Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Y-DNA European Migrations

Historically it was thought that the Celtic peoples originated in central Europe (the La Tène culture). However, more recently, primarily by genetic and other evidence researched by Stephen Oppenheimer, it seems the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain originated from the Basque country (in Spain) and moved northwards up the Atlantic coast after the last Ice Age. It is interesting how this evidence may have some connection to the mythological origins of the Irish in their ancient text “Lebor Gabála Érenn”. These legends tell the story of  the Irish arriving from Spain.

Historically it was also thought that the British (Celtic) inhabitants were displaced by later Germanic peoples, such as the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, then Normans as I will explain in a later post. However, “The genetic evidence shows that three quarters of our ancestors came to this corner of Europe as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, after the melting of the ice caps but before the land broke away from the mainland and divided into islands.” (Stephen Oppenheimer)

Genetically speaking the R1b genetic code in my Y-DNA is the highest among the Irish and the Basque people, but is high throughout Western Europe and accounts for as much as 40% of the Danish, where my paternal ancestry came from.  Oppenheimer’s genetic studies show that the bulk of Western European ancestry is Basque (Celtic/R1b), rather than Nordic (I & R1a) or Anglo-Saxon (I). As shown in the nearby map, during the Last Glacial Maximum (abt 20,000 years ago) there were three main refuges: R1b in northern Spain, I in the Balkans and R1a in the steppes north of the Caucasus Mountains. The map does not show that sea levels were much lower at that time, such that England and Ireland were connected to the mainland and not islands as they are today. (See the map on the previous post.) Thus began the migration of R1b along the coast into Ireland and western England as the ice melted while the I haplogroup migrated into southern Scandinavia.

An increasing amount of evidence shows that horses were first domesticated on the European steppes about 4000-3500 BCE. The use of horses immediately spread rapidly across Eurasia. This same area – in modern day Kazakhstan, north of the Black and Caspian Seas – was the homeland of the proto-Indo-European language which dominates Europe (and the world) today – the ancestor of our own English language. It is likely that a conquering Indo-European horse culture spread their language across Europe at some pre-historic time, likely between the time of horse domestication and the beginning of writing. Thus language is not always equivalent to genetics, as these conquerors left their language but did not wipe out the existing populations.

This can be seen in more recent historical evidence as shown by two major European language groups: Latin and Germanic. Two thousand years ago, the Romans managed to impose the Latin language on Gaul (modern day France) which evolved into the French language. Yet the French people were a Germanic tribe more closely related to the Germans and English (old Angles from southern Denmark), than they were to those on the Italian peninsula.

Not everyone is in agreement with the story I have laid out here. For example, on, the page on Haplogroup R1b seems to suggest that Europeans are descendants of the Indo-European horse culture about 1000 BCE.  But as stated earlier, language does not always equate to culture or genealogy. So I suspect the Indo-Europeans likely conquered and spread their language among pre-historical Europeans, but did not genetically replace the older inhabitants.  It is likely that a small part of their genetics were left behind, but the original inhabitants are still likely the dominant DNA.

The current distribution of Y-DNA Haplogroups can be seen in the map below. Notice the preponderance of R1b in Western Europe, as well as the I1 group in Scandinavia. We can also see a smaller group of R1a along the western coast of Norway. These are the areas of my ancestors.

For more information on ancient DNA ancestry see the recommended books and links at the bottom of my prior blog post.

Cumberland Family Software:

If you would like to have new blog posts emailed to you as they are posted, email me a note with your email address and I will add you

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Settlement of Europe in Pre-History

I have a lot of stories of historical individuals in my ancestry that I am planning to blog about. However, before I get into these details, I thought I would write some blogs about the big picture.

Since my ancestry is northern European, I will focus more on the history of Europeans – at least to begin with. I will share more details on my DNA ancestry tests in a later blog.

Our species, homo sapiens originated in Africa.  It is believed that there was an early migration out of Africa to the Middle East about 130,000–115,000 years ago which died out, followed by a second migration about 90,000-80,000 years ago.  Part of that migration followed the southern coastline of Asia all the way to Southeast Asia. So the first major peopling of the continents outside of Africa was all along the southern shores of the Asian continent.

There were two major events which then played a big part in human pre-history. The first was the super-eruption of Mt. Toba in Sumatra about 74,000 years ago.  This eruption caused a 6 year nuclear winter and a thousand year ice age, which dramatically reduced the human population down to about 10,000 individuals.  The winds blew volcanic ash westwards covering up to 15 feet thick in places in India and Pakistan.

The second major event I refer to is the Last Glacial Period (the Ice Age).  The last glacial maximum was about 22,000 years ago, which pushed any human populations in the frozen north southwards.  One key point is that since so much water was frozen solid, sea levels were much lower than they are today. England and Ireland were not islands then like they are today but connected to the European continent, so much so that they didn’t even look like peninsulas but rather the western edge of a large continental mass.

Because of the lower sea levels, in southeast Asia there were two large land masses with much of it below water today: Sundaland and Sahul. Most of Sahul included Australia and the island of New Guinea. Sundaland included the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo and huge areas of the continental shelf which is now underwater, but during the ice age this was a large sub-continent. Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East” suggests that the Biblical Eden was in Sundaland and that as the ice melted creating several waves of floods, some inhabitants were able to migrate westward to the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley. These pre-historical events passed down verbally would eventually create the stories recorded in the book of Genesis.

MAP: Europe during its last glaciation, about 20,000 to 70,000 years before present. The Extent of glaciation, sea and lakes have been painted freehand. Source: File: Europe topography map.png, 2 April 2006 by San Jose, based on the Generic Mapping Tools and ETOPO2. Author: Ulamm, 2013-01-30

Meanwhile in Europe as the climate permitted, Europeans who had been living in south European refuges began to migrate up the west coast of a large continent and began settling in what is today’s Cornwall and Ireland before the sea level increased. Thus the settlement of Western Europe very likely began in the far west (Ireland) rather than an overland route through central Europe.  Many of those earliest habitations are likely even lost to archaeologists since they are now under water as the coastline has moved inland. Even some Celtic legends imply the settlement of Ireland came from Spain. I will probably blog at some later time about some of these old legends which with legendary figures in my genealogical database as my (and your) ancestors.

Here are some links to help you learn more about these events:

Here are some books which I may review in future blog posts, from three of my favorite authors concerning ancient DNA ancestry:

  • Stephen Opehnheimer, a British paediatrician, geneticist, and writer
  • Bryan Sykes,  former Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford
  • Spencer Wells, geneticist, anthropologist, author, entrepreneur, adj prof UT-Austin. He led the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project from 2005 to 2015.

Cumberland Family Software:

If you would like to have new blog posts emailed to you as they are posted, email me a note with your email address and I will add you

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Shape of a Complete Family Tree

No one really has a "complete" family tree. A complete tree would start with yourself and include every single one of your ancestors (both paternal and maternal) all the way back to Y-DNA-Adam and mtDNA-Eve. And in reality that would not be the end, since our species existed even before these two people.  Of course, there is not enough documentation to ever complete such a family tree.

But here are some interesting thoughts on such a complete family tree. Per the previous blog post where I showed that every person has 2 parents, 4 grandparents and 8 great-grandparents, and so on. The numbers become so large even within a few hundred years that only due to intermarriages and tangled relationships, we would actually have a lot fewer truly “unique” ancestors – often being descended from someone living a few hundred years ago via multiple lineages.
In most family trees this contraction of unique ancestors actually begins rather quickly. It is not uncommon for many married people even today to already be recently related. It may not be real common for cousins to marry today, but it is more common for distant cousins to marry, especially when their own ancestry came from the same geographical area. In the case of my grandparents, Johan and Josephine Rage, they were actually related in a number of different ways before marriage, though they probably didn't know it, since their closest relationship was 7th cousins. If you have done even a few generations of your genealogy you  will likely find yourself related to unexpected people using this interesting web site: which uses data.
The peak - the point at which the maximum number of unique ancestors are located - according to calculations by an email friend of mine (Ian Fettes) is only about 30 generations back - about 1250 AD. This seems to make sense to me also, based on my observations from my own genealogy.

The accompanying chart illustrates this point. World population increases as time progresses to the right. Number of ancestors increase as we go back in time. The cross over point is about 1300 AD, interestingly close to the 1250 time frame Ian Fettes (above) suggests as the time frame for maximum number of unique ancestors.  In 1500 a person today would have over 2 million ancestors. By 1300 this becomes about 268 million ancestors, while there were only about 360 million people alive. In 1250 a person would have over 1 billion ancestors when about 400 million people were alive. Of course, it is not possible to actually have 1 billion "unique" ancestors in 1250, since there were not that many people alive in 1250, so only intermarriage can account for this. This mathematical exercise convinces me that it is highly likely that by 1200 to 1400 AD we are all likely to have common ancestors certainly in multiple ancestral line.
Now it may be that certain groups were isolated enough not to intermarry. For example, the American continent was isolated for so long from Eurasia that it may be that there are those still alive of Native American ancestry that may not have any European ancestry at all (or vise versa). But one thing I am convinced of, if you have any ancestry from Europe (as I do) then it is almost certain that we (all Europeans) are all related within the last 500-700 years.

Below is a colorful description of the tangled genealogy of the successors of the Prophet Mohammed as given by author Lesley Hazelton in an interview with Doug Fabrizio on Radio West (Jul 20,2016) . However in my genealogy research, I have found that this description could well fit all humans prior to about 100 years ago when travel was not so common.  Staying close to your clan or tribe was often the difference between life and death in many earlier societies.

“There it is more sort of like a vast vine in the jungle. The tendrals come in and out, wind back on themselves and intertwine and so on. Because not only could wealthy men have up to four wives but women married several times too. Where men could do it simultaneously, women did it serially. Women could divorce, ask for a divorce, declare a divorce and marry someone else and so on. If someone died in battle, the wife would marry again. So a result of this you had this huge network of half brothers, of half sisters of cousins and second cousins, third cousins, fourth cousins, fifth cousins and they intermarried so very often. For instance the first Caliphs, the first four successors to Mohammed , two were his fathers-in-law, both of whom by the way were younger than he, and the next two were both is sons-in-law. “ (

Cumberland Family Software:

If you would like to have new blog posts emailed to you as they are posted, email me a note with your email address and I will add you

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Am I Descended from Royalty?

A few years ago, I would not have imagined that any of my ancestry was descended from royalty. Today, I'm even met with some skepticism from others when this is mentioned. So it would be well to first address this issue. After doing some interesting mathematical calculations, it does become quite evident that it is almost certain that any person of European descent is probably descended from Medieval European Royalty. 

Consider, for instance, that every generation doubles - two parents for everyone. Assuming an average of 25 years per generation, four new generations are born each century. Within just 20 generations (about 1500 AD) each of us would have had more than 2 million ancestors. (See the nearby chart.) It is likely that there were fewer than a million inhabitants in the entire country of Norway in 1500. And after 40 generations (1000 AD) each of us would have more than one trillion direct ancestors!

Of course, with all the intermarriages which are certain in every genealogy, you will really never have that many unique ancestors - which makes sense, because there certainly weren't a trillion people living on the earth in 1000 AD.

Since the better documented genealogies are the royal lines, it is no wonder that the ancestral lines easiest to trace are those of the royalty, who are most surely the ancestors of everyone with Nordic and European ancestry. This often unexpected close relationship between so many people who do not think they are so closely related is found even closer than the Royalty of the Middle Ages. There are a number of prominent men who lived only a few hundred years ago in Rogaland County, Norway, for example, and it seems that practically every one alive today with ancestry from that area of Norway is descended from these same men. The case occurs often. I have even seen this in Western America, where practically the entire population in certain areas are related or descended in some fashion from some of the prominent early settlers of less than 200 years ago.

But also let's not forget what else the numbers tell us. Even if you have some lines that tie into royalty, it is also highly likely that the bulk of your lineage ties into rather ordinary people. Even with my own seemingly rather large database, in just a matter of a dozen generations we have discovered only a fraction of a percent of the true number of direct ancestors. Recall that we said that we have over a million ancestors just 20 generations back. So a mere 10,000+ direct ancestors is still only a drop in the bucket of the complete full ancestry of any given person for even the past 500 years. Most people’s direct ancestry is quite likely to be comprised of well over 95% simple folk, like farmers, laborers and tradesmen. The only reason the royalty, governors, judges and other prominent men can be traced so easily is because they are the ones who have been written about and are better documented.

Cumberland Family Software:

If you would like to have new blog posts emailed to you as they are posted, email me a note with your email address and I will add you

Introduction to My New Blog

For more than 40 years genealogy has been my hobby. I have written a lot of family stories about my ancestors since I was a teenager from interviewing my parents and relatives. I have also done a lot of research, especially on my mother's Norwegian genealogy.

I have also written a genealogy program - called Cumberland Family Tree - which I started while studying computer science back in the early 1980's. Eventually I released that program as shareware - before the internet in the early 1990's.  It was originally written for DOS - back before Windows became poplar.  I then rewrote it as a Windows program and over the years new features have been added.

Before I retired I also became interested in woodcarving and scroll saw wood work. Pictures of my wood work can be found on my website as well as my software program and some genealogy. My website is

Now that I am retired, I started a small Etsy shop to begin selling some of my wood work. I have also decided I would start a blog and share some ideas and stories - probably mostly about genealogy. I do not know how often I will write as this is still a bit experimental. We'll see how it goes.

So welcome to my new blog.

Cumberland Family Software: