The luck of the Irish

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is looking for his male Irish forebear using genetics:

Well, it turns out that the men sharing that Ui Neill haplotype tended to have certain surnames. If we use those surnames, we narrow the number of possibilities in Allegany and Hampshire counties to 178 men born between 1800 and 1830 bearing 22 surnames.

What's so exciting about this? Well, it turns out that the men in the Gates family line have a particular mutation, a slight variation, in our Ui Neill haplotype. And we inherited that slight mutation, a spelling variant in that DNA signature, through one of those 178 guys. If the father of Jane's children, my Irish great-great grandfather, has any other male descendants walking around on the planet, he will have exactly the same y-DNA signature, with this particular variant, as my father, brother and I do.

And so, we are advertising for any male descendant of one of these 178 men to contact us and take the DNA test. With a (wee) bit of luck, one of the millions of unsolved genealogical mysteries facing African Americans today can be solved.

Descendants of slaves naturally have less of a paper trail than most people (Chinese clans often trace descent on the order of one thousand years, though some of this may be fictive). This is where even simple uniparental lineages can offer some psychic utility.

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Dienekes points me to a paper, Founders, drift and infidelity: the relationship between Y chromosome diversity and patrilineal surnames: Most heritable surnames, like Y chromosomes, are passed from father to son. These unique cultural markers of coancestry might therefore have a genetic correlate…
ScienceDaily highlights an angle on the paper I blogged a few days ago, Chromosome And Surname Study Challenges Infidelity 'Myth': "People often quote a figure of one in ten for the number of people born illegitimately," says Professor Jobling. "Our study shows that this is likely to be an…
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It's interesting that Skip Gates like me is R-M222 - the purported Ui Neill haplotype - and is looking for his "Irish" ancestry, and makes the point that much White admixture is actually Irish admixture. This may well be so, but R-M222 is also found in Western Scotland among the descendants of 5th century Irish colonists to Britain. So his progenitor's ancestry may be Irish, Scots or Scots-Irish, and in some cases Northern English or even from Cornwall.

It's also fascinating that many commentators - presumably Blacks - admonish him for highlighting his Irish ancestry and think that instead he should stress his African ancestry - when by all accounts he is 50/50 White/Black and should be free to wear any hat he likes.

It's also interesting that many commentator assume that his great-grandmother was raped by an Irishman/White man. When he states in the article that all 5 children were fathered by the same man, and further that this man may have given her money for a house in a White neighborhood to raise her kids. This suggests to me that Gates's great-grandmother was the mistress of an affluent White man, who for social reasons didn't want to acknowledge this relationship publicly, but was willing and able to provide support for her and the kids privately. Like the more famous Irishman and his Black mistress, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

This kind of relationship is quite common in places like Brazil today, when an affluent man will have 2 families, an official one, and another with a mistress.

I'd caution on using the Thomas Jefferson example. The media reporting on that was pretty blatantly dishonest. All but one of her children were proven by DNA testing to not be the children of Thomas Jefferson (or any other of his male relatives). One of her children was shown to be most likely the child of a Jefferson, but there were several male Jefferson candidates, some of whom were more plausible due to being younger of having a documented history of relationships with other female slaves.

It is clear that Jefferson had quite fond feelings for Hemmings, it's not clear those were romantic feelings. And the conventional wisdom, that he fathered her entire family, has been proven false.

The really interesting thing is that the Irish cop who arrested Henry Louis Gates also has the Ui Neill haplotype.
Which just goes to show that the Irish are best at fighting with one another. Proof of this - Y-DNA of Northern Presbyterians (most of not of all of whom came from lowland Scotland) & Catholics is virtually identical.

By SDaedalus (not verified) on 20 Mar 2010 #permalink

Y-DNA of Northern Presbyterians (most of not of all of whom came from lowland Scotland) & Catholics is virtually identical

Do you have any evidence of this or are you just expressing an opinion?

By Diarmid Logan (not verified) on 20 Mar 2010 #permalink

This is an excerpt from an article on Irish Y-chromosomes that shows significant genetic differences between Irishmen with Gaelic names and those with Scottish ones:

In Ireland 78.1% of all men have the haplogroup 1 gene.
In Ireland men with Gaelic names have higher frequencies of this ancient marker than men with non-Gaelic names. For example, men in Ireland with surnames of English origin have 62% haplogroup 1 genes; men with Scottish names have 52.9% and men with Norman and Norse names have 83%. In Leinster, 73.3% of men with Gaelic surnames have this gene, in Munster, 94.6% and in Ulster 81.1%.

I believe that Haplogroup 1 is an older designation for Haplogroup R1b.

By Diarmid Logan (not verified) on 20 Mar 2010 #permalink

Annette Gordon-Reid's book The Hemmings of Monticello documents the day to day lives of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson as relates to the timing of her pregnancies. Her research is indefatigable. The DNA testing of the sole surviving male Hemmings descendant reveals a close match to a Jefferson family male descendant. The possible candidates for Sally's liason is very small. Gordon-Reid pretty much makes the case for Thomas Jefferson as the one.


In the absence of universal YDNA testing and collation of results anything stated in relation to this issue has to be an expression of opinion only. However I do feel that there are good grounds for this opinion.

The Niall of the Nine Hostages haplotype (which is not by the way confined to the O'Neill strain at all, and extends to other Ulster families) is prevalent in lowland Scotland, where most of the planter families came from. You'll see that it's commonly known as the North-West Ireland/Lowland Scots haplotype.

My father, whose family is originally from the North West of Ireland, has this haplotype but most of his matches are actually with Scots-Irish families from lowland Scotland. If you look at the Scots-Irish names on Family Tree, for instance, a very significant portion of them are Ui Neill.

Interestingly, the Ui Neill haplotype is largely confined to families with their origins in the north-western part of Ireland, the genetic origins of Southern Irishmen are slightly different.

It is therefore absolutely correct to say that Henry Louis Gates' ancestor may have come from Scotland rather than Ireland. However it would appear likely that this would be lowland Scotland.

Apart from the Ui Neill issue, most Scots are r1b1 which of course is the most common YDNA strain in Ireland even for those falling outside the Ui Neill subclade.

There is a higher degree of Scandinavian admixture in the Scots-Irish obviously but the basic genetic strain is similar.

My mothers maiden name is Doherty, hmm wonder could Gates swing a route for my future kids into Harvard?

By Naughtius Maximus (not verified) on 25 Mar 2010 #permalink