Category Archives: Genealogy

It’s all in the Genes!

The role of genetics in genealogy is a very topical subject at the moment, and the implications are far reaching. I make no apology, therefore, for reproducing here an article which appeared in The Times on 4 April which reports the work of Professor Bryan Sykes on his surname and its relation to the Y chromosome. The paper behind The Times report is ‘Surnames and the Y chromosome’ by B Sykes and C Irven, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 66 pp 1417-1419 (Apr 2000).

"Your surname may well be written in your genes, a study has shown. This surprising discovery suggests that forensic evidence left at the scene of a crime could be read in a DNA laboratory and reveal the criminal’s name. Professor Bryan Sykes, at the University of Oxford, started the research as "a bit of fun", but it is likely to have an impact in both forensic science and genealogy.

Professor Sykes used samples from 61 volunteers who shared his surname to establish a link between the name and the distinctive DNA. He has found similar results for three other names, but thinks the link may not hold for the most common surnames like Jones and Smith.

Fathering a dynasty

The research makes the first direct link between genes and genealogy, showing that successive generations of a family can inherit unique sections of DNA. This strongly implies that people sharing a surname share a single male ancestor. Genealogists had long assumed that there would be several founders for every family name. "It puts every family on a par with the aristocracy, in being able to trace ourselves back to an original founder," said Professor Sykes.

The name Sykes means a boundary stream and is a common landscape feature in Yorkshire, suggesting a number of people could have adopted it in the 13th and 14th centuries, when inherited surnames became common.

History of infidelity

It has been traditional in England for children to take their father’s name and so Professor Sykes and colleague Catherine Irven looked at the Y chromosome, which fathers pass to sons but not daughters. They randomly chose 250 men with the name Sykes and asked for DNA samples: 61 replied with a swab from the inside of their cheek.

Half of the group shared four unique sections of DNA which were not found in control subjects either in Yorkshire or anywhere in the UK. The other half did not have the Sykes DNA, suggesting some infidelity in the Sykes dynasty. However, the estimated rate of infidelity over the 700 years the name has existed for is very low.

If just 1.3% of the Sykes children in each generation were fathered by someone other than a Sykes, then the accumulation of "foreign" genes would mean that about half of today’s Sykes would not have the unique DNA. This uncertainty means the DNA evidence of a name could not be used to convict criminals, but it could help to narrow down searches. It is also likely that families with the most common names, like Smith and Jones, do have multiple founders.

The research is published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.”

So, if you receive a request in the near future for a sample of hair or a mouth swab, please don’t worry – you will know what it’s all about!

The Data Protection Act

Roy Stockdill, Editor of The Journal of One-Name Studies, has recently been in communication with the Office of the Data Protection Registrar and has encouraged members of the Guild to pass on the replies which he received from them about the implications of the Data Protection Act. As Roy noted in one of his messages, the wider dissemination it receives the better!

The statement from the DPR is in the form of questions and answers as follows:

OFFICE OF THE DATA PROTECTION REGISTRAR

DO WE NEED TO REGISTER?

A Guide to the Registration Requirements for Genealogists

Compiled by Compliance Group A, April 1997

WHAT IS DATA PROTECTION?

The Data Protection Act regulates the holding and use of information which is held on computer in order to protect the rights and freedoms of Individuals. The Data Protection Registrar aims to promote respect for the private lives of individuals and in particular for the privacy of their information.

The Data Protection Act requires that data users (i.e. those legal person who control the contents and use of particular collections of personal data) register the purposes for which they hold personal data. They are also required to provide a brief description of that data, including the source from which the data are obtained and the persons to whom that data might be disclosed. A registered data user is further obliged to comply with the eight Data Protection Principles. These are a set of enforceable rules for good data protection practice.

Computer bureaux are also required to register under the Act. A computer bureau is an individual or organisation who processes personal data on behalf of a data user or who allows a data user to use his computing equipment.

WHAT TYPE OF INFORMATION IS COVERED?

The Act defines ‘personal data’ as information relating to a living individual who can be identified from that information (or from that and other information in the possession of the data user). The Act applies to as little as a name and address. It applies to data collected from a public source. Therefore, unless a genealogist only holds historical data about deceased people, the Data Protection Act will apply to the data which they hold.

WHO NEEDS TO REGISTER?

There are several specific exemptions from the requirement to register. If a data user can rely on one or more of the exemptions, registration is not required. The exemptions have strict conditions attached to them. It is the responsibility of the data user to satisfy himself that an exemption applies. The exemptions are explained in chapter 6 of the Guidelines (available from the Registrar’s Office). If a data user is unsure about whether registration is required he should contact the Registrar’s Office for further advice.

THE EXEMPTIONS

Domestic or Recreational Use

Personal data held by an individual and concerned only with the management of his own personal, family or household affairs or held by him only for recreational purposes are exempt from registration. Therefore, a genealogist holding personal data simply in connection with his own studies and research would not be required to register such data. However, the Registrar considers that the genealogist would no longer hold such personal data solely for his personal recreational purposes if he disclosed the data to another genealogist, or any other person, and the exemption would no longer apply. Similarly, the exemption would not apply where a genealogist holds personal data which is shared with, and provided by, a group of genealogists who share research information, or held in connection with a local society of genealogists, or a one-name society.

Unincorporated Members’ Clubs

There are several exemptions from registration which might apply to a club whose members are genealogists. These include an exemption for accounting, mailing lists and an exemption for unincorporated members’ clubs which can cover personal data relating to members which are held with the consent of the members. These exemptions are set out in detail in a separate factsheet for clubs and societies which is available from the Registrar’s Office. However, a genealogists club which held research data about living individuals who are not members of the club would be required to register.

Word processing

In addition to the exemptions from registration, there is a provision for word processing. A person or an organisation does not become a data user simply by using the editing facilities provided by a simple word processor, with the sole purpose of producing a letter or other document, even though that document, when printed, may contain personal data. However, if the documents are held on a computer as a store of personal data then this ‘exemption’ would not apply.

HOW DO WE REGISTER?

If you are satisfied that you need to register, please telephone our Registration Department on (01625) 545740. You will be asked the broad nature of your business. A registration form designed to cover your own particular business will be sent to you. You will be required to check the details, make any amendments and return the form with the registration fee. The current fee is £75.00 for three years.

THE DATA PROTECTION PRINCIPLES

Registration alone does not ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act. Once registered, a data user must comply with the eight Data Protection Principles. The Principles are enforceable rules for good practice.

Broadly, the Principles state that personal data must be:

1. Obtained and processed fairly and lawfully;

2. Held for the lawful purposes described in the data user’s entry;

3. Used only for those purposes, and disclosed only to those people described in the register entry;

4. Adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose for which they are held;

5. Accurate and, where necessary, kept up-to-date;

6. Held no longer than is necessary for the registered purpose;

7. Accessible to the individuals concerned who, where appropriate, have the right to have information about themselves corrected or erased;

8. Surrounded by proper security.

The principles are described in further detail in chapter 4 of the Guidelines, available from the Registrar’s Office on request. The Registrar’s staff will be happy to assist with any further questions about the requirements of the Data Protection Act.

As regards whether it is necessary to register if putting family tree on the Internet, the further advice from the Data Protection Registrar’s Office was as follows:

The Data Protection Act 1984 obliges all those organisations and/or individuals who process personal data to be registered with this office. There are some narrow exemptions from this requirement, all of which have stringent conditions attached. The fact that you intend to put this information on the Internet means that you would not be able to rely on any of the exemptions, and therefore you would need to register.

The First Data Protection Principle

Following on from registration data users must also comply with the eight Data Protection Principles of good data handling practice. Of particular relevance to your proposal is the First Principle which states that;

"The information to be contained in personal data shall be obtained, and personal data shall be processed, fairly and lawfully."

The Registrar takes the view that fair obtaining requires that people should be put in a position to decide whether or not to give the information requested. This will normally mean that they should be made aware of;

- the identity of the data user;

- any proposed uses of personal data which may not be obvious;

- any disclosures of personal data to third parties.

Our general position to anyone considering publishing personal data on the Internet is that this should only be done with the informed consent of the individuals concerned. We maintain that making such information available via a global medium such as the World Wide Web without the individuals involved understanding the implications of this and without their consent, would constitute unfair processing of personal data in contravention of the First Principle.

The 1998 Act is intended to implement in the UK the EU Data Protection Directive to be implemented by all the EU Member States. It did not originate in the UK (although we already had the less stringent 1984 UK Act which is now being replaced). One significant aspect is that any affected data cannot be transferred to a country outside the EU unless that country has equivalent data protection legislation. This would seem to rule out sending any such data outside Europe and especially to the USA.

Although the 1998 Act is mostly due to come into force on 1 April 2000, many of the rules and regulations are still awaited. The amount of the registration fee has only recently been announced as £35 per year which is a substantial increase over the figure of 75 pounds for three years under the 1984 Act.

A number of one name groups have registered following concerns over the implications and possible penalties of this legislation. The Lin(d)field One Name Group has recently registered as it seems clear that the cost is outweighed by the possible fines which can be incurred. The cost therefore equates to about 30 pence per member yearly.

On a related issue, members may have read of the project in Iceland to compile a database of DNA profiles. Here is part of an article which appeared in the San Fransisco Sunday Examiner, Dec. 19, 1999 under the headline – Iceland Company compiling vast database of nation’s DNA Profiles Sub Head_ Some scientists fear participants’ privacy could be in jeopardy.

"Within weeks the Icelandic Company, Decode Genetics, will begin collecting DNA samples from Iceland’s 270,000 citizens and linking the genetic profiles with their health records and family trees. It is an ideal site for using DNA to track genetic links to disease. Relatively few outsiders have moved in over 1,000 years, and the nation has extensive health records and family trees, some dating back 500 years. The company plans to use computer programs to search for patterns. Decode Genetics has the right to the database for 12 years and plans to sell information to pharmaceutical companies and researchers. It will take three years to complete the database programming, but much less time to get usable information".

Data Protection, as covered by the DP Act, is of course something of a misnomer. It should more accurately be described as Data privacy. In the more literal meaning of the phrase, there is at least one area where government agencies are patently failing to protect data. A number of correspondents have recounted how, having recently completed paying off their mortgage, they were duly sent the Land Registry Certificate by the Building Society, with instructions to forward the Certificate onto the Land Registry for updating. Most people have clearly assumed that their names would be entered at the bottom of the list of previous owners and the Certificate returned to them. Sadly, what is actually returned is a new computer-printed Certificate containing only the names of the current owner. The trajedy is that they destroy old Certificates when data has been added to the computer so that the primary evidence of previous owners to the property is destroyed forever. Members who may be approaching the long-awaited final mortgage payment might do well to retain a good quality copy of the Land Registry Certificate in order to minimise the damage caused by this wanton destruction of evidence!

The moral of the tale is "Always take photocopies of all evidence, because some people don’t ‘collect’ paper like genealogists do"

Miscellany (1)

Reflections from the President June 1996

Our journal Longshot represents the most essential and interesting form of communication open to us at present. It enables us to expand our Lin(d)field horizon so that we can appreciate the significance of all the branches of the tree. As Professor Steve Jones is showing in his current BBC 2 series, In the Blood, both Genealogy and Genetics have a common linguistic link, the gene. During the last few years, I have lectured on the Human Genome project and Genetic Engineering, as it seems necessary for us all to understand the significance of scientific research and its technological application. I wonder how many genealogists share my search for this understanding. Finally, on this topic, it gives me great pleasure that I live next door to the parents of Dr Richard Roberts, whom I have known since he was completing his PhD at Sheffield University. Richard shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1994 for his pioneering work on the split gene. Perhaps it would interest our members if I produced a short reading list to encourage reading on the fascinating story of Human Genetics!

Writing as a Hobby

So Communication in all its channels – the media – must depend ultimately on words. Indeed, forty or more years ago at university, I spent some time studying symbolic logic because I had been inspired by Bertrand Russell’s writings and FP Ramsey’s ‘Foundations of Mathematics.’ However, the work of the Viennese logician Carnap and some of his contemporaries seemed so arid that I became more interested in the work of Russell’s famous pupil, Ludwig Wittgenstein than symbolic logic. So I decided that statistics and experimental psychology were more appropriate in part II of the Tripos, as I really wanted to communicate as an educator with “all sorts and conditions of people.” Writing, like lecturing, has always attracted me, and whether it’s a personal letter, a book review, a magazine article or a press report, I enjoy the process. Sometimes words fail me and I look for some mathematical measure like opinion polls but our individual thoughts and feelings seem infinitely more important than marks on a scale. Every Lin(d)field has a unique story to tell and if anyone would like any help in its shaping with words on paper, I would be pleased to help.

Mary Offer’s delightful article “How did it all begin?” in the last issue of Longshot (Vol 4 No 2) seemed an excellent beginning. Even if your linkage with any of our known branches has not yet been fully established, write down some personal family history, especially memories of your own grandparents or interesting family friends or places you may like. There are vast areas of our Lin(d)field family heritage still to explore and every field is interesting. You might find the new journal ‘Family History Monthly’ useful to inspect as it aims to make family history more popular.

Field Name and Place Name Research

Until early 1994, when I had my slight stroke, I was alternately Secretary and Chairman of our Keynsham and Saltford Local History Society (1981-1994), although I had no academic qualification in History. However, both as an evening class student in Archaeology and Local History in Essex, Hertfordshire, Hampshire and here in the West Country, I have probably heard more lectures on historical subjects than on any other!!

Place names and field names fascinate me as much as family names, for research on names involve similar methods, as they all have connections. Anyone having the word FIELD as their whole surname or part thereof, as with us Lin(d)fields, must have an ancient connection with the land and/or farming. Field is derived from FELD (Old English) and corresponds to FELD in Old Frisian and Old Saxon, VELD (Dutch) and FELD (Old High German and German). LIN(D) is more difficult to identify as it can be any of the following in its origin: 

  • LINN, a waterfall, obsolete variant.
  • LIN, made of flax.
  • Variant of LITHE from the Old High German word LINDI, German LIND meaning soft and agreeable (of things) and gentle, meek (of persons).
  • Old English LIND or LINDE was the lime tree and also Old English LINDEN, LIND also meant made of the wood of the lime tree.

Whatever the historical origins of our family name, I will settle for gentle, meek, growers of flax in some Saxon fields!! (The Sermon on the Mount in the A.V. New Testament tells us “Blessed are the Meek”.)

Research on place names is often more disappointing; for instance, in recent years I have tried to trace two cottages mentioned on early Census Returns but I have been unable to locate their sites as so many cottages do not last more than a hundred years. One was at Hammerpot between Crossbush and Clapham, the home of NOAH LEACH, gamekeeper, my father’s maternal grandfather (1851 Census) and Granary Cottage in the parish of Shermanbury, where my maternal grandfather, GEORGE KNAPP is recorded as a nine year old scholar in the 1861 Census. However, I was delighted to find in recent research that my maternal grandfather, George Knapp, lived at Shermanbury from 1851 to 1877 when he married and moved to Woodmancote. My grandfather, GEORGE LINFIELD, and his two sons, my father George, and Uncle Fred, lived and worked at Ewhurst Farm, Shermanbury from the late 1890s until 1918/19, the end of the First World War. This discovery of links with the same place from both my maternal and paternal grandfathers has explained my fascination with this really rural tiny Sussex parish beside the upper reaches of the River Adur.

The Marnhull Letters

Genealogy! – an easy subject to talk about at parties, meetings or over lunch with a friend. Most people, I believe, are interested in their own family history and will listen politely to others’. A good number of people want their family tree all laid out for them, without providing any contribution. Then there are people like the founders, executives and officers of LONGSHOT who not only have done research on their families, but are dedicating much time and energy to encourage others to share their family records for the enjoyment and interest of all potentially related parties. To them, I offer my heartiest congratulations for their unselfishness, perseverence and outstanding work in making the Lin(d)field One Name Group a successful undertaking and publication. As a proud member (no. 46), a profound “hello” to other members and a warm welcome to all new members. Continue reading

Getting Started – Part 1

We have received a number of letters since starting the Group from people saying that they have always intended to research their family history, but were unsure how to get started. This article is based upon the advice we have sent in reply to such enquiries, and is published here in the hope that it will help a few more Lin(d)field descendants to start researching. It refers to the records in the United Kingdom, though the general principle applies in most countries which keep public records. Continue reading