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Surnames, DNA, and Family History Hardcover – 25 Aug 2011
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An excellent book, for its clarity, up-to-dateness, and coverage of all the important aspects of genetic genealogy, with many interesting and useful details not given in other books. (Genetic Genealogy)
they enjoyably demonstrate how ancestral links may be explored. (Family History Monthly)
it provides exciting clues about how recent developments in DNA analysis are shaping genealogical research (Who Do You Think You Are?)
Enthralling and compulsively readable, this book combines linguistics with genetics, genealogy, and local history to provide a fresh and eye-opening vision of the British past - and indeed of family histories across a wider world. Focusing on the history of British surnames it casts a totally new light on what makes us who we are - and how we can find out. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in their roots, this book offers nothing less than a new perspective on British history. (Michael Wood, historian and broadcaster)
This book will come to be seen as an important progenitor of a new historical subdiscipline, a ground-breaking interdisciplinary liaison, between history and genetics, one that may eclipse the boldness of any such humanities scientific collaboration hitherto. (Professor Keith Snell, Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature)
This book is ground-breaking for two reasons: firstly, it is the only book I have encountered that takes a truly multi-disciplinary approach to surname study, integrating linguistic, historical, genealogical, geographical, and scientific (genetic) evidence, and secondly, it is the first book I have read that reviews and identifies the strengths and (more particularly) the deficiencies of surname study to date and clearly sets out the various sources and methods one can and should use to investigate surnames successfully. For these two reasons alone the book deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in surnames or names and naming more generally. (Simon Draper, Nomina)
About the Author
George Redmonds is a freelance historian, specialising in Names Studies and Local History. He has lectured widely in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand and in 2001 presented the BBC Radio 4 series 'Surnames, Genes and Genealogy'. His numerous books include Surnames and Genealogy (1997) and Names and History (2004). Turi King read Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge before undertaking her MSc and PhD in genetics at the University of Leicester. For the past ten years her research has focused on the link between surnames and genetics and its applications in the fields of forensics, epidemiology, genealogy and population history. David Hey is Emeritus Professor of Local and Family History at the University of Sheffield. He is President of the British Association for Local History and the Chairman of the British Record Society. His numerous books include The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History ( third edition, 2008).
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While the book has the flavour of an academic study, with mention of haplotypes and genetic drift, it is full of fascinating insights into family history research and genetic testing. The latter is now available commercially and many people undertaking it have a preconceived idea of where they -- or they want to -- come from; "the Vikings are by far the sexiest people to have had as ancestors" according to the authors.
Even in today's modern world, people still have a strong sense of wanting to 'belong', and, conclude the authors, "for many individuals their surname forms an essential part of who they are".
The book has nine chapters. The twenty-page introduction, which from reading many other works by David Hey I assume to have been largely written by him, reviews previous research on surname formation and brings matters up to date. We read that one "clear conclusion is that, despite the increased mobility of modern times, most British families have still not moved far from the neighbourhoods that were familiar to their distant ancestors." The multi-disciplinary approach is again recommended: "it must be stressed that mapping surname distributions must be combined with other methods of enquiry," including linguistics, genealogy, local history and genetics.
Over the first few chapters we are taken on a journey that explores surname formation, their origins and development, their distribution and migration. Since both Hey and Redmonds have based much of their own research on their native Yorkshire and its adjacent counties, it is not surprising to find most examples - but by no means all - coming from that part of the country. Overall, the focus of the book is on England, but there are sometimes extensive forays into Wales, Scotland and Ireland too.
For those new to surname studies, much of what is written here will be new, but even I learned some surprising facts. For example, "The evidence shows quite clearly that whereas numerous hereditary surnames have become extinct ... others have proliferated to an extraordinary degree. Even more surprisingly, most of that proliferation appears to have taken place in a relatively circumscribed area of the Pennines. At its heart are the extensive parishes of Halifax and Rochdale." The authors demonstrate this by making comparisons with Cornwall and Sussex but they cannot come up with any definitive answer for its cause: as they say, "this phenomenon needs much more investigation."
I note that the presence of the surname `Singleton' in Sussex is thought to owe something to the Lancashire place-name, but the authors seem to have overlooked that Sussex too has a parish called Singleton. And when they write that, "Some other `Mc-` names were registered in and around southern ports - Plymouth, Portsmouth, Gravesend, and the Medway estuary - but few of these migrants had ventured far inland," I was struck by the fact that the reason for this may be because all are or were naval ports.
The first six chapters are, nevertheless, rigorous in their attempt to explain the latest research into surnames, using plenty of examples and delving deep into a number of other issues. Indeed, one case study about the Hepworths and the Black Death shows how such surname studies can also aid social and economic analysis.
Presumably written by Turi King, it is only the final three chapters that address the genetic element in any depth, and that is focussed on the Y chromosome in males. Whilst mention is made of the female equivalent of mitochondrial DNA, the subject is not further discussed. Whilst this is understandable in terms of surnames, the title of this book also includes the words `family history', and this reviewer wanted to learn more about this aspect.
Nevertheless we do learn that just as "a surname acts as a cultural marker of common ancestry, the Y chromosome should act as a biological marker." The text tried in some detail to tell this non-scientist how the tests all work (a glossary of terms would have been of assistance), but I appreciate it has to reduce what would be a whole textbook in itself down to a mere chapter. It lost me a little, but at least my intuitive understanding of family genetics received a welcome augmentation, and I can now understand what is meant of `haplogroups', `mutational events' and `genetic markers.'
Eight colour plates help illustrate the genetic results that are discussed, but a number of questions arose in the text that were not answered. (For example we are never given a list of all the surnames with their frequencies included in the study, so as to be able to draw our own conclusions.) The authors come up with some fascinating results, especially with regard to surname drift and surname ramifications, but "The bottom line is that while general trends exist, each surname has its own complex history."
Applying my own family tree's circumstances, I asked myself if genetics could provide an indication of the surname of my paternal grandfather's father. This grandfather was born illegitimate and took his mother's surname. The answer is that such analysis could provide such an indication. Another personal query was also answered, namely that deep-ancestry testing is problematical and not as clear-cut as some commercial companies may say.
This book, then, written by experts in their fields and as up-to-date as research presently has taken the links between surnames and genetics was of some personal use. But more than that, it offers a fascinating insight into what can be done and what may be able to be done in the future. On the cover of this book appears a blurb from historian and broadcaster Michael Wood: "Indispensable reading for anyone interested in their roots, this book offers noting less than a new perspective on British history." A little over-the-top perhaps, but not that far from the truth.
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