Poll: How do you feel about testing remains of Mayflower passengers?

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Thread: Going Straight to the Source!

  1. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wing Genealogist View Post
    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.
    "Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear..."

  2. #12
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    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.

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  4. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wing Genealogist View Post
    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.
    "Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear..."

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    I don't see why not.

  6. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Nordic View Post
    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.

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  8. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wing Genealogist View Post
    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.

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  10. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saetro View Post
    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.
    Last edited by Wing Genealogist; 07-27-2016 at 10:56 PM. Reason: corrected spelling error

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  12. #18
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    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.)
    Last edited by Saetro; 07-27-2016 at 08:22 PM.

  13. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wing Genealogist View Post
    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/Exp...nknown-Soldier

    https://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproof...s/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.
    Last edited by geebee; 07-27-2016 at 09:57 PM.
    Besides British-German-Catalan, ancestry includes smaller amounts of French, Irish, Swiss, Choctaw & another NA tribe, possibly Catawba. Avatar picture is: my father, his father, & his father's father; baby is my eldest brother.

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  15. #20
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    At least with a Mayflower passenger, there aren't any immediate family members to raise an objection.
    Last edited by geebee; 07-28-2016 at 03:24 AM.
    Besides British-German-Catalan, ancestry includes smaller amounts of French, Irish, Swiss, Choctaw & another NA tribe, possibly Catawba. Avatar picture is: my father, his father, & his father's father; baby is my eldest brother.

    GB

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