If my mother was alive, she’d be 101 today. So it seemed the perfect time to write about her, and the DNA that she shared with me–haplogroup K1a4a1b,. I know she would be surprised with the findings of my matrilineal (female line) search. But why? Well, my mom was most proud of being three-quarters Irish rather than being one-quarter English.
This was because my mother grew up in a household of two American born parents who both identified entirely with their Irish forebears. They were only one generation away from that horrible event–The so-called Irish Potato Famine, more appropriately known as An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger. It is estimated that between one and three million Irish people died from starvation or related diseases between 1845-1850. This year (2020) marks the 175th anniversary of the beginning of the3 Great Hunger. My grandmother and mother remembered, and so shall I, the lessons of An Gorta Mor–that colonialism is never just, and that exploitation, oppression and the abuse of power are crimes against humanity.
Now what follows is the really important part of my Irish history. It explains why my angelic grandmother’s face always darkened and she spoke with anger in her voice about the English people.
Please never again disparage the lowly potato. There are many history revisionists who would like us to believe that is was this potato-fungus event, that creates the worst human disaster in Ireland. Yes one crop failed but history tells us the story of a different demon. That the potato blight killed the Irish is “fake news.” The real history is mentioned on The Irish Memorial web site: “While her people cruelly suffered, Ireland was producing more than enough food to feed them, but food was being removed at gunpoint by Queen Victoria’s troops garrisoned in Ireland for this purpose. In 1847 alone, 4,000 ships carrying £17,000,000 worth of foodstuffs, 10,000 head of cattle,and 4,000 horses and ponies sailed to England. That same year, etched in memory as “Black 47,” saw 500,000 Irish people die of starvation and related diseases.” In other words, the so-called Irish Famine was not a natural event, it was a political one. Hunger was a weapon used to impose the will of the British colonizers upon the colonized, increasing the profits of the rich by the destruction of the poor. Knowing this, I no longer wonder about my grandmother’s dark mood, and why my mother wanted to forget her English lineage.
In addition to these deaths, Irish lost more than 1.5 million adults and children who left Ireland by ship between 1845-1855. Three of my great-grandparents were on those ships. In 1997 Prime Minister Tony Blair officially apologized to the Irish people (the first one ever from British leadership) stating he “blamed “those who governed in London” at the time for the disaster.” So why do we keep promoting this idea that a lowly potato was at fault for those horrors in Ireland?
But, now back to matrilineal genealogy. For those of you who are confused by the jargon–matrilineal, for example, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy blog has a wonderful article called “Concepts–Paternal vs Patrilineal and Maternal vs Matrilineal.” In a nutshell the genealogy line I am discussing is that of my mother, her mother (my maternal grandmother), my grandmother’smother, etc., disregarding the men they married.
I wrote about my oldest known matrilineal ancestor, Jane wife of Thomas Walford this past Mother’s Day [see blog story with list of names]. Until I can discover her surname, it will be very difficult to trace back further than Jane. As for those women in the line between my grandmother and Jane, it took me over four decades to give these women complete first and last names. To this day there are several women in my family tree who I consider “sketchy” as far as documents go–no primary evidence for some of the important birth, marriage or death dates, but enough evidence based on secondary evidence. For some existence in their children’s documents produce a solid connection that they were are ancestors.
Months after I “finished” (are we really ever finished?) solidifying my research I decided to write/blog about these women. 3 months later I decided to have a mtDNA test performed. I was not sure what it would find, except I knew it would remove men entirely from the equation, which I hoped would make it easier. But had I been on the right track?
I uploaded my tree to familyDNA, submitted my DNA test and waited. The results were in, and I gave the “results” my rapt attention. In the intervening weeks while I had waited, I had revisited Jane, wife of Thomas Walford, to trace down her daughters. Again I faced a difficult research feat, for I don’t copy family trees which are often wrong–I want the original data, so I reviewed Portsmouth NH’s earlier records, and wills. From this I was able to trace, at least in a small part, Jane’s daughters.
Well, it was a huge surprise for me to discover that I was a direct descendant of three different daughters of Jane–Her daughter MARY, my matrilineal line, plus 2 others. Through daughter JANE who married Rev. Thomas Peverly, and whose daughter Martha married Christopher Noble. [from there it moves to a male line connecting 2 generations later with the RAND family]; and Martha Walford who married John Westbrook, through their daughter Abigail Westbrook who married John Urin/Urann, my Isles of Shoales ancestor.
Getting back to my mtDNA results. The FamilyTreeDNA list of mtDNA matches includes the name of the DNA donor, their earliest known ancestor, genetic distance, and then the ability to look at a GEDCOM if they uploaded one. A genetic distance of 0 is an exact match. Among those with 0 or 1 genetic distance were two women who also traced their DNA back in time to Jane, wife of Thomas Westford.
The first cousin match’s earliest known matrilineal ancestor was Martha (Walford) Westbrook, who I have already mentioned above. But is one DNA connection enough to prove my entire line? Another woman with a distance of 1 stated her earliest ancestor was Sarah Knight, b 1711, d. unknown. I wrote to her and thankfully she responded. I knew the Walford descendants had a Knight branch–Martha (Walford) Westford had given birth to a daughter, Mary “Hannah” Westford (1671-1749) who married Nathan Knight. They had a daughter Sarah (1708-1756) who married Anthony Brackett. This latter woman was indeed the descendant of this line.
Now with two specific women, both with the same haplogroup, and both linking their matrilineal lines to Jane, wife of Thomas Walford, I felt secure in my research, and in all those amazing named women who lived through difficult days, survived, and produced female offspring. By these three (including myself) connections my matrilineal line research has been solidified and “proven” (as were the lines of my two new Jane Walford-descending cousins).
I welcome comments, and of course connections to more haplogroup cousins who share this ancestry!
P.S. All of my mother’s sisters, and their daughters, and their daughters daughters share this same lineage.