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Identifying a Powys Gene (SNP)

This is a small project to see if there is a SNP that can be identified with what appears to be a family surnamed Powys or Powis or Powes, etc which appeared in Shropshire from the 13th century onwards. The current state is that a genetic match has been found between two male-only lines of descent from Thomas Powys of Lilford, Northants who lived from 1648 to 1719. The next stage will be to identify what, if any, SNPs they share.

There is another Powis group that also descends from Shropshire. They may be of the same family as the first but we need to find a male-line descendant to do the tests. The first such was proved not to be of the male line though records indicate he is descended by a female line. Fortunately another candidate has been found who has started the testing process. This will take around 8 weeks to produce any indication of a genetic match, so progress is going to be slow.

The background to this project is a talk by Graham Holton, Principal Tutor in family history and genealogy at Strathclyde University, to the 2019 AGM of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy. Graham's account was that SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) were now well enough understood as unique identifiers on some Chromosomes. On the Y-Chromosome they have the advantage that it is passed on unchanged from father to sons; the SNPs slowly mutate at rates from once every 500 or so years to thousands of years. This means that some SNPs can be aligned with surnames in the Western European culture of passing the surname down from father to son, a practice ever more honoured as the last thousand years have progressed. Graham has edited a book on this general subject with the title "Tracing your ancestors using DNA", published by Pen & Sword in 2019. The point he particularly made to the AGM was that an SNP match would enable people to categorically know they had medieval ancestry and be able to assert which historical family they were connected with, even though they had NO documentary evidence of their descent. This is a radical development in knowledge of ancestry.

The method to use this insight is to find pairs of all male-line descents from common ancestors. Having identified a likely line, the co-descendants must take a Y-37 test to see if they are in the same general area of Y-chromosome relationship, called haplogroup. Then this apparent match can be verified by a SNP test to identify the SNPs they have in common on their Y-Chromosome.

This chart shows the speculated relationships of the people discussed below:

Powys-SNP_challenge.png - 506Kb

As above the first line for a DNA match has been speedily found. We were lucky that none of the grandmothers played away from home and caused a NPE or Non-Paternal-Event. NPEs can always occur, to deny them is absolute idiocy but in the 16 generations of descent of my 8th cousin and I, incredibly there were none as our DNA matches within two markers and we therefore hope that a common SNP will be found. This SNP will be that of the above Thomas Powys (1648-1719); he was the great-grandson of William Powys of Ludlow (c.1494-1577) who is the earliest person for whom categoric historical evidence can be found both of his life and of his ancestry of Thomas Powys of Lilford. If there were no NPEs between William and Thomas, then this SNP is that of William as well, with the occasional or minor mutations of the SNP apart.

In the lifetimes of William to his grandson Thomas Powys of Henley, a few references are to be found to their distant relations of Cockshott, Shropshire. So this is the next SNP search. Unfortunately we do not have clear evidence of a male-line descent from the Powyses of Cockshott. But we do have a family that can be linked to the same area of Shropshire as the area of the last documents of around 50 years previously to the Powyses of Cockshott and retains the surname of Powis. The simplest thing to do is to forget about the historical investigations and do the DNA investigation, which is what we are doing. I am hopeful that this will be successful but another NPE may intervene or it may become apparent that any relationship is by a much earlier link that has no surviving historical evidence. We wait in eager anticipation.

There are other lines for the Powyses of Ludlow which might be possible to test but as yet I have not found any male-line descendants of the present day. The first is the family of the eldest son, Edward Powys (c.1556-aft 1611), of the second marriage of William of Ludlow. Edward definitely inherited William's properties and his male line descendants stayed on in Ludlow until around 1800; they may or may not have male-line descendants elsewhere in England or even the world. The second line is the illegitimate sons of John Powys of Liverpool and then Swansea (1787-1834) who was the last of the male line of John Powys (c.1572-bef 1622) the penultimate son of William; for the two sons, one named Rupert Powys and the other Henry Johnson, I have tried but failed to find any of their descendants. Either of these lines could identify the SNP shared between Thomas Powys of Lilford and his great-grandfather William Powys of Ludlow.

Then there is the asserted princely connection to the Princes of Powys. I do not give this much credence, nor did Oswald Barron who either made or directed the Powys of Lilford genealogy in the Genealogy Volume of the Northamptonshire Victoria County History, pub 1906 (see here for a scan of this genealogy). There was a Humfry of Meifod (c.1518-aft1582) who is asserted both in Lewis Dwnn's Heraldic Visitation, and then included in Bartrum's tables, to be a direct line descendant of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn (d.1075). It has further been asserted, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the Powyses of Ludlow were descended from Humfry's male-line forbears. If this is true, then those descendants of Bleddyn and the descendants of William of Ludlow should carry the same SNP. So some work is being done to see if any of Humfry's male-line ancestors have male-line descendants for at least a few generations and then specifically to the present day. Any such male-line descendant will be asked to take the same Y-37 and Big-Y-700 tests to see if the genealogy can be proven by DNA.

I suspect this last will be a long search, possibly taking longer then the life I have left. I look forward to the result and to be spared the current centuries of speculation. Thanks to Graham Holton for passing on the means of solving this knotty problem.

This page will be updated as more is discovered. Meantime here is a chart to show the current speculations about Powys ancestry. If you want to print it, it needs to go onto A3 or even A2 sized paper; probably you won't have a printer that large, so e-mail it to a local printing firm that does print onto that sort of size; or you can copy it to a memory stick and take that along with you to the local print shop.

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