DNA Results Explained

by Mark Bunch

There have been many discussions over the discovery of E1b1a DNA in the Nuckolls lineage which proves an African lineage. Because the Nuckolls tested are all caucasian with distinctive european features, this discovery has proven to be a challenge. Following are some recent discussions with Mark Bunch who carries the same E1b1a DNA. Continued testing with other male Nuckolls descendants can help us narrow down the "adoptee" into this family.


There are two popular tests in genetic genealogy, and the reason they're popular is that they allow a person to directly trace a particular family lineage. Y-chromosome testing applies only to males (only males have a y-chromosome), and it allows a test subject to trace their patrilineage (father, father's father, father's father's father, etc.). Basically, the y-chromosome is the part of the genome that makes males male, and every male receives his y-chromosome directly from his father. As it happens, this is also the path that, generally speaking, family names follow (the main difference being that females generally acquire their father's surname at birth and change it at marriage, whereas they never acquire a y-chromosome at all), so

y-chromosome testing is useful for tracing the history of a family name. [The other popular test applies to mitochondrial DNA, or mt-DNA. A person's mitochondrial DNA is passed to them from their mother by way of their mother's ova or eggs. Both males and females have mitochondrial DNA, but only females pass theirs on to their offspring. So mt-DNA testing allows a person to trace their matrilineage (mother, mother's mother, mother's mother's mother, etc.). Since there is generally a surname change at every step in a matrilineage, mt-DNA testing is less useful for tracing a family name, but can be extremely useful in fleshing out what is typically the most under-represented component of a person's pedigree.]

When a male submits a sample for y-chromosome testing, what they get back is a y-chromosome haplotype and "fingerprint." Roughly speaking, haplotypes provide "general category" information and can help place the historic geographic source of a person's y-chromosome over time ranges on the order of tens of thousands of years. The fingerprint within a haplotype can provide a much finer picture of familial relationship.

Since males receive their y-chromosome (and so their y-chromosome haplotype) directly from their father, if two individuals have different y-chromosome haplotypes they can't have the same father. By extension, their two patrilineages can't match up at any point (at least, not over time ranges on the order of tens of thousands of years!). Two sons of the same father can have different "fingerprints" within a haplotype, but they will only be very slightly different if at all. Between these two pieces of information, you essentially have a slow clock (y-chromosome haplotype) and a fast clock (haplotype fingerprint) for tracking how far back in time two (male) individuals had a common patrilineal ancestor.

The same applies to what follows.:

The R1b** y-chromosome haplotype class (or haplogroup) is common in the British isles (and western Europe generally, I believe), and has been there many thousands of years. I haven't researched R1b** as much as I probably should, but my impression is that it's common among Celtic lines (but do your own research online -- type "r1b haplogroup wiki" in your favorite web search engine and read the Wikipedia article on the subject). The E1b1a haplotype (which is my own as well as some lines of the Nucholls family) comes pretty much exclusively from sub-Saharan Africa, although it has been spread around quite a bit in the last 500 years by the slave trade that went on from the 1490's to the 1860's. Since that Nucholls line passed into Virginia some time in the 1600's to 1700's, it's very likely that the patriarch of that line was a slave (or possibly a free African-American if he arrived early in that time range) transported directly from Africa, possibly via a slave "training camp" somewhere in the West Indies. It's also possible that the African line may have come to Britain first, perhaps spending an unknown number of generations there before being transhipped to the colonies. Black Africans were something of a rarity in Britain at the time, although not altogether unknown, so this seems to me to be a much less likely possibility. It may be worth noting that there are Roman records of an African contingent manning Hadrian's wall during the Roman occupation of Britain, although I think these were probably Ethiopians (not sub-Saharan), and the possiblity of a connection with them is, in any case, extremely remote.

A male can have male descendents with a different kind y-chromosome, but there will always be at least one female in the line between them. If there is an unbroken, all-male line of descent between two males, then they must have the same y-chromosome haplotype (assuming timeframes less than ten thousand years or so).

Although a baby boy always receives his biological father's y-chromosome, and usually his father's surname as well, there are circumstances where the surname comes from somewhere else. One of those circumstances is adoption. Adopted children usually change their last name to the last name of the family or individual that's adopting them. Another circumstance occurs when an unmarried female has a child by a partner she can't or won't identify (this situation can occur with a married woman as well!). In that case, the child typically takes the last name of the mother (I have a female first cousin with a son born out of wedlock who is in this situation -- he carries the last name but not the y-chromosome of his Bunch grandfather). A slight twist on this appears to have happened fairly often in early colonial America. White servant girls would have children by black slaves or servants, and the offspring would take the mother's surname because the father didn't have a surname. This is what I think most likely happened in my family. In the early years of the English colonies (before about 1670? in Virginia), these mixed race offspring would be free. In later years, white women who had children by slave fathers would owe a large fine, they might be physically punished, and their children would be considered slaves.

I'm not an expert on the subject by any means, but I think it was only at the end of slavery, after the Civil War, that freed slaves commonly took the last name of their former masters. Actually, I think the former slaves had some choice in the matter and a number chose different, distinctive surnames like "Africa".

But to tell the truth, I think any question about slaves taking their masters' name is beside the point in this case. I think the Nucholls E1b1a's most probably descend from free African-Americans, not slaves. Remember, there are actually 2 mysteries we're working on here. One regards the question of how an E1b1a line "acquired" the Nucholls name. The second one has to do with the queston of why the Nucholls E1b1a's are so closely related to the Bunch E1b1a's.

Members of the E1b1a Nucholls line have a fingerprint that is a fairly close match with my own (and other members of my Bunch clan). We are pretty likely (roughly 75% chance?) to have had a common ancestor some time in the last 12 to 16 generations. Since both lines came through Louisa County, Virginia (which at the time was part of New Kent County), my guess is that that's where our common ancestor lived (although it may be that is was sons or grandsons of our common ancestor that first lived in Virginia). Since I've mentioned Louisa County, I should probably also mention, at least in passing, the Melungeon connection (type "melungeon wiki" in your favorite web search engine).


If you may be wondering how these groups (E, R, whatever) Y-DNA haplogroups get named as such. Well, the understanding is that everything started with "Adam" in northeast Africa at least 6,000 years ago. Adam, coincidentally, was the start of haplogroup "A". Eventually, one of his descendants had enough mutations to separate himself enough from that original "A" that his Y-DNA could now be called in the "B" haplogroup. Over time, these groups spread and individual Y-DNA mutated over time (several thousand years). One, for instance, migrated north through the middle East and Persia/Kazakhstan, then made a left into southern Europe. Another group turned right into Asia and another group headed southeastward onto the Indian subcontinent. Many of who we call the native North/Central/South American peoples actually have Asian haplotypes! The speculation is that they moved across the land which is now under the Bering Strait from Russia and made their way southward and eastward. It's all fascinating stuff. It combines genetic science, genealogy, sociology, and probably whatever other science ending in "ology". Anyway, R1b became the prevalent Y-DNA haplogroup through western Europe including the Iberian peninsula, Gaul (France), and the Celtic regions. "I" is the prominent haplogroup of Scandanavia and extreme northern Europe. Back to "R1b"--the reason that R1b seems to be so prevalent through the British Isles is that most men that have so far been tested for Y-DNA are around the Isles or here in the "west". Naturally, we're going to have more sub-haplogroups than some of the other haplogroups.

Sometimes children are adopted and never know their natural parents or heritage. Reading more, the G haplogroup is very prominent in Georgia and North Ossetia (Russia). Georgia contains South Ossetia. North and south are separated basically by the Caucasus Mountains. There is a G subgroup that is prominent in Iran, as well. Our "G" member's ancestor is one that never migrated over the mountains and eventually to western Europe. That family must have stayed in that region for several centuries.

The Bunches trace their line back to John Bunch who appears to have come to Virginia about 1651 (or at least some time before 1656). The records don't indicate where he came from, but the assumption at that early date would be that he came from somewhere in Britain (family tradition holds that he came from Scotland). There's no indication in the records that this first John Bunch was black, although a later John Bunch was referred to as a "mustee" (one-eighth black) in a response to his petition to the Virginia Council to be allowed to marry a white woman. Because there's no mention of the earlier John Bunch being black, I'm suspicious that the arrival record may apply to an unrelated individual (there wasn't much cause to be suspicious of this before genetic testing came along). There was another early Bunch in Virginia, a woman name Elizabeth, who was "transported" out of London in 1635 aboard the ship Alice (reading between the lines, I think she was a criminal or undesirable shipped out at the Crown's expense). I suspect that one of her illegitimate offspring by an African male she met in Virginia carried her surname and became the patriarch of our line. I'm searching for information to support or discredit these theories, and would naturally be very interested in anything turned up by Nucholls researchers.

1705 - John Bunch, "a Mulatto," and Sarah Slayden, a white woman, petitioned the Council of Virginia on 16 August 1705 to allow them to be married because the Minister of Blisland Parish had refused to marry them (McIlwaine, Executive Journals of the Council, III:28). The Council was undecided on the issue since "the intent of the Law was to prevent Negros and White Persons intermarrying," and John Bunch was a "Mulatto." The matter was referred to the Court to decide (Ibid., 31).

The Bunches and Nuckolls have a fair bit in common. Both lines have a branch that came to America through Louisa County, Virginia. Also, both lines at least traditionally trace themselves back to Scotland (although the actual origin from across the Atlantic of my earliest identified ancestor isn't actually known, in contrast to James Nucholls, the Dunfermline shipbuilder).

Another commonality, of course, is the E1b1a y-chromosomes of certain Bunch and Nucholls lines. My reason for writing you is to ask a queston on that particular point: Have you arrived at any conclusion as to the location where the African E1b1a y-chromosome joined the Scottish Nucholls surname? There appear to be two Nucholls lines that claim Dunfermline James as an ancestor, but one line is R1b** haplotype and the other is E1b1a -- they can't both be correct, can they? It seems most likely to me, given Virginia's history, that an E1b1a line took on the Nucholls surname there, just as probably occurred in my Bunch line. But if there's a confirmed Scottish E1b1a source, I would be extremely interested to hear of it (especially an E1b1a line that looks so closely related to my own).

Individuals in the US with an E1b1a Y haplotype and a European surname are generally going to find they are descended from slaves. In the case of my family (Bunch), our traditionally identified patriarch apparently came to Virginia about 1650 which was somewhat before Virginia's slave society became established. There is a record of his arrival in Virgina (a land patent in 1656 by a gentleman named Gervase Dodson included John Bunch's name among the headrights claimed by Dodson; 50 acre "headrights" of land were granted to individuals paying for passage of immigrants to Virginia; headrights were supposed to take 3 years to prove, and generally patented roughly 3-5 years after arrival). Although I have yet to come across a particular indication of his point of origin, the assumption from the time frame would be that he came from somewhere in Britain (family tradition has it that he came from the Perthshire area of Scotland, but I think that's based on fairly recent guesswork after the fact rather than a handed-down oral tradition). He probably came over as an indentured servant. Terms of indenture typically ran about 5 years, which agrees fairly well with a 1662 land transfer of 450 acres to John Bunch from a Philip Freeman -- the inference being that John had served out his indenture and had somehow managed to acquire a sizeable chunk of land. There is no indication in either of the land transactions that John Bunch was either negro or mulatto. However there was a 1705 petition to the Virginia Council by a later John Bunch (usually identified as the elder John's grandson) to be allowed to marry a white woman named Sarah Slayden. In the attorney general's response, the petitioner is identified as a mustee (normally meaning one-eighth black) and it's recognized that although his petition should have been allowed by the letter of the law barring marriages between mulattos (half-black) and whites, it may have violated the intent of the law -- the attorney general punted the matter to the courts, where it appears it was never taken up (the younger John later married Rebecca Harrison, if I remember the name correctly). Tying the two John Bunches together (besides just their names) is a plantation just north and east a piece from Charlottsville that remained in family hands until 1996 (and may still be in the family, I just don't know the connection of the current owners).

The question we are looking to answer is: When and where in my family line did the European surname of Bunch get combined with the African E1b1a Y-haplotype? From what's known, there are a number of tantalizing clues, but nothing really definite. My current favorite theory harkens to an Elizabeth Bunch transported to Virginia in 1635, and supposes that she had offspring by an African or African-American slave/indentured servant. One of those offspring would have been the John Bunch who obtained 450 acres in 1662 (and who may not have been the same John Bunch in the 1656 headright list). This is a beautiful theory almost totally unsupported by any documentation that I currently have at hand.

Another fairly good possibility is that the John Bunch in the headright list really is my ancestor and that he really did arrive from Britain. In that case, the question becomes, how many generations did the E1b1a line spend in Britain between the time it arrived from Africa and the time it was transshipped to America? Did the E1b1a line arrive in Britain recently, or had it been there awhile?

Hopefully, you can see now why I'm troubling the Nucholls family with all of this. Larry Nuckels and Zenas Knuckles have identical E1b1a fingerprints to mine on 12 markers, and W.D. (Dell?) Nuckols is at genetic distance 2 on 25 markers. I am evidently fairly closely related to that line (as close or closer than some Bunch relatives I'm linked to by pedigree). According to Sandi, either Larry or Zenas (or both) trace back to James Nuccol, the Dunfermline shipbuilder who is also in your pedigree. Dunfermline is in Fife, bordering on the old district of Perthshire (now Perthshire and Kinross). This looks very promising, or at least very interesting to me and my search. The problem is that James Nuccol couldn't possibly have begotten both an R1b and an E1b1a line of descendants, so it appears that somebody's pedigree must be off. I would bet on your R1b line being the authentic descendants of James Nuccol, but it would be worth examining the actual evidence before jumping to conclusions.

As far as slaves owning property -- I don't think they could at all, except for maybe a few personal items which could probably be confiscated at any time by their owners anyway. I think even emancipated slaves (emancipated by their owners before the end of the Civil War, that is) couldn't own property -- they had to move north. But there are a number of early immigrants ("importees" might be a more accurate word) of African-American descent who came into the southern states early on and either avoided slavery altogether or may have been enslaved for only a generation or part of a generation. The situation for some of the early blacks may have been more like indentured servitude than the form of slavery that developed later. That appears to be the case for my line of the Bunch family. There's an excellent online source on this subject at www.freeafricanamericans.com <http://www.freeafricanamericans.com> (it's a free site despite the .com domain -- they make a very minimal effort to sell you the book that the site is based on).

As for William the Patriot, it's beginning to look like either he's the source of the E1b1a in the Nucholls line, or his sons (meaning, either William the Patriot may have been adopted or his sons may have been).

I took a look at the other Nucholls family members who've been tested to see if their lineages could shed some light. Unfortunately, the lines for Charles Raymond Nuckles and Thomas Scott Nuchols come to a dead end before reaching James Nuccol. There does appear to be a missing generation or two in Charles Raymond's pedigree -- it shows John Nuckles born 1750 as the father of James H. Nuckols born 1823. Interestingly, there was mention in the notes on John Nuckles born 1750 (brother of Sylvester) of two "free girls of color" named Sarah Nuckols and Eliza Nuckols. That might be worth following up on later. (Is the Charles Nuckles that might be the forefather of these two lines actually Charles Nuckols born 1753? That would really be a curve ball if so -- see below.)

That leaves only four other family members to shed some light on the matter: The three E1b1a's (Larry, Zenas and W.D.) and Steven. Steven's 6th great grandfather was James Nucholls born 1695. That James Nucholls had a brother, William the Patriot Nuckols. The three E1b1a's all descend from William the Patriot. At first brush, it looks like either William was E1b1a and was adopted into the line, or else William was R1b and at least two of William's sons (Pouncey Nuckols, Sr. and Charles Nuckols born 1753) were E1b1a and were adopted into the line. I don't have my notes on William here in front of me, but if he had any other sons it would help for their male Nucholls descendants to be tested. Also, if James Nuckolls born 1670 (father of William) had any other sons besides James born 1695 and William, it would help for their male Nucholls descendants to be tested. My guess? Well you know the family lines and histories far better than I do, but the simplest scenario would have William the Patriot as the adoptee.

I went back to FTDNA to run my matches again and came up with a new Nuckols E1b1a. He's listed at FTDNA as Ryan Nuckols with e-mail address jrn_coldsmoke@hotmail.com <mailto:jrn_coldsmoke@hotmail.com>. I haven't contacted him (and may leave that up to you if you want). If he's the Ryan Andrew Nuckols listed on the Nucholls Kindred site, then he's a descendant of William the Patriot through his son David Knight Nuckols. It's beginning to look pretty well confirmed that William the Patriot was E1b1a.

I should point out that in what I said in the previous paragraph, I'm assuming that James the Immigrant was R1b since he came from Britain, but that may not be the case. If James the Immigrant was E1b1a (unlikely but kind of what I'm hoping for, to tell the truth), then Steve's 6th great grandfather James Nucholls born 1695 would have been an adoptee, or his son James born 1720. In that case, it would help for other male Nucholls descendants of those lines to be tested.

The situation is that you have male line descendants of two sons of James Nuckolls (1670-1727) who test differently: A male line descendant of James Nuckolls (1695-1751) tests R1b, while 4 male line descendants of William the Patriot (1710-1793) test E1b1a. The greatest uncertainty, at this point, lies in determining which, between the younger James and William the Patriot, is the "odd man out". So I think the highest priority would be to encourage male line descendants of other sons of the elder James (1670-1727) to be tested. Of those other sons, it appears that only Samuel Nuckolls (1702-1757) has known descendants. So my top priority would be to encourage male line descendants of Samuel to be tested.

Another way to go about determining who is the "odd man out" between the younger James and William the Patriot would be to have male line descendants of their uncles tested (that is, male line descendants of brothers of the elder James (1670-1727)). Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that there are any known descendants of these gentleman, so that isn't an option.

The next priority would be to seek confirmation of Steve's results. You have four nice results on male line descendants of three of William the Patriot's sons, confirming that William was E1b1a. It would be nice to get that kind of confirmation for the younger James (1695-1751). It would be nice to have as much distance in the family tree as possible from Steve, so my second priority would be to encourage male line descendants of the younger James' other sons to be tested. Of his three other sons, it appears that only Charles Nuckolls (1725-1767) and John N. Nuckolls (1732-1780) had known descendants.

The third priority would be to get results for other male line descendants of Steve's 5th great grandfather (James Nuckolls (1720-1810)), with as much distance in the family tree as possible from Steve. That would come from male line descendants of Charles Nuckolls (1745-1820), Nathaniel Nuckolls (1753-1823), Samuel Nuckolls (1757-1822) or Thomas A. Nuckolls (1760-1823).

The fourth priority would be any other results at all. Among those, it would be interesting (but wouldn't help as much in pinning down the mystery) to see how descendants of William the Patriots' other two sons tested out: Thomas Nuckols (1734-1815) and William K. Nuckosl (1749-1814). I would guesstimate the odds are about a 95% that they'll test E1b1a.

It looks like the only lines we can check are those of William the Patriot and his brother James II. William already looks to be pretty strongly confirmed as E1b1a (African) and I would be surprised to get a different result on that line. Getting more results from James II's line that match Steve's R1b* (European) haplotype would confirm that James II and William really did have different y-chromosome haplotypes. By getting results from cousins as distant as possible from Steve (but still descended from James II), we can be more sure of a diagnostic result -- for example, we would expect Steve's brothers to match Steve, but a confirmed match there wouldn't rule out a mismatched pedigree further back.

On the question of deeds, I think it's possible that both James and William could have had African heritage and still have owned a lot of land in colonial Virginia. The children of John Bunch III appear to have been considered essentially white, and somewhere down the line the Bunches became slaveholders themselves (John III must have felt pretty secure in his status as "almost white" to have petitioned the Virginia Council in the matter of Sarah Slayden, though I can't say how well advised that was). I think the early Bunches kept moving to the next frontier from one generation to the next partly to pursue new opportunities but partly to hide their mixed racial background in a society that was becoming ever more stratified between whites and non-whites, with harsher and harsher consequences of being non-white. If the Nuckolls were in the same boat as the Bunches (and I suppose that turn of phrase could be taken quite literally!), then it wouldn't be surprising to find them out on the frontier too.

At one point I would have bet that the Nuckolls E1b1a's were the "odd men out", but the preponderance of E1b1a results makes me wonder now if James I wasn't actually E1b1a with Steve's R1b* results being the anomoly. If James II (and by inference, James I) was E1b1a, then there would be the question of whether the Nuckolls actually did come from Scotland or somewhere else, despite family tradition. The same situation holds for the Bunch family who have long held that John Bunch I came from Perthshire in Scotland. The possibility of a submerged African bloodline living in Scotland then emigrating to America seems pretty unlikely, but the notion becomes more believable with the repetition of the story across our two lines. I have to say that if the evidence turns out to indicate James the Immigrant was E1b1a, it would take some pretty strong evidence to convince me that he came from Scotland (it seems much more likely that the Nuckolls and Bunches are linked by events in Virginia rather than in Britain). From my own perspective, I would be pretty happy if the evidence for a Scottish link exists, but at this point I just don't expect it to...

Those who have already submitted DNA should seriously consider doing additional testing for additional markers. This will help us determine which generation is the R1B1a fellow.

The R1b1b2 haplogroup is an R1b subgroup which itself is most heavily concentrated in the British Isles and the northern seacoasts of Spain and France. I think historically it represents the progenitors of the Celts who migrated from Spain northward into France, Britain and Ireland before written history. Anyway, assuming the gentlemen with these haplogroups trace their ancestry back to the English colonies, I would guess their y-chromosome ancestors came from England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland, and had resided there for a long time. (Line from Sylvester Nuchols)

The G haplogroup is a little more ambiguous. At face value G's are the quintessential "Caucasians" as they are most heavily concentrated in the Caucasus, but even there they're a relative minority. There are various G subgroups that are associated with parts of Iran (for example), or with Sephardic Jews. The gentleman in the G y-haplogroup might want to consider a deeper analysis (more markers) to possibly get a better idea of his y-chromosome origins. If he traces his ancestry back to the English colonies, it's likely that his y-chromosome ancestors came from further east but may have migrated to Britain and resided there for some time before hopping the Atlantic. (not Nuckols, illegitimate child of Mary, d/o Obediah)

I would be interested to know where these fellows place themselves in the Nuckolls family tree. Do they all trace back to James the Immigrant?


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