Y DNA: Is it worth the expense?

Submitting samples for DNA testing can be expensive. Especially when testing for Y-DNA. If paternity isn’t an immediate issue does Y DNA testing assist in confirming our family tree based on paper evidence? Especially beyond census returns and parish register sources.

Maybe so. Maybe not.

Four years on from when I first opened the gate to the wide world of using DNA for family history purposes I think I can weave a family story based on traditional sources and on Y-DNA. Just as my father, grandparents and others told us stories that it has taken us decades to confirm (in most cases) or dismiss (in some instances) let me weave a family story around Y-DNA, family stories and ancient sources.

There has been a long standing brick wall in my paternal line. Well, to my mind at least. Perhaps I’m not as accepting as others. I am a descendant of a Charles Baulch who married Ann Biddlecombe in Muchelney in 1799. The apparent candidate for the groom has been a Charles Baulch baptised in the beginning of 1767. Yet a few lines down in the same register there is a burial recorded for a Charles Baulch. An obvious case of a death in infancy it seems and therein goes my candidate for Ann Biddlecombe’s groom.

Yet his elder brother Henry may have been a witness to that marriage. And, further more, I have two autosomal matches (in Ancestry) that take me around that brick wall. Now Muchelney, as I have always sort of known but not really absorbed properly, is only a small parish and the walk to any neighbouring parish and indeed some more distant parishes isn’t all that onerous. So what method should I use for selecting surrounding parishes in which to search for records of a Charles Baulch?

DNA is a fast developing source so it may be just a case of waiting for the right Y-DNA matches to come along.

Or maybe not.

Another fast changing world is the number of traditional sources that are being made available to us in not only electronic form but either at our home or to a local family history centre. This makes it far cheaper and more timely to access a number of sources. But which sources to select? Which are the sources that are likely to add surety to the story I am about to create?

Let me begin.

My paternal second great grandfather, Francis Baulch, and his two brothers Charles and Enoch together with their families and other friends, emigrated from Somerset arriving in 1842 in Tasmania Australia. There’s no doubt that the boat load of emigrants had listened to stories told by the emigration agent Henry Dowling.

But Francis Baulch and his brothers weren’t the first Baulchs to emigrate from Somerset.

In 1623 John Balch arrived in Massachusetts as part of Captain Robert Gorges army company. They had followed the Plymouth Brethren to New England seeking religious freedom. Robert Gorges and, it’s understood, John Balch, came from Bridgewater, Somerset – in the middle of Sedgemoor.

A generation later another John Balch arrived in 1658 in Maryland. It’s understood that this John Baulch came from Horton in the parish of Illminster. His son Thomas returned to Somerset and joined the Duke of Monmouth’s army which was destroyed at the Battle of Seymour in 1685. Thomas managed to flee home to Maryland that same year.

So here there are at least four groups of Balchs from Somerset who became separated in time and place and in whose communities their Y-DNA may have mutated along separate lines:

  • those Balchs who continue to live in Somerset
  • those Balchs who are descendants of the John Balch who arrived in New England in 1623
  • those Balchs who are descendants of the John Balch who arrived in Maryland in 1658 and
  • those Baulchs who are descendants of the three brothers who arrived in Tasmania in 1842.

Can Y-DNA help me confirm any connection between these four groups?

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

Let’s look firstly at whether the time frames may fit and let me use my brother John as a starting point. With each Family Tree DNA Y-DNA match there is a calculator as to the probability of a match within a certain number of generations. Here are some back of the envelope examples:

The task of matching Y-DNA to paper genealogy may not be as onerous as I first thought. I have paper genealogy placing my brother John as a descendant of Charles Baulch and Ann Biddlecombe. Skip around a brick wall and I can find another John Baulch or two as his ancestors in Muchelney, Somerset.  It may seem a daunting test to find traditional genealogy sources to take brother John’s paternal line back 20 generations to find a possible match with an ancestor of either of the American Balch families. But we are already half way there.

But where to look? The Muchelney parish is a very small parish and mention of Balchs fades out about 10 generation ago. Should we look at the whole of Somerset? Don’t think so. Balch Genealogica divides the Balchs into four groups:

  • High Ham and Horton, Ilminister
  • North Curry
  • Bridgewater
  • Wells-Bruton.

One possible strategy may be to look at the parishes of High Ham and Ilminster and those in between (including Muchelney) and across to Martock.  And possibly into the nearby towns? A task for tomorrow. A task to combine the resources of DNA testing and of traditional paper sources to take our family story back further in time.

Meanwhile, it is just another Pleasant Sunday Afternoon here in Salt Lake City as the fluffy clouds float by with one woolly idea.