DNA and PORTUGUESE GENEALOGY

by

Doug da Rocha Holmes


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In 2011, I sent in my DNA sample to a company called Family Tree DNA (FamilyTreeDNA.com)
to have them do the test called "Family Finder."

This test is said to look at about 5 generations of ancestors.

It is different than the older and better known tests that show the male only line called the Y-DNA test (your father's, grandfather's, great-grandfather's, etc male only line with no maternal branches).

And it's very different than the mt-DNA test showing your mother, grandmother's, great-grandmother's, etc, direct maternal line with no paternal branches.

The year before, my father was tested for his Y-DNA test, so I felt no need to duplicate that. There would be no particular benefit and simply cost me more money.

However, I had the chance to do the mt-DNA test for myself to show my mother's maternal line, so I got the Family Finder and mt-DNA testing done.

I chose FTDNA because it's got the largest DNA database in the world for genealogical purposes. Simple math tells me that if I were tested by some smaller company, chances of finding a match would be reduced. And I heard many great things about how this company is on the cutting edge of DNA research as it applies to genealogy. It's simply the best, as far as I know.

I must say, I have had no success as of this date (end of 2012) with my Y-DNA results my father got. That will come only in time as more and more are tested who have ancestors in the same area as mine are from (Island of Terceira, Azores, Portugal).

And I have had no success with my father's mt-DNA results, also with Pico and Terceira ancestors.

However, with the Family Finder test for both myself and my father, results were immediate and very exciting.
For my money, it's the single best test one can currently get for DNA and genealogy.


Family Finder DNA test results

I can think of so many examples why this test is so exciting, I don't know how I should begin.

In my own family tree, I have my father's side mostly from the islands of Pico and Terceira, Azores Islands in Portugal.

He has a branch of ancestors from Chile because one of our Pico ancestors married there.

My mother has German and Hungarian ancestors, but the "Hungarian" are mostly ethnic Slovak families, as best we can tell so far.

So when I got this Family Finder test, I got about 50 matches to others who got this same test.

Now the fun begins...

We don't always know how these people are connected. In fact, some seem fairly impossible, yet DNA results show enough similarity that we don't really know.

If the person tested is listed with a Portuguese name, then it follows that we are likely related through my father's side.

If they show a Spanish name, it could still be through my father's side, maybe from Chile and maybe from the Azores. Perhaps someone from the Azores moved to a Spanish speaking country and modern descendants don't even realize they have an ancestor from Portugal.

In my case, I have several Russian type links (maybe my Slovak side), some German which obviously comes from my German side, some people from Italy, which I can't figure out yet, and several people who seem to be Jews.

I can't really explain that, unless these people have some non-Jewish ancestors from the same locations as mine.

The problem is that a large number of people never did any research and can't begin to tell you much about their ancestors. If these people are obviously Portuguese, they may get lucky becasue I might already know their ancestors from all my own research into Pico and Terceira families.

But there are plenty of people with Portuguese ancestry who have done their own research, or at least know enough for me to be able to locate them in my own files and I can see surnames we have in common and therefore possible links between us. 

One of my favorite things to research are the ancestors of these people who match me so that I might be able to document a link between us.

 


 

Y- DNA test results

Due to my comprehensive approach to Pico and Terceira genealogy, I am in the unique position to conduct a whole series of research tasks to guide DNA testing in the direction that interests me most.

For example, just today I told an old acquaintance with known Pico ancestry how it might be possible to overcome a research problem with regards this person's paternal line. I'll use a specific example coming from the Pico village called São Roque on the north side of the island:

My research shows their paternal line going back to one Manuel Ferreira Bica, born in the mid-1600s in São Roque. From that point back, it becomes confusing due to name changes and similarly named couples. While I can probably sort it out with more research, it surely can't hurt to add a nice dose of DNA testing to confirm things.

My idea is to go back another generation or two, back to the late 1500s (luckily the church records still exist to allow it) and find another direct male line of descent that continues to the present day. There is always the chance the male line fizzles out and it is not possible. But since my research always includes EVERY Pico family, no matter how unimportant someone might consider them (some genealogists document mostly the wealthy families), I can see if anyone living today is a candidate to have this same Y-DNA test that traces back to this BICA family and if the two are a match, then I have resolved that problem and removed all doubts.

mt-DNA test results

It just so happens that the person with this Bica ancestor has a maternal line that goes back to one Maria Martins, who is also my own ancestor, born about 1562, as I currently estimate and if I can convince them to be tested, I would learn about this ancestor of mine that I can't do in any other way.

In theory, I could take each one of my most remote ancestors, often born in the 1500s, and for the males, look for any modern descendants on direct paternal lines who are candidates for Y-DNA testing. Then do the other mt-DNA testing for any female ancestors, looking for any in the direct maternal line. I would then have the task to contact these distant relatives and convince them to be tested. In this way I could learn more about each and every one of my ancestors - at least as much as DNA testing can tell anyone.

One thing the Family Finder test shows is called "Population Finder" and it shows what percentage of your DNA comes from which part of the world. In my father's case, there was a fascinating result of native Indian DNA from our roots in Chile. I have approximately half of this same native DNA. The rest shows all European ancestry.

I have heard from others that their DNA sometimes includes some Middle East DNA, which might indicate some Sephardic Jewish roots, in the case of a Portuguese person. It might also indicate some Berber ancestry from North Africa. Reading Portuguese history will help one understand just why that is.

Due to my mother's ancestry, I didn't know what to expect beyond Germany and Hungary, because some areas of the world are simply not so well tested. The Hungarian population should have roots in the steppes of Russia, if you go back 1000 years ago. So would mine have some Russian results? Well, it still showed European for me and I suppose in the future, as more are tested from Hungary, things will become more specific.

 
 

I would like to encourage everyone, no matter where in the world they have their origins, to get one or more of these DNA tests done.

FTDNA often runs sales for new customers. Maybe you are in the financial position to test not only yourself, but also one or more of your oldest living relatives. If your father or mother is already deceased, perhaps they still have a sibling who can be tested.

For my father, I find he is linked to many more with Portuguese than my own test shows. His Portuguese DNA is simply more pure than mine. Would that I could somehow get my deceased grandfathers or grandmothers tested. That's yet another generation older and that is always better.

Recently, I convinced a 2nd cousin of mine from my mother's side to get the Family Finder test. He has common Hungarian DNA with me. I was hoping by process of elimination that some of the people showing as somehow related to me might be divided into either Germany or Hungary. If they are also related to him, then of course, they are from my Hungarian side. If he is not related to them, then they are certainly from my German side. It's the first time I have been able to have a cousin do this and I am still working out exactly what I have now. I need to study the results.

But this idea of DNA by process of elimination could be helpful to anyone. Look over your own family tree and see which of your cousins would be good candidates and willing to perform a similar test for you.

I don't receive anything for my mention of this company (though that would be great), but I am so interested in this new field of genealogy research that I really want to have everyone get tested. It is purely selfish of me - your results might somehow help me! And of course, visa-versa.

Let me know if you should decide to get tested. I would be so interested in hearing back from you.

And good luck with your genealogy research!

 

 

 
Doug da Rocha Holmes


Free article about DNA testing (written in 2016) Portuguese DNA Census
Geographical origins of Azoreans based on DNA testing

See the Portuguese Genealogy Professional Services Page for more detailed information.


Learn about my DNA surname project for the Hungarian name BALLA: www.dholmes.com/balla.html


See personal information about Doug da Rocha Holmes


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