Monday 23 June 2014

Who Do You Think You Are Live? 2015 goes to Birmingham

There has been a lot of speculation about the date and venue for Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015. I've now received official confirmation in the form of a press release from Immediate Media that the event will indeed be held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, and the show will change dates and will now take place from 16th to 18th April. Here is the official press release:


Immediate Media Co, the special interest content and platform company, announces that Who Do You Think You Are? Live, the world’s largest family history event, is to relocate to the Birmingham NEC next year.

Moving from Olympia, London, where the event has been running for eight successful years, the show will also change dates and will now be held from 16-18 April 2015.

Sponsored by, Who Do You Think You Are? Live helps genealogy enthusiasts of all levels to uncover their roots, bringing together informative workshops, experts from the major subscription sites, museums, archives, specialist exhibitors and the largest gathering of family history societies.

Andy Healy, Show Director, commented: “We are delighted to be bringing Who Do You Think You Are? Live to this world-class venue. This move will allow us to take advantage of the NEC’s excellent facilities and transport links and will help us to add real value to the show, opening it up to exhibitors and visitors across the whole country, giving more people than ever the chance to unravel their family history.

David Gallagher, the NEC’s New Business Development Manager, added: “The NEC is a natural home for a show of this scale and we consistently deliver the right audience for the right show. Our location, as well as the venue’s size and flexibility, will be key to delivering the audience the organisers are after, and our Research & CRM team backed this up with their research findings which told us that over six million people fitting their specific visitor profile were situated within just two hours’ drive time of the NEC.”

Who Do You Think You Are? Live is based on the popular television programme, produced by Wall To Wall (a Warner Bros. Television Productions UK company), which will celebrate its 100th episode later this year. To date, the series has seen celebrities including Marianne Faithfull, Patrick Stewart, Nigella Lawson, J.K. Rowling and Sebastian Coe trace their family trees to discover the secrets and surprises from their past.

Immediate owns a majority share in Who Do You Think You Are? Live and has managed the show since November 2010. The 2014 event ran from 20-22 February, attracting around 14,000 visitors. It was announced in February that Who Do You Think You Are? Live is to launch in Glasgow at the SECC from 29-31 August 2014 as part of the Homecoming Scotland celebrations, marking the first time the event has been held outside of London.

About Who Do You Think You Are? Live:
Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015, sponsored by, is taking place at the Birmingham NEC from 16-18 April 2015. Immediate Media Co owns a majority share in Who Do You Think You Are? Live and manages the live event.

About Immediate Media Co:
Immediate Media Co, the specialist interest content and platform company, creates compelling content on platforms that enhances the way people engage with what they love. With an exciting mix of market-leading brands, great talent and technology expertise, Immediate, one of the biggest consumer media businesses in the UK and the third largest magazine publisher, combines its reputation for editorial quality with an integrated approach to delivering multi-platform content.

Its wholly owned brands include Radio Times, olive, Homes & Antiques and highly successfully digital brands including, and It publishes BBC Top Gear, BBC Good Food, and BBC EasyCook on behalf of BBC Worldwide as well as BBC History, BBC Gardeners’ World, BBC Focus and the CBeebies portfolio, under licence. It publishes Lonely Planet Traveller magazine for LPG Inc.

With 850 staff in London and Bristol, Immediate has over 1 million subscribers, a brand reach of over 25 million UK consumers and revenues of £150m per annum. It is owned by Exponent Private Equity.

Follow us on Twitter @Immediate_Media

About the NEC:
The NEC - where brands are born, products are launched and networks are made - occupies a 610 acre site in the borough of Solihull (just eight miles from Birmingham City Centre) and welcomes around 2.1 million visitors each year to over 500 events.

The UK’s number one venue offers unrivalled connectivity and flexibility with more than 186,000 square metres of covered exhibition space through 34 conference suites and 20 interconnecting halls, in addition to over 160 acres of hard standing ground and 75 acres of woodland. 

Situated at the heart of the national motorway network and physically linked to both Birmingham Airport and Birmingham International Railway Station, 75% of the UK’s population are based within a three-hour drive time of the NEC and the venue has over 16,500 car parking spaces for visitors.The proposed HS2 Birmingham Interchange, fully supported by the NEC Group, will create greater ease of access to the area (38 minute journey time between London and Birmingham) and will put in place the essential infrastructure necessary to do business effectively across the UK, Europe and beyond, while the new runway extension at Birmingham Airport - which offers 150 direct destinations and 400 one-stop connections - gives airlines the potential to offer passengers from the Midlands non-stop flights to the west coast of the USA, South Africa, the Far East and South America.

And, as the NEC site’s ‘Destination NEC’ master plan continues to progress, work is now underway on the UK’s first integrated destination leisure and entertainment complex, Resorts World Birmingham, which is due to open in Spring 2015 with the creation of 1100 new jobs, making the NEC site a 24/7 visitor destination.

Visit the NEC online: and find out what’s on at You also follow the NEC on Twitter and LinkedIn and ‘like’ the venue on Facebook.

About contains more than one billion records in collections including the most comprehensive online set of England, Wales and Scotland Censuses from 1841 to 1911, the fully searchable England and Wales Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes, the World War One British Army Service and Pension records, UK Parish Records and the British Phone Books. is the world's largest online family history resource with approximately 2.7 million paying subscribers across all its websites. More than 14 billion records have been added to the sites and users have created more than 60 million family trees containing more than 6 billion profiles.

In addition to its flagship site, the company operates several global Ancestry international websites along with a suite of online family history brands, including,,, and offers the AncestryDNA product, sold by its subsidiary, DNA, LLC, all of which are designed to empower people to discover, preserve and share their family history.

For further stories and updates related to family history research, you can also follow on Facebook and Twitter.

About Wall to Wall:
Wall to Wall is one of the UK's leading production companies. For over 20 years the Warner Bros. Television Productions UK-owned indie has been supplying broadcasters around the world with ground-breaking, award-winning high quality television content across many genres.

Productions range from the entertainment phenomenon and ratings winner The Voice UK to Oscar-winning feature documentary Man On Wire, BBC One hit drama New Tricks, the internationally acclaimed genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?, the highly rated ITV factual format Long Lost Family, the innovative living history “House” franchise (which included1900 House1940 HouseEdwardian Country House) to single dramas - Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, the multi-award winning A Very English Marriage and multi Golden Globe, BAFTA and Emmy nominated The Girl.

Wall to Wall’s productions have won almost every major international television award and it regularly tops UK trade magazine polls as the company rated most highly by its peers; subsequently attracting the top talent from across the industry.

Wall to Wall is part of Warner Bros. Television Productions UK. All Wall to Wall’s programme and format sales are handled by Warner Bros. International Television Production.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Big Y coupon codes

Important update
I have a received a small quantity of additional coupon codes for the Big Y test. As it's getting close to bedtime here in the UK I've passed all the codes on to Charles Moore, admin of the U106 Project. If you still need a code Charles might just have some left. To benefit from the sale price all orders need to be placed by midnight Texas time today (18th June).

Family Tree DNA have kindly passed on to me three spare coupon codes entitling the user to an additional $100 off the Big Y test in the current Father's Day sale. These are single-use codes which are being offered on a first-come first-served basis. If you are able to use one of the codes let me know either by sending me an e-mail or adding a comment below so that I can cross the code off the list.


I now have five additional coupon codes. All five have now been taken:


I've received three more unused codes but all of these have now been taken:


I might still be able to get more codes so do check back later. If anyone has any available codes do let me know so that I can post them here so that they are not wasted. The Big Y sale ends at midnight Houston time tonight.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Genetic genealogy hits the big time! Family Tree DNA are the first DNA company to pass the one million milestone

Family Tree DNA have announced that they have reached a significant milestone and have now processed over one million DNA tests for genealogy and anthropology purposes. This figure includes tests sold by Family Tree DNA as well as tests processed by FTDNA for the National Geographic's Genographic Project. This significant milestone was achieved in the current Father's Day sale during which the Family Finder test has been on offer at the lowest ever price of $79 (£47). FTDNA are the first DNA testing company to break through the one million milestone.

FTDNA also passed another major milestone in the last week which seems to have been completely unheralded. It was noted on 7th June that they had over half a million Y-DNA records in their database, though the exact date when this milestone was achieved is not known. FTDNA also have the honour of holding the world's largest repository of full mitochondrial sequences with the total currently standing at 39,518.

Family Tree DNA were founded in the year 2000. It took nine years for them to process 500,000 kits. This milestone was achieved in February 2009. It's taken just over five years to add the next half million tests. I wonder how long it will take to reach the two million milestone.

The other big two DNA companies, 23andMe and AncestryDNA, have also recently passed significant milestones. 23andMe now have over 700,000 "genotyped customers", and will surely pass the one million mark some time later this year. AncestryDNA announced in April that they had now genotyped over 400,000 members, which is a very impressive number considering that their test is only sold in the US.

The full press release from Family Tree DNA can be seen here.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

My first autosomal DNA success story

I took the Family Tree DNA Family Finder test back in February 2010, and I took the opportunity at the same time to get my mum and dad tested too. I've been getting a steady stream of matches since then, and I now have a grand total of 267 matches, but so far I've been unable to find the genealogical connections with any of them (apart of course from my parents!). That all changed last week. I was casually glancing through my dad's matches when I was very excited to spot the surname Cruwys in bold in the list of matching surnames of one of his new matches. Cruwys is of course my maiden name. It is the surname I've spent the most time researching and is also the subject of my one-name study.
The new match was predicted to be my dad's second to fourth cousin. I checked my own match list and found that the same cousin appeared in my list and was predicted to be my fifth to distant cousin. As all my dad's ancestral lines are in the UK and the cousin's ancestors were all in Canada, it was evident by a process of elimination that there was only one possible ancestral couple that we could share in common - William Cruwys (1793-1846) and Margaret Eastmond (1792-1874) who married in Rose Ash, Devon, on 18th July 1814. On contacting my newly found genetic cousin in Canada and checking our family trees I was able to establish that he is my dad’s third cousin once removed and my fourth cousin. My dad is descended from William and Margaret's son Thomas Cruwys (1831-1890) who was baptised on 19th June 1831 in Burrington, Devon, and the Canadian cousin is descended from one of his older brothers William George Cruwys (1821-1873) who was baptised on 21st January 1821 in Burrington.

William George Cruwys last appears in the English records in the 1841 census. He was living in Chulmleigh not far from his mother and one of his other brothers and working as a male servant. William cannot be found in any of the subsequent censuses in England, and there is no record of a marriage or a death in the General Register Office indexes. However, a William of the right age appears in the Canadian censuses living in Prince Edward Island. I have a record of the 1848 marriage of William and his wife Sarah Burrows but unfortunately the PEI marriage records of this time do not provide any information about the names of the parents. I therefore do not have any documentary proof that the PEI William is the same William who was born in Burrington. However, the circumstantial evidence is strong and is bolstered by the fact that William and Sarah gave one of their sons the distinctive name Augustus. This is the name of one of William's presumed brothers from Devon, and I have not found the name Augustus used in any other Cruwys family in my one-name study. We had additional evidence of the link to PEI through my Cruwys DNA Project with two matching Y-chromosome results. The Y-DNA test proves that the two men share the same fatherline but it is not conclusive proof that their ancestors were brothers. However, the combination of evidence is very strong, and the fact that we now have an autosomal DNA match which corresponds precisely with the expected relationship is the icing on the cake, and I think the relationship is proven beyond doubt.

Another cousin from the PEI tree, who is also my fourth cousin and my dad's third cousin once removed, took the Family Finder test last year, but unfortunately she did not show up as a match either to me or my dad. This is because of the random way in which autosomal DNA is inherited. Around 90% of third cousins will share enough DNA to show up as match but only around 50% of fourth cousins would be expected to match. Perhaps around 70% of third cousins once removed would show up as a match.  

The Family Finder chromosome browser allows you to see a visual representation of the matching segment data. You can adjust the browser to see which segments you share with your matches at varying levels starting from 1 centiMorgan and going up to 10 centiMorgans (a centiMorgan is a unit of recombination which is used to measure the amount of sharing on each segment). My dad and his cousin have 10 matching segments. I share seven segments with my cousin. From the chromosome browser view you can generate a table showing the matching segment data. When I checked the data I discovered that although I seemingly shared a number of small segments with my cousin, my dad and his cousin did not share these same small segments. I therefore concluded that these were coincidental (identical by state) matching segments. The only segment that we all shared in common was on chromosome 11. The actual figures are as follows:

My dad vs. cousin  Start location 60459979  End location 78299008 17.12 cMS  4300 matching SNPs

Debbie vs. cousin   Start location 61282647  End location 78299008 16.62 cMs   4100 matching SNPs

I therefore set the chromosome browser view so that only the large matching segments were shown. The first view shows a comparison of the matching segments shared by my dad and his cousin.

The second chromosome browser view below shows a comparison of the matching segments shared by me and my cousin. You can actually see the DNA inheritance process in action here, as you can see quite clearly that I did not inherit the two large segments on chromosomes 1 and 3, leaving me with just the one segment on chromosome 11 that I share in common with my cousin.

What is really exciting about this match is that I can now ascribe this one specific segment on chromosome 11 that I inherited from my father to an ancestral couple - William Cruwys and Margaret Eastmond. Without doing further testing and triangulation I won't be able to establish whether this segment was passed down to me by William Cruwys or by Margaret Eastmond, but I know that it has been passed on to me in the Cruwys line from my great-great grandfather Thomas Cruwys to my great-grandfather Frederick Augustus Cruwys to my grandfather and then on to my dad and me. The segment has travelled on a different path in my Canadian cousin's family. He inherited the segment from his grandmother Emma Pearl Cruwys, the daughter of William George Cruwys and Sarah Burrows. Emma married George Clark Kitson in 1917 in Charlottetown, PEI, and the segment has been passed on through the Kitson line to the present day.

I'm hoping that this will be the first of many genealogical connections that I will be able to make through autosomal DNA testing. Now that the tests are so cheap (the Family Finder test costs just £47 in the current Father's Day sale at Family Tree DNA) there is really no excuse for anyone not to do the Family Finder test!

© 2014 Debbie Kennett

Monday 9 June 2014

Father's day sale at Family Tree DNA with special prices for Family Finder and the Big Y

Family Tree DNA have announced a sale in honour of Father's Day which in many countries of the world, including the UK and the US, is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. For a limited period from 9th June to 17th June the Family Finder test will be reduced from $99 to just $79 (about £47). As far as I can recall, this is the the lowest ever price for this test. Family Finder is an autosomal DNA test which allows you to find matches with your genetic cousins up to about the fourth or fifth cousin level. If you're not familiar with the Family Finder test see my blog post The new Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA which I wrote when the test was first launched in April 2010. For a practical example of how the test works see my post on My first autosomal DNA success story.

Family Tree DNA are my company of choice for autosomal DNA testing. They are the only one of the big three DNA testing companies to sell their tests worldwide and, more importantly for those of us in the UK, they probably have the highest concentration of autosomal DNA test results from the British Isles, thus maximising your chances of finding a meaningful match. AncestryDNA don't even sell their autosomal product outside the US. 23andMe sell their test in 56 countries, including the UK, but they charge a hefty fee to despatch the kits by courier, which effectively doubles the price of the test. The majority of 23andMe customers have tested for health reasons and are less interested in genealogical research, whereas Family Tree DNA is a dedicated genetic genealogy company. For a comparison of the different autosomal tests see Tim Janzen's autosomal DNA testing comparison chart in the ISOGG Wiki. If you've not already taken the Family Finder test now is your big chance to do so. If you've already tested, you might like to encourage your friends and family to test as well. The Family Finder test works best when you have results from multiple family members, and the more people who participate the more success we will have.

The Big Y test is also included in the FTDNA sale. The Big Y test is an advanced test for people who wish to be involved in the Y-SNP discovery process, and is only available for existing FTDNA customers. See my previous blog post The new Big Y test from Family Tree DNA for further information about this test. If you are interested in taking the Big Y test you should consult with the administrators of your haplogroup project. If you're not already in a project you can find a list of Y-DNA haplogroup projects in the ISOGG Wiki. A new SNP matching feature is to be launched for the Big Y test in the next few weeks which should help with the SNP discovery process. For a comparison of the various Y-SNP tests see the Y-DNA SNP testing comparison chart in the Wiki.

Here is the e-mail that was sent out to Family Tree DNA group administrators. (Note that the dates are in US order with the month followed by the day.)

Dear Group Admins,

Father's Day is almost here and that means a new Family Tree DNA sale!  Here's what the sale will entail:

From 6/9/2014 to 6/17/2014, we will be offering:
Family Finder - $79   ($99)
Big Y - $595   ($695)

Additionally, customers that have already purchased a Big Y test will receive a coupon for $100 off another Big Y! This coupon is valid through 6/17/2015 and can be used on any Big Y order.  The best part is that if you combine it with the Father's Day sale, customers can get Big Y for only $495! 
News & updates
  • Big Y matching is coming!  Over the course of the next two weeks we will begin a phased release of Big Y matching so you can directly compare your comprehensive Y-DNA results to those of other Big Y test takers.  The key to identifying all new SNPs and subclades is finally here!
  • Family Finder was recently improved with the release of myOrigins, an all new ethnicity tool allowing you to compare your ethnic breakdown to that of your matches while providing more detailed information on your ethnic heritage than ever before!

Thursday 5 June 2014 announcement regarding discontinuation of Y-DNA and mtDNA tests

I wrote a couple of months ago about the difficulties people were having ordering the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests from AncestryDNA and I speculated at the time that they might be phasing out these tests. Ancestry have made an official announcement today that they will be discontinuing both their Y-DNA and mtDNA tests with immediate effect. Results will be available for download until 5th September. After this date the results will no longer be accessible and all the stored Y-DNA and mtDNA samples will be destroyed. It appears that Ancestry's entire Y-DNA and mtDNA database will, therefore, disappear on 5th September. Four other Ancestry services  MyFamily, MyCanvas, and Mundia  are being "retired" at the same time so that the company can better focus on what they call their "core offerings". The AncestryDNA groups are hosted on the MyFamily website so these will also disappear on 5th September.

The following e-mail has been sent out to AncestryDNA Y-DNA and mtDNA customers:
Y-DNA and mtDNA tests and results will no longer be available 
Over the years we have built up a variety of products that enable our users to discover, preserve and share their family history. 
We recognize that there are a lot of ways that we, as a company, can make family history easier, more accessible and more fun for people all over the world. 
In order to do this, we need to focus on our core offerings to ensure we’re delivering the best service and best product experience to our customers. 
To that end, we've decided to retire our Y-DNA and mtDNA service on September 5, 2014, which means you will not be able to review your results after this date, but can download your raw DNA data prior to that time. 
To safely and securely download your raw DNA data that comes as part of the service, you can export your results prior to the service’s retirement, by visiting and logging in to begin the download process. Your raw DNA data will be exported into a .csv file format, and can be uploaded to other Y-chromosome and mtDNA testing services. 
We understand the value you can gain from Y-DNA and mtDNA test results, however we’ve decided to retire these tests in order to dedicate more resources to the autosomal DNA test, called AncestryDNA, which surveys a person's genome at more than 700,000 locations. 
We recognize that there are a lot of ways that we, as a company, can make family history easier, more accessible and more fun for people all over the world. 
We encourage you to check out AncestryDNA as a way for you to try another DNA experience that has many benefits. Take a look at what AncestryDNA users are saying about their experience: 
Maggie from Pennsylvania - “Did this for me and my husband, now the kids have an in depth knowledge of who they are. Some surprises too!” 
Evelyn from California - “We did this and the results are fascinating and I have found several 2nd - 5th cousins because of matches.” 
Judi from Texas - “You'll be amazed at the results. Turned out my maternal grandmother was Russian and not German ... is the greatest search tool yet … and the DNA test was just the icing on the cake!"
I would urge anyone who has tested with AncestryDNA to transfer their Y-DNA results to Family Tree DNA where they can join the relevant surname projects, Y-DNA haplogroup projects and geographical projects. There are various transfer options available starting at just $19. For details see the FTDNA page Y-DNA transfer from another company. If for any reason you do not wish to transfer your Y-DNA results to FTDNA you can upload your results to the free Ysearch database. Whatever you decide do make sure that you at least download your results before they disappear from the website altogether.

If you've taken a mitochondrial DNA test with AncestryDNA there are unfortunately no transfer options but you can upload your mtDNA results to the free Mitosearch database.

This announcement was probably inevitable given the low priority that Ancestry have given to their Y-DNA and mtDNA tests in the last year or so. However, it does rather beg the question as to what their future plans might be. Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are not only useful in their own right but serve as a complement to an autosomal DNA test. I wonder if a new AncestryDNA chip is perhaps on the horizon which will provide information on Y-DNA and mtDNA hapogroups along the lines of the tests from 23andMe and the Genographic Project.

Note that the AncestryDNA autosomal DNA test is currently only on sale in the US, though Ancestry have indicated that they might be ready to launch in the UK and in some other countries in 2015. While the AncestryDNA test is potentially a good option for Americans with Colonial American ancestry because of the large size of their database and the integration with family trees, the AncestryDNA test lacks many of the essential tools, such as a chromosome browser and matching segment data, which are provided by the other major testing companies. For comparative information on the different autosomal DNA tests see Tim Janzen's Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart in the ISOGG Wiki.

CeCe Moore attended a bloggers' conference call where the announcement was made and she has further information in her blog post officially retires Y-DNA and mtDNA testing.

See also Ancestry's blog post focuses on core offerings, the AncestryDNA Legacy DNA FAQs and the AncestryDNA MyFamily FAQs.

Update 12th June 2014
Ken Chahine, Senior Vice President of AncestryDNA, has a written a post on the blog, Comments on Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, explaining the rationale behind the decision.

Update 8th January 2015
It appears that the AncestryDNA Y-DNA and mtDNA samples were not destroyed. See my blog post The AncestryDNA Y-DNA and mtDNA samples have not been destroyed after all.

Monday 2 June 2014

A look at the genetic homeland case reports from English Origenes, Irish Origenes and Scottish Origenes

I've had a number of people writing to me in the last few months to express concerns about the genetic homeland case reports offered by Tyrone Bowes through his English Origenes, Irish Origenes and Scottish Origenes websites. The reports have also been the subject of much discussion in various groups and forums (see the links at the end of this article). I've now spent some time reviewing the methodology and the case reports, and I share the concerns of my correspondents so I thought would take this opportunity to highlight some of the problems.

Tyrone Bowes claims to be able to use "modern science" to pinpoint the place of origin of one's patrilineal ancestors one thousand years ago based on the results of a 37-marker Y-DNA test from Family Tree DNA. The distribution pattern of the surnames that appear in the person's match list is used to identify the "genetic homeland", which is defined as "the area (within a 5 mile radius) where one's ancestors lived for hundreds if not thousands of years. It is the area where one's ancestors left their mark in the history and place names of that area and in the DNA of its current inhabitants."  I understand that the reports cost in the region of  $300 a time. A free consultation is provided to determine whether or not it is possible to pinpoint a "genetic homeland". An 80% success rate is claimed for the Irish and Scottish reports, but no claim is made for the English case studies.

As far as I am able to establish the methodology used for the reports has not been legitimised by publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. An article by Tyrone Bowes entitled "Using Y Chromosome DNA Testing to Pinpoint a Genetic Homeland in Ireland" was published in April 2013 in the Surname DNA Journal. This journal was founded in January 2013 by Brad Larkin, a genetic genealogist who runs the Larkin DNA Project. Only five articles have been published in the journal to date, two of which have been written by Brad Larkin, and a third article has been contributed by a Larkin cousin. Although I am given to understand that the articles are reviewed prior to publication, the journal has no named editor and no editorial board so we cannot be certain that the people who are reviewing the articles have any expertise in the subject matter they are commenting on. Brad Larkin and Tyrone Bowes appear to have a business relationship. They jointly founded the Genetic Homeland website in March 2013, and this website is advertised prominently on the home page of the Surname DNA Journal.

The article in the Surname DNA Journal outlines Tyrone Bowes’ hypothesis that "Using commercial Y chromosome DNA testing, the Family Tree DNA database, the 1911 census of Ireland, Microsoft Excel, customized mapping software for surname distribution mapping, ordinance [sic] survey Ireland maps, and Google Earth it is possible to explore the relationships between a test subjects surname, and the surnames of his genetic matches to pinpoint the Genetic Homeland of an individual, and find evidence of their ancestors presence in the placenames and DNA of the areas current inhabitants." Eight case studies are presented to illustrate the methodology. However, the author makes no attempt to test the hypothesis scientifically. In the discussion it is stated that "the pinpointed 'Genetic Homeland' can be verified by Y chromosome DNA testing of people with the test subjects surname in the identified area". It is surprising, therefore, that such testing was not done for all the surnames in question to establish whether or not the hypothesis had any validity. It is claimed in the article that one person with the surname Bowes was tested to confirm the "Genetic Homeland of Clan Bowes" which is supposedly pinpointed to "an area centered upon modern day Abbeyleix in county Laois". However, this conclusion is disputed by Martha Bowes, the administrator of the Bowes DNA Project.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence in support of the methodology it seems that a number of people have ordered the genetic homeland case reports, and selected reports have been made available on the various Origenes' websites. It seems to me that the methodology is fundamentally flawed, and is based on a number of false assumptions. I've summarised below some of the main problems:

1) While matches with other surnames can often provide valuable genealogical clues, the claim to pinpoint a genetic homeland with such precision is not supported by the evidence provided. The technique does not account for the inherent uncertainty in the estimates of the time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA). The calculation of a TMRCA is based on probability, and there are many variables such as sample sizes and mutation rates. Consequently TMRCA is not an exact science. It does not provide a precise point in time (eg, seven generations ago) but a probability distribution  – a range of time in which the common ancestor might have lived. For example, a match on 34/37 markers could indicate a common ancestor who lived 200 years ago or two thousand years ago. It is therefore important that DNA evidence is considered in combination with genealogical evidence and not in isolation.

2) The Origenes' method takes no account of the biased nature of the Family Tree DNA database. Around 70% of FTDNA customers are thought to reside in the United States, and matches with other surnames may often reflect non-paternity events in the US rather than the origin of a surname in the British Isles. This point is nicely demonstrated in Howard Mathieson's critique of the Irish Origenes' case study of the Kiely surname. Furthermore, the FTDNA database has inevitable gaps, and many British and Irish surnames, particularly lower frequency surnames, are not yet represented.

3) The Origenes' reports do not appear to make any attempt to verify the SNP status of the people in the match lists whose surnames are used to pinpoint the "genetic homeland". SNP testing is important when investigating matches with other surnames in order to ensure that the matches are not false positives. Two men can have matching Y-STR results, but if they do not share the same SNPs they will belong on different branches of the Y-DNA tree and will not share a common ancestor within the last few thousand years. This problem occurs as a result of convergence. Although 37-marker results are most commonly affected the problem can still occur with more distant matches at 67 markers.  Convergence is a particular problem in haplogroup R1b, the most common haplogroup in the British Isles which is found at a frequency of about 70% in England and over 80% in Ireland.

4) The assumption has been made that the geographical overlap of the matching surnames is an indicator of the "genetic homeland". However, it is conceivable that many groups of randomly selected surnames would overlap purely by chance but no attempt has been made to rule out this possibility.

5) The methodology is based on the hypothesis that "genetically recurring surname matches" provide a snapshot of one's "medieval ancestor’s neighbours". If the theory is correct, then the methodology needs to be applied consistently, but a close examination of the case reports reveals many inconsistencies. Sometimes recurring surnames are omitted for no apparent reason whereas in some of the case reports singleton matches are included, even though the technique requires that singletons should be omitted because they are claimed to be indicators of non-paternity events. For example, in the Patterson case study on the Scottish Origenes website it is apparent that Mr Patterson has recurring 67-marker matches with a wide variety of different surnames. Only the closest matches with a genetic distance of three or less are considered important enough for consideration for this report. Furthermore, only a few select surnames (Henderson, Stewart, Chisholm, McKay, McLean, Logan, and McDonald) are cherry-picked for inclusion while many of the other recurring surname matches (Norton, Stephenson, Turner, Johnson, Edwards, Tate, Rock) are excluded, presumably because the distribution will not support the proposition that Mr Patterson's "ancestral genetic homeland is centred upon Knockbain on the Black Isle", just north of Inverness. The opposite problem applies to the case report for Mr Henderson who inconveniently only had matches with other Hendersons at 67 markers. His matches at 37 markers were used instead in combination with more distant 37-marker matches found on Ysearch. For this report all the matching surnames were taken into account, including those surnames which only occurred once in the match list. Similarly in the Bennett case study on the English Origenes website the surname French is included in the report despite the fact that the surname only appears once.

6) The reports show no understanding of the evolution of place-names, and the evidence used in support of the genetic homeland stories is implausible at best. For example, in the Bennett case study we are told that "The Bennetts of Somerset cluster near the town of Burnham on Sea close to the Bristol Channel". We are further told that "the local placenames that reflect the ancestral link of the Bennetts and their genetic cousins with the surrounding area" include Bennett road, Lockswell, Locksway, Seymour road, Seymour Court, Coat (village), and Coate farm. Place-names can of course be very informative but most roads have been built and named in the last century or so, and road names are therefore highly unlikely to correlate with the presence of a surname in the locality one thousand years ago, especially in a seaside town which has probably had an influx of residents from many different parts of the UK.

DNA testing and surname distribution mapping are both very powerful tools for a surname study but they should always be used in combination with genealogical and historical records, and the results should be interpreted with caution. In order to determine the origin or origins of a surname it is necessary to map a surname at different points in time to establish continuity. Ultimately there is no substitute for a carefully conducted worldwide surname study which makes use of all available records from the beginnings of surnames to the present day.

Further reading
For further discussions on the limitations of the Origenes' methodology see:
- My letter in Family Tree Magazine about "genetic homeland" stories (August 2014 issue)
- A Review of Irish Origenes' Bowes Case Study‎ by Martha Bowes, administrator of the Bowes DNA Project and one-name study
- Origenes case study reviews by Howard Mathieson. See in particular Howard's article Can the Distribution of 19th Century Farmers Be Used To Identify a Surname's Genetic Homeland?
 - Bowe research methodology queried - a letter from Fíona Tipple in the June 2014 issue of the Genealogical Society of Ireland's Gazette (page 2).
A civil discourse on Irish Origenes' methods, a discussion on the Anthrogenica forum
Irish Origenes  and Irish Origenes – the next generation, discussions on the Guild of One-Name Studies' mailing list
Critique of “Grace an English Origenes Y-DNA Case Study” of 24th September 2017 by Dr. Tyrone Bowes A review by a dissatisfied customer

A list of surname mapping resources can be found in the ISOGG Wiki.

I have discussed the available sources and the techniques for surname mapping at length in my Surnames Handbook (History Press, 2012).

For information on the methodology used in a one-name study see the website of the Guild of One-Name Studies.

See my Sense About Science blog post Sense About Genealogical DNA Testing for a summary of the legitimate inferences that can be made from DNA tests.

© 2014 Debbie Kennett