Discovering my Scottish roots - DNA case study
In our new series on DNA and family tree research, Eleanor shares her story of how her DNA test results led her on a family history quest to discover her Scottish ancestors.
I was overjoyed when I received my DNA kit in the post from Living DNA. I’ve been working on my family tree for around two years now and I’ve made lots of exciting discoveries, even tracing one surname back to Gloucestershire in the 1500s.
The process was easy: a quick cheek swab, activating the kit online, and popping it in the post back to LivingDNA. After a few short weeks, I had an email saying my results were ready!
They came back mostly as expected: North Wales for Davies and Jones, Gloucestershire for Overthrow, Ireland for Walsh, Yorkshire for Dobbs, and the midlands for what I thought were the Smiths. Family tradition had it that my maternal Smith line originated in the midlands.
However, there was one part of my test which was completely unexpected. My autosomal DNA came back as 6.6% Scottish. One of the great features of the Living DNA/Findmypast test is that you get a regional breakdown of your British and irish autosomal DNA going back around 10 generations.
I currently live in Scotland having moved here four years ago for work, and I was born in North Wales. What a strange coincidence, I thought!
Having never come across any Scottish relatives in my research I was intrigued to find out more, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I thought to try my maternal Smith line, as I didn’t know much about this side of the family. One rainy evening I was exploring my maternal grandmother’s family and I came across something which took me by surprise.
My great-grandmother Joan Smith was born in the midlands in 1913. I know that she had a twin, Dorothy and four older brothers (Jack Malcolm, Kenneth Holmes, Oswald Ewart and Donald Philip): all siblings were born in the midlands to my great-great grandparents, William Edward Smith (born 1878, Dudley) and Kate Holmes. I learned extra detail from finding them in the 1911 census.
With a surname like Smith I originally had lost all hope of being able to trace the line back beyond William Edward Smith, but I like a challenge, so I persevered.
I thought I would try to find William Edward in the 1901 census on Findmypast using what I already knew about him: his name and birth year, place of birth. I got one matching result for his name and year of birth. Normally, I would have discounted the record due to the common name, and no other matching information. I knew nothing about his family at this point.
And that’s when I spotted a key piece of information.
This William Edward Smith, born 1878 in Dudley, was listed with parents and two siblings. And the father, William Smith born 1851 and a railway inspector, had his birth place listed as Scotland.
A wow moment...
In the genealogy community we often talk about ‘wow’ moments, and this was certainly one for me. Had I not had a DNA test done, I would never have thought to pursue this line of enquiry.
And I’m so glad I did!
I began trying to learn more about this particular family to prove this was the right one. First I looked for a birth record for William Edward, and I found a matching one: William Edward Smith, born birth quarter 1 in 1878, in Dudley, Staffordshire, with the mother’s maiden name listed as CRUMP.
Next, I looked for a marriage between a William Smith and Louisa Crump, around 1875 in Staffordshire, and found one.
Confirming the facts
Then I began to confirm the births of Albert C and Louisa E, using Crump as the mother’s maiden name in the search:
When I saw ‘Ewart’ as Louisa’s middle name I knew I must be on the right track: the name continued as a middle name and was given to my great-grandmother’s brother, Oswald Ewart. This naming tradition, of adding the mother’s maiden name as a child’s middle name, continues through this family, with Albert ‘Crump’ Smith and Kenneth ‘Holmes’ Smith.
I began to trace William Smith and Louisa back in the censuses. I found them in 1891 and 1901, still living in the midlands, and there was one common theme: William was born in Scotland, and worked for the railways.
Using the census
Next, I thought to try and find William Smith in earlier censuses as a child. I found a match in the 1861 and 1871 Censuses in Dudley, with parents James and Mary Smith, both born in Scotland, and several siblings (one of whom was also born in Scotland, the others born in Dudley):
1861 (mistranscription in birth place, gives Ireland when original give Scotland)
So, my next theory was that the family moved to the midlands from Scotland in the mid-1850s. But where from in Scotland? My next quest was to turn to the 1851 Census for Scotland, to try and find the family of James, Mary and the young William. And, as luck would have it, I found them living in Dumfries.
I learned from this that James, Mary and William were all born in Dumfriesshire in Scotland! Indeed, the next piece of the puzzle was William’s baptism record, which gave Mary’s maiden name as Swan.
Ordering the certificates
To tie this all together, I then ordered the birth and marriage certificates for William Edward Smith, and the marriage certificate for William and Louisa. I was so pleased to find all the names matched, and so did the occupations!
The real ‘wow’ moment came when I was looking for William Edward and Kate in the 1939 Register. I found them living in Abergele, North Wales, in a house called ‘Lockerby’. Next door, I found his son Donald Philip, living in a house called ‘Dumfries’! They must have named the houses after their Scottish heritage, and one of those cottages is still in the family. I got real goose bumps when I found these on Findmypast.
This journey originally made me both nervous and excited. What if I was following the wrong line? What if I wasn’t part Scottish after all? But, my DNA results kept me going – I knew I had some Scottish ancestry and I was determined to prove it right, and I have, and I couldn’t have done it without my Living DNA results and Findmypast’s records.
It’s been great to share my findings with my maternal family, who are not only Welsh and English, but also now Scottish too. I’m sure it’ll make for some interesting conversations this Christmas!
The Smith Line
James Smith (1823) Dumfries & Mary Swan (1828) Dumfries
William Smith (1851) Dumfries & Louisa Crump (1856) Walsall
William Edward Smith (1878) Dudley & Kate Holmes (1873) Balsall Heath
Joan Smith (1913) Kings Norton
Sheila Mary Davies (1938)
Discover more about family history and DNA at the DNA hub, Family Tree Live, 26-27 April 2019.