe, ethnicity, or identity.  It is just the mtDNA genetic marker (Haplotype) that you inherited from your mother.
  • It is no good going onto mtDNA genetic genealogy forums and giving the names and origins of ANY direct ancestor, other than a woman (or her children) on that maternal line (mother's mother's, mother, and so on).
  • Forget surname studies.  In most western societies, and in many other's, the "family" name is inherited from the father - and follows a completely different course (Y-DNA).  Indeed, the surname of your true mtDNA ancestor changes most generations with marriage.  That is what makes this the most difficult line to trace with documentary methods.
  • Although difficult, it is the most true and secure.  Although secret or hidden adoptions can occur, the risk of non-parental events is much lower than for the strictly male line (Y-DNA).
  • Mitochondrial DNA mutates at a very slow rate.  This, along with the change in surnames most generations, can make it difficult to use successfully for genetic genealogy.  Many of the mutations are thousands of years old.  Alternatively, it makes it a valuable evidence for tracing ancient ancestry within a population.

That is all that I wanted to say.  it is a fascinating marker, but it is not representative of even 50% of your ancestry, it is not an identity, it is pretty irrelevant to surname (studies), it is inherited only down one narrow line - but all of the way back.

My earliest mtDNA ancestor with a surviving photograph.  My mother's mother's, mother's, mother (2xgreat grandmother), born Sarah Daynes in Norfolk, during 1845.  Her mtDNA would be H6a1a8.  Her mother was born Sarah Quantrill in Norfolk during 1827.  Her mother in turn was born Mary Page in Norfolk during 1791.  Her mother in turn was born Elizabeth Hardiment in Norfolk during 1751.  Her mother in turn (my 6xgreat grandmother) was Susannah Briting, who married John Hardyman in Norfolk during 1747.  If my documentary research along this line is correct, then Susannah inherited mtDNA haplotype H6a1a8 from her mother.

Visit to Lowestoft Record Office

Image above taken yesterday of St Michael's Church, South Elmham Saints villages, Suffolk.

The Barber Family of St Michael, South Elmham, Suffolk

I recently found evidence that my ancestor, 3xgreat grandfather Robert Barber of St Michael, may have been the Robert Barber of Suffolk that was transported in 1844.

I also made contact via GEDmatch, with the owner of a sample that shares 56 centiMorgans of DNA with my sample, including a 27 centiMorgan segment.  It is all on my late father's side.  This is by far the most significant DNA match that I have yet encountered on GEDmatch.  Email correspondence with the owner (Margaret), revealed that we share a paper trail, with the Barber Family of St Michael.

The trail follows my father's maternal side.  His mother's mother, was born Emily Barber, at Hedenham, Norfolk in 1859.  Her father was George Barber, born at St Michael in 1830.  George was a son of Robert and Mary Ann Barber.  I thought that Robert was baptised nearby at Alburgh, Norfolk, the son of George and Hannah Barber (nee Blaxhall).  I thought that Mary Ann was baptised Maria Page, daughter of John and Mary Page (nee Brooks), and that she married Robert at All Saints, South Elmham, in 1828.

However, making contact with a DNA relative challenges an insecure tree.  Margaret pointed out a nearby Robert and Maria Barber family.  I started seeing more Robert Barbers, more Marys, More Marias.  Online digital records for Suffolk are not as good as they are for Norfolk. Confusion!  This is an example where Online Genealogy falls down.

So I checked with the Archive branch of the Suffolk Record Office had the original St Michael records - should no microfilms or fische be available.  They were over at Lowestoft.  Yesterday I drove over, to strike the iron while it was still hot.  I was quite pleased with the resources in the office.  I did not have an excuse to request the original registers - although digital is lacking, they have good copies on fische and film.  In addition, the Saints Villages of South Elmham had all been indexed and typed up by volunteers.  So what did I find?

The baptism font in St Michael's, South Elmham, Suffolk, yesterday.  This would have been used in the below baptisms of ancestors.

There were a LOT of Barber families in the area, since the parish registers start in 1559.  The very earliest reference is to a baptism at St Michael's, of a Robert, son of Robert and Brigett Barber xxxi Auguste 1589.  A lot of sons born in St Michael alone during the following century - this was going to be difficult.  Indeed, in the St Michael registers, Barber entries continue on a regular basis until 1713.  Then a break!  No doubt there were a lot of Barber families living in the surrounding parishes and district, but the next St Michael Barber entries start with our family in 1818:

Baptisms St Michael's, South Elmham

  • Lydia, daughter of Robert & Mary Barber (born Dec 11) Husbandman. Bap. 19 Dec 1818.
  • Emma, daughter of Robert & Mary Barber, husbandman. Bap. 28 Apr 1821.
  • Isaac, son of Robert & Mary Barber, husbandman.  Bap. 14 Jan 1823.
  • Maria, daughter of Robert & Mary Barber, labourer.  Bap. 3 Jun 1827.
  • Charlotte, daughter of Robert & Mary Barber, labourer.  Bap. 25 Nov 1827.
  • George, son of Robert & Mary Barber, labourer.  Bap. 11 Apr 1830.
  • Eliza, daughter of Robert & Marianne Barber, labourer.  Bap. 7 Apr 1833
  • Jacob, son of Robert & Mary Barber, labourer.  Bap. 6 Nov 1836
  • Jacob, son of Robert & Mary Barber, labourer.  Bap. 18 Sep 1843
  • Emily, daughter of Robert & Mary Barber, labourer.  Bap. 18 Sep 1843

Maria is Margaret's ancestor, George is my ancestor.  I am a little confused as to why there might be two Jacob's, perhaps the first died, but I'm not sure.  I did find a later burial of a Jacob Barber age 23, who died after falling from a moving horse pulled wagon.  However, the clumsy genealogist in me didn't record the date!  Note also that the last two baptisms were joint.

I could not locate the marriage of Robert Barber to Mary (Ann).  This was a disappointment.  I did look through the other Saints Villages of South Elmham.  Neither did I find or confirm Robert's birth.  I had previously online found a baptism at Alburgh, Norfolk - a close by parish, just over the river.  however, as Robert claimed that he was born in Suffolk on the 1841 census, I have deleted that link from my tree.  Another case, where I lost more ancestors from the tree, than I gained from this research.  however, the point of genealogy is to improve and refine, based on evidence.

I do believe however, that I have located Robert's death.  I have also eliminated him as the transported Robert Barber of Suffolk.  I found the below burials:

Burials St Michael's, South Elmham

  • Robert Barber, aged 8 days.  Bur. 19 Aug 1840
  • Robert Barber, aged 50 years.  Bur. 22 Feb 1846
  • George Barber, aged 20 weeks of St Peter's.  bur. 30 Dec 1860
  • Eliza Barber, aged 6 days.  Bur. 22 Jun 1862.

The baby Robert, could have been Robert and Mary's.  The fifty year old Robert Barber, does look like my 3xgreat grandfather.  Indeed, it explains where he went between the 1841 and 1851 census.  He was not transported.  Checking Suffolk criminal records at the Record Office, I found that the 1844 sentence of a Robert Barber was over in West Suffolk, at Bury St Edmunds Assize.

I had jumped the gun again - based on the very partial online record.  I keep learning this lesson, but it should also serve as a lesson to genealogists abroad, that rely only on digitalised or transcribed records of English ancestors online.  What you are seeing is a partial record.  There can be so many John Smiths, or even Robert Barbers, in a small area. A visit to the County Archive (Record Office) revealed so many more records of Barbers in the South Elmham area, that cannot be seen online at Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, nor on FamilySearch.org.  Beware!  I see awful, incorrect family trees (not just my own ha ha), whenever I view personal online trees at Ancestry.com.

The Tovell Family of Wrentham, Suffolk

While I was at Lowestoft, I thought that I would take a quick look at another ancestral family of mine, local to this Archive.  The Tovell Family that lived at Wrentham, Suffolk, during the late 18th Century, and fall on to my mother's side of my family tree.  Although members of a local Congregationalist chapel, for some services, they referred to the local parish church.  It was in a transcript of those parish registers, that I found a number of burials of the children of my 4xgreat grandparents Tovell:

Wrentham, Suffolk Burials

  • Thomas Tovell, an infant.  Bur. 29 Jan 1773
  • Elizabeth Tovel, an infant.  Bur. 29.Mar 1778
  • Sarah Tovel, infant.  Bur. 13 Jan 1780
  • Thomas Tovell, an infant.  Bur. 31 Dec 1782.

They went on to have a third son baptised Thomas Tovell in 1785, who was my ancestor.  Sometimes though, the infant mortality of those times can get to you.

Genealogical updates - 3rd Feb 2017

Above photo of Emily Smith (nee Barber) and her son Sid Smith (a First World War veteran) in Norwich, Norfolk.  Emily was born at Hedenham, Norfolk in 1859, and was my late father's maternal grandmother.  In the 1871 census, she was recorded as an 11 year old crow keeper.  Emily went into service in Norwich, where she met my great grandfather Fred Smith, a wheelwright born at Attleborough, Norfolk.

New Gedmatch

I've recently had two genetic matches that actually work out in the form of documentary evidence.  the first came via FT-DNA Family Finder, when I was approached by an Australian genealogist, who it turns out, is the fourth cousin of my mother, via the Thacker line.

Then over the past few days, I spotted a new kit on GEDmatch, that shared 56 cM, with the longest segment at 27 cM.  It is on my father's side, no match to my mother's kit.  My closest ever GEDMATCH.  It's early days, but a quick comparison on our documentary records show a documentary match.  We both descend from a Barber from the hamlet of St Michael, South Elmham, Suffolk.  Gedmatch puts us at four generations apart, but I suspect a few more.  I feel a need to visit St Michael and the Suffolk Record Office to clear this family up.  Only a week ago, I discovered online that my 3xgreat grandfather Robert Barber of St Michael, may have been transported by the Suffolk Assizes to Norfolk Island, and onto Van Diemen's Land (update: See next post - he was not!).

I still had more success with "expanding" my family tree by contacting genealogists back in the old days, by surname interests listed in the annually printed GRD (Genealogical Research Directory), or in monthly genealogical magazines.  However, there is something fascinating about discovering distant relatives by comparing chromosome browsers online.  To think, and to see those shared DNA segments is very cool.  It shows how little bits of personal DNA filter down, often to unknown people in the street, with no idea of relationship.

Thacker News

I received another commissioned certificate from the GRO (General Registry Office UK).  I didn't waste money, it belonged to an ancestor - Susannah Thacker, a 3xgreat grandmother.  She was born at Salhouse, Norfolk in 1823, to an anabaptist family of agricultural labourers.  She had given birth illegitimately to my 2xgreat grandfather George Thacker in 1847.  After that, I had no idea where she went.  Her son George Thacker, was brought up at Rackheath, Norfolk (next to Salhouse) by his grandparents.  He recorded Susannah Thacker in the father entry of his marriage registration.  Until I saw that, I only knew her from census data as Susan Thacker.

I recently searched online for her, I wanted to know where she went.  I only found index references from the GRO.  I ordered.  Now I know that in fact, she left her son George with her parents, but went on to marry a widower, a Samuel Birch, at the Norwich Registry Office in 1855.  They lived in Norwich.  That seems good.

George Thacker with his wife Sarah (nee Daynes) circa 1877.

Genealogy - why?

Anyone that loves a who dunnit, or a crime novel, should love genealogy.  It is all about detective work.  looking for clues and evidence.  Collecting it.  Answering mysteries - even as mundane as "what happened to the Peach's of Maxey" (the father was transported for stealing cattle), or where did my 3xgreat grandmother go?  Awesome stuff.