Native American Haplogroup X2a – Solutrean, Hebrew or Beringian?

I was very pleased to see the article, “Does Mitochondrial Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas? A Critical Re-Evaluation” by Jennifer Raff and Deborah Bolnick.

This is one of those topics that gets brought up over and over again and is often presented in the form of an urban legend with some level of bias based up on the agenda, exuberance or opinion of the person who is presenting the evidence. In other words, it makes for good click-bait.

Personally, I don’t have a horse in this race. I care about the truth, whatever it is, being discovered and unraveled.  I think the authors of this paper have done a good job of presenting the evidence in both directions then drawing conclusions based on scientific data as we know it.  There has been new evidence emerge in the recent past and there is likely to be more in the future which, depending on the evidence, could cause a re-evaluation of this topic.

Why has haplogroup X2 been so contentious and controversial when the other Native American haplogroups have not?

There are two primary reasons:

  1. There is no clear-cut genetic path across Beringia to the New World for X2a, meaning that X2a is not found in Siberia in the areas bordering Beringia. The ancestral form of the other Native American haplogroups are found there, indicating a clear migration path. Having said that, haplogroup X2a and subgroups is very clearly the rarest of the Native American mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and it’s certainly feasible that not enough testing has been performed on living or ancestral people to discover X2 or X2a directly ancestral individuals. It is also possible that line has died out, but hopefully we will still find examples in skeletal remains as more are DNA typed.
  2. Many of the early carriers of haplogroup X2a were found in eastern maritime Canada, a prime theoretical landing location for Solutreans.  This certainly fanned the Solutrean flame.  However, more recent discoveries of haplogroup X2a and subgroups have been more widely geographically dispersed.  Neither is there a path or ancestral form of X2a found in Europe or the Middle East.

Looking at the X2a subgroups (X2a, X2a1, X2a1a, X2a1b, X2a1c, plus three forms of X2a2) in the haplogroup X project at Family Tree DNA, the American Indian project, GenBank and various academic papers, we find the following locations identified for X2a and subgroups, moving west to east:

  • Saskatchewan
  • Pasadena, California
  • Chihuahua, Mexico
  • Edmonton, Alberta
  • Selkirk, Manitoba
  • Manitoba (2)
  • La Pointe, Wisconsin
  • Ontario
  • Ontario border with Michgan (Manitoulin Island)
  • St. Ignace, Michigan (near border with Ontario)
  • Manawan, Quebec
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Newfoundland (Island) 2
  • Cape Breton, Canada
  • Nova Scotia, Canada

Although not in the haplogroup X project, X2a2 has also been found among the Navajo and Jemez in the American Southwest and in Kennewick Man found in Kennewick, Washington. Other tribal affiliations include the Chippewa, Ojibwa and Sioux.  Given the Newfoundland and Canadian seaboard locations, the Algonquian speaking Micmac and Beothuk populations would clearly be involved as well.

X2a map

Note on the X2a map above reflecting the oldest known ancestral locations, that no locations appear outside of North America.

Haplogroup X2a is believed to have developed in Beringia during the period of isolation of approximately 8,000 years experienced by the people who were to become the “First Nations” and “Native Americans” in North America. This is the reason, not just for X2a, but for other haplogroups as well, that some subgroups exist only in Native people in the New World and not in Asia from whence they came.  Those haplogroup identifying mutations occurred during their long stay in Beringia.

We know from archaeological excavations along with genetic analysis in some cases that the Native people by roughly 14,000 years ago had emerged from Beringia, trekked southward and were in Monte Verde in Chile. The Native population seems to have diverged into two groups, one in South America who likely arrived via a western coastal route, and one who migrated more eastwardly, the ancestors of Anzick Child who lived about 12,500 years ago in Montana and whose DNA has been tested.

Kennewick Man who carries the oldest form of haplogroup X2a yet found in the Americas was dated to be about 9,000 years old and was found in Washington State, so clearly X2a was present in the Native population 9,000 years ago and on the western side of the continent.

You will note that in the list of X2a results given above, none of the locations are any further south than Chichuhua, Mexico.  Based on the locations of these most distant ancestors, a primary west to east migration path just north of the present day border between the US and Canada is suggested, along with a secondary path southward along the Pacific coast or western corridor.

Here are the salient points listed by Raff and Bolnick in support of haplogroup X2a and subgroups originating in Asia, along with the other Native American haplogroups, and arriving together in the same settlement wave:

  1. Haplogroup X2a is present in the Americas in pre-European contact skeletal remains confirming is it not a result of post-contact admixture.
  2. While the Altai, considered to be the original Asian homeland of today’s Native American people, do carry haplogroup X2, the linking mutations between X2 and X2a have not been found in that or any other population group today. Haplogroup X itself originated in the Middle East before X2 evolved, but that is not indicative of Hebrew or European ancestry.
  3. X2a is not found in the Middle East, and therefore could not have been part of a theoretical Hebrew migration from the Middle East 2500 years ago. Haplogroup X2a was found in Kennewick man who lived 9000 years ago, in Washington State, so X2a in the Americas predates the proposed Hebrew migration by some 6,500 years.
  4. The oldest and deepest rooted X2a result, relative to the haplotree, is Kennewick man whose remains were found in the western US. If X2a was the result of a Solutrean migration during the Pleistocene 23,500 to 18,000 years ago with a landing base in Newfoundland or someplace on the east coast, the oldest and deepest lineages should be found in the eastern population, not on the west coast.
  5. Based on coalescence dates and demographic history, X2a is likely to have originated in the same population as the other American founder haplogroups.
  6. Kennewick Man was explicitly tested for his affinity with European and Polynesian populations and that hypothesis was rejected.
  7. Studies have indicated that a population found in central Asia contributed strongly to both the Native American population and the European population by moving from central Asia into both Europe and Siberia, but that does not equate to Europeans being ancestral to Native Americans. Instead, a common ancestral population often referred to as the “ghost population” was part of the founding group of both Europeans and Native Americans as described here and here. This means that later European populations, such as Germanic people who do show small amounts of “Native American” admixture are probably more closely related to Native Americans than earlier populations from before the central Asian people arrived and settled en masse in Europe.
  8. No Solutrean skeletal remains have been recovered in Europe in order to facilitate a direct comparison. However, if Solutrean people did arrive in the New World on the east coast, one would not expect to find a European/Solutrean signature equally distributed among all native people, but instead distributed in a gradient pattern with the highest levels closest to where the Solutrean people lived, meaning their landing point.  In other words, it would radiate outward like ripples from a rock thrown into water.  However, the genetic signature of West Eurasian ancestry in Native American people is found equally in all Native American genomes tested to date, and as such, predates the evolution of regional genetic structure within North and South America as reflected in migration patterns.



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The Best and Worst of 2015 – Genetic Genealogy Year in Review

2015 Best and Worst

For the past three years I’ve written a year-in-review article. You can see just how much the landscape has changed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 versions.

This year, I’ve added a few specific “award” categories for people or firms that I feel need to be specially recognized as outstanding in one direction or the other.

In past years, some news items, announcements and innovations turned out to be very important like the Genographic Project and GedMatch, and others, well, not so much. Who among us has tested their full genome today, for example, or even their exome?  And would you do with that information if you did?

And then there are the deaths, like the Sorenson database and Ancestry’s own Y and mitochondrial data base. I still shudder to think how much we’ve lost at the corporate hands of Ancestry.

In past years, there have often been big new announcements facilitated by new technology. In many ways, the big fish have been caught in a technology sense.  Those big fish are autosomal DNA and the Big Y types of tests.  Both of these have created an avalanche of data and we, personally and as a community, are still trying to sort through what all of this means genealogically and how to best utilize the information.  Now we need tools.

This is probably illustrated most aptly by the expansion of the Y tree.

The SNP Tsunami Growing Pains Continue

2015 snp tsunami

Going from 800+ SNPs in 2012 to more than 35,000 SNPs today has introduced its own set of problems. First, there are multiple trees in existence, completely or partially maintained by different organizations for different purposes.  Needless to say, these trees are not in sync with each other.  The criteria for adding a SNP to the tree is decided by the owner or steward of that tree, and there is no agreement as to the definition of a valid SNP or how many instances of that SNP need to be in existence to be added to the tree.

This angst has been taking place for the most part outside of the public view, but it exists just the same.

For example, 23andMe still uses the old haplogroup names like R1b which have not been used in years elsewhere. Family Tree DNA is catching up with updating their tree, working with haplogroup administrators to be sure only high quality, proven SNPs are added to branches.  ISOGG maintains another tree (one branch shown above) that’s publicly available, utilizing volunteers per haplogroup and sometimes per subgroup.  Other individuals and organizations maintain other trees, or branches of trees, some very accurate and some adding a new “branch” with as little as one result.

The good news is that this will shake itself out. Personally, I’m voting for the more conservative approach for public reference trees to avoid “pollution” and a lot of shifting and changing downstream when it’s discovered that the single instance of a SNP is either invalid or in a different branch location.  However, you have to start with an experimental or speculative tree before you can prove that a SNP is where it belongs or needs to be moved, so each of the trees has its own purpose.

The full trees I utilize are the Family Tree DNA tree, available for customers, the ISOGG tree and Ray Banks’ tree which includes locations where the SNPs are found when the geographic location is localized. Within haplogroup projects, I tend to use a speculative tree assembled by the administrators, if one is available.  The haplogroup admins generally know more about their haplogroup or branch than anyone else.

The bad news is that this situation hasn’t shaken itself out yet, and due to the magnitude of the elephant at hand, I don’t think it will anytime soon. As this shuffling and shaking occurs, we learn more about where the SNPs are found today in the world, where they aren’t found, which SNPs are “family” or “clan” SNPs and the timeframes in which they were born.

In other words, this is a learning process for all involved – albeit a slow and frustrating one. However, we are making progress and the tree becomes more robust and accurate every year.

We may be having growing pains, but growing pains aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are necessary for growth.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who work on these trees, and in particular, to Alice Fairhurst who has spearheaded the ISOGG tree for the past nine years. Alice retired from that volunteer position this year and is shown below after receiving two much-deserved awards for her service at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November.

2015 ftdna fairhurst 2

Best Innovative Use of Integrated Data

2015 smileDr. Maurice Gleeson receives an award this year for the best genealogical use of integrated types of data. He has utilized just about every tool he can find to wring as much information as possible out of Y DNA results.  Not only that, but he has taken great pains to share that information with us in presentations in the US and overseas, and by creating a video, noted in the article below.  Thanks so much Maurice.

Making Sense of Y Data

Estes pedigree

The advent of massive amounts of Y DNA data has been both wonderful and perplexing. We as genetic genealogists want to know as much about our family as possible, including what the combination of STR and SNP markers means to us.  In other words, we don’t want two separate “test results” but a genealogical marriage of the two.

I took a look at this from the perspective of the Estes DNA project. Of course, everyone else will view those results through the lens of their own surname or haplogroup project.

Estes Big Y DNA Results

At the Family Tree DNA Conference in November, James Irvine and Maurice Gleeson both presented sessions on utilizing a combination of STR and SNP data and various tools in analyzing their individual projects.

Maurice’s presentation was titled “Combining SNPs, STRs and Genealogy to build a Surname Origins Tree.”

Maurice created a wonderful video that includes a lot of information about working with Y DNA results. I would consider this one of the very best Y DNA presentations I’ve ever seen, and thanks to Maurice, it’s available as a video here:

You can view more of Maurice’s work at:

James Irvine’s presentation was titled “Surname Projects – Some Fresh Ideas.”

Another excellent presentation discussing Y DNA results was “YDNA maps Scandinavian Family Trees from Medieval Times and the Viking Age” by Peter Sjolund.

Peter’s session at the genealogy conference in Sweden this year was packed. This photo, compliments of Katherine Borges, shows the room and the level of interest in Y-DNA and the messages it holds for genetic genealogists.

sweden 2015

This type of work is the wave of the future, although hopefully it won’t be so manually intensive. However, the process of discovery is by definition laborious.  From this early work will one day emerge reproducible methodologies, the fruits of which we will all enjoy.

Haplogroup Definitions and Discoveries Continue

A4 mutations

Often, haplogroup work flies under the radar today and gets dwarfed by some of the larger citizen science projects, but this work is fundamentally important. In 2015, we made discoveries about haplogroups A4 and C, for example.

Haplogroup A4 Unpeeled – European, Jewish, Asian and Native American

New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups

Native American Haplogroup C Update – Progress

These aren’t the only discoveries, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Mike Wadna, administrator for the Haplogroup R1b Project reports that there are now over 1500 SNPs on the R1b tree at Family Tree DNA – which is just about twice as many as were known in total for the entire Y tree in 2012 before the Genographic project was introduced.

The new Y DNA SNP Packs being introduced by Family Tree DNA which test more than 100 SNPs for about $100 will go a very long way in helping participants obtain haplogroup assignments further down the tree without doing the significantly more expensive Big Y test. For example, the R1b-DF49XM222 SNP Pack tests 157 SNPs for $109.  Of course, if you want to discover your own private line of SNPs, you’ll have to take the Big Y.  SNP Packs can only test what is already known and the Big Y is a test of discovery.

                       Best Blog2015 smile

Jim Bartlett, hands down, receives this award for his new and wonderful blog, Segmentology.

                             Making Sense of Autosomal DNA


Our autosomal DNA results provide us with matches at each of the vendors and at GedMatch, but what do we DO with all those matches and how to we utilize the genetic match information? How to we translate those matches into ancestral information.  And once we’ve assigned a common ancestor to a match with an individual, how does that match affect other matches on that same segment?

2015 has been the year of sorting through the pieces and defining terms like IBS (identical by state, which covers both identical by population and identical by chance) and IBD (identical by descent). There has been a lot written this year.

Jim Bartlett, a long-time autosomal researcher has introduced his new blog, Segmentology, to discuss his journey through mapping ancestors to his DNA segments. To the best of my knowledge, Jim has mapped more of his chromosomes than any other researcher, more than 80% to specific ancestors – and all of us can leverage Jim’s lessons learned. by Jim Bartlett

When you visit Jim’s site, please take a look at all of his articles. He and I and others may differ slightly in the details our approach, but the basics are the same and his examples are wonderful.

Autosomal DNA Testing – What Now?

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success

How Phasing Works and Determining IBS vs IBD Matches

Just One Cousin

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

A Study Using Small Segment Matching

Finally, A How-To Class for Working with Autosomal Results

Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make

4 Generation Inheritance Study

Phasing Yourself

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of discussion and dissention about the definition of and use of small segments. I utilize them, carefully, generally in conjunction with larger segments.  Others don’t.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t get yourself hung up on this.  You probably won’t need or use small segments until you get done with the larger segments, meaning low-hanging fruit, or unless you are doing a very specific research project.  By the time you get to that point, you’ll understand this topic and you’ll realize that the various researchers agree about far more than they disagree, and you can make your own decision based on your individual circumstances. If you’re entirely endogamous, small segments may just make you crazy.  However, if you’re chasing a colonial American ancestor, then you may need those small segments to identify or confirm that ancestor.

It is unfortunate, however, that all of the relevant articles are not represented in the ISOGG wiki, allowing people to fully educate themselves. Hopefully this can be updated shortly with the additional articles, listed above and from Jim Bartlett’s blog, published during this past year.

Recreating the Dead

James Crumley overlapping segments

James and Catherne Crumley segments above, compliments of Kitty Cooper’s tools

As we learn more about how to use autosomal DNA, we have begun to reconstruct our ancestors from the DNA of their descendants. Not as in cloning, but as in attributing DNA found in multiple descendants that originate from a common ancestor, or ancestral couple.  The first foray into this arena was GedMatch with their Lazarus tool.

Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

I have taken a bit of a different proof approach wherein I recreated an ancestor, James Crumley, born in 1712 from the matching DNA of roughly 30 of his descendants.

I did the same thing, on an experimental smaller scale about a year ago with my ancestor, Henry Bolton.

This is the way of the future in genetic genealogy, and I’ll be writing more about the Crumley project and the reconstruction of James Crumley in 2016.

                         Lump Of Coal Award(s)2015 frown

This category is a “special category” that is exactly what you think it is. Yep, this is the award no one wants.  We have a tie for the Lump of Coal Award this year between Ancestry and 23andMe.

               Ancestry Becomes the J.R. Ewing of the Genealogy World

2015 Larry Hagman

Attribution : © Glenn Francis,

Some of you may remember J.R. Ewing on the television show called Dallas that ran from 1978 through 1991. J.R. Ewing, a greedy and unethical oil tycoon was one of the main characters.  The series was utterly mesmerizing, and literally everyone tuned in.  We all, and I mean universally, hated J.R. Ewing for what he unfeelingly and selfishly did to his family and others.  Finally, in a cliffhanger end of the season episode, someone shot J.R. Ewing.  OMG!!!  We didn’t know who.  We didn’t know if J.R. lived or died.  Speculation was rampant.  “Who shot JR?” was the theme on t-shirts everyplace that summer.  J.R. Ewing, over time, became the man all of America loved to hate.

Ancestry has become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world for the same reasons.

In essence, in the genetic genealogy world, Ancestry introduced a substandard DNA product, which remains substandard years later with no chromosome browser or comparison tools that we need….and they have the unmitigated audacity to try to convince us we really don’t need those tools anyway. Kind of like trying to convince someone with a car that they don’t need tires.

Worse, yet, they’ve introduced “better” tools (New Ancestor Discoveries), as in tools that were going to be better than a chromosome browser.  New Ancestor Discoveries “gives us” ancestors that aren’t ours. Sadly, there are many genealogists being led down the wrong path with no compass available.

Ancestry’s history of corporate stewardship is abysmal and continues with the obsolescence of various products and services including the Sorenson DNA database, their own Y and mtDNA database, MyFamily and most recently, Family Tree Maker. While the Family Tree Maker announcement has been met with great gnashing of teeth and angst among their customers, there are other software programs available.  Ancestry’s choices to obsolete the DNA data bases is irrecoverable and a huge loss to the genetic genealogy community.  That information is lost forever and not available elsewhere – a priceless, irreplaceable international treasure intentionally trashed.

If Ancestry had not bought up nearly all of the competing resources, people would be cancelling their subscriptions in droves to use another company – any other company. But there really is no one else anymore.  Ancestry knows this, so they have become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world – uncaring about the effects of their decisions on their customers or the community as a whole.  It’s hard for me to believe they have knowingly created such wholesale animosity within their own customer base.  I think having a job as a customer service rep at Ancestry would be an extremely undesirable job right now.  Many customers are furious and Ancestry has managed to upset pretty much everyone one way or another in 2015.

AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny

Dear Kenny – Any Suggestions for our New Ancestor Discoveries?

RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss

Of Babies and Bathwater

Facts Matter

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA

Ancestry Gave Me a New DNA Ancestor and It’s Wrong

Testing Ancestry’s Amazing New Ancestor DNA Claim

Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors

Squaring the Circle

Still Waiting for the Holy Grail

A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t aka Bad NADs

The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)

Circling the Shews

Naughty Bad NADs Sneak Home Under Cover of Darkness

Ancestry Shared Matches Combined with New Ancestor Discoveries

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them – Now You Don’t

Ancestry’s New Amount of Shared DNA – What Does It Really Mean?

The Winds of Change

Confusion – Family Tree Maker, Family Tree DNA and

DNA: good news, bad news

Check out the Alternatives

GeneAwards 2015

23andMe Betrays Genealogists

2015 broken heart

In October, 23andMe announced that it has reached an agreement with the FDA about reporting some health information such as carrier status and traits to their clients. As a part of or perhaps as a result of that agreement, 23andMe is dramatically changing the user experience.

In some aspects, the process will be simplified for genealogists with a universal opt-in. However, other functions are being removed and the price has doubled.  New advertising says little or nothing about genealogy and is entirely medically focused.  That combined with the move of the trees offsite to MyHeritage seems to signal that 23andMe has lost any commitment they had to the genetic genealogy community, effectively abandoning the group entirely that pulled their collective bacon out of the fire. This is somehow greatly ironic in light of the fact that it was the genetic genealogy community through their testing recommendations that kept 23andMe in business for the two years, from November of 2013 through October of 2015 when the FDA had the health portion of their testing shut down.  This is a mighty fine thank you.

As a result of the changes at 23andMe relative to genealogy, the genetic genealogy community has largely withdrawn their support and recommendations to test at 23andMe in favor of Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.

Kelly Wheaton, writing on the Facebook ISOGG group along with other places has very succinctly summed up the situation:

You can also view Kelly’s related posts from earlier in December and their comments at:

My account at 23andMe has not yet been converted to the new format, so I cannot personally comment on the format changes yet, but I will write about the experience in 2016 after my account is converted.

Furthermore, I will also be writing a new autosomal vendor testing comparison article after their new platform is released.

I Hate 23andMe

23andMe to Get Makeover After Agreement With FDA

23andMe Metamorphosis

The Changes at 23andMe

The 23and Me Transition – The First Step

The Winds of Change

Why Autosomal Response Rate Really Does Matter

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown

Now…and not now

                             Cone of Shame Award 2015 frown

Another award this year is the Cone of Shame award which is also awarded to both Ancestry and 23andMe for their methodology of obtaining “consent” to sell their customers’, meaning our, DNA and associated information.

Genetic Genealogy Data Gets Sold

2015 shame

Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year that the goals of both 23andMe and Ancestry have become clear in terms of our DNA data. While 23andMe has always been at least somewhat focused on health, Ancestry never was previously, but has now hired a health officer and teamed with Calico for medical genetics research.

Now, both Ancestry and 23andMe have made research arrangements and state in their release and privacy verbiage that all customers must electronically sign (or click through) when purchasing their DNA tests that they can sell, at minimum, your anonymized DNA data, without any further consent.  And there is no opt-out at that level.

They can also use our DNA and data internally, meaning that 23andMe’s dream of creating and patenting new drugs can come true based on your DNA that you submitted for genealogical purposes, even if they never sell it to anyone else.

In an interview in November, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said the following:

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

Given that the future of genetic genealogy at these two companies seems to be tied to the sale of their customer’s genetic and other information, which, based on the above, is very clearly worth big bucks, I feel that the fact that these companies are selling and utilizing their customer’s information in this manner should be fully disclosed. Even more appropriate, the DNA information should not be sold or utilized for research without an informed consent that would traditionally be used for research subjects.

Within the past few days, I wrote an article, providing specifics and calling on both companies to do the following.

  1. To minimally create transparent, understandable verbiage that informs their customers before the end of the purchase process that their DNA will be sold or utilized for unspecified research with the intention of financial gain and that there is no opt-out. However, a preferred plan of action would be a combination of 2 and 3, below.
  2. Implement a plan where customer DNA can never be utilized for anything other than to deliver the services to the consumers that they purchased unless a separate, fully informed consent authorization is signed for each research project, without coercion, meaning that the client does not have to sign the consent to obtain any of the DNA testing or services.
  3. To immediately stop utilizing the DNA information and results from customers who have already tested until they have signed an appropriate informed consent form for each research project in which their DNA or other information will be utilized.

And Now Ancestry Health

Opting Out

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated

AncestryDNA Doings

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown

23andMe and Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information

                      Citizen Science Leadership Award   2015 smile

The Citizen Science Leadership Award this year goes to Blaine Bettinger for initiating the Shared cM Project, a crowdsourced project which benefits everyone.

Citizen Scientists Continue to Push the Edges of the Envelope with the Shared cM Project

Citizen scientists, in the words of Dr. Doron Behar, “are not amateurs.” In fact, citizen scientists have been contributing mightily and pushing the edge of the genetic genealogy frontier consistently now for 15 years.  This trend continues, with new discoveries and new ways of viewing and utilizing information we already have.

For example, Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project was begun in March and continues today. This important project has provided real life information as to the real matching amounts and ranges between people of different relationships, such as first cousins, for example, as compared to theoretical match amounts.  This wonderful project produced results such as this:

2015 shared cM

I don’t think Blaine initially expected this project to continue, but it has and you can read about it, see the rest of the results, and contribute your own data here. Blaine has written several other articles on this topic as well, available at the same link.

Am I Weird or What?

Jim Owston analyzed fourth cousins and other near distant relationships in his Owston one-name study:

I provided distant cousin information in the Crumley surname study:

I hope more genetic genealogists will compile and contribute this type of real world data as we move forward. If you have compiled something like this, the Surname DNA Journal is peer reviewed and always looking for quality articles for publication.

Privacy, Law Enforcement and DNA

2015 privacy

Unfortunately, in May, a situation by which Y DNA was utilized in a murder investigation was reported in a sensationalist “scare” type fashion.  This action provided cause, ammunition or an excuse for Ancestry to remove the Sorenson data base from public view.

I find this exceedingly, exceedingly unfortunate. Given Ancestry’s history with obsoleting older data bases instead of updating them, I’m suspecting this was an opportune moment for Ancestry to be able to withdraw this database, removing a support or upgrade problem from their plate and blame the problem on either law enforcement or the associated reporting.

I haven’t said much about this situation, in part because I’m not a lawyer and in part because the topic is so controversial and there is no possible benefit since the damage has already been done. Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or has said will bring back the Sorenson (or Ancestry) data bases and arguments would be for naught.  We already beat this dead horse a year ago when Ancestry obsoleted their own data base.  On this topic, be sure to read Judy Russell’s articles and her sources as well for the “rest of the story.”

Privacy, the Police and DNA

Big Easy DNA Not So Easy

Of Babies and Bathwater

Facts Matter

Genetic genealogy standards from within the community were already in the works prior to the Idaho case, referenced above, and were subsequently published as guidelines.

Announcing Genetic Genealogy Standards

The standards themselves:

Ancient DNA Results Continue to Amass

“Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf” by Commander-pirx at de.wikipedia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ancient DNA is difficult to recover and even more difficult to sequence, reassembling tiny little blocks of broken apart DNA into an ancient human genome.

However, each year we see a few more samples and we are beginning to repaint the picture of human population movement, which is different than we thought it would be.

One of the best summaries of the ancient ancestry field was Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November titled “R1B and the Peopling of Europe: an Ancient DNA Update.” His slides are available here:

One of the best ongoing sources for this information is Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. He covered most of the new articles and there have been several.  That’s the good news and the bad news, all rolled into one.

I have covered several that were of particular interest to the evolution of Europeans and Native Americans.

Yamnaya, Light Skinned Brown Eyed….Ancestors?

Kennewick Man is Native American

Botocudo – Ancient Remains from Brazil

Some Native had Oceanic Ancestors

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered

Massive Pre-Contact Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results

I know of several projects involving ancient DNA that are in process now, so 2016 promises to be a wonderful ancient DNA year!


2015 education

Many, many new people discover genetic genealogy every day and education continues to be an ongoing and increasing need. It’s a wonderful sign that all major conferences now include genetic genealogy, many with a specific track.

The European conferences have done a great deal to bring genetic genealogy testing to Europeans. European testing benefits those of us whose ancestors were European before immigrating to North America.  This year, ISOGG volunteers staffed booths and gave presentations at genealogy conferences in Birmingham, England, Dublin, Ireland and in Nyköping, Sweden, shown below, photo compliments of Catherine Borges.

ISOGG volunteers

Several great new online educational opportunities arose this year, outside of conferences, for which I’m very grateful.

DNA Lectures YouTube Channel

Allen County Public Library Online Resources

DNA Data Organization Tools and Who’s on First

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List

Genetic Genealogy Ireland Videos

DNA Lectures – Who Do You Think You Are

Ongoing and Online Classes in how to utilize both Y and autosomal DNA

Education Award

2015 smile Family Tree DNA receives the Education Award this year along with a huge vote of gratitude for their 11 years of genetic genealogy conferences. They are the only testing or genealogy company to hold a conference of this type and they do a fantastic job.  Furthermore, they sponsor additional educational events by providing the “theater” for DNA presentations at international events such as the Who Do You Think You Are conference in England.  Thank you Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Conference

ftdna 2015

The Family Tree DNA Conference, held in November, was a hit once again. I’m not a typical genealogy conference person.  My focus is on genetic genealogy, so I want to attend a conference where I can learn something new, something leading edge about the science of genetic genealogy – and that conference is definitely the Family Tree DNA conference.

Furthermore, Family Tree DNA offers tours of their lab on the Monday following the conference for attendees, and actively solicits input on their products and features from conference attendees and project administrators.

2015 FTDNA lab

Family Tree DNA 11th International Conference – The Best Yet

All of the conference presentations that were provided by the presenters have been made available by Family Tree DNA at:

2016 Genetic Genealogy Wish List

2015 wish list

In 2014, I presented a wish list for 2015 and it didn’t do very well.  Will my 2015 list for 2016 fare any better?

  • Ancestry restores Sorenson and their own Y and mtDNA data bases in some format or contributes to an independent organization like ISOGG.
  • Ancestry provides chromosome browser.
  • Ancestry removes or revamps Timber in order to restore legitimate matches removed by Timber algorithm.
  • Fully informed consent (per research project) implemented by 23andMe and Ancestry, and any other vendor who might aspire to sell consumer DNA or related information, without coercion, and not as a prerequisite for purchasing a DNA testing product. DNA and information will not be shared or utilized internally or externally without informed consent and current DNA information will cease being used in this fashion until informed consent is granted by customers who have already tested.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting at all vendors including ancient samples and additional reference samples for Native Americans.
  • Autosomal Triangulation tools at all vendors.
  • Big Y and STR integration and analysis enhancement at Family Tree DNA.
  • Ancestor Reconstruction
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA search tools by ancestor and ancestral line at Family Tree DNA.
  • Improved tree at Family Tree DNA – along with new search capabilities.
  • 23andMe restores lost capabilities, drops price, makes changes and adds features previously submitted as suggestions by community ambassadors.
  • More tools (This is equivalent to “bring me some surprises” on my Santa list as a kid.)

My own goals haven’t changed much over the years. I still just want to be able to confirm my genealogy, to learn as much as I can about each ancestor, and to break down brick walls and fill in gaps.

I’m very hopeful each year as more tools and methodologies emerge.  More people test, each one providing a unique opportunity to match and to understand our past, individually and collectively.  Every year genetic genealogy gets better!  I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy and Ancestrally Prosperous New Year!

2015 happy new year



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Charlemagne (742/748-814), Holy Roman Emperor, 52 Ancestors #103

Charlemagne statue

“Charlemagne Agostino Cornacchini Vatican 2” by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Above, a 1725 statue representing Charlemagne housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Wow, do I ever have a lot of cousins.  According to Graham Coop, everyone in Europe today is descended from Charlemagne.  Which either means I’m special and so is everyone else, or we’re all just normal.  National Geographic wrote an article about the results of the Coop study in more easily readable verbiage, here.  The Coop team also wrote a nontechnical FAQ, here.

In 2002, Steven Olson wrote this verbiage in the Atlantic magazine about the work of statistician Joseph Chang:

The most recent common ancestor of every European today (except for recent immigrants to the Continent) was someone who lived in Europe in the surprisingly recent past—only about 600 years ago. In other words, all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400. Before that date, according to Chang’s model, the number of ancestors common to all Europeans today increased, until, about a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today.

Now, granted, Charlemagne was indeed prolific, siring 18 known children.  I guess I’m just lucky in that I descend from two known children, one who was the King of Italy and one who was the King of France.  I must tell you, all this king stuff sounds very surreal to me.

Charlemagne chart crop

Now, the bad news.  In spite of all of these children, it appears that none of Charlemagne’s male lines survived more than a dozen or so generations.  In generation 8, only two descendants produced a male child, so that severely limited the possibilities for his Y DNA to reproduce – and it didn’t.  It apparently died out in 1122 with the death of the last male in an illegitimate line through Charlemagne’s son, Pepin of Italy.  This means that today, we don’t know what Charlemagne’s Y DNA looked like.  That’s very disappointing.

By the same token, Charlemagne could not pass on his own mtDNA.  To find that information, we’d have to find a female sibling or someone from his mother’s line who descends from a matrilineal female through all females to the current generation.  We don’t have that either.

And as for autosomal DNA…well, we have two problems.  The first is that Charlemagne is so far back in my or anyone else’s lineage – between 40 and 49 generations roughly – that we would carry very little if any of his DNA today…and there is no way to assure that we don’t have other common lines too.  In fact, at that distant point, it far more likely that we do share other common lines that we don’t, especially given what Graham Coop’s paper indicates.

So, Charlemagne’s autosomal DNA hasn’t been identified either.  Short of digging him up, I’m doubting we’ll know much more.  Actually, poor Charlemagne has been dug up, several times in fact, and parts of him given away as religious relics.  In 1988 scientists tried to reassemble him, and their report was delivered 26 years later, without DNA unfortunately, but confirming as best they can that the remains they have, shown in the photo below, are indeed Charlemagne.  I must say, it’s a very odd feeling to look at the bones of my ancestor, reassembled during the study.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bones or even one bone of any of my ancestors before now.  I’m not exactly sure what I think of this.

Charlemagne bones

I’m striking out here genetically, although I’m hopeful for the future since his bones are already exhumed.  To begin with, DNA could tell us if all of those bones are really from the same person.  If they are, or most of them are from the same person, it’s more likely to be Charlemagne.  We could potentially tell when and where this skeletal person lived from isotope testing as well, which could help us confirm or eliminate the possibility that these skeletal remains are Charlemagne.  Y and mitochondrial DNA would tell us a lot about his ancestors, and therefore, ours too.  I hope this avenue is being pursued.

Let’s see what we can discover about Charlemagne outside of genetic genealogy.

Charlemagne’s Birth and Ascent to Power

Charlemagne was born on April 2, in either 742, 747 or 748 and died on January 28, 814.  No, those aren’t typos, they are genuinely three digit years.  It’s hard for me to come to grips with the fact that I have ancestors that I can identify that were born 1270 years ago.

Charlemagne’s father was Pepin the Short and his mother, Bertrada of Laon.  He was of the Carolingian dynasty and was, of course, Catholic. In fact, Charlemagne was DEVOUTLY Catholic, which plays a big part in the decisions he made in his lifetime.  Either that, or he used his religious fervor as an excuse for his invasions of other non-Christian domains.  It’s much easier to track the history of what he did rather than to discern his motivations.

The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century AD.

Charlemagne Carolingian chart

This Carolingian family tree, above, dates from the Chronicon Universale of Ekkehard of Aura from the 12th century, but reflects earlier generations.  The Carolingian empire came to a close not long after after Charlemagne’s rule, about 888.

The name “Carolingian” was in Medieval Latin, karolingi, an altered form of an unattested Old High German karling or kerling, meaning “descendant of Charles.”

Charlemagne’s birth year remains uncertain.  The most likely year of Charlemagne’s birth is reconstructed from several sources. The date of 742, calculated from Einhard’s date of death of January 814 at age 72, predates the marriage of his parents in 744.  Einhard was a Frankish scholar and servant of Charlemagne (and his son) who also served as Charlemagne’s biographer – thankfully.

The year given in the Annales Petaviani, a year by year history of the Carolingina empire, 747, would be more likely, except that it contradicts Einhard and a few other sources in making Charlemagne seventy years old at his death. The month and day of April 2 is established by a calendar from Lorsch Abbey.

In 747, that day fell on Easter, a coincidence that likely would have been remarked upon by chroniclers but was not. If Easter was being used as the beginning of the calendar year, then April 2, 747 could have been, by modern reckoning, April 2, 748 (not on Easter). The date favored by the preponderance of evidence is April 2, 742, based on Charlemagne’s being a septuagenarian at the time of his death. This date would appear to suggest that Charlemagne was born illegitimately, which is not mentioned by Einhard.

Einhard said the following:

It would be folly, I think, to write a word concerning Charles’ birth and infancy, or even his boyhood, for nothing has ever been written on the subject, and there is no one alive now who can give information on it. Accordingly, I determined to pass that by as unknown, and to proceed at once to treat of his character, his deeds, and such other facts of his life as are worth telling and setting forth, and shall first give an account of his deeds at home and abroad, then of his character and pursuits, and lastly of his administration and death, omitting nothing worth knowing or necessary to know.

We also don’t know where Charlemagne was born, but Aachen in today’s Germany has been suggested.

Charlemagne became king in 768 following the death of his father. He was initially co-ruler with his brother Carloman I. Carloman’s sudden death in 771 under unexplained circumstances, left Charlemagne as the undisputed ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. Charlemagne continued his father’s policy towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy, and leading an incursion into Muslim Spain. He also campaigned against the Saxons to his east, Christianizing them upon penalty of death, leading to events such as the Massacre of Verden in which 4500 captive Saxons were slaughtered.  Charlemagne was not always a kind man – but history remembers him as an exceedingly effective ruler.

Charlemagne and Pipin the Hunchback

Above, Charlemagne on the left and his son, Pepin the Hunchback, who revolted against his father.  Pepin the Hunchback was subsequently censured and exiled to a monastery instead of put to death after his father commuted his death sentence.

We don’t know how much this drawing actually looks like Charlemagne since it is a 10th century copy of a lost original from about 830.

In this next drawing, Charlemagne instructs his son, Louis the Pious.

Charlemagne and Louis the Pious

Charlemagne was also known as both Charles the Great (Carolus Magnus) or Charles the First.  He became the King of the Franks beginning in 768 with the death of his father and King of Italy beginning in 774.  He was crowned Holy Roman Emperor (Imperator Augustus) in the now demolished Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (shown sketched below between 1483-1506) on Christmas Day in the year 800 and he ruled in that position until his death.

Charlemagne Old St. Peters

This fresco below shows a cutaway view of the Old St. Peter’s from the 4th century, so it looked much like it would have to Charlemagne.  This basilica is built over the location believed to be the burial site of St. Peter.

Charlemagne St Peters cutaway

Today, a new St. Peter’s Basilica stands on this site, the dome visible from the Ponte Umberto I on the Tiber River, below.

"Vatican City at Large" by Sébastien Bertrand from Paris, France - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

“Vatican City at Large” by Sébastien Bertrand from Paris, France – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

Although he already ruled both Italy and France, becoming the Holy Roman Emperor bestowed upon him divine grace and a Godly legitimacy sanctioned by the Pope.

This painting from 1516-1517 by Raphael by depicts Charlemagne’s coronation.

"Raphael Charlemagne" by Raphael - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

“Raphael Charlemagne” by Raphael – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Charlemagne’s Rule

Charlemagne map 800

Called the “Father of Europe” (pater Europae), Charlemagne united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire and laid the foundations for both modern France and Germany. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of energetic cultural and intellectual activity within the Church. Both the French and German monarchies considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire.

Charlemagne didn’t seem to stay home much.  In fact, this military and political history reads like a soap opera, with intrigue, betrayals, a brother who died in unexplained circumstances, but apparently of natural causes, invasions, rebellions and saving an injured Pope.  His life was assuredly interesting and it’s nothing short of amazing that he managed to live past 70 and did not die on the battlefield.

Charlemagne was engaged in almost constant warfare throughout his reign, often at the head of his elite scara bodyguard squadrons, with his legendary sword Joyeuse in hand.

Charlemagne sword

“Épée de charlemagne” by Chatsam – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Joyeuse is stunningly beautiful and is on display in the Louvre today.

"Epée Joyeuse" by Siren-Com - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Epée Joyeuse” by Siren-Com – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

It just kills me that I have been in this building with this sword but didn’t know at that time that Charlemagne was my ancestor.

The 11th century “Song of Roland” describes the sword:

[Charlemagne] was wearing his fine white coat of mail and his helmet with gold-studded stones; by his side hung Joyeuse, and never was there a sword to match it; its colour changed thirty times a day.

Some seven hundred years later, Bulfinch’s Mythology described Charlemagne using Joyeuse to behead the Saracen commander Corsuble as well as to knight his comrade Ogier the Dane.

The town of Joyeuse, in Ardèche, is supposedly named after the sword.  Joyeuse was allegedly lost in a battle and retrieved by one of the knights of Charlemagne; to thank him, Charlemagne granted him an appanage (estate) named Joyeuse.

Today, Joyeuse is used as the French coronation sword.

Charlemagne’s Additions to His Empire

Charlemagne spent his entire life increasing the size and power of his empire, some of which was done under the banner of expanding Christianity to the Muslim world and to the pagan Saxons as well.

The map below shows the land that Charlemagne added to the Frankish Kingdom.

"Frankish Empire 481 to 814-en" by Sémhur - Own work, from Image:Frankish empire.jpg, itself from File:Growth of Frankish Power, 481-814.jpg, from the Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd (Shepherd, William. Historical Atlas. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911.). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Frankish Empire 481 to 814-en” by Sémhur – Own work, from Image:Frankish empire.jpg, itself from File:Growth of Frankish Power, 481-814.jpg, from the Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd (Shepherd, William. Historical Atlas. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911.). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s reign of Aquitaine began in 768 with the death of his father, although it was initially a joint reign with his brother, Carloman, with whom he had, at best, lukewarm relations fostered by his mother.

It didn’t take long after Charlemagne’s father death for trouble to brew.

In 769, a small uprising in the Basque region was subdued, but that region was unstable for years, a constant thorn in Charlemagne’s side.  Finally, in 781, Charlemagne proclaimed his son, Louis the Pious, then a young child, the first Frankish king of the area, assuring loyalty and displacing those whose loyalty he had reason to doubt.

In 770 Charlemagne married the daughter, Desiderada, of a Lombard King as a political move to form an alliance with her father and in doing so, surround  brother Carloman with Charlemagne’s allies.  However, by the end of 771, Carloman was dead and Charlemagne no longer needed the marriage with Desiderada, so he repudiated her and set her aside to marry 13 year old Hildegard.

In rejecting Desiderada, Charlemagne incurred the wrath of her father, the Italian King Desiderius.  Carloman’s widow and children took refuge in King Desiderius’ court at Pavia for protection.

This drawing is of the Carolingian cavalry from that timeframe.

"Karolingische-reiterei-st-gallen-stiftsbibliothek 1-330x400". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

“Karolingische-reiterei-st-gallen-stiftsbibliothek 1-330×400”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Sometimes Charlemagne’s military campaigns overlapped each other.  In the Saxon Wars, spanning thirty years and eighteen battles, Charlemagne eventually conquered and subdued Saxonia.  The conquering part wasn’t terribly difficult, most of the time, but the subdueing part proved nearly impossible.  Charlemagne proceeded to convert the conquered to Christianity, beginning in 773 with his campaign against the Engrians where he cut down the Saxon pagan pillar of Irminsul.  However, trouble in Italy caused that campaign to be cut short.

In 773, Charlemagne and his uncle crossed the Alps, chasing the Lombards back to Pavia which he then besieged.

Charlemagne met the Lombards at the pass in Susa Valley, shown below.

Charlemagne Susa Valley

“Susatal” by Fotogian from it. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

By 774, the siege of Pavia was over and Charlemagne had himself declared King of the Franks and Lombards and crowned with the traditional “Iron Crown of the Lombards.”

"Iron Crown" by James Steakley - photographed in the Theodelinda Chapel of the cathedral of Monza. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Iron Crown” by James Steakley – photographed in the Theodelinda Chapel of the cathedral of Monza. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

This crown is called “The Iron Crown” because of the narrow band of iron within the crown said to have been beaten out of the nail used at the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

In 776, Charlemagne was back in Saxony, having subdued the Saxons and causing their leader, Widukind, to seek refuge in Denmark.  Many Saxons were baptized as Christians.

Although the Lombards surrendered, all was not quiet on that front.  In 776, Charlemagne rushed back from Saxony to squelch a rebellion in Lombardy.

In 778, Charlemagne turned back southwards and tried to overpower the Muslim Saracen rulers of Barcelona and nearby areas.  He marched to face them, meeting them at Saragossa.  He received homage from them, but their cities did not fall.

Charlemagne was facing the toughest battle of his career where the Muslims had the upper hand and forced him to retreat. He decided to go home, since he could not trust the Basques, whom he had subdued by conquering Pamplona. He turned to leave Iberia, but as he was passing through the Pass of Roncesvalles (shown below) one of the most famous events of his long reign occurred.

Charlemagne Roncesvalles

The Basques fell on his rearguard and baggage train, utterly destroying it. The Battle of Roncevaux Pass, though less a battle than a mere skirmish, left many famous dead, including the seneschal Eggihard, the count of the palace Anselm, and the warden of the Breton March, Roland, inspiring the subsequent creation of the Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland).

Charlemagne battle tapestry

This tapestry portraying the Battle of Roncevaux Pass was woven between 1475 and 1500.

In 779, while Charlemagne was focused elsewhere, Saxony again revolted and he again invaded and reconquered.  I’m sure by now he wondered how many times he had to do this.  He divided the land into missionary districts and personally assisted with the baptisms of masses at Lippe.

From 780-782, Saxony was quiet.  Charlemagne was back in Italy during this time.

In 782, Charlemagne returned to Saxony and was not pleased that the majority of the population was still pagan.  He implemented draconian laws prescribing death to Saxon pagans who refused to convert to Christianity.  This spurred the return of their leader, Widukind, and was followed by three years of bloody battles precipitated by the Massacre of Verden wherein Charlemagne executed 4500 trapped Saxon soldiers.  Three long years later, Widukind, defeated, accepted baptism.  At this time, the Frisians were also brought to heel.

In 787, Charlemagne focused on bringing southern Italy into the fold.  He besieged Salerno where Arechis who reigned independently submitted to vassalage.  However, upon his death in 792, Arechis’ son proclaimed independence and Charlemagne never personally returned, and was never able to bring this region fully under his control.

In 788, Charlemagne was back in Gascony trying to once again reign in a rebellion.  He had appointed his son “King” in that region and replaced Gascon individuals in power with his Frankish officers.

In 788, the pagan Asian Avars (Einhard called them Huns) had settled in Hungary and invaded Fruili and Bavaria.  Charlemagne was busy elsewhere until 790, but at the time he marched down the Danube and ravaged Avar territory.  A Lombard army did the same to Pannonia.

In 789, Charlemagne seeing an opportunity, marched into the Slavic Obotrite territory north of the Elbe, encountered little resistance, and subdued the Obotrites, sending in missionaries to convert them.  They became loyal allies, fighting alongside Charlemagne in 795 when the Saxons broke the peace.

In 792, the Saxons rebelled again in Westphalia, breaking several years of peace and distracted Charlemagne from the Avars, occupying him instead with those relentless Saxons.

However, Charlemagne’s troops continued to assault the Avars’ ring-shaped strongholds.  The great Ring of the Avars, their capital fortress, was taken twice. The booty was sent to Charlemagne at his capital, Aachen, and redistributed to all his followers and even to foreign rulers, including King Offa of Mercia. Soon the Avars had lost the will to fight and traveled to Aachen to subject themselves to Charlemagne as vassals and Christians. Charlemagne accepted their surrender and sent one native chief, baptized as Abraham, back to Avaria with the ancient title of khagan, meaning someone who rules an empire. Abraham kept his people in line, but in 800, the Bulgarians under Khan Krum also attacked the remains of Avar state.

Charlemagne Ring of Avars

From time to time, rebellions would flare up in the conquered Saxon territory.  In 793 a rebellion erupted in Eastplania and Bordalbingia, but that uprising was over by 794.  In 796, an Engrian rebellion followed.

In 794, Charlemagne set his eye upon Bavaria and was shortly thereafter dividing the land into Frankish counties, as he had done with Saxony.

From 791 to 806, Charlemagne was focused on taking the County of Toulouse for a power base and asserting his authority over the Pyrenees, making those counties vassals.

In 797, Barcelona, the greatest city of the region, previously held by the Moors, fell to Charlemagne, but was retaken in 799.  However, Louis of Aquitaine marched the entire army of his kingdom over the Pyrenees and besieged it for two years, wintering there from 800 to 801, when it capitulated.  Today, the Moorish influence can be seen in Barcelona in the architecture of the buildings.

Barcelona building

The Medieval influence can be felt in any portion of the old city and in the plazas.

barcelona plaza

I absolutely loved Barcelona when I visited in 2011, having no idea that I had ancestral history here.

Barcelona 2011

Charlemagne viewed his battle with the Muslim Moors as the battle of and for Christianity.  He wanted to convert the Muslims to Christianity.

In 799, Charlemagne conquered the Balaeric Islands, often attacked by Saracen (Moorish and Muladi) pirates.

In either 797 or 801, Charlemagne send a delegation to Baghdad where the caliph of Baghdad presented Charlemagne with an Asian elephant and a clock.  The elephant, Abul-Abbas, was transported to Charlemagne’s headquarters in Aachen where his life was chronicled.  He died in 810, possibly a war elephant, although others report that the elephant was more than 40 years old, had rheumatism, developed pneumonia while on campaign with Charlemagne, and died suddenly.  I don’t think any of my other ancestors had a pet elephant.

In 799, Pope Leo III had been mistreated by the Romans, who tried to put out his eyes and tear out his tongue.  Pope Leo escaped and fled to Charlemagne at Paderborn, asking Charlemagne to intervene in Rome and restore him. Charlemagne, advised by scholar Alcuin of York, agreed to travel to Rome, doing so in November 800 and holding a council on December 1.  On December 23, Leo swore an oath of innocence relative to the charges brought against him, and his accusers were exiled.  Two days later, at Mass, on Christmas Day, December 25th, when Charlemagne knelt at the altar to pray, the Pope crowned him Imperator Romanorum, “Emperor of the Romans,” in Saint Peter’s Basilica.  It is unclear whether Charlemagne knew this was going to happen or if the coronation was unexpected, a point debated by historians for hundreds of years.

Charlemagne coronation

Miniature of Charlemagne crowned emperor by Pope Leo III, from Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis, vol. 1; France, second quarter of 14th century.

In 803, Charlemagne sent a Bavarian army into Pannonia ending the Avar confederation.

In 804, one last rebellion occurred in Saxony, but by this time, 30 years after being conquered, most of the original inhabitants were dead and the rest had never known anything but Charlemagne’s rule and warfare.  They were tired of fighting in their homeland.

Einhard tells us:

The war that had lasted so many years was at length ended by their acceding to the terms offered by the King; which were renunciation of their national religious customs and the worship of devils, acceptance of the sacraments of the Christian faith and religion, and union with the Franks to form one people.

In 808, an attack arrived from an unexpected source, the pagan Danes, “a race almost unknown to his ancestors, but destined to be only too well known to his sons,” as Charles Oman described them.  Wikukind, whose wife was Danish, and his allies had taken refuge among the Danes.  The king of the Danes, Godfred, built the vast Danevirke (shown below) across the isthmus of Schleswig. This defense was at its beginning a 30 km (19 mi) long defensive earthenwork rampart. The Danevirke protected Danish land and gave Godfred the opportunity to harass Frisia and Flanders with pirate raids.

Charlemagne danevirke

Godfred invaded Frisia, joked of visiting Aachen, but was murdered before he could do any more, either by a Frankish assassin or by one of his own men. Godfred was succeeded by his nephew Hemming, who concluded the Treaty of Heiligen with Charlemagne in late 811.

Europe at the end of Charlemagne’s rein looked a lot different than it did at the beginning.  The balance of power had shifted dramatically.

"Europe in 814, Charlemagne, Krum, Nicephorus I" by Stolichanin - Europe_plain_rivers.pngThe map is made according to:"World Atlas", part 3: Europe in Middle Ages, Larrouse, Paris, 2002, O. RenieAtlas "History of Bulgaria", Sofia, 1988, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, V. Kamburova"World Atlas", N. Ostrovski, Rome, 1992, p.55Атлас "История на средните векове", Sofia, 1982, G. Gavrilov"History in maps", Johannes Herder, Berlin, 1999, p. 20"European Historical Globus", R. Rusev, 2006, p.117. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Europe in 814, Charlemagne, Krum, Nicephorus I” by Stolichanin – Europe_plain_rivers.pngThe map is made according to:”World Atlas”, part 3: Europe in Middle Ages, Larrouse, Paris, 2002, O. RenieAtlas “History of Bulgaria”, Sofia, 1988, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, V. Kamburova”World Atlas”, N. Ostrovski, Rome, 1992, p.55Атлас “История на средните векове”, Sofia, 1982, G. Gavrilov”History in maps”, Johannes Herder, Berlin, 1999, p. 20″European Historical Globus”, R. Rusev, 2006, p.117. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons


Charlemagne was determined to have his children educated, including his daughters, as he himself was not. Below, we see Charlemagne’s monogram from the subscription of a royal diploma.  Signum Karolvs Karoli gloriosissimi regis.

Charlemagne signum

For an uneducated man, he made amazing changes, including the standardization of the monetary system and instituting principles of accounting practice.

Charlemagne’s children were taught all the arts, and his daughters were learned in the “ways of being a woman.” whatever that meant at the time. His sons participated in archery, horsemanship, and other outdoor activities.  This renaissance of education was referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance because it ushered in a new cultural era in which scholarship, literature and art thrived.

Charlemagne was brought into contact with the culture and learning of other countries (especially Moorish Spain, Anglo-Saxon England, and Lombard Italy) as a result of his vast conquests.  He greatly increased the provision of monastic schools and scriptoria (centres for book-copying) in Francia.

Most of the presently surviving works of classical Latin were copied and preserved by Carolingian scholars. Indeed, the earliest manuscripts available for many ancient texts are Carolingian. It is almost certain that a text which survived to the Carolingian age survives still, thanks to Charlemagne.

Charlemagne took a serious interest in scholarship, promoting the liberal arts at the court, ordering that his children and grandchildren be well-educated.  In a time when even leaders who promoted education did not take time to learn, Charlemagne studied.  Under the tutelage of Peter of Pisa, Charlemagne learned grammar; with Alcuin, he studied rhetoric, dialectic (logic), and astronomy (he was particularly interested in the movements of the stars); and Einhard assisted him in his studies of arithmetic.

Charlemagne’s great scholarly failure, as Einhard relates, was his inability to write: when in his old age he began attempts to learn – practicing the formation of letters in his bed during his free time on books and wax tablets he hid under his pillow – “his effort came too late in life and achieved little success.”  Charlemagne’s ability to read – which Einhard is silent about, and which no contemporary source supports – has also been called into question.

It appears that the man who was personally responsible for the salvation of so much literature was, himself, illiterate.  Charlemagne was however very foresighted and progressive.  What an amazing legacy.

Children and Heirs

Charlemagne had eighteen children over the course of his life with eight of his ten known wives or concubines.  Nonetheless, he only had four legitimate grandsons, the four sons of his fourth son, Louis. In addition, he had a grandson (Bernard of Italy, the only son of his third son, Pippin of Italy), who was born illegitimate, but included in the line of inheritance. So, despite eighteen children, the claimants to his inheritance were few.

Charlemagne’s personal life is somewhat colorful for a devout Catholic, although maybe the cultural aspect of the church at that time was different.  Then again, being the protector of the Pope may have gained Charlemagne special favors or caused some behaviors to be overlooked.Charlemagne children

As I look at the dates, I have to wonder if these women and children all lived in one place and knew each other.  Did the wife and concubine glare at each other when they met in the hallway, or were they more like compatriot sisters?  Did they live in different locations?  Did they consider themselves sucky to be Charlemagne’s partner, or did they wish things were different and that he was monogamous, as they had surely be raised in the Catholic church to expect of a husband.

I found the many references to Charlemagne’s concubines confusing, given his Catholicism and marriages at the same time, so I turned to the Catholic encyclopedia for clarification:

The Council of Toledo, held in 400, in its seventeenth canon legislates as follows for laymen (for ecclesiastical regulations on this head with regard to clerics see Celibacy): after pronouncing sentence of excommunication against any who in addition to a wife keep a concubine, it says: “But if a man has no wife, but a concubine instead of a wife, let him not be refused communion; only let him be content to be united with one woman, whether wife or concubine” (Can. “Is qui”, dist. xxxiv; Mansi, III, col. 1001). The refractory are to be excommunicated until such time as they shall obey and do penance.

It would appear, based on that edict, that Charlemagne’s concubines and extra-curricular activities were overlooked by the church, although many of his children were very active within the church as abbots and abbesses.  Charlemagne recognized and provided in some way for all of his children, legitimate or otherwise.

Charlemagne’s sons fought many wars on behalf of their father when they came of age.

Charles was mostly preoccupied with the Bretons, whose border he shared and who insurrected on at least two occasions and were easily put down, but he was also sent against the Saxons on multiple occasions. In 805 and 806, he was sent into the Böhmerwald (modern Bohemia) to deal with the Slavs living there (Bohemian tribes, ancestors of the modern Czechs). He subjected them to Frankish authority and devastated the valley of the Elbe, forcing a tribute on them.

Pippin had to hold the Avar and Beneventan borders but also fought the Slavs to his north. He was uniquely poised to fight the Byzantine Empire when finally that conflict arose after Charlemagne’s imperial coronation and a Venetian rebellion.

Finally, Louis was in charge of the Spanish March and also went to southern Italy to fight the duke of Benevento on at least one occasion. He took Barcelona in a great siege in 797.

Charlemagne’s attitude toward his daughters has been the subject of much discussion. He kept them at home with him and refused to allow them to contract sacramental marriages – possibly to prevent the creation of cadet branches of the family to challenge the main line, as had been the case with Tassilo of Bavaria – yet he tolerated their extramarital relationships, even rewarding their common-law husbands, and treasured the illegitimate grandchildren they produced for him.  At least one of them, Bertha, had a recognized relationship, if not a marriage, with Angilbert, a member of Charlemagne’s court circle.

Charlemagne also refused to believe stories of their wild behavior. He’s certainly not the first father to do that!

After Charlemagne’s death the surviving daughters were banished from the court by their brother, Louis, to take up residence in the convents they had been bequeathed by their father.  That’s what happens when you are a bit rowdy and your brother who is known as Louis the Pious becomes king.

Charlemagne’s Death

In 806, Charlemagne first made provision for the traditional division of the empire on his death. For Charles the Younger he designated Austrasia and Neustria, Saxony, Burgundy, and Thuringia. To Pippin he gave Italy, Bavaria, and Swabia. Louis received Aquitaine, the Spanish March, and Provence. There was no mention of the imperial title however, which has led to the suggestion that, at that particular time, Charlemagne regarded the title as an honorary achievement which held no hereditary significance.

This division might have worked, but it was never to be tested. Pippin died in 810 and Charles in 811. Charlemagne then reconsidered the matter, and in 813, called Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, his only surviving legitimate son, to his court. There Charlemagne crowned his son with his own hands as co-emperor, granting him a half-share of the empire with the rest to follow up on Charlemagne’s death.  Louis the Pious then returned to Aquitaine.  The only part of the Empire which Louis was not promised was Italy, which Charlemagne specifically bestowed upon Pippin’s illegitimate son Bernard.

Charlemagne then spent the autumn hunting before returning to Aachen on November 1st.  In January, he fell ill with pleurisy.  In a deep depression (mostly because many of his plans were not yet realized), he took to his bed on January 21st.  With all Charlemagne did achieve, I can’t imagine what he yet wanted that was severe enough to induce a depression of that magnitude.  Historians attribute his depression to his plans not being realized, but I have to wonder if the deaths of his three sons and two daughters in two years (810-811) didn’t contribute to his depression.  Another daughter had died in 808.  That’s a lot of death in a short time.

Einhard tells us:

He died January twenty-eighth, the seventh day from the time that he took to his bed, at nine o’clock in the morning, after partaking of the Holy Communion, in the seventy-second year of his age and the forty-seventh of his reign.

Charlemagne was buried the same day as his death, in Aachen Cathedral, although the cold weather and the nature of his illness made such a hurried burial unnecessary.  This causes me to wonder why he was buried so quickly.

Charlemagne Aachen Cathedral

Above, the Aachen Cathedral today.

Charlemagne is buried in the Palatine Chapel.  He commissioned its construction in 792 and it was consecrated in 805 by Pope Leo III in honor of the Virgin Mary.

"Aachener Dom Pfalzkapelle vom Münsterplatz 2014" by CaS2000 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aachener Dom Pfalzkapelle vom Münsterplatz 2014” by CaS2000 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s floor plan, below, includes a sixteen-sided ambulatory with a gallery overhead encircling the central octagonal dome.

Charlemagne Aachen floor plan

The plan and decoration owe much to the sixth-century Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Indeed, Charlemagne visited Ravenna three times, the first in 787. In that year he wrote to Pope Hadrian I and requested “mosaic, marbles, and other materials from floors and walls” in Rome and Ravenna, for his palace.

"Aix dom int vue cote" by Velvet - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aix dom int vue cote” by Velvet – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Interior view of the chapel.  Charlemagne was buried someplace here, although the exact location evades detection.  Theories abound and I have to believe that Charlemagne enjoys every minute of this mystery that his bones visit upon his descendants – which remember, includes all or most of Europe today.

"Königsthron Aachener Dom" by ​German Wikipedia user Holger Weinandt. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Königsthron Aachener Dom” by ​German Wikipedia user Holger Weinandt. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s throne, above, resides in the chapel as well.

Charlemagne shroud Aachen

This piece of fabric is part of Charlemagne’s death shroud, manufactured in Constantinople (present day Istanbul), and represents a quadriga, a cart or chariot that was drawn by 4 horses abreast.  Typically Gods were depicted in this manner.

A later story, told by Otho of Lomello, Count of the Palace at Aachen in the time of Otto III, about the year 1000, would claim that he and Emperor Otto had discovered Charlemagne’s tomb.  They claimed that Charlemagne was seated upon a throne, wearing a crown and holding a sceptre, his flesh almost entirely incorrupt.

In 1165, Frederick I re-opened the tomb again and placed the emperor in a sarcophagus beneath the floor of the cathedral.

Charlemagne sarcophagus

Sarcophagus, above and below.

"Karl Martell" by J. Patrick Fischer - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons

“Karl Martell” by J. Patrick Fischer – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons

In 1215 Frederick II re-interred him in a casket made of gold and silver.

Charlemagne casket

Charlemagne’s death greatly affected many of his subjects, particularly those of the literary clique who had surrounded him at Aachen.  An anonymous monk of Bobbio lamented:

From the lands where the sun rises to western shores, people are crying and wailing … the Franks, the Romans, all Christians, are stung with mourning and great worry … the young and old, glorious nobles, all lament the loss of their Caesar … the world laments the death of Charles … O Christ, you who govern the heavenly host, grant a peaceful place to Charles in your kingdom. Alas for miserable me.

Charlemagne was succeeded by his surviving son, Louis, who had been crowned the previous year.  Charlemagne’s empire lasted only another generation in its entirety; its division, according to custom, between Louis’s own sons after their father’s death laid the foundation for the modern states of Germany and France.

Below, the mask reliquary of Charlemagne.  If this is a death mask of the man, he was in wonderful shape for 72 years of age and the battles he had been through.

"Aachen Domschatz Bueste1" by Beckstet - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aachen Domschatz Bueste1” by Beckstet – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Reliquary’s were and remain very popular in the Catholic Church.  Below, Charlemagne’s arm reliquary.

"Charlemagne arm at Cathedral Treasury Aachen Germany" by Prof-Declercq - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

“Charlemagne arm at Cathedral Treasury Aachen Germany” by Prof-Declercq – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

Charlemagne’s throne remains today in the Achen Cathedral as well.

Charlemagne throne

“AachenerDomKarlsthron 1661a” by Bojin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Below, the interior of Charlemagne’s chapel in the Aachen Cathedral.

"Aachen-cathedral-inside". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Aachen-cathedral-inside”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

What Was Charlemagne Like?

We’re exceedingly lucky that Einhard was Charlemagne’s biographer.  Otherwise we would know very little about him.

Charlemagne spoke French and German in addition to Latin and understood some Greek but spoke it very poorly.  He mandated that sermons be preached in either “Romance” (French) or “Theotiscan” (German) and not in Latin so that the common person could understand the lessons being imparted.

How Did He Look?

Charlemagne’s personal appearance is known from a description by Einhard in his biography of Charlemagne titled “Vita Karoli Magni.” Einhard describes in his twenty-second chapter:

He was heavily built, sturdy, and of considerable stature, although not exceptionally so, since his height was seven times the length of his own foot. He had a round head, large and lively eyes, a slightly larger nose than usual, white but still attractive hair, a bright and cheerful expression, a short and fat neck, and he enjoyed good health, except for the fevers that affected him in the last few years of his life. Toward the end, he dragged one leg. Even then, he stubbornly did what he wanted and refused to listen to doctors, indeed he detested them, because they wanted to persuade him to stop eating roast meat, as was his wont, and to be content with boiled meat.

The physical portrait provided by Einhard is confirmed by contemporary depictions of the emperor, such as coins and his 8-inch (20 cm) bronze statue kept in the Louvre.

"Charlemagne denier Mayence 812 814" by PHGCOM - Own work by uploader, photographed at Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Charlemagne denier Mayence 812 814” by PHGCOM – Own work by uploader, photographed at Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

It’s uncertain whether this bronze statue from the Louvre depicts Charlemagne or his grandson, Charles the Bald, who reportedly favored his grandfather, Charlemagne.

Charlemagne at Louvre

Photographs credited © RMN, Musée du Louvre / [etc.] are the property of the RMN. Non-commercial re-use is authorized, provided the source and author are acknowledged. Photo by Jean-Giles Berizzi

In 1861, Charlemagne’s tomb was opened by scientists who reconstructed his skeleton and estimated it to be measured 1.95 metres (6 ft 5 in).  A later estimate of his height from a X-ray and CT scan of his tibia performed in 2010 is 1.84 metres (6 ft 0 in). This puts him in the 99th percentile of tall people of his period, given that average male height of his time was 1.69 metres (5 ft 7 in). The width of the bone suggested he was gracile but not robust in body build.

Charlemagne wore the traditional costume of the Frankish people, described by Einhard thus:

He used to wear the national, that is to say, the Frank, dress—next his skin a linen shirt and linen breeches, and above these a tunic fringed with silk; while hose fastened by bands covered his lower limbs, and shoes his feet, and he protected his shoulders and chest in winter by a close-fitting coat of otter or marten skins.

He wore a blue cloak and always carried a sword with him. The typical sword was of a golden or silver hilt. He wore fancy jeweled swords to banquets or ambassadorial receptions.  To Charlemagne, a sword was his ever-present and indispensable weapon, just in case, and sometimes a fine piece of jewelry too.

Charlemagne robes


He despised foreign costumes, however handsome, and never allowed himself to be robed in them, except twice in Rome, when he donned the Roman tunic, chlamys, and shoes; the first time at the request of Pope Hadrian, the second to gratify Leo, Hadrian’s successor.

He could rise to the occasion when necessary. On great feast days, he wore embroidery and jewels on his clothing and shoes. He had a golden buckle for his cloak on such occasions and would appear with his great diadem, but he despised such apparel, according to Einhard, and usually dressed like the common people.

The Beautification of the Blessed Charles Augustus

Charlemagne was accorded sainthood inside the Holy Roman Empire after the twelfth century. His canonization by Antipope Paschal III, to gain the favor of Frederick Barbarossa in 1165, was never recognized by the Holy See, which annulled all of Paschal’s ordinances at the Third Lateran Council in 1179. Charlemagne’s name does not appear among the 28 saints named Charles who are listed in the Roman Martyrology. However, his beatification has been acknowledged as cultus confirmed and is celebrated on 28 January.  Even in death, Charlemagne was contentious and deeply involved in the politics of religion.

Ummmm…so how does one act appropriately if one is twice descended from a King who was also a Saint???  Do I need to learn how to curtsey or do that Queen wave maybe?  No one prepared me for this when I was learning proper manners.  I had no idea how proper “proper” was!


Charlemagne, being a model knight as one of the Nine Worthies, enjoyed an important afterlife in European culture.

The Nine Worthies are nine historical, scriptural and legendary personages who personify the ideals of chivalry as were established in the Middle Ages.

The Nine Worthies include three good pagans: Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, three good Jews: Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus, and three good Christians: King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.

Gateway Ancestors

If you’d like to see if you too are descended from Charlemagne through known gateway ancestors, please click here for a list.  But beware, you just might have to learn how to behave “properly.”  If you figure out exactly what that means, let me know.



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Irene Charitas (c1665-c1694) and Her Aching Mother’s Soul, 52 Ancestors #100

For a very long time, and on most online trees, Irene Charitas is listed as the wife of Johann Michael Mueller who was born about 1655 in Zollikoffen, Switzerland and who died in 1695 in Steinwenden, Germany.  Her last name is listed as Charitas, but it isn’t.  Charitas is Irene’s middle name.

At this time in history, in Germany and the Germanic speaking Protestant regions of Europe, females were given two names, a first “saints” name and a second name by which they were typically called.  Irene is quite unusual for a Saint’s name and Charitas is very unusual for a middle name.  So unusual in fact that I’ve only seen it one other time, ever.

Charitas is a Latin word meaning charity and “for the love of God.”  Charitas, or charity, is one of the 7 virtues.

Steinwenden 5

We don’t know where Irene was born, but what we do know is that we first find her as Johann Michael Mueller’s wife in Steinwenden, Germany, shown above and below, when she gives birth to the first child recorded to this couple in the church records in 1685.  Could this couple have lived there, or had children elsewhere, previously?  Of course.  Could they have had other children that were baptized in a different church?  Yes.  Michael was born in 1655, so if Irene was his age, they could have married by about 1673-1675 and had another 5 children or so before they appear in the Steinwenden records.  But did they?  We’ll never know for sure, but there is no evidence today to suggest such.

Steinwenden 6

Unfortunately, the only part of the original Steinwenden church that survives today is the bell tower.

Steinwenden 4

Sometime in the early 1680s, the Mueller family arrived in Steinwenden from the Zollikoffen area near Bern, Switzerland. It’s likely that Irene’s family was among the same immigrant group – but we just don’t know and to the best of my knowledge, no research has been done on that topic.  Furthermore, the Johann Michael Mueller family could have made an intermittent stop along the way that we are unaware of.  In other words, Michael could have married Irene Charitas anyplace between Zollikoffen and Steinwenden.

I’m not quite sure how Charitas became her last name on the internet.  Perhaps it’s an assumption based on the fact that her middle name is an unfamiliar name and someone assumed it was her last name.  In any event, it’s been that way for years now and I’m hopeful that records from the actual church can help reduce or eliminate this misinformation.  I’m currently in the process of having the church records retranslated by a professional German genealogist, just to be sure.

When our cousin, the Reverend Richard Miller visited the church in Steinwenden in 1996, the church historians and a German genealogist prepared a summary of the church records involving Johann Michael Mueller, shown below.

In all of the birth records of children born to Michael, Irene Charitas was his wife, and Charitas was not her birth name.  If the child born in 1685 was their first, then Irene Charitas was likely born about 1665, give or take a couple years in either direction.

Steinwenden 7

Recently, Richard sent me the original record of Johann Michael Mueller’s birth from the Steinwenden church.  It’s the second to last entry, below.

Miller 1792 birth steinwenden

Needless to say, I can’t read this, on two fronts, the language and the script, which is why I’m having this and the other records retranslated.

The next we hear of Irene is a church record for a confirmation of Irene Charitas Schlosser, a daughter of Conrad Schlosser, of Steinwinden.  Often, children were named after their godparents with the idea that the Godparents were relatives and they were the appointed relatives responsible for the religious education of the child – and whether spoken or unspoken, it was also expected that if the parents died, the Godparents would raise the children – or at least the one(s) named for them.  Unfortunately, in the age of marginal medical care, no antibiotics and an era where every pregnancy was high risk, that happened all too often.  So, it appears that Conrad Schlosser’s daughter was named for Michael Mueller’s wife, Irene Charitas.

It’s likely that Irene was in some way related to Conrad.  She could have been his sister or aunt or a favorite cousin.  Or, Conrad could have been related to Johann Michael Mueller.  One way or another Conrad trusted Irene enough to name his daughter after her, making Irene Charitas Mueller the first in line to raise her namesake should something happen to Conrad and his wife.  Additional research on the Schlosser family church records is in order.

Steinwenden 1

The first record on this transcriptions says that Jacob Ringeisen of Schweitz was “serving for his cousin” Michael Muller.

In other words, even though the daughter was named for Irene, Michael’s wife, Irene wasn’t present, possibly due to pregnancy herself, and apparently neither was Michael.  However, Michael’s cousin in essence represented Michael and the couple’s commitment at the baptism.

Of course, now this makes me ask just how Michael and Jacob were cousins, and was it through marriage via Irene Charitas?  It looks like we may have yet another family connection hint.  So often in these old church records there is so much more buried in the details that is missed if all you get is a translation of the actual “event.”

In genealogy, always, always, more questions.

Irene Charitas’ life was short.  She probably died before she was 30.  There are no more known records of her, at least not directly.

What we do know is that the last child in these church records is born to Irene and Michael in 1692.  This is the only one of the six children she bore that lived.  This is an incredibly sad story that seems to stretch beyond just “bad luck.”   

Child Birth Death Age at Death
Johann Nicholas Muller June 5, 1685 June 6, 1685 1 day
Johann Abraham Muller July 9, 1688 1696 Less than 6 months
Samuel Muller April 30, 1687 April 30, 1687 Shortly after birth
Catherine Barbara Muller June 7, 1688 June 21, 1691 3 years, 2 weeks
Eva Catherine Muller April 24, 1691 June 29, 1691 2 months
Johann Michael Muller October 5, 1692 1771 78 years

Looking at these children’s deaths, I find the month of June, 1691 particularly heartbreaking.  Clearly, something contagious was occurring and both of Irene’s children died, 8 days apart.  I wonder if the church records reflect a rash of deaths within the village.  Just 11 months later, she would bear her 6th child.  I bet those months between June of 1691 and May of 1692 were living Hell for Irene, between the sorrow and grief of losing her children and the uncertainly of the one she was carrying.

Fortunately for me, Johann Michael Mueller, the second, born in 1692, named after his father, did live, as he is my ancestor.

Johann Michael Mueller Sr. died in Steinwenden in 1695, just three years later. For some reason, from 1692 to 1695, there were no more children born to Johann Michael Mueller and Irene Charitas – nor to Johann Michael Mueller and anyone else.

Why is this important?  Because another rumor that has been rampant over the years is that Johann Michael Mueller was married to Anna Loysa Regina and that she was the mother of Johann Michael Mueller.  At least I was able to figure out where this information originated.

On September 29, 1695, Anna Loysa Regina married Jacob Stutzman in Steinwenden, although I have not seen the original record myself.  She is noted at that time as being the widow of Michael Mueller.

For Anna Loysa Regina to be the window of Michael Mueller, that means that Irene Charitas died sometime after giving birth to Michael Jr. on October 5, 1692 and sometime before Michael Sr.’s death on January 31, 1695, just 2 years and 3 months later, allowing Michael Sr. enough time to remarry after Irene’s death and before his own.  Remarriage often didn’t take much time actually, given that most people already knew each other through church and it was simply a matter of taking stock of the available spouses and making a choice from the willing and most compatible selection.  No, it was not about love but one would hope it was at least about like and that love evolved.  Regardless, marriage was a practical matter of survival as men and women needed each other’s assistance in the daily activities of living and raising children.  Michael would have had a small child who needed a mother.

Michael and Anna Loysa Regina must not have been married long, because there are no children recorded to she and Michael, but she did go on to have children with Jacob Stutzman, one as late as 1706.  Jacob Stutzman Jr. born in 1706, and Johann Michael Mueller Jr., born in 1692, step-brothers of a sort, would in 1727 immigrate to America together.

If all of these records have been accurately translated, Irene Charitas probably died about 1694, possibly in childbirth.  In the natural order of things, March or April 1694 would be about 18 months after Michael was born, representing the typical spacing between children.  Why no record of her death exists in the church records is a mystery.  Perhaps we need to look again, and maybe in the surrounding church records as well.

Cemetery plots in Germany, as is customary in Europe, are reused.  In some cases, they continue within the family, with generation upon generation (pardon the pun) being buried in the same location.  In other cases, the grave is considered “abandoned” if no one pays upkeep, and the site is reused at the discretion of the church.  Gravesites that aren’t abandoned are still reused, but generally by the family and perhaps not as quickly as abandoned graves.  While this is very foreign to those of us in the US, if Europeans did not employ some “recycling” burial strategy, the entire continent would be blanketed with cemeteries and there would no room for the living.

Being someone who wonders about everything, I asked at a Dutch church during a European visit in 2014 about what happened if there were still bones in the grave when they set about burying the next person.  I’m glad I asked, because I then discovered that those little buildings in or near cemeteries weren’t what I thought.  I assumed they were the gardener’s or sextant’s shed, containing things like shovels, lawnmowers, etc.  Well, I was wrong.  Those little buildings are ossuaries containing the bones of the former inhabitants of graves.  The photo below is the ossuary in Wolsum, the Netherlands.

Ossuary Wolsum

This is truly the final resting place until the bones turn to dust, generally stacked something like cordwood with similar types of bones stacked with like bones on shelves.  Yes, seriously.  Once moved from the grave to the ossuary, the bones are not kept together as a “person.”  This photo is an ossuary in Hallstatt, Austria.

Ossuary Austria

From a DNA perspective, these ossuaries, found in almost all cemeteries, are just torture to me, because I can just see the DNA of my ancestral lines in that ossuary, all mixed in with the DNA of the other families…which are probably mine as well, given that these people married their neighbors in the community for generations.  There they are, my ancestors and their DNA, right in front of me, but entirely anonymous and completely unidentifiable.  If we knew who they were, we could obtain the Y and mtDNA lineage of every family in the village, including mine!

The bones in the ossuaries are just waiting to finish turning to dust – a process that takes longer than they are allowed to rest in the ground.  So a grave in Europe is not a place of perpetual rest, it’s a temporary resting point but not the last stop on the journey.  I just can’t help but think what a wonderful scientific study it would be to analyze the bones in an ossuary and compare the results to the DNA of the current village inhabitants, and those descendants who moved away.  And yes, you know I’d be in the front of the line, volunteering.  You could reconstruct an entire village in the 1700s or maybe 1800s from their DNA – maybe even further back.  You could tell who settled there, where they were from originally… you could learn so much.  But back to reality….

Not only do we not know where Irena Charitas and her infant children were buried, their dust assuredly shares that location today with several subsequent generations of Germans, most likely not her descendants because her only known descendant immigrated to America in 1727 with his Stutzman step-brother.  Irene Charitas’ son Johann Michael Mueller, Jr. never knew his mother or father, never remembered seeing his mother’s face, beaming down at him, so joyous that he was alive.  He had no memory of her loving touch.  He was raised by his step-mother and her subsequent husband, Jacob Stutzman, after both of Michael’s parents died by the time he was three.

There was no happy ending for Irene Charitas.  In fact – it seems that her entire adult lifetime was filled with serial grief, except for those few brief months when she and baby Michael both lived.  Irene Charitas’ grief was caused by the births and deaths of 5 children in 5 years, followed by her own death not long after her 6th child was born and survived.  Then, the terrible irony.  When a child finally lives, she herself succumbs.

I can only imagine the excitement Irene felt about her first pregnancy, followed by the shattering death of the baby.  Surely, she would have told herself that it wouldn’t happen again.  It was a first birth, probably difficult.  The second one would be easier.  Just a few months later, she became pregnant again and full of hope, only to have her dreams shattered again with the death of that child.  And then again…and again and again, year after year after year.  Just five years after that first baby died, she was pregnant for her sixth child.  I wonder if she started out in dread when she discovered she was pregnant again, never allowing herself to be excited, to plan, to hope for that baby to live.  I could understand how she might feel that way after 5 dead babies in 5 years.  I know how frightened I was when I was pregnant for my third child after my second child died.

And then the baby lived but she died.  Oh, the horrible irony.  Poor Irene.  In death, leaving behind her one child that lived.  She must have fought the grim reaper with every ounce of her being until the very end.  But it wasn’t enough.  It just wasn’t enough.

I hope that Irene Charitas was able to see, from afar, her son, Johann Michael Mueller Jr. growing up strong, being raised by his step-mother and step-father in a pious pietist home and that it helped sooth her aching mother’s soul.

4-15-2018 Update – We now have a surname and parents for Irene.  Click here to read the next article!



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Mass Pre-Contact Native Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results

In 2012 during excavation for a shopping mall near San Francisco, a mass grave containing 7 men was unearthed.  The manner in which they were buried led archaeologists to believe that they had been murdered, and quickly buried, not ceremonially buried as tribal members would be.  They were found among more than 200 other burials.

The victims ages ranged from about 18 to about 40 and scientists concentrated on analyzing the wounds, cause of death and DNA of these men.  In part, they wanted to see if they were related to each other and if they originated in this area or came from elsewhere.  In other words, were they unsuccessful invaders as suggested by the circumstances of their burials?

This article tells more about the excavations and includes some photos.

Analysis suggests the men lived about 1200 years ago, clearly before European contact.  Analysis of the men’s teeth provided information about their history.  These men had spent their lives together, but their isotope signatures were clearly different than the individuals in the balance of the burials.  Indeed, they look to have been invaders.

An academic paper titled “Isotopic and genetic analysis of a mass grave in central California: Implications for precontact hunter-gatherer warfare” was published a few weeks ago in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.  The article itself is behind a paywall available here.  The abstract is provided below:



Analysis of a mass burial of seven males at CA-ALA-554, a prehistoric site in the Amador Valley, CA, was undertaken to determine if the individuals were “locals” or “non-locals,” and how they were genetically related to one another.


The study includes osteological, genetic (mtDNA), and stable (C, N, O, S) and radiogenic (Sr) isotope analyses of bone and tooth (first and third molars) samples.


Isotopes in first molars, third molars, and bone show they spent the majority of their lives living together. They are not locals to the Amador Valley, but were recently living to the east in the San Joaquin Valley, suggesting intergroup warfare as the cause of death. The men were not maternally related, but represent at least four different matrilines. The men also changed residence as a group between age 16 and adult years.


Isotope data suggest intergroup warfare accounts for the mass burial. Genetic data suggest the raiding party included sets of unrelated men, perhaps from different households. Generalizing from this case and others like it, we hypothesize that competition over territory was a major factor behind ancient warfare in Central California. We present a testable model of demographic expansion, wherein villages in high-population-density areas frequently fissioned, with groups of individuals moving to lower-population-density areas to establish new villages. This model is consistent with previous models of linguistic expansion. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Genetic Information

I was extremely disappointed with the genetic information.  Working with the local Ohlone community, the scientists did attempt to extract DNA from the 7 individuals in the mass grave, with 6 extractions being successful.

They only analyzed the HVR1 region of the mitochondrial DNA.

Eerkens 2015 table

In the paper, the authors indicate that nuclear DNA which would include the Y chromosome as well as autosomal DNA was too degraded to recover.  While disappointing, there is nothing they can do about that.

However, only analyzing the mitochondrial DNA, which they clearly were able to amplify, at the HVR1 level is an incredible lost opportunity.  They obtained enough resolution in 6 of the individuals to obtain general haplogroup assignments.  However, the HVR2 and coding regions would have provided the defining information about extended haplogroups and individual mutations, including, perhaps, haplogroups rarely or never seen previously in the Americas.

Furthermore, given the information above, we can’t tell if the D1 individuals are related to each other matrilineally or not.  The B2 individuals are clearly not related in a recent timeframe nor are the A2, B2 and D1 people related to each other on their matrilineal line.  What a shame more information wasn’t obtained.

While I’m grateful that DNA testing was undertaken, I’m saddened by the partial results, especially in this day of full genomic sequencing for ancient DNA specimens.  I’m perplexed as to why they would not have obtained as much information as was possible, given the significant effort expended in recovering any ancient DNA specimen.



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Some Native Americans Had Oceanic Ancestors

This week has seen a flurry of new scientific and news articles.  What has been causing such a stir?  It appears that Australian or more accurately, Australo-Melanese DNA has been found in South America’s Native American population. In addition, it has also been found in Aleutian Islanders off the coast of Alaska.  In case you aren’t aware, that’s about 8,500 miles as the crow flies.  That’s one tired crow.  As the person paddles or walks along the shoreline, it’s even further, probably about 12,000 miles.

Aleutians to Brazil

Whatever the story, it was quite a journey and it certainly wasn’t all over flat land.

This isn’t the first inkling we’ve had.  Just a couple weeks ago, it was revealed that the Botocudo remains from Brazil were Polynesian and not admixed with either Native, European or African.  This admixture was first discovered via mitochondrial DNA, but full genome sequencing confirmed their ancestry and added the twist that they were not admixed – an extremely unexpected finding.  This is admittedly a bit confusing, because it implies that there were new Polynesian arrivals in the 1600s or 1700s.

Unlikely as it seems, it obviously happened, so we set that aside as relatively contemporary.

The findings in the papers just released are anything but contemporary.

The First Article

The first article in Science, “Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans” by Raghaven et al published this week provides the following summary (bolding is mine):

How and when the Americas were populated remains contentious. Using ancient and modern genome-wide data, we find that the ancestors of all present-day Native Americans, including Athabascans and Amerindians, entered the Americas as a single migration wave from Siberia no earlier than 23 thousand years ago (KYA), and after no more than 8,000-year isolation period in Beringia. Following their arrival to the Americas, ancestral Native Americans diversified into two basal genetic branches around 13 KYA, one that is now dispersed across North and South America and the other is restricted to North America. Subsequent gene flow resulted in some Native Americans sharing ancestry with present-day East Asians (including Siberians) and, more distantly, Australo-Melanesians. Putative ‘Paleoamerican’ relict populations, including the historical Mexican Pericúes and South American Fuego-Patagonians, are not directly related to modern Australo-Melanesians as suggested by the Paleoamerican Model.

This article in EurekAlert and a second one here discuss the Science paper.

Raghaven 2015

Migration map from the Raghaven paper.

The paper included the gene flow and population migration map, above, along with dates.

The scientists sequenced the DNA of 31 living individuals from the Americas, Siberia and Oceana as follows:


  • Altai – 2
  • Buryat – 2
  • Ket – 2
  • Kiryak – 2
  • Sakha – 2
  • Siberian Yupik – 2

North American Native:

  • Tsimshian (number not stated, but by subtraction, it’s 1)

Southern North American, Central and South American Native:

  • Pima – 1
  • Huichol -1
  • Aymara – 1
  • Yakpa – 1


  • Papuan – 14

The researchers also state that they utilized 17 specimens from relict groups such as the Pericues from Mexico and Fuego-Patagonians from the southernmost tip of South America.  They also sequenced two pre-Columbian mummies from the Sierra Tarahumara in northern Mexico.  In total, 23 ancient samples from the Americas were utilized.

They then compared these results with a reference panel of 3053 individuals from 169 populations which included the ancient Saqqaq Greenland individual at 400 years of age as well as the Anzick child from Montana from about 12,500 years ago and the Mal’ta child from Siberia at 24,000 years of age.

Not surprisingly, all of the contemporary samples with the exception of the Tsimshian genome showed recent western Eurasian admixture.

As expected, the results confirm that the Yupik and Koryak are the closest Eurasian population to the Americas.  They indicate that there is a “clean split” between the Native American population and the Koryak about 20,000 years ago.

They found that “Athabascans and Anzick-1, but not the Greenlandis Inuit and Saqqaq belong to the same initial migration wave that gave rise to present-day Amerindians from southern North America and Central and South America, and that this migration likely followed a coastal route, given our current understanding of the glacial geological and paleoenvironmental parameters of the Late Pleistocene.”

Evidence of gene flow between the two groups was also found, meaning between the Athabascans and the Inuit.  Additionally, they found evidence of post-split gene flow between Siberians and Native Americans which seems to have stopped about 12,000 years ago, which meshes with the time that the Beringia land bridge was flooded by rising seas, cutting off land access between the two land masses.

They state that the results support all Native migration from Siberia, contradicting claims of an early migration from Europe.

The researchers then studied the Karitiana people of South America and determined that the two groups, Athabascans and Karitiana diverged about 13,000 years ago, probably not in current day Alaska, but in lower North America.  This makes sense, because the Clovis Anzick child, found in Montana, most closely matches people in South America.

By the Clovis period of about 12,500 years ago, the Native American population had already split into two branches, the northern and southern, with the northern including Athabascan and other groups such as the Chippewa, Cree and Ojibwa.  The Southern group included people from southern North America and Central and South America.

Interestingly, while admixture with the Inuit was found with the Athabascan, Inuit admixture was not found among the Cree, Ojibwa and Chippewa.  The researchers suggest that this may be why the southern branch, such as the Karitiana are genetically closer to the northern Amerindians located further east than to northwest coast Amerindians and Athabascans.

Finally, we get to the Australian part.  The researchers when trying to sort through the “who is closer to whom” puzzle found unexpected results.  They found that some Native American populations including Aleutian Islanders, Surui (Brazil) and Athabascans are closer to Australo-Melanesians compared to other Native Americans, such as Ojibwa, Cree and Algonquian and South American Purepecha (Mexico), Arhuaco (Colombia) and Wayuu (Colombia, Venezuela).  In fact, the Surui are one of the closest populations to East Asians and Australo-Melanese, the latter including Papuans, non-Papuan Melanesians, Solomon Islanders and hunter-gatherers such as Aeta. The researchers acknowledge these are weak trends, but they are nonetheless consistently present.

Dr. David Reich, from Harvard, a co-author of another paper, also published this past week, says that 2% of the DNA of Amazonians is from Oceana.  If that is consistent, it speaks to a founder population in isolation, such that the 2% just keeps getting passed around in the isolated population, never being diluted by outside DNA.  I would suggest that is not a weak signal.

The researchers suggest that the variance in the strength of this Oceanic signal suggests that the introduction of the Australo-Melanese occurred after the initial peopling of the Americas.  The ancient samples cluster with the Native American groups and do not show the Oceanic markers and show no evidence of gene flow from Oceana.

The researchers also included cranial morphology analysis, which I am omitting since cranial morphology seems to have led researchers astray in the past, specifically in the case of Kennewick man.

One of the reasons cranial morphology is such a hotly debated topic is because of the very high degree of cranial variance found in early skeletal remains.  One of the theories evolving from the cranial differences involving the populating of the Americans has been that the Australo-Melanese were part of a separate and earlier migration that gave rise to the earliest Americans who were then later replaced by the Asian ancestors of current day Native Americans.  If this were the case, then the now-extinct Fuego-Patagonains samples from the location furthest south on the South American land mass should have included DNA from Oceana, but it didn’t.

The Second Article

A second article published this week, titled “’Ghost population’ hints at long lost migration to the Americas” by Ellen Callaway discusses similar findings, presented in a draft letter to Nature titled “Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas” by Skoglund et al.  This second group discovers the same artifact Australo-Melanesian DNA in Native American populations but suggests that it may be from the original migration and settlement event or that there may have been two distinct founding populations that settled at the same time or that there were two founding events.

EurekAlert discusses the article as well.

It’s good to have confirmation and agreement between the two labs who happened across these results independently that the Australo-Melanesian DNA is present in some Native populations today.

Their interpretations and theories about how this Oceanic DNA arrived in some of the Native populations vary a bit, but if you read the details, it’s really not quite as different as it first appears from the headlines.  Neither group claims to know for sure, and both discuss possibilities.

Questions remain.  For example, if the founding group was small, why, then, don’t all of the Native people and populations have at least some Oceanic markers?  The Anzick Child from 12,500 years ago does not.  He is most closely related to the tribes in South America, where the Oceanic markers appear with the highest frequencies.

In the Harvard study, the scientists fully genome sequenced 63 individuals without discernable evidence of European or African ancestors in 21 Native American populations, restricting their study to individuals from Central and South America that have the strongest evidence of being entirely derived from a homogenous First American ancestral population.

Their results show that the two Amazonian groups, Surui and Karitians are closest to the “Australasian populations, the Onge from the Andaman Island in the Bay of Bengal (a so-called ‘Negrito’ group), New Guineans, Papuans and indigenous Australians.”  Within those groups, the Australasian populations are the only outliers – meaning no Africans, Europeans or East Asian DNA found in the Native American people.

When repeating these tests, utilizing blood instead of saliva, a third group was shown to also carry these Oceanic markers – the Xavante, a population from the Brazilian plateau that speaks a language of the Ge group that is different from the Tupi language group spoke by the Karitians and Surui.

Skoglund 2015-2

The closest populations that these Native people matched in Oceana, shown above on the map from the draft Skoglund letter, were, in order, New Guineans, Papuans and Andamanese.  The researchers further state that populations from west of the Andes or north of the Panama isthmus show no significant evidence of an affinity to the Onge from the Andaman Islands with the exception of the Cabecar (Costa Rica).

That’s a very surprising finding, given that one would expect more admixture on the west, which is the side of the continent where the migration occurred.

The researchers then compared the results with other individuals, such as Mal’ta child who is known to have contributed DNA to the Native people today, and found no correlation with Oceanic DNA.  Therefore, they surmised that the Oceanic admixture cannot be explained by a previously known admixture event.

They propose that a mystery population they have labeled as “Population Y” (after Ypykuera which means ancestor in the Tupi language family) contributed the Australasian lineage to the First Americans and that is was already mixed into the lineage by the time it arrived in Brazil.

According to their work, Population Y may itself have been admixed, and the 2% of Oceanic DNA found in the Brazilian Natives may be an artifact of between 2 and 85% of the DNA of the Surui, Karitiana and Xavante that may have come from Population Y.  They mention that this result is striking in that the majority of the craniums that are more Oceanic in Nature than Asiatic, as would be expected from people who migrated from Siberia, are found in Brazil.

They conclude that the variance in the presence or absence of DNA in Native people and remains, and the differing percentages argue for more than one migration event and that “the genetic ancestry of Native Americans from Central and South America cannot be due to a single pulse of migration south of the Late Pleistocene ice sheets from a homogenous source population, and instead must reflect at least two streams of migration or alternatively a long drawn out period of gene flow from a structured Beringian or Northeast Asian source.”

Perhaps even more interesting is the following statement:

“The arrival of population Y ancestry in the Americas must in any scenario have been ancient: while Population Y shows a distant genetic affinity to Andamanese, Australian and New Guinean populations, it is not particularly closely related to any of them, suggesting that the source of population Y in Eurasia no longer exists.”

They further state they find no admixture indication that would suggest that Population Y arrived in the last few thousand years.

So, it appears that perhaps the Neanderthals and Denisovans were not the only people who were our ancestors, but no longer exist as a separate people, only as an admixed part of us today.  We are their legacy.

The Take Away

When I did the Anzick extractions, we had hints that something of this sort might have been occurring.  For example, I found surprising instances of haplogroup M, which is neither European, African nor Native American, so far as we know today.  This may have been a foreshadowing of this Oceanic admixture.  It may also be a mitochondrial artifact.  Time will tell.  Perhaps haplogroup M will turn out to be Native by virtue of being Oceanic and admixed thousands of years ago.  There is still a great deal to learn.  Regardless of how these haplogroups and Oceanic DNA arrived in Brazil in South America and in the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska, one thing is for sure, it did.

We know that the Oceanic DNA found in the Brazilian people studied for these articles is not contemporary and is ancient.  This means that it is not related to the Oceanic DNA found in the Botocudo people, who, by the way, also sport mitochondrial haplogroups that are within the range of Native people, meaning haplogroup B, but have not been found in other Native people.  Specifically, haplogroups B4a1a1 and B4a1a1a.  Additionally, there are other B4a1a, B4a1b and B4a1b1 results found in the Anzick extract which could also be Oceanic.  You can see all of the potential and confirmed Native American mitochondrial DNA results in my article “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups” that I update regularly.

We don’t know how or when the Botocudo arrived, but the when has been narrowed to the 1600s or 1700s.  We don’t know how or when the Oceanic DNA in the Brazilian people arrived either, but the when was ancient.  This means that Oceanic DNA has arrived in South America at least twice and is found among the Native peoples both times.

We know that some Native groups have some Oceanic admixture, and others seem to have none, in particular the Northern split group that became the Cree, Ojibwa, Algonquian, and Chippewa.

We know that the Brazilian Native groups are most closely related to Oceanic groups, but that the first paper also found Oceanic admixture in the Aleutian Islands.  The second paper focused on the Central and South American tribes.

We know that the eastern American tribes, specifically the Algonquian tribes are closely related to the South Americans, but they don’t share the Oceanic DNA and neither do the mid-continent tribes like the Cree, Ojibwa and Chippewa.  The only Paleolithic skeleton that has been sequenced, Anzick, from 12,500 years ago in Montana also does not carry the Oceanic signature.

In my opinion, the disparity between who does and does not carry the Oceanic signature suggests that the source of the Oceanic DNA in the Native population could not have been a member of the first party to exit out of Beringia and settle in what is now the Americas.  Given that this had to be a small party, all of the individuals would have been thoroughly admixed with each other’s ancestral DNA within just a couple of generations.  It would have been impossible for one ancestor’s DNA to only be found in some people.  To me, this argues for one of two scenarios.

First, a second immigration wave that joined the first wave but did not admix with some groups that might have already split off from the original group such as the Anzick/Montana group.

Second, multiple Oceanic immigration events.  We still have to consider the possibility that there were multiple events that introduced Oceanic DNA into the Native population.  In other words, perhaps the Aleutian Islands Oceanic DNA is not from the same migration event as the Brazilian DNA which we know is not from the same event as the Botocudo.  I would very much like to see the Oceanic DNA appear in a migration path of people, not just in one place and then the other.  We need to connect the dots.

What this new information does is to rule out the possibility that there truly was only one wave of migration – one group of people who settled the Americas at one time.  More likely, at least until the land bridge submerged, is that there were multiple small groups that exited Beringia over the 8,000 or so years it was inhabitable.  Maybe one of those groups included people from Oceana.  Someplace, sometime, as unlikely as it seems, it happened.

The amazing thing is that it’s more than 10,000 miles from Australia to the Aleutian Islands, directly across the Pacific.  Early adventurers would have likely followed a coastal route to be sustainable, which would have been significantly longer.  The fact that they survived and sent their DNA on a long adventure from Australia to Alaska to South America – and it’s still present today is absolutely amazing.

Australia to Aleutians

We know we still have a lot to learn and this is the tip of a very exciting iceberg.  As more contemporary and ancient Native people have their full genomes sequenced, we’ll learn more answers.  The answer is in the DNA.  We just have to sequence enough of it and learn how to understand the message being delivered.



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Botocudo Ancient Remains from Brazil

Update: Please note that I am leaving this article because the scientific information is accurate, BUT, it was subsequently discovered that the remains were mislabeled in the museum and were not Native.

One thing you can always count on in the infant science of population genetics…  whatever you think you know, for sure, for a fact…well….you don’t.  So don’t say too much, too strongly or you’ll wind up having to decide if you’d like catsup with your crow!  Well, not literally, of course.  It’s an exciting adventure that we’re on together and it just keeps getting better and better.  And the times…they are a changin’.

New Nat Geo map

Courtesy National Geographic

We have some very interesting news to report.  Fortunately, or unfortunately – the news weaves a new, but extremely interesting, mystery.

Ancient Mitochondrial DNA

Back in 2013, a paper, Identification of Polynesian mtdNA haplogroups in remains of Botocudo Amerindians from Brazil, was published that identified both Native American and Polynesian haplogroups in a group of 14 skeletal remains of Botocudo Indians from Brazil whose remains arrived at a Museum in August of 1890 and who, the scientists felt, died in the second half of the 19th century.

Twelve of their mitochondrial haplogroups were the traditional Native haplogroup of C1.

However, two of the skulls carried Polynesian haplogroups, downstream of haplogroup B, specifically B4a1a1a and B4a1a1, that compare to contemporary individuals from Polynesian, Solomon Island and Fijian populations.  These haplotypes had not been found in Native people or previous remains.

Those haplogroups include what is known as the Polynesian motif and are found in Indonesian populations and also in Madagascar, according to the paper, but the time to the most common recent ancestor for that motif was calculated at 9,300 years plus or minus 2000 years.  This suggests that the motif arose after the Asian people who would become the Native Americans had already entered North and South America through Beringia, assuming there were no later migration waves.

The paper discusses several possible scenarios as to how a Polynesian haplotype found its way to central Brazil among a now extinct Native people. Of course, the two options are either pre-Columbian (pre-1500) contact or post-Columbian contact which would infer from the 1500s to current and suggests that the founders who carried the Polynesian motif were perhaps either slaves or sailors.

In the first half of the 1800s, the Botocudo Indians had been pacified and worked side by side with African slaves on plantations.

Beyond that, without full genome sequencing there was no more that could be determined from the remains at that time.  We know they carried a Polynesian motif, were found among Native American remains and at some point in history, intermingled with the Native people because of where they were found.  Initial contact could have been 9,000 years ago or 200.  There was no way to tell.  They did have some exact HVR1 and HVR2 matches, so they could have been “current,” but I’ve also seen HVR1 and HVR2 matches that reach back to a common ancestor thousands of years ago…so an HVR1/HVR2 match is nothing you can take to the bank, certainly not in this case.

Full Genome Sequencing and Y DNA

This week, one on my subscribers, Kalani, mentioned that Felix Immanuel had uploaded another two kits to GedMatch of ancient remains.  Those two kits are indeed two of the Botocudo remains – the two with the Polynesian mitochondrial motif which have now been fully sequenced.  A corresponding paper has been published as well, “Two ancient genomes reveal Polynesian ancestry among the indigenous Botocudos of Brazil” by Malaspinas et al with supplemental information here.

There are two revelations which are absolutely fascinating in this paper and citizen scientist’s subsequent work.

First, their Y haplogroups are C-P3092 and C-Z31878, both equivalent to C-B477 which identifies former haplogroup C1b2.  The Y haplogroups aren’t identified in the paper, but Felix identified them in the raw data files that are available (for those of you who are gluttons for punishment) at the google drive links in Felix’s article Two Ancient DNA from indigenous Botocudos of Brazil.

I’ve never seen haplogroup C1b2 as Native American, but I wanted to be sure I hadn’t missed a bus, so I contacted Ray Banks who is one of the administrators for the main haplogroup C project at Family Tree DNA and also is the coordinator for the haplogroup C portion of the ISOGG tree.

ISOGG y tree

You can see the position of C1b2, C-B477 in yellow on the ISOGG (2015) tree relative to the position of C-P39 in blue, the Native American SNP shown several branches below, both as branches of haplogroup C.

Ray maintains a much more descriptive tree of haplogroup C1 at this link and of C2 at this link.

Ray Banks C1 tree

The branch above is the Polynesian (B477) branch and below, the Native American (P39) branch of haplogroup C.

Ray Banks C2 treeIn addition to confirming the haplogroup that Felix identified, when Ray downloaded the BAM files and analyzed the contents, he found that both samples were also positive for M38 and M208, which moves them downstream two branches from C1b2 (B477).

Furthermore, one of the samples had a mutation at Z32295 which Ray has included as a new branch of the C tree, shown below.

Ray Banks Z32295

Ray indicated that the second sample had a “no read” at Z32295, so we don’t know if he carried this mutation.  Ray mentions that both men are negative for many of the B459 equivalents, which would move them down one more branch.  He also mentioned that about half of the Y DNA sites are missing, meaning they had no calls in the sequence read.  This is common in ancient DNA results.  It would be very interesting to have a Big Y or equivalent test on contemporary individuals with this haplogroup from the Pacific Island region.

Ray notes that all Pacific Islanders may be downstream of Z33295.

Not Admixed

The second interesting aspect of the genomic sequencing is that the remains did not show any evidence of admixture with European, Native American nor African individuals.  More than 97% of their genome fits exactly with the Polynesian motifs.  In other words, they appear to be first generation Polynesians.  They carry Polynesian mitochondrial, Y and autosomal (nuclear) DNA, exclusively.

Botocudo not admixed

In total, 25 Botocudo remains have been analyzed and of those, two have Polynesian ancestry and those two, BOT15 and BOT17, have exclusively Polynesian ancestry as indicated in the graphic above from the paper.

When did they live?  Accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating with marine correction gives us dates of 1479-1708 AD and 1730-1804 for specimen BOT15 and 1496-1842 for BOT17.

The paper goes on to discuss four possible scenarios for how this situation occurred and the pros and cons of each.

The Polynesian Peru Slave Trade

This occurred between 1862-1864 and can be ruled out because the dates for the skulls predate this trade period, significantly.

The Madagascar-Brazil Slave Trade

The researchers state that Madagascar is known to have been peopled by Southeast Asians and not by Polynesians.  Another factor excluding this option is that it’s known that the Malagasy ancestors admixed with African populations prior to the slave trade.  No such ancestry was detected in the samples, so these individuals were not brought as a result of the Madagascar-Brazil slave trade – contrary to what has been erroneously inferred and concluded.

Voyaging on European Ships as Crew, Passengers or StowAways

Trade on Euroamerican ships in the Pacific only began after 1760 AD and by 1760, Bot15 and Bot17 were already deceased with a probability of .92 and .81, respectively, making this scenario unlikely, but not entirely impossible.

Polynesian Voyaging

Polynesian ancestors originated from East Asia and migrated eastwards, interacting with New Guineans before colonizing the Pacific.  These people did colonize the Pacific, as unlikely as it seems, traveling thousands of miles, reaching New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island between 1200 and 1300 AD.  Clearly they did not reach Brazil in this timeframe, at least not as related to these skeletal remains, but that does not preclude a later voyage.

Of the four options, the first two appear to be firmly eliminated which leaves only the second two options.

One of the puzzling aspects of this analysis it the “pure” Polynesian genome, eliminating admixture which precludes earlier arrival.

The second puzzling aspect is how the individuals, and there were at least two, came to find themselves in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and why we have not found this type of DNA on the more likely western coastal areas of South America.

Minas Gerais Brazil

Regardless of how they arrived, they did, and now we know at least a little more of their story.


At GedMatch, it’s interesting to view the results of the one-to-one matching.

Both kits have several matches.  At 5cM and 500 SNPs, kit F999963 has 86 matches.  Of those, the mitochondrial haplogroup distribution is overwhelmingly haplogroup B, specifically B4a1a1 with a couple of interesting haplogroup Ms.

F999963 mito

Y haplogroups are primarily C2, C3 and O.   C3 and O are found exclusively in Asia – meaning they are not Native.

F999963 Y

Kit F999963 matches a couple of people at over 30cM with a generation match estimate just under 5 generations.  Clearly, this isn’t possible given that this person had died by about 1760, according to the paper, which is 255 years or about 8.5-10 generations ago, but it says something about the staying power of DNA segments and probably about endogamy and a very limited gene pool as well.  All matches over 15cM are shown below.

F999963 largest

Kit F999964 matches 97 people, many who are different people that kit F999963 matched.  So these ancient Polynesian people,  F999963 and F999964 don’t appear to be immediate relatives.

F999964 mito

Again, a lot of haplogroup B mitochondrial DNA, but less haplogroup C Y DNA and no haplogroup O individuals.

F999964 Y

Kit F999964 doesn’t match anyone quite as closely as kit F999963 did in terms of total cM, but the largest segment is 12cM, so the generational estimate is still at 4.6,  All matches over 15cM are shown below.

F999964 largest

Who are these individuals that these ancient kits are matching?  Many of these individuals know each other because they are of Hawaiian or Polynesian heritage and have already been working together.  Several of the Hawaiian folks are upwards of 80%, one at 94% and one believed to be 100% Hawaiian.  Some of these matches are to Maori, a Polynesian people from New Zealand, with one believed to be 100% Maori in addition to several admixed Maori.  So obviously, these ancient remains are matching contemporary people with Polynesian ancestry.

The Unasked Question

Sooner or later, we as a community are going to have to face the question of exactly what is Native or aboriginal.  In this case, because we do have the definitive autosomal full genome testing that eliminates admixture, these two individuals are clearly NOT Native.  Without full genomic testing, we would have never known.

But what if they had arrived 200 years earlier, around 1500 AD, one way or another, possibly on an early European ship, and had intermixed with the Native people for 10 generations?  What if they carried a Polynesian mitochondrial (or Y) DNA motif, but they were nearly entirely Native, or so much Native that the Polynesian could no longer be found autosomally?  Are they Native?  Is their mitochondrial or Y DNA now also considered to be Native?  Or is it still Polynesian?  Is it Polynesian if it’s found in the Cook Islands or on Hawaii and Native if found in South America?  How would we differentiate?

What if they arrived, not in 1500 AD, but about the year 500 AD, or 1000 BCE or 2000 BCE or 3000 BCE – after the Native people from Asia arrived but unquestionably before European contact?  Does that make a difference in how we classify their DNA?

We don’t have to answer this yet today, but something tells me that we will, sooner or later…and we might want to start pondering the question.


I want to thank all of the people involved whose individual work makes this type of comparative analysis possible.  After all, the power of genetic genealogy, contemporary or ancient, is in collaboration.  Without sharing, we have nothing. We learn nothing.  We make no progress.

In addition to the various scientists and papers already noted, special thanks to Felix Immanual for preparing and uploading the ancient files.  This is no small task and the files often take a month of prep each.  Thanks to Kalani for bringing this to my attention.  Thanks to Ray Banks for his untiring work with haplogroup C and for maintaining his haplogroup webpage with specifics about where the various subgroups are found.  Thanks to ISOGG’s volunteers for the haplotree.  Thanks to GedMatch for providing this wonderful platform and tools.  Thanks to everyone who uploads their DNA, and that of their relatives and works on specific types of projects – like Hawaiian and Maori.  Thanks to my haplogroup C-P39 co-administrators, Dr. David Pike and Marie Rundquist, for their contributions to this discussion and for working together on the Native American Haplogroup C-P39 Project.  It’s important to have other people who are passionate about the same subjects to bounce things off of and to work with.  This is the perfect example of the power of collaboration!



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Kennewick Man is Native American

Finally, an answer, after almost 20 years and very nearly losing the opportunity of ever knowing.

Today, in Nature, a team of scientists released information about the full genomic sequencing of Kennewick Man who was discovered in 1996 in Washington state.  Previous DNA sequencing attempts had failed, and 8000 year old Kennewick Man was then embroiled in years of legal battles.  Ironically, the only reason DNA testing was allowed is because, based on cranial morphology it was determined that he was likely more closely associated with Asian people or the Auni than the Native American population, and therefore NAGPRA did not apply.  However, subsequent DNA testing has removed all question about Kennewick Man’s history.  He truly is the Ancient One.

Kennewick man is Native American.  His Y haplogroup is Q-M3 and his mitochondrial DNA is X2a.  This autosomal DNA was analyzed as well, and compared to some current tribes, where available.

From the paper:

We find that Kennewick Man is closer to modern Native Americans than to any other population worldwide. Among the Native American groups for whom genome-wide data are available for comparison, several seem to be descended from a population closely related to that of Kennewick Man, including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Colville), one of the five tribes claiming Kennewick Man. We revisit the cranial analyses and find that, as opposed to genomic-wide comparisons, it is not possible on that basis to affiliate Kennewick Man to specific contemporary groups. We therefore conclude based on genetic comparisons that Kennewick Man shows continuity with Native North Americans over at least the last eight millennia.

Interestingly enough, the Colville Tribe, located near where Kennewick Man was found, decided to participate in the testing by submitting DNA for comparison.

Kennewick Colville

The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man by Rasmussen, et al, Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14625

Also from the paper:

Our results are in agreement with a basal divergence of Northern and Central/Southern Native American lineages as suggested from the analysis of the Anzick-1 genome12. However, the genetic affinities of Kennewick Man reveal additional complexity in the population history of the Northern lineage. The finding that Kennewick is more closely related to Southern than many Northern Native Americans (Extended Data Fig. 4) suggests the presence of an additional Northern lineage that diverged from the common ancestral population of Anzick-1 and Southern Native Americans (Fig. 3). This branch would include both Colville and other tribes of the Pacific Northwest such as the Stswecem’c, who also appear symmetric to Kennewick with Southern Native Americans (Extended Data Fig. 4). We also find evidence for additional gene flow into the Pacific Northwest related to Asian populations (Extended Data Fig. 5), which is likely to post-date Kennewick Man. We note that this gene flow could originate from within the Americas, for example in association with the migration of paleo-Eskimos or Inuit ancestors within the past 5 thousand years25, or the gene flow could be post colonial19.

The authors go on to say that Kennewick Man is significiantly different than Anzick Child, which matches closely with many Meso and South American samples.  Kennewick on the other hand, is closely related to the Chippewa and Anzick was not.

This divergence may suggest a population substructure and migration path within the Americas, although I would think significantly more testing of Native people would be in order before a migration path would be able to be determined or even suggested. It is very interesting that Anzick from Montana, 12,500 years ago, would match Meso American samples so closely.  I would have expected Kennewick to perhaps match Meso Americans more closely because I would have expected the migration pathway to be down the coastline.  Perhaps that migration had already happened by the time Kennewick man came onto the scene some 8000 years ago.

You can read the entire paper at this link.



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Yamnaya, Light Skinned, Brown Eyed….Ancestors???

Late last fall, I reported that scientists had discovered a European ghost population.  This group of people then referred to as the ANE, Ancient Northern Europeans, was a previously unknown population from the north that had mixed into the known European populations, the Hunter-Gatherers and the farmers from the Middle East, the Neolithic.

That discovery came as a result of the full genome sequencing of a few ancient specimens, including one from the Altai.

Recently, several papers have been published as a result of ongoing sequencing efforts of another 200 or so ancient specimens.  As a result, scientists now believe that this ghost population has been identified as the Yamnaya and that they began a mass migration in different directions, including Europe, about 5,000 years ago.  Along with their light skin and brown eyes, they brought along with them their gene(s) for lactose tolerance.  So, if you have European heritage and are lactose tolerant, then maybe you can thank your Yamnaya ancestors.

1.Haak et al. (2015) from Feb. 18, 2015 “Steppe migration rekindles debate on language origin” by Ellen Callaway

1.Haak et al. (2015) from Feb. 18, 2015 “Steppe migration rekindles debate on language origin” by Ellen Callaway

For those of us who avidly follow these types of discoveries, this is not only amazing, it’s wonderful news.  It helps to continue to explain how and why some haplogroups are found in the Native American population and in the Northern European population as well.  For example, haplogroup Q is found in both places – not exact duplicates, but certainly close enough for us to know they were at one time related.  It also explains how people from Germany, for example, are showing small percentages of Native American ancestry.  Their common ancestors were indeed from central Asia, thousands of years ago, and we can still see vestiges of that population today in both groups of people.

So, if the Yamnaya people are the ghost people, the ANE, who are they?

The Yamna culture was primarily nomadic and was found in Russia in the Ural Region, the Pontic Steppe, dating to the 36th-23rd century BC.  It is also known as the Pit Grave Culture, the Ochre Grave Culture and feeds into the Corded Ware Culture.

"Corded Ware culture" by User:Dbachmann - Own work based based on Image:Europe 34 62 -12 54 blank map.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Corded Ware culture” by User:Dbachmann – Own work based based on Image:Europe 34 62 -12 54 blank map.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Characteristics for the culture are burials in kurgans (tumuli) in pit graves with the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions.  The first known cart burial is also found in a kurgan grave.  A kurgan often appears as a hill, example shown below, and have been found in locations throughout eastern and northern Europe..

Hallstatt-era tumulus in the Sulm valley necropolis in Austria, photo by Hermann A. M. Mucke.

Hallstatt-era tumulus in the Sulm valley necropolis in Austria, photo by Hermann A. M. Mucke.

Additionally, some scientists believe that the Yamna culture was responsible for the introduction of PIE, Proto-Indo-European-Language, the now defunct mother-tongue of European languages.  Others think it’s way too soon to tell, and that suggestion is jumping the gun a bit.

Why might these recent discoveries be important to many genetic genealogists?  Primarily, because Y haplogroup R has been identified in ancient Russian remains dating from 2700-3400 BCE.  Haplogroup R and subgroups had not been found in the ancient European remains sequenced as of last fall.  In addition, subgroups of mitochondrial haplogroups U, W, H, T and W have been identified as well.

Keep in mind that we are still dealing with less than 300 skeletal remains that have been fully sequenced.  This trend may hold, or a new discovery may well cause the thought pattern to be “reconfigured” slightly or significantly.  Regardless, it’s exciting to be part of the learning and discovery process.

Oh yes, and before I forget to mention it…it seems that your Neanderthal ancestors may not be as far back in your tree as you thought.  They have now found 40,000 year old skeletal remains that suggest that person’s great-great-grandfather was in fact, full Neanderthal.  That’s significantly later than previously thought, by 10,000 or 20,000 years, and in Europe, not the Near East…and who knows what is just waiting to be found.  The new field of ancient DNA is literally bursting open as we watch.

I’ve accumulated several recent articles and some abstracts so that you can read about these interesting developments, in summary, and not have to do a lot of searching.  Enjoy!


Modern Europe was formed by milk-drinking Russians: Mass migration brought new genetic makeup to continent 5,000 years ago


DNA Deciphers Roots of Modern Europeans


Science – Nomadic Herders Left a Strong Genetic Mark on Europeans and Asians


Nature – DNA Data Explosion Light Up the Bronze Age


From the European Nucleotide Archive.

Investigation of Bronze Age in Eurasia by sequencing from 101 ancient human remains. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native American


The Bronze Age (BA) of Eurasia (c. 3,000-1,000 years BC, 3-1 ka BC) was a period of major cultural changes. Earlier hunter-gathering and farming cultures in Europe and Asia were replaced by cultures associated with completely new perceptions and technologies inspired by early urban civilization. It remains debated if these cultural shifts simply represented the circulation of ideas or resulted from large-scale human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of Indo-European languages and certain phenotypic traits. To investigate this and the role of BA in the formation of Eurasian genetic structure, we used new methodological improvements to sequence low coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans (19 > 1X average depth) covering 3 ka BC to 600 AD from across Eurasia. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native Americans. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesised spread of Indo-European languages during early BA and reveal that major parts of the demographic structure of present-day Eurasian populations were shaped during this period. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency during the BA, contrary to lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection in the latter than previously believed.


The Bronze Age (BA) of Eurasia (c. 3,000-1,000 years BC, 3-1 ka BC) was a period of major cultural changes. Earlier hunter-gathering and farming cultures in Europe and Asia were replaced by cultures associated with completely new perceptions and technologies inspired by early urban civilization. It remains debated if these cultural shifts simply represented the circulation of ideas or resulted from large-scale human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of Indo-European languages and certain phenotypic traits. To investigate this and the role of BA in the formation of Eurasian genetic structure, we used new methodological improvements to sequence low coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans (19 > 1X average depth) covering 3 ka BC to 600 AD from across Eurasia. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native Americans. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesised spread of Indo-European languages during early BA and reveal that major parts of the demographic structure of present-day Eurasian populations were shaped during this period. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency during the BA, contrary to lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection in the latter than previously believed.

The findings echo those of a team that sequenced 69 ancient Europeans3. Both groups speculate that the Yamnaya migration was at least partly responsible for the spread of the Indo-European languages into Western Europe.

The report on the 69 ancient remains sequenced is below.


Steppe migration rekindles debate on language origin

The Harvard team collected DNA from 69 human remains dating back 8,000 years and cataloged the genetic variations at almost 400,000 different points. The Copenhagen team collected DNA from 101 skeletons dating back about 3,400 years and sequenced the entire genomes.


Population genetics of Bronze Age Eurasia


Dienekes Anthropology Blog

Forensic Science International: Genetics Received 2 January 2014; received in revised form 21 May 2014; accepted 25 May 2014. published online 04 June 2014.

The Altai Mountains have been a long term boundary zone between the Eurasian Steppe populations and South and East Asian populations. Mitochondrial DNA analyses revealed that the ancient Altaians studied carried both Western (H, U, T) and Eastern (A, C, D) Eurasian lineages. In the same way, the patrilineal gene pool revealed the presence of different haplogroups (Q1a2a1-L54, R1a1a1b2-Z93 and C), probably marking different origins for the male paternal lineages.


Dienekes Anthropology Blog

Includes mitochondrial haplogroups C, U2e, T, U5a, T1, A10.


Population Genetics copper and Bronze Age populations of Eastern Steppe, thesis by Sandra Wilde (in German)


Eurogenes blog discusses


Polish Genes Blog


Early European May Have Had Neanderthal Great-Great-Greandparent

40,000 year old Romanian skeleton with 5 – 11% Neanderthal, including large parts of some chromosomes – as close as a great-grandparent.  Previously thought that interbreeding was in the Middle East and 10,000 or 20,000 years earlier.


How is this all happening?

The Scientist Magazine has a great overview in the June 1, 2015 edition, in “What’s Old is New Again.”



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George Estes (1763-1859), 3 Times Revolutionary War Veteran, 52 Ancestors #66

George Estes was born in Amelia County, Virginia to Moses Estes and Luremia Combs on February 3, 1763.  He tells us his birth date and his father’s name, among several other very interesting things, in his application for a Revolutionary War pension.

In 1832, Congress passed an act making men who served in the Revolution eligible for a pension.  Thank goodness they did, because it caused records to be created documenting the service and lives of these men that would otherwise never have existed.

George applied for his pension on September 14, 1833.  In his owns words, he tells us about his 3 tours of duty.  Yes, three separate tours of duty.

George Estes pension

George Estes pension 2

George Estes pension 3

“I entered the service in January 1781 as a substitute for my father Moses Estes and marched from Halifax County where I then lived under Captain Wall through the counties of Charlotte, Lunenburg, Dinwiddie and Petersburg to Cabin Point on the James River.”

I would think the word “marched” implies on foot.  And there is a lot of marching going on.

Cabin point

“At that place I was transferred to Capt. Long’s company of infantry and marched with him to Suffolk on the Nansemond River where I was stationed for some time under Colonel Dick and Gen. Michlenburg.  From there we marched to Portsmouth and many other places and arrived at Barrett’s Neck where I was discharged by Capt. Lewis in the month of April 1781 having served 3 months on this tour.  My discharge is lost and cannot be found but the service record is proved by Elias Palmer who was a soldier with me during the whole time.

In the month of May 1781 I was drafted to serve my own tour and marched from Halifax County in Capt. Clark’s company through Richmond to New Kent Courthouse where we joined General Mechlenburg’s Company.  I was then attached to Capt. Read’s company of cavalry and continued with him marching in various directions until our time of service for 3 months expired.  I was discharged by General Waine in the County of Charles City in the month of August 1781.  My discharge is lost and cannot be found and I do not know any person living who was in that service with me.

In the fall of 1781 I moved a family of people to the state of Tennessee staid in that country upwards of a year and in the month of October 1782 I entered the service of the United States as a volunteer and marched from the county of Washington in state of North Carolina in Capt. Cox’s company of mounted horsemen under Col. Campbell and Col. Shelby into the Cherokee Nation of Indians.  We marched in various directions in the said nation until we arrived at the shoemake town.  At that place we received information that a treaty had been reached with the indians and we were discharged.  The whole time of service on this term was 2 months and 20 days.  I was discharged by Capt. Cox about the end of December and came to Virginia where I have lived in the county of Halifax ever since.  My discharge is lost and cannot be found and no person [is] in this country that was in that service with me.

I was born in the county of Amelia on the third day of February 1763.  My age was recorded in a family bible that was in my father’s possession but I don’t know what became of it.  I lived in the county of Halifax when I entered the service in the said county when the war ended and have lived in the county ever since.  Christopher White, Thomas Conner and Peter F. Kent and many others can testify as to my character for veracity and their belief of my service as a soldier of the Revolution.  There is no clergyman living in my neighborhood.”

George (X) Estes

      (his mark)

Sept. 14, 1833

So George served three times in total, twice by obligation, when his father and his numbers came due, and once as a volunteer.  He served in place of his father.  War is difficult enough for a young man.

When George filed for his pension, he was 70 years old.  While he signed with an X in 1833, in earlier documents, he signed his name, so he was capable of writing.

George Estes signature 1

George’s signature is shown on a petition dated Dec. 10, 1785, above, for an assessment for religious teachers.  Note that his name appears very near that of William Younger who lived adjacent his father Moses Estes.  George would marry Mary Younger a year later, although a connection between the two Younger families has never been proven.

George Estes signature 2

This petition dated November 17, 1795 shows Moses and his son George Estes both of whom are opposed to the sale of the church glebe lands, in addition to the signature of their neighbor William Younger.  Note that George actually spells his own name in two different ways, Estes and Eastis.  And we wonder why we are confused today.

Documenting George’s first two tour service records in Virginia was difficult, but finding the third one was next to impossible.  Then, quite by accident, when looking for my Dodson family records, I stumbled across the documentation for George’s third tour, where he is listed as George Eastis, in the North Carolina archives, of all places.

From the Book “Tennessee Soldiers in the Revolution” by Penelope Johnson Allen, now digitized at

George Estes rev war accounts

Look at this, George is right across the page, directly from Lazarus Dodson, the man I was looking for.  Talk about serendipity.

George Estes Army account

My cousin, Debbie, wrote to the NC archives and was sent the following document that tells us that George Estes was paid in a specie certificate, a type of credit voucher, on June 12, 1783.  His name appears on the 10th line in the third column.  Ironically, Lazarus Dodson, whose name appears two entries below George’s is the father of Lazarus Dodson, whose daughter, Rutha or Ruthy, would marry George’s grandson John Y. Estes in Claiborne County, Tennessee in January 1841, 58 years after their grandfathers  served together in the Revolutionary War.  I wonder if they ever figured that out.

George Estes specie certificates

I called the North Carolina archives and asked if the original pay rosters and additional information were available.  They said they were, but they did not do “lookup work.”  A week later, I was standing at the research desk in the archives in Raleigh, with these papers in hand, and an amazed librarian kind of stuttered and stammered around when I introduced myself and told her where I came from (Michigan) and why I was there.  I think they are far more used to people “going away” when told the archives doesn’t do “lookup work” than showing up 1000 miles and a week later.  Sadly, that trip was for naught, because while they did have additional records for some soldiers, there was nothing more for George.  Don’t even ask how upset I was.

Why, I was then forced to do research on some of my NC lines since I was there in the archives with nothing else to do.  I mean…you can’t waste a trip like that!

George’s certificate was issued by the auditors, Bledsoe and Williams, and by referencing the attached documents, you can determine the location where the soldiers served. In this case, exactly as described by George Estes, he served in the Morgan District which included the Washington and Sullivan County areas which eventually became Tennessee.

George Estes army districts

By putting these three pieces of information together, George’s pay list, which includes the auditor, the auditor and their districts – we can confirm where George was when he served his third service term.

George Estes district auditors

In 1833, from Jasper Co., GA, Clarissa C. Boyd declares that her brother, George Easters, a resident of Halifax Co., VA in 1781, served 6 months in the Virginia militia. On January 15, 1784. George Estes, infantry, Continental Line, was issued a certificate for the balance of his pay.

George was placed on Virginia pension roll at $31.38 per annum, certificate 16886 issued on Oct. 12, 1833.

On April 5, 1855 in Halifax Co., George (X) Estes of said county, age 92, applies for bounty land.  He obtains the land and signs the bounty certificate over to his daughter Susannah immediately.

What do we know about what happened to George during his Revolutionary War service?

In his first term of service, serving in place of his father, Moses, George spent time at Cabin Point on the James River about which we discover the following:

By late summer 1780 with South Carolina under their control, the British were ready to push into Virginia and Maryland and deal Washington a final blow. In Virginia, Governor Thomas Jefferson had placed General Steuben in charge of the state’s defense. By January 1, 1781, the British were in Chesapeake Bay and Jefferson was calling up county militiamen to repel the impending attack. Benedict Arnold, now in charge of the British fleet, sailed up the James River and burned Richmond then moved back downriver to settle in at Portsmouth on the Chesapeake Bay.  The Halifax County Militia and was sent to Cabin Point on the James River to watch for Arnold’s next anticipated raid up the river. The militia had little to do but sit and wait and worry about the news coming in daily of Cornwallis’ raids in the Carolinas and his impending threat to Virginia.

It seems that all was not well at home in Halifax County during this time.  Boyd’s Ferry is the present city of South Boston and the Boyd’s Ferry crossing was very close to the Estes homestead, which was located just above the crossing on the main road.

In a letter to Governor Jefferson dated February 15th, 1781, camped at Boyd’s Ferry on the Dan River, Greene called for reinforcement of militia:

“We have crossed the Dan, and I am apprehensive they will cross it above us…If they should they will oblige us to cross the Stanton branch of the Roanoke…It is by no means certain, that Lord Cornwallis will not push through Virginia.”

Jefferson dispatched letters on February 17 and 18 to a long list of county Lieutenants and Baron von Steuben asking for militia to join General Greene who had “crossed the Dan at Boyd’s Ferry and was retreating before the enemy.” News of the alarming activities of Greene and Cornwallis aligned along either side of the Dan near Boyd’s Ferry must have reached the Halifax County Militiamen shortly after February 18. While they sat on the James River waiting for Arnold to make a move, Cornwallis and his army was camped at the doorstep of their homes in Halifax County.

The record is dated February 23, 1781 Cabin Point, Virginia and states:

“A list of the mens names belonging to Major Jones Battalion of Militia who have deserted. Distinguishing those who carried off their arms from those who did not. Also those who deserted from their post.”

The list of names does not include George Estes.  He had a decision to make, and he chose to remain at his post, although one could scarcely have blamed him had he returned home to protect and defend his home place and family.  Perhaps the knowledge that his father and siblings were there relieved his mind somewhat.

Now let’s turn to George’s third tour of duty from what would become eastern Tennessee, but was at that time western North Carolina..

In 1782, the Cherokee, who had sided with the British continued to raid.  John Sevier banded together a group of men in western North Carolina, now eastern Tennessee, and with Colonels Campbell and Shelby marched on the Cherokee towns.  Shoemake town, as it was called by whites, was located in upper Georgia and had previously been burned in May of 1781.  The Indians allied with the British because the British assured them that they would stop the encroachment of the Europeans into their traditional territory.  The Indians did not fare well in the Revolutionary War, nor afterwards.  This “march on the Cherokee” appears to have been one last final grandstand that gave the Cherokee the final nudge to end their part in the war.

Overhill towns map

Rather miraculously, George does not seem to have engaged in any actual battles during his 3 tours of duty.  By this late date in the war, most of the actual fighting was in North and South Carolina.

Back Home in Halifax County

George Estes street sign

After returning to Halifax County, George Estes spent most of his life on his father’s original land.  His father Moses died in 1813, but the estate was contested and not settled until 1837, long after many of Moses’s children had died as well.

That land is located in the city of South Boston at the intersection of Estes and Main Street.  The following photo is standing in the Oak Ridge cemetery, originally part of the Estes land, looking down Estes Street.  Note the blue water tower.  It’s a landmark we’ll reference later.

George Estes land

The Estes farm used to be beyond the blue tank on the left and the houses on the right. Today Estes Street is gated, not because it’s an upscale gated community, but because that land is now the landfill.  This was heartbreaking to me, until I learned that the graves had been moved.  It still makes me sad.

Below is what’s left of the Estes land taken from behind the area (yes, I was in the landfill but I cropped that portion from the photo.)  We are looking at the original Estes woods.

George Estes landfill

In the above photo, for perspective, notice the blue water tower in the upper right corner. In the photo below, you can see the ‘other end” of the now gated “Estes Street” emerging that originates near the blue water tower that can also be seen in the left upper corner of the photo.

George Estes landfill 2

The Estes family in Halifax County, Virginia tells the story of when the family moved the graves from the old Estes land shown above to the Estes plot in the Oak Ridge cemetery. This apparently happened in the early 1900s and the only graves not moved were those of two unrelated people, one being an unrelated child whose parents had no place to bury the child and the second, an “in-law” of a descendant whose family did not want them moved.

It turns out that when Moses Estes’ children fought so bitterly over his land, they also apparently established separate cemeteries. One cemetery was the “original” Estes cemetery where Ezekiel, Susannah,  Ezekiel’s mother who is George’s daughter, George and probably old Moses himself are buried. The other cemetery was located behind the houses, apparently, down Estes street. I believe that the Oak Ridge Estes plot is the original Estes cemetery, but I cannot definitively prove this through records still in existence today, although an early cemetery history states that this is the case. Oral history says that when they moved Moses’s grave, only a collar bone and a casket hinge were left. Whether this is accurate or a tall tale, we’ll never know, but indeed, whatever remains of the elder Estes clan is buried in the Oak Ridge cemetery directly across the street from the old Estes homestead and at the end of Estes Street. The rest, well, it’s under the landfill or dispersed.

Today Main Street is paved. When they removed the cobblestones to pave Main Street, they used them to construct the beautiful stone wall around the cemetery. George Estes served on many “road crews” as documented in court records and it is entirely possible that he laid these very cobblestones, shaped from the stones found on the Estes land. George was probably glad to get rid of them as they would have made plowing difficult.

The bright white monuments in the cemetery are the Estes family stones, made of marble apparently, after they were cleaned by family members about 2006. Ezekiel who died in 1885 has a stone that proclaims him “an honorable man,” but none of the earlier family members have stones. Ezekiel’s mother Susannah died in 1870 and his grandfather George died in July of 1859, an amazing 96 years of age.

Oak Ridge cem entrance

The Halifax County Estes family has a clearly remembered oral history of “Granpappy George who lived to be 108 (or 106 or 115).” Sometimes stories grow with time, and that one certainly did, but he was quite elderly when he passed and obviously legendary.

George lived far from a sedentary lifestyle. He was obviously not afraid of adventure or danger, serving three separate terms in the Revolutionary War, one as a substitute for his father and one as a volunteer. George returned home and married Mary Younger on December 19, 1786 the same day that his brother Bartlett Estes married Rachel Pounds. I wonder if they were married in a double ceremony.

estes younger marriage

Younger marcus signature

When I first started researching this couple, everyone in the family said that George Estes and Mary Younger could not have been the father of John R. Estes because they only had one child, Susannah. As a novice, I figured those researchers had a lot more information and years of experience, but as one by one, I worked through and eliminated many of the alternative parents, the options became fewer and fewer and I began to wonder how “they” knew that George only had one child. I certainly hadn’t found anything that said he had only one child. And having found only one child doesn’t mean there was only one child. In fact, I’ve become very suspicious of any record before the days of modern birth control that suggests that someone had only one or two children, unless the wife or husband died.

As it turns out, Susannah was the only child that was easily evident. And “they” didn’t know how “they” knew – trying to find the source of that information was like trying to find the elusive fountain of youth. And that was before the days of quick-click trees on Ancestry. If the researchers had looked at the few census records we do have, they would have seen a discrepancy that screamed for an explanation – multiple children living with George and Mary.

George and Mary positively had 7 children who survived to adulthood and probably at least two who didn’t, based on a combination of records, including the 1820 and 1830 census.

It seems that several of George’s children regularly pushed the envelope of the day and would have brushes with the law or, perhaps better stated, the court system and “polite society.” It’s thanks to those records that we can add color to our family portrait. I love lawsuits – well – historical lawsuits anyway. I extracted probably 75-100 years worth of court, deed and tax records from Halifax County and reassembled them, like a big puzzle, into family groups.

Of particular interest was the information from the “Younger, Marcus Chancery Suit 1842-057, Halifax Co. Va.” In the documents from that suit, I found the payments made to the various heirs of Marcus Younger, who had died in 1816. In the case of Mary Younger Estes, her heirs are listed in 1842 because she is deceased. This suit was filed almost 30 years after Marcus’s death.  Normally would never think to look that far out – but chancery suits are often quite different. It’s not at all unusual for chancery suits to reach back 2 generations, to a grandparent’s will, especially if unmarried children are involved, as was the case with Marcus’s will. When the unmarried child dies, Mary’s sister in this case, sometimes the assets revert to the other children or their heirs.

In the suit papers, it is noted that Mary Younger Estes’s children will receive one sixth of her one quarter share of the 83 acres to be sold following the death of Mary’s unmarried sister.

The children of Mary Younger Estes were listed as: John, William, Susannah, Sally wife of T. Estes, Polly wife of James Smith and a grandchild name Mark Estes. This means that Mary had 6 children either living or who had died but who have heirs. In this case, one child has died leaving one heir, Mark.

Of course, I found this list AFTER I had reassembled what I believed to be the family of Mary Younger and George Estes. You know it didn’t match up perfectly, or I wouldn’t even be mentioning it.

I had all of those children listed, but in addition, I had a Bartlett and Rebecca.

There is no son Bartlett listed in the 1842 document, but there is instead a grandchild named Mark Estes. This implies that Mark’s parent is of the Estes surname, the parent is dead and Mark is the only living child. We know through various records that daughter Susannah has a son, Mark, but this cannot be that Mark because Susannah is very clearly included as living. We also know that George’s son, Marcus, died in 1815 leaving a widow and no children. The Bartlett I have attributed as the son of Mary and George had 7 children, and none known to be Mark, although one male name is unknown.

There are several Bartletts living in this vicinity and I could have the various Bartlett’s confused. However, if daughter Rebecca died and left a son Mark, this would fit perfectly. But, if it is the same Rebecca, she is prosecuted in 1844 for living with a black man, which precludes her from being dead in 1842, so Rebecca is not the child of George Estes, but more likely George’s niece.

This family makes me pull my hair out.

Thankfully, it seems that several of George’s children have lived a bit of a colorful life, meaning they have records that remain about them having had brushes with the law or, perhaps better stated, the court system and running afoul of “polite society.” Here is what is known about the children of George Estes and Mary Younger.

  • John R. Estes whose photo we believe is shown below was probably the oldest child and was born sometime between March and June of 1787. He married Ann Moore in 1811 and was on the way to Claiborne Co., TN by 1820 where he died in 1885, like his father, nearly reaching 100 years of age. Obviously, there is a longevity gene in the Estes family. John R.’s great grandson, William George Estes lived to be 98 years of age and William George’s two daughter both lived to be just shy of 100.  There’s hope that I’ll live long enough to finish my genealogy research:)

John R. Estes restored

  • Marcus Estes was born about 1788 as well and is shown on tax lists in Halifax County from 1811-1814 when he dies, leaving a widow with the beautiful name of Quintinney. In 1815, his estate is assigned to the sheriff to administer. There is also a War of 1812 record for Marcus, but there may be no further service records since no one applied for either bounty land or a pension based on his service. He served in the same unit as his brother, John R. Estes and I have to wonder if he died during that time.
  • William Y. Estes was also born sometime in this timeframe. The census says 1785 or 1786, but the census is also often notoriously wrong. In 1815, William married Rebecca Miller and drank to the point where his wife’s father commented on his behavior in his will in a very unflattering manner, forbidding William to ever have any control over Rebecca’s inheritance. William died in Halifax County between 1860 and 1870.
  • Susannah Y. Estes was born about 1800 and never married. She had 5 illegitimate children between 1814 and 1835, 2 males and three females. She lived on the old home place and cared for her elderly father, George, until his death in 1859.
  • Polly Estes, born between 1801 and 1808 married in 1824 to James Smith. She died in Halifax County after 1880, having had 4 children. We know very little about Polly, because, she was apparently one of the few well-behaved Estes’s. You know that old saying about “well behaved women seldom make history.”  I relish my ill-behaved ancestors and their family members because that is often the only way we learn about their lives and put meat on their bones.  Below, George’s signature along with James Smith when Polly marries.

George Estes Polly marriage bond

This photo is of George’s grandchild, J. E. and wife Mary Anne Smith, the youngest child of Polly Estes Smith.

JE and Mary Ann Smith

I’m dying to know about that eye patch.

  • Sally Estes was born sometime around 1800 and married her first cousin, Thomas Estes, son of Bartlett Estes and Rachel Pounds. Marrying cousins was a common practice of the time. They removed to Tennessee shortly after their marriage.  George and Thomas both sign the marriage bond, below.

George Estes Sally marriage bond

I initially thought Rebecca Estes was George’s child because of her proximity in the census where in 1830, a Rebecca Estridge with 3 daughters is living near George Estes and Susan Estes, all living in separate households. In 1835, a Rebecca Estes is in the court notes with Robert Rickman for support of her child, and in 1844, Rebecca is “indicted for felony, report of grand jury – a white woman living together in open adultery with a negro man, James Bird, free man of color, as presented by Jacob W. Farguson and William Ingram.” I cannot find Rebecca nor James Bird after this time. If this is the same Rebecca in 1844 as in 1830 and 1835, then she cannot be the child of George Estes because in 1842, Rebecca would have been dead.

It’s very unlikely that either Bartlett or Rebecca are George’s children and we are simply missing one child who had son Mark. It is certainly possible that this Marcus was born posthumously to George’s son Marcus. Given that Marcus’s estate went entirely to debt, there would have been nothing left to leave to a child, so no guardian would have been appointed.  We’ll likely never know, but this is the most likely explanation.  There is no Mark or Marcus Estes in the 1840 or 1850 census.

Life in Halifax County with Daughter Susannah

We don’t have a lot of information about life as George knew it, but thanks to Susannah, we do have a couple of glimpses into what their life was like.

Susannah Estes never married, lived on the old homeplace and wound up with all of George’s assets which caused problems with his other children. By the time George Estes died in 1859, there was nothing left, so he had no will. He had already deeded his land to Susannah, plus anything left from his pension or his Revolutionary War service.

On February 12, 1833, George Estes grants to Susan Y. Eastes, “my daughter, all my right, title, claim and interest which I have for military services rendered during the War of the Revolution.”

Much to my shock, in early 1837, Susannah brings suit against her father forcing him to answer to the court why he, as executor, has not distributed his father, Moses’s estate.

On March 25, 1837, George Estes deeds to Susannah Y. Estes “for $100 land on both sides of road from Halifax to S. Boston on Dan River adjoining Adam Toot, John Ransom, John Jinnett, tract of land that my father Moses died seized of.” This occurs immediately after George’s father’s estate was settled.

If you look at a map of South Boston plotting the locations we know, this is a huge tract of land.

Estes land South Boston map

We know the land went as far north at present day Waddell Woods (top arrow) because Waddell spring is mentioned in deeds.  The Oak Ridge Cemetery is the green area pointed out by the second arrow from the top.  The blue water tower is across the street, to the right of that arrow.  The main road is 129 and is pointed to by the third arrow from the top, running from the Dan River (at the bottom) through the Estes land and on North.  Today, this land includes most of South Boston, then Boyd’s Ferry.

We get a glimpse of their possessions, when, in 1842, Susannah, who now owns her parents land, takes a mortgage which is void if it is paid. Apparently, the mortgage is paid, because nothing more is ever mentioned in any of the deed or court books.

“Tract of land where we now live, one three-horse wagon and gear, 1 bay mare, 1 grey horse, hogs and sheep, all of our present crop of corn and fodder, tobacco, 4 feather beds and furniture, household and kitchen furniture, plantation tools for debt of $50.16.”

In addition to the land George inherited from Moses, George continues to assist Susannah.

On April 15, 1857, George Estes deeds to Susan Y. Estes the bounty lands he is entitled to “by late acts of Congress and a part of proceeds being in the hands of Easley Holt and Co. In consideration of natural love and affection and value received…all right and interest to any balance that is remaining at my death after paying my debts with him.”

When she died on August 23, 1870, Susannah was not a poor woman and left a nontrivial estate, including land. Her personal property inventory probably included many items inherited from her father and mother:

Appraisement of property of Susan Estes:

  • cow
  • yearling
  • loom
  • potatoes
  • walnut chest
  • barrels
  • flax wheel
  • 3 pots
  • 2 skillets
  • oven
  • brass kettle
  • tea kettle
  • 4 jars
  • 4 jugs
  • 2 water buckets
  • 3 axes
  • lot tin
  • 2 pitchers and bottles
  • 1 jar vinegar
  • lot tableware
  • hoes
  • wedges
  • pot rack
  • candlesticks
  • 1 press
  • 1 desk
  • 1 looking glass
  • 7 chairs
  • 1 bed
  • bolster
  • pillar
  • 1 blanket
  • 1 counterpin and sheet
  • 1 quilt
  • 1 barrell cider
  • small chest
  • basket
  • 2 bee hives

I can’t help but wonder what the quilt looked like and who made it.  Was it from a time when she and her mother and sisters perhaps gathered around a quilting frame?

After Susan’s death, a lawsuit followed regarding a debt incurred before her death and the validity of the debt based on her mental state.  She was deemed competent.  Aside from the depositions, which were in themselves very enlightening as to Susannah’s life, and death, the list of items she purchased at the store, on account, I found very interesting as well:

The following are items appearing on the store account of “Miss Susan Estes”:

  • Coffee
  • Sugar
  • Bucket
  • Linen shirt
  • 2 linen collars
  • 5 yards calico (total 1.06)
  • 3 yard gingham
  • 1 bottle ? oil
  • 20 yards oznaburg
  • 75 yard pant goods
  • Weeding hoe
  • Shelves for buster
  • Coffee pot
  • Tin bucket
  • Sugar
  • Rice
  • Candles
  • Molasses
  • Coffee
  • Bacon
  • Molasses
  • Coffee
  • Nails
  • Shoes
  • 1 oz indigo
  • 1 # soda
  • Coffee
  • Sole leather
  • 2 oz indigo
  • Pale cotton
  • Sugar
  • Copperons?
  • Rubber tuck combs
  • 2 yd cambric
  • Flex thread
  • 6 8×10 window glass
  • Bacon
  • Seed oats
  • Bags
  • Frt and drayage
  • Paid on acct with bacon from house
  • Goods box
  • Plow point
  • Coffee
  • Fine iron
  • Goods box
  • Molasses
  • Hat for Buster
  • Pants for Buster
  • Coat for Buster
  • Vest for Buster
  • Bacon sides
  • Pole exe
  • Pale Box
  • Stamped envelope (.04)
  • Bacon sides
  • 2 doz henning??
  • Paid with Reg. 162 old casting

Obviously, Buster is a nickname for someone, but who?  Whoever, he was, he had a vest, hat, coat, pants and shelves.

In addition, Ezekiel Estes submitted a bill to the estate for $21.18 for shingling the house and Susannah’s doctor bill was $51.  She died a slow death of a heart ailment.

Mary Mildred Estes

Above, George Estes’s granddaughter, Susannah’s daughter, Mary Mildred Estes born April 3, 1828 and died Jan. 20, 1917 in Lynchburg, VA., married William Greenwood and second, Jesse Jacobs..

Susannah’s son, Ezekiel Estes, below, born in 1814 and died in 1885 in Halifax County, married Martha Barley.

Ezekiel Estes

The Court

George Estes himself had a few encounters with the legal system. People at that time seemed to be quite litigious, and George was involved with no fewer than 14 nonfamily cases, generally as a defendant, and went to court even more often as a witness.

Court days, which initially happened quarterly, then monthly, were quite the social event in the 1700s and 1800s in Virginia. Anyone who was anyone attended, and much business was transacted outside the courthouse and in the taverns. It was also one of the best ways to hear the news as well as see the news being made. The original reality TV!

I recall that when my daughter and I first went to Halifax County, we visited the clerk’s office asking asked about the various record books and such. My daughter had the book of court notes out, and was looking in the plaintiff’s index. We told the lady that we were looking for Estes and she said “Oh, well then, your people are in this book”, and retrieved the defendants ledger. Things haven’t changed much over the years apparently. The Estes family is legendary, or at least infamous!

George’s first court appearance was in 1786 when he was prosecuted for “profane swearing.” In one case, George and his father Moses were involved as witnesses in a lawsuit where someone signed a document they later regretted after partaking of the fruit brandy at the Estes home. The Estes family was well known for its fine orchards. The fruit brandies were kept cool in a special compartment under the foundation of the house.

In 1802, George put a mortgage on his household items which included 2 feather beds and furniture for 9 pounds, 2 shillings and 2 pence. You can tell that of their household goods, the coveted items were the feather beds.

In 1837, George gave a deposition in the chancery case of Light vs Yuonger wherein the descendants of Thomas Younger battled, for years, over the estate of Thomas Younger after his daughter Rachel Younger died. Thomas was likely the great-uncle of George’s wife, Mary Younger. While the outcome of the case actually doesn’t involve our family directly, we do find a deposition given by George in 1837 over the value of a slave named Peter who in 1812 had been disabled with elephantitis. George, age 74 at that time, signed his deposition.

George Estes 1837 deposition in Light vs Younger.jpg

Moses’s Land

Most of the court cases, not included in the 15 non-family cases mentioned above, involved years and years of appearances having to do with Moses estate settlement which was finally settled in 1837, 24 years after Moses’s death. George, the eldest son, was 74 years old when his father’s estate was settled and he immediately deeded his portion of the land to Susannah.

This family battled over land and inheritance for generations, beginning in 1813 with Moses death, followed by George’s children and then Susannah’s and continuing into the present generations whose parents were still involved with that land until the county took the land by imminent domain. At least one person refused to sell the land and instead has a ‘long term lease”, although what they think they’ll do with a stinky landfill is beyond me. I suspect it was a matter of principle.

When I visited Halifax County, two elderly living cousins, Doug and Shirley, remembered the land from their childhood. Shirley told me that the original home burned in about 1933, complete with all of the family photos, Bibles, etc. She remembers that someone on the school bus told her that her grandparents house burned the night before.

The man who bulldozed the property after the city purchased it told me there were 3 houses “back there,” all “farm type” homes. Apparently the first home built was a log cabin, probably about 1782 when the family first arrived from Amelia County, and it was later used for the young couples after they were first married.

The home that burned was described as a large 2 story home with upper and lower porches all around. Porches are important in the south.

There has been a great deal of speculation about why George provided only for his daughter Susannah. It could be because she was not married and he felt protective towards her, wanting to provide for her and his grandchildren after his passing. She was very young, 13 or 14 when she became pregnant, and it would be easy to see how he could have been especially protective of her and her children whom he had lived with for their entire lives. In essence, George raised her children as his own, especially Ezekiel who was the eldest. Ezekiel was born right about the time that George and Mary stopped having children, so Ezekiel probably just fit perfectly into the stair-steps of children.

It could also be that George gave his worldly good to Susannah because she took care of George in his old age – although that wouldn’t explain the 1830s deeds. George’s wife Mary probably died sometime between 1820 and 1830, and certainly before George started deeding to Susannah in 1833, because Mary signed no release  of dower rights.

Others have suggested that perhaps Susannah might have been an opportunist and perhaps manipulative or devious. Some have questioned the propriety of the situation. Susannah had only two male children. Her oldest, Ezekiel, has descendants who have DNA tested and they match a Moore family that lived in the area, although not the same Moore family that Susannah’s brother, John R. Estes married into.

I think it suffices to say that George, Susannah and Ezekiel were extremely close and given the social stigma attached to illegitimate birth in that era, let alone 5 illegitimate children, the family was probably increasingly subject to harsh scrutiny, discrimination, criticism and were socially marginalized. One hint may be held in George’s 1833 Revolutionary War pension application where he states there is no clergy in his neighborhood, but the oldest church in the county is but a few blocks down the street from his home, within walking distance. One can certainly understand why and how George could and would feel a great deal of affection for his grandchildren in particular, as he apparently lived with them as they grew up. There are several records that involve both George and Ezekiel who probably looked up to his grandfather as a role model.

In fact, it was Ezekiel Estes who reported the death of George Estes and said that he was 100 years and 4 months old, born in Amelia County. I hope, for George’s sake, that the family had a bang up 100 year old birthday celebration where everyone came to visit and eat that fine southern food, even if we know today they were a few years early. Or maybe George really was 100 years old in 1859 and simply misstated his birth year in 1833. Regardless, I hope they had a wonderful celebration and he had many guests who sat and visited and imbibed some of that fine Estes brandy! I wish I could hear the stories of his hundred years of life.  What a gift that would be.

Estes Cem white stones

George is reportedly buried here in the Estes section of the Oak Ridge Cemetery immediately to the right just inside the entrance.  The Estes family markers are all bright white here after being cleaned by now deceased cousin Nancy Osborne.  We don’t know exactly where Susannah, George with his wife Mary Younger and Moses with his wife Luremia Combs are buried, but rest assured that they are here among their descendants and family members.

It’s believed that George and Mary are buried in the unmarked area, below.

Estes cem vacant stop

In the following photograph, the picture is taken from behind the stones, before they were cleaned and restored, with the original Estes land showing across the street.  The Estes homestead was behind these houses which stand on part of Moses’ land that was sold off by descendants.  The original homestead is now the landfill, although some forest was preserved as a barrier between these homes and the landfill the last time I in visited in 2006 or so.  The cobblestones showing in the wall below are the original road cobblestones that George probably helped to lay.

Estes cem and wall

I would like to have a Revolutionary War marker placed for George Estes in the cemetery so that he will be honored and his grave will be marked for future generations.

George certainly lived an amazing life.  He was born in Amelia County during the French and Indian war, as his father and uncles serving in that conflict.  About 1770, the Moses Estes family migrated in mass, it seems, to Halifax County where his father and grandfather, both named Moses, established homes, albeit a few miles apart.

About the time George came of age, he volunteered to take his father’s place in the Revolutionary War.  After returning home, just a month later, his own “slot” came up, so he then served for himself.

Many Estes men were pushing the new frontier.  In fact, George moved an Estes family to Hawkins County, TN, probably offering to help in order to see a bit of the world.  He stayed for almost a year, and it was from there in October of 1782 that he enlisted as a volunteer to serve his third stint in the military in the Revolutionary War.  George obviously saw a lot and probably talked about that part of the country to his children when telling tales about his great adventure.  He’s one of the very few men I’ve ever heard of going BACK home from the frontier, and staying there.  His son, John R. Estes would eventually settle in Claiborne County, TN himself, some 30+ years later, near where his father was in what would become Eastern Tennessee.

We don’t know much about George’s religious leanings.  When he was young and first married, church attendance was required in the Anglican church.  That’s also about the time he was prosecuted for “profane swearing.”

We know that his wife, Mary Younger’s family was probably Methodist, a dissenting religion, but one that was “legal” by the 1780s.  Given that his son, John R. Estes married the minister’s daughter, in all likelihood, this family was Methodist.  Whether George was enthusiastically Methodist too, “went along” begrudgingly and slept through services in the back row or simply stayed at home, we’ll never know.  We do know, per a deposition, that George Estes was with the Reverend William Moore’s family on Christmas Day, 1811.  George’s son, John R. Estes was married to Reverend William Moore’s daughter, Ann Moore.

At least two of George’s children ran badly afoul of either the law of the social norms of the time.  Son William drank to excess and daughter Susannah had five children out of wedlock, as a pattern occurrence.  This would have made it difficult for the rest of George’s children to “marry well” because something like that paints the entire family with the same brush.

Today, it’s inconceivable to us, but at that time, people who were born “out-of-wedlock” really could only marry others of their same social status.  Interracial marriages were outlawed and the choices people had, both legally and in reality were much more limited than today.  Remember, I told you that the county clerk still knew that the Estes’s would be found in the “defendants” book???  Maybe this is part of why so many descendants left for lands where there was less judgment waiting and one could start anew, without stigma already attached from the behavior of others.

George’s wife Mary would pass away sometime between about 1820 and 1830.  George would have been between 60 and 70 years old at that time, and would live almost another 30-40 years.

After Mary’s death, it appears that Susannah took care of George.  Given that by this time, Susannah had 5 illegitimate children she had to provide for, George’s pension probably took care of Susannah as well.  I wonder how military pensions were figured at that time.  I would have thought they would all have been relatively equal for the same rank (private), and if unequal, perhaps George received something for each of his three stints in the military.  By way of contrast, his son, John R. Estes who served in the War of 1812 was collecting a pension at the same time received $8 a month as compared to George’s $31 year, which breaks down to $2.58 per month.  In the end, Susannah wound up with all of George’s assets although, clearly, his pension stopped when he died.

By the time George died, his son Marcus had passed away, possibly in the War of 1812, and there are a couple of children I lose in the records, but as far as we know, most of George’s children outlived him. Some had moved west but George still had Polly, Susannah and William Y. nearby, although William Y. seemed unable to even help himself, due to his drinking, based on numerous court records.

The good news is that because of where Moses’s land was located, and the ability to locate the Oak Ridge Cemetery today, then track through the landfill deeds and family records, we were able to find the original Estes land.

Furthermore, we know that graves were moved from the Estes cemetery, now under the landfill, to the Estes plot in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, which may have been the original Estes cemetery in the first place.

All I know is that when cousin Nancy started talking about having moved the graves and finding the collar bone of Moses Estes, I just couldn’t stop myself from thinking about DNA.  I know fully well that today, even with enough money, that the retrieval of ancient DNA for consumer purposes really isn’t a viable option.  But I also know that in another decade, with the advances in technology and the associated drop in prices, combined with what has been able to be accomplished with sequencing ancient genomes – that eventually – that collarbone would have been useful.

I know, bad genealogist, bad genealogist.  Bad, bad, bad.  I can’t help it.  It’s that nonconformant Estes side coming out!  It’s in my genes.  I can’t help it.  In fact, I know where there’s a bone we can dig up to prove it….



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