Through a combination of DNA testing and genealogical research, our project has successfully achieved its primary goal of determining the extent to which Acrees, including those having variant surnames, relate to one another through common immigrant ancestors. It has also tentatively determined the general location in the British Isles where our Acree ancestors lived several hundred years ago. It has, however, not yet determined the definite identities of our immigrant Acree progenitors and their precise areas of origin. While our individual ancestral origins in Colonial America now fit well together, the Acra family connection remains an exceptional puzzle.
Our project gained only one new participant this year, raising our total to 41. Acree041 is a valued addition, as our first descendant of Joshua Acree – among the “Virginia Acrees,” who descend from William Acree (c1710-c1767) of Hanover Co., Virginia. However, our project’s growth has obviously stalled. Part of the reason may be that I haven’t aggressively sought new participants to the same extent that I have in previous years. Part of it may be that we’ve succeeded in testing most of our potential membership among active Acree researchers.
Though our project gained nine participants last year, which was a banner year in many respects, we may be approaching a practical limit. Consider these numbers: According to the 2000 census (relevant stats for 2010 are unavailable), there are about 7,400 men, women and children in our country who have the surname Acree or a variation of it. Two-thirds of them use the spelling Acree. Subtracting females and minors leaves us with roughly 1,000 male Acrees available for testing, most of whom probably lack sufficient interest in pursuing or confirming their lineage to purchase a DNA test. Our Acree group on Facebook has attracted 465 interested members, mostly adult Acrees, but, despite my best efforts, it has gained us only two project participants these past couple years, which has been disappointing.
I haven’t seen relevant statistics, but there are indications that other surname projects such as ours are also experiencing declines in growth, due to the increasingly popularity of “autosomal” (all-23-chromosome) DNA testing, which can assist genealogical research through its pertinence to all of one’s ancestors, not merely one’s patrilineal line. Autosomal testing appeals particularly to females, who tend to have more genealogical curiosity than males, are annoyed that biology prevents them from taking our Y-chromosome test themselves, and have found that matrilineal (mtDNA) testing is virtually useless for genealogical purposes.
Our testing firm, Ancestry.com, entered the autosomal market early this year with a large financial investment to compete with the 23andMe, Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) testing firms and the National Geographic Society’s new “Geno 2.0” test. I highly recommend autosomal tests for genealogical assistance, connecting with near-term cousins, and ethnicity determination. My entire family has been tested at 23andMe, mainly for its associated medical revelations. But autosomal testing simply doesn’t report the Y-chromosome STR-marker values that are essential to surname projects such as ours.
Midway through the year, I discovered that Ancestry.com has been discouraging potential customers from purchasing Y-DNA tests. After two prospective participants failed to follow through by purchasing our test, I learned to my dismay that Ancestry.com’s website has not only been making it increasingly problematical to order Y-DNA tests successfully, but, for several months during the year, went so far as to advise prospective customers to order its new autosomal test instead!
From our point of view, Ancestry.com’s action is regrettable but understandable. It has invested considerable resources in developing its autosomal test as an integral part of its strategic corporate plan. In recent months, it has made several acquisitions, including Fold3.com, Footnote.com, Archives.com and GeneTree.com. The acquisition of Genetree included the massive data base that has been accumulated over the years by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogical Foundation (SMGF), which has used GeneTree as its commercial vehicle but has become inactive as a result of the death of its founder. These acquisitions made Ancestry.com attractive to a British conglomerate, which recently acquired the firm. It’s anyone’s guess whether the firm, under new management, will return to the active promotion of Y-DNA testing and take full advantage of its SMGF acquisition, as I hope it eventually will, but it’s ominous that our 20% project discount is due to expire at the end of this year.
I’ve been exploring the facilities of FTDNA, Ancestry.com’s Y-DNA-testing rival, anticipating that we may need to establish a parallel project there, or perhaps even move there someday. Taking advantage of successive sales, I’ve now tested personally for 111 Y-DNA markers (the maximum – compared to our 46-markers at Ancestry.com). I’ve taken FTDNA’s “Kittler Test,” which has revealed that the DYS385 a/b values, which include the distinguishing fractional “microallele” shared by all Virginia Acrees are 13.2 and 12 (reversed). That was important because FTDNA has announced that it will finally begin next year to report microalleles for comparison purposes. I’ve also taken FTDNA “SNP” tests – finding that I (and, by extension, all Virginia Acrees) belong to the newly-discovered haplogroup subclade Z159, which has the potential of further defining where we originated in the British Isles. I’ve discussed this matter on the Earlier Acrees page of our website. If anyone is interested in pursuing your own FTDNA tests, the firm is conducting a sale until the end of December and, for a head start, your Ancestry.com results may be transferred (for a fee) to FTDNA.
Although we gained no additional Maryland Acree descendants this year, we made a significant discovery. For years, the many descendants of William Acree (1752-1833), including numerous DAR members, have wondered where he came from, knowing only that he was born in Frederick Co., Maryland, migrated with his widowed mother to North Carolina as a teenager, and settled finally with his extended family in Kentucky. I can’t prove it, but, as a result of a fortuitous Akers DNA match and convincing circumstantial evidence, it’s highly probable that his father was William Akers, a member of a British family whose patrilineal ancestor immigrated to New Jersey in the late 17th or early 18th century.
This past week, I’ve asked several of you who have identifiable profiles on LinkedIn, the professional networking site, to “connect” with me there. A few of you have already done so. My idea is to provide the opportunity for project participants to communicate easily if you wish. Our homepage at Ancestry.com provides all the features needed for intra-project communication, including the posting of photos, but it’s a bit cumbersome to access and navigate. Our Acree group at Facebook provides extensive social networking features, but, though many of you belong to it, most members aren’t project participants. So, LinkedIn may be the best vehicle available to promote personal interchange among participants who are so inclined. I’ve selectively limited my LinkedIn connections to my immediate family, project participants, females whose surrogates have tested, Acree researchers, and DNA specialists. For our purposes, you can determine who’s who (e.g., that I’m Acree001) from our password-protected membership list at Ancestry.com.