Friday, 30 November 2012

Who do you think you are?

One of my wife's hobbies is genealogy. So far she has traced her direct ancestors all the way back to the early eighteenth century, when one of them was born in Edinburgh. He is described in the records as being the son of a member of the Edinburgh City Guard (an armed quasi-police force) who was an in-dweller of the Castle. He later joined the British Army, and after serving as a infantry soldier in a number of regiments raised by successive Dukes of Argyll, he ended his service as an Invalid and Master Gunner at Landguard Fort near Harwich. When he was 'too old and decrepit for further service' at the age of ninety(!) he moved to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where he remained until he died.

During his service he spent some years in Gibraltar, and whilst he was there he fathered several children, one of whom joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery as a twelve year-old fifer. It was this son who was the first of my wife's family to come to Woolwich, and the family are still here nearly two hundred and fifty years later. (The boy later became Fife-Major to the Company of Gentlemen Cadets, one of the senior NCOs in the Regiment.)

One of the things that my wife had done as part of her research was a Hereditary DNA test. This looks for markers in an individual's DNA and gives an indication of the origins of one's forebears. Because the Y-Chromosome (Y-DNA) passes down from father to son with very little variation, it can be used to trace the origins of your paternal line. In my wife's case the Y-DNA indicated that her father's family came from the Argyll area of Scotland.

My wife prevailed upon me to also have the test ... and it produced an interesting result. My surname is Norman French in origin, and I expected that the results of the Y-DNA would show the necessary genetic markers to support the contention that my paternal line came from Northern France.

It did not. In fact what it did show was that I belonged to a particular haplogroup whose geographical origins can be found in the area known as Frisia or Friesland. This part of the North Sea coast of Europe stretches from the northern part of the Netherlands to the southern part of the Jutland peninsular.


So it would appear that I am not a full-blood Norman after all ... but it is highly likely that I am a Saxon!

12 comments:

  1. Good story Bob! Full of potential what-ifs for you.

    How much does the DNA test cost? (You can reply by private email if need be).

    Jim

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  2. Saxon, Norman, A foreign invader by any other name.... I haven't been tested but the Macfarlane side of me is supposedly descended from British stock (as opposed to Scots-Irish or Pictish). Of course that's only 1/4 of my known ancestry.

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  3. One of my aunts(a Douglas), told me when I was young, "You are descended from some of the worst people in the world". Last year, when I read Fraser's "Steel Bonnets", I found every name in my family tree among the Border Reivers.

    I should take this test, too.

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  4. Most interesting post.I have always had a soft spot for the Edinburgh town guard being born and raised in the City.
    best wishes
    Alan

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  5. Jim Duncan,

    My wife's family history is a very interesting one. (It includes several 'rags to riches' and 'riches to rags' stories, and very interesting murder trial that involved the early days of the railways).

    What the DNA test led to was the discovery that several generations back my direct ancestor was 'spurious' (a term used for an illegitimate child). The child kept the mother’s maiden name (which was Norman French in origin) but the father must have been of Frisian/Saxon descent.

    The test cost just under £100 when we had it done some years ago, and I susopect that the price has not changed that much.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Ross Mac,

    As far as I can make out, my mother’s family is rather more varied in origin than my father’s, and although there is a strong Irish element in it, it may also include a whole range of different other nationalities. I am a typical Brit … a bit of this, a bit of that, and a touch of something else.

    We are all ‘invaders’ in some sense of the term; in my case my paternal forebears seem to have ‘invaded’ quite some while back.

    It is interesting to note that at a time when history is being marginalised within education, there is an upsurge in interest in genealogy. It is almost as if today’s modern society makes people feel rootless … and they hanker after knowing who they really are as a means of understanding where they fit in.

    A bit deep and philosophical for a Saturday morning but …

    I would strongly recommend finding out about your other three-quarters. You never know what might turn up!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Steven Page,

    A Border Reiver eh?

    Well you are in distinguished company, as I understand that quite a few US Presidents and other distinguished Americans are also descended from Reiver families (e.g. Lyndon B Johnston, Richard Nixon, Neil Armstrong).

    All the best,

    Bob

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  8. Tradgardmastare,

    The Edinburgh City Guard had rather a checkered history. I understand that Highlanders were often recruited because they were not from Edinburgh, and were therefore outsiders who could be relied upon to put down any riots.

    Their role as a city police force gradually came to an end after the infamous Porteous Riot.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. Interesting post. Really interesting. As a kiwi born fella who now lives in Australia my ancestors emigrated from England ( London I think ).
    I wonder where my line goes.
    Cheers

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  10. The Kiwi,

    I am pleased that you enjoyed it.

    Although the Internet has lots of resources that could help you trace your family, some things - like Army Muster Rolls - have not been digitised and have to be read in situ at the National Archives.

    A word of warning; genealogy can become compulsive!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. I have done some genealogical research, and have traced some lines back to the early days of European colonization of North America, as well as others who hark back to various parts of Europe, including the British Isles (including ancestors who emigrated from Edinburgh in the early 1800s). I did one dna test a few years ago and plan to do another more recent one that is supposed to include more info.

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  12. Fitz-Badger,

    Good luck with your researches ... and your new DNA test.

    Once you start digging into your past, all sorts of interesting stories emerge ... and it gives you a personal connection to historical events.

    All the best,

    Bob

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