Princess Maria's maternal line can currently be traced back for three generations to her great-grandmother. Princess Maria's mother, Princess Nadezhda Ivanovna Sviatopolk-Mirskaya, was born on 5th July 1903 in Zhitomir, Ukraine. She was the daughter of Prince Ivan Nicolaevitch Sviatopolk-Mirski (1872-1922) and Nadezhda Vassilievna Engelhardt (1879-1954). The Sviatopolk-Mirskis are a family of Polish and Russian nobility with roots in Belarus. Their ancestral home, Mir Castle in Mir, Belarus, was purchased by Princess Maria's great-grandfather, Prince Nicolai Ivanovitch Sviatopolk-Mirski, in 1895 and remained in the family until 1939. During World War II it was under the control of the Nazis, serving as a ghetto for the local Jewish population prior to their liquidation. It is now a World Heritage Site and is being restored by UNESCO. Princess Maria has been back to Belarus several times in recent years to visit her ancestral home, and is planning another visit this summer. The picture belows shows Princess Maria outside the Sviatopolk-Mirski family chapel at Mir Castle.The next photo shows Princess Maria's mother Princess Nadezhda as a young girl at Mir Castle.Princess Nadezhda married her first cousin Prince Semeon Semeonovitch Sviatopolk-Mirsky (1910-1989), the son of Prince Semeon Nicolaevitch Sviatopolk-Mirsky (1885-1917), in about 1931. The wedding took place at Mir Castle. Their first two children were born at Mir Castle: Sebastian in 1933, and Anastasia in 1935. For reasons which are not yet known they were forced to leave the castle and spent the next decade or so living in different European countries. Their third child, Irene, was born in Poland in 1937. Sadly their son Sebastian died in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in 1942. They also lived for a time in Hungary before moving to Germany where Princess Maria was born in 1946 in Meiningen. The photograph below shows Princess Maria's brother Sebastian with her sisters Irene (left) and Anastasia.In February 1948 Princess Maria's family moved to England, settling briefly in Earls Court in London before moving to Wales in 1949. Princess Maria's father Simeon had served in the Polish army but after arriving in the UK had to work as a painter and decorator. Her mother had to abandon her dreams of becoming a professional painter and instead worked in cafes, preparing sandwiches, and in hospitals as a ward orderly. Semeon and Nadezhda divorced in the 1950s. Nadezhda then married John Stepanovitch Ilchenko. She died on 21st January 1983 at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel at the age of 79.
Princess Maria's maternal grandmother, Nadezhda Vassilievna Engelhardt, was born on 21st March 1879 in Stupina, Smolensk, Russia, the daughter of Nadezhda Nikolaevna Tchapline. She married Prince Ivan Nicolaevitch Sviatopolk-Mirski (1872-1922), a cavalry officer in the Russian Imperial Army, on 27 April 1898 at Novocherkassk, Caucasus, Russia. The photo below is of Prince Ivan and Princess Nadezhda Sviatopolk-Mirski.Prince Ivan died on 10th February 1922 at Mir Castle. Nadezhda then married Pavel Kondratenko and went to live in Argentina. She died on 12th June 1954 at the age of 75 in Buenos Aires.
We currently know nothing about Princess Maria's maternal great-grandmother, Nadezhda Nikolaevna Tchapline, other than the fact that she was born in 1859, presumably in Russia. She married into the Engelhardt family, a well-known Russian family from Smolensk, but the name of her husband is not yet known. Anastasia Vladimirovna Tikhonova, an historian and a lecturer at Smolensk State University, has been working on the genealogy of the Engelhardt family for many years and is sending Princess Maria further details on the Engelhardts.
We now turn to Princess Maria's DNA results. An mtDNA test can be used for genealogical purposes but will also tell us about our deep maternal ancestry through our haplogroup designation. Even though our paper trail might only go back for a couple of hundred years at most, the mitochondrial DNA we inherit from our mothers has barely changed in thousands of years and therefore provides a unique window into the past. There are only tiny differences in the mitochondrial DNA of all humans, but these small differences can be used to divide us into different clans or branches of the human family tree which are known as haplogroups. All the branches eventually converge in Africa. We all descend from one woman, known as mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa probably around 150,000 years ago. She is not the first human female to live on the planet but is simply the only woman whose daughters and female descendants have survived through to the present day. The mtDNA haplogroups often correlate with specific geographical areas. Haplogroups A, B, C, D and X are, for instance, found in native Americans. Haplogroups L1, L2 and L3 are usually only found in Africa. In Europe the principal haplogroups are H, I J, K, T, U, V, W and X. This page on the Eupedia website shows how all the European mtDNA haplogroups fit together.
Princess Maria's DNA results however show that she is not in any of the major European haplogroups and instead belongs to the very rare and ancient haplogroup known as ROa, a small branch of haplogroup RO, which was previously known as haplogroup pre-HV. Spencer Wells, in his book Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project, tells us that:
Individuals in haplogroup pre-HV can be found all around the Red Sea and widely throughout the Near East. While this genetic lineage is common in Ethiopia and Somalia, individuals from this group are found at highest frequency in Arabia. Because of their close genetic and geographic proximity to other western Eurasian clusters, members of this group living in eastern Africa are the likely result of more recent migrations back in to the continent.Very little seems to be known about haplogroup ROa, Princess Maria's branch of RO. It is found primarily in Europe but only at very low frequencies. It is possibly one of the original mitochondrial haplogroups in Europe, pre-dating the spread of agriculture around 10,000 years ago. There are very few samples of ROa in any of the databases, and Princess Maria is quite possibly the first or one of the first few people living in the UK to be tested with this haplogroup.
Haplogroup pre-HV descends from R and is sometimes referred to as RO. These descendants live in high frequencies in the Anatolian/Caucasus region and Iran. While members of this group can also be found in the Indus Valley near the Pakistan-India border, their presence is considered the result of a subsequent migration eastwards of individuals out of the Near East...
Other members of pre-HV moved north across the Caucasus Mountains and west across Anatolia, their lineages being carried into Europe for the first time by the Cro-Magnon.
Family Tree DNA have haplogroup projects for all the mtDNA haplogroups. Princess Maria has now joined the haplogroup R project at FTDNA which encompasses haplogroup R and all the R subclades. As can be seen from the project results page here she is one of just 13 people in the project belonging to haplogroup ROa.
Princess Maria's DNA results have also been uploaded to Mitosearch, the public mtDNA database which is used by mtDNA researchers. Her results can be found on Mitosearch here. At the time of writing Princess Maria is just one of 41 people in the Mitosearch database belonging to haplogroup ROa as can be see here.
Family Tree DNA have a huge mtDNA database with almost 110,000 samples from all over the world. Not everyone who has taken an mtDNA test will necessarily join a haplogroup project or upload their results to Mitosearch. I therefore asked Eileen Krause Murphy, the mtDNA specialist at Family Tree DNA, if she could provide me with some statistics on mtDNA haplogroup ROa and its distribution. She kindly replied as follows and her comments are published here with her permission:
We have about 350 ROa's in our database. I looked up the geographic frequencies for the ones who reported a country of origin.There is clearly still a lot more to be learnt about the origins and the migratory path of haplogroup ROa and the picture will no doubt become clearer as more people take mtDNA tests and more ROa samples are added to the databases. Princess Maria was very excited to belong to such a rare and interesting haplogroup.
Greater than 10% of ROa's:
5-10%: (from most frequent to least)
1-5%: (from most frequent to least)
Please note these frequencies are slightly biased by the inclusion of research study data which focused on certain populations. Still, this is perhaps helpful in identifying the geographic spread of ROa. I included those who have upgraded to the full sequence and belong to one of the branches of ROa.
From the genealogical point of view we hope to find matches within the mtDNA databases with our genetic cousins. Our closest genetic mtDNA cousins are those people who belong in the same haplogroup as us. Within our personal haplogroup we are most closely related to those people who have identical mtDNA results. The more mismatches the more distant the shared common ancestor. With the more common haplogroups, such as haplogroup H, people can often have literally thousands of matches at the basic HVR1 level, which is effectively a low-resolution test. With the addition of HVR2 the matches are refined but people can still often have lots of matches. In contrast, Princess Maria does not currently have any matches, even at the HVR1 level. An mtDNA test is however an excellent investment because your test continues to work for you by staying in the databases and as more people get tested I would hope that Princess Maria will eventually have some matches which will provide further clues to her maternal Russian ancestry.
Update 10 May 2016
A new paper by Gandini et al Mapping human dispersals into the Horn of Africa from Arabian Ice Age refugia using mitogenomes provides results for 202 new R0A mitogenomes and their present-day distribution. The inferences about the origins of R0A are somewhat more speculative.
"The day my mother told me I was a real-life princess". Wales Online, 10th May 2009.
Newham Know-How. The Stratford Grapevine, September 2008, p14 (pdf).
Princess Maria's photostream on Flickr
"Ten minutes with Princess Maria Sviatopolk-Mirski". Family History Monthly February 2007, issue 140, p10.
© Debbie Kennett 2010