Aisha Tyler – Who Do You Think You Are – Which John Hancock???

The TLC series, “ Who Do You Think You Are?” returns for a new season this Sunday, April 3 at 9/8c on TLC, premiering with Aisha Tyler.

Aisha 1

Aisha Tyler uncovers the astonishing tale of a prominent ancestor whose struggle to keep his illegitimate son a secret made the papers.

Aisha 2

Aisha discovers the impressive tale of her two times great-grandfather, who dove headlong into controversy, took a stand for his people, and left a mark so great that he is commemorated today by one of America’s capital cities.

Actress and producer Aisha Tyler knows very little about her mother’s side of the family, and wants to know if it has any connection to her unstoppable drive and ambition. She’s reached out to her great aunt and family historian, Sheila Gregory Thomas, who Aisha hopes can provide some clues about her maternal side. Sheila is the sister of Aisha’s grandfather, Eugene Gregory, who died when Aisha was in her 20s.

Aisha receives a letter from Aunt Sheila and learns the name of her 2 x great-grandfather, Hugh Hancock; and that he attended school in Oberlin, Ohio, and died when Sheila’s mom, Hugh Ella, was just a teenager. Sheila writes that although she has done a lot of research into their family history, that is as far as she got. Armed with this information, Aisha heads to Oberlin, Ohio to see what she can find out about her 2x great-grandfather Hugh Hancock.

Aisha arrives at Oberlin College to meet with a sociologist. Aisha learns that her 2x great-grandfather attended Oberlin’s college preparatory school between 1872 & ’73, and to her surprise, hailed from Austin, Texas. In 1835, Oberlin began accepting Black students on an equal basis, one of the few contemporary institutions to do so. This move made Oberlin a hub for racial equality at a time when slavery still reigned in half of the United States and very few African Americans had access to education.

To learn more about Hugh in Oberlin, Aisha tracks him down on an 1860 census, which shows he is 5 years old, attending school, and listed as “mulatto,” and living with no family members. Christi explains that “mulatto” was essentially a designation based on how white an African American person looked. This means that Hugh was born Black in Texas in 1855 – because of Texas law, he almost certainly would have born a slave.

Wondering how a 5 year old from Texas made it to Oberlin and who his parents were, Aisha finds a newspaper clip from 1880, which reveals that a reporter from Cleveland had investigated Hugh Hancock’s paternity, and narrowed it down to two people; a politician from Texas or a another politician who was a candidate for president, both with the same name – John Hancock! Aisha is shocked to see an article centering on her 2x great-grandfather’s paternity and heads off to another archive in Ohio to see if she can determine who her 3x great-grandfather was.

At the archive, Aisha finds the entire article about her 2x great-grandfather’s paternity, and discovers that her 3x great-grandfather was a white Southern politician from Texas named John Hancock, who gave his son money – but would not allow him to acknowledge him in public. Both John Hancock’s were famous, or infamous men, one known as General John Hancock and the other as Old John Hancock. But which one was Hugh Hancock’s father?  Where is Y DNA testing when we need it!!!

Unfortunately, a 1900 census reveals that Hugh is living in Evanston outside of Chicago with his wife Susie and four daughters. Among them is Aisha’s great-grandmother Hugh Ella.  Without a male to test, Y DNA would not be helpful, so that tool is not available.  Additionally, we don’t know if General John Hancock and Old John Hancock shared a common ancestor, but without a male from Hugh’s line, it’s a moot point.

In order to find out more about John Hancock’s politics and the relationship with his son Hugh, Aisha heads to Austin, Texas.

At the Texas State Archives, Aisha discovers that her 3 x great-grandfather was a prominent southern unionist who opposed rights for black people. Aisha is disturbed to uncover the great hypocrisy of her ancestor who fathered and financially supported a black child, but actively worked against his kin’s rights.

Digging back into her 2x great-grandfather’s story, Aisha comes across an article that reveals Hugh Hancock moved back to Texas as an adult and was charged for assault!

In order to find out more, Aisha heads to the Travis County Archives.  At the archives, Aisha is unable to uncover more details about the assault charge, but is able to review an 1890 court case file for Hugh Hancock. Aisha discovers that Hugh was indicted for running an entire gambling set-up, and was the owner of a bar in Austin called “The Black Elephant.”

The elephant had become the symbol of the Republican Party by the 1870s, so the saloon’s name could indicate it was a gathering place for Republicans of color. While saloons were a place for gambling, drinking, and relaxing, they were also crucial centers for community organization and political participation – saloons in the 19th century were the places where voting, campaigning, and other political activities took place. For the Black community in particular, saloons and churches were places to organize against racial injustice..

Curious about her 2x great-grandfather’s involvement in politics, Aisha uncovers an 1896 article which reveals something very unexpected about Hugh – but you’ll have to watch the episode to discover that detail.  No spoiler here!  In a very real way, Hugh Hancock was one of the last men standing.

Finally, Aisha reads a 1910 Obituary for Hugh which proclaims that he was a well-regarded man held in high esteem by his community in Austin. As a final part of her journey, Aisha heads to a local address the historian has recommended she visit.

Aisha approaches a home in Austin and reads a Texas historical marker commemorating this former home of her 2x great-grandfather Hugh Hancock, a successful black businessman of the city. Aisha contemplates Hugh’s accomplishments in Austin, despite the challenges he faced to get there. She’s proud to have found the origins of her drive and passion in her blood.

Aisha’s ancestor’s story is both fun and educational with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Tune into TLC Sunday evening at 9/8 central.



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Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

Forgotten Slave Owners

Thomas Thistlewood arrived in Jamaica in 1750 from England, having failed at farming, at age 29.  He met with a plantation owner for dinner shortly after his arrival, and 2 months later became an overseer on that plantation.

Thomas kept an extensive journal of his entire life in Jamaica beginning with the day he arrived – including the horrific brutality that he inflicted on enslaved people, along with the other overseers in the same position he held.  Thomas’s behavior does not appear to be unique.

As genetic genealogists, we sometimes wonder at the extent of sexual interaction between plantation owners, their overseers and enslaved women.

Thomas’s diary details his sexual encounters – over 4000 in total, mostly with enslaved women, over a period of 37 years.  If you’re doing the math, that means that he had 108 encounters with women every year, on average, which is one approximately every 3.38 days.

If one can assume that he did not choose to engage in sexual activity with women who were menstruating, and that he probably did not select for women who were pregnant, that means that the women he was having sex with were fertile women who could have potentially conceived as a result of the encounter.

If we eliminate the one quarter of the month a woman is menstruating – that leaves 3 weeks.  Of that, a woman is fertile for about 6 days per month, or about one third of the time she was not menstruating.  Therefore, Thistlewood perhaps impregnated one women every three encounters, or about one female impregnated every 10 days, or 3 per month.  If this is anyplace near accurate, Thomas Thistlewood could have had approximately 1333 children, roughly half of which would have been male, and all of whom would have been enslaved.

Not all of the children would have survived birth or infancy.  In fact, the harsh and fatal discipline methods Thistelwood so routinely describes may have killed some of his own offspring on the plantation where he was overseer.  The mortality rate of slaves at every point in life was exceedingly high.  But some of those male children would likely have survived and reproduced, having direct line males living today.  When they DNA test, they will match Thistlewood males from England.  And they will wonder why.

Now, they need wonder no more.  The answers are in the British Archive records listing slave owners and the records in the Caribbean.  And not just for Thistlewood, but for other British surnames as well.  Many, many other British and Scottish surnames.  You can search at this link to find those records and they are also available on  For once, I was very relieved to not find my family surnames included in a set of records.

In 1834, the British government recorded payments to British slave owners when Great Britain abolished slavery and owning slaves entirely.  This effectively freed the slaves after they served another 6 years working for their former masters for free.

These records include more than 40,000 British who owned slaves, most of whom had never seen a Caribbean plantation where their slaves were located.  These slaves were managed by overseers, like Thistlewood.  There were more than 800,000 individual slaves named in 1834, which means the average number of slaves owned per British slave owner was about 20.  Of course, the real numbers ranged from 1 slave owned to thousands for the most wealthy.

Before I watched this documentary, I never realized the massive extent of either British involvement in slavery into the 1800s, nor the level of abuse of power of slave-owners and overseers exploiting slave women.  Seeing these almost unbelievable numbers and realizing that this sexual behavior lasted, for one man, for 37 years – and multiplying that behavior by thousands of other men – the level of chronic, systemic nonconsensual sexual exploitation is almost beyond comprehension.  Of course, today we can expect to see the results in Y DNA testing.

You can watch the BBC documentary at this link.  Part 2 is available at this link.

Professor Catherine Hall lectures on “Britain and the Legacies of Slavery” and the project that produced the results upon which the documentaries above were based.

All three of these videos are eye-opening and well worth watching.

If you want to read more about the history of slavery in the British Isles, click here and here.



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Josh Groban – Who Do You Think You Are – “A Desperate Need”

josh germany

Courtesy TLC

Josh’s new World Premier Video says it all – “I can’t regret what I did for love.”

Before you watch Josh’s TLC episode, I really encourage you to watch the trailer for Josh’s new album, Stages, in the lower right hand corner of this link.  You’ll see why.

Oh Josh, you couldn’t have known about your ancestor,  JZ, when you filmed this new song ….could you?  Did you?

It’s only fitting that Josh, one of the world’s most inspirational musicians with a voice powerful enough to touch the souls of the dead…it’s only fitting that his ancestors would be so….so….so….committed.  Devoted…and fittingly, a musician, among other amazing things.

I have to make a confession, right here and now.  This episode of Who Do You Think You Are is my favorite – ever – hands down – bar none.  And that includes any other similar programs too.

And now I have another confession to make – I’ve seen the episode already – yes – in full.

It’s a press courtesy provided by TLC to those in the media.  The good news is that I receive some pre-release info and I can share it with you.

So, when I tell you this is a wonderful can’t-miss-it-episode, take my word for it – it really is.  If you can’t see it, record it.

Josh starts in LA, where he was born, of course, but it doesn’t take long for him to find his ancestor in Pennsylvania.  You know how that works with these shows – Josh’s pedigree chart magically grows by 3 or 4 generations like a vine on steroids.  However, Josh’s Pennsylvania ancestor in question was a she, and she had young children with her when she immigrated, alone.  Where was her husband?  What happened?

The answer is – should I tell you????

Maybe not.

But, let’s say this….Josh traveled back to Germany, tracking his ancestor to the village of Bietigheim, sat in the pews of the very church where his ancestor preached.  Yes, preached.  Stood at that very lectern….oh my, the history.

josh church

Courtesy TLC

I can see Josh’s ancestor, singing, passionately singing in that church….and I can see Josh, singing the historical songs from his new album, Stages…the song from Lez Miz.  Sharing that same passion, more than 330 years and several generations removed – but still so unquestionably connected.

Then Josh climbed the rickety wooden stairs to the top of the church tower where that same ancestor, also an astronomer, saw and measured the passing of Haley’s Comet on the cold night of November 23, 1682.

josh stairs 2

Courtesy TLC

Josh’s ancestor trod these same steps on that fateful night – as he climbed to his destiny.

josh stairs

Courtesy TLC

That night changed his life – and the fate of Josh’s family.  It was that comet, that darned comet, that would unravel his mind…..

Josh visited the University where his ancestor studied, not for 4 years, but for 8 – because at that time in Germany, theology was the foundation for higher skills and studies, like math and astronomy…and music.  But God, and the church, were the foundation for everything in life.

Math and astronomy were believed at that time to be a better way of understanding God.  And music, we know it feeds the soul and was heavily incorporated into churches at that time.

But Josh’s ancestor didn’t understand God in the same way everyone else did, certainly not like the Lutheran church of the time did.  He became a rather free thinker.  And Josh’s ancestor interpreted the comet and other events to predict a rather grim future…that of cataclysmic doom.

You see, he was, what what we would call today, a “seer,” and he wrote under a pen name as such.

But then, his activities came to the attention of the church hierarchy……

If you like religious history or just a good mystery, if you had ancestors from Germany in the 17th century, if they became pietists, if you are interested in astronomy, if you love old churches – and especially, if you are a Josh Groban fan…this is a must see.

You can see and feel this ancestor in Josh today.

I think my favorite scene in this entire episode was the one where Josh was holding the actual music book his ancestor taught from.  I don’t know if Josh wanted to cry, but I surely did.

josh music book

Courtesy TLC

This made Josh very happy, gave him cold chills.

“I’m so excited to know that he was passionate about music….that he was a music teacher at the time when there were no music teachers.”

josh smile

Courtesy TLC

Josh, you definitely found your ancestor.  I wonder if there is a music gene.  You have clearly both excelled and bring the same depth of passion to everything you do.

What did Josh have to say about all of this?

Upon embarking on his journey: “I’m excited, a little scared, but excited.”

“My imagination is going wild.”  Mine was too at that point, Josh.  Whoever would have guessed???

“A desperate need.”  Things were getting dicey!

“It is a little strange, isn’t it.”

Uh, yes, to put it mildly…..that part gave me cold chills.  Wait until you see what happened in 1693, the year of the prophecy of doom.

I wonder if Josh’s ancestor ever regretted his decisions.  You’ll have to let me know what you think.  Would you like a sneak peak?  Here you go.

One thing is for sure, if JZ can see Josh today, he can see that same love of music, passion and strength of character – and he could never regret the steps that he took that led to Josh.

Don’t forget, TLC, Sunday, March 15th, at 10, 9 central.

josh playing

Courtesy TLC



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Cultural Footprints

I was recently corresponding with a descendant of Valentine Collins, one of the Melungeon families of mixed race found in and nearby Hawkins County, Tennessee in the 1800s.

Here’s what he had to say.

When I first started looking into my Collins’ family history, I realized very early this was going to be a real adventure. What I did was set up a system to look at different aspects of their lives/history. I call it ‘cultural footprints’. I have those foot prints broken down as:

  • Religion
  • The Table (food)
  • Music
  • Language

Most of the data I’ve mined are based on these four Cultural Footprints. But I would have to say Genetic Genealogy provided the biggest breakthroughs, the best tool by far.

Well, obviously I liked his commentary about genetic genealogy, which gives us the ability to connect and to prove, or disprove, connections.  But as I looked at his list, I thought about my own ancestors.  Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that I love to learn about the history during the time that my ancestors were living – what happened to and near them and how it affected them.  But his commentary made me wonder what I’ve been missing.

As I think back, one of the biggest and most useful clues to one of my ancestral lines was an accidental comment made by my mother about her grandmother. She mentioned, in passing, “that little white hat that she always wore.”  I almost didn’t say anything, but then I thought, “little white hat, that’s odd.”  So I asked and my mother said something like, “you know, those religious hats.”  I asked if she meant Amish or Mennonite, given the context of where they lived and she said, “yes, a hat like that.”  Then, when questioned further, it turns out that the family didn’t drive, even though cars were certainly utilized by then.  My mother never thought about it.  Turns out that the family was actually Brethren, also one of the pietist faiths similar to Amish and Mennonite, but that hint sent me in the right direction.

How could my mother have been unaware of something that important, well, important to me anyway?  Easy.  It was, ahem, not discussed in the family.  You see, it was somewhat of a scandal.

My mother’s father had married outside the Brethren religion, so was rather ostracized from the family for his choice to marry a Lutheran. Then the family became, horror of horrors, Methodist.  So, I would add clothing to my friend’s list of cultural footprints as well.  Sometimes, like in my case, dress will lead you to religion.  In the photo below, my mother’s grandmother is the female in the middle back row.  If you look carefully, you can see that both she and her mother are wearing a prayer cap.

John David Miller Photo

I know the religion of many of my ancestors. Whatever their religious choice, it was extremely important to many.  I have 1709ers, Acadians, Brethren, Mennonites, Huguenots, fire and brimstone Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians in my family line.  I always try to find their church and the church records if possible.  Some are quite interesting, like Joseph Bolton who was twice censured from the Baptist church in Hancock County, Tennessee.  Many of my ancestors made their life choices based on their faith.  In particular, the Huguenots, 1709ers, Brethren and Mennonites suffered greatly for their beliefs.  Conversely, some of my ancestors appear to never have set foot in a church.  I refer to them as the “free thinkers.”

Well, in one case, my ancestor was a bootlegger in the mountains of Kentucky. What the hey…every family has to have some color, and he was definitely colorful….and free thinking.

Most of us are a mixture of people, cultures and places. All of them are in us.  Their lives, culture, choices and  yes, their DNA, make us who we are.  If you have any doubt, just look at your autosomal ethnicity predictions.

Language of course is important, but more personally, local dialects that our ancestors may have spoken. In the US, every part of the country has their own way of speaking.

Here’s a YouTube video of a Louisiana Cajun accent. Many Acadians settled in that region after being forcibly removed from Nova Scotia in 1755.

Acadian-Cajun language, music and early homes in Louisiana

Here’s a wonderful video of Appalachian English. In my family, this is known as “hillbilly” and that is not considered a bad thing to be:)  In fact, we truthfully, all love Jeff Foxworthy, well, because he’s one of us.  I’m just sure if we could get him to DNA test, that we’d be related!

There are regional and cultural differences too.

Here’s a video about Lumbee English. The Lumbee are a Native American tribe found in North Carolina near the border with South Carolina.

Going further east in North Carolina, the Outer Banks has a very distinctive dialect.

What did your ancestor’s speech sound like?   What would it have sounded like in that time and place?

That, of course, leads to music. Sometimes music is the combination of speech and religion, with musical instruments added.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with religion, but moves us spiritually just the same.  Music is the voice of the soul.

Here’s Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. If you can get through this dry-eyed, well, then you’re not Scottish…just saying.  This connects me to my Scottish ancestors.  It was played at both my mother’s and my brother’s funerals.  Needless to say, I can’t get through it dry eyed!

Amazing Grace isn’t limited to bagpipes or musical instruments. The old “hardshell” Baptists didn’t utilize musical instruments, and still don’t, in their churches.  Listen to their beautiful voices, and the beautiful landscape of Kentucky.  This is the land, voices and religion of some of my people.

A hauntingly and sadly beautiful Negro Spiritual. Kleenex box warning.  This, too, is the music of my family.

Yeha – Noha – a Native American song by Sacred Spirit. One of my favorite music pieces.

Bluegrass gospel – Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Bet you can’t keep your foot from tapping!!!

Appalachian fiddle music. Speaks directly to my heart.  And my hands.  I just have to clap my hands.

Acadian music. This would be very familiar to my Acadian ancestors.

At this link, you can hear samples of Acadian folk songs by scrolling down and clicking on the track listing.

Moving a little closer in time. This is the official state song of Tennessee – one of my all-time favorites.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve danced to this.  This just says “home” to me and I can feel my roots.

What kind of music did your ancestors enjoy? Did they play any musical instruments?  Can you find the music of the time and place in which they lived?  YouTube has a wide variety and the videos are an added benefit, bringing the reality of the life of our distant ancestors a little closer.

Now that you know what fed their souls, let’s look at what fed their bodies.  Along with regional speech and musical differences, the diet of our ancestors was unique and often quite different from ours of today.

On the Cumberland Gap Yahoo group, we often exchange and discuss regional recipes, especially around the holidays. Same on the Acadian rootsweb group.  Although this year we’ve been talking about deep fried turkeys.  Maybe in another couple hundred years that will be considered representative of our time.  Hopefully it’s not McDonalds!

The Smithsonian sponsors a website about Appalachian foods.  Let me share with you what I remember about my childhood.  We made do with what we had, whatever that was.  Some things were staples.  Like biscuits, with butter, or honey, or jam, or apple butter…whatever you had on hand that was in season.


Chicken fried in bacon grease was for Sunday, or company, which usually came on Sunday.

fried chicken

We wasted nothing, ever, because you never knew when you might not have enough to eat. So, we ate leftovers until they were gone and we canned. Did we ever can.  Lord, we canned everything.  Mason jars in huge boiling kettles in the hottest part of summer.  Let’s just say that is not my favorite memory of growing up.  But green beans at Christmas time were just wonderful, and you couldn’t have those without canning in the August heat.


Different areas have become known for certain types of cuisine. In North Carolina, they are known for their wood-fired BBQ.  In western North Carolina, they use a red, slightly sweet, tomato based BBQ sauce, but in eastern NC, they use a vinegar based BBQ sauce.  Want to start a fight?  Just say that the other one is better on the wrong side of the state:)

BBQ pit

Creole cuisine is found in the south, near the Mississippi Delta region and is from a combination of French, Spanish and African heritage.


Jambalaya is a Louisiana adaptation of Spanish paella.


Soul food is the term for the foods emanating from slavery.  When I looked up soul food on wiki, I found the foods my family ate every day.  When I think of food that we didn’t eat, but that my African American cousins did eat, I think of chitlins.  Yes, I know I didn’t spell that correctly, but that’s how we spelled it. And the chitlins we had were flowered and fried too, not boiled.  Maybe that is a regional difference or an adaptation.


Another “out of Africa” food is sorghum, used to make a sweet substance similar to molasses, used on biscuits in our family. Sorghum is an African plant, often called Guinea Corn, and arrived with slaves in colonial days.


Native American cuisine varies by where the tribe lived, and originally, they lived across all of North and South America. Originally, the Native people had the three sisters, corn, squash and beans.  Hominy is Native, as is grits, a southern staple today.  I’m drooling now…


Today, however, one of the signature Native American dishes is FryBread. Fried and seriously unhealthy, the lines at powwows are longer for frybread and a derivative, Indian Tacos, than anything else.


In many places, the settlers, slaves and Native people assimilated and the food their descendants ate reflected all three cultures, like Brunswick Stew.  Even Brunswick Stew varies widely by location as do the origin stories.  Many foods seems to have evolved in areas occupied by European settlers, Native people and slaves, to reflect ingredients from all three groups.

Brunswick stew

That’s the case in my family, on my father’s side. We didn’t know any differently, or where that particular type of food originated.  However, sometimes by looking at the foods families ate, we can tell something of their origins.

In marginalized populations, and by that, in the US I mean mixed race or descendants of enslaved people, it’s often very difficult to use traditional genealogical records because they didn’t own land or leave other records. Many of them spent a lot of time trying to make themselves transparent and didn’t want to attract any attention.

Often, it’s the DNA that unlocks the doors to their heritage, and after making that discovery, we can then look the cultural footprints they left for us to follow.

I’m starving. I’m going to eat something unhealthy and listen to some wonderful music!  How about grits with butter and Indian tacos for lunch along with powwow music?  Oh yeahhhhhh…….



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Peopling of Europe 2014 – Identifying the Ghost Population

Beginning with the full sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, first published in May 2010 by the Max Planck Institute with Svante Paabo at the helm, and followed shortly thereafter with a Denisovan specimen, we began to unravel our ancient history.

neanderthal reconstructed

Neanderthal man, reconstructed at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo

The photo below shows a step in the process of extracting DNA from ancient bones at Max Planck.

planck extraction

Our Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups take us back thousands of years in time, but at some point, where and how people were settling and intermixing becomes fuzzy. Ancient DNA can put the people of that time and place in context.  We have discovered that current populations do not necessarily represent the ancient populations of a particular locale.

Recent information discovered from ancient burials tells us that the people of Europe descend from a 3 pronged model. Until recently, it was believed that Europeans descended from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers, a two-pronged model.

Previously, it was believed that Europe was peopled by the ancient hunter-gatherers, the Paleolithic, who originally settled in Europe beginning about 45,000 years ago. At this time, the Neanderthal were already settled in Europe but weren’t considered to be anatomically modern humans, and it was believed, incorrectly, that the two groups did not interbreed.  These hunter-gatherers were the people who settled in Europe before the last major ice age, the Younger Dryas, taking refuge in the southern portions of Europe and Eurasia, and repeopling the continent after the ice receded, about 12,000 years ago.  By that time, the Neanderthals were gone, or as we now know, at least partially assimilated.

This graphic shows Europe during the last ice age.

ice age euripe

The second settlement wave, the agriculturalist farmers from the Near East either overran or integrated with the hunter-gatherers in the Neolithic period, depending on which theory you subscribe to, about 8000-10,000 years ago.

2012 – Ancient Northern European (ANE) Hints

Beginning in 2012, we began to see hints of a third lineage that contributed to the peopling of Europe as well, from the north. Buried in the 2012 paper, Estimating admixture proportions and dates with ADMIXTOOLS by Patterson et al, was a very interesting tidbit.  This new technique showed a third population, referred to by many as a “ghost population”, because no one knew who they were, that contributed to the European population.

patterson ane

The new population was termed Ancient North Eurasian, or ANE.

Dienekes covered this paper in his blog, but without additional information, in the community in general, there wasn’t much more than a yawn.

2013 – Mal’ta Child Stirs Excitement

The first real hint of meat on the bones of ANE came in the form of ancient DNA analysis of a 24,000 year old Siberian boy that has come to be named Mal’ta (Malta) Child. In the original paper, by Raghaven et al, Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans, he was referred to as MA-1.  I wrote about this in my article titled Native American Gene Flow – Europe?, Asia and the Americas.   Dienekes wrote about this paper as well.

This revelation caused quite a stir, because it was reported that the Ancestor of Native Americans in Asia was 30% Western Eurasian.  Unfortunately, in some cases, this was immediately interpreted to mean that Native Americans had come directly from Europe which is not what this paper said, nor inferred.  It was also inferred that the haplogroups of this child, R* (Y) and U (mtDNA) were Native American, which is also incorrect.  To date, there is no evidence for migration to the New World from Europe in ancient times, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still looking for that evidence in early burials.

What this paper did show was that Europeans and Native Americans shared a common ancestor, and that the Siberian population had contributed to the European population as well as the Native American population.  In other words, descendants settled in both directions, east and west.

The most fascinating aspect of this paper was the match distribution map, below, showing which populations Malta child matched most closely.

malta child map

As you can see, MA-1, Malta Child, matches the Native American population most closely, followed by the northern European and Greenland populations. The further south in Europe and Asia, the more distant the matches and the darker the blue.

2013 – Michael Hammer and Haplogroup R

Last fall at the Family Tree DNA conference, Dr. Michael Hammer, from the Hammer Lab at the University of Arizona discussed new findings relative to ancient burials, specifically in relation to haplogroup R, or more specifically, the absence of haplogroup R in those early burials.

hammer 2013

hammer 2013-1

hammer 2013-2

hammer 2013-3

Based on the various theories and questions, ancient burials were enlightening.

hammer 2013-4

hammer 2013-5

In 2013, there were a total of 32 burials from the Neolithic period, after farmers arrived from the Near East, and haplogroup R did not appear. Instead, haplogroups G, I and E were found.

hammer 2013-7

What this tells us is that haplogroup R, as well as other haplogroup, weren’t present in Europe at this time. Having said this, these burials were in only 4 locations and, although unlikely, R could be found in other locations.

hammer 2-13-8

hammer 2013-9

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Last year, Dr. Hammer concluded that haplogroup R was not found in the Paleolithic and likely arrived with the Neolithic farmers. That shook the community, as it had been widely believed that haplogroup R was one of the founding European haplogroups.

hammer 2013-12

While this provided tantalizing information, we still needed additional evidence. No paper has yet been published that addresses these findings.  The mass full sequencing of the Y chromosome over this past year with the introduction of the Big Y will provide extremely valuable information about the Y chromosome and eventually, the migration path into and across Europe.

2014 – Europe’s Three Ancient Tribes

In September 2014, another paper was published by Lazaridis et al that more fully defined this new ANE branch of the European human family tree.  An article in BBC News titled Europeans drawn from three ancient ‘tribes’ describes it well for the non-scientist.  Of particular interest in this article is the artistic rendering of the ancient individual, based on their genetic markers.  You’ll note that they had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes, a rather unexpected finding.

In discussing the paper, David Reich from Harvard, one of the co-authors, said, “Prior to this paper, the models we had for European ancestry were two-way mixtures. We show that there are three groups. This also explains the recently discovered genetic connection between Europeans and Native Americans.  The same Ancient North Eurasian group contributed to both of them.”

The paper, Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans, appeared as a letter in Nature and is behind a paywall, but the supplemental information is free.

The article summary states the following:

We sequenced the genomes of a ~7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and eight ~8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. We analysed these and other ancient genomes1, 2, 3, 4 with 2,345 contemporary humans to show that most present-day Europeans derive from at least three highly differentiated populations: west European hunter-gatherers, who contributed ancestry to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners; ancient north Eurasians related to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians3, who contributed to both Europeans and Near Easterners; and early European farmers, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harboured west European hunter-gatherer related ancestry. We model these populations’ deep relationships and show that early European farmers had ~44% ancestry from a ‘basal Eurasian’ population that split before the diversification of other non-African lineages.

This paper utilized ancient DNA from several sites and composed the following genetic contribution diagram that models the relationship of European to non-European populations.

Lazaridis tree

Present day samples are colored purple, ancient in red and reconstructed ancestral populations in green. Solid lines represent descent without admixture and dashed lines represent admixture.  WHG=western European hunter-gatherer, EEF=early European farmer and ANE=ancient north Eurasian

2014 – Michael Hammer on Europe’s Ancestral Population

For anyone interested in ancient DNA, 2014 has been a banner years. At the Family Tree DNA conference in Houston, Texas, Dr. Michael Hammer brought the audience up to date on Europe’s ancestral population, including the newly sequenced ancient burials and the information they are providing.

hammer 2014

hammer 2014-1

Dr. Hammer said that ancient DNA is the key to understanding the historical processes that led up to the modern. He stressed that we need to be careful inferring that the current DNA pattern is reflective of the past because so many layers of culture have occurred between then and now.

hammer 2014-2

Until recently, it was assumed that the genes of the Neolithic farmers replaced those of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Ancient DNA is suggesting that this is not true, at least not on a wholesale level.

hammer 2014-3

The theory, of course, is that we should be able to see them today if they still exist. The migration and settlement pattern in the slide below was from the theory set forth in the 1990s.

hammer 2014-4

In 2013, Dr. Hammer discussed the theory that haplogroup R1b spread into Europe with the farmers from the Near East in the Neolithic. This year, he expanded upon that topic that based on the new findings from ancient burials.

hammer 2014-5

Last year, Dr. Hammer discussed 32 burials from 4 sites. Today, we have information from 15 ancient DNA sites and many of those remains have been full genome sequenced.

hammer 2014-6

Information from papers and recent research suggests that Europeans also have genes from a third source lineage, nicknamed the “ghost population of North Eurasia.”

hammer 2014-7

Scientists are finding a signal of northeast Asian related admixture in northern Europeans, first suggested in 2012.  This was confirmed with the sequencing of Malta child and then in a second sequencing of Afontova Gora2 in south central Siberia.

hammer 2014-8

We have complete genomes from nine ancient Europeans – Mesolithic hunter gatherers and Neothilic farmers. Hammer refers to the Mesolithic here, which is a time period between the Paleolithic (hunter gatherers with stone tools) and the Neolithic (farmers).

hammer 2014-9

In the PCA charts, shown above, you can see that Europeans and people from the Near East cluster separately, except for a bridge formed by a few Mediterranean and Jewish populations. On the slide below, the hunter-gatherers (WHG) and early farmers (EEF) have been overlayed onto the contemporary populations along with the MA-1 (Malta Child) and AG2 (Afontova Gora2) representing the ANE.

hammer 2014-10

When sequenced, separate groups formed including western hunter gathers and early european farmers include Otzi, the iceman.  A third group is the north south clinal variation with ANE contributing to northern European ancestry.  The groups are represented by the circles, above.

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Dr. Hammer said that the team who wrote the “Ancient Human Genomes” paper just recently published used an F3 test, results shown above, which shows whether populations are an admixture of a reference population based on their entire genome. He mentioned that this technique goes well beyond PCA.

hammer 2014-13

Mapped onto populations today, most European populations are a combination of the three early groups. However, the ANE is not found in the ancient Paleolithic or Neolithic burials.  It doesn’t arrive until later.

hammer 2014-14

This tells us that there was a migration event 45,000 years ago from the Levant, followed about 7000 years ago by farmers from the Near East, and that ANE entered the population some time after that. All Europeans today carry some amount of ANE, but ancient burials do not.

These burials also show that southern Europe has more Neolithic farmer genes and northern Europe has more Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherer genes.

hammer 2014-15

Pigmentation for light skin came with farmers – blue eyes existed in hunter gatherers even though their skin was dark.

hammer 2014-16

Dr. Hammer created these pie charts of the Y and mitochondrial haplogroups found in the ancient burials as compared to contemporary European haplogroups.

hammer 2014-17

The pie chart on the left shows the haplogroups of the Mesolithic burials, all haplogroup I2 and subclades. Note that in the current German population today, no I2a1b and no I1 was found.  The chart on the right shows current Germans where haplogroup I is a minority.

hammer 2014-18

Therefore, we can conclude that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be identified as a Paleolithic/Mesolithic haplogroup.

This information shows that the past is very different from today.

hammer 2014-19

In 2014 we have many more burials that have been sequenced than last year, as shown on the map above.

Green represents Neolithic farmers, red are Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, brown at bottom right represents more recent samples from the Metallic age.

hammer 2014-20

There are a total of 48 Neolithic burials where haplogroup G dominates. In the Mesolithic, there are a total of six haplogroup I.

This suggests that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be the father of the Paleolithic/Mesolithic and haplogroup G, the founding father of the Neolithic.

In addition to haplogroup G in the Neolithic, one sample of both E1b1b1 (M35) and C were also found in Spain.  E1b1b1 isn’t surprising given it’s north African genesis, but C was quite interesting.

The Metal ages, which according to wiki begin about 3300BC in Europe, is where haplogroup R, along with I1, first appear.

diffusion of metallurgy

Please note that the diffusion of melallurgy map above is not part of Dr. Hammer’s presentation. I have added it for clarification.

hammer 2014-21

Nothing is constant in Europe. The Y DNA was very upheaved, as indicated on the graphic above.  Mitochondrial DNA shifted from pre-Neolithic to Neolithic which isn’t terribly different from the present day.

Dr. Hammer did not say this, but looking at the Y versus the mtDNA haplogroups, I wonder if this suggests that indeed there was more of a replacement of the males in the population, but that the females were more widely assimilated. This would certainly make sense, especially if the invaders were warriors and didn’t have females with them.  They would have taken partners from the invaded population.

Haplogroup G represents the spread of farming into Europe.

hammer 2014-22

The most surprising revelation is that haplogroup R1b appears to have emerged after the Neolithic agriculture transition. Given that just three years ago we thought that haplogroup R1b was one of the original European settlers thousands of years ago, based on the prevalence of haplogroup R in Europe today, at about 50%, this is a surprising turn of events.  Last year’s revelation that R was maybe only 7000-8000 years old in Europe was a bit of a whammy, but the age of R in Europe in essence just got halved again and the source of R1b changed from the Near East to the Asian steppes.

Obviously, something conferred an advantage to these R1b men. Given that they arrived in the early Metalic age, was it weapons and chariots that enabled the R1b men who arrived to quickly become more than half of the population?

hammer 2014-23

The Bronze Age saw the first use of metal to create weapons. Warrior identity became a standard part of daily life.  Celts ranged over Europe and were the most dominant iron age warriors.  Indo-European languages and chariots arrived from Asia about this time.

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The map above shows the Hallstadt and LaTene Celtic cultures in Europe, about 600BC. This was not a slide presented by Dr. Hammer.

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Haplogroup R1b was not found in an ancient European context prior to a Bell Beaker period burial in Germany 4.8-4.0 kya (thousand years ago, i.e. 4,800-4,000 years ago).  R1b arrives about 4.6 kya and is also found in a Corded Ware culture burial in Germany.  A late introduction of these lineages which now predominate in Europe corresponds to the autosomal signal of the entry of Asian and Eastern European steppe invaders into western Europe.

hammer 2014-28

Local expansion occurred in Europe of R1b subgroups U106, L21 and U152.

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A current haplogroup R distribution map that reflects the findings of this past year is shown above.

Haplogroup I is interesting for another reason. It looks like haplogroup I2a1b (M423) may have been replaced by I1 which expanded after the Mesolithic.

hammer 2014-31

On the slide above, the Loschbour sample from Luxembourg was mapped onto a current haplogroup I SNP map where his closest match is a current day Russian.

One of the benefits of ancient DNA genome processing is that we will be able to map current trees into maps of old SNPs and be able to tell who we match most closely.

Autosomal DNA can also be mapped to see how much of our DNA is from which ancient population.

hammer 2014-32

Dr. Hammer mapped the percentages of European Mesolithic/Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in blue, Neolithic Farmers from the Near East in magenta and Asian Steppe Invaders representing ANE in yellow, over current populations. Note the ancient DNA samples at the top of the list.  None of the burials except for Malta Child carry any yellow, indicating that the ANE entered the European population with the steppe invaders; the same group that brought us haplogroup R and possibly I1.

Dr. Hammer says that ANE was introduced to and assimilated into the European population by one or more incursions. We don’t know today if ANE in Europeans is a result of a single blast event or multiple events.  He would like to do some model simulations and see if it is related to timing and arrival of swords and chariots.

We know too that there are more recent incursions, because we’re still missing major haplogroups like J.

The further east you go, meaning the closer to the steppes and Volga region, the less well this fits the known models. In other words, we still don’t have the whole story.

At the end of the presentation, Michael was asked if the whole genomes sequenced are also obtaining Y STR data, which would allow us to compare our results on an individual versus a haplogroup level. He said he didn’t know, but he would check.

Family Tree DNA was asked if they could show a personal ancient DNA map in myOrigins, perhaps as an alternate view. Bennett took a vote and that seemed pretty popular, which he interpreted as a yes, we’d like to see that.

In Summary

The advent of and subsequent drop in the price of whole genome sequencing combined with the ability to extract ancient DNA and piece it back together have provided us with wonderful opportunities.  I think this is jut the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I can’t wait to learn more.

If you are interested in other articles I’ve written about ancient DNA, check out these links:



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Anzick (12,707-12,556), Ancient One, 52 Ancestors #42

anzick burial location

His name is Anzick, named for the family land, above, where his remains were found, and he is 12,500 years old, or more precisely, born between 12,707 and 12,556 years before the present.  Unfortunately, my genealogy software is not prepared for a birth year with that many digits.  That’s because, until just recently, we had no way to know that we were related to anyone of that age….but now….everything has changed ….thanks to DNA.

Actually, Anzick himself is not my direct ancestor.  We know that definitively, because Anzick was a child when he died, in present day Montana.

anzick on us map

Anzick was loved and cherished, because he was smeared with red ochre before he was buried in a cave, where he would be found more than 12,000 years later, in 1968, just beneath a layer of approximately 100 Clovis stone tools, shown below.  I’m sure his parents then, just as parents today, stood and cried as the laid their son to rest….never suspecting just how important their son would be some 12,500 years later.

anzick clovis tools

From 1968 until 2013, the Anzick family looked after Anzick’s bones, and in 2013, Anzick’s DNA was analyzed.

DNA analysis of Anzick provided us with his mitochondrial haplogroup,  D4h3a, a known Native American grouping, and his Y haplogroup was Q-L54, another known Native American haplogroup.  Haplogroup Q-L54 itself is estimated to be about 16,900 years old, so this finding is certainly within the expected range.  I’m not related to Anzick through Y or mitochondrial DNA.

Utilizing the admixture tools at GedMatch, we can see that Anzick shows most closely with Native American and Arctic with a bit of east Siberian.  This all makes sense.

Anzick MDLP K23b

Full genome sequencing was performed on Anzick, and from that data, it was discovered that Anzick was related to Native Americans, closely related to Mexican, Central and South Americans, and not closely related to Europeans or Africans.  This was an important discovery, because it in essence disproves the Solutrean hypothesis that Clovis predecessors emigrated from Southwest Europe during the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago.

anzick matches

The distribution of these matches was a bit surprising, in that I would have expected the closest matches to be from North America, in particular, near to where Anzick was found, but his closest matches are south of the US border.  Although, in all fairness, few people in Native tribes in the US have DNA tested and many are admixed.

This match distribution tells us a lot about population migration and distribution of the Native people after they left Asia, crossed Beringia on the land bridge, now submerged, into present day Alaska.

This map of Beriginia, from the 2008 paper by Tamm et all, shows the migration of Native people into (and back from) the new world.

beringia map

Anzick’s ancestors crossed Beringia during this time, and over the next several thousand years, found their way to Montana.  Some of Anzick’s relatives found their way to Mexico, Central and South America.  The two groups may have split when Anzick’s family group headed east instead of south, possibly following the edges of glaciers, while the south-moving group followed the coastline.

Recently, from Anzick’s full genome data, another citizen scientist extracted the DNA locations that the testing companies use for autosomal DNA results, created an Anzick file, and uploaded the file to the public autosomal matching site, GedMatch.  This allowed everyone to see if they matched Anzick.  We expected no, or few, matches, because after all, Anzick was more than 12,000 years old and all of his DNA would have washed out long ago due to the 50% replacement in every generation….right?  Wrong!!!

What a surprise to discover fairly large segments of DNA matching Anzick in living people, and we’ve spent the past couple of weeks analyzing and discussing just how this has happened and why.  In spite of some technical glitches in terms of just how much individual people carry of the same DNA Anzick carried, one thing is for sure, the GedMatch matches confirm, in spades, the findings of the scientists who wrote the recent paper that describes the Anzick burial and excavation, the subsequent DNA processing and results.

For people who carry known Native heritage, matches, especially relatively large matches to Anzick, confirm not only their Native heritage, but his too.

For people who suspect Native heritage, but can’t yet prove it, an Anzick match provides what amounts to a clue – and it may be a very important clue.

In my case, I have proven Native heritage through the Micmac who intermarried with the Acadians in the 1600s in Nova Scotia.  Given that Anzick’s people were clearly on a west to east movement, from Beringia to wherever they eventually wound up, one might wonder if the Micmac were descended from or otherwise related to Anzick’s people.  Clearly, based on the genetic affinity map, the answer is yes, but not as closely related to Anzick as Mexican, Central and South Americans.

After several attempts utilizing various files, thresholds and factors that produced varying levels of matching to Anzick, one thing is clear – there is a match on several chromosomes.  Someplace, sometime in the past, Anzick and I shared a common ancestor – and it was likely on this continent, or Beringia, since the current school of thought is that all Native people entered the New World through this avenue.  The school of thought is not united in an opinion about whether there was a single migration event, or multiple migrations to the new word.  Regardless, the people came from the same base population in far northeast Asia and intermingled after arriving here if they were in the same location with other immigrants.

In other words, there probably wasn’t much DNA to pass around.  In addition, it’s unlikely that the founding population was a large group – probably just a few people – so in very short order their DNA would be all the same, being passed around and around until they met a new population, which wouldn’t happen until the Europeans arrived on the east side of the continent in the 1400s.  The tribes least admixed today are found south of the US border, not in the US.  So it makes sense that today the least admixed people would match Anzick the most closely – because they carry the most common DNA, which is still the same DNA that was being passed around and around back then.

Many of us with Native ancestors do carry bits and pieces of the same DNA as Anzick.  Anzick can’t be our ancestor, but he is certainly our cousin, about 500 generations ago, using a 25 year generation, so roughly our 500th cousin.  I had to laugh at someone this week, an adoptee who said, “Great, I can’t find my parents but now I have a 12,500 year old cousin.”  Yep, you do!  The ironies of life, and of genealogy, never fail to amaze me.

Utilizing the most conservative matching routine possible, on a phased kit, meaning one that combines the DNA shared by my mother and myself, and only that DNA, we show the following segment matches with Anzick.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
2 218855489 220351363 2.4 253
4 1957991 3571907 2.5 209
17 53111755 56643678 3.4 293
19 46226843 48568731 2.2 250
21 35367409 36761280 3.7 215

Being less conservative produces many more matches, some of which are questionable as to whether they are simply convergence, so I haven’t utilized the less restrictive match thresholds.

Of those matches above, the one on chromosomes 17 matches to a known Micmac segment from my Acadian lines and the match on chromosome 2 also matches an Acadian line, but I share so many common ancestors with this person that I can’t tell which family line the DNA comes from.

There are also Anzick autosomal matches on my father’s side.  My Native ancestry on his side reaches back to colonial America, in either Virginia or North Carolina, or both, and is unproven as to the precise ancestor and/or tribe, so I can’t correlate the Anzick DNA with proven Native DNA on that side.  Neither can I associate it with a particular family, as most of the Anzick matches aren’t to areas on my chromosome that I’ve mapped positively to a specific ancestor.

Running a special utility at GedMatch that compared Anzick’s X chromosome to mine, I find that we share a startlingly large X segment.  Sometimes, the X chromosome is passed for generations intact.

Interestingly enough, the segment 100,479,869-103,154,989 matches a segment from my mother exactly, but the large 6cM segment does not match my mother, so I’ve inherited that piece of my X from my father’s line.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
X 100479869 103154989 1.4 114
X 109322285 113215103 6.0 123

This tells me immediately that this segment comes from one of the pink or blue lines on the fan chart below that my father inherited from his mother, Ollie Bolton, since men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father.  Utilizing the X pedigree chart reduces the possible lines of inheritance quite a bit, and is very suggestive of some of those unknown wives.


It’s rather amazing, if you think about it, that anyone today matches Anzick, or that we can map any of our ancestral DNA that both we and Anzick carry to a specific ancestor.

Indeed, we do live in exciting times.

Honoring Anzick

On a rainy Saturday in June, 2014, on a sagebrush hillside in Montana, in Native parlance, our “grandfather,” Anzick was reburied, bringing his journey full circle.  Sarah Anzick, a molecular biologist, the daughter of the family that owns the land where the bones were found, and who did part of the genetic discovery work on Anzick, returns the box with his bones for reburial.

anzick bones

More than 50 people, including scientists, members of the Anzick family and representatives of six Native American tribes, gathered for the nearly two-hour reburial ceremony. Tribe members said prayers, sang songs, played drums and rang bells to honor the ancient child. The bones were placed in the grave and sprinkled with red ocher, just like when his parents buried him some 12,500 years before.

Participants at the reburial ceremony filled in the grave with handfuls, then shovelfuls of dirt and covered it with stones. A stick tied with feathers marks Anzick’s final resting place.

Sarah Anzick tells us that, “At that point, it stopped raining. The clouds opened up and the sun came out. It was an amazing day.”

I wish I could have been there.  I would have, had I known.  After all, he is part of me, and I of him.

anzick grave'

Welcome to the family, Anzick, and thank you, thank you oh so much, for your priceless, unparalleled gift!!!


If you want to read about the Anzick matching journey of DNA discovery, here are the articles I’ve written in the past two weeks.  It has been quite a roller coaster ride, but I’m honored and privileged to be doing this research.  And it’s all thanks to an ancient child named Anzick.



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1348 – It Was a Very Bad Year – 52 Ancestors #25

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of darkness…it was the winter of despair.  (Apologies to Charles Dickens.)

In my family history, 1348 was probably the worst year, ever, and I do mean EVER – and if you have European ancestry – it was, undoubtedly, for your family too.  Why?

The Plague.

The Black Plague.

The Black Death.

The Great Plague.

The Great Pestilence.

The Great Mortality.

Bubonic Plague.

And it was probably, worse, far worse, than you know, or can even imagine.

It was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history – or at least the part of human history that we know about.  Between 1348 and 1350, estimates are between 30% and 60% of all Europeans died.  DNA from victims tells us that the source of the plague was indeed the Yersinia Pestis bacterium, originating in Asia and spread by rat fleas on ships.  The epidemic began on the island of Sicily, spread from south to north, eventually encompassing all of Europe.

And it didn’t just happen once, it happened over and over again, beginning in the mid-1300s.  It appeared again and again throughout the 1300-1700s, especially in major cities, but not as widespread and all-encompassing as the initial 1348 outbreak.  By the year 1400, it’s estimated that the plague had reduced the world population from about 450 million to about 300-350 million.

According to historians, the plague was reported someplace in Europe every year between 1346 and 1671. Repeated outbreaks in some areas took high percentages of the population several times.  London, for example, lost half of its population initially, then again in 1471, 10-15% of the population died, and in 1479-80 another 20%.  In 1563, 1593, 1603, 1625, 1636 and 1664, London lost 20% of its population with each subsequent outbreak.

plague 1665

This drawing depicts the Great Plague of London in 1665, which killed up to 100,000 people.

plague London burials

Anyone who could afford to left London for six months or so during the worst of the plague. All cats and dogs were destroyed as a preventive measure. This allowed rats to flourish and spread the disease which was carried by their fleas. The painting shows a scene of horror. After sunset carts were driven through the streets to collect the dead. They were taken to the nearest graveyard to be buried in plague pits, as shown above. Fires burned to make smoke. Pipes of tobacco were smoked, posies of herbs worn and faces covered with masks. This was thought to be protection against contagion. London was overwhelmed with fear, terror and grief.

This scene was repeated throughout Europe.  Norway lost 60% of its population between 1348-1350.  Paris was stricken about every 3 years, repeatedly.  There were 22 outbreaks in Venice between 1361 and 1528, and again in 1576 when one third of the population, about 50,000, people died.  What do you do with 1000 dead bodies every day?

So, how bad was it, personally?  Wiki gives us this information about symptoms.

Contemporary accounts of the plague are often varied or imprecise. The most commonly noted symptom was the appearance of buboes (or gavocciolos) in the groin, the neck and armpits, which oozed pus and bled when opened.

Boccaccio’s description is graphic, and I’m sparing you the photos:

“In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg…From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves. ”

Ziegler comments that the only medical detail that is questionable is the infallibility of approaching death, as if the bubo discharges, recovery is possible.

This was followed by acute fever and vomiting of blood. Most victims died two to seven days after initial infection. David Herlihy identifies another potential sign of the plague: freckle-like spots and rashes which could be caused by flea-bites.

Some accounts, like that of Louis Heyligen, a musician in Avignon who died of the plague in 1348, noted a distinct form of the disease which infected the lungs and led to respiratory problems and which is identified with pneumonic plague.

“It is said that the plague takes three forms. In the first people suffer an infection of the lungs, which leads to breathing difficulties. Whoever has this corruption or contamination to any extent cannot escape but will die within two days. Another form…in which boils erupt under the armpits,…a third form in which people of both sexes are attacked in the groin.”

What did this mean to our ancestors who survived?  To begin with, people were dying so fast that they could not be afforded a proper burial.  Below, the citizens of Tournai burying plague victims.

plague tournai

Most telling, perhaps are the testimonials of the people who survived, and wrote about what they endured – the unwilling chroniclers, as it were.

“They died by the hundreds, both day and night, and all were thrown in … ditches and covered with earth. And as soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. And I, Agnolo di Tura … buried my five children with my own hands … And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world.”

—The Plague in Siena: An Italian Chronicle

He didn’t say that he buried 5 of his children, but that he buried “my five children.”  As a parent, I can’t imagine a worse day in my worst imaginings of Hell.

“How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, breakfast with their kinfolk and the same night supped with their ancestors in the next world! The condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses, made it known by the stench of their rotting bodies. Consecrated churchyards did not suffice for the burial of the vast multitude of bodies, which were heaped by the hundreds in vast trenches, like goods in a ships hold and covered with a little earth.”

—Giovanni Boccaccio

In fact, it may have been even worse than we know, and killed even higher percentages of people, especially in some locations.  Geoffrey reveals that 90% of the English population may have died.

“The seventh year after it began, it came to England and first began in the towns and ports joining on the seacoasts, in Dorsetshire, where, as in other counties, it made the country quite void of inhabitants so that there were almost none left alive.

 … But at length it came to Gloucester, yea even to Oxford and to London, and finally it spread over all England and so wasted the people that scarce the tenth person of any sort was left alive.”

—Geoffrey the Baker, Chronicon Angliae

Because of the massive number of deaths, mass graves were utilized, like this one in Martigues, France.

plague mass burial

Now the good news is that archaeology digs at the sites of the mass graves, allow scientists to unquestionably identify the DNA of the culprit bacteria in different locations, across Europe, including France, Holland and England, and compare them.  It appears from the genetic evidence that the plague may have come in waves, at least two different times, but the plague of the 1300s and 1400s is almost identical to that which hit Madagascar in 2013.  So, the plague is not dead, just lurking, in the fleas of rats.

I wondered, how many of my ancestors died?  We know that every one of my ancestors lived at least long enough to procreate, and at least one of their children lived long enough to procreate too.  When you think about it, given all of the death – repeatedly – it’s nothing short of a miracle that we’re here at all.  We are the offspring of the lucky ones.

How does that translate into what happened to my family members?  I may not know who they were, their names, but assuredly, they lived then, were alive, functioning members of medieval society.  How many were there?  Assuming a 25 year generation, here’s how many ancestors we had living in the year 1350.

Generational Years Ancestors
1950 2
1925 4
1900 8
1875 16
1850 32
1825 64
1800 128
1775 256
1750 512
1725 1,024
1700 2,048
1675 4,096
1650 8,192
1625 16,384
1600 32,768
1575 65,536
1550 131,072
1525 262,144
1500 524,288
1475 1,048,576
1450 2,097,152
1425 4,194,304
1400 8,388,608
1375 16,777,216
1350 33,554,432

If you allow for pedigree collapse, let’s say that half of these people were actually the same person, meaning that I’m descended from that person twice.  That reduces the number of ancestors alive at that time to only about 16.5 million.  Ok, now let’s say one third of them died, which is about 5 million.  If half died, that’s about 8 million.  Even if we collapse the pedigree by another 50%, which would be equivalent to a 30 year generation, 2.5 to 4 million ancestors, all dying at about the same time is a cataclysmic event in any family tree.  And if you’re European and alive today, your tree suffered this same agonizing event, or series of events.  The great irony is, that as horrific as this had to have been – I’ve never heard of a story, any oral history, in any family, that details or even suggests that this happened – and it was only about 650 years, or 23-25 generations, ago.

It’s a huge, huge loss, however you count it.  The agony for those who remained to grieve their losses must have been immense, and intense.  The very social fabric of families, communities and governments was torn from asunder the population.  Blame was laid in many places, with many people, for many reasons, but never attributed to rats.  And the people just kept dying.

plague aftermath

This painting, from 1562, titled “The Triumph of Death,” by Pieter Bruegel reflects the social upheaval and terror that follow the plague that devastated Europe.  The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover.  No family was left untouched, and I’m sure many were simply wiped from the face of the earth.

Which brings up a question – how did my ancestors manage to survive?  Was there some sort of advantage conferred upon some that others didn’t have? And if so, why?

Indeed, there may have been a protector.  It’s called CCR5-delta32, where delta means deletion, and its found on chromosome 3.  The receptor looks like this:

CCR5 receptor

This particular deletion of a gene sequence has a specific impact on T cells and blocks the entry of disease agents.  This deletion is found in between 4 and 20% of Europeans, but not in Africans or Asians.  We know that it historically has protected people from smallpox, and it protects people from AIDS today.  Initially it was thought that it also played a role in protecting people from the plague, but a second paper suggests otherwise.  The jury is still out.

It would be interesting to determine the percentage of people who died from the plague that carried the deletion.  If the percentage of plague victims with the double deletion is equal to the European percentage that carry CCR5-delta32 today, then it’s unlikely that the deletion conferred any protection, assuming the European percentage of CCR5-delta32 would have been approximately the same at that time as it is today.

If you want to know if you have the CCR5-delta32 deletion, there are two ways to find out.

If you tested at 23andMe before the FDA shut down their health reporting in late November, 2013,  you can view your own results under the “Resistance to HIV/AIDS” trait by clicking on this link.

You can also browse your raw data, as shown below.  In this case, if you have two copies of the deletion, you’re “fully protected,” whatever “fully protected” turns out to mean.  One copy means you’re partially protected, which may mean that you can become infected but the infection does not progress to full blown AIDs, or it progresses more slowly.  No deletion means that you have no protection.  The individual in the example below has one copy of the deletion, the other is normal.

23andMe CCR5

If you ordered your 23andMe test after November 2013 and don’t have health results, you’re not entirely out of luck.  You can order the test individually at Family Tree DNA, if you are already a customer, by clicking on “Order an Upgrade,” then “Order an Advanced Test,” then follow the instructions below.  The test costs $39.


The CCR5 mutation is autosomal, which means, of course, that you receive a copy from each parent.

In my case, I don’t carry the deletion, so neither of my parents carried two copies of the deletion or I would have inherited the deletion.

Of my children, one does have one copy of the deletion, and the other has no copies.

So, obviously, the plague did not kill everyone who didn’t carry two copies of the mutation, or today’s European descendants would only carry the mutated (deleted) version of the gene in question.

Still, for our ancestors, and our individual European families, regardless of how, why or protection conferred, 1348 was a really, really bad year from every possible perspective.  It was indeed, the season of darkness, the winter of despair.

While I can’t tell you their names, I know they died, horrible deaths, buried in mass graves – and all I can do today is to remember them namelessly – my thousands of ancestors who died in 1348.



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Chester and the Cotswolds, UK

We are finishing the British portion of our DNA trip by visiting Chester and the Cotswolds. Did you know, in England, that you can’t be considered a city if you don’t have a cathedral? No cathedral, no city. And no, of course there is no intermixing of church and state here – whatever made you think such a thing?

The city of Chester is an old city with a rich history with a lot of ethnic admixture.

Chester was founded as a “castrum” or Roman fort with the name Deva Victrix in the year 79 by the Roman Legion II Adiutrix during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. Chester’s four main roads, Eastgate, Northgate, Watergate and Bridge, follow routes laid out at this time – almost 2,000 years ago.

Eastgate 1880s

This painting shows Eastgate in the 1880s.

One of the three main Roman army camps, Deva later became a major settlement in the Roman province of Britannia.

Chester Roman fort

A diorama of the Roman Legionary fortress Deva Victrix, courtesy of the Grosvenor Museum, Chester.

The Roman Empire fell three hundred years later, and the Romano-British established a number of petty kingdoms in its place. Chester is thought to have been part of Powys at this time. King Arthur is said to have fought his ninth battle at the city of the legions and later St Augustine came to the city to try and unite the church and hold his synod with the Welsh Bishops. In 616, Æthelfrith of Northumbria defeated a Welsh army at the Battle of Chester and probably established the Anglo-Saxon position in the area from then on.

In the late 7th century, (AD 689) King Æthelred of Mercia founded the Minster Church of West Mercia on what is considered to be an early Christian Site and known as The Minster of St John the Baptist, Chester (now St John’s Church) which later became the first cathedral.

The Saxons extended and strengthened the walls of Chester to protect the city against the Danes, who occupied it for a short time until Alfred seized all the cattle and laid waste the surrounding land to drive them out. The Anglo-Saxons called Chester Ceaster or Legeceaster.

In 973, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that, two years after his coronation at Bath, King Edgar of England, came to Chester where he held his court in a palace in a place now known as Edgar’s field near the old Dee bridge in Handbridge. Taking the helm of a barge, he was rowed the short distance up the River Dee from Edgar’s field to the great Minster Church of St John the Baptist by six (the monk Henry Bradshaw records he was rowed by eight kings) tributary kings called ‘reguli’.

Chester was one of the last towns in England to fall to the Normans in the Norman conquest of England. William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle, to dominate the town and the nearby Welsh border.

The cathedral in Chester is very interesting, as is the history of the city.  We only had an hour there with the guide.  The city is a walled city – Roman walls – still intact and you can walk them – but we didn’t have time.  Such an ancient location.  The Roman soldiers who built Hadrian’s Wall were stationed here, and came back afterwards.  There were settled Danes and settled Anglo-Saxons and groups of people living in ethnically distinct neighborhoods within the city walls trading with the Romans.  Is it any wonder we find such a mixture of DNA from this part of England?

Chester guide

In the photo above, our guide is showing us a map of the old city. The orange is the fort and the pink is the city wall. No wonder we see so much intermixed DNA here.

Chester map

Here’s a 16th century map of Chester, above, and a modern day view, below. You can see the location of the old city walls on the contemporary map, but the city is obviously much larger today.

Chester satellite

As with all military forts, villages sprang up around the fort for purposes of trade and providing support services to the soldiers.

Chester ruins

You still find the Roman ruins scattered from place to place in the city.

A few years ago, a very interesting paper was written by Steven Bird about the areas surrounding the Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall. In his paper, titled, Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement in Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin, Steven says that:

“The invasion of Britain by the Roman military in CE 43, and the subsequent occupation of Britain for nearly four centuries, brought thousands of soldiers from the Balkan peninsula to Britain as part of auxiliary units and as regular legionnaires. The presence of Haplogroup E3b1a-M78 among the male populations of present-day Wales, England and Scotland, and its nearly complete absence among the modern male population of Ireland, provide a potential genetic indicator of settlement during the 1st through 4th Centuries CE by Roman soldiers from the Balkan peninsula and their male Romano-British descendants.”

The location of Chester is shown on the map below.

Chester map 2

Byrd further says that, “The frequency of E3b in Britain was observed to be most prevalent in two regions; a geographic cluster of haplotypes extending from Wales eastward to the vicinity of Nottingham, encompassing the region surrounding Chester, and a second (NNE to SSW) cluster extending from Fakenham, Norfolk to Midhurst, Sussex.”

Byrd provided the following map to illustrate his findings.

Byrd map

The surprising part to me isn’t that Chester is such a “hotspot,” all things considered, but that Wales is as well. I don’t think of Wales in terms of the Roman occupation, but apparently I should have.

Wales is literally just next door as well, meaning you can see it, and it seems the people living in Chester had a hissy-sister-fit type of relationship with the Welsh for as long as anyone can remember.

Yep, that’s Wales, looking down this street to the end. The Welsh hills are in the distance. The people of Chester don’t put clocks on that side of buildings because they don’t “want to give the Welsh the time of day.”

Chester city hall

I’m not kidding about that “time of day” thing. Above, their beautiful City Hall with clocks on 3 sides of the tower. I’ll just let you guess which side is clockless.

Wales in the distance

The abbey is now gone of course, but this is the gate to where it once stood.  Underneath this gate they found a medieval wall, so this is not the first structure to grace this location.

Abbey gate

While the abbey is long gone, the Cathedral still exists and is splendid.

Chester cathedral

The cathedral door is original, and stunning.

Chester cathedral door

When inside the cathedral, the organist was practicing and it was an imposing sound.  I got some photos of the organist and the organ and pipes and it is really quite amazing.

Chester cathedral organ

This gives you the scope of the cathedral and the organ.  I think if you were afraid of heights, you couldn’t play this organ!

Chester cathedral organ 2

As with all of these early churches, the stained glass is phenomenal.

Chester cathedral window 2

The nave was begun in 1323, was halted due to the black plague and finally completed in the late 1400s.

Chester rood screen

The Rood Screen carvings are simply awe inspiring.

In this cathedral you find the remains of three earlier churches and the abbey was next door of course.  The abbey was destroyed during the forced change from Catholicism to Protestantism.  The cloisters remain, at least the ones attached to the cathedral.

Chester cloisters

This abbey was very wealthy because they told their patrons that if the family did not give all their money to the church, they were being selfish, because for money, the monks could pray their souls out of Purgatory to Heavens quicker.

Chester grave slab

This 13th century grave slab now resides in the cloisters, but was originally elsewhere on the grounds. There is no identification of who was buried beneath the slab.

Chester stone coffin

There is also a stone coffin found in the cloisters. The coffin was over six feet, six inches. This is unusually large for people of that time. Note the drain hole.

These old churches all have people buried in the floor inside.  This one is full of carved tombs and statues, but this one in the floor, small by comparison, and in a side nave, so obviously couldn’t afford a “good” spot, just spoke so loudly of heartbreak.

Chester floor burial

But God, or the King, served justice upon the wealthy abbey who had been extorting “prayer money” from the family of deceased patrons, because they were so rich that the King took notice and removed all of their riches and destroyed the abbey.

Chester quilt

This tapestry, which is really a quilt, hangs in the church as well.  It was created by a woman from the US who came to see the reenacted Bible stories.  These reenactments were discontinued after the reformation, because they were determined to “not be Christian” but have been historically reenacted for the past several years.

I just loved this quaint little street.

Chester street

Leaving the cathedral, we saw “The Rows” which begin in Godstall Lane across from the church in a small street, too small for modern cars.

Chester Godstall lane

Walking down Godstall Lane, where you exit on the other end, after it narrows even more, about a block or so from the beginning, is on the second row of buildings, or the second floor.

Chester the Rows

Can you see in the windows of the store below? When doing excavation work, old roman arches were found. You can visit today and have tea too.

Chester Rows arch

Here’s a larger photo of the area.

Chester Rows street

A couple of buildings on down the road is Bridge Street, one of only two bridges to connect to Wales originally – and anyone could go in, but you had to pay a toll to get out.  They seriously did not want the Welsh in England.


From there we drove through the northern part of Wales which looks a lot like England, although the Welsh would probably string you up if they heard you say that.  They still speak Welsh there and it’s multi-lingual, except in the north where many won’t speak English.  In south Wales, many don’t speak Welsh.  Hard to believe such a difference for such a small country.  It may be called the United Kingdom, but it’s anything but and there are significant regional differences within and between countries.  These are the mountains that divide Wales and England.

Wales mountains

Even stopping at gas stations here provides entertainment.

Button candy

We went on to have a late lunch in the Cotswolds.  I didn’t know what the Cotswolds were until today, but think of thatched roof cottages with flower gardens and English figurines and that’s the Cotswolds.


Cotswalds 2

Jim and I found a bakery and had a picnic in the town square sitting on the base of the war monument.  It wasn’t Arles in southern France or Stonehenge, but it was still a nice picnic and we didn’t spend our entire hour and a quarter there waiting to be served.  Instead, we spent money like tourists are supposed to do!

Cotswalds square

However, there was a chocolate shop, Cotswold Chocolates, and I had to visit and try the wares. The owner was a lovely lady and she had some TO DIE FOR dark chocolate dipped apricots. I have already checked to see if they ship overseas.

Cotswalds chocolates

We love to visit the local stores and see what local treats we can find to try. But….I drew the line…

Freeze dried insects

Stow is really a quite beautiful little village.  Lots of tourists think so too, but also lots of locals walking around, many with their dogs.  There is a dog water bowl in the doorway of many shops and signs saying dogs are welcome.  There was a farmers market in the square, of course with local veggies.

Queens Head Inn

I particularly like this reflective photo of the images in the old hand blown glass windows of the inn, above.

Cotswald windows

From the Cotswolds, we headed for London. The rest of the group was departing for home, but Jim and I were starting the second part of our trip – a cruise around the British Isles. This is particularly exciting for me, because I have family connections in several locations. In one location, we’ll be driving right past my family’s land and in another I’ll be visiting the clan castle.

I’ve been immersing myself in the history of the places where we have and will visit. One of my favorite books is Peter Akroyd’s, London, A Biography. He shares 2000 years of London’s history in very human form. He discusses the history, the culture, the people, the rich, the poor, the plague, the great fire…you name it, he talks about it. While contemporary London is certainly an outgrowth of the original London, it’s had changed dramatically. I can’t help but look at this map from the 15th century and wonder if this was the London my ancestor, Henry Bolton knew. We don’t really know where he was from, but oral history says London, and that he and his brother, Conrad were kidnapped and sold into indentured servitude after arriving in the states. We know he was in the US before the Revolutionary War and was born about 1759 or 1760 someplace, probably in England. Were these old London streets familiar to Henry and Conrad, his brother?

Old London map

The original map was in a book, known by the Latin name Civitates orbis terrarum, and was published in the German city of Cologne between 1572 and 1617 – just before many cities were destroyed by the Thirty Years War.

The book was intended to accompany an atlas of the world published in 1570 by renowned cartographer Abraham Ortelius.

More than 100 artists and cartographers worked on the originals, which as well as showing the cities’ main features, also included figures in local dress, ships, carts and topographical details.

It was thought that these details helped to show the political importance of the places that they accompany. This book included all of the major cities in Europe, but some elsewhere.

For map junkies, you can purchase this book of old maps, Cities of the World, £44.99, republished and available at

Take a look at the difference between the map above and a current day view of the same area.

Current London map

This has been a very hectic week and even at the end, still seems surreal, much as the sunrise at the Stirk House did yesterday. This evening among the hustle and bustle of London, Ribble Valley, Charnock Richard and Downham seems a very distant dream.



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Hugh Bowling (1591-1651) – DNA Rare as Hen’s Teeth – 52 Ancestors #14

Thomas Speake, the immigrant that founded the Maryland line of the Speak(e)(s) family America, was born about 1634, had immigrated by 1660 and was married to Elizabeth Bowling by November of 1663. They lived in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. They had only two known children, John, known as John the Innkeeper, born in 1665, and Bowling Speak born in 1674. We know about their children, because Thomas died August 6, 1681 and he appointed James Bowling, his brother-in-law, guardian of his minor children, naming them.

The Speak family who descends from Thomas Speak who married Elizabeth Bowling carries as many genes from the Bowling family as from the Speak line. We just don’t think of it that way because the Speak surname has been passed down, and of course, the Bowling name, except as a first name, Bowling Speak, and then a middle name, Thomas Bowling Speake, did not get passed to future generations.

The Bowling Y-line DNA would be that of Elizabeth’s father who is believed to be Hugh Bowling, christened August 6, 1591 in Chorley, Lancashire, and died Sept. 7, 1651, buried in Standish, married to Ellen Finch in 1616.

Before our trip to England, we located some Bowling males, and thanks to Shirley Platt, Jerry Bowling agreed to have his Y DNA tested for a special kind of mutation called a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) that tells us about his haplogroup or his deep ancestral clan.

About 50% of the men of Europe descend from one group of settlers, but in our case, we’ve twice been lucky now, because our Speak line comes from the Dinaric area of the Alps and our Bowling line is even more unique.  The Bowling males from Chorley, in Lancashire, carry haplogroup T1.  What is T1, you ask?  Rare, that’s what it is!!!  We’re talking hens-teeth rare here.

And not only is it rare overall, it’s extremely rare in England.

Jerry has a total of 15 low resolution DNA matches, and of those, 3 are other Bowlings, 6 are to other English surnames, of which 3 are Dutton, and the balance are to men from either Portugal or Spain.  All of the English surname men match Jerry exactly, and all of the Spanish/Portuguese matches carry one mutation difference.  This indicates that the Bowlings are more closely related to the English men than the Spanish/Portuguese men.  For example, the Stockton family is from just up the road, in Cheshire.

As we move to higher resolution markers, meaning matches closer in time, the other surnames all fall away and the Bowling men only match other Bowling men.  They should be more closely related to Bowling men than men who match genetically but carry different surnames, unless an “adoption” of some sort, name change or illegitimate birth has occurred in the line.

This match with Iberian men doesn’t necessarily mean that the ancestors of the Bowlings were Iberian. It could mean that the Bowling men and the Iberian men both share a common ancestor from elsewhere, with both groups having migrated from that central location.  Or, it could mean that the Bowling ancestors were Iberian.  Perhaps we can find clues in the history of the population migration pattern of haplogroup T1.  Let’s see what we can find.

At Family Tree DNA, there are haplogroup as well as surname projects.  People who share a common haplogroup join the haplogroup project that matches their haplogroup designation in order for the population spread and migration pattern of the haplogroup to be studied.  Generally, the haplogroup project administrators know more about their haplogroups than almost anyone else.  Often they have a personal interest, carrying that haplogroup themselves.  They are also often out in front of the scientists who define subgroups.  Science is slow-moving by its very nature, and in genetic genealogy, sometimes scientists move so slowly that the science is obsolete by the time it’s actually announced.  In other words, the field sometimes moves faster than the scientists can keep up.

In this case, Family Tree DNA, who waits for academic consensus before assigning new haplogroups, shows the SNP marker M70 as defining haplogroup T1, but the administrators, based on both STR markers and SNPs, have grouped Jerry with a small subgroup of people who are from ….are you ready for this….Egypt, Saudi Arabia (2), Bangladesh, Spain, Yemen (2), Bulgaria and the United Arab Emirates.  Of this entire grouping, Jerry Bowling is the only individual from the British Isles or even from Europe except for Spain and Bulgaria.  This group is labeled at the Alpha-1-Y group.  Keep in mind, however, that not all testers join haplogroup projects and it’s obvious from this information that Jerry’s English matches have not joined.

Bowling T1 map

So, in timeline order, the Bowlings are the most closely related to other Bowlings males, then the English non-Bowling men they match, then the Iberian men they match, then the Alpha-1-Y haplogroup T group.  On the map above, showing the Bowling matches, the location in Turkey is believed to be the birthplace of haplogroup T.

What do we know about haplogroup T, the parent of subgroup T1?

Haplogroup T is very rare in Europe, with less than 1% of European men carrying haplogroup T.  It is much more common in the Middle East, portions of South Asia and portions of Northern and Eastern Africa.

In addition, the distribution of haplogroup T is very spotty, with some areas virtually devoid of this haplogroup, while in other locations we find rich pockets.  The map below shows the distribution of haplogroup T.

T1 Frequency Distribution

On the map above, haplogroup T is found most often in Northern and Eastern Africa, in the Middle East and South Asia and in spotty locations in Southern Europe.  It’s believed that haplogroup T originated in the Taurus Mountains in Eastern Turkey about 25,000 or 30,000 years ago, with subgroup T1 being born in the Middle East between 10,000 and 25,000 years ago.

A Relief of the Taurus Mountains is shown below.  Cyprus is the island just to the south of the mountain range.

Taurus Mountains

Middle Eastern Map cropped

So how, then, did our haplogroup T ancestors get to Europe?  And not just Europe, but the western periphery of Europe?

There are four scenarios that have historical evidence and fit what we know of the migration path of haplogroup T.  Any or all of these could have come into play, or perhaps another scenario we don’t know about today.

Scenario 1 – The Phoenicians

The Neolithic period, as the introduction of agriculture was known, began about 12,000 years ago in the Levant and had arrived in Europe by about 7,000 years ago. It took another 3000 years to spread across Europe from Southeast to Northwest, moving at the rate of .6 -1.3 km per year, or between a third and 4/5ths of a mile, or between 400 and 1400 yards, just enough for the next generation to move next door to find available, unoccupied farmland.

The path to Europe was originally thought to be through the Caucus region, present day Turkey, Georgia and countries East of the Black Sea, but alternate routes are a probability and for our haplogroup T1 ancestors, a certainty.  Another route was likely a coastal Mediterranean route or a slightly different route that bypassed the northern Caucus area for the easier coastal route, crossing into Turkey at Istanbul and then taking the overland route in Europe. These routes would also explain the frequency of haplogroup T found in the Balkan area, into Italy, the Iberian peninsula and throughout the Mediterranean in addition to northern Europe.

The coastal route associated with Phoenician trading is a strong possibility.  Phoenician traders, whether they settled or regularly visited, would have deposited their Y-line DNA for centuries in various trading and settlement areas, as shown in the following map from the paper “Identifying Genetic Traces of Historical Expansions: Phoenician Footprints in the Mediterranean”.

Phoenician Map

As you can see, illustrated on the map below from the National Geographic Genographic project, the population migration route for haplogroup T parallels these settlements.

Settlement Map cropped

The Phoenicians were dominant traders 2000-3000 years ago. The following map shows both Phoenician (yellow) and Greek (red) trade routes in 500 BC.  The route is extremely suggestive of correlation when compared with the frequency charts compiled from research papers.  Many of the locations with the highest frequencies in the Mediterranean today were trade destinations of the Phoenicians or Greeks.

Phoenician Trade Routes

Scenario 2 – The Jews

Haplogroup T is found in very low levels throughout Europe, but they tend to be clustered and are often significantly higher in areas where Jewish families are known to have settled.  Below, we see a haplogroup breakdown within the Ashkenazi Jews.  This, of course, implies that even if haplogroup T was already resident within Europe, additional families were part of the Jewish diaspora.  Clearly not all European men who are haplogroup T were of the Jewish faith, but many are.  Haplogroup T dates much further back in time than the Jewish faith, so many people will be distantly related to those of the Jewish faith, but not Jewish themselves.

Ashkenazi Jewish Breakdown cropped


The Rapalye/Rapparlie Family

We have actual evidence of a haplogroup T1 family found in Germany, France and the Netherlands and having a history of being a Sephardic Jewish from Spain who left with the edict of Nantes in 1492 evicting all Jews.  I am intimately familiar with this family because my family in Mutterstadt, Germany is the Rapparlien family, referred to in the Bible, originally from the coast of France at Calais.

Rapparlie coat of arms

The Rapparlie family crest, shown above, is taken from the Rapparlie family Bible in Mutterstadt.   The information on the family crest translates as follows:

“Rapparlie. An ancestral Spanish family which came in the 16th century to the Netherlands. From where (our ancestor) Josef Georg, who lived in Leuven, came to Frankfurt (the one of the river Main). He obtained citizen rights there in 1820.”

The translator adds information telling us that the Rapparlie family is likely to have fled from Spain to the Netherlands because of the Decree of Alhambra of 1492, an edict expelling all of the Jews from Spain.

Decree of Alhambra

Estimates are that between 165,000 and 800,000 people were evicted with about 28,000 displaced individuals migrating to what is today France, Holland, Germany and England.  These displaced Jews became the Shepardic Jews, and were forced to convert to Catholicism before the expulsion, becoming therefore known as Conversos.  Their conversions were often insincere, only a method to survive persecution, and therefore they would have been ripe pickings for the rebellion against Catholicism accompanying the Protestant reformation some years later.

The Rapparlie (and variant spellings) family in Valenciennes were known to be silk weavers, and historical records are full of references to Jewish silk weavers in Spain and other Middle Eastern and Northern African locations in the Middle Ages and prior to their eviction from Spain in 1492.

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews

The Ashkenazi Jews were known to have been in Europe as early as the Middle Ages in the 4th century.  It is unknown if this early group survived intact, but Jews are again prevalent in the records by the 10th century.  Most of the Jews were clustered in cities, trade centers, as their high rates of literacy and knowledge of trades made them successful and desirable, if sometimes looked down upon because the Christian church forbade Christians from participating in usury (money lending in exchange for interest), which the Jews embraced heartily.

Conversely, the Jews maintained their separate living quarters, communities and family units, practiced endogamy (married only within their Jewish community) and they too looked down up on their neighbors.  Unfortunately, this mutual distrust and antipathy was the seed of eventual anti-Semitic discrimination and ultimately, attempted genocide.

The Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and again in 1497, and many settled in Europe, but the two Jewish groups tended to maintain separate communities as their beliefs, practices and languages had come to differ in the centuries they had both been separated from their motherland.

Following the Roman takeover of Judea, the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem in 70AD.  They continued to be residents of Palestine for several hundred years, but groups began to look for opportunities elsewhere and they began to be found in other locations in Mesopotamia and dispersed within the Mediterranean region.  The largest concentrations were in the Levant, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy, including Rome itself.  Smaller communities are recorded in Gaul (France), Spain and North Africa.  Christianity became the official religion of Rome and Constantinople (current day Istanbul) in 380 and Jews were increasingly marginalized.

Europe 500 AD

The Germanic invasions of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century by tribes such as the Visigoths, Franks, Lombards and Vandals caused massive economic and social instability within western Europe, contributing to its decline.  In the late Roman Empire, Jews are known to have lived in Cologne and Trier as well as in what is now France.  However, it is unclear whether there is any continuity between those Roman communities and the distinct Ashkenazi Jewish culture that began to emerge about 500 years later.

After 800 AD, Charlemagne’s unification of former Frankish lands with northern Italy and Rome brought a brief period of stability and unity in western Europe which created new opportunities for Jewish merchants to settle once again north of the Alps.  Many Jewish merchants embraced occupations in finance and commerce.  From that time to the present, the Ashkenazi are well documented in Europe.

Jewish people

Unfortunately, their lives in Europe were not always stable, and with the onset of the Crusades, they were evicted from England in 1290, France in 1392 and parts of Germany in the 1400s, pushing them eastward into Poland, Lithuania and Russia.  By the 1400s, the Ashkenazi Jewish Communities in Poland were the largest Jewish communities of the Diaspora.  This area which eventually fell under the domination of Russia.  Austria and Prussia (Germany) would remain the center of Ashkenazi Jewry until the Holocaust.  A painting on the previous page of Ashkenazi Jews praying on Yom Kippur was painted in 1878 by Maurycy Gottlieb in his hometown of Drohobych.

During the Holocaust, of the 8.8 million Jews living in Europe at the beginning of World Jews in LondonWar II, about 6 million, more than two-thirds, were systematically murdered because of their Jewish faith or heritage.  More than 91% of the Polish Jews died, 82% in
the Ukraine and between 50 and 90% in other European nations (Germany, France, Hungary and the Baltic states).  Sephardic communities suffered similar depletions in a few countries including Greece, the Netherlands and the former Yugoslavia.  At this time, many Jews began to immigrate, to the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia and Argentina where they and their descendants are found today.  At right, refugee Jews are portrayed arriving in London, poor and destitute, but alive.

Scenario 3 – Phoenician, Jewish or Maybe Moors?

First, let me say we simply don’t have the definitive answer to this question, but let’s use what records we do have to try to narrow the possibilities.

The Bowling family first has records from 1520 in Chorley, in Lancashire, England.  This Bowling family was, indeed, Catholic, as was the rest of England in 1520.  The Protestant Reformation had not yet happened and wouldn’t until in the 1530s, specifically, 1534 when Henry VIII declared himself the head of the church in England and broke ties with Rome.

After that, the Bowling family, along with the Speak family, the Finch family and others would staunchly refuse to become Protestants.

It’s hard for me to believe that the Bowling family was Jewish in 1492, when only 28 years later, or one generation, we find them in England, and not coastal England, but in the middle of Lancashire.  Even harder for me to believe is that they would become Catholic, the religion that persecuted them so terribly and forced the Jews to leave Spain in such desperate straits.  If they were going to become Catholic, they would simply have converted and stayed in Spain.  It would have been a lot easier that way.

They could have been Phoenician.  They could also have been Moorish, as the Moors from the Middle East and North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and called the territory Al-Andalus, an area which at different times comprised Gibraltar, most of Spain and Portugal, and parts of France. There was also a Moorish presence in what is now southern Italy, primarily in Sicily which also has a significant amount of haplogroup T, although none that matches the Bowling line.

Moors in Iberia

This 13th century painting depicts Moors in Iberia.

Medieval Spain and Portugal were the scene of almost constant warfare between Muslims and Christians. Al-Andalus sent periodic raiding expeditions to loot the Iberian Christian kingdoms, bringing back booty and slaves. In a raid against Lisbon, Portugal in 1189, for example, the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur took 3,000 female and child captives. In a subsequent attack upon Silves, Portugal in 1191, the governor of Córdoba took 3,000 Christian slaves.

Similarly, Christians sold Muslim slaves captured in war. The Knights of Malta attacked pirates and Muslim shipping, and their base became a center for slave trading, selling captured North Africans and Turks. Malta remained a slave market until well into the late 18th century. One thousand slaves were required to man the galleys (ships) of the Order.

The religious difference of the Moorish Muslims led to a centuries-long conflict with the Christian kingdoms of Europe called the Reconquista. The Fall of Granada in 1492 saw the end of the Muslim rule in Iberia.

Perhaps the history of Lancashire itself can help us understand how our ancestors might have settled in that region.

History of Lancashire

In the Domesday Book, written in 1086 after William the Conqueror conquered England in 1066, some of the lands now within Lancashire had been treated as part of Yorkshire. The area in between the Mersey and Ribble Rivers (referred to in the Domesday Book as “Inter Ripam et Mersam”) formed part of the returns for Cheshire.  Although some have taken this to mean that, at this time, south Lancashire was part of Cheshire, it is not clear that this was the case, and more recent research indicates that the boundary between Cheshire and what was to become Lancashire remained the river Mersey. Once Lancashire’s initial boundaries were established in 1182, it bordered Cumberland, Westmorland, Yorkshire, and Cheshire.

Lancashire takes its name from the city of Lancaster, which itself is means ‘Roman fort on the River Lune’, combining the name of the river with the Old English cæster, which referred to a Roman fort or camp. The county was established some time after the Norman conquest when William the Conqueror gave the land between the Ribble and the Mersey, together with Amounderness, to Roger de Poitou. In the early 1090s Lonsdale, Cartmel and Furness were added to Roger’s estates to facilitate the defense of the area south of Morecambe Bay from Scottish raiding parties, which travelled round the Cumberland coast and across the bay at low water, rather than through the mountainous regions of the Lake District.

Scenario Four – Roman Soldiers, Slaves or Conscripts

From this information, we know two things.  First, there was a Roman fort in this area, and second there were Scottish raiding parties.  This DNA is not Scottish, so we can discount that but what it does tell us is that the fort was very probably heavily fortified and the soldiers patrolled throughout the region to protect it from the Scots.

We also know, from our visit to Chester, that a Roman fort was also located there.  A little additional research yields even more interesting information, revealing a Roman fort right in the Ribble Valley at a location called Ribchester, shown below, which is located on the Ribble River half way between Gisburn, the home of the Speake family and Charnock Richard, the home of the Bowling family, about 10 miles from each.

Ribchester roman fort Lancashire

Furthermore, this fort is much older than the Domesday Book.  The first fort at Ribchester was built in timber in AD 72/73 by the Roman Twentieth Legion. The fort was renovated in the late 1st century AD and was rebuilt in stone in the early 2nd century. During the life of the fort, a village grew up around it becoming Ribchester. A fort remained at Ribchester until the 4th century AD and its remains can still be seen around the present village.

Romans also settled Sarmatians at Ribchester. In those days Ribchester was known as Bremetennacum and is known chiefly as the retirement home of the Sarmatians. Checking the distribution map, there is a high concentration of haplogroup T along the southwest Caspian Sea and a less dense concentration in western Iran and Iraq. Areas either long Iranian for millenia or well within the sphere of Iranian influence.

The map below shows the following locations:

  1. The Lowbarrow Bridge location of the Roman fort recorded in the Domesday Book
  2. Gisburn – home region of the Speak family
  3. Ribchester, location of the Roman fort in the Ribble Valley
  4. Charnock Richard, home region of the Bowling Family
  5. Chester, location of a third Roman fort

Lancashire map

In other areas in England, in particular, along the line of Hadrian’s Wall between England and Scotland, where we find several Roman forts and fortifications, we also find Mediterranean and North African DNA, quite a bit of it, and concentrated in pockets surrounding the forts.  We know that not all Roman soldiers were Roman citizens, some were slaves and some were conscripted.  Many slaves volunteered for military duty.  And the Romans, of course, as soldiers will do, sometimes left their DNA behind, if they didn’t marry outright with the local females.

So Who Are We???

I really don’t think the Bowling family has a Jewish history.  In part because they have no Jewish matches at all, nor matches in highly Jewish areas.  Also, the known history of the family does not mesh with what would have happened historically at that time.  England was not a Jewish haven, especially not the countryside.  London might be another story, but Lancashire, in the Ribble Valley?  I don’t think so as there is absolutely no evidence to support this.

The Bowling ancestors could have been Phoenician and found their way to the Iberian peninsula in that manner, but if they were, I would think we would see a path of matches throughout the Mediterranean, particularly on Greece, the southern end of Italy and on Sicily, and we don’t.  We see Middle Eastern matches, Iberian matches and then English matches with only a couple of exceptions.

The Bowling men could be Moors, except the Moors didn’t invade the Iberian peninsula until about 300 years after the Roman occupation of England ended, meaning the Romans were no longer sending troops to England so the dates with Moors are problematic.

The scenario that fits best is that the Bowling ancestors were likely slaves or conscripted soldiers of the Roman legion that conquered England beginning in AD43.  The Roman occupation continued until about the year 500 when the Saxons invaded.  This means that Romans lived in Britain, among the British for about 400 years which equates to about 16 generations, plenty of time to assimilate with the local population.

The Roman empire from the year 43AD to 409 is shown below.

Roman Empire

In time, slaves and captives became part of the Roman army, willingly or not, conscripts or otherwise, that invaded and subsequently ruled England for the next 400 years.  Slavery was part of Roman life and captive soldiers and their family were traditionally sold into slavery.  Note, on the map above, that the entire Mediterranean basin fell under the Roman rule, including several Middle Eastern locations where Bowling haplogroup matches are found.

This relief below, from Smyrna, present day Izmir, Turkey, shows a roman soldier leading 2 Turkish slaves away in chains.

Turkish slaves

Regardless of whether the Bowlings paternally are Moors, Phoenicians, Roman soldiers, Roman slaves or Jews, we share a common heritage between all of these groups – back in the Middle East before these groups were separately defined as such.  Our origins are firmly tied there, for tens of thousands of years, in the land of sand and forbidding mountains, the Holy Land and the religious well from which Christianity, the Muslim faith and the Jewish religion all sprang.  The Taurus Mountains and the Middle East.  This is the land of our Bowling forefathers, before Lancashire…this is our homeland.

sand dunes

Taurus mountains sunset

Taurus Mountains lake

Mountains and sand - middle east



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Houston Chronicle Article Features Gene by Gene Founders

On Sunday, March 16th, 2014, the Houston Chronicle features an article about Houston’s own entrepreneurs, Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan who founded Gene by Gene, parent company of Family Tree DNA.  Below, in a photo from the Chronicle, they hold samples of DNA trayed and ready to run in their Gene by Gene lab.

Max and Bennett

How many of you know that the pair began as a photographic film salesman and a watchmaker?  This just proves what passion and innovation can and will do.  Impossible is not a word either man knows.

Begun in 2000 as a retirement business, today Family Tree DNA has tested over 600,000 people directly and another half a million people through National Geographic through the Genographic and Geno 2.0 projects.

Their business model: Buy what you can afford. Don’t hire anyone you might have to lay off. Invest in automation and technology.

This seems to be working, as they are profitable and have provided a total of over 5 million discrete tests, between Family Tree DNA and the other Gene by Gene testing companies which provide medical and paternity testing.

The story of how the company began is legendary in DNA circles.  Bennett Greenspan, a frustrated genealogist who had hit a dead end approached Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona.  One might suggest that approached isn’t really the correct word.  Hounded might be better.  Bennett understood that his Y chromosome would match that of someone else who shared a paternal ancestor, and he wanted to find a lab to do that test.  Michael Hammer finally simply acquiesced to get rid of Bennett, with the now infamous throw away line, “You know, someone should start a business doing this.”  Never, never say that to an entrepreneur.

As reported in the Chronicle, reflectively, Dr. Hammer, an adviser to Gene by Gene and a regular speaker at the Family Tree DNA annual genetics conference, says today, “It was just the right time, right place. No one thought this was going to turn into anything.”  Michael had obviously never met a man like Bennett.

I’ve known Bennett for 13 or 14 years now.  It’s easy to see him as a successful businessman.  But to know Bennett is to remember that he is truly a genealogist at heart, and everything he does with Family Tree DNA has genealogy as its heart and soul.  If you walk into his office, you will be immediately reminded of this fact, and it’s hard to see Bennett as anything else other than one of us – just a kind-hearted genealogist seeking answers.  In the photo below from the Chronicle, Bennett stands in front of his ancestor timeline which resides on his office wall.  I wonder how many of these ancestors he has represented by DNA haplogroups today.

Bennett in office

Thank you so much Bennett, for pushing that envelope, hounding Dr. Hammer and birthing genetic genealogy.  Today, Max and Bennett are truly shepherding consumer genetics to the next step.

“We took science that was performed in a stuffy lab and brought it into the general public,” Greenspan said.

Thank Heavens they did.  We are all the beneficiaries.

To read the rest of the article and for more photos, click here.



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