This is a story that involves the past, the present, and the future. It is also a success story involving DNA, an inheritance we receive from our ancesters, hold for a brief time in trust, and pass on to our descendants.
My Hamilton “great moment”
In the fall of 2007 I wrote about another great moment I experienced, in an Anglo-Celtic Roots article called “Over the Brick Wall to Bannockburn.”1 The occasion for this was the result of my initial DNA testing, which revealed that my DNA markers were closely related to that of the Hamilton family of Scotland, England and Ireland, one of the most enobled families in the British Isles. In particular, back to the line of Walter fitz Gilbert de Hambledon, who had fought side by side with Robert the Bruce, on the battlefield at Bannockburn in 1314.
There are two fortunate circumstances involving that Hamilton connection. The first, of course, is that the Hamilton family line has been well documented for hundreds of years, with the various subgroups having been closely followed by both past and present historians. The second asset has been that there has existed for some time a Hamilton family genealogical organization named the Hamilton National Genealogical Society, Inc. (HNGS), directed by Dr. Gordon Hamilton, which has carried on communication with Hamilton descendants both before and during the present DNA genealogical revolution. Dr. Hamilton is not only a life member of HNGS, but also the project coordinator of the Hamilton DNA Project.
The Hamilton comedown
For genealogical and DNA research purposes, the Hamilton families have been divided into several groups, the most common of which are Groups A and B. My DNA markers put me firmly in the camp of the Group B Hamiltons. As DNA analysis marches on, it can lead to surprises. The following summarizes an analysis that Dr. Hamilton has made for these two Groups:2
Group A descends from Sir John Hamilton, Lord of Fingalton, who is a grandson of Walter fitz Gilbert de Hambledon. Sir John raised sons named Walter and James. However, DNA analysis indicates that these two could only have been half brothers, because James’ descendants have the Group B DNA profile while Walter’s descendants have the Group A profile. There must have been what is termed a “non-paternal event” in one of their lines.
Since descendants of earlier generations of Hamiltons have the Group A profile, the event must have occurred in the conception of James, making the Group A Hamiltons the true all-male line descendants of Walter fitz Gilbert de Hambledon. James launched a new line.
James’ mother was Jacoba Douglas, daughter of Sir James Douglas of Dalkeith and his first wife Agnes Dunbar, both prominent families of that era. When Jacoba married Sir John in 1388, the marriage would have brought prestige to the Hamilton family and may have led to its future generations playing such a prominent role in Scottish society [Sir John may not have quibbled about his bride’s past. Jacoba may also have known Sir John did not father James, for she called him after her father, not by any of the Hamilton family birth names.]
Who was James’ father? As Dr. Hamilton notes2,
There are individuals with five other surnames known to have this Group B. profile and do not have a known connection to a Hamilton; they are A-214 (surname Arthurs), F-204 (surname Frame), F-313 (surname Filby), M-183 (surname Morrison) and B-324 (surname Baker). Of these, a Frame would seem to be the most likely father for James…
So it appears that I am not descended from the hero of Bannockburn after all. I am a “quasi-Hamilton” from the wrong side of the blanket!
The little-known Arthurs
At that time of my DNA testing I had known nothing of the Arthurs family origins, except for the fact that my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Arthurs, came to New Brunswick in 1833 from Ireland, with no county or townland recorded. According to the 1851 census, he was born around 1819, and was thus around 14 years old when he “entered the colony.” Was he alone in his journey across the Atlantic, or was he accompanied by relatives? No one in our family knew, and the situation has not improved to this date.
Our family did know, however, of another Arthurs family in Saint John Co., NB, in the Parish of Simonds, that originated in Ireland in the Parish of Donaghmore, County Tyrone. This was the family of a Jacob Arthurs and his wife Sarah (nee Shillington). He was born around 1803, and was found dead on the highway on the evening of Tuesday, March 12, 1862. No cause of death was ever determined. His descendants still live in the Saint John area.
A second non-paternal event
The results of my 2007 DNA test had revealed that the correlation in my DNA numbers with the Hamilton Group line was obviously the result of another non-parental event, an adoption or an illegitimacy at some point in the past — one similar to the event that separated Group A from Group B, except that it was more recent. The question, of course, that lay in my mind for these past few years was this: just when had the event occurred? Was this part of the distant past; or was it something that happened after Joseph Arthurs arrived on our shores?
Another great moment
In the four years since my initial DNA tests I have been notified by Family Tree DNA of many matches, almost all of which have turned out to be connected with the Hamilton family. These have been mostly 25 marker matches, which I have generally ignored. However, on 28 May 2010 I received a notice that said: “A 37 marker match has been found between you and another person in the Family Tree DNA database. You and the other person have matched 34, 35, 36 or 37 loci. This means that there is a 99% likelihood that you share a common ancestor in a genealogical time frame.”
As this match involved more markers than in the previuos notices, I went to my personal page on the Family Tree DNA website and was astounded to find that the subject of the email had the surname of Arthurs. He matched my numbers on 36 out of 37 markers. The only difference was a one allele difference in the marker DYS 449. (His file with Family Tree DNA has since been upgraded to 67 markers and I now match 65 of 67).
My first question, of course, was where did this fellow come from? The most obvious guess would assume that he came from my family in Kings County, N.B., or, if I were more fortunate, from the other N.B. family of the Parish of Simonds in Saint John County. At least I knew just where in Ireland they had come from. His name was Kevin Arthurs, not a name that I recognized from my own family research. I then looked at the email address that Family Tree DNA had provided — firstname.lastname@example.org — obviously a British Isles address. It was also an exciting moment, another of my “great moments” in genealogy.
My next step was to contact Kevin. I wrote: “Hello Kevin. I have just been pleasantly surprised by Family Tree DNA. They have notified me that I have a close match (36 out of 37 markers) with your test results. Up until now, although I have had close matches with the Hamilton surname, none had appeared with the Arthurs surname. This is a great breakthrough for me. My family goes back to Ireland but I have had no idea of what County or Townland in Ireland that they came from. You can find my story on the DNA section of my website. Just Google TitusFamily.ca. I am anxious to hear your story.”
Kevin e-mailed right back, in part: : “By the by, I think, you and I will have a lot to chat about, mo Chara!! I’ve been in Donaghmore graveyard myself (4 miles from here) and have seen the Arthurs headstones (including that of Sarah and Jacob). By the by, if to really light a fire, then the reason I am involved in our family tree, is that 30 odd years ago, the Dean of our Parish …told us that our family background was from the O’Neills, that we were descended from Turlough Mac Airt og O’Neill (the son of Tulough Luineach), Arthurs being MacAirt (the son of Art).”
So I now have another clue to my Arthurs past.
Interestingly, it appears that Kevin’s motivation for his involvement in DNA testing had nothing to do with the Hamilton connection, and the results must have been as surprising to him as they were originally to me when I had received my results a couple of years earlier. It apparently was just a happy coincidence that he had taken the test.
Hopes for the future
Looking back into the history of the Hamilton and Arthurs families, it is obvious to us now that at least two non-parental events have happened in the histories of the two families. The first is outlined above in Gordon Hamilton’s hypothesis of the separation of the Group B Hamiltons from the A Group that occurred in 1388 with the marriage of Jacoba Douglas to Sir John Hamilton.
The second event, the appearance of the Arthurs line carrying the Hamilton DNA, probably took place much later, at some time between the establishment of the Hamiltons in Northern Ireland and the time that my great-great grandfather left for the New World. Unfortunately, there is no genealogical paper record at this time that would narrow the time period when the second non-parental event occurred.
My hope is that cousin Kevin will be busy formulating such a paper trail, filling in the bigger picture back in our original home town of Donaghmore in the County of Tyrone, Northern Ireland. For my part, I am now resting from my thrilling journey back from Bannockburn. Certainly there will be other exciting episodes in this story yet to come.
1 Bill Arthurs, “Over the Brick Wall to Bannockburn,” Anglo-Celtic Roots, 13(4): 77-81.
2 Dr. Gordon Hamilton, “Hamilton Surname DNA Results and Discussion,” website, Hamilton National Genealogical Society (www.hamiltongensociety.org/).