Thursday, August 1, 2019

Announcing the VFA Reunion in St. Louis, Oct 10-12 2019

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The Vance Family Association holds a biennial (every two years) reunion and for 2019 the reunion dates will be October 10th through the 12th (checkouts on the 13th) in St. Louis, Missouri at the Pear Tree Inn near Union Station.

St. Louis is served by Lambert International Airport which is 18 miles from the Pear Tree Inn.  There is a Metro Link which will take you from the airport to downtown Union Station for $4 and the hotel is a few blocks from Union Station.  There are also a number of shuttle services (e.g. Go Best Express 314-222-5300) at the airport that range from $20-$25 per person one way and $38-$45 per person for two people round-trip to and from the hotel.   If you are driving there is free parking for guests at the hotel but please register first in case you need a parking pass.

A block of rooms have been reserved at the hotel at $120/night plus 18% hotel tax; reservations must be made by September 8th and are subject to availability.

The hotel website is at  When you register online, use Group number 2383329 for the VFA room rate.  Reservations can also be made by calling 1-800-325-0720 and referring to the Group number 2383329.   Individual reservations must be canceled before 12:00pm on the day of arrival in order to avoid a non-refundable fee equal to one night’s room rate plus tax.

To attend the VFA reunion meetings you do need to be a current VFA member.  Membership is $15 which includes electronic delivery of newsletters or $20 for postal delivery, and you can find more about membership and sign-up online or by mail starting at the VFA’s website at

Alternatively if you would prefer not to pay for 2019 membership you may also attend the reunion for a $15 fee which will also be applied as dues for the 2020 membership year; the only restriction there is you would not have a current member’s voting rights at the 2019 business meetings.  If you would like to select this choice please contact me at

The VFA’s dinner banquet and business meeting will be held on Saturday evening, October 12th at Lombardo’s Italian Restaurant, a 5-minute walk from the hotel.   Dinner is an extra cost and menu selection and costs will be collected in advance; details were provided in the latest VFA newsletter but you can also contact me at if you would like to attend the dinner.

After dinner the VFA holds a business meeting to vote on officer positions, review financials, and handle other association business.  This will be followed by a talk by the VFA’s DNA Advisor (that’s me!!) about the genetic genealogy of our Vance lines and an update on what we’ve learned through DNA analysis.   Whether you’re already a member of our DNA project or just curious about what you can learn from DNA, this will be the opportunity to find out more!

Before Saturday evening the VFA members generally meet in smaller groups to compare genealogy research or talk about Vance-related items of interest, or take advantage of local tourism or genealogy research opportunities.  If you want any tips for your own research, compare notes with anyone, or just want to collaborate with very experienced genealogists who are passionate about Vance genealogy, you won’t find a better time or place to do it!

So if you can make it to St. Louis between Oct. 10th and 12th 2019, please consider spending time at the VFA’s annual reunion.  If you have any questions or need more information please feel free to contact me at

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Some origins of Vance/Vans/Wentz Family Groups using Y-DNA

The Graphical Overview of Progress on all 16 Groups in the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project!

While this blog is about all Vance research, DNA offers one of the most exciting new ways to learn about our genealogy and the history of a surname.  So I tend to write about it a lot.  And this time instead of a deep dive into one particular lineage I thought I would give an overview of the entire Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project.

Since this is a summary I’ll leave out the mechanics of how the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project works (for short I’ll call it the “Project”) and I won’t cover what DNA tests it looks at and so on.  But all the details on the Project itself can be found at this link and there are even detailed reports about every group in the Project at this link if you scroll down to the table on that page.

First some numbers about the Project.  It’s currently made up of 295 tested men, 175 of whom have been assigned to 16 sub-groups that represent different male Y-DNA lines of Vance/Vans/Wentz'es.  14 other men with Vance/Vans/Wentz surnames don't fit into these 16 groups yet and so are from other male Y-DNA origins.  The rest of the Project members are interested testers that aren't descended from a male Vance/Vans/Wentz line.

That doesn’t mean that all 16 groups represent different origins of the Vance/Vans/Wentz surnames;  some may be descended from a man whose biological father had a different last name but either through adoption or other means took on the same last name as a Vance/Vans/Wentz man from one of the other groups – if that happened then those two DNA groups really got their surname from the same origin.    We’re still learning many things about all 16 groups but some apparently did pick up their surname from one of the other DNA groups. 

In the 16 groups there are 151 men who currently have the Vance (145), Vans (2), or Wentz (4) last names, and 24 men with other last names.   These men descend from 87 known ancestors, 78 of whom were immigrants into the US or Canada in the 1700s and 1800s, 8 lines who stayed in Europe (Ireland or Scotland), and one who immigrated to Australia.   So our project is certainly heavily weighted towards North American immigrant lines but we are still an international group.

The overall summary is that we are not only organizing the Vances and related surnames into family lines, but we also have "deep history" (prehistoric) information about each line, and in many cases we are finding details about these Vance lines earlier than the known earliest ancestors on each line.  Plus we're also collecting valuable information about how the Vance, Vans, and Wentz surnames originated and were passed down.

The larger groups tend to have more detail partly because they have had more traditional genealogy research to combine, but every tester also adds valuable DNA information.  The other key factor in improving the available details is the amount of deeper Y-DNA testing that the members have taken.  Lastly it's important that each group finds matches through their DNA testing that allow us to make connections, but that's purely by chance and not under a tester's control!

The detailed summary of these 16 groups is as follows - and again, much more detail about each group is available in the reports accessible from the link above.

Group 1:  (51 men):  Descendants of the Vans family from Barnbarroch (and possibly Menie) in Scotland who have been documented since at least 1382, though their documented earlier connection to the medieval de Vaux from Normandy is not yet proven by DNA.   Significant progress has been made in determining the branching within this group by DNA, and the group has current descendants in the US, UK, and Australia.

Group 2:  (38 men):  An older Irish line with current descendants in the US and Canada whose origins have been documented just after the Cromwellian period in Ireland (1660s), already by then spread into several locations around Ulster.   The branching within this group has also been extensively mapped.  It is likely that they came from a Plantation or pre-Plantation Protestant immigrant into Ireland whose immediate descendants either through military service or other means quickly spread around Ulster.

Group 3:  (14 men):  Another older Irish line with current descendants in the US and Canada; the origins of this group in Ireland have been traced to several locations in Ulster back to the early/mid 1700s.   Group 3’s origins are likely from a Plantation immigrant into Ireland although their spread around Ulster was more concentrated than Group 2 and may have simply been due to generations moving to new farms or into cities (Derry) as merchants.

Group 4:  (4 men): Descendants of Patrick Vance and Elizabeth McKay in Kentucky in the early 1800s; this group connects into a large Y-DNA haplogroup with “northern-European” (possibly Scandinavian?) origins but the immediate origins of this Vance line cannot be determined without further matches.

Group 5:  (2 men): The two men in this group are descendants of Thomas Vance of Rockbridge Co, Virginia who moved to Gallia Co, Ohio in the early 1800s; this group has both English and German connections and its immediate origins cannot be determined without further matches.

Group 6:  (7 men): Descendants of William Vance and Elizabeth Backhouse, Quakers who emigrated from Tyrone, Ireland to Chester County, Pennsylvania around 1741.  The Y-DNA points to an origin before there from Wales as an offshoot of the Bassetts of Llanelly, although how they adopted the Vance surname is still unknown.

Group 7:  (11 men): This group traces back to Wentz immigrants who came separately to the US; one from Russia in the Odessa region where the Germans settled by the Black Sea, and one or two from Bavaria.  Since the Odessa regions was settled by Bavarians originally; the origin of this group appears to be with a German Wentz lineage from Bavaria.

Group 8:  (25 men):  Two members of this group are from lineages that remained in Ireland.  Three others trace back to a group of brothers or cousins who came to Mississippi from Ireland in the mid-19th century.  The group also contains the descendants of James Alexander Vance, who moved to South Carolina from Pennsylvania  in the 1780s.  The group traces back to a common ancestor in Ireland in the 1600s; the two likely theories that they adopted their surname independently or that they came from the Craig surname in Ireland still need to be sorted out through additional testing.

Group 9:  (2 men): The two men in this group consists of the descendants of John Vance, who was born c. 1801 in Tennessee and died in 1870 in Washington County, AR.   Their earlier origins are still inconclusive - the Y-DNA testing in this group has been insufficient to determine more than their deeper (prehistoric) ancestry so far.

Group 10:  (5 men): This group consists of descendants of several Wentz immigrants to the US in the early 1700s from the Rhineland-Pfaltz area of Germany who appear to share a common ancestor around 1450AD-1600AD.

Group 11:  (4 men): This group consists of the descendants of Patrick Vance from Henderson Co, Kentucky in the US and the descendants of James Vance from Ayrshire in Scotland.  They appear to be a branch of Vances who adopted the name perhaps around 1500AD while living in the Ayrshire/Glasgow area of Scotland.  Whether they adopted the name through connection with another Scottish Vans/Vance line or via separate origin is still unknown.

Group 12:  (4 men): Descendants of John Vance (c. 1745-1826/27) who lived in Pendleton Co, West Virginia.  Analysis indicates his Y-DNA was carried by 2 other surnames who branched in the generations before John Vance, and their ultimate origin before the US is possibly English but still uncertain.

Group 13:  (3 men): The Y-DNA is clear that this group originated from a branch off the Maxwells of lower Scotland from around 1400AD or so.  Possibly brought into the Vans name through the known connections between the Maxwells and the Vans of Barnbarroch which would mean this group’s surname origin was from the Vans of Barnbarroch. 

Group 14:  (2 men): Descendants of a George Washington Vance who was born in Missouri in 1850.  Their earlier origins are still inconclusive - the Y-DNA testing in this group has been insufficient to determine more than their deeper (prehistoric) ancestry so far.

Group 15:  (1 man): The one man in this Group descends from Richard Vance (1856-1894) who married Celia Vance, daughter of Abner Vance and Mary Ann Whitehead.   Their earlier origins are still inconclusive - the Y-DNA testing in this group has been insufficient to determine more than their deeper (prehistoric) ancestry so far.

Group 16:  (2 men): These Vances descend from William Vance (1760 - 1831) who lived mainly in Green Co, KY.  The line is most closely related to a branch of the Lands surname and is perhaps of English origin, but more matches are required from DNA testing to be more definite about their pre-US origins.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

New Reports on ALL Vance Y-DNA Projects

Are your Vances part of an existing Group in the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project?

In my previous post, I said the reports for the first 8 Y-DNA Groups had been updated.  I'm now happy to report that we have published reports, at least in draft, for ALL Y-DNA Groups in our Surname Project. 

There are 16 Groups in the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project and a summary of them all can be found on our DNA Project Resources page. 

You can also access all the reports at the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project Results website.   Scroll down on that page until you see the table shown in the picture below.  The "2011 Analysis (Adam Bradford) column contains links to the reports written in 2011 by Adam Bradford.  The "Current Analysis" column contains links to the new reports just written in late 2018 and 2019.   Most of the new reports should still be considered DRAFT pending commentary and potential correction by group members. 

In a few cases the "Current Analysis" reports have embedded branching trees showing the Y-DNA connections between group members; those can be hard to read in the reports and so we have also provided a column called "Current Branching Tree" with links to larger versions of those pictures where appropriate. 

As new Groups are added or more information becomes available about these existing Groups (either through new discoveries about their ancestors, deeper Y-DNA testing among their members, or new members joining the Groups) we will keep these "Current Analysis" reports updated!

Table on the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Surname Project Results site linking to Analysis Reports on all Groups

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Updated Analysis Reports for the first 8 Vance DNA Groups

Do you know what Vance DNA Project group your Vances came from?

The Vance DNA Project is one of over 7,400 surname projects established to help research the ancestry of a surname through DNA.  Virtually all of these projects make use of testing on the Y chromosome which are passed along from fathers to sons, because traditionally in Western society a surname is also passed along in the same way. 

The Vance DNA Project has been around for over 10 years now and originally identified 8 separate Y-DNA origins for men with the surname "Vance".  In 2011, administrator Adam Bradford produced detailed reports for these 8 groups, marrying traditional genealogy research with new DNA connections. 

Recently the reports for these 8 groups have been updated and Adam Bradford's original reports have been updated with new analysis.  There have also been 8 new DNA groups identified for a total of 16!  These new groups will get new reports as well rolling out over the next few weeks.

To find these reports, start with this link for the Vance DNA Project:   You should see a page that looks like this:

From there, you can read the Overview of the Project and pages on Background and Goals.

Once you're done with those pages, click on the Results tab.  At the top you can read about the general state of the Vance DNA Project, and links if you want to learn more about how the testing and analysis are performed. 

Then scroll down until you see this table:

This table has all the available information organized about each Group in the project.  First, the known origins are summarized under Known Origins.  Next comes a link to the original 2011 report by Adam Bradford (where available), and then a link to the current analysis report (in most cases, just published in February or March).  Each of the current analysis reports includes a tree graphic which attempts to organize the current members into how the DNA mutations suggest they are related in the male line; this tree is included in each Current Analysis report but is also provided as a separate link in the next column for each reference.  And finally, a more detailed summary of each Group is given in the last column. 

Only the first 8 Groups have analysis reports so far, but as said above the other Groups should be getting their reports over the next few weeks.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact the DNA administrator, Dave Vance - his email address is given as a link on the left-hand side of those Vance DNA Project pages!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A new book on the Vans of Barnbarroch

Those of you with Irish or Scottish Vance ancestry probably already know of the Vans of Barnbarroch from the southwest of Scotland (and if you don't know about them already, you can find more about them on our page A Short History of the Vance Surname). 

If you're interested in the family and want more detail on their 630-year history, the 23rd Vans (in direct descent from the first Vans of Barnbarroch in 1384) and current holder of the title and coat of arms, Jamie Vans, has just self-published an updated book about the family and some of his more notable ancestors and their involvement in history right up to present day. 

The book is available for sale on Blurb UK at this link: in PDF, Kindle and hardcopy formats.

We know that today many North American and Australian lines of Vances descend from the same original family as the Vans of Barnbarroch - this is Group 1 (both 1a and 1b) of the Vance DNA Project.  But it is also the possible origin of the surname for any of us as well whose ancestors were Irish or Scottish. 

A wonderful reference for anyone with an interest in the Barnbarroch Vans family!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Personal Experience in researching my Vances

This is a personal experience with my own Vance line but I thought I would share it here.

If you've read earlier posts you may remember that my own Vance line emigrated to the US in 1804.  From records both in the US and in Ireland I was able to determine that they came from the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal County in the north of Ireland.

I had an opportunity earlier this year to make a short trip to Ireland, and I ran up to the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal because an 80-year old woman who still kept the local Fahan parish records had the original baptism record for my 6th generation back grandfather and grandmother Vance's first child Elizabeth in 1784. I had found the transcript on but I wanted to take a picture of the original and the local parish pointed me to her.

This wonderful woman and her daughter not only showed me that parish record but she had already indexed all the other records left by other Vances from the area who lived after my ancestors emigrated to the US in 1804. She and her daughter drove me out to where those later Vances had lived. She showed me the ruined church where my ancestors' first child would have been baptized and where the grave of her grandfather, my 7th generation back grandfather Michael Chamberlain still exists. She spent most of an afternoon with me telling me what she knew of the area and how the Vances would have lived. She even told me what other church still had the actual font that their first child would have been baptized in in 1784!

Baptism record for one of my Vances in Fahan Parish in Donegal, Ireland.

Often genealogy is a solitary pursuit; we spend many hours alone on the Internet or in libraries or communicating with faraway people over email.  But every once in awhile we connect with an actual person and it is amazing what helpful and knowledgeable people exist in the world!  I am very grateful to have lucked into spending some time with one such person and her daughter.

The now-ruined church where my Vances held their baptism in 1784.  Michael Chamberlain is buried here also.

George Vance and Martha Chamberlain were married here at St. Columb's in Londonderry in 1783

As to where these Vances came from before that, I still don't know for sure.  There are no Vances listed in that area in any of the few surviving census substitutes for Donegal before 1660; after that there are plenty of Vances in that area and all seemed to be Protestant so they likely emigrated from Scotland or England.

In the mid-1600s just after the end of the Cromwellian period, the newly-restored King Charles II was rewarding some of his loyal officers who had fought in Ireland with land there.  The lists of those "1649 Officers" as they were called have survived and there are two Vances listed named John Vance and William Vance.  Right now I'm working on the theory that those Vances may have received land in Donegal although it's not proven yet.

What I do know is that right before coming to the US in 1804, my Vance family lived in Meenalooban on the coast near Desertegny.   Here are some pictures I took around that area; which probably hasn't changed much since they were there!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Vance Monument at Coagh, Northern Ireland

I was fortunate enough a couple of weeks ago to take a short trip to Ireland (for a genetic genealogy conference, as it happens). While I was there I took a couple of opportunities for research on the Irish Vances. One of those was to visit the John Vance of Coagh Monument in Northern Ireland (UK).

St. Luke’s Church, Tamlaght Parish, Co. Derry (Google Earth coordinates 54.6513256, -6.6237262) overlooks the town of Coagh in Co. Tyrone. There is a curious monument in its cemetery erected in 1854 which is a memorial both to John Vance of Coagh (1742-1799) and to William and Robert Balbirnie from the mid-1800s who helped popularize the traditional origin story of the Irish Vances.
The Vance Monument as seen from the road (picture credit:  Google Street Maps)

This is actually a well-known monument which has been amply covered in the pages of the Vance Family Association newsletters since at least 1989. I’ll just cover its history briefly here.

John Vance of Coagh was an actual person who was one of the first of a group of Vances who lived up and down the area just west of Lough Neagh since the mid-1600s. He was the great-grandfather of US President Andrew Jackson but on a separate line he was also the grandfather of William Balbirnie who wrote the influential book in 1860 on the Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan and the Irish Vances. If you recall the history of that book, William undertook his Vance research during the early 1850s at the request (and using the funds) of his elder brother Robert Anstruther Balbirnie, who had moved to Australia. They were honoring their mother, Margaret Vance, who was John Vance of Coagh’s daughter.

William reported most of his findings to his brother in the mid 1850’s before the book was published, because in 1854 on a return trip to England Robert Balbirnie legally changed his last name to “Balbirnie-Vans” and paid for the large monument to be erected on his grandfather’s grave at St. Luke’s Church with the entire story that William “uncovered” written out. Unfortunately, Robert passed away in August of 1855 just after he returned to Melbourne and didn’t live to see William’s book in print.

The monument, then, is a summary of the ancestry of the Vances in Ireland the way William saw it – that all Irish Vances were descended from the Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan who had a son Lancelot who died at the Siege of Derry, and the Rev. Vans in turn was an offshoot of the Vans family of Barnbarroch who were themselves descended from the Vaus of Dirleton and by extension the de Baux family of southern France. While the story has always been romantic, I’ll just say here that major portions have been called into question in the years since William’s book, not the least of which are the existence of Lancelot Vance and the ancestry of all Irish Vances back to the Rev. Vans. However, those are subjects for other articles.

The monument has faded and broken significantly even since the first VFA photographs were taken of it in the 1980s. It is now propped up with iron supports and in sore need of repair. But the inscription has been known for decades and while faded is still mostly readable. I have transcribed the full inscription below.

We don’t know if Robert ever saw the finished monument but even allowing for variable spelling, the engraver made some mistakes including the spelling of Robert’s middle name. In parentheses below I have added some editorial corrections to hopefully make the meaning clearer.

The inscription with original spelling and capitalization is as follows (only the items in parentheses have been added):

In Memory of the late JOHN VANCE Esqr of COAGH Born 1742 Deceased 1799

Eldest Son of Jas (James) Vance Esqr who was 2nd Son of JOHN VANCE Esqr whose Father was JOHN VANCE the ELDER who first obtained a Lease of the Lands of COAGH. He was the Eldest Son of Dr. Lanncelot Vance Surgeon and afterwards Colonel of the Coleraine Regiment who died from excessive fatigue within the walls of DERRY during the Memorable Siege thereoff in 1689 and whose Father was the Reverend (John)
VANS who fled from the South of SCOTLAND to IRELAND during the religious persecutions there about the middle of the 17th Century and was a Cadet of the ancient and Distinguished Family of Vans or Van of Barnbarragh (Barnbarroch) in Wigton Shire a Younger branch of that of the Lords (of) Dirleton in East Loashean (Lothian) who were Decended of the VAN who accompanied to ENGLAND from FRANCE William the Conquorer of Normandy where they were Lords of province (Provence) and Normandy and Sovereigne Counts of Orange and Dukes of Andre (Andrea) holding a distinguished part in European History before the advent of Charlemagne.


Robert Anstrusher (Anstruther) Balbirnie Vans Esqr Grandson to the first Named JOHN VANCE.