Thursday, 1 February 2018

Non-Paternity Events

One peril of genealogy is the possibility that the father named in the records might not be the biological father of the child. Way back when I started becoming interested in genealogy, I knew about three NPE (non-paternity event) rumours in our family, all of them involving not only specific persons, but also specific non-Norwegian ethnicities.

1. My grandmother supposedly being the illegitimate daughter of a Romani man. I consider this rumour debunked, as there is no evidence to support it. But there was a grain of truth in the story, because my great-grandfather does indeed have distant Romani ancestry. His grandmother, my 3ggm, grew up on a croft which is now considered (by at least one Romani organisation in Norway) to be a Romani heritage site, and DNA matching strongly suggests that her grandfather, born in 1780 in Sweden, was fully Romani.

2. My gggf Nils supposedly being the illegitimate son of a certain Englishman. This rumour seems to be confirmed by Y-DNA, although there is some weaker genetic evidence supporting the paper trail.

3. My gggm Signe supposedly having Russian ancestry (which I assumed to be rather recent, since it was still remembered in our family). This rumour seems to be quite well confirmed through autosomal matching as well as admixture results. Signe might have had a Russian father or perhaps a more distant Russian ancestor, and this person probably had some distant Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry as well.

Then there is my own Y-DNA, which, together with paper documentation, builds a solid case for my 6ggf Peder being the illegitimate son of a certain military officer who settled in a neighboring district the year before Peder was born. There was no rumour in our family about this before Y-DNA matching revealed the truth in a rather obvious way. I did not actually know the identities of the parents of my 6ggf (except the father's first name), so this discovery actually helped tear down a longstanding brick wall!

And then, lastly, there is a strong case for believing that my 4ggf Nils (another Nils) was the illegitimate son of a certain man from Haiti. This is supported by autosomal matching, detailed admixture analysis, and other things as well. The man from Haiti likely visited Norway as a sailor, but the paper documentation, unfortunately, is lacking (if it even exists).

Conclusion: Out of three family rumours of NPEs, 1 is debunked, 2 are confirmed. Two additional NPEs have been discovered through DNA testing. This rate of NPEs in my ancestral tree (approximately 14.5%, if my math is correct) is significantly higher than the "1 in 25" (4%) average estimated by UK researchers in 2005. Maybe one of our NPE stories is actually not true - or maybe we have a higher NPE rate than the average family. Then again, my two closest NPEs were known to the family, so they might not really count in these statistics.

All of the cases in my family have of course been reviewed step by step by fellow genealogists :)

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