Have you been fortunate enough to trace one of your American ancestors back to the 1700s but found no records indicating where in Europe they originated? Oh, and what if you are “lucky” enough for this ancestor to have a common or occupationally derived surname, such as Smith or Miller, providing no clues as to its origin?
I had such a problem until I embarked on a systematic, four-step strategy to identify where in Europe my 6th great grandfather John Wilson (1716-1799) originated. Figure 1 summarizes my research strategy and evidence used to identify my ancestor’s Scottish and Northern Irish roots. I utilized Y-DNA as a compass to point me to a country/region of interest and then used autosomal DNA to navigate to a smaller area within that country. Documentary evidence added structure and corroborating support for the patterns observed in the DNA results. Finally, published regional histories, academic journals articles, and historical immigration and emigration texts provided rich illustrations and meaning to my ancestor’s journey.
John Wilson first appears in American records in 1747 when he places a newspaper advertisement offering a 20-shilling reward for his strayed mare.1 He indicates his residence as near Thomas Pryor’s mill in Solebury Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The next record finds John attending the Quaker marriage of his wife’s brother, William Skelton, in Solebury Township.2 Quaker marriage certificates list family members and friends who were present at the marriage with parents, siblings, and other close family members listed in the far right-hand column under the groom’s and bride’s names, which is where John was listed. While John’s own marriage is not found in Quaker records, John likely married Ann Skelton (1721-1803) about 1746.3 The Skeltons lived near Thomas Pryor’s mill. John and Ann (Skelton) Wilson left Solebury about 1752 for Franconia Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania,4 which is where John lived the remaining years of his life.
Big Y-DNA Analysis
Because Y-DNA analyzes the Y chromosome, which is passed down mostly unchanged from father to son, I found it to be the ideal place to start the ancestral origin analysis for John Wilson (1716-1799). I used FamilyTreeDNA’s Big Y-700 test, which tests 700 genetic markers and is the most advanced Y-DNA test available. I tested myself, as I possess a direct paternal line back to John Wilson. I also used targeted testing and sponsored Y-DNA tests for two autosomal DNA matches who had Wilson ancestors for whom I could not connect into my tree but who were part of genetic clusters principally comprised of my 3rd and 4th cousins with shared Wilson ancestry.
My closest Big Y-700 STR DNA matches (17 in total) are graphically displayed below in Figure 2 in what FamilyTreeDNA calls a block tree, which I redrew and edited to better tell my story. Each gray bar below the black bar represents a genetic mutation that was passed down to subsequent generations enabling distinct branches to be identified with each gray bar representing more recent genetic ties. The alpha numeric identifiers in the black and grayed boxes are the named SNP variants delineating each haplogroup branch. According to FamilyTreeDNA technical support, the common male ancestry at I-Y32317 represents a time frame going back about 300 to 400 years.5 My own Y-DNA results are shown as “Wilson 1a” in the red box and the other DNA matches are similarly privatized by including only their surname (e.g., “Wilson”), group/cluster number (e.g., “2”), and individual designation (e.g., “a”). Wilson 1b and Wilson 10a are the two men who were part of my targeted testing efforts.
The family trees for the 17 Y-DNA STR matches were either posted to FamilyTreeDNA by the respective test taker or obtained through personal communication. Not all test takers had extensive knowledge of their paternal line, but all were able to confirm paternal ancestry back to Northern Ireland and a near majority to County Fermanagh. In several cases, test takers were still residents of County Fermanagh and, while not having extensive knowledge of their family tree, knew their paternal ancestors had lived in the area for hundreds of years.
For each branch, the geographic location within Northern Ireland for their earliest known paternal ancestor is noted, which is located between the grayed boxes and the privatized test taker boxes. Geographic location and test taker boxes are color coded for easier pattern recognition. County Fermanagh matches are denoted by shades of green, neighboring County Tyrone matches in mustard brown, and those in my smaller haplogroup branch are in red.
Except for one branch (Wilson 8), all close Big Y-DNA matches have ancestral origins in County Fermanagh, and most of these are to the east of Enniskillen (see the above map in Figure 3). Nearly all matches also carry the Wilson surname except for two clusters who carry the Toner surname, which is due to an 1883 non-paternity event.6 Within my cluster (Wilson 1), Wilson 1b is an individual who descends from a Wilson man who resided in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, but whose connection to my line are presently unknown despite my completion of descendancy research for all of John Wilson’s children into the mid 1800s.
Summary in Brief
Based on the evidence from the Big Y-700 DNA test, it appears that John Wilson’s ancestral origins are in County Fermanagh.
The next blog post utilizes autosomal DNA to narrow down from where in County Fermanagh John Wilson might originate. A link to full report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson is found on my website here.
This blog post was initially posted as a guest blog at FamilyLocket.com.
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1. The Pennsylvania Gazette (1747, December 3), “Strayed away”, p. 4, col. 3, Philadelphia, PA; online database, https://Newspapers.com, accessed 15 December 2017.
2. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, William Skelton and Susanna Beck, 23 April 1748, Buckingham Monthly Meeting, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 151, image 81 of 242; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 19 July 2021), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.
3. Wilson, Rick T. (2022). Research Report on the Ancestral Origins of John Wilson, who died 1799 in Franconia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, available at www.MyFamilyPattern.com.
4. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, Ann Wilson, 6 April 1752, Buckingham Monthly Meeting, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, p. 182, image 103 of 151; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 19 July 2021), citing Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, Quaker Meeting Records.
5. FamilyTreeDNA (2021), personal communication with technical support, August 16, 2021.
6. The non-paternity event is associated with, Francis Toner, who was born on 11 May 1883 in Derryhowlaght to an unwed mother, Eliza Jane Toner. Derryhowlaght is eight miles south of Enniskillen. Source: Ireland, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1864-1958, Francis Toner (11 May 1883), vol. 3, p. 205, Derryhowlaght, registered in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 27 December 2021); citing Family History Library film no. 101059; citing IrishGenealogy.ie, Civil Records. And “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com, accessed 27 December 2021), “Christine Hilda Toner Family Tree” family tree by Christine Toner, profile for Francis John Toner (1883-1964).
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