Tuesday 9 January 2018

DNA Testing Confirms Scrimgeour Ancestral Links

Over eight years ago I’d reached a point in my Scrimgeour family research where it felt like I had no viable routes to explore to extend the knowledge of my ancestry back beyond the late 18th century. What could I try to change that? At the time much was being made of the increasingly affordable Y-DNA testing, a means of potentially identifying ancestors on the paternal line who would have matching Y-DNA, passed down only from father to son and so, potentially, also sharing the same surname. Could DNA testing provide the “silver bullet” to knock down my brick walls?

After a brief look at the testing market I decided to subscribe to Family Tree DNA and within a few weeks the results of my Y-DNA67 test had been added to their enormous database. My results having been matched with all others on the database I learned that I might have shared a common male ancestor with a number of other subscribers, all with different surnames, a very, very long time ago. There seemed to my eye to be a disproportionally high number of Scandinavian looking surnames in the results but there was nothing there to move my own family tree back in time.

For DNA matching to be effective the database of DNA results needs to be as large as possible. With this is mind at the Scrimgeour Clan Association meeting of 2012, I persuaded a few of my fellow male Scrimgeours to undertake Y-DNA testing and these results together with my own formed the basis of the Scrimgeour DNA Project on Family Tree DNA. There were only three other testers and that number has only increased to six today, but that is a start. The only result of comparisons between the Y-DNA from the four of us was that we could immediately dispel the myth that all modern Scrimgeours are descended from the same man as there was no identifiable match between us. We contented ourselves with the fact that our DNA results were now in the database for future generations of Scrimgeour researchers and decided that we would just have to be patient.

Five years later, the first tangible result from that testing was announced at the 2017 Clan Association meeting when one of my fellow testers told the assembled Scrimgeours that as the direct result of Y-DNA matching he had found himself linked to a Canadian Scrimgeour in relatively recent times. Neither had realised there was any family connection but the DNA evidence clearly suggested that a link exists so both are now working through the documentary evidence to see if they can establish the identity of their common ancestor. That research continues.

The need to back up the results from DNA testing with documentary evidence is very important as DNA testing cannot give you names and dates but in late 2017 I found myself doing exactly the opposite. Through Ancestry I had been contacted by Brian Sommerville from the United States who had recognised that our family trees on Ancestry share a common ancestor. My great grandmother was Elizabeth McMillan. Her mother had been Ann Sommerville the daughter of William Sommerville who on paper is our shared ancestor suggesting that Brian and I are fourth cousins.

Brian wondered if I had any DNA tests results so that we could compare his results with mine, but as I had only had my Y-DNA tested, that was not going to show a match as we did not share a common direct line male ancestor. The answer was for me to treat myself to an early Christmas present and buy the Family Finder upgrade from Family Tree DNA. Surprisingly I did not have to provide a new saliva sample so the testing proceeded quickly after I had placed my order. Family Finder examines both male and female DNA so has the potential to identify individuals distantly related through both male and female lines. We all know how a family tree can explode into hundreds or thousands of persons as aunts and uncles are followed up, marriages introduce new lines, and so on. It was going to be fascinating to see just what Family Finder would produce.

Within only three weeks of placing my order the results were available telling me that I matched with 2,919 individuals and not a single Scrimgeour among them. The results include an estimate of how close a relationship one enjoys with each individual by showing a range, 2nd cousin – 4th cousin, 3rd cousin – 5th cousin, 4th cousin – remote cousin etc, allowing one to mentally place individuals within your family tree. It is going to take many months for me to fully understand what these results represent for my family history research but I already recognise familiar surnames eg Gunn, my grandmother’s maiden name. 

The result which I had hoped to find was also in there confirming a match, 3rd cousin – 5th cousin, with Brian Sommerville. 

The science has supported the documentary evidence which we had already collected and we are both delighted. Family Finder has to some small extent validated part of the family history research that we have both being doing for so many years. Sadly it hasn’t yet proved to be that “silver bullet” and has not broken down any Scrimgeour or Sommerville brick walls just yet but we are still working on that.