Can DNA answer a question that known sources can't?

+6 votes
212 views

So, after some years of never being able to make much progress tracing my ancestral lines backwards, suddenly I made a connection on one line, and found myself, at least allegedly, listed as being in direct descent from Henry III, Charlemagne, a baron who fought under William the Conqueror, a King of Iceland, a Viking warlord, and sundry other celebrities of the Middle Ages. Since there are a bunch of connections that are completely unsourced, and others that are disputed, it's probably all rot, but amusing enough that I told my older brother to apply for his rightful place on the thrones of most of Europe. ;-)

It's not impossible that I'm descended from such people, but since there are thousands of unknown peasants for every noble, it just seems more likely to me that my ancestors (or most people's ancestors, for that matter) were a bunch of unknown nebbishes than such a glittering array of nobility and royalty.

But as I was thinking about it, the thought occurred to me that there might be a way to source one connection which, in my case, is crucial to connection to all those glittery people. I have been able to source my ancestry back (with varying degrees of certainty) back as far as Francis West. Beyond him, it's just a matter of throwing darts, and the document which is quoted on his page states that pretty clearly. 

I'm wondering if it's possible to use the DNA results from Francis' descendants, and from demonstrated descendants of the family of Francis West, who may have been his father, to determine whether Francis the elder really was the father of Francis the younger. I'm assuming that such a test would require direct descent through the male line to be accurate, but I haven't looked into DNA testing, so I could be wrong there. Can anybody elucidate whether such a test would be able to determine an answer? If so, the next step would be finding direct descendants in the respective male lines to test.

WikiTree profile: Francis West
asked in The Tree House by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (170k points)
Probably every person in the Western world (and quite a large number outside it) is descended from Charlemagne at least. Everyone's ancestors double every generation, and once you get 17 generations back you have over half a million ancestors. Of course, realistically, pedigree collapse (cousins marrying cousins) means no one actually has that many unique ancestors. However, due to sheer mathematics, you can reasonably expect Charlemagne (or Muhammad, or Confucious) to be among them. Only a small proportion of royal descendants stayed in the upper classes; there were many who were the youngest sons of youngest sons, or illegitimate, or who married "beneath them", and so on.
So you can assume you're descended from a lot of Viking warlords, and most of the people on both sides at Hastings, and Eric the Blackhead and most of the people living at the time.  And so was everybody else.

It's about traceable lines. But that's not about who you're descended from and who not, it's only about random survival of records.

A lot of Governor West's ancestry is well established.  Which doesn't mean there's no junk added on.
YDNA couldn't prove they were father and son, but it could prove a relationship within a couple hundred years. It would require direct male line descendants, preferably with a high diversity of lineages. I've found it's most useful when there are multiple families of the same surname in the same area. It can be pretty powerful for showing which line someone descends from, and if you only had a few competing possibilities, it can effectively prove a line. We had one case where there were three  Buckners who were about the same age who were from an area that had several other Buckner families and didn't have any documentable parentage. After testing their descendants, we found out that they were very closely related to each other but to only one other Buckner family. Since that one had a very well documented ancestry, we were able to pin down a non-paternity that gave rise to this particular genetic line, and it essentially proved that they were either three brothers or some uncle-nephew combination.
American genealogy is different because of the migration filter.  You can ignore the cousins left behind.  In Europe, always too many cousins around.

And of course the baronial Wests, like most "families", emerged from obscurity in the male line and picked up their ancient ancestry by marriages.  So proving a male-line West connection at an unknown point doesn't get you very far.  No points for an ancestor whose brother married an heiress.  But so easy to rework the connection slightly and then "prove" it by DNA.
Indeed - even for non-European countries, it's likely that there's some sort of nobility, or the equivalent, "back there" if you go back far enough. If you go back 20 generations, there's up to a million distinct ancestors!

4 Answers

+4 votes
As for DNA, if you could test a male-line descendant of the immigrant and a male-line descendant of the Lords Delaware, and get a match, it wouldn't prove much.  Men with the same surname often match, but the common ancestor could be a lot further back.  Perhaps the immigrant was the 8th cousin of the Governor.

You need sophisticated tests and a lot of test subjects to reconstruct a family in detail.

Disproving is generally easier.  But people often get over-excited about a mismatch and start saying things are disproved when they aren't disproved at all. A mismatch only means the line is broken somewhere.  It's harder to find out where.
answered by RJ Horace G2G6 Pilot (406k points)
Okay. I'll see if I can trace out any of the male West lines to living descendants.
+5 votes
That said, we don't need DNA in this case.  The story we have on WikiTree is that the future Gov and his 1st wife widowed each other and both went on to remarry.

The true story is that West married Blayney's widow, so their son Francis was born in Virginia after Blayney was dead.
answered by RJ Horace G2G6 Pilot (406k points)
You just know that somebody's going to demand a source to back that up, so I'll do the deed.
From memory, administration of Blayney's estate was granted to his widow, then married to Francis West.

She was married to William Powell before she married Blayney, who took over Powell's plantation.
+3 votes

The short answer is "No."

As has been mentioned elsewhere here, YDNA is mostly going to tell a male if he's biologically related to THESE males with his surname, but not THOSE. You might get a decent idea you're within a handful of generations from the common ancestor, but that's about it. It's especially useful when the line of paternity is unknown (as with an adoption).

auDNA can do what you're looking for, for close relations, but this guy is way too far back. Theoretically, you can attempt to assemble "zombie" DNA profiles of ancestors, discerning the DNA they had from their descendants, but that can never be complete. Such a "zombie" might well be quite useful, but it would be a huge project to construct such a thing for someone so far back, and I have to wonder how good it could be.

On the bright side, maybe we can look forward to tools that can manufacture such "zombies" from a large number of relatives in the years to come. It'll be fascinating to see how far that stuff can go!

answered by Frank Stanley G2G6 Mach 2 (21.9k points)
+1 vote
I am looking at the same West family line. Strong confirmed Southern New Jersey roots. Have taken FTDNA Y-111 testing but have only one DNA connection with a 2nd Cousin who was also tested. I do note that Ancestry worked with the Smithsonian in looking at the DNA of Captain William West, buried in the church at Jamestown. I am hoping to find a DNA connection to help me further confirm a connection between South Jersey and the British Isles.
answered by William West G2G Rookie (230 points)
Well, hi there, maybe-cousin! I just sent out an email to my known West cousins, asking if anybody has done a DNA test, and encouraging them to add the results to their profiles if so.

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