Thursday, 12 April 2018

The United Kingdom

EDIT 9 May 2018: The family story of our English connection has been proven wrong! Our British DNA must have another source, probably further back on the Lister line (which is Norwegian, not English).

This blog post is a summary of the genetic evidence for my family's connection to the United Kingdom. I've been playing with the thought of writing this for a long time, and today I finally got around to it

To be honest, I've never really travelled much in the UK. I've been to London three times (2000, 2004 and 2007), and attended a wonderful scout camp in Downe (2004). The places I saw were fascinating and beautiful, but I know that there is so much more to the UK that I haven't seen, and that 99% of the country is still completely unknown to me. This is something I will need to rectify, as it seems likely that I really do have recent ancestry from there.


The first piece of evidence is the Y-DNA of my grandmother's brother, my great-uncle I.-R. Lister. He belongs to a subclade of R1b-U106, and all his matches - except one - have English paternal lines. An FTDNA project administrator who specialized on this particular subclade, and with whom I have corresponded on numerous occasions, has stated that it looks very likely that my grandmother's paternal line is in fact of relatively recent English origin. However, interestingly, the lineage seems to have originally come to England from Scandinavia with Vikings!

The story in my grandmother's family has been that her grandfather (born 1857 in Farsund, Norway) was the illegitimate son of an Englishman, and that he took the name Lister (which he did, in 1900) at his mother's request as this was the surname of his biological father. The English Lister family from whom we supposedly descend can be traced back to a Bryan Lister (c. 1534-1607) of Bingley, Yorkshire. The whole of Yorkshire was under Danish and Norwegian rule for a long time, from the mid-9th century up until the Norman conquest in 1066. The Y-DNA, in other words, matches the family story very well. The FTDNA administrator agrees.

The location of Bingley within the British Isles (Google Maps).

Autosomal DNA

Several of my close relatives have done the Family Finder test at FTDNA, and all of them get significant amounts of "British Isles" admixture. It is difficult to know how much of this is real recent British ancestry, how much comes from prehistoric or Viking Age migrations, and how much is a misreading of Scandinavian or Western European DNA due to ancient shared origins. For most of my relatives, the "British Isles" percentage does not seem to reflect recent British ancestry. However, my grandmother's brother might be a different case. He has 14% British Isles at FTDNA, which is still within the normal range for a Norwegian and therefore difficult to assess.

I am the only one in my family who has tested at 23andMe. My Ancestry Composition result is quite interesting. First of all, it shows that I have 4.4% "British & Irish" admixture. According to my chromosome painting, one whole copy of my chromosome 9 is completely "British & Irish", which indicates that this admixture could come from a recent ancestor. If it was very distant, it would have been broken up into smaller pieces due to the recombination that happens in every generation.

Analyzing my matches, 23andMe has even concluded that I probably have ancestors who lived specifically in the United Kingdom (as opposed to Ireland) within the last 200 years.

It is clear, in my opinion, that I have some ancestral connection to the United Kingdom in a relatively recent timeframe.

My amount of British DNA at 23andMe (4.4%) is roughly consistent with a 3rd great-grandfather, even allowing for some statistical noise. The 200 years timeframe also fits perfectly (my supposed English 3rd great-grandfather was born in 1827). Seen in combination with my grandmother's brother's Y-DNA, I believe it is likely that our family story is true; that my grandmother does indeed have an English great-grandfather and that her surname Lister is of Yorkshire origin.

Bingley, the ancestral village of the Lister family. It is a place I must visit. Photographer: Graeme Mitchell (source). License: Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0.

The caveats

Of course, nothing in genetic genealogy is simple, and there are two caveats to the Lister conclusion.

The first caveat concerns the alleged NPE itself. My grandmother's brother does have an autosomal match to a relative of his grandfather's official father (from Vanse). More precisely, a great-great-grandson of the official father's sister. Does this mean that the England story is wrong? The aforementioned FTDNA admin puts more store in the Y-DNA and thinks it is more likely that the Vanse match connects through a different line. My great-great-grandfather's mother, the woman who allegedly had an affair with the Englishman, was also from Vanse, so there are many opportunities for Vanse links further back.

The second caveat has to do with the fact that my grandmother's brother does not have any Listers in his Y-DNA match list. This means that even if the England story is correct, our English ancestor might not have been a Lister. I have tried to find a Lister Y-DNA project, but it does not seem to exist. Perhaps this question will be resolved in the future, as more people test.

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