Recently my curiosity got the better of me and I've had my results almost two months now. Since then I've been on a steep but fascinating learning curve. I've used my raw data with a number of third-party tools and databases and I'm beginning to see some interesting stuff.
A number of companies now offer various DNA testing services and their databases are expanding enormously, week by week. Many folk are not necessarily interested in genealogy, but rather in the so-called 'ethnicity results' - a pretty inexact science that offers to tell you what percentage you are in relation to various geographical locations. While the results of these should be taken with a large pinch of salt, they can be interesting and used as a rough guide.
I have a number of results from my own data being uploaded to various testing sites, so let's have a look ... Here's Ancestry's ethnicity estimate for me: Great Britain 39%, Ireland/Scotland/Wales 33%, Europe West 16%, Scandinavia 6% and Iberian Peninsula 4%. You can dig down into these results and see that my Great Britain percentage is largely from the West Midlands and Yorkshire Pennines, and the Ireland/Scotland/Wales result is largely Northeast and Central Scotland. The Europe West area includes France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, among others, but also takes in a chunk of South-East England.
FamilyTreeDNA gives my overall origins at 100% European, breaking it up into 81% British Isles and 19% West and Central Europe - not far off the Ancestry results. DNALand assigns me 100% West Eurasian, of which 91% is Northwest European, 8% is Southwestern European, and 1.1% is 'ambiguous'.
One of the more interesting is LivingDNA who have a very good UK reference set to draw from. They put me at 100% Great Britain and Ireland and break that down as 59.8% Central England, 22.6% Aberdeenshire (this is a wide area, not just the county), 8.4% Southeast England, and then tiny amounts (<3%) from other UK areas.
One thing I was curious about before I decided to do the DNA test was whether any Asian, particularly Northwest Indian, would show up. The reason for this is that I have a rather strong branch of Romani Gypsies in my ancestry (whose ethnic origin goes back to this part of the world about 1500 years ago). However, while waiting for the results I did some reading and realised anything here probably wouldn't show up - the 22 pairs of autosomes that are analysed will have gone through so much recombination that not much can be detected from more than a few generations back.
So how accurate are the above ethnicity results? Luckily I have a good amount of research behind me so I decided to do my own 'ethnicity test' based on the genealogical record, rather than the genetic one.
To discern my genetic make-up I went back five generations to my sixty-four gggg-grandparents and looked at their birth counties. To start with the big picture, I'm 51.56% English and 48.44% Scottish. This reflects the fact that while my mother's ancestry is all English (back to the 1700s), my father's side is all Scottish - with the exception of one Englishman who got very briefly involved back in 1826.
Taking a regional view, that Scots 48.44% is all Mid Scotland - originating in the Tay and Forth areas of Perthshire, Angus and Fife. The English side contains 35.94% from the Midlands, 12.5% from the North West, and 1.56% each from East Anglia and Mid-North. You can see the breakdown at county level in the pie chart below, with Fife and Staffordshire taking the biggest slices.
So the commercial ethnicity estimates are not quite correct at a detailed level, but they're not far off in broad strokes. Ancestry gives me roughly half each on Scotland and England, and the European mainland parts have to be taken as noise (my one French-born ancestor, around the time of Waterloo, had Scottish parents). The same goes for the others, though LivingDNA underestimated my Scots make-up by a fair chunk. One thing's for certain - I am unexotically very British.
Using the autosomal part of the DNA test for genealogy has already proved fruitful. With millions of people in the databases, your results can be compared and close and distant connections flagged up. With this I've been able to confirm a lot of my genealogical research genetically - which is a relief, especially for some of the more complicated relationships I've had to untangle (Gypsy ancestors, I'm looking at you!). I've even been using DNAPainter to start recording which bits of which chromosomes came from which ancestors (eg. a 24cM chunk of my maternal chromosome-14 from the Pritchards).
One match, rather astonishingly, suggested a DNA link with a known 8xg-grandparent, going back about 350 years - my match and I would be 9th cousins. I thought this would be well beyond the reach of autosomal DNA - and it might be, it's possible we could have a closer link on a separate, unrecorded branch of the family. But I read up on it, and it is also a fairly reasonable possibility.
While any chunks of DNA passed down from that long ago would be vanishingly small, it is also true that ancestors that far back will - if their lines survived into modern times - have thousands and thousands of descendants. So the chances of any one person having recognisable DNA from that long ago are tiny, but the huge number of possible carriers makes it likely it has survived intact somewhere (see Genetic Genealogy and the Single Segment).
It's still early days for my analysis of all these matches, and while I have yet to break down any of my personal research 'brick walls', a number of tantalising clues have been thrown up in a few places (the Worrilows from the little village of Haughton in the 1600s are definitely trying to get my attention!).
Apart from our 22 autosomes, we also have either an X and Y chromosome (if we're male) or two X chromosomes (if we're female). And we have mitochondrial DNA - this comes only from our mother, while the Y comes only from our father. Analysis of these can tell us about the paternal edge of our family tree (which usually also includes our surname back into history), and the maternal edge of our ancestry - our mother's mother's mother's mother, etc.
Y-DNA can give you your male line haplogroup - for me it's R-L21 with a subclade of R-S3058. The R haplogroup is extremely common and has its origins in Central Asia, possibly around 27,000 years ago. About 18,000 years ago haplogroup R1b formed, mutating and moving into Europe. Another 'ancestor' of my haplogroup is R-M269, the most common Y-DNA lineage among European males. R-L21 is several steps below this, a signature of a Bronze Age people, the 'Atlantic Celts', and common today in the populations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Coming further down the line, my subclade of R-S3508 (also romantically known as R1b1a2a1a2c1g4) is approximately 3,800 years old.
I was actually able to analyse a little bit further and get an estimated sub-subclade of R-S190, a haplogroup whose members would share a common ancestor about 1,850 years ago and is a marker for a group known as the 'Little Scottish Cluster'. My earliest known Y-DNA ancestor is one James Ewan/Ewing, born around 1765, probably in Perthshire, so it's all pointing in generally the right direction. (Update: new test results from 23andMe have confirmed R-S190 as my haplogroup; update II: further testing has put me in the R-Z17999 subclade, well within the Little Scottish Cluster.)
My mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) comes to me from a woman named Susanna - I don't yet know her surname (update: it's Rhodes), but she was probably born in Staffordshire circa 1780. I can say something about her maternal ancestors though, as they gave me my mtDNA haplogroup: J1b1 (subclade J1b1a1b).
J1b1 is most common in Britain and Ireland but is still quite a rare haplogroup, being found among only 1.2% of the English population. If you've ever read Brian Sykes' 'The Seven Daughters of Eve', the imagined matriarch of this group is known as Jasmine. She probably lived somewhere along the Euphrates in what is now Syria about 45,000 years ago, and is thought to be among the early adopters of agriculture. The subclade J1b1a1b is probably just over 4,000 years old.
Learning about DNA and analysing my genetic fingerprint has been fascinating in these early weeks of having the results, and I'm sure there's a lot more to come from it yet.
George, born in 1898, was the third of four boys, sons of James Jervis, a steam roller driver, and Alice Mary Ecclestone. The family came originally from Staffordshire but moved to Epping in Essex around 1890. For the war George joined the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment and on 5th April 1918 the Chelmsford Chronicle reported him "seriously ill with gunshot wounds in the thigh".
While the 9th Essex were involved in an intense conflict on the 5th April, it is perhaps more likely that he was wounded at the end of March, probably during the severe fighting of the 27th around the town of Albert by the River Ancre. George died of his wounds at the British depot at Etaples on 8th April 1918. Just under a month later his parents received further devastating news when their second-eldest son, Clifford, was reported as wounded and missing. It turned out he had been taken prisoner and, happily, he survived the war.
Stewart John McHardy (also b. 1898) has had a brief mention before, in a post relating to the death of his cousin, Alexander Maxwell Smith (killed in April 1917). Both their fathers were killed in train accidents, Alexander's being struck down on the line outside Rosemount, near Blairgowrie, in 1927, and Stewart's falling from a train en route to Rosario in Argentina in 1916.
His father had moved out to Buenos Aires in about 1890 and, after starting out in farming, had graduated to the laying out of tennis courts and athletics pitches, later going into business as a sports outfitters and even branching into sales of Ford motor cars. Stewart had worked for his father, but a few months after his death he returned to the UK (he was born in Dundee) to enlist, arriving in London on the Highland Rover in October 1916 and joining the 7th London Regiment - 'The Shiny Seventh'. A year later he was commissioned Second Lieutenant and in early 1918 he was attached to the 2/19th London Regiment at Jerusalem. At the end of April they saw heavy action against the Turks at Es Salt in Jordan, and it was here that Stewart was killed in action.
See my family war memorial here.
I have just finished writing a 6000-word article on the part of my family history that relates to the city of Lichfield - a piece 18 years in the making as it was an Edwardian postcard collection from Lichfield that came into my possession in the 1990s that started me off down my own genealogical rabbit-hole. Lichfield was my Mum's birthplace, so it has been the story I most wanted to uncover, and is the most interesting to me personally. Some of that Lichfield history relates to the Lees family of Haughton in Staffordshire, and it is one of these Lees that is the subject of this post.
Charles John Lees was born in Richmond Road, Derby, in December 1884. His father, John Lees (1857-1940), worked as a coachman and groom, and his mother was Eliza Jane Reeder (1851-1923), from Norfolk. He had one sibling, a brother, George William Lees, two years younger (1886-1960). Charles married Lucy Flower, the daughter of an iron moulder, in 1909, and a year later they had a daughter, Doris. In 1911, aged 26, Charles was described as an 'engineer's pattern storekeeper' - custodian of the moulds for use in an iron foundry. Two more children would follow - Herbert, in 1913, and Hilda in 1915.
Not long after Hilda's birth, with the flames of war now burning hot, Charles enlisted at Derby with the 16th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, also known as the Chatsworth Rifles. They landed in France in March 1916 and saw fierce fighting at the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele and more. In October 1917, after heavy action at Shrewsbury Forest and during some downtime at the Wakefield Huts Camp at Locre, in between a number of matches of inter-platoon football, Charles wrote an informal (but official) Will, leaving everything he owned to Lucy. By now he was a Lance Corporal.
Just over a month later, in November 1917, the regiment found themselves serving several duties in the Polderhoek section near Gheluvelt (West Flanders). The action was consistent but not heavy, with 2 or 3 casualties from the unit a day. The Battalion war diary for the 19th November is typical for the month and reads ...
"The day was fairly quiet - intermittent shelling along the Menin Road and vicinity. Snipers were active from direction of Lewis House. Machine guns were very active at night traversing the front line and all approaches to the front line. 2 killed."
One of those two killed was Charles John Lees, dying on the day of his wife's 32nd birthday. The other was Private Henry William Blackwell, age 36. Whether either of them died from the shells, the snipers or the machine guns, I don't know.
Lucy would live on until the end of 1970, dying in Derby aged 85. Their three children would all marry, with the youngest, Hilda, dying in 2007, aged 91.
Today, 26 April, sees the 100th anniversary of the death of Alexander Maxwell Smith, age 24, and the son of my ggg-auntie Ann (née Rough). Alex was a private in the 9th Black Watch and was killed during the regiment's attack on Cavalry Farm, near Guemappe, during the Battle of Arras. His father, John Robb Smith (also Ann's cousin), was killed ten years later after being struck by a train at Brucefield Bridge, Blairgowrie. John's brother-in-law, George McHardy, was also killed in a train accident after he fell from an express train in 1915, in Argentina. And his son, Stewart John McHardy, was killed in Egypt in April 1918 while serving with the 7th London Regiment.
April 1917 also saw the death of 2nd Lt. Andrew Smith Birrell of the 6th King's Own Scottish Borderers. The son of a school teacher, he was killed in action to the north-east of the River Scarpe during the battle of Arras, on 9 April 1917. His grandfather was my gggg-uncle, Andrew Birrell (1838-1907).
Going back a little further, and March 2nd 1917 was the date of death of James 'Jimmie' Ewing, a private in the 3rd Seaforth Highlanders with a rather tragic backstory. When he was just eight years old, his father, Alexander Ewing, a grocer by trade, took his own life by laying down on the tracks in front of an express train. His mother died of old age during the war, in 1916. Almost exactly a year later, James himself was dead - he developed meningitis after recurrent shell-shock on the front line, and was buried with his parents in his home town of Burntisland. Three weeks later his elder sister died of heart failure, leaving just one sister, Isabella, from the whole family to see out the war (she died in 1954, having never married).
That's not the end of the 1917 family casualties, but it takes us up to April. See the family war memorial for further details.
And while you're in a history mood, check out my fellow comic writer Jason Cobley's new blog (and book in the making) on his distant relative, Robert Gooding Henson of the Somerset Light Infantry, who was killed at the Battle of Arras on 22nd April 1917. Jason's just been out to Arras to see his gravestone.
I have a number of relatives who were involved in various bits of action, and I'm currently aware of three who died. These were Thomas Sherriff (age 31, Lancashire Fusiliers, killed on the first day of the offensive, his interesting story is detailed here); Arthur Meffan (age 19, Highland Light Infantry, wounded on 16th July at Longueval, and died on 27th July); and David Howarth (age 36, Manchester Regiment, killed on 7th July when his regiment lost nearly 600 men to German machine-gun fire).
Mark William Cameron was born at Parkhurst Barracks at the beginning of 1884, his father being a Sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders, stationed there after returning from service in Egypt and Afghanistan. His mother was only 18 at the time, and had married his father just five days before he was born.
Mark joined the Royal Navy, possibly inspired by his father's tales of campaigning in exotic lands for the British Empire, and perhaps also by distant tales of his great-grandfather, who had battled Napoleon's forces at Waterloo. As the new century began, he found himself as a Boy, 1st Class, aboard H.M.S San Pariel after stints on the Caledonia, Minotaur and Agincourt. In 1910 he married his cousin Margaret, daughter of his uncle Donald who had served abroad with his father in the 72nd Foot. In 1913, with the British and German Navys trying to outbuild each other as European tensions grew, he was in the Gunnery School aboard H.M.S Excellent, before being promoted to Gunner and joining H.M.S Invincible - the world's first battlecrusier - at its commissioning on 3 August 1914.
"The First World War had begun. In the northern mists the Grand Fleet (21 dreadnoughts, 8 predreadnoughts, 4 battlecruisers, 21 cruisers and 42 destroyers) was at its war base in Scapa Flow, under the command of Admiral Jellicoe. Diagonally across the North Sea the German High Seas Fleet (13 dreadnoughts, 16 predreadnoughts, 4 battlecruisers, 18 cruisers and 88 destroyers) were assembling in the River Jade under the command of Admiral Von Ingenohl." - V. E. Tarrant.
Invincible was involved in three actions. It had a small part to play at Heligoland Bight later in August, and then in December was involved in a naval battle against Vice-Admiral Graf von Spee at the Falkland Islands. But the Invincible will be forever associated with the Battle of Jutland, on the last day of May in 1916, when at 6.34 p.m a salvo from the Derfflinger penetrated the 7-inch armour and causing explosions in the gun-house, turret and the magazine, rent the Invincible in two, sinking it and killing 1,019 men. There were only six survivors, and Mark Cameron was not amongst them.
To boys who had grown up with the heroic deeds of their grandfathers, fathers and uncles, or the gallant officer adventurers in the novels of G. A. Henty, who had read of the brave thin red or khaki lines defending outposts against Zulus at Rorke's Drift, or Afghans at Kam Dakka, and where casualties rarely exceeded fifty on a bad day, or a few hundred on a disastrous day, the Great War will have come as a shock. Over 21,000 Britons killed in the first day at the Somme in 1916, and 6,000 Britons and 2,500 Germans lost to a watery grave at Jutland is a severe lesson indeed.
He was born on 16th September 1894 in Willowbank Crescent, Glasgow. His family had just a few months earlier moved from Dundee as his father, Samuel Stewart, was to take up a new post as gymnastics instructor at Glasgow Academy. His mother was Betsy Meffan Phillip, eldest child of Andrew Phillip and Betsy Rough.
By age 16, Harry worked as an apprentice for a shirt manufacturer, but by the time the war came, in 1914, he was working for ship owners J&A Roxburgh. He wasted no time in enlisting, with the 5th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, and in July 1915 he landed with his company at the Dardanelles.
I have not been able to access the war diary of the 1/5th H.L.I., so I do not know the exact details of the battalion's movements on 14th July 1915, the day Harry was killed, except for a report that they were "on general fatigues south of Backhouse Road [trench]". They had seen a fair bit of action in the previous few days, and several men's lives were lost to the deadly Turkish snipers that kept a constant watch on the British positions.
Harry's younger brother, Andrew Stewart, a Lieutenant in the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the winner of a Military Cross, would die in 1918, leaving just two sisters and a brother with their parents (Samuel was stationed at Gailes, training recruits). I've also written about the death of his uncle, Alexander Phillip.
Harry, who had been promoted to Lance Corporal in the short time he served, was just 20 years old. His memorial on the family stone in Glasgow's Western Necropolis states "asleep on Achi Baba".
He was Wee Eck because he was the youngest son (though two girls would come after him) of Andrew Phillip, a stone mason from Inverkeillor, and Betsy Rough, of Kettins. The family was mostly girls - seven in all, with just four boys (though one died of croupe at three years old). You can see little Alex standing on the right, holding his mother's arm, in this photograph of the Phillip family from about 1886, about the time they moved to Dundee.
Alexander had the misfortune to be born in a fateful era - the final two decades of Queen Victoria's reign, whose children were ushered into the brave new twentieth century, then raked into the First World War, only to be torn apart and buried in the mud of Flanders, the sands of the Middle East, and the weather-worn hills of Gallipoli.
Wee Eck followed his father into the masonry business, but when the war blew across Europe he enlisted with the City of Dundee Royal Engineers, soon being posted to the 446th Northumbrian Field Company. In July of 1917 he found himself in the Hindenburg support trenches, and on the first day of August he and another Sapper, Henry Cawley, were killed outright by a German shell as they worked in the Swift support trench, right on the front line near to Chérisy.
His commanding officer, Major C. E. Boost, wrote to his father the very next day, the day his colleages buried him at Heninal ...
"I am very sorry to have to tell you that your son, Sapper Phillips [sic] of this Coy., was killed yesterday by a shell in the front trench system. In your great sadness I feel that it would help to know that your son has done splendid work whilst with the company. His close attention to duty and willingness to do anything that was required of him has earned himself a reputation not only with the men of his section, but with his section officers ... I am enclosing his cap badge which I feel you would like ..."
A fellow engineer, Sapper Thomas Brown, wrote a couple of weeks later to Alex's younger sister, Jemima ...
"I hope you will excuse me for intruding upon your grief, but I thought you would like to hear from one that was not far from your brother when he was killed. Please take comfort in the fact that his death was instantaneous and that he died a steady and true soldier, in the cause of his King and country. I cannot speak too highly of your brother for he and I were the best of pals for the all too short time I knew him, and I always felt he was a man to be relied on. I think the way him and I got on so well together was because we were about the only Scots in this lot, so you know we are a little clannish. As long as we stay here I will see that his grave his kept green for it is a sacred spot to me ..."
Look at the family photo above once again. The eldest child, Betsy, just behind Wee Eck, lost two sons in the war - Henry, at Gallipoli in July 1915, and Andrew, who drowned in Ireland while convalescing from wounds received in action at Combles. The tall chap at the back is John, the eldest son. He lost his boy, Alexander, just a few months after his little brother was killed, in December 1917, and another son, William, was poisoned in a gas attack in April 1918 - and survived. The wider Phillip family also suffered. Andrew's brother, James Phillip, lost a grandson, William, at Meteran, with another of his four serving sons wounded.
Alex's mother, Betsy, whose arm he holds in the photograph, died in 1899, so she would never know the horror of the war and the fate of her son and three grandchildren. His father, Andrew, carried the grief of his family's loss until his death in 1931, at the age of 87. He outlived five of his 11 children.
See my WWI family war memorial here.
There is also a war horse in my own family. My ggg-uncle was John Birrell Horsburgh (1865-1940) and his eldest son was John Harvie Horsburgh. John was born on Forfar Road in Dundee in 1892 and, as a teenager, worked in a jute mill. By the time of the Great War he was working as a cab driver and served in the war with the Royal Engineers. After being demobbed he worked as a carter (something of a Horsburgh family specialty) for contractor James Wilson of Malcolm Street, Dundee.
Also starting at James Wilson's, in 1918, was an 11-year-old horse called Darkie. Darkie, so-called because of his handsome black coat, had crossed the Atlantic to Britain in the early years of the war with a French-Canadian Battalion and had gone with them into battle-torn France where he sustained seven injuries to his fore-end, flanks and legs. When the war was over he was bought by Wilson's and was soon teamed up with a carter, my cousin John Horsburgh.
In about 1928 both John and Darkie moved to Tough Brothers, merchants and manufacturers at the Anchor Works in Anchor Lane. Darkie was a 'Belgian type' but had the short neck and powerful shoulders of a Clydesdale. He was an intelligent creature, able to position himself correctly depending on whether he was pulling a cart or a lorry, behaving better than many motorists at traffic lights, able to shift himself out the way of a passing bus upon hearing its horn, and he knew his way round the twists and turns of the Corporation gasworks yard without the slightest guidance needed.
In 1933 Darkie took part in the Broughty Ferry Carnival, and in 1935 he was spruced up and decorated for King George V's silver jubilee. But in August 1937, having never needed to see a vet in all his carting career, he died of an internal ailment. He was about 30 years old and had been at work just the day before. John Horsburgh was inconsolable ...
"... aye, [he was] as cheery at the end o' the week as he wis at the beginnin'. He wis the maist wice-like horse I've ever had onything tae dae wi'."
John himself had married in 1916, to a jute spinner, Elizabeth Anne Williamson. They had five sons (that I know of), though both parents would outlive two of them (James died aged 1 in 1922 and William died aged 25 in 1945). Elizabeth died in 1968, age 73, and John died age 76 in March 1969, just three months before my own birth.
He was born 21st June 1893 in Loan Street, Anstruther Easter, in Fife, the fourth child of an eventual nine to James Parker Gilmour (1861-1934), a slater, and Mary Henderson Borthwick (1865-1929). In his teenage years he became an apprentice watchmaker, and on 5th September 1913 he enlisted with the 1st Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) at Dundee.
Attached to C Company, James landed in France on 13th August 1914, and a month later he was crossing the Aisne as part of the follow-up offensive against von Kluck's German First Army and von Bulow's Second Army. As the two sides faced each other across low-lying open ground the British started to dig ditches for cover, and these soon deepened and lengthened to become the first trenches of the war.
The Black Watch saw particularly heavy action on 14th September at Vendresse, losing 18 officers and 450 men, including their Lieutenant-Colonel. The 15th, 16th and 17th saw heavy shelling of the British positions.
A newspaper listing of 17th November 1914 reports 2567 Private J P Gilmour as missing, and almost a year later, in August 1915, his parents were still appealing in the press for any news of him, stating he had been reported missing on 14th September, though his death was eventually recorded as 16th September 1914.
He is remembered on the Anstruther war memorial, the memorial at the Anstruther Fisheries Museum, and at the cemetery at La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, Seine-et-Marne, on the memorial for missing men with no known grave. He was 21 years old and the first WWI casualty from Anstruther.