Family history organizations and studies based on individual surnames have been around for years. They are now integrating YDNA research into their efforts. Use surname projects to enhance your paternal DNA research!
Surnames are the flagships of our genealogical research. We name our files after them and we tag our research with them. We wear our last names proudly on pins and necklaces and T-shirts.
But surnames can also be misleading. Illiteracy, language barriers, and just plain carelessness led to misspellings and alterations, not to mention those ancestors who blatantly changed their name to avoid detection.
The advent of YDNA testing has changed the way many genealogists view surnames and their role in their genealogy. Because a man’s YDNA is the same as the YDNA carried by each of the ancestors in his direct paternal line, the YDNA can act like a filter, clearly indicating which men with a particular surname, or variant, truly share a direct paternal line.
So how has YDNA testing affected family organizations that do surname research? I asked Debbie Kennett, a regular contributor to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki and Facebook page who is also involved with the Guild of One Name Studies. The Guild of One Name Studies was established in 1979 to promote public understanding of one-name studies and preserve the information obtained by those studies.
“Virtually every common surname is now the subject of a DNA project,” says Debbie, including “just over 500 Guild members who are running a DNA project. That number has jumped up considerably just in the last couple of years.”
The quality of those projects varies. Debbie tells us that a quality YDNA project includes three elements: “presenting the DNA data, recruiting people from different countries and also correlating all of the genealogy information.”
Jean Morrison, a member of the Morrison surname project, says that because of DNA testing, “identifying where in Scotland this family originated prior to coming to America ca 1728 has become a realistic goal. The Morrison Q Group has identified through Y line testing at 111 markers, 22 individuals with an MRCA (most recent common ancestor) within eight generations.” In plain English, this means that a definite YDNA pattern has been associated with her Morrison surname and with a common ancestor eight generations back.
Noel and Ron Taylor were two early adopters of YDNA testing for their Taylor family project. Their first samples were submitted to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in 2000. The former president and currently the head of the board of trustees for the Taylor Family Society, Noel says that using DNA “caught the attention of many people in our organization….It renewed great interest in the hearts of many people who had been doing research for many years [who may have] lost interest and were somewhat discouraged.” The Taylors have made significant breakthroughs with their DNA testing. They have connected several Taylor lines back to a common ancestor, verified their paper trails, and even found a line of Hodges that were actually Taylors!
It appears that YDNA is becoming part of the research plan for most family societies. But Debbie tells us that there is still much room for improvement in her organization. “Not all Guild members are running [DNA] projects. We have something like 2,700 Guild members so we are still not at the stage where the majority of Guild members are running projects.”
Besides The Guild, other organizations have been created to assist genealogists with their surname research, including a new organization just launched in November. The Surname Society’s goal is to “to build a collaborative environment where members are encouraged to develop their own approach to the investigation of their surname.”
Kirsty Grey, chairman of the Surname Society, says that DNA testing has taken a front seat role in the research of one of their founders as well as several early members. “DNA is one of the many strands of family history research (and to a greater extent, surname studies) which can connect individuals, often where genealogical research cannot.”
That really is the bottom line. DNA, especially YDNA, can tell you things about the surnames in your pedigree that you can’t learn in any other way. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to jump on the YDNA bandwagon and see what your DNA has to tell you.
I can help you! Check out my series of quick guides (purchase all 4 laminated guides or the digital download bundle for the best deal):
Recently, I heard from Shirley in Austin, Texas (U.S.) with a question about how her relatives are related to each other:
“My GGM (Caroline ‘s) great grandfather (Franz Joseph) is the same as my GGF (Eduard ‘s) grandfather (Franz Joseph). How would they be related to each other? Half 2nd cousin twice removed?
The relative in common (Franz Joseph) and his same wife, had two sons: Franz Carl who is Eduard’s Father, and Johan Anton, who would be Caroline’s Grandfather.”
I like this Cousin Calculator tool (also called a relationship calculator) at Searchforancestors.com. If Caroline is the Great Grand daughter of Franz Joseph and and Eduard is the Grandchild of Franz Joseph, then according to the Cousin Calculator they are first cousins one time removed. Hope that helps!
What kind of complicated or double family relationships have YOU discovered on your family tree? Enter them into the cousin calculator. Then tell us how they’re related on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!
We’ve heard from you, our readers and listeners that you LOVE to read! Well, we’ve just launched a great new FREE program for you: the Genealogy Gems Book Club!
This is an idea we have been percolating on for quite a while with your encouragement. You regularly send me the names of books you love. I also hear from publishers and the authors themselves. Now we can all come together as a genealogy book club community!
The Genealogy Gems Book Club is a virtual, no-commitment option that features a book every three months that I consider a genealogy gem. We will focus on mainstream nonfiction and fiction titles that explore themes you care about, like family ties, heritage and history. These are books you will want to read for pleasure and recommend to anyone, not just other genealogy lovers.
My favorite part of the Genealogy Gems Book Club is the exclusive author interviews that will appear on the Genealogy Gems free and Premium podcasts in the third month of the featured book (after people have had time to read it). After all, podcasts are all about conversation! I’ve learned in the past that you love interviews with authors, whether you have read the book or not.
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by award-winning U.K. journalist Emma Brockes. It recounts the author’s discovery of her mother’s traumatic childhood in South Africa. Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor and Book Club Guru Sunny Morton loves this book: “This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. It’s also about learning the past from living relatives. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done.”
Here’s how the three-month cycle works for this new genealogy book club:
- In the first month, Sunny Morton, our Genealogy Book Club Guru will introduce us to a new title on the Genealogy Gems free podcast, the Premium Podcast and on the Genealogy Gems blog. She will share a quick run-down on the book and why she recommends it.
- In the second month, Sunny and I will discuss a gem from the book, and recommend additional titles in case you are looking for something more to read.
- In the third month, our featured author will join the Genealogy Gems podcast for an exclusive interview. Excerpts from the interview will run on the free podcast and the entire interview will air on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.
To follow the Genealogy Gems Book Club, go to our home page and sign up to receive our FREE monthly newsletter (you’ll receive my Google Search ebook too as a welcome gift!) Then check in periodically at the Genealogy Gems Book Club webpage, which summarizes all books covered to date and includes additional recommendations. And of course, subscribe to the Genealogy Gems Podcast in iTunes.
Ready to become a Premium member so you’ll catch the full author interviews as well as all the other in-depth coverage on the Genealogy Gems Premium podcast? Click here to learn more.
Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 172 for more details.
See you at the Genealogy Gems Book Club!
Recently I heard from Emily, a mom of younger children who is feeling inspired to take her love for family history in a more professional direction. Have you considered becoming a professional genealogist yourself? You’ll want to check out an interview I told her about (see below). Anyone can take their life’s experiences and channel them into their career path!
I was at the Midwestern Roots conference today and I just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for something you said at your opening session this morning. You were talking about when your daughters gave you the iPod and how you were at a point in your life when you were trying to figure out what to do, and I think you even used the expression ‘just a mom.’
I really related to what you said. I am a mom to two younger kids, I love my family history research, and I’m trying to find a new professional direction in life. So, you’ve given me some hope that maybe I can use my love of genealogy to (somehow) help and teach other people.
Probably not the typical type of ‘thank you’ note you usually receive, but I just wanted you to know.”
You are very welcome and how sweet of you to take the time to write. Believe me when I say that “just a mom” was a reference to the fact moms often get that sort of response from the culture these days. (I know that other moms know what I mean.) Being a mom is the highest calling possible, and remains my first priority. And the great news is that technology makes it possible more than ever to pursue additional dreams!
I think you might enjoy a special interview I gave recently to the Genealogy Professional Podcast. It was for folks just like you. You’ll also find additional interviews at the bottom of my About page on my website.
Wishing you great success as you pursue your dreams!!
Do you have German roots in the U.S.? Have you ever looked for them in newspapers?
The folks who run Chronicling America, the most comprehensive free collection of digitized U.S. newspapers, have published a new article on historical German newspapers. Here’s an excerpt:
“For decades, Germans were the largest non-English-speaking immigrant group in America. Between 1820 and 1924, over 5.5 million German immigrants arrived in the United States, many of them middle class, urban, and working in the skilled trades, and others establishing farming communities in the West. Their numbers and dedication to maintaining their language and culture made Germans the most influential force in the American foreign-language press in the 1880s – the 800 German-language newspapers accounted for about 4/5 of non-English publications, and by 1890, more than 1,000 German newspapers were being published in the United States.” (Click here to read the whole article, which includes fascinating facts about how they retooled OCR technology to read Fraktur.)
Chronicling America currently includes 23 German-language titles from 9 states. You can search German newspapers in America (or other foreign languages) by going to the Advanced Search page. Under Language, select German (or another language):
Are you interested in learning more about newspaper research, online or offline? Read Lisa’s How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, available as an e-book or in print. Or ask for it at your local library (if they don’t have it, they may be willing to purchase it–librarians are always looking for new titles their patrons want).