Thursday, April 9, 2009

Individuals of 1066

The Bayeux Tapestry (not in fact a woven tapestry, but rather a work of embroidery) illustrates the story of the Norman Conquest.

Click the image to access a website that presents this masterpiece in the form of a loop.

It's quite possible that my earliest ancestor in England was a Norman who accompanied William the Conqueror in 1066: maybe one of the so-called Compagnons de Guillaume-le-Conquérant. If this were the case, then I might have "genetic cousins" still living in Normandy today. It would be amazing if DNA tests could put me in contact with such people.

In this domain, it's interesting to have a list of the actual Compagnons. Long ago, when I sought an expert's opinion concerning the identity of these men, the president of the Genealogical and Heraldic Circle of Normandy, Count Gérard d'Arundel de Condé, informed me that a reliable list had been compiled and published in the 19th century by Léopold Delisle. For researchers who might be interested, I've uploaded a copy of this list here. In fact, the data in this list should probably be used in conjunction with two other existing lists: the Falaise Roll and the Battle Abbey Roll.

A few days ago, while talking with Count d'Arundel de Condé on the question of Franco/British "genetic cousins", I asked him a question that has often intrigued me: Why did certain Norman invaders of England decide to settle down there, then abandon their original French-sounding names and replace them by Anglo-Saxon surnames? This question can be rephrased differently: Why would a Norman nobleman who had arrived in England with William the Conqueror decide to relinquish his Norman roots and properties and settle down in relatively primitive conditions in the English countryside, often in a former Saxon neighborhood? On the surface, that kind of "sea change" is hard to understand. These days, I believe that few people would be prepared to swap a property in the French province of Normandy for a farm on the other side of the English Channel. In fact, there was method in the Normans' madness. The count explained to me that, in taking over vast tracts of fecund lands in England, the Norman nobleman didn't relinquish anything whatsoever back in Normandy, where his lady was probably waiting for her lord to return to the family castle as soon as possible. What happened, in many cases, was that the youngest son in the family (who normally had neither a title nor riches) was immediately dispatched to England to manage the newly-acquired lands. And he's the person—rather than his father or his elder brothers—who ended up assuming an Anglo-Saxon surname and becoming a proper Englishman.

Personally, I would be thrilled if DNA testing were to reveal, magically, that my Skeffington patriarch was in fact the fellow named Hugue l'Ane in Léopold Delisle's list. In English, that name translates to Hugh the Donkey. In Normandy, today, it would be fun trying to get in contact with French descendants of the Donkey family.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

DNA test results for William Skyvington

I've just received the results of my basic DNA test carried out by the Family Tree DNA company, whose headquarters are in Texas. In the following table, the references of the twelve markers are in blue, and my values appear after the equal signs:


In the terminology of this field, I appear to belong to a so-called haplogroup whose reference is R1b1b2, often designated as R-M269. Among the half a million or so people tested by this company since the year 2000, there are already 558 individuals in this same category. For the moment, in this group, there's nobody with a surname like Skyvington. Among them, though, I was delighted to discover the name of a man of whom I'm proud to be a "genetic cousin": Richard Dawkins. In other words, Dawkins and I had a common paternal ancestor—let's call him Fred—in the not-too-remote past, but nevertheless before the time at which people started to use surnames. This Fred had at least two sons, known, say, as Dick and Bill. Dick's descendants finally got around to calling themselves the Dawkins clan, whereas Bill's descendants preferred to call themselves the Skyvington clan. Be that as it may, what's in a name? In spite of their having different family names, they still remained, to a large extent, members of a common tribe... designated as R-M269.