Following the Ribble River to Gisburn, Lancashire

The trip from the US to the British Isles was to follow the path, backwards of course, that my ancestor Thomas Speake took when he immigrated from England to the US about 1660.  He was born sometime around 1633 or 1634 someplace in the Gisburn area of Lancashire, and died in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on August 6th, 1681.  He married Elizabeth Bowling, who was also a first generation immigrant to the colonies.  Both Thomas and Elizabeth were Catholics, settling in the Catholic-friendly colony of Maryland.

Family researchers had long suspected Lancashire as one of the probable locations for Thomas’s origins based on the fact that this area was known for Catholic recussants and because there were Speaks found in this area.  But nothing had been found in Maryland or English records to firmly tie these two families together…that is…until DNA testing.

Another Speak(e) family would leave Lancashire 200 years after Thomas Speake left for America.  This Speake family would instead sail in the other direction, to New Zealand.  It would be the descendant of this man, in New Zealand, whose DNA would match the descendants of Thomas Speake who went to America, confirming that indeed, this Lancashire family is the Speak family from which the American branch descends.  If this seems like the long way around, literally, it was, but it got the job done!

That information then allowed us to dig further into the records.  Some of the first detailed records we found were for a church in Gisburne, very near the location where our New Zealand cousins family is found, including records where all of his ancestor’s children were baptized.  We were hooked.  We had found our family line, our family church, our family area….and our family.  We wanted to go back, to walk where they had walked, to sit in the church pews that they sat in, to visit the graves of our ancestors and other family members, and to immerse ourselves in the culture and history of where we came from.

Our family journey began in London and took us through Cambridge, Coventry and finally entering the Ribble Valley on our way to our destination, the Stirk House, once owned by a Speak family.

The first morning I woke up at the Stirk House, it seemed surreal as I realized where I was.  It looked surreal too, and reminded me a bit of Middle Earth, land of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings.  I expected to see Gandalf any minute.

Pendle Hill mist

I sat up and looked out the wide picture window, which overlooks Pendle Hill in the distance and the fields that probably look exactly like they did when my 7 times great-grandfather, Thomas Speak was being raised within sight of Pendle Hill between 1634 or so when he was born and about 1660 when he immigrated.

Pendle Hill sheep

These sheep in the field, meaning the white dots, are probably related to his family’s sheep too.  Everyone here has sheep.  Cattle are quite rare.  That’s probably because the locals use a lot of wool because it’s cold and damp here, almost all of the time.  It’s like a rainforest here and rains nearly daily, or at least some part of every day.  It’s so moist that the stone walls grow both moss and ferns.  His stone walls probably looked just the same and he likely would have been sent to repair them as a young man.

Rock wall moss

The farms are stunningly beautiful and for the most part, extremely well maintained, including the rock walls that line the fields as well as the roads.

Rock wall

Maintenance of these walls is taught to every farm child.

Rock wall fern

These ancient walls were probably here when our ancestors were living here.  They may have touched these very stones.  Their ancientness reaches from the past to touch your soul, a silver misty umbilical tether to those who came before…

Rock Wall closeup

This is a typical road, lined on both sides with rock walls and stone buildings, including barns, although their barns are not large like ours, for the most part, and never wood or pole barns.  This wall above is part of the wall to the left below.

Rock walled road

Notice also the hairpin turns.  There was more than once our bus was unable to visit a location because it couldn’t navigate these roads, bridges and very tight turns to get there.

stone barn

Here’s a beautiful old barn, larger than most, with Pendle Hill in the background.

Rock wall gate

Sometimes there are gates in the walls, seemingly in the middle of noplace.

Ribble forest

Surprisingly, some portions of this region are very heavily forested.

Given that we are traveling in the Ribble Valley, it shouldn’t surprise you to discover that indeed, there is a Ribble River that runs the length of Ribble Valley.

The book, “The Common Steam” by Rowland Parker describes in exquisite detail the part that the literal common streams plays in the development, sustenance and nourishment of an area.  I would heartily recommend this book to any history buff or anyone attempting to understand their English history and ancestors.

The Ribble River, indeed, is the common stream in this valley.  All creeks flow into it, and it in turn, sustains the entire valley.  Water is essential for humans and the animals on which they depend, and settlements sprung up along water sources.   Our ancestors were here.

Inn at Whitewell

Lunch, on our first day in the Ribble Valley would be at a lovely local pub, the Inn at Whitewell, owned by the Queen, that sits on the Ribble River.

Ribble River

One of the best parts of this Inn is that we got to overlook the Ribble River.  It ran, here, when our ancestors lived here.  They looked at it as we do today.  They probably drank out of it, washed in it and waded across it.  Pubs here have a very long history as well, and our ancestors may have visited this very pub and looked at this very scene.

Ribble River Pendle Hill

This is both the Pendle Hill and the Ribble River from where I was sitting at lunch.  Pinch me.  I still can’t believe I’m here, seeing what my ancestors saw.

Jim and I fully believe in “adventure eating.”  When traveling, this means trying all of the local dishes, especially anything the local area is known for.  In Lancashire, that would be fish pie and shepherd’s pie.

Now I’m not a big fish fan, but The Inn at Whitewell is famous for its fish pie, so I figured if I liked it anyplace, it would be here.  Let’s just say that if you really like a fishy taste, this is for you.  It included shrimp too, but their shrimp are miniscule.  What we call shrimp in the US are called prawns in England.  The baked cheese and potatoes were wonderful on the top of the fish pie.


I liked the shepherd’s pie better, but how can you go wrong with beef stew and pie crust. This isn’t only English, it’s all American too.  I’m glad I tried both.


I have tried not to make these articles too personal, but I have to share a couple of photos that are really quite special.


My cousin, Dolores and I are chatting outside the Inn at Whitewell.  I “met” Dolores many years ago, back in the 1980s, by letter.  I still have her original letters and copies of documents she so kindly copied and mailed to me.  I was just beginning my genealogy journey and she seemed so very wise and knowledgeable, not to mention kind.  Little did I ever know just how far we, together, would travel, literally.  Dolores brought her grandson along as well, a college student, standing to our right.  He is a lovely young man, very helpful and Jim and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time chatting with him about computers and geeky techy stuff.  I can’t imagine a young man his age who would actively choose to spend his time with his grandmother, but this young man is truly exceptional.  I wish I had a daughter the right age:)  This is the next generation of genealogists we’re raising!

Another family group on our trip included Susan Sills, the President of the Speak(e)(s) Family Association who coordinated most of the trip.  She brought her son and his 2 daughters along.  In fact, we had just celebrated the oldest granddaughter’s birthday during our lunch at the Inn before we took this family photo.  How does a birthday get better than that???

It was wonderful to see the love of history being passed from generation to generation.  Susan’s granddaughters are also lovely young women.  I hope they realize what a gift their grandmother has bestowed upon them, if not today, then someday…even though I do think she bribed them to come along with that trip to Paris afterwards:)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can hardly take a picture without Pendle Hill being in the background.

After lunch, we tried to visit the ruined castle at Clitheroe and through a series of quite humorous events, including the bus being too tall for a bridge, twice, we gave up and went on to St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn, which was our ultimate goal anyway for the day.  Below, you can see one of those hairpin turn types of places we couldn’t navigate.  Our bus driver was incredible and I was utterly amazed at his patience.  I was sitting in the “jump seat” beside him where the tour guide normally sits, due to motion sickness, and I know I heard him swear under his breath.  The poor man had about 10 women trying to “help him,” all at the same time.  But he was a married man so he knew exactly how to handle that.  He ignored everyone…and muttered.

Ribble twisty road

I must say that the Clitheroe folly bore us a gift and that was the gift of going over the mountain, meaning Pendle Hill, because the bus had to find a different way into town.  We got to drive around the countryside and it was picturesque.  Look at this beautiful arched bridge.  I have to wonder if it was originally a Roman Bridge from the Roman occupation beginning in the year 43.  This area did play host to a Roman fort.

Ribble roman bridge

Many places look like they were straight out of Thomas Kincaid pictures.  There are rock and hedge walls along the roads.  It’s raining here, with Pendle Hill in the background.

Pendle rock walls

The villages are comprised of “cottages” as they are called, and in some places, on Pendle Hill, for example, the sheep free range and graze on the moor lands.

Pendle moors sheep

And the flowers.  Oh, the flowers.  Lovely quaint flower gardens are found tucked into the most unlikely places.  With all the rain, the gardens were lush and lovely.  Oh yes, and did I mention that the houses are built perilously close to the road, because the road used to be a cart path hundreds of years ago.  And yes, these houses ARE that old.  What we consider old is rather new to them.

Pendle garden

England is an ancient land and ruins pop up from time to time in the most unlikely places.

Sawley Abbey

We didn’t have time to stop, but these ruins are of Sawley Abbey.  Sawley Abbey was an abbey of Cistercian monks in the current day village of Sawley, Lancashire, but historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Created as a daughter-house of Newminster Abbey, it existed from 1147 until its dissolution in 1536, during the reign of King Henry VIII of all England, Ireland, and France.  If you’ll recall, it was King Henry’s reign that created the religious persecution of Catholics, following his break with the Catholic faith and his installation of himself as the head of the Anglican Church.  He disbanded, dissolved and destroyed the monasteries and abbeys between 1535 and 1541.  Our ancestors would have witnessed this, and probably felt strongly about what was happening.  This abbey suffered that fate, although some pieces of stone and wooden items such as the rood-screen were installed in other regional churches as an attempt to salvage the sacred.

St Mary Gisburn rood screen

This rood-screen, above, being the wooden divider between the chancel and nave, from St. Mary of Gisburn, is not one thought to be from Sawley Abbey, but is from the 16th century.

So, if you think about it, all of these church buildings that you see that existed during or prior to that time were at one time Catholic Churches that became Protestant, likely under duress.  To defy the king was a bad idea, a very bad idea, a lose-your-head bad idea, so many became Protestant and the Catholic recussants went underground, practicing Catholicism in hiding and under threat of death.   Many martyrs were created during this period.

I learned that you can tell which churches were originally Catholic by looking for one particular telltale sign.  In the Catholic faith, sacramental wine must be poured into the earth, directly, so that unsavory people don’t somehow come into possession of it and use it for witchcraft or other “unholy” purposes.  Built into Catholic churches, at least Medieval ones that existed prior to Henry VIII’s “conversion” to Protestantism, is an orifice similar to a bowl built into the wall for exactly this purpose called a piscina.  If you look closely, you can see the drain hole, which leads down the wall directly into the earth.  This is typically located someplace towards the front of the church where the Priest would dispose of the leftover Sacramental wine.

St Mary Gisburn piscina

This piscina is from St. Mary’s of Gisburn.

Another hint that a church was once Catholic is the Holy Water Stoup, which may look something like a piscina except without the drain.  The stoup is used by the congregation to cross themselves with water as they enter the church, so is therefore generally found in the front near the door, or what was the door at that time.

Gisburn street scene

As we arrived in the crossroads village of Gisburn, the excitement was mounting.  Gisburn was one of the villages where our Speak family was known to have lived, on the surrounding farms.

Gisburn was mentioned in the Domesday book, created in 1086 as England’s first census, in essence, for taxation purposes.  The manor of “Ghisebum” was part of the Percy fee.  It was passed to the Abbot of Salley (Sawley) in 1224 and disposed of by the King during the monasterial dissolution.  In 1613, Gisburn passed to the Lister family.  In 1797, upon threat of invasion by Napoleon, Thomas Lister raised a troop of cavalry and for his patriotism, he was named Baron Ribblesdale of Gisburne Park.

St. Mary the Virgin church, called St. Mary’s of Gisburn, did not exist yet when the Domesday book was created, but was dedicated in 1135.  It has been expanded and revamped over the years.  Most of these small medieval churches still don’t have either running water or restroom facilities today.

St. Mary’s serviced all of the nearby farms.  The village itself isn’t nearly as old as the church, dating from the 17th century.  Located on the main road connecting Lancashire and Yorkshire, trade, and a stage coach stop, was what fueled the village of Gisburn.

St Mary Gisburn arrival

Our first glimpse of St. Mary’s Church, where many Speaks were baptized, married and buried, beginning in the earliest records in the 1600s, was from the rear, across the gravestones of her departed members.

St Mary Gisburn churchyard

At St. Mary’s Church in Gisburn, sadly, no one was available to meet us, but they did leave the church unlocked.  We spent time in the church and the churchyard, but found only 3 stones from the Speaks family.

Their burial records begin in the early 1600s, and it’s obvious from translating those records that they served a number of other locations, villages and farms, in the area.  We find the earliest Speak burials beginning with Anna, daughter of William, in 1602.  Not all burials give the location of the deceased, but those who do are all Gisburne through 1653 when a series of other locations is given.  Of course, these locations may not be new, they may simply have been among those without a location given earlier.

Locations include:  Gisburne, Howgill, Rimington, Paythorn, Twiston, Miley, Horton, Varleyfield, Pasture House, Waitley, Todber, Watthouse, Yarside Bracewell, Martintop and Newby.  This list takes us through 1828, when the Speak burials cease until in the mid 1900s.  The records may not be complete.

On the map below, you can see that all of these locations that have corresponding locations today are within 2 or 3 miles of Gisburn(e).  Those locations that do not exist on the map today may well have been farm or manor names that disappeared instead of becoming hamlets.  The location just below Gisburn with no name is Todber.  A caravan park is located there today, but otherwise, it has disappeared.

Gisburn area map cropped

The cemetery is very old, as old as the church, and there are many unmarked graves as you can see on the map, below.

St Mary Gisburn cemetery cropped

Notice the fence or boundary wall in this diagram.  We’ll talk about it in a minute.  It’s not what you think.

Fifty-one Speak burials exist in the records, and most of them are quite early.  Many family units are evident, although there is a pronounced repetition of names.  In particular we find the following:

  • Alice – 4
  • Ann/Anna – 5
  • Chrus – 1
  • Elizabeth – 2
  • Ellen – 1
  • George – 1
  • Harry – 2
  • Jacobus – 1
  • James – 5
  • Johes – 1
  • John – 2
  • Judith – 1
  • Margaret – 2
  • Maria/Mary – 3
  • Richard/Ricus/Richus – 4
  • Robtus – 1
  • Stepheus – 2
  • Thomas – 4
  • Wilmus – 2
  • Women designated as “wife of” with no first name given – 4

A bit of English history may be somewhat enlightening.  This group of Speaks does not appear to be landowning.  In other words, they were not royalty, were not wealthy, did not have coats of arms, etc.  In medieval England, if you were not a land owner, then you were a tenant farmer, either free or bond.  Bond did not mean slavery, but it did mean you had little freedom to leave.  However, the freedmen had little opportunity to leave either, required the manor owner’s permission, and there was no place within the British Isles to go anyway that wasn’t already populated.

St Mary Gisburn porch

We were excited to enter this hallowed church of our ancestors.  I love the door. The porch is a 15th century addition with a beautiful cross that protects a 13th century door build on a 10th century foundation.

Notice the defensive arrow slits build into the tower so that our ancestor could barricade themselves into the church and defend their position if need be.

St Mary Gisburn baptismal

All of the children of the ancestor of our New Zealand cousin were baptized here, not in this exact baptismal font from 1875, but probably one similar and in this location in the church, so we know the family didn’t live far.

St Mary Gisburn tombstone wall

Cemeteries and burials are handled very differently in Europe than they are in the US.  At first, this was rather appalling to me, but I came to understand that it is simply a cultural difference, although there is a part of me still very uncomfortable with the situation.  They reuse graves.  They may move stones as well.  Some churches simply remove old stones, and in doing so, they make maintenance easier, or reuse the burial plot, but they also lose all track of who was buried in that location.  In the photo above, the old stones have been relocated to the wall along the road to make mowing easier.  If you look carefully, you can also see that reflected on the cemetery map.

St Mary Gisburn stained glass

The relative wealth of a church and its parishioners can be judged by the number and quality of stained glass windows in the church.  Each window has a story, both in terms of what the window is displaying and in terms of the history of the window itself.  Keep in mind that until recent generations, most people could not read so the stories told in the church windows served to remind the parishioners of Bible stories and morals.

St Mary Gisburn arches

It’s believed that some of the stone in this church, particularly the supportive gables, archway and columns were rescued from Sawley Abbey, just 4 miles away, when it was destroyed.  The church was expanded about this time.

St Mary Gisburn carved arch

This beautiful carved arch is believed to have been rescued from Sawley Abbey.

St Mary Gisburn ceiling

The original roof structure still remains.  It looks similar in many Norman era churches.

St Mary Gisburn removed stones

After the others left, I remained in the churchyard and discovered why it is that none of the oldest stones are in evidence that might correspond to the earliest burials.  There are two stacks of stones behind the church that appear to be unreadable.  These grave locations have probably been reused for a new burials.  Burial space is very scant after hundreds of years, not just here, but all over Europe.  The “normal” time for a grave to exist before it is reused in Europe is about 20 years now, except in some of these small villages and towns where many of the older graves do still exist.  We know from the church history that the lawn, behind where I’m standing, below, and the church, is where the stones that now line the wall were originally located.

St Mary Gisburn front

St. Mary’s of Gisburn is a truly beautiful old church and so full of our family history.  We know that our relatives, and probably our ancestors, rest in this dirt and worshiped in this church, first as Catholics and then, at least some, as Protestants.

St Mary Gisburn street

We have no record that our Thomas was baptized here.  But he had to have known of this church, passed it, and was probably in this church from time to time.  He was assuredly baptized in one of these local churches unless he wasn’t baptized in the Anglican church at all, which is certainly possible, considering the family’s Catholic beliefs.

Our Thomas is had a rather unique profession, that of a tailor, as he stated in his first few years in Maryland.  John David Speak checked the 776 Speak family records he has collected from the parishes surrounding this area and he found only three records that indicated Speaks men were tailors, and all three were from Gisburn where in 1613, Ann the daughter of William, a tailor was baptized, in 1647, Sicilia the daughter of Richard, tailor, was baptized, and in 1662, Thomas, a tailor, was buried.

The only other Thomas record found is at Downham, just 4 miles distant, where, indeed, a Thomas Speak was baptized in 1634.  Fortunately, Thomas is a very unusual name in the Speak family.  Unfortunately, there is also a marriage record for a Thomas in 1656, and his wife is buried in 1667, several years after our Thomas is known to have been in Maryland and having children.

Other church records from this area were lost in the English Civil War and record keeping was officially suspended altogether for an 11 year period between 1649-1660 when Cromwell was on the throne, although some records do still exist.  They are however, not consistent.

One record from this area that does exist and functioned as a type of census was the Hearth Tax Return, taxing people on the number of fireplaces they had in their home.  It’s also significant because tenants rather than landlords paid the tax on their property, so in essence, we obtain the name of every householder.

The Gisburn tax list is dated 1672 and the Blackburn Hundred for Downham and Whalley is noted as 1666-1671.  Both of these dates are after our Thomas was in Maryland, but still, it will tell us where Speak families were located in this region.  Thomas of Downham, who married in 1656 and whose wife and daughter were buried in 1667 should be accounted for, but he is not listed.  Nor is his household under his wife’s name.  So where was Thomas Speake and his family?

There were three Speak households in Twiston, which is where Thomas who was baptized in Downham lived, according to the Downham church records, two households in Gisburn (Rimmington), one in Stansfield near Halifax and two in the Newchurch area near Pendle. Of the 6 entries in Gisburn, Twiston and Stansfield, 5 are named John, as was the son of our Thomas Speak.  It’s probably safe to say that either Thomas’s father or grandfather was named John.

Some of the group went back to the Stirk House to rest a bit, but Jim and I stayed in the village and walked around.  We found a corner deli and small convenience store and sampled local fare.

Gisburn cobblestones

Everything is not paved, meaning pretty much everything except the actual road was still cobblestones, probably the same cobblestones that were there when our ancestors trod these same paths.

Gisburn deli

The little deli had black current sorbet and local cheeses and such.  Of course, we had to purchase some, and a currant scone as well.  What fun we had.


Tea, in England, is served in real china teacups.  Period.  Here are their teacups to choose from, stacked like souvenir coffee mugs in my cabinet at home.  If you tell them you want your tea “take away,” they look at you like you have lost your mind.  Tea, is to be savored and enjoyed while relaxing, not taken away!  What’s wrong with you Americans anyway???

Gisburn driveway under house

Real estate is at a premium in the British Isles.  We saw several instances of this type of architecture.  If don’t have enough space to go around your house, just go through it.

Gisburn driveway under house 2

It appear from historical records that Gisburn may not always have been as tranquil as it is today.  Thomas Lister, buried in the churchyard is the son of Martin Lister, supposedly killed by one of the Pendle Witches.

In the 1400s, pigs roamed free through town and created so much manure that manure heaps had to be removed prior to the annual market.

In 1401, a Vicar of Skipton, traveling the 4 miles between Sawley and Gisburn was murdered.

In 1425, the church rector was sent orders to “reconcile the churchyard after the shedding of blood.”

In 1648, Oliver Cromwell stayed in the village with his troops who stabled their horses in the church.  The villagers complained that they broke the stained glass.  Probably the soldiers, not the horses.

We walked back to the restaurant where the group was meeting and sat and talked with our cousins.  Jim and one cousin decided to start a beer drinking/photography club and think they should write a book called, Eat, Pray, Beer.  They are convinced it will be a bestseller.  They may be right.  I started them off by taking their first pictures.

Eat Pray Beer

Jim and I had tried to have a drink in the local pub, the White Bull, but it was closed until 5PM.

Gisburn White Bull

So instead we all had dinner in an Italian restaurant in the English village of Gisburn with the slowest service possible.

One of the great things about visiting locally is that we met other Speak family members, including three male Speak men, Gary, Stan and David, who are certain that they are not related to each other.  David, based on his genealogy, we know is a cousin of our New Zealand cousin, Doug, who matches the American line.  In fact, it’s HIS fault that we are all here – because our New Zealand cousin knew who his oldest ancestor was – John Speak – the man whose children were baptized in St. Mary’s of Gisburn.

Gary indicated that he was told that his line is not related to ours.  By this time, in the 1900s, the different Speaks families were on the other side of Pendle Hill, not terribly close to each other and in different communities.  The known ancestral villages of the three different Speaks lines are shown on the map below.  Pendle Hill is the high area in the middle.  The two most distant points, Gisburn and Bolton are about 25 miles as the crow flies, or about 30 miles driving, and Bolton is a more recent location.

Lancashire men map cropped

So indeed, we are all quite interested in the outcome of the Y DNA testing.  All three men swabbed, so before long, we will all know.

So what do you think?  Will three Speak men who believe they are unrelated, but with the same unusual surname, whose ancestors have lived in a remote country region of Lancashire “from time out of mind” share a common paternal ancestor based on Y DNA testing?

I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit to the village of Gisburn.  We surely did!

Tomorrow, we go to Downham where we think our Thomas Speake may have been baptized.  Every day in England gets better!!!

Big Y Release

Drum roll…the big day is finally here.

Family Tree DNA held a webinar meeting today to explain the new Big Y product features for a number of us who blog or otherwise educate within the genetic genealogy community.

First, the results will begin rolling today, not tomorrow.  100 will initially be released today and the balance of the initial orders will be released as they finish QA over the next month, at which point, Family Tree DNA anticipates their backlog will be resolved.  There were thousands of tests ordered.  They aren’t saying how many thousands.

First, a little background.  There are 36,562 known Y SNPs in the Family Tree DNA data base that everyone is being compared to.  In the example we saw of the delivered product, 25,749 has been found and callable at a high confidence rate in the individual being tested and were reported.  Low confidence calls are not reported on this personal delivery page, but are included in the data download files.

Big Y landing

On the customer’s personal page, there are two tabs.  The first Tab is for reporting against known SNPs.

Y page 1 cropped

The second is for Novel Variations, in other words, SNPs not on the list of 36,562 known and previously named SNPs.

Y page 2

In essence, Family Tree DNA has implemented a 4 step process.

  1. An individual’s sequenced data is compared to the SNP data base and divided into two categories, known and previously unknown.  The customer’s data is delivered based on these two categories.
  2. All customer data is being loaded into a mammoth size data base at which point it will be determined which SNPs (please see the definition of a SNP here) are actually undiscovered SNPs that will be named, and which are truly novel, family or clan variants.
  3. New SNPs that are found in enough of the population will be named and will be added to the haplotree.
  4. Novel variants will remain that, and will continue to be reported on client pages.

Family Tree DNA is still working on items 2-4.  In addition, they are working on a white paper which will be out in the next 6 weeks or so that will discuss things like the average number of novel SNPs per person being discovered, mutation rates, performance metrics and cross validation of platforms between the next gen sequencing Illumina equipment, Sanger sequencing and chip based sequencing, like the Geno 2.0 chip.

What’s Being Reported?

According to Dr. David Mittelman, the Y chromosome has about 60 million letters.  About half of those are inverted repeats and are therefore not sequenceable.

Of the balance, there are several with poor readability, for example, some that simulate the X, etc.  These are also not useful or reliable to read.

That leaves about 10 million, these being the gold standard of Y sequencing.  Family Tree DNA tries to read about 13.5 million of these base pairs.  They promised 10 million positions when they announced this product.  They are delivering between 11.5 and 12.5 million positions per person.  They also promised about 25,000 common variants, meaning known SNPs and they are delivering between 25,000 and 30,000 per person.  This is only counting medium to high confidence calls.  The low confidence calls are included in the download files, but not counted in this total or shown on your personal page.

Exactly how many locations are reported for any individual are shown on the bottom left hand side of the page.  This example is generic.  Yours might say something like, “Showing 1 of 10 of 25,000 of 36,564.”  In this case, 25,000 would be the number of SNPs read and called on your test.

Big Y total

All 25,000 or so results are being shown, both positive and negative.  That way, there is no question about whether a specific location was tested, or the outcome.  Of course, the third and fourth outcome options are a no-call or poor confidence call at that location.

All novel mutations are being reported by reference number so that they can be compared to like data from any source, as opposed to an “in-house” assigned number.

Insertions and deletions are also in the download files, but not reported on the customer’s delivery page.

Personal data is also searchable by SNP.

SNP search

Individual SNP Testing

After steps 2 and 3 have occurred, it has to be determined which SNPs are found in a high enough percentage of a population to warrant primer development to test individual SNP positions.

Family Tree DNA also clarified something from the November conference.  The 2000 SNP limit is only how many SNPs can be loaded at one time, not the total number they will ever develop primers for or test for.  They will do what makes sense in terms of the SNP being present in enough of the market to warrant primer development.  With the very large number of Novel SNPs being discovered, it wouldn’t make much sense to purchase 50 individual SNP tests at $39 each.  The break even point today, at $39, would be 17 individual SNPs, as compared to the $695 Big Y test.  I expect that eventually the demand for individual SNP testing will decrease substantially.

Downloadable Files

Available on everyone’s page is the ability to download 2 files, a VCF (variant call file) which lists the variants identified as compared to the human reference sequence and the BED file which is a text file which shows a range of positions that passed the QC.

They will also be making available the BAM raw data files within the next week or so, but are finalizing the delivery methodology due to the very large file sizes involved.

The Much Anticipated HaploTree

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked when the new tree would be available, I’d be a rich woman.  As we all know, there have been a couple of problems with the tree.  The new tree is 7 to 8 times the size of the 2010 tree.  The tree, of course, has been cast in warm jello, an ever-moving target.  And with the SNP tsumani that has been arriving with the full sequencing of the Y chromosome, that tree will very shortly be much larger still.

Bennett Greenspan said today that an updated tree is, “Needed, desired and will be delivered.”  He went on to say that they have had two teams working together with Nat Geo for the past couple of months to both finalize the tree itself and to work on the customer interface.  Since the tree is much larger, it’s not as easy as the older trees which could be seen at a glance and easily navigated.  Furthermore, there is also the matter of integration with National Geographic.

Bennett says an updated tree will be delivered “within the next several weeks.”

New SNPs that are discerned to be SNPs and not novel/clan or family variations will then be named and added to the tree.


The initial release of Big Y data will be just that, a release of the results of the data, displayable on your personal page and downloadable.  The newly found SNPs will not initially update the current haplotree on your personal page.  This is the same issue we have today with the transfer and integration of Nat Geo data, because the tree is not current, so this is nothing new.  The implementation of the new tree however, will remedy both problems.

The Future

Never happy with what we have, genetic genealogists will want a way to match to other people on SNPs, just like we do today with STR markers.  In fact, we’ll want a way to integrate that matching and discern what it means to our own private family or clan situations.

Family Tree DNA is aware of that, planning for it, and welcomes feedback for how they can make this information even more useful in the future than it is today.

New Orders

I expect this delivery of new information via Big Y results will indeed spur a new interest in ordering this test from people who were waiting to see exactly what was being delivered.  For those people ordering now, they can expect an 8-10 week turnaround, so long as additional vials aren’t required for testing.

For More Information

Elise Friedman is holding the free Big Y Webinar tomorrow, Friday, February 28th.  You can read about it, sign up and learn how to access this and other webinars after their initial showing at this link.

Family Tree DNA FAQ pages you’ll want to visit are here and here.

Free Big Y Webinar

Big YOn Friday, February 28th, Family Tree DNA is sponsoring a free webinar to compliment their new Big Y product release.  The webinar announcement and registration as provided by Family Tree DNA.

Elise Friedman has kindly agreed to do an introduction webinar on BIG Y results this Friday. Here are the details.

FTDNA Product Launch Webinar: Getting to Know BIG Y Results

Presenter: Elise Friedman
Time: Fri, Feb 28, 2014 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM CST

On Friday, February 28, 2014, Family Tree DNA will release the first set of Big Y results! This webinar will provide an overview of the Big Y product, as well as demonstrate and explain the Big Y results page in myFTDNA. The webinar will be recorded, so if you cannot attend live, you’ll be able to view the recording instead. Recordings are typically available within 24 hours of the live presentation.

You may always see a list of scheduled webinars on the Family Tree DNA webinar page.


Big Y Results to be Released February 28th

Big YY DNA Project administrators received the following announcement from Family Tree DNA today.

Three more days…..

Clannishness, Clans and Locating Ancestral Origins?

UN Flags

JayMan in Jayman’s Blog which focuses on Human BioDiversity (HBD) has recently been writing a series about clans, clannishness and where the people in these groups came from.  His focus has really been on differences between groups of people, but it occurs to me that this information can also be used in reverse.  For example, if your ancestors are found in a particular location, you can use these tools to perhaps gain some insight into their origins, or at least where you might want to first look, and why.

Let me also say that exceptions are always possibilities.  For example, my line of Estes family came from Deal in Kent and settled in Virginia.  But one of my Abraham Estes’s cousins did settle in New England.  So take a look and enjoy.

Ranking of the Clannishness of the Founding Fathers

Maps of the American Nations

There’s a Facebook Group for Surname Distribution Mapping as well you might want to follow.

Elizabeth Ann Speaks (1832-1907) and the Path from Tennessee to Gisburn, England – 52 Ancestors #8

Elizabeth “Bettie” Ann Speaks was born in 1832 in Indiana or Virginia, per the census, although her parents were from Lee County, Virginia.  She died in 1907 in Hancock County, Tennessee.  I never spoke with anyone who actually knew her, but I spoke with people who knew of her.

My grandparents would have known her for between 20 and 30 years, but I didn’t know them.

She married Samuel Claxton, also spelled variantly Clarkson and Clarkston, according to Samuel’s Civil War records,  on August 22, 1850, at the home of Tandy Welch.  Her grandfather, the Reverend Nicholas Speak performed the ceremony.  In the 1850 census, which was taken on December 13th, they are living beside the rest of the Claxton clan in Hancock County, Tennessee, where she would live the rest of her life.  There is no baby yet, but my great-grandmother Margaret Claxton was on the way, being born on July 25, 1851.

We don’t really know much about Elizabeth, who, according to family, was called Bettie.  Family records show her middle name as Ann, but the Civil War pension application consistently shows her middle initial as L.  She apparently did know how to sign her name, as she signed the application for a Civil War pension in 1878.

Elizabeth signaure

The first record, other than the census, is a note in the Rob Camp Church records where Elizabeth Clarkson is “received by experience” on Monday, August 25th, 1858, meaning that she did not transfer from another church, but was “saved” and probably baptized.

In 1860, she was listed with the occupation of “scowering” and had 5 children.  Her birth state is listed in 1860 as Indiana, but is listed as Virginia in other census records.

Her husband, Samuel would cross into Kentucky to join the Union troops in May of 1863 and served during the Civil War in the Tennessee Cavalry Company F, contracting tuberculosis which would kill him nearly a decade later.  He was discharged in May 1865, ill, from the hospital.

This photo of Elizabeth was taken sometime during or after the Civil War and before her husband passed away in 1876, so between 1863 or so and 1875.  That’s Samuel in the photo with her, wearing his uniform.

I must admit, the first thing I noticed about her was her “distinctive nose” as one of my cousins phrased it, and I am every so grateful that I did not inherit that from her.  Genetics was my friend.

Samuel Claxton Elizabeth Speaks

On the second Saturday of April 1869 Rob Camp Baptist Church released the following members from their fellowship:

E..H. Clarkson
Mary Clarkson
William Mannon
Elizabeth Mannon
Mary Muncy
Clarissa Hill
Sarah Shefley
Farwix Clarkson
Agnes Clarkson
Nancy Furry
Elizabeth Clarkson
Margaret Clarkson
William Bolton
James Bolton
John Grimes
Catherine Grimes
Joseph Bolton

These members were released for the purpose of constituting Mount Zion Baptist Church.  On the third Saturday of May 1869 these brothers and sisters met, along with representatives from Cave Springs, Big Spring Union and Chadwell Station to officially constitute a church.  That church, albeit three buildings later, still stands in the same location on land donated by William Mannon, noted above.

Elizabeth Speaks Clarkson is among the members listed, as are her in-laws, Fairwick and Agnes Muncy Clarkson.  Her daughter, Margaret Clarkson, also listed would marry Joseph Bolton, Jr., in 1873.  We don’t know if Joseph Bolton listed above is Jr. or Sr., but I suspect Sr. since Jr. would have only been 16 at that time.  Margaret was 2 years older than Joseph Bolton Jr.

Interestingly, Elizabeth’s husband, Samuel’s name is absent.  However, that is explained by a note in the church records dated Sept. 2, Saturday, 1868 wherein the following is found:

“Excluded Samuel Clarkson for getting drunk and not being willing to make any acknowledgements whatever.”  The same day, “Elected brother Joseph Bolton to the office of Deacon.”

The churches of that time were rather strict, serving as a combination of religious institution, the only social outlet in the area and moral prosecutor.  The church rules as set forth in their covenants included the following gems:

  1. Every male member wishing to speak shall rise from his seat and address the moderator and then speak strictly adhering to the subject matter under consideration.
  2. No member may speak more than 3 times on one subject without liberty obtained from the church.
  3. No member shall have liberty of laughing or whispering in times of public worship.
  4. No member of this church is permitted to address another member in any other appellation other than brother.
  5. No member is permitted to abruptly absent himself in time of business without leave of the moderator
  6. Members shall not neglect attending meetings and shall not remove out of the bounds of the church without applying for a letter of dismissal.

Judging from the disciplinary actions taken against members in the church notes, you also could not play marbles, swear, get drunk, talk badly about or have a dispute with another church member, attend another church, and certainly not one of a different faith, dance, tell a falsehood or commit adultery.  One man had charges brought for “betting and shooting,” although I don’t know if that was one thing or two.  Some of the disciplinary actions read like a soap opera and ran for months in the notes.  The church committed impartial people to help resolve issues between church members, but often, the resolution was that both people either left the church or were dismissed.   Church business was high drama and the soap opera of the day.  Notes often read like court proceedings where offenders were “found guilty” and disciplined.  Fortunately for members, the worse they could do was throw you out of the church.  If you acknowledged your sins, confessed publicly, and promised to try to do better and live a better life, you could be “reinstated to full fellowship.”

In the 1870 census, Elizabeth Speaks and Samuel Claxton have 8 children and are living beside his parents, Fairwick and Agnes Muncy Claxton.

In 1876, Samuel dies officially of pneumonia, but probably of tuberculosis contracted during his Civil War service.

On Oct. 18, 1878, Elizabeth applied for a widow’s pension for her husband’s Civil War service.  In1880, she is noted as a widow with 1 child.

In the 1880 census, Elizabeth is a widow and has 100 acres of land worth $250.

On March 13, 1881, Calvin Wolfe and Rebecca, his wife, deeded to Elizabeth Clarkson land on the North side of the Powell River adjacent Henry Yeary’s gate and Roda Shiplet’s line, Nancy Snavely’ line and the main road.  The acreage isn’t given.  Rebecca Claxton Wolfe was the sister of Elizabeth’s deceased husband, Samuel Claxton.

A few months later, Elizabeth then sells what appears to be the same tract of land of 27.25 acres “laying on the north side of the road leading from Tazewell to Jonesville” to several members of the Overton family, who do not appear to be related.  Elizabeth signs the deed, so she can write her name.

On Sept. 4, 1894, Elizabeth Clarkson petitions the Mount Zion Church for a letter of dismissal.  This typically means the person is moving or wants to join another church and the letter states they have been a member in good standing.

The only other photo we have of Elizabeth is one taken about 1896 with her family.  She is in the dark dress, center, front middle.

Elizabeth Speaks 1896

In the 1900 census, she tells us that she gave birth to 12 children and 9 were living.

  • Margaret N. 1851-1920 married Joseph Bolton
  • Cyrena “Rena” M. 1852-1887
  • Surrilda Jane 1858-1920 married William (Luke?) Monday
  • Clementine 1853-after 1877
  • Sarah Ann 1857-1860/1870
  • Cynthia “Catherine” 1860-1901 married William Muncy
  • John 1861-1899/1900
  • Matilda 1867-1944 never married
  • Henry Clint 1869-1937 married Amanda Jane Estep
  • Mary W. 1872 – after1900 married Martin Parks
  • Jerushia Claxton 1874-1925 married Thomas Monroe Robinson
  • Elizabeth 1876-1877/1878

The family lived along the Powell River in Hancock County, Tennessee where the Clarkson Cemetery, now known as the Cavin Cemetery, is located at the intersection of River Road and Owen Ridge Road.  Elizabeth’s stone is shown below.

Elizabeth Clarkson Stone

You can see this cemetery from River Road.

Clarkson cemetery

This is the guard bull, assuring that overly curious genealogists do not escape from the cemetery, at least not until he says so.

Clarkson bull

Elizabeth’s parents, Charles Speak (1804-1840/50) and Ann McKee (1801/1805-1840/1850) had married in 1823 in Washington County, Virginia, and made their home in Lee County, where Charles’ father, Nicholas Speak was the founding minister of Speaks Methodist Church in about 1820.  Charles mother was Sarah Faires (1786-1862).

The Speakes line in Lee County wasn’t difficult to trace but tracking back from there was more challenging.  We would discover that records became more fragmentary as we moved back in time, and that the ancestors tended to move geographically.  Figuring out where they moved from and to was often nigh on impossible.  It’s not like they left a forwarding address and you have to know where to look to find the records to connect the dots, if those records exist at all.

Over the period of almost 25 years, we managed to track the Speaks line backwards in time – Nicholas Speak (1782-1852) to his father, Charles Beckwith Speake (1741-1793/4) who married Anne (1744-1789), surname unknown.  Charles was the son of Thomas Speake (1698-1755) and Jane (b 1714) and his father was Bowling Speake (1674-1755) who married Mary Benson.  Bowling’s father was Thomas Speake, the immigrant, born about 1633/34 and who died August 6, 1681.  He married Elizabeth Bowling who was born about 1648 and died sometime after her husband and before 1692.

Without the Speak(e)(s) Family Association (SFA) and years of contributed research by others, I would never have been able to find these connections.  My situation wasn’t dissimilar to that of many others.  There were holes in the various genealogy proofs.  We needed to be sure that our Speaks lines really were all one and the same.

The Holy Grail.  “That after which one seeks.”  Of course, everyone approaches DNA testing with their own personal set of goals, their own Holy Grail, but the most universal is to find out where they are from.  Especially people in the Americas, New Zealand and Australia – we are countries of immigrants – mostly from Europe, some from Africa.

Many times during and after the crossing to the new land, the connection to the old country was lost – certainly the challenges of a the new world, a new life, in essence starting new or again – took up every minute of every day.  The old world, while certainly a memory, was not something they talked about daily.  By the time a generation or two had passed, information dimmed, and if we are lucky, we might have an oral history of the country they came from.  Another generation or two and there is nothing left.

If your ancestor immigrated in 1650, there have been approximately 14 generations since the person who immigrated.  That’s a lot of people to pass on an oral tradition – and most of the time it didn’t happen.  Some people are fortunate.  For example, if your surname is something like Campbell, well, you pretty much know you’re Scotch-Irish or Scottish and there isn’t much doubt about where you came from.  But other people aren’t so lucky.  Furthermore, even if you do know which country your ancestor came from, that’s not quite the same as knowing the village where they lived, or the castle if you are landed gentry or royalty.

I approached the SFA about what was then a new technology, DNA testing, and the Speakes DNA project was begun in 2004.  We have since identified several different genetic Speakes lines.  Originally it was a Y DNA project, but today we work with autosomal DNA as well and encourage everyone who descends from a Speak(e)(s)(es)  and has taken the Family Finder Autosomal test at Family Tree DNA to join the project.

Initially, we wanted to learn more about our Thomas Speakes of Maryland.  We knew he was Catholic, was in Maryland by 1660 or so, and married Elizabeth Bowling shortly thereafter, before November 1663 when she was subpoenaed by the Speake surname.  But we didn’t know where he was from, where he married Elizabeth, when he was born, or much else.

Earlier research had shown that Lancashire, in England, was “a nursery of recusants.”  In other words, a hotbed of Catholics who refused to give up their Catholic faith, accept and become members of the Anglican Church.  The biggest difference between the two is that the Pope is the head of the Catholic church and the King is the head of the Anglican church.  To many Catholics, that was a rather important detail.  Most people simply complied, but in Lancashire, many didn’t, including the landed gentry.  They protected their Catholic peasants who worked their lands.

There was also a baptismal record for a Thomas Speake in 1634, about the right time, but then there was also a later death record for Thomas’s wife and daughter.  Of course, we have no way of knowing if this was the same Thomas.  There are many missing records during this time, as you might imagine.  Not only did the English Civil War take place, but also Catholics had their children baptized in secret by priests.  They were only baptized in the Anglican Church when there was no other choice.  Same situation for marriages and deaths as well. When Cromwell was on the throne, there was an 11-year period where many of the records are missing entirely in Lancashire.  Suffice it to say, the records were not only incomplete, the ones that did exist were frustratingly inconclusive.  We, as a family association, had come to believe we might never know any more about our Thomas Speake that we already did.  The association allocated some funds for testing and several Speak(e)(s) men at the convention that year swabbed.  I just happened to have several test kits available.  Imagine that coincidence:)

Between 2004 and 2010, several Speak(e)(s) males tested and we confirmed the DNA of Thomas of Maryland as well as that of both of his sons, John and Bowling.

Speaks chart

You might notice on the chart above, that not all of the “sons” are yellow, the color of John, Bowling and Thomas.  In fact, Capt. Francis and William are blue and red, and John E. is both green and yellow striped.  This means that the descendants who tested in these lines do not match.  Whether that is actually because Francis, for example, really was not the son of Richard, or whether an undocumented adoption has occurred some place in the line or the genealogy is incorrect has yet to be determined.  In order to further define those lines, we need additional men from those lines to test.

Speaks chart 2

John, on the other hand was schizophrenically colored with yellow and green stripes because his two sons lines DNA did not match.  However, we know that the Thomas line is yellow because people from various sons lines all matches the yellow DNA results.

The Charles Beckwith to Nicholas Speaks line is the yellow line to the far right, above.

At this point, we had established the baseline DNA results for Thomas the Immigrant’s line, but we still had no idea where the family originated in England.

But then came Doug Speak from New Zealand.  Ironically, Doug was recruited by one John David Speake, a gentleman who lives in Cambridge, England and whose DNA is shown not to match the DNA of the Thomas Speak of Maryland line.  This was profoundly disappointing to us because we had felt a kinship with John for many years during our joint Speake research.  John David had much better access to English records than we did or do, and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

New Zealand is newer country than the US.  Doug’s ancestors had only immigrated to new Zealand in the 1800s, and he knew where they were from in England.  While this was interesting initially, it became vitally important when we learned that his DNA matches the Thomas Speake family line.

This, in genetic genealogy terms, is the Holy Grail.  Now if you discover your match is from London or a large city, that’s not the Holy Grail.  Before the industrial revolution, places like London were merchant cities, not to mention the center of government.  People migrated to cities.

However, if you discover that your surname match came from a small village in an out-of-the-way place – that indeed, is the equivalent of the genetic genealogy Holy Grail.

Gisburn Map

If you look at a map, you can see that Gisburn is about 2 blocks long, has a church, one pub, a deli and one restaurant.  Well, of course, it has a few houses too, but it’s truly a small crossroads village.

Gisburn street

In this church, St. Mary’s, Doug’s ancestors’ were baptized.

St Mary's Gisburn

The Y DNA tells us that we share an ancestor with Doug, but it just doesn’t tell us who, or when.  But no one immigrated TO Gisburn, unless it was from the village up the road, so we know this too is our ancestral land.

The Thomas Speak that immigrated in 1660 may have been baptized in Downham, another village church about 4 miles distant from Gisburn, so this makes sense.  Churches were established where people could easily attend – and attendance meant walking.

In 2011, I announced at the Speakes Family Association convention that we had unlocked the secret of the area where our Speake family was from, I showed a slide of St. Mary’s Church, with their many Speake family records of baptisms, marriages and burials – and said as a throw away comment that I wanted to stand there.  Little could I ever have imagined that indeed, two years later, I would be standing in that very churchyard.

It’s a long way from Hancock County, Tennessee, on the Powell River to Gisburn, Lancashire, England – 6 generations and more than 4000 miles.  Wouldn’t Elizabeth Speaks Claxton be amazed!

So what are we waiting for?  Let’s go see what we found!!!

Join me soon for the article, “Following the Ribble River to Gisburn.”