Opinion

DNA, surnames trace history’s path

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In my last column I dealt with family associations. There are other types of associations which can also prove of immense value including DNA studies. These go back in the mists of time. Usually it’s men who are invited to join because their Y-DNA markers show a relationship to other men.

My husband was invited to join one group that traced men whose markers showed they were descendants of one man who entered Europe from the Middle East thousands of years ago. This type of study requires you to have taken your DNA. I apologize to the ladies out there, but we’re not able to join these groups, though a male relative can. Women need a maternal DNA group (MtDNA), all descendants of a particular female ancestor.

There are also surname studies. For example, the surname Herrick was the subject of a study in England where all men with the surname Herrick were invited to submit a DNA sample, and it was proven that every one of these Herrick males, no matter where they lived in England, were all descendants of the same male ancestor believed to be a Danish Prince Erik, one of the Viking conquerors who ruled a small kingdom. The Herrick surname study is now including men from the United States. I’m a Herrick descendant but as a female I can’t join this one. However, it is interesting to learn where all the Herricks got their paternity.

Other surname groups meet and some may not be related but bear the same surname. These groups often collect pedigree charts which can help a genealogist find his/her particular branch..

Also, there are location studies. Sometimes you will find groups that are descendants not of people, but of a place in a particular time. These often show up in Europe where country, county, and town boundaries changed many times over the years as wars and conquests altered the map of Europe. For example, my husband’s maternal ancestors lived in Schlochau (pronounced slock how), West Prussia, which was annexed by Poland in 1946. Most of the Germans living there fled back to Germany. Their descendants have formed a genealogical society in present-day Germany which can be found online by searching VFFOW.

These people may not be related to one another, but a group such as this can often provide you with family memories about your ancestors. Other ethnic groups are often more general, such as all Italians or all Irish, but something like the Schlochau Group can be of value especially if your European ancestors are proving to be difficult to pin down.

Again, I suggest if you decide to form your own association, start small, enlist a helper or two, and see where it goes. One thing well worth the work is the accumulation of genealogical information and perhaps artifacts such as photos and family Bibles that may show up for sharing with others.

And, you just might find the answers to those troubling family brick walls. Good luck.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UMaine and lives in Dover-Foxcroft with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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