DNA. What it tells us about who we are.

The Ancestry DNA result for Tony Brown is in. As ever it proves, without a doubt ,who of those tested are related. It provides the answer to the “are we related” question. But in many ways, though it provides the answer, it doesn’t tell you what question was. It’s a bit like the ‘What’s the meaning of life’ question in the “Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy”. The answer being 42. 100%  correct but of no bloody use whatsoever.

Furthermore it doesn’t help when many of those tested have no tree connected to their results and many haven’t even logged in for months, making it nigh on impossible to see just where in the respective trees people are related. Very, very frustrating.

All we can do is wait for these sleepers to wake up and make contact.

However, there is still much to be derived from these results. The “Ethnicity Estimate” showing Tony’s connection to ALL regions and to what degree he is connected to them can be interpreted to indicate, in my belief, a clear idea of where he comes from. Let me explain…

I have assumed the connections with just trace percentages are the oldest, working on the principle the DNA from those connections will have been diluted  over many centuries. I understand this type of testing can go back 1500 years, maybe more. And generally shows the DNA in the range 500 – 1500 years.

If this assumption has a modest amount of certainty then Tony’s oldest DNA – in the accessible range – is from the Caucasus, the Middle East, Italy and Greece and maybe even the Iberian Peninsular.

Lets call this period 1. Maybe 1500 years ago.

We then move forward to  900 – 1000 years ago which threw up Great Britain, Scandinavia.
Period 2.

Period 3, and continuing the logic of greatest is newest the latest and largest make up of Tony’s DNA is from Western Europe and finally Ireland.

Now, given we can find nothing specific in either Tony’s father’s or mother’s family relating to Western Europe or Ireland – and we have been back to the 1700’s – then we must assume this last slab of DNA pre-dates that period. So, for the sake of this argument lets say over 400 years ago- that’s the late 1500’s early 1600’s.

So, what was happening in Britain in these periods?

Period 1.
1500 – 2000 years ago. Of course it was the Romans. Were there any Romans around the river Severn at that time? Yes. Of course there were. There were at least 2 centres I know of. Aquæ Sulis (Bath) and  Isca Augusta ( present day Caerleon near Newport).

These encampments / towns stood either side of the important River which today we call the Severn. Soldiers from either one could control the river and passage further north to Gloucester as we know it today.

Why are we interested in this area? We found the Browns in the 1700’s  in and around present day Gloucestershire on the east bank of the Severn. And, whilst movement was possible, long distance movement seems unlikely – given there being  little or no transport at the time- the family had not moved a great deal in centuries. There had been no need and no pressure to move.


Spread of Tony Brown’s DNA. Trace elements are shown as outlines only.

Looking at the geographic spread of Tony’s DNA it struck me hom much it’s like  the spread of the Roman Empire in the First Century AD.

Just take a look at the map above and compare it to the map below.

So what? I hear you say. Well, not all Romans were Roman – i.e. what we would think of as present day Italians. The legions were made up of soldiers from all across the empire. Just like the French Foreign Legion where only its officers needed to be French the Roman Legions were a mixed bag of nationalities taken from all across the Roman Empire but under Roman leadership.

Roman Empire 116AD

Roman Empire 116AD

The Romans were here in Britain 55 BC but only in 43 AD was Britain governed from Rome. And they moved out in 410AD. They had 400 years of control of everything in the land. That’s about 16 generations. Many who were previously British became Romano British, living like Romans.

However that doesn’t fully explain the DNA mixture. No, what does that is… large amounts of soldiers from the legions being here without women.   For example there were reputed to be 6000 men of the legion in Caerleon alone. Need I say more.

I believe this satisfies in part the inclusion of such a widespread though small part of Tony’s DNA. He is in some part Roman i.e. Roman as defined by the make up of the legions – multi national that is.

In 410 the Romans went home. At least the wealthy, the political elite and the soldiers did. The rest stayed behind, so merged with the local population were they by this time as a result of  marriage, children etc after 400 years as to be unrecognisable. True Romano British, but not separate from them.

It is my assertion the people which became Browns were, at least  in some part, Romano British bringing their multiple DNA with them.

Period 2.
After the Romans had gone the country was invaded by Germanic tribes, notably the Jutes, Angles and Saxons. The people we now call Anglo Saxons were largely from Northern Germany and Scandinavia – perhaps this could show up in the large Scandinavian element in Tony’s DNA. It certainly explains in part  the Western European element of his DNA.

In 793 the Vikings invaded. Their DNA was almost certainly spread through the population. Given they travelled almost exclusively by ship the Severn estuary and river Severn would have been an ideal 8thC motorway for them to get to the centre of the country.
I believe this explains the large Scandinavian element of Tony’s DNA, especially when added to the Scandinavian Angles and Saxons who were here before the Vikings.

Period 3.
Then in 1066 we have the Normans’ invading and taking control of the country. (a note here. Norman is short for NorseMen, the Vikings who settled in France – more Scandinavian DNA added to the Western European element). 

This is all very well but how does it explain the large amount of Irish DNA? It doesn’t. Except, this being the largest single element it is probably the youngest addition to the DNA soup that is Tony Brown. And, because of that it needs only to be a relatively small element, perhaps one man from one family from an incoming community of Irish.  So far we have not found anyone from this strand yet. But, Brown is a common name in Ireland So I’m hoping.