Saturday, 5 December 2015

My thoughts on DNA Cymru Part 3 and the significance (or lack thereof) of large genetic clusters

The third part in the controversial S4C series DNA Cymru was broadcast on the Welsh-language TV channel S4C last Sunday. The programme (with English subtitles) is available on the BBC iPlayer for the next 28 days, and can also be viewed on the S4C catch-up website.  For background read my reviews of Part 1 and Part 2.

The DNA Cymru series has been criticised because of the perceived use of a public service broadcaster to promote a commercial company in the guise of a research project. In order to participate in the "research" it is necessary to purchase an expensive DNA test, and the TV programmes themselves have been used to promote the sale of the kits. The results of the "research" have not been published in a scientific journal, and have therefore not gone through the usual process of peer review which is the minimal standard for credibility.

In the third programme in the series we were presented with further findings from DNA Cymru's "research". Dr Jim Wilson, the Chief Scientific Officer of Cymru DNA Wales, featured prominently on the programme. CymruDNAWales is one of a family of companies operated by the Moffat Partnership.* Jim Wilson is a major shareholder of this company, though his financial interests were not mentioned in the programme. CymruDNAWales have partnered with S4C to produce the DNA Cymru series. It also turns out that Alistair Moffat, the co-founder of the Moffat Partnership, is an old friend of Ian Jones, the CEO of S4C.

Chieftains, noblemen, princes and kings
The main finding of this episode was that "a high percentage of today's population are the descendants of brave warriors alluded to in our national anthem  the nation's ancient chiefs and princes". This "research" is based on the test results of 1000 people who have paid for a Y-chromosome DNA test from the CymruDNAWales website over the past year. A Y-chromosome test is taken by males, and focuses on the patriline - the line of inheritance which usually corresponds with the transmission of surnames. No details were provided as to the qualifying criteria for inclusion in the study other than an ability to pay for a DNA test, though I imagine that participants would probably be required to have a paternal grandfather who was born in Wales.

An analysis of the Y-DNA results revealed that there were twenty genetic clusters in Wales. These clusters were defined as "unique sub-branches in the Y-chromosome tree". Ten of these clusters were analysed in more detail to get an estimate of their age, and in some cases this involved sequencing the Y-chromosome.

The claim was made that these ten genetic clusters trace back to ten men who were born about 1000 to 2000 years ago, and that these men are the direct male-line ancestors of 18% of all Welshmen today or around one in five of the male population. This figure equates to over 200,000 men in Wales and nearly 500,000 men all around the world. It was further claimed that these ten men were probably all brave warriors, prominent chieftains, noblemen, princes and kings who had "shaped society in a way that no one had suspected before". Dr Jim Wilson commented: "They certainly outbred their peers. Probably they were nobleman, chieftains and kings. If this prominence is inherited the ability to have more sons is inherited down the male line."

It was stated that similar genetic clusters had been found in Scotland for some of the Scottish clans and in Ireland where many males are the descendants of early chieftains, though the clustering seen in Wales was more extreme than that seen in Ireland and Scotland.

The details were not given on the programme but there was a study carried out in 2006 out by a team at Trinity College Dublin which found a prevalent Y-chromosome DNA signature in Ireland (Moore et al 2006). It was suggested that this signature showed "a significant association with surnames purported to have descended from the most important and enduring dynasty of early medieval Ireland, the Uí Néill ". This line traces back to a "possibly mythological 5th-century warlord" known as Niall of the Nine Hostages. However, the testing in this study was done at very low resolution (17 Y-STRs), and there is considerable uncertainty over the dating of the TMRCA (time to the recent common ancestor). Better TMRCA estimates can now be obtained from the results from the newer next-generation sequencing tests. The findings have also been criticised on historical grounds (Swift 2013).

No equivalent study has been carried out in Scotland, though there are numerous surname DNA projects run by genealogists investigating Scottish surnames. Dr Jim Wilson mentioned on the programme that a large number of people with the surnames MacGregor and Stuart formed a big genetic family - a genetic cluster of closely related Y-chromosomes. There are large DNA projects for the McGregors and the Stewarts. Both projects are hosted at Family Tree DNA, but some of the project members will have had supplementary testing through one of the Moffat Partnership companies.

For an independent opinion on the question of the plausibility of the suggestion that the "genes of people today" can be connected with "the bloodline of historical princes" the programme paid a visit to Dr Chris Tyler-Smith at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge. Tyler-Smith's lab published a paper in 2003 on "The genetic legacy of the Mongols" (Zerjal 2003), and he described the results of this research. A large Y-chromosome cluster   a set of closely related Y-chromosome types  – was found purely by chance in the "genetic landscape across Europe and Asia". The cluster was thought to date back to Mongolia about 1000 years ago. This large cluster could be a result of natural selection where "the lineage has a particular biological advantage" but that is not thought to be a plausible explanation in the case of the Y-chromosome. The alternative is that there is "some social advantage. In simple terms this means that one man has fathered many different children, and this social advantage must have lasted over many generations." It was suggested that the most likely explanation for this large genetic cluster is that it is linked to "the exploits of Genghis Khan" who is thought to have around 20 million living descendants.

Tyler-Smith also appears to have been given the opportunity to look at the data from the DNA Cymru project. He commented that the number of clusters was remarkable, and he also noted how much of the population was included in these clusters which was higher in the Welsh data than in other datasets he'd seen.

The programme's researchers seemed to be unaware of a subsequent study by Balaresque et al (2015) which analysed the Y-DNA signatures of 5321 males in Asia and identified 11 descent clusters "that represent likely past instances of high male reproductive success". These clusters were associated with "expansions that began between 2100 BCE and 1100 CE, found both among sedentary agriculturalists and pastoral nomads". One of the clusters corresponded with the "Khan" descent cluster identified in the Zerjal study. The authors commented that this was "the most striking signal of an Asian expansion lineage, representing 2.7% of the entire data set, and the highest number of identical Y-chromosomes (N=71)". They suggested that "High reproductive success is often associated with high social status, ‘prestigious’ men having higher intramarital fertility, lower offspring mortality and access to a greater than average number of wives". They also suggested that with next generation sequencing and new ancient DNA approaches it might be possible to identify "the prestigious and powerful pastoralist founders" of these high-frequency descent clusters.

But how plausible is the suggestion that large descent clusters must always be associated with prestigious and powerful people? Is there another explanation? Could such clusters occur by chance? Guillot and Cox (2015) have published an interesting preprint in response to the Balaresque paper which investigates this question using computer simulations. The paper is currently going through an open peer review process. The authors concluded:
The most parsimonious explanation is therefore that the high frequency haplotypes observed in Central Asia are simply expected chance events, and an explanation invoking cultural transmission of reproductive success is not necessary to account for them. As no other evidence is presented to support proposed links to famous historical men, these haplotypes instead most likely reflect the chance proliferation of random male lines, probably from historically unrecorded, culturally undistinguished, but biologically lucky Central Asian men.
Similar conclusions were reached in a study of 131,060 Icelanders which combined genetic information with detailed genealogical records (Helgason et al 2003). They found skewed distributions of both mtDNA and Y-chromosome haplotypes:
These results demonstrate even over a short timeframe of a few hundred years, during which the size of the Icelandic population increased almost fivefold, only a minority of potential ancestors actually contributed mtDNA or Y chromosomes to the contemporary population. The vast majority of contemporary females (58,832 or 91.7%) are descended from only 22% (7,041) of the potential matrilineal ancestors born between 1848 and 1892, and most contemporary males (57,686 or 86.2%) are descended from only 26% (8,275) of the potential patrilineal ancestors. The results are even more striking for matrilines and patrilines traced back to the 1698–1742 ancestor cohort.
It may well be that with ancient DNA samples and further genealogical research it will be possible to attribute some high-frequency haplotypes to specific prestigious individuals, but it seems plausible that many of these clusters have arisen by chance and it will never be possible to identify the founders.

The Tudors
The programme also included a discussion of the results from a rather puzzling study of the Tudor surname. Men with the surname Tudor were invited to take a Y-DNA test as part of the "project" in an attempt to identify the genetic signature of the royal Tudor lineage. However, such an investigation was doomed from the start because there are no known male-line descendants of Henry VII and Henry VIII. In addition, Wales has traditionally used a patronymic naming system so there is no historical link between the surname and the Y-chromosome. The adoption of hereditary surnames was a gradual process, and the patronymic system persisted in some parts of Wales right through until the nineteenth century. The undisclosed number of men who had their DNA tested as part of the Tudor research were divided into three genetic families, and the results were not surprisingly described as "inconclusive".

However, although there are no direct male-line descendants of Henry Tudor it is possible to trace his tree further back in time to Ednefyd Fychan, a prominent 12th-century Welsh leader. The line can then be traced forwards through a different line of descent to the present day. Two males descended from Ednefyd Fychan were identified and had their DNA tested but the DNA results did not match. However, if further descendants can be traced then it may well be possible to determine the Y-DNA signature of the Tudors.

Some genealogy
The rest of the programme was taken up with an investigation of the genealogical lineages of some of the men who had taken part in the DNA Cymru "project" with a particular focus on noble and ancient lineages. While the emphasis on genealogy was most welcome the approach seemed somewhat ad hoc, with the DNA testing done first and the genealogy explored afterwards but in a very unstructured way. In each case only one person from the lineage was tested, whereas the usual practice in a genealogical research project is to test at least two cousins who share descent from the ancestor in question in order to identify his ancestral haplotype (DNA signature) and to rule out the possibility of what is known as a non-paternity event. I'm not familiar with the ancient Welsh genealogies but it also seemed that many of the ancient connections were highly speculative. We would not normally expect genealogical research to go through the peer review process, but we would hope to see the research published on a website or in a respectable genealogical publication such as The Genealogist, the journal published by the Society of Genealogists. None of the research featured on the programme appears to have been published anywhere so I've summarised the results briefly below.

A man by the name of Jim Williams was interviewed. His family had lived in Llywele as far back as the 15th century, and the family claim to be descended from the Welsh king Hywel Dda. His haplogroup was R1b-S300 (L371)

Jim Cockburn-Powell has a lineage which can be traced back to one Roland Powell who was born in 1599. His male-line ancestry can then possibly be linked with a man called David Powell of Flint who appears in the Welsh genealogies and this line ultimately traces back to Cunedda Wledig, a British chieftain of the Votadini in south-east Scotland. Jim Cockburn-Powell belongs to haplogroup R1b-PF5191 which we were told is rare in England and not seen outside Wales.

Alexander Talbot-Rice lives at Newton House, the home of the Barons of Dinefwr, and is supposedly descended in the direct male line from a George Rice who married Lady Cecil Dinefwr, Baroness Dinfwr. George Rice is descended from Henry Rice Fitz Urien whose lineage supposedly goes all the way back to Urien Rheged, a sixth-century king. Alexander Talbot-Rice's haplogroup is G-Z674 which is apparently "highly enriched" in Wales, and particularly in southern Wales.

At the end of the programme we were introduced to the Welsh rugby player Colin Charvis. His dad is from Jamaica and his Y-line can be traced back to his great-great-grandfather Frederick Charvis who was born soon after the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. He would be expected to have an African Y-DNA haplogroup but his results showed that he is R1b-A228, a genetic cluster which is found predominantly in Wales.

Genetic genealogy  the use of DNA testing in combination with genealogical and historical records  is a legitimate and credible process. It was therefore encouraging to see a greater emphasis on genealogy in this programme, though it would have been interesting to have had feedback from historians and expert family historians who could have commented on the credibility of the published Welsh genealogies. While stories about kings and nobles are good for attracting the headlines and publicising sales of DNA kits, unfortunately the claims made on the programme were pure speculation. In any case if you want to make a programme about the DNA of Wales you need to look at the entire population rather than focus on celebrities and the elite classes. This episode focused solely on the results of Y-chromosome testing which by definition excluded half the population of Wales. I hope this means that a future programme will focus exclusively on the DNA of the female lineages of Wales.


Balaresque P et al (2015). Y-chromosome descent clusters and male differential reproductive success: young lineage expansions dominate Asian pastoral nomadic populations. European Journal of Human Genetics 23, 1413-1422.

Guillot EG and Cox MP (2015).  High frequency haplotypes are expected events, not historical figures. Preprint. BioRxiv. Published online on 8 July 2015.

Helgason et al (2003). A populationwide coalescent analysis of Icelandic matrilineal and patrilineal genealogies: evidence for a faster evolutionary rate of mtDNA lineages than Y chromosomes. American Journal of Human Genetics 72(6): 1370-1388.

Moore LT et al (2006). A Y-chromosome signature of hegemony in Gaelic Ireland A Y-chromosome signature of hegemony in Gaelic Ireland. American Journal of Human Genetics 78(2): 334-338.

Swift C (2013). Interlaced scholarship: genealogy and genetics in twenty-first century Ireland. In: Duffy S (ed). Princes, Prelates and Poets in Medieval Ireland. Four Courts Press.

Zerjal (2003). The genetic legacy of the Mongols. American Journal of Human Genetics 72(3): 717-721.

*The other trading names of the Moffat Partnership are BritainsDNA, ScotlandsDNA, IrelandsDNA and YorkshiresDNA.

© 2015 Debbie Kennett


Jac o' the North, said...

I must confess I've given up on this show, so you are to be congratulated on your perseverance.

It is now obvious beyond any doubt that this is a 'Pay us and we'll find you a noble / famous ancestor' scam. I think the final straw was reading somewhere (I couldn't even be bothered to make a note of where) that some minor celeb born in Swansea 'might be descended from Sweyn', the Norse chief after whom Swansea is named.

This person, like me, had a Welsh surname, and also like me, I guarantee that many of his roots lie further west, and that quite a few of his great- or great-great-grandparents moved up to Swansea during the Industrial Revolution, as did many of mine.

I don't question that Swansea is named after Sweyn, but I doubt very much if he or any of his men put down roots. It was simply a stop-over, or a temporary, maybe winter, base.

So the chances of finding descendants of Sweyn in modern Swansea are slim, and if any can be found they are more likely to be descended from Scandinavian seamen who settled in Swansea than from any liaison Sweyn might have enjoyed with some medieval Catherine Zeta Jones. (I was in Penlan school with her father Dai.)

And when you put it that way - as I have - you realise what absolute nonsense this series is. Having commended you for your perseverance, I really do suggest that you take a break when the series is over and forget all about these con artists.

Joe Flood said...

The weakness in this argument is not that so many are descended from just a few men - of course they are, this will always happen randomly and can easily be shown through simulation. The weakness is in the masculine fantasy that having a lot of sons is somehow connected with being a brave warrior. Quite the reverse, brave warriors tend to get killed and therefore have very few sons. We want the lovers, not the fighters.

I know of no evidence whatever that having a high social status, wealth or anything else is associated with numbers of male line descendants. The lines of the gentry were always dying out and having to be replaced by adoption. The men in my studies who had six or eight sons were very poor, and that is why they emigrated to the new world, to try to get land for their excessive progeny.

Debbie Kennett said...

Jac, Thanks for your comments. I'm rather hoping that lessons will have been learnt from this series and that TV companies won't be hoodwinked again.

Joe, I think it might be interesting to do genealogical studies to find out if high status men have particularly large numbers of male-line descendants. From the research I've done I agree that it seems these lines are more likely to die out. I have one family in my tree who had eight sons. Most of them died in infancy or in their teenage years (they were from a mining community). Only one son married and his line is now extinct. If often seems to be the emigrant families that are the most fertile, but no one has really studied this phenomenon.

Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ said...

In context of England and I assume Wales one would expect to have lines connected to gentry to die out. It's interesting contrasting the situation with that in Gaelic Ireland in period up to 1603. After all given the system of inheritance employed in Ireland ("Corporate Clan" with partiable inheritance eg. Gravelkind) and the fact that there was no concept of illegitimacy (and widespread divorce/remarriage) than you did get situation where noble lines could undergo exponential growth.

Here's transcription I did from Nicholls "Gaelic and Gaelicized Ireland during the Middle Ages" (apologies for any typo's)
One of the most important phenomena in a clan-based society is that of
expansion from the top downwards. The seventeenth-century Irish scholar and
genealogist Dualtagh Mac Firbisigh remarked that 'as the sons and families of
the rulers multiplied, so their subjects and followers were squeezed out and
withered away; and this phenomenon, the expansion of the ruling or dominant
stocks at the expense of the remainder, is a normal feature in societies of this
type. It has been observed of the modern Basotho of South Africa that 'there is
a constant displacement of commoners by royals [i.e. members of the royal clan]
and of collateral royals by the direct descendants of the ruling prince;, and
this could have been said without adaptation , of any important Gaelic or
Gaelicized lordship of late medieval Ireland.

In Fermanagh, for example the kingship of the Maguires began only with the
accession of Donn Mór in 1282 and the ramification of the family - with the
exception of one or two small and territorially unimportant septs - began with
the sons of the same man. the spread of his descendants can be seen by the
genealogical tract called Geinelaighe Fhearmanach; by 1607 they must have been
in the possession of at least three-quarters of the total soil of Fermanagh,
having displaced or reduced the clans which had previously held it. The rate
which an Irish clan could itself must not be underestimated. Turlough an fhíona
O'Donnell, lord of Tirconnell (d. 1423) had eighteen sons (by ten different
women) and fifty-nine grandsons in the male line. Mulmora O'Reilly, the lord of
East Brefny, who died in 1566, had at least fifty-eight O'Reilly grandsons.
Philip Maguire, lord of Fermanagh (d. 1395) had twenty sons by eight mothers,
and we know of at least fifty grandsons. Oliver Burke of Tirawley (two of whose
became Lower Mac William although he himself had never held that position) left
at least thirty-eight grandsons in the male line.

Irish law drew no distinction in matters of inheritance between the legitimate
and the illegitimate and permitted the affiliation of children by their mother's
declaration (see Chapter 4), and the general sexual permissiveness of
medieval Irish society must have allowed a rate of multiplication approaching
that which is permitted by the polygyny practised in, for instance, the clan societies
of southern Africa already cited.


Well worth the read for an introduction to societal structure in Gaelic Ireland, quite good value as well.

Debbie Kennett said...


Thanks for sharing that. I can see that Irish male lines could potentially multiply very rapidly within a few generations but the big question is whether or not this effect persists down the line several hundred years later. I've certainly found when looking through the matches of some of my Irish project members that they often tend to have a large number of matches and there is generally a wide range of surnames. It's difficult trying to determine the relatedness with STRs, but we will get more insight as more people do the more advanced SNP tests. There is still a lot more to be discovered.

I should have mentioned in my blog post that the man who holds the world record for the highest number of male children is a Moroccan king by the name of Moulay Ismael:

I've often thought it would be interested if someone could try and trace his descendants and do a DNA project on his family.

RWY said...


Many thanks for posting this on your blogsite. It does an invaluable job of dissecting and analyzing the issues, showing the utility of genetic genealogy, and giving the pertinent that individuals can self-educate.

I see this as very worthwhile to both those resident in the British Isles and those
with ancestors who lived there.

Richard Youatt

Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ said...

Well it often depends on the surname and their position within Gaelic Ireland, Maguire as mentioned above is a great example, it only arose once (unlike say Murphy, as Murchadh was extremely popular first name) when it comes to testing they nearly all fall into one genetic cluster, with others (minority) falling into a neighbouring cluster.

With particularly large clusters a combination of 111 STR's and advanced SNP testing can help. The prime example where there can be massive number of matches is in men who are R-M222+

So much so that you often see men who show up as matches at 67 markers (up to GD of 7) but belong to different subclades of M222 (some of which have been dated at up to 1,500 years old via TMRCA calculation etc.)

The recent M222 bundle has helped alot in this regard. I did an analysis of M222 bundle results in the "Ireland yDNA Project (which I co-admin) and came up with following: (Copy-paste from elsewhere)

So slightly larger cohort, n=138:

FGC4077+ = 18 (12.95% of total sample)
S568+ = 3 (2.16% of total sample)
DF104* = 1 (0.72% -- individual was DF105-)
DF105+ = 115 (82.73% of all individuals -- all DF105+ were DF104+)

The DF105 (n=115) breaks down as following:
DF85+ = 28 -- 24.35% of DF105+ men (20.29% of M222 sample)
S588+ = 25 -- 21.74% of DF105+ men (18.12% of M222 sample)
A260+ = 27 -- 23.48% of DF105+ men (19.57% of M222 sample)
DF105* (S588-, A260-, DF85-) = 35 -- 30.43% of DF105+ men (25.36%)

There's probably a couple of undiscovered groups sitting in the DF105* group that need BigY testing to find.

Several of these SNP's are showing somewhat geographic bias based on surname evidence so far. A260 (or more specifically it's parent A259 -- not included in bundle) appears linked to Uí Briúin type surnames, DF85 to Cenel Conaill surnames, several Cenel nEogain type surnames appear to be S588.

There's at least one O'Hara who is FGC4077+ (Lugine?), several Uí Fiachrach type surname show up as DF105*. Early days still but the advent of BigY and multiple branching SNP's is allowing us to slice up the monolith that is M222.

What's very obviously though is how dominant DF105 is within Irish M222 (82.7% of total sample above!)


We have to remember of course that Irish surnames generally fall into wider kindred groups, so often when you look at matches of someone bearing a Gaelic surname, you will see other surnames that are different but within the genealogical tradition are linked to each other.

What would help of course would be if some of men who have genealogically proven unbroken lines would undergo testing, we know for example through testing of a close male relative of the current "O'Conor Don", that the "O'Conor Don" lineage is M222+. The O'Conor Don lineage is unbroken most senior line descending from Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair who died in 1156. I did offer to pay for a BigY for this lineage but think I might have scared the particular tester (whose an academic) away with my earnestness!

The current "The O'Brien" (eg. Baron Inchiquin) did BigY testing and came back R1b-L226 which kinda matched what we were seeing with results of various men bearing different surnames of Dál gCais origin. The nice thing of course is as "Baron Inchiquin" (Conor Myles John O'Brien, 18th Baron Inchiquin) has unbroken lineage right back to Brian Boru (died 1014), we can at least use his BigY as a scaffold when it comes to comparing BigY results of other L226+ men.

As the Alaouite dynasty still rule Morocco it would probably be quite easy (if someone from family was willing) to figure out the Y-DNA lineage of Moulay, same of course could be said for House of Saud which has undergone rapid growth even in this century, Ibn Saud (d. 1953) has something like 45 son's and close on thousand grandchildren.

Debbie Kennett said...

Paul, Thanks for sharing your data. It's interesting that you have a dominant subclade in Ireland within M222. I hadn't realised that you were an admin on the Ireland project. You and Margaret are doing an excellent job there.

It's good to see that SNP testing is starting to break up some of these groups into smaller clusters. I long for the day when people can get STR and SNP testing done in a single test and at a reasonable price because I think it's the only to work out these relationships when people have so many matches.

I agree it's important to get as many people tested as possible who have genealogically proven lines.

Perhaps one day somebody will do the testing on the Moulay line. There are quite a few active Middle Eastern projects but I don't know if any of them are investigating the House of Saud.

Debbie Kennett said...

George, I deleted your comment because you shared a private e-mail. This is an unacceptable ethical breach. If your correspondent wishes to comment then he would be more than welcome to provide feedback here himself. I am also not releasing your latest comment from moderation. I do not have to be subjected to personal abuse on my blog. I am happy to publish comments from you if you can make your points civilly and respectfully and if you address specific points made in this blog post. Yours are the only comments that I have not released.

Unknown said...

Debbie reading comments. I am amateur Genealogist but do a lot of research into the families of North Pembrokeshire, South Cardiganshire and West Carmarthenshire. In these areas most of those than be traced through Deeds, Wills, Manorial Records etc., claim are descended from the following Tribal Patriarchs. In North Pembrokeshire and West Carmarthenshire we have Gwynfardd Dyfed and Cadifor Fawr, who overlaps into West Carmarthenshire. In South Cardiganshire we have in particular Cadifor ap Dinawol and the Lewes/Lewis Family descended from Bradwen, who adopted a fixed surname before 1600. Prior to the Acts of Union land was "partible between the heirs" and without getting into an explanation of the ancient law of inheritance, was not finally divided for 7 generations which allowing 30 years for a generation is say 200years.
The pedigrees of many of these families was recorded by Lewys Dwnn around 1600, and allowing for transcription errors when his work was printed is in the main extremely accurate and can verified from extant Deeds at the NLW, challenge pedigrees at the Great Sessions etc.

What has struck me is that you follow these lines down until the mid 1700's and later in Parliamentary Surveys, Manorial Records etc., and you find that their land holdings are clustered around the Caput of the Tribal Patriarch they claim descent from. This can hardly be a coincidence.

It is only these privileged few who have left any record in Deeds and Wills etc., the common masses disappear without trace.

A DNA Project on some of these lines would confirm the accuracy of the Pedigrees I believe.

Rhodri Dafis

Debbie Kennett said...


Thanks for your comments. It would indeed be very interesting to do a project along the lines you've suggested to try and verify the documented Welsh lineages. The methodology was touched upon briefly in the programme. We call it triangulation:

It's a method of inferring the DNA signature of the progenitor of a documented lineage by using a combination of genealogical and genetic records.

The Y-DNA tests that we use for genetic genealogy are currently in a transition stage as we move towards comprehensive Y-chromosome sequencing for everyone. Historically genealogists have used a different type of test known as a Y-STR test which looks at repeating sequences of DNA across the Y-chromosome. For the purposes of matching we normally test at a minimum of 37 markers and preferably at 67 markers. The matching databases are dominated by Y-STR results so a Y-STR test has to be a starting point for anyone wishing to use Y-DNA testing for genealogical purposes.

Y-STR results can be supplemented with SNP testing. SNP testing was previously only applicable for deep ancestry but as more results become available from the expensive sequencing tests we are beginning to see SNPs that define the lower branches of our family trees.

There are already a number of projects looking at Welsh ancestry. There is a Wales DNA Project:

There is a Welsh Patronymics Project:

There is also a very large Lewis DNA Project:

I'm not sure that any of these projects have explored the Welsh genealogies in a systematic way but you might like to contact the volunteer project administrators. It may be that people from the lines that you're interested in are already represented in these projects. The difficulty we find in our surname projects is that we can identify the genealogical descendants but we often find that there are no living males to represent the lineage of interest.

Monstyuk said...

Hi Debbie, following your review of this programme, I was interested to watch it as, like Jim Cockburn-Powell, I am R1b-PF5191 (although I have no known Welsh paternal ancestry, certainly back to the 16th century). I have scanned through it three times now on the S4C catch up website and think that the parts of the programme relating to Jim Williams, Jim Cockburn-Powell and Alexander Talbot-Rice have been edited out as I certainly cannot find them ! The running time is only 47 minutes, rather than the usual 57 minutes for a BBC programme. I wonder if they have received complaints for presenting their speculation as fact ?

Debbie Kennett said...

Keith, Thanks for your comments. This blog post relates to Part 3 of the series which is no longer available on catch-up TV. The only programme that is now available is Part 5, the final episode in the series. I've written notes on Parts 4 and 5 and hope to blog about these two episodes at some point but Christmas rather got in the way of my writing! S4C are in the process of investigating a complaint about the first episode in the series that was broadcast in March:

I haven't yet heard the outcome of this complaint.

Monstyuk said...

Ah, that could well explain it then. This is the episode that I watched:

What has confused me is that the episodes doesn't appear to be titled, and this episode ends with an introduction to Colin Charvis and the announcement that his father's ancestry is Welsh, as per your description of episode 3. I did wonder why you hadn't mentioned Michael Sheen who takes up a fair chunk in the middle of the episode I watched!

Debbie Kennett said...

That was indeed the last episode that you watched. They did spend quite a bit of time reviewing what they'd covered in previous episodes, and especially so in the last ten minutes or so.

Monstyuk said...

Thanks, Debbie, I'll have to look out for episode 3 being repeated. I'd like to trace Jim Cockburn-Powell and see if he's interested in testing further. It would be nice to find someone with a greater match to me than 12 out of 111 !

Anonymous said...

Hello Keith. I am the Jim you talk about! My family history researching has still found no definitive evidence showing where my paternal line was living prior to Rowland (my 9x great grandfather) Circumstantial evidence suggests a link with the English Maelor, but i continue to draw a blank.

Anonymous said...

The individual you mention in your comments is me! Whilst I found the whole ecperience and results fascinating, I still want more proof of any link beyond Rowland Powell (my 9x great grandfather) There is some circumstantial evidence that suggest the family may have come from the English Maelor, however the Powell family was resident in and around the Macclesfield, Cheshire since at least before 31-1-1597/98 according to a matriage record of one Margaret Powell to James Entwessel in Bollington Chapel. I suppose I'll never know.

Debbie Kennett said...

Hello Jim

Thanks for getting in touch. This sort of question could possibly be solved by conventional genealogical research. There are many more Welsh records becoming available online from the National Library of Wales and on Findmypast.

The test that Keith Wheeler discusses is a Y-STR test (STR stands for short tandem repeat). This is the type of test we normally use for genealogical purposes. The SNP testing you had done for the programme is only relevant for deep ancestry. This article explains how the Y-STR tests work:

Essentially your markers are compared in a giant database and you're notified of all the people with whom you share a close match.

Family Tree DNA are now the only company that offer Y-STR testing for genealogical purposes as they're the only company that have a matching database:

They have a variety of surname projects, haplogroup projects and geographical projects including a Welsh project, all of which are run by volunteer project administrators.

I don't know if Keith has a particular reasons to suspect that he might share a Y-line with you. Hopefully he will see your message and respond.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully Keith will see this and we can compare research. However, there are no Wheelers in my family tree at present. I will have to look into the dna test you mentiin this may well help prove or disprove yet another theory!!

Unknown said...

Pasgen ap Urien DNA is R-L493

Unknown said...

Rice spelling for King Urien is Friis
Royalty Project.

Debbie Kennett said...

Thank you for alerting me to the Royalty DNA Project. I note that they do have a cluster of people claiming descent from Pasgen ap Urien, King of Gwyr.

I wonder how reliable the genealogies are.

Unknown said...

Royalty Project -
Pasgen ap Urien
These DNA results are DNA results only. No Genealogy has been used.

Debbie Kennett said...

Someone must have done some genealogy to determine the name of the most distant common ancestor.