How my gateway ancestors answered some major admixture questions

The Hunnic Empire at its peak under Attila
The Hunnic Empire at its peak under Attila c. 437 to 453

Regular followers of my posts will know that DNA testing has certainly answered a number of my family history questions; namely the paternity of a small number of my enslaved ancestors. Well, I can honestly say that there is another side of the coin between DNA testing and family history research. Family history research can sometimes provide answers to DNA testing questions.

DNA testing revealed a genetic connection to tribes and cultures so far removed from anything African and European that I just couldn’t fathom how they came to be in my genetic makeup. I mean you would, wouldn’t you? And, in terms of percentages, these results were significant. So I went with theories about the ancient Silk Road, Ancient empire building and the trade routes that resulted – the usual suspects – to make sense of it all.

Well, two gateway ancestors took me beyond theory to actual knowledge. A gateway ancestor is one who links your family to a known noble or royal ancestry. That person opens the door to a world of recorded and published pedigrees that stretch back for eons. And by eons, I mean pedigrees that can stretch back to the Romans. The early (and even present day) monarchs of Europe were the descendants of the Roman Empire’s senatorial /patrician ruling class. This class was the elite of the Roman world, so the pedigrees of these patrician families would naturally be well documented, even within their own lifetimes.

My two gateway ancestors turned out to be:

  1. Jean Robertson (1638-1735, Scotland. Jean is Patrick Henry’s paternal grandmother. As a reminder, Patrick Henry is my 6 x great grandfather on my father’s maternal Roane line).
  2. Elizabeth Boddie (1650-1738, Virginia. Elizabeth is Drury Cook Matthews’s 2 x great grandmother. Drury Cook Matthews is my 4th great grandfather on my mother’s maternal Matthews line).

One thing I discovered – completely by chance – is that my paternal Roane and maternal Matthews ancestors shared common ancestors: the Bruce dynasty of Scotland and the English House of Plantagenet. Nope, I didn’t see that coming at all.

The genealogies of the Bruces and Plantagenets catapulted me back so far into time that it borders on the silly. I can honestly say that the past few weeks of pure research has been highly productive. I’ve spent that time reading and skimming through a lot of old religious and historical documents that an army of scholars have lovingly digitized. If you’re an English major and ever had to read Old English or Middle English (in other words, Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene , Beowolf, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, or anything by Bede), you’ll feel my pain.

An example of an illuminated manuscript. This example is a close up of the illuminated letter P in the 1407AD Latin Bible on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England. It was hand written in Belgium, by Gerard Brils.
An example of an illuminated manuscript. This example is a close up of the illuminated letter P in the 1407AD Latin Bible on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England. It was hand written in Belgium, by Gerard Brils.

I’ve wanted to know why there was so much Baltic and Central Asian in my DNA. This research answered it. Just as it answered the notable amounts of Italian, Croatian, and Near Eastern admixtures in my DNA…as well as the preponderance of Franco-Germanic admixtures. It all harks back to the Roman Empire, that period of time in which tribes and cultures mixed on a scale that I’m only beginning to realize.

The graphic below serves as a highlight to understand the admixtures I inherited from the Roman period. I’ve mapped a handful of known direct ancestors with the regions they came from. This is only the top of the iceberg. Put simply, there are just far too many individuals to list individually.

a map showing the Tribes and kingdoms of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th Century.
Tribes and kingdoms of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th Century. click for larger image

The map below goes some way towards explaining the levels of Baltic and Central Asian admixtures I’ve inherited from both parents.

The Hunnic Empire at its peak under Attila, c. 437 - 453
The Hunnic Empire at its peak under Attila, c. 437 – 453

The ancestor I can specifically place within the Hun Empire is Wuldulf / Vultwulf of the Goths who died abt. 387. He was born, and died, in Scythia (present day Ukraine), which was part of the Hun Empire. Four generations of his descendants floated between Italy and Scythia. It appears that after the Ostrogoths were conquered by the Huns (Wuldulf’s father was an Ostrogoth), both tribes intermarried to establish a peace between the two tribes. In terms of admixtures, it explains quite a bit. It explains the presence of Altai, Kazakh, Dagan, Tuvan and other Central Asian tribal DNA in my admixtures.

To be clear, I’m not excited about royal connections because they’re royal. Royalty isn’t anything special in and of itself. What excites me is the level of information available about the world they occupied. I know, I know, the sole reason why such information exists is because they were royal. And, of course, they have a thoroughly researched genealogical trail. Reading the genealogy and the history of the first Jarls of the Orkney Isles written by a 10th Century Irish monk was a trip.

It’s on par with reading first hand accounts of my African descended Goins/Gowen/Gowan, Giddens/Giddings, Christian and Drew ancestors in the Virginia of the 1690s. Believe me, for American blacks, finding first-hand accounts of American 17th Century ancestors of color is on par with finding first-hand accounts of ancient European ancestors.

If you’re American and you have an ancestor or relation who was a President, or your family was part of Virginia’s colonial elite, you will have a gateway ancestor. It turns out all US presidents are descendants of Pepin The Short, King of the Franks (yes, even President Obama, who is a descendant of Pepin through his mother). The majority of signatories of the American Declaration of Independence are also gateway ancestors. Chances are also high that you will have a gateway ancestor if you have 16th to early 19th Century European ancestor who was a military officer. Military officers during this time period were typically younger sons of aristocratic families with wealth enough to purchase an officer’s commission for a younger son.

No, the real value of a gateway ancestor really is the door of information that he or she can open. Mine allowed me answer admixture questions I’ve been mulling over for ages. They also put me directly in touch with history in a way that nothing else, certainly not history classes, ever has.

One thought on “How my gateway ancestors answered some major admixture questions

  1. Great article! I am also a descendant of the House of Plantagenet, and made many similar discoveries. Like you, I’ve learned so much through gateway ancestors on the European side, that it’s almost BORING! The unexpected thing brought was the breakdown of ethnicity–and the new “matches in common” feature. Of course, it’s always been more challenging for African-Americans to trace before the Civil War (the African side). You might enjoy this WordPress travelogue chronicling a 6,000 mile road trip we recently completed–we met a European cousin who lives 30 minutes from my birthplace in Alabama. My paternal uncle’s taking the Y-DNA test brought up 6 “unlikely” (in the sense of closeness) matches–all with the same last name; this instantly largely solved a 70+ year-old mystery of his paternity.

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