Don’t get too carried away with DNA testing

Jack Blencowe, a scientist who had genetics in his field of study started our DNA testing trial to see if Blencowes from throughout the world came from the same regional genepool. Fellow scientist, Prof Bryan Sykes of Oxford University was interested in the genetic make-up of a number of persons bearing his own name, but not — as far as he knew — related to him or to each other. To his surprise he found evidence of an unexpectedly close relationship between many of the Sykes persons tested.

With Blencowe being an unusual name and part of a "one name" study we were invited to trial the use of our DNA to prove relationships. A number of Blencowes received a letter from Prof Sykes describing results of his investigation and inviting them to participate in a similar survey of persons bearing the Blencowe spelling of our name. In many cases if our male DNA is unbroken it will link us back to Adam de Blencow or at least the early Marston St Lawrence ancestors, even if our paper work cannot be found to prove this. The Blencowe Families' Association decided to fund the DNA testing of male Blencowes to confirm or discover where the various branches from around the globe fit the big picture. It was so successful that our other spellings were included and matches were made.

The 'Blencowe' study revealed similar close relationships for our name is not a regional one but derives from that single tiny village near Penrith. There will be some obvious limitations; the male descendants of the southern (Marston St Lawrence) branch of the family will carry a 'Y' chromosome from their Jackson ancestor, who was adopted into the family when the John Blencowe of the day died in 1777. In addition to adoptions there will also be instances where the male line has been broken by illegitimate births.

These DNA studies opened up exciting prospects for family history research. It made it easy to find whether families with the many different spellings of our name really are related to one another. However, there were implications, and for this reason all the samples were collected under conditions of medical confidentiality. It is not just that unexpected evidence of paternity might emerge — which it did; leaving participants wondering which Grandmother had strayed! There was, and still is, an ethical debate as to whether insurance companies might use genetic information to adjust life insurance charges to risks of inherited diseases.

Allen Blincoe, who coordinated the family DNA Study, comments: These new DNA studies have a totally different purpose than our "Family Study".

The current test that is being featured and run by all of the normal companies (, 123AndMe, etc.) are designed to find potential relatives within a 5-7 generation time span, and then use that with other records to try and get further back.

The Y-Chromosomal study that we were using was significantly more expensive ($130-$150US) and designed to "prove family lines". Most sites have also taken down their databases in this area, so even if you have the data, you need to know what to do with it. I have archived all of the "Blencowe Family Study" statistics which is available to members.

UNFORTUNATELY, there is no reasonable method to get between the "New" and "Old" matrices.

From doing your family research, you realize how short a time frame a 5-7 generation time span is. I am an 11th generation "Born in the USA" from our immigrant James. A 5-7 generation look would not even get me across the pond to try and do some research there. Also, the records for US Emigration and Immigration are from an earlier, and more difficult time period, as far as research goes.

Comment from Anne. I looked at my tree and 7 generations ago took me to people who were mostly born and died in the 1700s. Five generations ago were folk born in the late 1700s and living in the 1800s. We have good records back to these times in most countries.

Also, it would be advisable to look at the "Privacy Rules" that are currently being used; remembering that a firm can change their mind at any time in this area. One of the primary reasons that (and others) are advertising so heavily and pricing so cheaply is that there are more and more "secondary uses" for all of the DNA information that they are capturing!

DRUG companies want it to try and make correlations between diseases and medications. UNIVERSITIES want it for disease research and prediction, as well as pharmaceutical research.

INSURANCE companies want it for disease prediction and who to deny coverage to. So not only is 'Life' Insurance at risk, but so is 'Health' insurance.

OK, so in a perfect world, regardless of which version of DNA testing we are involved with, how do we cope when no matches are found? In Jack’s trail this happened a few times. The direct male line was broken. In some cases it was due to an indiscretion between the sheets or in the hay loft. Often when a young girl has a baby out of wedlock, the baby grows up thinking its grandparents are its parents and the real mother the older sister.

Allen Blincoe
Ohio USA

Keeping in mind that we Blencowe's date back to the very early 1300's, here is a light heated explanation of why not all Blencowes have the same DNA matches. I will quote from a book, The Strange Laws of Old England by Nigel Cawthorne .

The art of Adultery in early British History; Adultery did not even seem to be a problem — wives could be shared between groups of 10 or 12 men. Indeed it was not uncommon for brothers to share their wives and sometimes fathers and sons shared the same women. If the woman became pregnant, the father was considered to be the man with whom she cohabitated first.

During the Saxon era (600-1066) laws against adultery were introduced – the co – respondent was automatically sentenced to hang, while the unfaithful spouse was tied to a stake, burned alive and her ashes scattered under the gallows where her lover’s body dangled.

During the reign of Henry 1 (1100-1135) adulterers were castrated then blinded.

Until as recently as 1973 it was possible for a husband to claim damages from his wife's lover if she was unfaithful to him. In the quaint wording of the matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, the wife and her lover were said to have engaged in 'criminal conversation'. A wronged wife could also sue before 1935 if a married woman seduced the husband of another and the injured wife sued, if she won the damages had to be paid to the seducer's husband.

19th century

One of the criticisms of communism was the allegation that communists practice and propagandize the "community of women". In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggest that this allegation is an example of hypocrisy and psychological projection by "bourgeois" critics of communism, who "not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other's wives. You will recall mention of this in Igor's article in August 2017.

20th century

Swinging began among American Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II before pilots left for overseas duty. The mortality rate of pilots was so high, that a close bond arose between pilot families that implied that pilot husbands would care for all the wives as their own – emotionally and sexually – if the husbands were lost. Though the origins of swinging are contested, it is assumed American swinging was practiced in some American military communities in the 1950s. By the time the Korean War ended, swinging had spread from the military to the suburbs. The media dubbed the phenomenon wife-swapping. Ref : Terry Gould's The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers.

The 1960s were the heyday of the Free Love movement, the activities associated with swinging became more widespread in a variety of social classes and age lev-els. In "The Swinging '70s", swinging activities became more prevalent, but were still considered "alternative" or "fringe" because of their association with non-mainstream groups such as communes.

Free love is a social movement that accepts all forms of love. The Free Love movement's initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery. It claimed that such issues were the concern of the people involved, and no one else.

Add to this the recent acceptance of same sex marriage and other combinations and you can see how easy it would be not to find a DNA match to the people you know you should match.

Anne Burton