The Kings and I

Not long ago, I was whining to a friend that I hadn’t found a new ancestor in a long time.  Well, now I have to unwhine, because I have hit the ancestor lottery – and I mean the Mega-Millions Jackpot.

Somehow, it’s fitting that this past week was the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede.

Gosh, I wish I could have been there, as I could have met several cousins.  It would have been like a virtual family reunion.

Magna Carta

King John (below), the King who signed the Magna Carta (above), and not really by choice, is my ancestor.

King John hunting

You see, once you tie into the royal lines with what is known as a gateway ancestor, you’re home free…well…kind of.  You’re at least in the door, but you still have to figure out how all of that royalty ties together, and there is a lot of misinformation and wishful thinking out there, believe me.

I learned about a year ago that indeed, I did have a gateway ancestor through Sarah Ludlow born about 1640 in Fairfield, Connecticut, who married Nathaniel Brewster.  A gateway ancestor is considered to be an American or colonial settler who descends from documented royalty.

I started slowly working my way backward, after ordering boxes worth of reference material, and not long thereafter, discovered that I was descended, much to my surprise, from King Edward the First, also known as Longshanks.

Little did I know that was only the tip of the iceberg.  That’s because  European royalty is all related to each other like a big ole kudzu vine.  That is, after all, how you kept the money, power and crown in the family.

I discovered the Magna Carta Facebook group and joined.  They discussed the most interesting topics, and with the upcoming anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the educational factor was what I’ll just call “spongeworthy.”  Given that I had no particular reason to be interested in British royalty before, I wasn’t. But, all of a sudden I have developed an intense interest and I just couldn’t soak up all of the information fast enough.

I kept discovering that I was related to more and more people, like more Kings…King John, King Henry II and III, William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Scots, King Louis VI, VII and VIII of France…and yes…Charlemagne too.

Now, if what National Geographic reports is true, and you’re descended from Charlemagne, you’re cousins with everyone in contemporary Europe except for newcomers.  And all this from one man who lived about 1200 years ago and was exceedingly prolific.

Wow, was I overwhelmed, both by the sheer volume of information, and the fact that…glory be….the research has for the most part been done.  Now, I just had to put the pieces together, not search for the pieces of needles in a huge scavenger hunt haystack.

Even that is no small task.

Then, one day on the Facebook Magna Carta group, someone showed a dramatic, stunningly beautiful chart of their royal connections…beginning with them.  It was “take your breath away” gorgeous.  I’m a visual person and I wanted one, in the worst way, but I didn’t have nearly enough of my genealogy done.

Imagine my big 24X36 frameable chart with me at one end and King Edward I at the other end and a few scatters in-between.  Nope, not ready yet.

However, I saw a few more of these charts and I DESPERATELY wanted one, so I decided to drop a note to Ky (rhymes with sky), the man making these pieces of art.  I explained to him my quandary…and much to my surprise…Ky offered to help me.  Wow!  I was stunned.  I never expected that.

And just because I needed to know… who was Ky, this man I was willing to send Paypal money to unmet and sight unseen?

Ky White has a BS degree in Weapons Systems Engineering from the US Military Academy and an MA in History from Sam Houston State University. He has always found tales of family history, medieval history, and knights in shining armor to be irresistible.  Ok, so far we have a lot in common…well at least that medieval knight part.

Ky has been compiling names, dates, and places, with documentation, for his entire adult life.  Ky has gateway ancestors for 3 of his 4 grandparents.  That certainly explains his intense interest as well.

About two years ago Ky started posting a daily diary of events that happened in medieval times in several FaceBook groups. One thing led to another, and Ky has recently co-authored a book with Chuck Poley (founder of the Magna Carta Facebook group) on the Magna Carta barons and did the original research linking all the Magna Carta Barons (or their wives) to Charlemagne. That book is not quite ready for publication, but is titled “Descendants & Ancestors of King John, his Supporters, & the Magna Carta Barons through the lines of Charlemagne & William The Conqueror.”  Note to self – buy that book when it’s ready.

For the book, Ky created charts showing inter-connected family trees of the barons. Several people wanted to purchase those charts and an internet business was born.

Ky has a website,, where you can view his incredible work.

Ky already has two books to his credit with the third Magna Carta book being finalized for print.  Ky is currently writing a fourth book on the Crusades and the Crusaders featuring short biographical sketches on about 500 noteworthy Crusaders.  Note to self, buy this book too.

Needless to say, Ky has people waiting for his services, so, I got in line.  When it was my turn, I sent Ky my GEDCOM file, telling him who my gateway ancestor was.  Ky, in turn, did his magic, connecting my gateway ancestor with his data base that includes more than 27,000 royally connected people and over 1000 coats of arms, representing more than 40 years of work.

Guess what.  Ky and his wife are both my distant cousins!!!  How about this for a novel way to meet new cousins.

shield 1Ky also connected me with Nick Buckingham, who created my shield for me.  Now, you know “the rest of the story,” why I wanted my shield.

So, Ky was really my gateway to winning the ancestor lottery.  He showed me people I descend from and connect to.  I would never have had any idea otherwise.  I am descended from a fine mix of Saints and Sinners!

Like, for example, Lady Godiva and El Cid.

Lady Godiva statue

I visited this statue of Lady Godiva’s in Coventry, England two years, ago, entirely unsuspecting that she is my ancestor.  In fact, my husband took one look at that statue and announced that I am surely, surely descended from her.  I laughed at the time, because it was just an incredulously ridiculous thing to say.  I know he was kidding because of her obvious propensity to not behave, but it was uncannily prophetic.

I’m so proud of Lady Godiva, riding nude like that to oppose taxes.  She was an innovative woman, that’s for sure.  I don’t know if the taxes were reduced or not, but it certainly called attention to the issue and her ride has become her legacy.  Indeed, well behaved women seldom make history! That’s my motto anyway.  In fact, here I am, at right below, wearing my favorite t-shirt, with one of my favorite fellow non-well-behaved-women, Anne Poole, on an archaeology dig, carrying on the family tradition.

well behaved women dig

I bet I carry some of Lady Godiva’s genes someplace!  Well, I haven’t ridden through town nude, at least not yet…but then again, I’m not dead yet either!  Besides…that nude ride thing has already been done – I’ll have to think of something else innovative.  Hey, maybe I’ll push the envelope of genetics research…how about that???

I descend from 15 Magna Carta Barons and Sureties, about 20 Crusaders and 3 Saints. Yes, seriously.  I know, those Saints are probably rolling over in their graves, but I’m guessing it’s probably not the first time, especially if they knew about Lady Godiva’s ride.

I have to wonder – how many of those Kings carry the warrior gene?  Did it help them?  It surely would be interesting to do a study.  Maybe as full genome sequencing becomes more common, their actual genes will one day be sequenced from their remains.  Did I inherit this gene from this line?  Do I carry part of King John’s or Lady Godiva’s DNA in me today?  Maybe one day I’ll be able to know.

I was dumbstruck, flabbergasted, speechless when I saw who I descend from.  Absolutely giddy.  I have struck the ancestor mother-lode.

I am extremely excited for my ancestors to have played such a pivotal part at many critical junctures of both European and colonial American history – good or bad – and because they were famous, or infamous, I know who they are what they were doing.  It’s recorded in the annals of history.   My lucky day, indeed!!!

But wait, that’s not all.  Ky can’t possibly fit everyone on the chart, so he also offers a pedigree service.  You provide him with the name of your gateway ancestor, and he will send you a detailed pedigree for 6-12 generations back in time from that gateway ancestor.  I think this is the best value on the market today.  My pedigree document in 40 pages in length.  The great thing about these people is that if you google any one of them, there are wiki and other articles and documentation about them with photos, graphics, pictures of medieval documents and locations.

Yes, I should have been at Runnymede this week.  British history has suddenly become incredibly fascinating.  And those people wearing those funny hats…they are all my cousins, although I doubt they’ll be claiming me anytime soon or inviting me to high tea at the palace.

I’m thinking Queen Elizabeth probably doesn’t care that I’m her cousin 27 different ways to Sunday.  Maybe if I bought a hat or a “fascinator” it would improve my odds.

Now, I’ll just let you peruse and enjoy the chart that Ky made, just for me, including my Mayflower ancestors as well.  This heirloom chart just arrived from the printers and will be framed and on my wall shortly.  Something lovely to enjoy in my lifetime and pass on to my children, along with the rich history and heritage it represents.

Estes chart final

Thank you, thank you, Ky!!!  I can’t thank Ky enough.

I feel like one of those lucky celebrities on “Who Do You Think You Are” who just received their pedigree scroll and it unrolled all the way down the hallway!  I’ve always looked at those scenes with green-eyed envy…but now…thanks to Ky…it’s unexpectedly my turn!  What an incredible gift.

If you have a gateway ancestor, it can be your turn too.

The Warrior Gene

warrior 1

In sports, business or your personal life, how you respond to stress and aggression may be in your genes, or at least partly so.  Let’s take a look at a great documentary and the science behind it.

Human behavior is complex and influenced by our genes, our environment, and our circumstances. One of the most provocative and often controversial of genetic variants has been dubbed the “Warrior Gene.”

Studies have linked the “Warrior Gene” to increased risk-taking and to retaliatory behavior. Men with the “Warrior Gene” are not necessarily more aggressive, but they are more likely to respond aggressively to perceived conflict.

On December 14, 2010, National Geographic Channel’s Explorer: “Born to Rage?” documentary investigated the discovery behind a single “warrior gene” directly associated with violent behavior.

warrior 2

With bullying and violent crime making headlines, this controversial finding stirs up the nature-versus-nurture debate. Now, former Grammy-winning rocker, author and radio/television broadcaster Henry Rollins goes in search of carriers from diverse, sometimes violent backgrounds who agree to be tested for the genetic mutation. Who has the warrior gene? And are all violent people carriers? The results turn assumptions upside down.

warrior 3

A rock band front man. A bullet-scarred Harley rider. A former gang member from East L.A. Even a Buddhist monk with a far-from-peaceful past. Which one carries the gene associated with violence? An extraordinary discovery suggests that some men are born with impulsive, aggressive behavior … but it’s not always who you think.

It’s a hotly debated topic: nature versus nurture. Many experts believe our upbringing and environment are the primary influences on our behavior, but how much are we predisposed by our DNA? The discovery of a single gene variation affecting only men, which appears to play a crucial role in managing anger, argues that nature may have a far bigger influence on behavior. It’s this low-functioning, shortened gene linked to violent behavior that has become known as the “warrior gene,” and one-third of the male population has it.

One of those men, who describes himself as “fairly furious all the time” and agrees to be tested for the gene with a simple cheek swab, is Henry Rollins — a former poster boy of youthful rebellion and the American punk scene.  Some of his tattoos are too provocative and socially offensive to show. 

warrior 4

In this special Explorer episode, he dives into his own history of rage and searches out others with aggressive behavior from a range of different backgrounds. “If you can think of a stove, and the pilot light is always on, always ready to light all four burners, that is me, all the time,” he says. “I’m always ready to go there.”

Follow Rollins as he meets with former foot soldiers in one of the most violent street gangs in East Los Angeles; fighters in the ultraviolent sport of mixed martial arts, and Harley Davidson bikers. He’ll also talk to a Navy SEAL veteran and Buddhist monks whose lives weren’t always so tranquil.

After learning more about the warrior gene, many of the men believe they have it, which could offer an explanation of their past behavior. Their sentiment mimics Rollins as he says, “If I find out that I have the warrior gene, that would be interesting. If I find out I don’t, I must say, I would feel a bit of disappointment.” As the anticipation builds, be there when they receive the surprising outcome of the test.

Explorer VII: Inside the Warrior Gene NGCUS Episode Code: 4833

Then, Explorer takes a look at the original study — on one family with generations of men displaying patterns of extreme physical aggression — that led Dutch geneticist Dr. Han Brunner to the revolutionary discovery of this rare genetic dysfunction. We’ll also take a look at new revelations that warrior gene carriers are significantly more likely to punish when provoked. In one study attempting to demonstrate this, subjects are given permission to administer punishment to their partner (who was secretly instructed to make a nuisance of himself), with unexpected results.

For any man questioning his inner warrior, a simple cheek swab test is available at Family Tree DNA.

So wanna know who, in the documentary, had the warrior gene?  Well, hint….it wasn’t the biker…although his lady assured him he would always be her warrior.  But I’m not going to tell you who does have it.  All I’ll say is that you’ll be amazed at the outcome.  The link to watch the video is below.  Enjoy!

The Science

Let’s take a look at the actual science behind this most interesting and controversial mutation.

The Warrior Gene is a variant of the gene MAO-A on the X chromosome and is one of many genes that play a part in our behavioral responses. The “Warrior Gene” variant reduces function in the MAOA gene. Because men have one copy of the X-chromosome, a variant that reduces the function of this gene has more of an influence on them. Women, having two X-chromosomes, are more likely to have at least one normally functioning gene copy, and scientists have not studied variants in women as extensively.

Recent studies have linked the Warrior Gene to increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior. Whether in sports, business, or other activities, scientists found that individuals with the Warrior Gene variant were more likely to be combative than those with the normal MAO-A gene. However, human behavior is complex and influenced by many factors, including genetics and our environment. Individuals with the Warrior Gene are not necessarily more aggressive, but according to scientific studies, are more likely to be aggressive than those without the Warrior Gene variant.

This test is available for both men and women, however, there is limited research about the Warrior Gene variant amongst females. Additional details about the Warrior Gene genetic variant of MAO-A can be found in the paper titled “A functional polymorphism in the monoamine oxidase A gene promoter” by Sabol et al, 1998.

When testing for the Warrior Gene, we are looking for an absence of MAOA (monoamine oxidase A) on the X chromosomes. Based on how many times we see the repeat of a certain pattern on the X or Xs we can tell if the MAOA is present or absent (depleted). Three repeats of the pattern indicates that the X chromosome is deficient of MAOA and therefore you have the Warrior Gene. If we see 3.5, 4 or 5 repeats of the pattern, MAOA is present and this is a normal variant of the gene on your X chromosome.

warrior 6However, women have 2 X chromosomes where men have 1 X and 1 Y. As mentioned above, the gene is carried on the X chromosome, so women can either have it 1) not at all, 2) on only 1 X (therefore making them a carrier), or 3) on both Xs (exhibiting the trait).

Looking at results, with one X-chromosome, men with the “Warrior Gene” will show a value of 3. Other men will have normal variants: 3.5, 4, 4.5 or 5. With two X-chromosomes, women will have two results. For example, a woman might have 3 and 3, 3 and 5, or 4.5 and 5.

This first example is of a female with one copy of the normal variant and one copy of the Warrior Gene indicated by a value of 3.

warrior 7

In the second example, shown below, this female has the Warrior Gene trait, because she carries the Warrior Gene depletion, shown as a value of 3, on both of her chromosomes, the one contributed to her by her father and the one contributed to her by her mother.  This also tells us that her father has the Warrior Gene, since he carries only the X chromosome contributed by his mother, which he gave to his daughter.  It also tells us that her mother was either a carrier, if she had only the one copy she gave to her daughter, or had the Warrior Gene herself is she carried two copies.

warrior 8

A male’s results would have only one result listed.  If he has a value of 3, he had the Warrior Gene.  Any other value is NOT indicative of the Warrior Gene.

Happiness Gene in Women

In an unexpected turn of events, in August 2012, another study in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry indicates that while this gene may express as aggression in men, it may be the happiness gene in women.  Even women with only one copy of the gene were shown to be happier than women who carry no copies. A study of 193 women and 152 men evaluated their happiness level and women who carried this mutation on one or both X chromosomes rated themselves as significantly happier than women who did not carry this trait.  There was no difference in the male participants.


Among the many advances and discoveries of modern DNA and genetics are ‘scientific’ oddities. These genetic wonders make it into popular culture and sometimes develop a life there that far outpaces their academic worth.  But they are interesting. These factoids are best used as ‘cocktail party conversation’ starters or maybe a good way to tease Uncle Leo at the family picnic. Family Tree DNA, where you can find out if you have the Warrior Gene, portrays it to their customers as just that, a novelty.