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Wing Genealogist
07-22-2016, 01:58 PM
The express purpose of the MayflowerDNA.org wiki is to learn more about the genetic identity of the Mayflower passengers and crew. For a handful of passengers, it may actually be possible (in theory) to complete testing on the remains of the passengers themselves. I realize this is likely to be a loaded issue, but I wanted to gauge the opinions of a group I expect would be biased towards testing.

Wing Genealogist
07-22-2016, 02:04 PM
Me personally, I am mostly positive about it, but do have some ambivalence. Most of my ambivalence is around how it has the potential to be divisive within the community. I believe we can learn a lot about the Mayflower passengers by studying them directly. Not only can we examine their DNA, but from that (and from the bones) we can likely reconstruct how they looked (eye color, hair color, height, etc.) what their diet was like, I believe isotope analysis can be done to provide more clues to where they lived during their childhood, etc.

RCO
07-22-2016, 02:18 PM
Do you have Y-DNA or mtDNA lineages still living from the Mayflower passengers ?

Wing Genealogist
07-22-2016, 02:31 PM
Do you have Y-DNA or mtDNA lineages still living from the Mayflower passengers ?

Yes for some of them. But Y-DNA and mtDNA are only a very small portion of the total DNA.

RCO
07-22-2016, 03:13 PM
Yes, would you have the indication of any project related to the Y-DNA or mtDNA from those passengers with names ?

Wing Genealogist
07-22-2016, 04:33 PM
Yes, would you have the indication of any project related to the Y-DNA or mtDNA from those passengers with names ?

You can find most of what is currently known at FTDNA's Mayflower DNA Project https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/mayflowersociety/about and choose DNA results, then YDNA or mtDNA results.

AJL
07-22-2016, 07:19 PM
I would really like to see this. I clearly inherited some autosomes from my 5th great-grandfather who has Mayflower roots, based on common segments/surnames that came from his maternal grandfather.

Even from there it's still quite a few generations back to the Mayflower, but it's just slightly more likely given that I have a segment from the right ancestor from 1765, that I might have an autosomal segment from 1620.

Wing Genealogist
07-22-2016, 08:35 PM
I would really like to see this. I clearly inherited some autosomes from my 5th great-grandfather who has Mayflower roots, based on common segments/surnames that came from his maternal grandfather.

Even from there it's still quite a few generations back to the Mayflower, but it's just slightly more likely given that I have a segment from the right ancestor from 1765, that I might have an autosomal segment from 1620.

Exactly!! In addition, even if you find someone you have some DNA match up with and they descend from the same Mayflower passenger you do, that doesn't automatically mean this segment HAD to have come from the Mayflower passenger. Colonial Plymouth Colony (and even New England as a whole) was not a huge population, and it is just as likely the segment came from another ancestor you share in common.

Going directly to the remains will clearly document whether you share segments of DNA with one of your Mayflower ancestors. However, even then I don't believe it would be 100% certain the DNA came from that line. But as long as you can verify the remains are for the person you believe they are for, then you can be assured the DNA results would be accurate.

Wing Genealogist
07-22-2016, 08:43 PM
Talking about assuring the remains actually belong to the correct person reminds me of what happened in my family. My ancestor, Moses Wing (1759-1837) was a veteran of the Rev. War. At the Battle of Flatbush, LI, he was injured and ended up having his left leg amputated just below the knee. He never let his wooden leg hinder him, as he served as first postmaster, town clerk, school teacher, doctor and even had a license to preach the gospel when no minister was available. When he died, he was buried on the old family cemetery in Wayne, Maine.

Thirty years after his death, the family decided to create a new family cemetery (adjacent to the original cemetery). They leveled off the top of the hill, dug down several feet to remove all of the rocks (and folks who know Maine know how rocky the soil is). After they accomplished this, they dug up the bodies from the old cemetery and moved them to the new cemetery. This was a somber event, well attended by family members. You can imagine the shock and disbelief when they dug up Moses' supposed body and it had both legs!!

Wing Genealogist
07-23-2016, 09:51 PM
I want to make clear the issue about the possibility of using remains for DNA purposes was solely from my own musing. I spoke to the Project Manager (Greg Magoon) about this idea and he stated the project intends on only testing LIVING persons DNA. He was not only concerned about the controversial nature of digging up graves, but also was concerned about the the costs and whether "off the shelf" NGS testing would be able to adequately read the likely degraded 350+ year old samples.

curiousII
07-24-2016, 01:13 AM
I spoke to the Project Manager (Greg Magoon) about this idea and he stated the project intends on only testing LIVING persons DNA...concerned about the the costs and whether "off the shelf" NGS testing would be able to adequately read the likely degraded 350+ year old samples.
For something momentous like this I'm sure donations would be plentiful. It's also politically correct for a few reasons, one of which is that it's done to Indian burial grounds all the time. Another is that politicians who use colonial ancestry could really validate their positions with this kind of support. That's topical in this election year.

I'm not a politician or professional of any kind, but I'd hate to claim kinship to Gov. Bradford if it wasn't true. I noticed no H11a mtDNA haplogroup on the project's website, though there's a lot of various H clades. I don't believe that immediately disqualifies me, but it is something to consider.

But autosomal testing on bones this old? That'd be terribly inaccurate, wouldn't it? You read that kind of testing only covers the past 500 years ago and any genetic information gleaned could be muddled and distorted. Inaccuracy like that could cause more consternation than good.

But DNA testing is important in this instance as the Mayflower's passengers played such an important role in the nation's history. And, Divine Grace: If Gov. Bradford was blessed with Grace, would there be any noticeable genetic differences compared to his peers? See how important this study could be?

I notice on the project's website Myrtle Savage is one of the admins. I know she can be quite tenacious in tracking down potential donors for various causes and situations. I don't think finding funds for disinterment and studies will be impossible.

Wing Genealogist
07-24-2016, 06:57 PM
They are able to test ancient samples from the Neolithic to Bronze to Iron Age going back 4,000 years or more. While the autosomal DNA is degraded quite a bit, they have developed techniques to help maximize their results. I do believe they would be able to obtain a fairly decent sample from 400 y/o remains, but whether an "off the shelf" test (such as Ancestry.com or Family Finder or 23andMe) would work, or whether you would need a specialized test is unknown.

curiousII
07-26-2016, 04:42 AM
I do believe they would be able to obtain a fairly decent sample from 400 y/o remains, but whether an "off the shelf" test (such as Ancestry.com or Family Finder or 23andMe) would work, or whether you would need a specialized test is unknown.

That's a good point; if they have industrial-strength tests that can pull DNA out of the oldest, most rock-like fossils maybe there's hope. But wouldn't we have read about a process like that being used on very old fossils or Neanderthals or something? Or is that part of the research just not shared with us, the general public?

So if 350 year-old bones can be accurately tested, and if that heritage goes back another 500-odd years, they'd uncover the Pilgrim's genetic history maybe 850-900 years prior to us? Yeah, I think that's worth the effort.

Captain Nordic
07-26-2016, 02:31 PM
I don't see why not.

Wing Genealogist
07-26-2016, 09:19 PM
I don't see why not.

I do believe a number of folks would object to disinterring the dead, as being disrespectful. However, there have been cases (such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers for Vietnam) where DNA testing has been done. In addition, a century or two ago it was a custom among some families to disinter the bodies of their family when they moved and place them in the cemetery in their new town. Also, for various reasons, quite a few cemeteries were either partially or totally destroyed due to the fact someone (either the town, but in some cases even an individual) wanted to use the property for something else.

The intent is clearly to honor our ancestors, but there are likely folks who would make a big stink about any attempt.

Saetro
07-26-2016, 11:24 PM
I do believe a number of folks would object to disinterring the dead, as being disrespectful. However, there have been cases (such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers for Vietnam) where DNA testing has been done. In addition, a century or two ago it was a custom among some families to disinter the bodies of their family when they moved and place them in the cemetery in their new town. Also, for various reasons, quite a few cemeteries were either partially or totally destroyed due to the fact someone (either the town, but in some cases even an individual) wanted to use the property for something else.

The intent is clearly to honor our ancestors, but there are likely folks who would make a big stink about any attempt.

Who would you ask for permission? Descendants.
For unidentified war veterans, who did the authorities work with? Descendants.
It's not rocket surgery!
Work with any existing family descendant groups and if it goes well, others will join.
For a start you may need their help to find where the bodies were buried.
Create a framework of pride, respect and celebration of those founders.
And you may well succeed.

Wing Genealogist
07-27-2016, 12:41 AM
Who would you ask for permission? Descendants.
For unidentified war veterans, who did the authorities work with? Descendants.
It's not rocket surgery!
Work with any existing family descendant groups and if it goes well, others will join.
For a start you may need their help to find where the bodies were buried.
Create a framework of pride, respect and celebration of those founders.
And you may well succeed.

I do agree with you mostly. However, I believe you would also have to at least discuss your plans (and get permission) from the locality where the cemetery is located as well.

For the Howland family, I am a member of the Pilgrim John Howland Society and do plan on discussing this issue during their Board meeting this fall. Don't know how well it would be received, but nothing ventured, nothing gained!

We believe we know where John Howland and his widow are buried. Both have gravestones, but they date back to the Nineteenth Century. John's is at Burial Hill in Plymouth, and other Howland family members are buried near him, so it is likely he is buried in this general area, if not the exact spot. Elizabeth is buried in what is now Rhode Island (she was living with a daughter when she died). I am not so certain if it is KNOWN she was buried in this cemetery, or if the stone was erected there because it was assumed she was buried there. More research is definitely needed.

Saetro
07-27-2016, 08:16 PM
You are right.
Local authorities can be difficult.
And if the rules don't allow something, very difficult indeed.
Where something might be allowed, time after time, their first concern is lack of precedent - so find one that has been satisfactory.
Their next usual expressed reservation for not permitting it is that someone might object and they would be in trouble.
At least with a substantial family group on your side, you can show that there are many people who would be offended if they did NOT permit it.
Another factor of resistance is people coming from outside a community.

And you have mentioned another problem, not being certain of which grave is really theirs: do the C19 gravestones replace some previous markers, or were they just put up in a location with uncertain evidence? Good luck with your research. I have been pleasantly surprised by finding an archive from a monumental mason with some useful details, but not back quite that far. They added detail to graveyard administration records in some interesting cases. (If you are lucky, the mason's name will be included somewhere on the stone. It might be on the side or back. Later on the front at the bottom, although I have seen some early examples of this too.)

geebee
07-27-2016, 09:27 PM
I do believe a number of folks would object to disinterring the dead, as being disrespectful. However, there have been cases (such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers for Vietnam) where DNA testing has been done. In addition, a century or two ago it was a custom among some families to disinter the bodies of their family when they moved and place them in the cemetery in their new town. Also, for various reasons, quite a few cemeteries were either partially or totally destroyed due to the fact someone (either the town, but in some cases even an individual) wanted to use the property for something else.

The intent is clearly to honor our ancestors, but there are likely folks who would make a big stink about any attempt.

I don't think the using DNA testing on remains in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Vietnam) is comparable. In that case, there was a family who had reason to believe that the Vietnam unknown was their family member. What had happened was that after Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, his body wasn't able to initially be recovered. Later, remains were discovered in the area, and initially identified as belonging to Blassie. But, for various reasons the remains ended up being reclassified as "unknown", and placed in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

But at the request of the Blassie family, those remains were exhumed on May 14, 1998. MtDNA testing showed a match with Blassie's mother and sister. I presume the remains were reburied at a location chosen by the family, and the Vietnam crypt is now empty.

Testing of the remains of Mayflower passengers would be worthwhile, I think, but would be done more for the sake of people with no real emotional connection to them. I wouldn't have any objection, however, provided that people believed to be living descendants were able and willing to give consent.

When I say "believed to be", I think a reasonably-supported paper trail would be sufficient evidence.

So far as I know, I don't have any Mayflower connections, but my wife and daughter descend from at least two Mayflower couples -- William and Mary Brewster, and William and Susanna White. The Brewsters' son Love was also a Mayflower passenger, and my wife and daughter's ancestor; and they may also be descended from Edward Doty.

Both of them share DNA with some other descendants of these individuals, but at this point it's uncertain whether a closer relationship exists. (In all probability one does.)

EDIT: I did a little research to check my memory. It's actually "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" (singular), although there are individual "Unknowns" from various wars. I edited my original statement to reflect what the situation of the Vietnam Unknown actually entailed.

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs//galleries/cases/blassie.html

But one good thing about DNA testing ... if there must be wars, at least there will be many fewer "Unknowns".

2nd EDIT: My apologies for the sidetrack here, just wanted to point out the distinction between this specific exhumation and that of a possible Mayflower passenger.

geebee
07-27-2016, 09:59 PM
At least with a Mayflower passenger, there aren't any immediate family members to raise an objection.

Wing Genealogist
07-27-2016, 11:06 PM
I would certainly agree there were very different reasons WHY the DNA test was performed at Arlington. But it does set a precedent for exhumation of a body for DNA testing. I mentioned the exhumation of relatives to move to a different cemetery as it also set a precedent to allow family to exhume a body for personal reasons. While several centuries have passed since the pilgrims lived & died, many still hold a very emotional attachment to them.

Plymouth is gearing up for a 400th year celebration, so the time is ripe to propose such a endeavor for the purpose of honoring the passenger(s). There is so much we can learn from this.

Rick
08-19-2016, 10:57 PM
During the first winter of '20-21 appx 50 of the appx 100 mayflower pilgrims died. Out of fear that the natives would learn of their much reduced numbers the dead were buried secretly at night in a mass grave on what is now Cole's Hill in Plymouth. A flood in the 19th century (iirc) unearthed many of the remains, which were subsequently collected and buried in a new collective tomb. It seems that DNA testing might be useful to identify remains of these individuals. I know at least some of them left descendants. Perhaps I'm naive but this use of DNA doesn't strike me as particularly controversial. Rather it could provide a means to identify and honor the dead through individual re burials.

Saetro
08-19-2016, 11:45 PM
Perhaps I'm naive but this use of DNA doesn't strike me as particularly controversial. Rather it could provide a means to identify and honor the dead through individual re burials.
If the publicly expressed focus is on your last sentence, and DNA is merely the means to that end, you stand a chance.
Not sure how descendants of the previous inhabitants feel, but in some countries failure to express things in a way that does not offend them might also be unwise.
Pure focus on DNA would be behaviour in tune with the figure in your avatar.