DNA testing is rather popular among genealogists these days. The possibility of discovering ancestral origins, unknown relatives and family connections is appealing to us. So I recently decided to explore this area of genealogy, too.
I am still learning about using DNA for genealogy research but I know a little more about interpreting the results after last week’s Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) 2013 conference in Fort Wayne.
There are three main DNA tests for genealogical purposes, Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and autosomal DNA. When I first heard of using DNA in conjunction with genealogy I thought that a DNA test might provide answers to some questions in our Brewster line: Are we descended from the Mayflower Brewsters? Do we share a common ancestor with them?
My paternal grandmother was a Brewster. Gertrude Brewster was my dad’s mother and we can trace this line back as far as my third great-grandfather, Jackson Brewster (1816-1890).
I have always wondered (and hoped!) that my Brewster line was part of the Mayflower Brewsters. Some of our Brewster family histories have hinted at this and since we have not as yet been able to trace any further back than Jackson Brewster we have had no way of knowing for sure if this line did indeed descend from the Mayflower Brewsters. That is until now.
Researchers stress using genealogy research in conjunction with DNA testing. Thus far in my research I have found no link to the Mayflower clan and I decided the next step would be to test our Brewster line with a Y-DNA test. I would compare the DNA results to those of confirmed Mayflower descendants.
The Y-DNA is a test for males only and shows the DNA markers of the direct paternal line of a specific surname. It will show the DNA of the donor’s father, his father’s father, and so on. My uncles would not qualify for this test because they are Millers. Their father was a Miller and their mother was a Brewster. I needed a DNA sample from a male Brewster that descended directly from Jackson. My second cousin Brian fits that description and agreed to give a DNA sample. His grandfather was a brother to my grandmother, a direct male Brewster descendant.
I purchased a Y-DNA37 kit from FamilyTree DNA, got a sample from Brian and sent it back to FamilyTree DNA. This test shows 37 markers, but their Y-DNA tests can show 12, 37, 67 or 111 markers. I received the results a couple months ago.
I immediately joined the Brewster DNA Surname Project on FamilyTree DNA. By joining a surname project I could see the DNA results of several known Mayflower Brewster descendants as well as other Brewsters that have submitted DNA samples. FamilyTree DNA database has 7,659 surname projects and 482,854 Y-DNA records.
The DNA markers of all those in the Brewster Surname Project are shown and it is easy to compare the results. The Brewster Project has the DNA results from at least 13 known descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrim William Brewster.
Our Brewsters have the same haplogroup as the Mayflower Brewsters, haplogroup I1. According to FamilyTree DNA, a haplogroup is a major branch on either the maternal or paternal tree of humankind, associated with early human migrations. Migrations of this group date way back to the Vikings and early invasions by ancient Germanic people, about 4,000-5,000 years ago. Today a haplogroup is associated with a geographic region and haplogroup I1 is the original paternal lineage of Nordic Europe. Its greatest frequency is in Northern Europe, in particular Finland, Denmark and Sweden. Our Brewster SNP is M253. SNP is a change in the DNA code at a specific point.
I then compared our genetic markers to those of the Mayflower Brewsters and saw that not all the markers were an exact match. To be exact, 13 of 37 of the numbered markers did not match. That seemed like quite a few miss-matches, although most were only off one number. There can be a few genetic mutations on an occasional marker, but I did not know how many there could be and still be considered “part of the family.”
To confirm my suspicious I spoke directly with Robert D. McLaren of FamilyTree DNA at last week’s conference. I showed him our DNA results and he compared the markers with those of the known Mayflower Brewsters. Unfortunately, he said there is “no way” we descend from William Brewster of Mayflower fame.
Now we know. On the bright side, more and more people are submitting DNA samples for comparison. I will remain in the FamilyTree DNA Brewster Surname Group and there may eventually be a match to another Brewster member. Some day we may get a clue to our Brewster origins as well as discover some new distant cousins.
And we may even discover who Jackson’s father was.
http://www.abroadintheyard.com/modern-faces-ancient-migration/ [Great article!]