ACREE SURNAME DNA PROJECT

Progress Report for 2014

GROWTH

Our project gained seven participants in 2014, including two who are currently awaiting test results, raising our total membership to 52.

Several of our new participants are non-Acrees who match us genetically and are seeking, with our help, to learn when and where the most recent ancestors they share with us lived, in terms of century and geographic vicinity. Specifics are unlikely to be discerned.

PROJECT WEBPAGES

Our nine inter-linked webpages are always up-to-date regarding project achievements.

Our project now tests exclusively at the Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) testing firm. The results of those who have tested initially there, transferred their results there from Ancestry.com (as I've suggested), or tested further there (productively) now represent nearly a third of our project membership. Their FTDNA test results, which include a different set of markers in some instances from those tested by Ancestry.com, may be seen there.

Our associated Acree family-history discussion group on Facebook, which was established several years ago, has grown to 615 members. It continues to help members discover relationships with each other, as well as with their Acree ancestors, while it broadens our understanding of Acree inter-relationships and augments our project's data base.

Our associated Acree One-Name Study, based in the UK, continues to attract world-wide inquiries, to our benefit.

SUMMARY OF SUCCESS

Combining selective DNA testing with extensive family history research, and benefiting greatly from the much-appreciated participation of our membership through both testing and collaborative genealogical research, our project has succeeded remarkably well in accomplishing its two fundamental objectives, which would have been impossible to achieve without genetic testing:

  1. It has defined the extent to which Acrees in the US, including those with variant surnames, including Acrey, Akrie and Acrea, relate to one another, which was essentially a mystery eight years ago. This accomplishment was achieved early in the project's history and has been continuously re-confirmed.
  2. It has established that our Acree ancestors lived in the English/Scottish border area (typified by Hadrian's Wall - depicted in this year's Christmas greeting) before emigrating to America, as some participants had earlier alleged from family lore. This was the major achievement this year, through SNP testing (explained below).

This Borderland origin appears to be applicable not only to our 34-member majority, known to represent most living Acrees, who share a genetic profile (haplotype) that contains a distinguishing microallele (the value 13.2 at marker DYS385b) and descend genealogically from William Acree (c1710-c1767) of Hanover Co. Virginia (thus called the "Virginia Acrees" within our project), but applicable as well to our project's three-member minority, known to represent far fewer living Acrees, who share a much different haplotype and descend from William Acree (1752-1833) of Frederick Co., Maryland (thus called the "Maryland Acrees" within our project).

We've determined through a combination of Y-DNA STR and SNP testing that several men who match the Virginia-Acree haplotype (with microallele) but have non-Acree surnames (Brown, Peel, Collier, Hall, Willoughby and Barnhart - including three of our participants) had ancestors in common with the Virginia Acrees several hundred years ago and were not (alternatively) descendants of more recent Acree adoptees, as our Williamson participants are known to have been. We've also determined that our Martins participant, who matches the Virginia-Acree haplotype fairly well but lacks its crucial microallele, had an ancestor in common with the Virginia Acrees a few hundred years earlier.

While there has been little advanced testing among our Maryland-Acree participants, we've nevertheless deduced, from both genetic and genealogical evidence, that they relate to an Akers-family who came to New Jersey in the late 17th century, although their genetic match with descendants of that same family living in the US and with an Akers participant in England is inconclusive. A Dacre descendant, who recently joined our project, matches the Maryland Acrees far more closely than he does the Virginia Acrees; but at least one other Dacre participant will be required to support that finding.

In the few cases where Acrees haven't succeeded in matching either the Virginia Acrees or the Maryland Acrees, those participants' test results have usually enabled a genetic/genealogical connection to their indicated patrilineal surname lines. One participant, the son of an adoptee, has discovered that he's a Maryland-Acree descendant.

CONTINUING CHALLENGES

We're still unable to identify the parents of the immigrant progenitors of both the Virginia and Maryland Acrees, those immigrants' areas of embarkation, and the earlier migrations of their ancestral families within what was formerly known as the "West March" borderland area, associated with the present-day English counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and with the southwestern Scottish lowlands.

We're still unable to confirm that there was a third prominent Acree/Acra emigrant-progenitor to America - Jacob Acra (c1710-1772) of Middlesex Co., Virginia, in view of the fact that our three participants who descend from him genealogically have differing haplotypes. To resolve this situation, we need more men with the Acra surname to test with us.

We're still unable to define how African-American Acrees, who are numerous in the US, as evidenced by the many who belong to our Facebook group, acquired their Acree surname. We can only assume that many of them descend from ancestors who were born in the pre-Civil-War slave plantations in the South. We've managed to identify a prolific "free mulatto" family that was associated geographically and presumably biologically with the Virginia Acrees in the late 18th century. Our sole African-American participant descends patrilineally from a late-19th-century (white) Virginia-Acree grandfather.

SEARCH FOR BRITISH ORIGINS

For the past couple years, I've focused most of my research efforts on the first pursuit above - seeking to clarify our British heritage. I explained in my last progress report why we may never find Acree relatives in the British Isles who will conveniently match our established Y-DNA haplotypes conclusively, leading to the early ancestral information that we seek. I pointed out that our surname has obviously evolved from predecessor names, including Akers, and that it's possible that our patrilineal lines have become extinct in Britain over the past several hundred years, like many others. While there's reason to speculate that an early version of our surname was Dacre (among other possible origins) - derived from variants that descendants of that Medieval barony themselves later adopted or from variants that residents of that barony's estates adopted, there's an alternative possibility: Acrees may descend, as a result of one or more cases of mis-attributed paternity that occurred centuries ago, from progenitors having entirely dissimilar surnames, such as Brown, Peel or Collier above, whose descendant-participants match us so closely genetically.

In view of these possibilities, our project is taking advantage of an alternate method of determining our early origins that's now available to us. It involves researching forward, rather than backward, in time, using a different form of genetic evidence - SNPs - to determine ultimately when and where our two well-defined Acree groups lived in the British Isles and, through the process of SNP comparisons, to infer what surnames they may have used.

Y-DNA "SNP" TESTING TO DETERMINE HAPLOGROUP SUBCLADES

Within our project, we've heretofore been comparing dozens of numerical values revealed by our respective DNA tests, which represent "STR" (Short Tandem Repeat) counts at specific marker locations. Certain combinations of those values define our individual genetic signatures, known as haplotypes, which, when they match one another within reasonable thresholds, we've assigned to designated ancestors. Haplogroups, in contrast, encompass far greater populations and may be regarded, in effect, as parents of haplotype groupings. Unlike haplotypes, they're organized within an historical hierarchy, which may be envisioned as a multi-branched tree or a river with multiple tributaries. The successive sub-divisions within a major haplogroup (such as R1b, to which most of us and most Europeans belong) are known as "clades" and, in subordinate groupings, as "subclades." SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) are the randomly occurring mutations that define successive clades and subclades. They may be regarded as junctures that divide a tree's limbs into smaller branches and later into twigs. Another way to picture SNPs is as alternative routes to take when a road divides at a Y intersection. As new subclades are discovered through more widespread SNP testing, they are becoming increasingly pertinent to specific times and places. Eventually, SNPs may be discovered that belong to particular families - to the Virginia Acrees, for example, and will be roughly equivalent to the differentiation we today achieve through our unique STR haplotypes.

As another example, the three residents of the UK who participate in our project, having near-equivalent forms of the Acree-surname (Akers, Acres and Ackers), display haplotypes that are so different from one another that they belong to entirely different major haplogroups (R1b, I1 and T1 respectively), which are believed to have arisen several thousands of years ago in differing European locales. Two years ago, I took a FTDNA SNP test that placed me (and, by extension, all Virginia Acrees) in the R1b subclade known as Z159 (aka Z160). This year, I took the "Chromo2" SNP test, provided by the BritainsDNA firm, that placed me (and all Virginia Acrees) in a subordinate subclade known as S6915. That result was gratifyingly revealing, because the families of other men belonging to S6915 lived traditionally in the English/Scottish border area. I've recently taken FTDNA's more thorough "Big-Y" SNP test, which has yielded results that not only support the Chromo2 findings, but has provided the opportunity to learn far more soon, when I'm able to compare these new results with those of another project participant who has helpfully taken the Big-Y test.

I can take SNP tests such as these in behalf of all Virginia Acrees because our haplotype, enhanced by its distinctive microallele, relates all of us so definitely within a 300-year timeframe that we may be presumed to belong to a yet-to-be-discovered subclade all our own. It's best in all DNA situations to seek confirmation through parallel testing with other project participants. SNP tests, which in the past have pertained to far earlier years - in the thousands, are now able to yield results pertaining to the past thousand years when taken in collaboration with another individual who shares a common ancestor born within that period. Martins046 (whose shared ancestor with me was born an estimated 1000 years ago) and Acree014 (a known sixth cousin whose shared ancestor with me was born 250 years ago) both took the Chromo2 test when I did. That test revealed that Martins046 and I have a few divergent SNPs and that Acree014 and I have no differences at all. Now, Brown037 (whose shared ancestor with me was born an estimated 500 years ago) has concurrently taken the far more extensive Big-Y test. When his results become available, we expect to observe only a few differences between us, in light of the latest estimate that SNP mutations are spread about 130 years apart. The differences may well reveal respective Brown and Acree lines, as well as provide an improved appreciation of those SNP's years and places of origin.

In last year's report, I included a timeline that illustrated how newly-identified subclades (defined by SNPs) are advancing the hierarchy steadily from antiquity toward the so-called genealogical era - roughly the past thousand years. Progress has not only continued; it has skyrocketed this year. I invite you to view the repeatedly-updated haplogroup section of our "Later Acrees" webpage to see how this progress may pertain speculatively to both of our early Acree lines - the Virginia and Maryland Acrees, which incorporate our matching non-Acree participants.

AUTOSOMAL DNA TESTING

I've mentioned the increasing popularity of “autosomal” (23-chromosome) DNA tests, which can be taken by both males and females and significantly assist genealogical research through its pertinence to all of one’s ancestors, not merely to one’s patrilineal line through the Y-Chromosome testing that our project uses, or to one's matrilineal line through mitochondrial DNA testing. Several participants have taken these tests at one or more of the three prominent testing firms (Ancestry.com, 23andMe and FTDNA). I've tested at all three. An autosomal test works best at finding relatives of yours who are fifth cousins or closer and who have also taken these tests, but these tests can sometimes positively identify more distant cousins, including matching project participants who are typically more distant.

For example:

From the second and third examples above, it's evident that autosomal testing provides a fruitful way that Acree females can personally confirm or discover family relationships.

If you are an Acree seeking confirmation or extension of your paternal line, please consider participation in the:

Link to Acree Surname DNA Project

Click on the above link to connect or return to the explanatory project page.
Please direct questions to the E-MAILaddress there.