Sunday, July 21, 2013

Conquering William's DNA

   One of my favorite aspects of y-DNA is that it’s used to prove or disprove that two men with the same last name are closely related. Two family lines with a similar surname can figure out if they have a common ancestor. The DNA matches or it doesn’t. What do you do if the common ancestor you are looking for doesn’t have a surname? If you are researching the British Isles, the surname you are looking for is probably less than 1,000 years old.

   What were the surnames associated with William the Conqueror? To start, who was William the Conqueror? William the ‘bastard’ was born about 1028 in Normandy, the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and Herleva. William was the 3rd great grandson of Rollo, the Viking who harassed the French so much that they gave him Normandy in order to make him stop.

    In 1066, when King Edward ‘the confessor’ of England died, William was a potential heir to the English crown. When he didn’t get the nod, he took the crown by force by defeating and killing King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

    Finding the DNA of William the Conqueror is not that easy. He has no documented living male-line descendants. King Henry I was his last legitimate offspring. If you look in the phone book, you won’t find too many names listed under Conqueror, William T. That makes asking for a DNA sample problematic.

    We have to look at the entire line of Dukes from the House of Normandy to identify the surnames that they would eventually adopt. The line from Rollo to William looks like this – Rollo (846-931) > William I (900-942) > Richard I (933-996) > Richard II (978-1026) > Robert I (1000-1035) > William II (1028-1087). To start, there is some evidence, true or not, that the surnames Clifford, Devereaux and St. Clair have a direct connection back to Richard I and Richard II. It’s not my goal to prove anyone’s genealogy. Many medieval genealogies are pure fiction, geneamyth. Although, with ever story there may be a piece of the truth. Some of William’s companions at the Battle of Hastings were his cousins and it would have made sense for him to surround himself with kin. I collected those names and others that had a tenuous connection.

    I began the process with the following 27 names; Bartelott, Beaumont, Bruce, Clifford, Corbett, D’Arcy, Devereaux, Giffard, Hereford, Lindsay, Molyneaux, Montgomery, Mortimer, Mowbray, Neville, Norman, Norton, Osbern, Pearsall, Ramsey, Spencer, St. Clair, Stewart, Sutton, Talbott, Umfreville and Warren. While this is not an exhaustive list, it did provide 3,800 records to sift through.

    DNA records for these surnames were collected from publically available sources and sorted into haplogroups. Remember, everyone is related. It’s just a question of how far back in time they share a common ancestor. Members of haplogroups I and J may share an ancestor about 30,000 years ago, but my goal is to find as many surnames that have a common ancestor about 1,000 years ago. So, DNA comparison was limited to within haplogroups. Immediately, groups E1b, G2a, I2, J and R1a were eliminated for having no cross surname relationships.

    The first likely candidate was haplogroup I1. I1 would make sense. It is a typical Scandinavian group and Rollo is supposed to be either Norwegian or Danish. There was some good cross surname relationships among 8 of the 27 surnames. More analysis showed that they didn’t form a tight clan and that their common ancestor would have been over 1,250 years ago. That predates Rollo. This doesn’t completely rule out haplogroup I1, but my expectation was that there would be a higher number of surnames and a common ancestor between Rollo and William.

    The next candidate was group R1b, the most populous haplogroup in Europe and having a potential Scandinavian or continental Europe origin. This group clustered well across 25 of the 27 surnames and revealed a genetically related clan. To make sure that this wasn’t a false positive or something symptomatic about the large R1b population, I took a random sample of British Isles R1b y-DNA and ran the same comparison. The random sample did not group well and actually formed multiple clusters.

    This looks very positive for the R1b group. Twenty-one of the surnames are tightly related enough that their common ancestor lived 1,080 years ago (933 AD), coincidentally the birth year of Richard I. All common ancestor calculations come with a margin of error. I’d say this estimate is plus or minus a generation. Clifford, Devereaux and St. Clair, with their genealogical connection remain in this group as well as Beaumont, Giffard, Montgomery, Mortimer, Osbern and Warren.

    The odd thing about this second group of names is that they all, genealogically, connect back to Gunnora, wife/concubine of Richard I. Beaumont and Giffard are descendants of Duvelina, a sister of Gunnora. Osbern is a descendant of Herfast, a brother of Gunnora. None of this common y-DNA came from Gunnora or her sister; being female, they don’t have y-DNA to pass down. We have to look for a common male donor. My theory is that the practice of droit du seigneur – ‘right of the lord’ or primae noctis – ‘right of the first night’ was being used by Richard to increase his genetic success.

    Do you have a connection to William the Conqueror? There is an estimate that 25% of the population of England is related to Bill the Conq. From a y-DNA perspective, this percentage would be lower. If you have one of these surnames; Bartelott, Beaumont, Bruce, Clifford, Corbett, D’Arcy, Devereaux, Giffard, Molyneaux, Montgomery, Mortimer, Norton, Osbern, Pearsall, Ramsey, Spencer, St. Clair, Stewart, Talbott, Umfreville (Humphrey) or Warren and match the 37-marker William the Conqueror Modal Haplotype (WCMH), you may be related.











































































   You might match the WCMH within a few steps and not have one of those surnames. The wealthy practiced polygyny. They had as many mistresses as they could afford. The illegitimate male offspring would have generated countless undocumented surnames and carry these same y-DNA markers.

    I can’t say that this is exactly William the Conqueror’s y-DNA markers. These values are a mode, the numbers that appear most frequently in the related R1b sample of 152 records. The results that I have found are based on my analysis of about 3,800 y-DNA samples and form a good correlation. New data in the future may change the results.

    The techniques that I have used are similar to the ones used to identify Carthaigh (McCarthy King of Desmond), Niall of the Nine Hostages and Genghis Khan. I predict that as the DNA databases grow, more discoveries like this will be found. My next projects are to determine Rollo’s origin (see Exploring Rollo...) and Charlemagne’s haplotype.


Maglio, MR (2013) A Y-Chromosome Signature of Polygyny in Norman England (

©Michael R. Maglio and OriginsDNA

Monday, March 25, 2013

The DNA of Thomas Jefferson: [Insert Shocking Title Here]

   I’ve been creative with the titles of my articles in the past. It is the first thing people see and it better be eye catching. It’s been said that I'm ‘intentionally provocative’. I enjoy writing about topics that make people think. I draw the line at faulty logic. Many times, I'll draw conclusions from circumstantial evidence, but I always strive for a logical argument.

   Thomas Jefferson was part of the rare y-DNA haplogroup T (formerly K2) and much has been written about his genetics. Not everything written has been logical in its assumptions. Sometimes the story lines misinterpret the underlying science.

“Was Thomas Jefferson the first Jewish President?”

“Thomas Jefferson was Phoenician.”

“If Jefferson was Phoenician, then Charlemagne was also.”

“Thomas Jefferson could have recent origins in the Middle East.”

“Thomas Jefferson’s DNA traced back to Egypt.”

   In these situations the writers took a single data point and ran with it out of context.

   When we look at Jefferson’s DNA and compare it to available records, we only get a handful of matches that don’t tell a complete story. Let’s look at the first headline – was Jefferson Jewish? He didn’t practice Judaism and he wasn’t raised Jewish. He does have one genetic cousin who is a Moroccan Jew, but you have to go back about 2,000 years to find a common ancestor. While haplogroup T does have origins in the Middle-East, I wouldn’t say that it is definitely a Jewish haplogroup. If Jefferson were J1b2, there would be a stronger case tying him to the kohanim Jewish paternal lines. Jefferson also has a Belgian genetic cousin. Perhaps the headline should have been – Was Thomas Jefferson the first Belgian President? Not that exciting. Probably wouldn’t have sold very well.

   Thomas Jefferson was a Phoenician! There are many articles attributing this statement to Spencer Wells as part of his In Search of Adam program in 2005. I can’t find one quote that actual has Wells saying this. In fact in 2008 Wells argued that the Phoenicians were haplogroup J2. Jefferson’s haplogroup T is found in the same places and at the same times as the Phoenician Mediterranean colonies. This may indicate that Jefferson’s ancestors travelled with the Phoenicians as a peer or as a slave. I don’t think that ethnicity by association works.

   If Jefferson was a Phoenician, then so was Charlemagne. This is just plain and simple poor logic and a misunderstanding of genetics. As I mentioned, it doesn’t appear that haplogroup T is Phoenician. While Jefferson may be a descendant of Charlemagne, he is not a direct male descendant. You really need to be a direct male descendant to prove that an ancestor has the same y-DNA. One sample would never be enough to prove Charlemagne’s DNA. Multiple descendant samples and very strong genealogies are required to come close to determining an ancestor’s DNA. You never know where a non-paternal event may pop up.

   Could Jefferson have recent origins in the Middle East? This writer never actually defines recent. We are left to wonder if the Jeffersons lied on their Naturalization applications. Based on ‘time to most recent common ancestor’ calculations, I’d put Jefferson’s ancestors in the Middle East about 3,000 years ago. I guess that’s fairly recent compared to the age of the universe.

   Jefferson’s DNA traced to Egypt! One record match does not make an origin. That one Egyptian genetic cousin actually clusters better with other Moroccan records. This could indicate a back migration from Morocco to Egypt for that one person. A rule of thumb when determining origins is to find clusters of records. Jefferson does have a cluster on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar. This provides a strong argument that Jefferson’s ancestors came through that region and perhaps loitered there for a while. That doesn’t make it his origin.

   How should we define Jefferson’s origins? It is important to define origins with context. Where in Britain did the Jeffersons come from? One biographer puts Jefferson’s family origins in Wales. Jefferson’s closest British genetic cousin comes from Yorkshire and the Jefferson surname has the highest distribution in Yorkshire. We are still talking about a single point of reference, so I won’t fall into the same trap and pronounce Thomas Jefferson a Yorkie. I can say that it appears that the Jeffersons were British and that the family had been in Britain for at least a 1,000 years. There’s just not enough data to be more certain.

   Jefferson’s tribal DNA does leave a sparse trail of breadcrumbs across Europe in the 1,500 to 2,000 years ago range. There are genetic matches that become increasingly more distant in Belgium, France and Spain. We could connect-the-dots and we probably wouldn’t be far off the migration path. For Jefferson’s European origins, we might say his ancestors were Iberian. If we go back another 500 years, the picture changes to a culture that traveled the Mediterranean. The genetic breadcrumbs are in Morocco, Sicily, Cyprus, Egypt and Turkey. We could talk about Jefferson’s haplogroup T origins. A cluster of data suggests a southern Arabian Peninsula origin about 8,000 years ago.

   If we continue backward in time, Jefferson’s ancestors came from East Africa just like everyone else on the planet. Which ‘origin’ you choose for Jefferson is completely up to your specific agenda. I use genetic genealogy to get a better understanding of the world that we live in and the things we have in common as one species. We may learn through DNA that our ancestors sacked Rome or pillaged the coast of England. That’s history, that’s fascinating, but that’s not who we are today. Unless you personally choose to embrace that history. Jefferson’s distant ancestors may have been Jewish, Phoenician or Egyptian, but that’s not who he was.

   We shouldn’t persecute for the sins of our ancestors or sit on the laurels of their accomplishments. We need to keep moving forward in a positive direction.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Imagine: A New Kind of Family History

   At RootsTech there is a theme running through the entire conference, capturing the stories of our ancestors. If we don’t document their lives, how will anyone ever know that they existed? We can create digital videos, record audio conversations and write down anecdotes about our living relatives. We can collect facts and stories about our deceased family. How do we take this one step further and make their lives interactive?

   Imagine if you were able to sit down at your computer, click an icon on the desktop and have what appeared to be a video chat with a family member who is no longer with us. Would it be creepy? My wife thinks it would be. Would it be possible? I think so. It could also be possible today.

   What I’m suggesting would give you the ability to have a conversation with an ancestor. Here’s what someone would need to make it work –
  • a photo of the person (more is always better) 
  • or a video (this will allow for more natural facial expressions)
  • audio recordings 
  • facts, anecdotes, stories, histories
  • an avatar builder
  • chat bot software
   Let’s start with the chat bot software.  There are some very sophisticated software programs that allow you to have a conversation with a computer and never realize that you are talking to a computer.  They are programmed so well as to seem intelligent.  The good ones learn from you the more you talk to them.  There are off the shelf chat bots that you can program with thousands of phrases.  Let’s say that our chat bot has access to every story about your ancestor and data about the time period and location that they lived.
Next, get an avatar builder.  An avatar is basically a 3D head and shoulders that we can map either the photos or the video images to.  This will give us the most lifelike representation.  Just add audio and we have the voice.  The video of me below was created in an avatar builder.  The head turns, the eyes blink and the mouth moves as it speaks, all from one uploaded photo.

   Now click that icon on your desktop.  The application uses the computer camera to recognize you and when great-grandpa comes on the screen the first thing he says is, “Hi Mike, how’ve you been?”   It would be his face and his voice and it would be indistinguishable from a live video chat.  You could ask when he was born or for him to tell you about growing up in Boston in the 1920s. 

   This wouldn’t just be parroting back stored facts.  It could be designed to look at all the facts and be able to answer new questions.  It could be as simple as a familiar face to be a sounding board.  As you converse, the image would nod its head and tell you that you are doing a good job and that they are proud.  The software could learn from every new conversation and incorporate the data into its persona.

   We’ve been asked, “what should you leave for your grandchildren?”  My first instinct would be to leave a video of me telling the stories of my life.  What if I could leave a more interactive version of myself?  What may appear creepy today may seem perfectly normal in the future.

   Would you create a digital version of yourself to leave as your legacy?  I would.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

RootsTech: More 'Roots' Than 'Tech'?

   There is no doubt that RootsTech will be an amazing conference. There are over one hundred sessions and exhibitors. This will be my first RootsTech and my initial assumption was that there would be an abundance of Tech. Looking at the syllabus, I’m not sure that will be the case.

   I have to admit that I have some biases. I’m a techhead. When I think of technology, I think of science fiction. What does the future have in store for genealogy? If you say that all the records are now digital, I might yawn and ask – what took so long. While being digital is an aspect of technology, it is old news.

Read more at the In-Depth Genealogist...

Monday, February 25, 2013

WDYTYA? Live: Something For Everyone

   This was my first WDYTYA? conference and to be honest it was my first genealogical conference of this size.  With over 120 exhibitors and over 150 workshop sessions, there was literally something for everyone.  I was only there for Sunday of the three-day event and that was probably a good thing.  I was told that it was standing room only and extremely busy on Friday and Saturday. 

   I didn’t go to London specifically for this event.  I’m here on business and lucky enough to grab a ticket.  My first impression was that there really wasn’t anything here for me.  I had to remind myself that this event was geared for the first time and beginner genealogist.  The mega-booth did very well, offering free access to their service on a few dozen computers.  FamilySearch also brought in a dozen computers for folks to try their search.  These kiosks were just as busy, which confused me considering that FamilySearch is always free.

   This should come as no surprise, but there were many folks there selling genealogical records.  There were the big companies selling their subscription services and small societies selling their parish records.  I’m already overpaying for the services I have, I can’t afford to drop $50 dollars for an unknown set of records on a CD with the hope of finding the one record I’m looking for.  It’s difficult to make wise buying decisions at these events.  I did come away unscathed.

   There were more genealogical magazines than I thought existed offered at various booths.  I really should get out more often.  There were lots of books and charts and organizational tools.  Universities were there offering online genealogical courses and degrees.  There were booths with stuff that was completely unrelated to genealogy. 
I wanted to walk in and learn something new and wow.  I didn’t get that.  I imagine that for those new genealogists they got exactly that and more.  It would be like a kid in a genealogical candy store.

   Since Sunday was quieter than the previous days, I was able to see all the booths two or three times.  I took the opportunity to see what was out there, what was working and what wasn’t from a vendor perspective.  I was surprised that no one was at the Mocavo kiosks and not surprised that the Family Tree DNA booth was hopping.  Any booth that gave a person a chance to ask a question and walk away with some free knowledge was busy.  Any booth that was just a service (not to pick on these folks) like art or videos or tourism were not as busy.

   I might attend again in the future, not as a visitor but as a vendor.  I saw a niche or two that was not represented.  If you are into genealogy in the UK, this was the place to be.  I imaging that the SoCal Jamboree will be the place to be in the States in June.  I’ll be at RootsTech all three days in March and I’ll let you know how that goes.

   I’ve been a hermit genealogist most of my life and this social genealogy is new to me.  What are the biggest events in the genealogy world?  If you could only take one trip a year, which event would it be?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Get Your DNA to the Top of the Charts

Deep Into DNA*

Show me your DNA family tree. You don’t have one? This year, set a new resolution to build your DNA tree. You have a great family tree with names, dates and locations. I will be using fan charts to describe a variety of family trees including traditional, nationality, genetic and ethnic.


DNA gives us the ability to view beyond our nationalities to our cultural origins. You may have English ancestry on paper, genetically you might really be Celtic, Norman, Norse or Saxon. All nations are culturally and genetically diverse.

...continued at The In-Depth Genealogist with a free membership.

*The Deep Into DNA article series is published each month in the new Going In-Depth
digital genealogy magazine presented by The In-Depth Genealogist.


Friday, February 8, 2013

22 Reasons for DNA Testing

In celebration of reaching 22,222 views on my blog, I'm posting my top 22 reasons why you should have your DNA tested.  Even though there are hundreds of reasons to test your genes, you may only need one.

  1. Validate your paternal & maternal line genealogies - more
  2. Identify your paternal & maternal line deep ancestries - more
  3. Map your tribal migration - more
  4. Adds data to your entire family tree - more
  5. Identify your ethnicity - more
  6. Contact genetic cousins
  7. Helps with adoptee research
  8. Helps with genealogy research on illegitimate ancestors - more
  9. Identify health risk factors - more
  10. Validate your old world homeland - more
  11. Connect with historical events - more
  12. Jump over genealogical brick walls
  13. There is a test type for nearly every research need - more
  14. Prove or disprove oral history - more
  15. Prove or disprove genealogical theories
  16. Find out if you are part Neandertal - more
  17. An invaluable tool in your genealogy - more
  18. Connect related family lines
  19. Eliminate incorrect research paths
  20. Calculate how any two people are related - more
  21. Get a better understanding of who you really are - more
  22. Get a better understanding of what it means to be human - more
DNA tests can unlock valuable information about your past, present and future.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stop the DNA Insanity!

    If you Google ‘DNA’ and ‘privacy’ you will get over 200 million articles describing the potential dangers. Imagine if your DNA information got into the wrong hands. Why isn’t someone doing something about this problem?

       A recent study claims that public DNA records can be analyzed to determine the surname of the donor and the algorithm is correct 12% of the time. This is outrageous! To think that an adoptee might actually be able to use DNA to find their birth parents. Unthinkable!

    Before you get a DNA test and add the results to a public database, remember, that your DNA is not yours alone. Your genetic information is a shared attribute across your entire family. You would be unintentionally sharing data about your children’s and your descendant’s DNA. Your genetic ancestry is also the ancestry of your parents and your cousins. You could be putting your entire tribe at risk.

    Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s cousin’s DNA is publicly available. I’m fairly certain that his genetic information was used against him and caused his bid to fail. This is serious.

    Sharing DNA data should be stopped. It’s not yours to share.

    There is too much data out there that puts our privacy at risk. Many States allow public access to vital records. Anyone can walk in and look at my birth record. They will figure out how old I am and where I was born. I’ll have to stop using that information as a challenge question on my bank website. My birth record will allow someone to calculate when my parents were intimate. I shudder with disbelief. A marriage record might tell you how many times the woman has been married - the harlot. A death certificate will tell you where they are buried. There’s no privacy even in death.

    If your family tree is public, then anyone and their brother could study it and then call you claiming to be a long lost cousin. They will be able to talk about great-aunt Edna and recently departed cousin Roy. Next thing you know you are loaning them money. Genealogy should be outlawed. History should stay history. I’m not sure it is worth the inherent risks.

    It doesn’t end there. There are other sources of your information. There are digital phone books and land records. If someone sees my driver’s license, they will know where I live. I’m not safe in my own home. It may be time to go off grid. Perhaps the Luddites had it right.

    Life is risky.

    Getting out of bed every morning is risky. You could stub your toe. We do it anyway because it is worth living. What we do in our lives and the legacy that we leave behind will define who we were. We don’t have time to worry ‘excessively’ about privacy. The bottom line is that if someone wants your information, there will always be a way to get it. Restrictions on public data of any kind would end genealogy research. Today, if I wanted some of your DNA, there is probably a dozen ways for collection - a drinking glass, envelope, cigarette butt or dirty tissue. Tomorrow, with advances in technology a person could walk up to you on the street, shake your hand and process your DNA in their pocket.

    With every new technology advance like DNA testing, there will be those folks that identify the potential risks. Depending on the severity of the risk, there will be other groups of folks who either fix the technology problem or create laws to mitigate the risks. The rest of us need to be actively vocal to make sure that we get the maximum amount of benefit for the minimum danger.

    The fastest way to stop a trend, good or bad, is to announce to the world that the trend exists. Corrective forces kick in and the ship gets righted. In the 70s, Alvin Toffler predicted that we would be overwhelmed by technological change. Forty years later and I’m still a bit underwhelmed.

    As genealogists, the best way to collaborate is to share. I want to find other researchers and I want to be found. None of that will happen if my DNA or family tree is in a box under the bed. DNA can help break down walls where paper records don’t exist. Our genes will unlock doors to our origins.

    Your DNA is your DNA. Unless you are an identical twin, your genes are unique. There are pieces of your DNA that are shared across families, which is why genetic genealogy works. As a whole, your DNA belongs to you and you have the right to use it as you see fit.

    Information wants to be free. Stop worrying and start living. Get tested.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Are You Special?

Deep Into DNA*

We are all special in our own quirky ways. How much does your DNA play a part in who you are? Perhaps you’re not who you think you are. If you’ve received DNA results from one of the major tests, y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA or autosomal DNA, you might already have a glimpse into what makes you special.

Beyond the big tests that give you distant paternal or maternal ancestry or a pie chart of your ethnic mix, there are many specific tests. What percent Neanderthal are you? There’s a test for that. The jury is still out on whether your Neanderthal genes are from a direct descendant or just shared from a common ancestor. When we start talking about what percent chimpanzee you are (yes, there’s a test for that) we are definitely talking about a common ancestor going back seven million years. Just to be clear, we are not descended from chimpanzees or any other living ape, but as cousins, we do share DNA.

...continued at The In-Depth Genealogist with a free membership.

*The Deep Into DNA article series is published each month in The In-Depth Genealogist Newsletter and will demystify genetic genealogy and make sense out of DNA testing terminology. Each month we will talk about the types of tests available from major labs and show relevant examples on how to use DNA in your genealogy research.