During its third year, our project has gained only six new participants (raising our total to 25) – attributable in part to the weak economy in which an expenditure for testing has become more of a luxury. So long as I am able to administer it, the project will remain available to everyone seeking to support or extend his Acree lineage. I also remain personally available to help those within the project and apart from it to amplify their lineages. I’ve continued, however, to seek participants selectively in a way that will advance the primary goals of the project because its success is best measured not by numerical growth, but by the extent to which it is satisfying its stated objectives, which have been to determine the extent to which Acrees are related to one another and the validity of the proposition that many of us in the U.S. descend from a common colonial-era ancestor. With the benefit of your much-appreciated participation, the tests we’ve conducted this year, and the further research and correspondence that I’ve pursued, I can now state with greater assurance that we’ve essentially met those objectives – an accomplishment that was obtainable only with the benefit of DNA testing.
Our project has found substantial evidence that most Acrees now living in the US descend from William Acre (c1710-c1767) who lived in Hanover Co., Virginia, and came to America as a young man from the English-Scottish border area. It has further determined that another identifiable group of Acrees descend from William Acre (1752-1833), a Kentucky settler who was born in Maryland, lived his early adulthood in western North Carolina, and came from a completely different family in northern England.
It’s impressive that, over these past three years, nearly all of the Acrees who have contracted me and nearly all the numerous Acrees whose lineages I’ve traced and added to my sizable off-line data base (now numbering about 2,200 Acrees) have been found to descend from either these “Virginia Acrees” or these “Maryland Acrees.”
There are definitely Acrees in the U.S. who descend from other immigrants, including some who ceased spelling their names Acker or Akers and produced descendants now living in West Virginia, Alabama and elsewhere. Finding those other descendants to test remains a challenging project priority.
It’s important to emphasize constantly that DNA testing can’t prove specific relationships (i.e., sons, brothers and cousins). All it can tell us is that certain test-related matches are particularly “close.”
With regard to the “Virginia Acrees,” the nineteen of us who now share that descent (including an Acrey, an Akrie, two men with the surname Williamson, and my own son) have a distinguishing advantage in the form of a rare “microvariant” value within our common genetic profile that’s remarkably distinctive. Nevertheless, through genetics alone, we still can’t affirm absolutely that our William Acre of Virginia fathered John, Abraham, William, Isaac, and Joshua, whom the project has described as prolific Acree progenitors. A firm conclusion to that effect would have to be supported by documentary evidence, which isn’t available and probably never will be. Our tests have shown, however, that at least three of those five (excepting Isaac and Joshua, whose descendants haven’t yet been tested) were closely related. Combined with circumstantial evidence, including their known migration patterns and the lack of plausible alternative origins, we may realistically consider that the five were indeed brothers. Focusing on John in particular, it’s satisfying that, with the recent testing of a descendant of Henly, our participants now include descendants of all his sons except Leonard, who appears to have no known Acree descendants to test. Focusing on Abraham and William, our participants now include descendants of three sons of Abraham and several descendants of (curiously) the same son of William.
With regard to the “Maryland Acrees,” we now have two participant-descendants (one of them an Acrea) – both from the same son of William. When further descendants are tested, their results will strengthen the case, but the results from these two have been sufficient to confirm this year that they and their kin descend from a completely different Acree family. Whoever the father of William of Maryland was, he or his father presumably emigrated from Britain to Philadelphia before moving eventually to Maryland, where William was born and his father died.
While we still don’t know for certain the identities of our colonial-era Acree immigrants (and whether William of Virginia was definitely one himself), their British ethnicity has been increasingly validated through comparative DNA matching.
Two of us recently took amplified “SNP” tests through the “23andMe” firm (mentioned in a previous e-mail), which have defined the ancestral haplogroup (pre-1000 AD origin) of the Virginia Acrees with greater precision, as detailed on the project’s “Earlier Acrees” webpage.
I mentioned the Virginia Acrees’ fortuitous and precise DNA match with two Englishmen named Willoughby and Hall last year, a circumstance that remains unresolved. It’s regrettable that their surname wasn’t some form of Acree. Reflecting on this coincidence and investigating it as best I can from afar (given the two men’s reluctance to correspond), it’s obvious that one explanation may be that their match was the product of a local or itinerant Acree lothario who successfully roamed their common neighborhood in northern England within the last couple hundred years. But I’ve determined independently that they both have deep roots in the historic Lancashire area near the Scottish border. So, it seems that a better explanation is that the surname convergence occurred somehow long ago, before our Acree emigrated to Virginia, and that the current location of these two individuals provides evidence that the Virginia Acrees came from that specific area of northern England.
As mentioned above, I fault primarily the weak economy for the decline in testing that has occurred during these past several months. It’s always concerned me, however, that our project may be increasingly the victim of its own success by establishing definite ancestral haplotypes to match. Ideally, all family-history researchers should be receptive to the truth of their ancestry and thus to the possibility that their lineages may not actually be those they’ve assumed them to be. Once commitment to an attractive lineage has been made, testing may appear more of a threat to disrupt than an opportunity to validate. That circumstance is undoubtedly a widespread inhibitor – to an unknown degree, since people will never admit it, perhaps even to themselves.
Related to that concern is the delicate matter of testing close relatives. Because there’s no point in redundant testing that has no potential to advance the goals of the project, I’ve usually discouraged participants from testing close relatives, even first cousins, because of the family repercussions that might arise from adverse DNA testing results that disprove close relationships. If anyone wishes to pursue the testing of family members, it should be done privately, apart from the project. I can tell you how to do that while receiving the discount. My son has finally be tested, as has my wife. All project participants are eligible for discounted matrilineal (mtDNA) tests at Ancestry.com.
Within the past few months, seeking in all ways possible to promote the project, I’ve, in effect, placed further advertisements on the net by establishing additional profiles that will be picked up by the search engines for display when people look for their Acree ancestry.
Recently, acting upon the advice of other participants, I launched a new group on the increasingly-popular social-networking website, Facebook, that I’ve called the Acree Family History, Genealogy & DNA Project. It’s already served as a means of contact with more Acrees who might not otherwise have discovered us. We haven’t yet gained further project participation as a result, but it’s brought useful correspondence and might lead to that. Those of you who are already on Facebook (a majority, I see), as well as those who aren’t currently active on it, are, of course, welcome to join this new Facebook group, which won’t indicate that you are DNA project participants. You’ll see, in reviewing its members, that it has attracted a wide group of people, including some of mixed race.
For those inclined toward the sharing of family lore, personal memories, photos, etc. concerning Acrees, our homepage at Ancestry.com, which is available exclusively to project participants, continues to be another venue for those purposes. I appreciate, though, that many of you prefer to maintain absolute anonymity.