01 August 2012


     Researching one's surname can be helpful in many ways. Some Irish surnames, especially those identifying a distinct or official clan, have documented histories stretching in time before the Four Kingdoms of Ireland. Others might have histories limited to a specific geographic area at a certain point in time. Surname studies can provide a family historian with clues and can lead to contact with distant cousins or others who are researching the same surname.
     With the explosion of genetic genealogy, surname projects took a huge leap in value to family historians. A DNA surname project can now map out genetic trees and branches among people with a common surname or DNA matches. I have personally benefited  from a surname project. I was able to obtain a place of origin in Ireland (Co. Laois) for both my Bowe and Kelly families because of the assistance provided by the Bowes DNA project and One-Name Study.
     Martha Bowes is the hard-working (volunteer) Administrator of the Bowes (and variants) DNA  Project  and  registrant of the Bowes (and variants) One-Name Study. Martha also maintains the Facebook page for the study and project. I am a member of various surname/DNA projects, but have not found any that are as comprehensive and as well maintained as those run by Martha. Hers are the finest models I have encountered for surname and DNA projects.
     Martha was kind enough to take the time out of her busy-beyond-belief schedule (does she sleep?) to answer my questions about surname studies and DNA projects. Her explanations illustrate the huge potential of surname projects and provide a guide for persons thinking of launching such studies for their surnames.
     Thank you so much, Martha! Links to online resources follow the interview below.

Deb:  Under the auspices of what organizations is each group based?
MARTHA: My one-name study is registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies, an organization founded “to promote high-quality documentary one-name research.” The Guild provides -- through many services and facilities -- an enormous wealth of experience and guidance.
     My DNA project is administered through Family Tree DNA, the largest genetic genealogy company for conducting Y chromosome research into a surname. They extend discounts to my project participants for ordering a test through the surname study, and provide me with an unparalleled range of advanced, online tools for organizing and interpreting the data.

Deb:  Briefly explain the purpose/goals of the a) the DNA study group b) the One Name study group?
MARTHA: While traditional genealogy zooms in on a particular pedigree, one-name studies zoom out on a surname generally, encompassing all of its lineages. The central aims of a one-name study are data collection, analysis, synthesis, responding to inquiries, publicizing, publishing, and safeguarding and preserving the study.
     The DNA project is part of the one-name study. With a surname as frequent and complex as Bowes (and its variants), the DNA project is an essential tool to complement documentary research. It will take years to reconstruct the family trees (we are making some progress!), and even when it’s “complete,” it won’t always be clear what families are related to which other ones.
     The Y chromosome -- serving as a sort of ID tag for a given surname line since the two transmit largely unchanged from father to son over centuries -- provides a reliable means for bridging many of those gaps. Families whose males match on the Y chromosome are related. That allows us to group families into subgroups by DNA, which in turn can provide participants with new family research ideas. Meanwhile, these subgroups help inform inquiries into surname origins, frequency and distribution.

Deb:  Describe briefly any databases/spreadsheets for each that you maintain.
MARTHA: Currently, thanks to the generous contributions of some other researchers, we have work-in-progress spreadsheets of over 3000 records from throughout Ireland and over 1500 records from Durham/North Yorkshire, England.
     In addition to these documentary resources, I am gradually reconstructing family trees and connecting lineages where possible in a gedcom database. I’m able to consult the spreadsheets others are working on to provide primary source documentation for the information in the family tree database.
     My ever growing contacts database is now over 250 people, cross-referenced into groups based on country and county of origin, where emigrated, DNA subgroups, Facebook page and the like, with pertinent notes saved in the individual records.
     Finally, our DNA Project includes a chart showing our participants’ Y chromosome results in matching groups, while its administrator tools include more detailed data about each participant’s matches and haplogroup.

Deb:  Have you had any notable successes or made any interesting discoveries in either the DNA or One Name Study group?
MARTHA: We’re beginning to have enough data collected to make determinations about some of the true variants of the Bowes name, where a branch assumed a new spelling, as opposed to rogue spellings found in the records. For example, so far, Bowe in England is not a variant of Bowes there, while Bowes in southern Ireland is a variant of Irish Bowe, and distinct from the Bowes of England.
     Using surname mapping techniques it’s become clear that the geographic origin of the English Bowes name is not around Bowes village in Durham, as most would suspect, but in the area of Helmsley. In Ireland, the geographic origin of the Bowe standardization of earlier Irish versions of the name is the Kilkenny/Laois border area.
     The DNA project is firming up some significant subgroups for Ireland. One exhibits the Y chromosome signature of the O Carroll clan of Ely Carroll from Offaly and northern Tipperary. This is one of fewer than 20 old Gaelic chiefly families for whom the blood line can be traced to our times. Several scenarios could explain why this Bowe subgroup is carrying the O Carroll Y chromosome. We don’t have enough participants with English background to begin seeing subgroups yet, but they are beginning to emerge.

Deb:  Any advice for other administrators, or for others thinking of setting up a DNA or surname study?
MARTHA: For one-name studies, without question, join the Guild of One-Name Studies for its small annual fee and be on their mailing list (just one of many offerings). I don’t think there is any other place where you can obtain so much help by so many bright minds knowledgeable in this field.
     Similarly, if you run a DNA project, the International Society of Genetic Genealogists is your go-to organization (free) with a mailing list to draw from others’ experience.
     I would use these groups as launching pads for other resources that are best suited to your particular study as it begins to take shape.

International Society of Genetic Genealogists: http://www.isogg.org/
Guild of One-Name Studies: http://www.one-name.org/
Bowes One-Name StudyWebsite: www.bowesonenamestudy.com