Surnames and the Y chromosome

This project was carried out by Turi King as her doctoral research project. She carried out her project in the lab of Professor Mark Jobling. Collaborators: Professor Kevin Schurer, Professor David Hey, George Redmonds

A book about the project:SurnamesDNAandFamHistcover

Surnames, DNA and Family History

George Redmonds, Turi King and David Hey

Oxford University Press

 

For a scientific paper about the 40 surnames study, please read:

Turi E. King and Mark A. Jobling

Molecular Biology and Evolution (2009) 26, 1093-1102

 

For study participants wishing to find out more about their surname, please see below.

 

Summary of the project

What did we do?

  • We analysed the Y chromosomes of 1678 men carrying 40 British surnames (including spelling variants)
  • We included in the study was a 'control' group of 110 men carrying 110 different surnames
  • We classed the Y chromosomes into haplogroups, and also determined Y-STR haplotypes using 17 Y-STRs
  • Surnames groups were compared to controls and to each other, ranking surnames by their frequency in the population
  • We also compared our data with information on surnames from the work of Brian McEvoy and Dan Bradley

Which surnames did we study?

40 surnames were studied in depth.  Spelling variants of these names were also included in the study.  To see all the surnames studied, including those in the control group, please see the supplementary data associated with our paper.

The 40 surnames were:  Attenborough, Beckham, Bray, Butterfield, Chubb, Clare, Clemo, Dalgleish, Feakes, Feakins, Grewcock, Haythornthwaite, Herrick, Hey, Jefferson, Jeffreys, Jobling, Ketley, King, Lauder, Mallinson, Northam, Pitchford, Ravenscroft, R., Secker, Slingsby, Slinn, Smith, Starbuck, Stead, Stribling, Swindlehurst, Tiffany, Titchmarsh, Titmus, Wadsworth, Werrett, Widdowson,and Winstone.

What did we find?

We found that men with rare surnames - such as GrewcockWadsworthKetley and Ravenscroft - tend to share Y chromosomes that are very similar, suggesting a common ancestor within the past 700 years. However, men with frequent surnames, such as Smith, are no more likely to have a recent common ancestor within the time of surname establishment than men chosen at random from the general population.  High frequency surnames often derive from a common occupation or personal name and would have been adopted many times by unrelated people.

One of the most familiar of the rarer names we studied was Attenborough. In a random sample of Attenboroughs - including spelling derivations such as Attenborrow - almost nine out of ten men share the same Y chromosome type.

We used 'networks' to represent the Y chromosome diversity within surnames. Many networks contain 'descent clusters' representing men who share common ancestry through their shared name. The diagram below shows an example of network and descent cluster within the name Stribling.

Our paper includes only a selection of the networks; to see all 40 networks, please refer to the Supplementary Data associated with our paper.

We estimated how old these 'descent clusters' were - on average, they are about 650 years old, which is consistent with the average age of surname establishment.

We also looked at whether the Y chromosome-surname link could provide information about historical rates of children born illegitimately. A figure of one in ten is often quoted, but our study shows that this is likely to be an exaggeration - the real figure is more likely to be less than one in twenty-five.

Overall, the Y diversity we see within surnames suggests that 'genetic drift' (random variation introduced by differences in the numbers of sons that men have) has a very strong influence. Over time such drift contributes to the extinction of some Y-chromosome haplotypes and the fluctuation in the frequency of surviving haplotypes within surnames. The more drift, the fewer founding Y-chromosome haplotypes of a surname are likely to have survived, and the more genetic diversity will have been lost from the surname group.

Comparing our findings with previously published information on Ireland reveals some surprising differences. Unlike common British surnames, common Irish surnames (such as Ryan) contain many closely related men. There seems to be more genetic drift in Ireland, and one explanation is the prevalence of patrilineal dynasties there in the past.

A descent cluster usually contains different spelling variants of a name, showing that spellings were formalised quite late.

For DNA volunteers: click on your surname (or spelling variant) in the list below to download a pdf file (viewable in Adobe Acrobat Reader) containing a network showing how your Y chromosome type fits into your surname group. For this you will need your 'S' number, which was supplied to you when we returned your individual results in 2004-5; each node in the networks is labelled with the 'S' numbers of participants. For some surnames, a study participant has volunteered to act as a coordinator to facilitate contact between DNA donors - the coordinator will only know the contact details of those participants who contact them wishing to contact other study participants and not the details of all those carrying the surname in the study. Coordinator contact details are shown on the relevant pdf. If there is no coordinator for a surname, and you are interested in becoming one, please email us at surnames@le.ac.uk. Note that we will NOT ourselves reveal any donor information – this can only be done through mutual consent among donors, via the coordinator, or through Dr Turi King (surnames@le.ac.uk) if no coordinator exists.

 

 

 


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