Monday, November 21, 2016

One or Two Early Mentions of Irish Vances

Time for another reach into U,K. and Irish history for a look at our (possible) past ancestors!

As many of you are aware, the main goal of William Balbirnie's book in 1860 about Irish Vances was to connect all the Vances then living in Ireland to the Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan, whom Balbirnie believed was their common ancestor.  In clinging to that focus, Balbirnie ignored or discounted other Vans/Vance immigrants that he knew about like George Vance who came to Ireland around 1662 (see our post about George Vance).

But researchers since Balbirnie have also uncovered other early Vances (and variants of the name) mentioned in Irish records that William Balbirnie never knew about.  Two from even before the Rev. John Vans, for instance are mentioned in what is known as the Tudor Fiants.

The Fiants were writs issued in early modern Ireland by the chief governor to the Court of Chancery mandating the issue of letters patent - basically government commands regarding appointments, pardons, grants, and the like.  The most complete of these that were indexed date from the time of the Tudor royal dynasty - or basically from the very late 1400s into the first decade of the 1600s.

In these compiled records there are two mentions of very early men who may have been ancestors of today's Vances.  The first in 1576 is a grant of land to a John Vause in what is now Meelick village on the River Shannon in Co. Galway:

From "Reports 11-13 of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland / presented to both houses of the Parliament by command of Her Majesty" published in 1879 (

The second from 1586 concerns a Hasting Vanse, gentleman, being granted wardship and lands in Cork in the south of Ireland:

From "The Fourteeth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland / presented to both houses of the Parliament by command of Her Majesty" published in 1879 (

The pity is that these men do not appear in any of the other fragmentary records from Ireland of that period, so if they DID settle permanently in Ireland and leave descendants it was not recorded for posterity (that we yet know of).   Were these men connected with the known Vans lines from Scotland?  We don't know.

What we DO know at least is that the Vaus/Vans/Vance name (or variants of it) were living in Ireland at least a generation or two before the Rev. John Vans.  Since we know he came over from Scotland to start his ministry (with no known or obvious immediate relations in Ireland), it is likely that these or some of the other known early Vance immigrants to Ireland were different families.  And while we don't know yet which ancestor(s) started which of the 4 or 5 known DNA lines of Irish Vances, we certainly know that there were enough separate immigrants to explain how they came about.

Monday, November 23, 2015

DNA Series: Update on Vance Groups 1 and 2, Part 3

This article, the last in our three-part series on DNA research into Vance Groups 1 and 2, focuses on what is known so far about Vance Group 2.  For more about Y-DNA testing in general and Vance DNA Group 1 please read our first and second articles in this series.

Group 2 of the Vance DNA project is made up of descendants of at least 16 known immigrants to the United States and Canada between the early 1700s and mid 1800s.  Several of those immigrants have been traced to Ireland and most of the others were recorded as Irish so efforts to find the original family have centered on Ireland, but no related lines have yet been discovered outside of North America.  All known family lines carry the surname Vance except for one line of descendants who have the last name Whalen, stemming from a Patrick Whealen from the south of Ireland in the early 1800s.

The descendants of Group 2 most notably include all descendants of Matthew Vance of Pittsylvania and the well-known figures Abner Vance of Abingdon, VA and his grandson Jim Vance of Hatfield-McCoy feud fame.

From initial DNA testing we know that Group 2 split fairly early on (say around 1300-1500AD and probably in Ireland) into two Groups usually called Groups 2a and 2b.  For an overview of what was uncovered from initial testing please read Adam Bradford's excellent summary of Group 2 as a whole.   More recently there has been a surge of advanced Y-DNA testing in Group 2 including three "Big Y" tests and targeted SNP ("single nucleotide polymorphism") testing aimed at discovering the SNP blocks and branching that define Groups 2a and 2b.

Group 2 (marked by red circle) shown with all known L513 descendant lines (click to enlarge)
Credit:  Mike Walsh, L513 Yahoo! Group

As noted in our first article in this series, what we now know is that the Group 2 male line split off from the rest of L513 about 3500 years ago and is defined by a VERY long string of about 31 SNP mutations, meaning no other branches have yet been found so only one family line may have survived in one continuous straight line for about the next 2800 years after it broke from L513.  Group 2 is the last few of that 3500-year-old ancient line (among those who have DNA tested so far, at least).

Group 2's long 2800-year descendant line marked by many SNPs (click to enlarge)
Credit:  Alex Williamson,

In more recent times the family tree branches. Group 2 overall's defining SNP is Z23507 and within Group 2, Group 2a is Z23506+ (positive) and Group 2b is Z23506- (negative) (Note:  there probably is a different SNP that Group 2b is positive for, but we will need someone in Group 2b to take a Big Y or Full Genomes test to find that).

So now the narrative picks up some 2800 years after L513 as follows:  some time around 1300-1500AD a man with the last name of Vance (or something close) and carrying the SNP Z23507 was born.  His descendants then split into two lines which became Group 2a and 2b.  Was this man already living in Ireland?  It appears that both his Group 2a and 2b descendants all come from Ireland, so it's very likely he lived there as well.

In any case on the Group 2b side, descendants started arriving in North America from Ireland by the early 1700s.

On the Group 2a side, one man around 1500-1650AD developed the Z23506 mutation.  In this timeframe one Vance line split off and became my Vance line, who emigrated from northern Ireland to the US in 1804.  On the other line a man in Ireland around 1600-1700AD developed the Z23516 mutation.  That man's descendants split IN IRELAND into two lines - one which eventually became Patrick Whealen born around 1816 who then emigrated to Ontario, and the other which led to Matthew Vance of Pittsylvania born around 1720 who shows up in the US and had several descendant lines there.   Given the timeframes involved, it is unlikely that Matthew Vance was the actual man who developed the Z23516 mutation but it IS likely that the two were within a few generations of each other.

The other Group 2a and 2b descendant lines probably fall out as shown on this family tree picture.  But note that until these other descendant lines (the ones shown with lighter descendant lines) are confirmed through SNP testing, this family tree is only representative, not certain.

Group 2a/2b Family Tree with branch-defining SNPs and likely timeframes marked in Green

So where did the Group 2 male line spend the years between 1500 BC and 1300AD?  When did it arrive in Ireland and with what tribe or group?  Did it also come from Scotland, like Group 1 appears to be?  Unfortunately those questions will have to wait until we discover other descendant lines that split off between L513 and Z23507 and hopefully bring their own clues to add new chapters to this evolving story.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

DNA Series: Update on Vance Groups 1 and 2, Part 2

Hey, so it’s been awhile.  Life and work intruded.  But our genealogy hasn’t changed, and our knowledge especially of our ancient genealogy based on our DNA continues to evolve.  

This article is a continuation of our look at Vance DNA Groups 1 and 2 within what’s called the L513 SNP.   To see more about that SNP and these two groups in general, see our first article on Y-DNA testing.  Here I’ll talk about what we know about Group 1, which is important partly because it includes the lineal heir of the Scottish Lairds of Barnbarroch, and so has been tied to the traditional descent of the Vance surname.  If you need a refresher on that Vance history, read our explanation of A Short History of the Vance Surname.

The coming of “affordable” (meaning less than about $600) exploratory Y-DNA testing in recent years has generated an explosion of Y-DNA testing by people hoping to find out more about their male-line genealogy. Under L21 alone there are more than 14,000 men currently recorded in the DNA project database.   That’s a lot, but it only scratches the surface of the total population of L21 men among the 3.5+ billion men in the world.   The more people test their DNA, the more our knowledge of the origins and spread of our ancient genealogy increases.  

I say “ancient” because what Y-DNA testing has told us so far is mainly about our male-line genealogy back before surnames were first adopted about 1000 years ago.   We are only just starting to see clues to where these male lines have been living from about 1000AD forward.  

So what of Group 1 specifically?  In Y-DNA terms, the Group 1 members of the Vance/Vans/etc surname project are part of what has been known until now as the L193 subgroup of L513.  The L193 subgroup is known as a “superfamily” of various Scottish family names with a strong association with southwest Scotland near Ayrshire and Galloway (although as I said in the first article, its origins are still under fierce debate).  The current structure for this sub-tree of L513 looks like this:

What does this mean?  So adding a few (approximate) timelines to the tree, the story unfolds like this:

Some time about 500 AD (give or take a few hundred years) a man was born with the L193 SNP mutation.  His descendants appear to be of uniformly Scottish origin, so perhaps (more about this later) he was born in Scotland.   At some point however before or around 1000AD, one of his descendants was born with the A3 SNP mutation.  HIS descendants then split into two lines – one became the Vans/Vance line which includes today’s Vans of Barnbarroch families, and the others split into two lines themselves, one of which gained family names of Clendaniel, Glendinning, McVittie (and others), and the other which became family lines of Kennedy, Little, Taylor, and Beatty.  

Working backwards, we know that some of the Vances in Group 1 can trace their ancestry back to the 1700s, so clearly the A3 SNP line was part of the Vans surname for several hundred years.  And in fact, the split into Vance Group 1a and 1b is also very old (probably back to the 1300-1400s), so we can be pretty sure that A3 was the DNA of the male line of the Vans family of Barnbarroch back to around the time that Barnbarroch was founded.  Other scenarios are possible in theory, but they’re just too much of a stretch.  

 One conclusion (that we already pretty much knew) is that any male Vances whose DNA testing show they are part of Group 1 are directly related to the Vans family of Barnbarroch.  We don’t know yet how Group 1b broke off from the Barnbarroch line, but they are all related to a man who was either a Vans of Dirleton or of Barnbarroch and who broke off of the main Barnbarroch line very early on.  

But the Vans line of Barnbarroch was supposed to be founded by the Vans of Dirleton, who themselves were a Norman family who reached Scotland sometime around 1100-1200.  If the L193 and A3 lines look like they are of old Scottish origin, does this mean that the ancestry of the Vans of Barnbarroch is NOT Norman?  

Possibly, but not necessarily.  Of course, it IS possible that the Vans of Dirleton or Barnbarroch adopted a son from an ancient Scottish line who brought the A3 SNP into the family DNA.  That was not uncommon in medieval times and might not have been recorded.  But movement between the British Isles and the European continent was VERY common for thousands of years before and during this time.  L513 descendants, for instance (but not yet L193 descendants) have been found in Scandinavia, Germany, Belgium, and other parts of Europe besides England, Scotland, and Ireland.  It is not inconceivable that a L193 descendant might have emigrated to Scandinavia or Europe and his line some few hundred years later came back to Scotland among the Norman settlers.  An interesting event if it occurred, but certainly within possibility.  

What would help?  Well it would certainly help to locate and test a known male descendant of the Vans of Dirleton.  That would tell us whether the Barnbarroch and Dirleton lines were in fact related.  And certainly testing a known male descendant of the de Vaux of Normandy would be a coup also.  

Without having those to tell us how the Vans/Vance lines evolved, our best chance at learning more about these lines is just for more men to continue to have their Y-DNA tested and having more L193 descendants identified.   For instance, finding European descendants of the A3 SNP would help us understand more about the spread of this subgroup that includes the Vances of Group 1. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

DNA Series: Update on Vance Groups 1 and 2, Part 1

This is the first in a three-part series on recent DNA analysis of Vance Groups 1 and 2.  While this series will be interesting primarily for Vances who descend from those Groups, I hope it will also show the current state of genetic genealogy and what you can learn by having a male in your family take a Y-DNA test.   This update owes a lot to Adam Bradford's original analyses of these Groups which can be found on the Vance Y-DNA Project's website, and it is a tribute to his original work that the current analysis agrees with and simply builds on it.  

The charts shown here are developed and maintained by the volunteer administrators of the R1b-L21 and R1b-L513 projects and I am including them here for information.  Please respect their hard work, do not use these for commercial purposes, and give them credit for these charts.

I'll confess to being a genetic genealogy junkie.  It's not likely that paper records will get me any farther than the 1700s in Ireland on my Vance line, so I've latched onto DNA testing as the most likely way to get more information about my Vance history.  And while our ancestors unfortunately didn't write their names in our DNA, they did leave us many clues that we're only just beginning to understand.

My own DNA is in Group 2 of the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project so that's the DNA research that I follow most closely.  But Group 1 and Group 2 are related within the last 4000 years (give or take) so I'm close to Group 1 as well.   So this series is an update on the DNA research into both Groups 1 and 2.  In this first article, we'll review the current state of the overall DNA analysis that includes Groups 1 and 2.  I'll concentrate on each of those Groups in the rest of the series.

When I talk about DNA and genetic genealogy here I'm focusing ONLY on Y-DNA testing, which is especially relevant to the Vance surname because only men have and pass on a Y chromosome so a Y-DNA test traces back through your direct male line (your father's father's father's father etc) which includes the first male in that genetic ancestry who adopted a surname.  Other very important DNA tests (mitochondrial and autosomal tests) can help you trace your other ancestral lines but I won't be covering those here.

When I first took a DNA test nearly 10 years ago it gave you more anthropology than genealogy.  I found out I descended from Cro-Magnon men who came into Western Europe some 30,000 years ago; which left me a gap of a few years from there to my Irish Vance ancestor in the 1750s.   In the years since then genetic genealogy has been working forwards from those Cro-Magnons to help fill that gap.

2014 was a banner year for genetic genealogy with major advances both in affordable tests and in the expansion of the family trees of our ancient ancestors.  So let's close the gap a bit and jump from the Cro-Magnons to Vance Groups 1 and 2, pausing first on a man living about 4000 years ago on the European continent in a Bell Beaker culture whose descendants make up what is now known as group (haplogroup) R1b-L21.  Most of his descendants became associated with Celtic cultures and while they originally populated Western Europe and the British Isles in great numbers, the group is now most concentrated in the British Isles and Brittany and Normandy in France.  There is a map showing the current distributions of R1b-L21 here.

Roberta Estes, a noted blogger in the genetic genealogy community, showed the advances in 2014 in group R1b-L21 on her blog in this post which is a great progress summary for the year for anyone interested.  But repeating her point about the progress in L21 last year, this is the descendant tree for R1b-L21 at the start of 2014:

R1b-L21 Descendant Tree as of January 2014 (credit:  R1b-L21 Y-DNA Project)

And here it is in January 2015.  This tree now connects over 13,000 men living today to their common ancestor about 4000 years ago.  Note the sub-tree in the pink box which is known as R1b-L513, where Vance Groups 1 and 2 sit.

R1b-L21 Descendant Tree as of January 2015 (credit:  R1b-L21 Y-DNA Project)

Narrowing things down further, we get into territory that is under intense study and debate.  Around 4000 years ago (so about 2000 BC), the common ancestor of the L513 sub-group arose.  It seems most likely that this man was a Celt living on the European continent, although some argue he already lived in the British Isles.   In any case his descendants are now predominantly of Scottish and Irish origins, as shown in this map of the most distant known ancestral origins of the L513 group.

Locations of most distant known ancestors for members of R1b-L513 (credit:  Family Tree DNA)

And this is the family tree of that man from 4000 years ago down to present day covering about 1800 of his male descendants.  This is the same sub-tree as in the pink box above, just expanded to show more detail and surnames.

R1b-L513 Descendant Tree as of January 2015 (credit:  R1b-L513 Y-DNA Project)

You'll need to click on that picture to read it, so let's zoom in on the left hand side and see where Vance Groups 1 and 2 sit.    We'll add a few markers and a very rough timeline:

Excerpt from R1b-L513 Descendant Tree as of January 2015 (credit:  R1b-L513 Y-DNA Project)

What does this mean?  Every subgroup has a label (which for those who follow genetic genealogy refers to a SNP that everyone in that group is positive for).

Vance Group 2, which is now defined by SNP Z23519,  broke off of L513 pretty early on, like about 3500 years ago.  To date, that group's descendants have ONLY been found with origins in Ireland and apart from one man of the surname Whalen, are exclusively of the surname Vance.   So far we know that this Vance line was in Ireland by around 1600 at least.  But while there are some clues, we don't yet know for sure where it was before that, or when it arrived in the British Isles.

Vance Group 1, on the other hand, is part of a much larger group of current descendants which includes a whole variety of surnames, some of which you can see on this last chart.  About 1000 years ago under the SNP A3 the Vans/Vance line split off from the rest and so far all the men on that branch carry a variant of the same surname.   This whole line, and in fact most of its parent L193, shows a very strong connection with Scotland and particularly with southwest Scotland near Ayrshire and Galloway, but its origins are still under fierce debate.  Some say it is of Pictish origin, and others think it could have arrived in Britain as late as the Norman Conquest.

That's the older story so far, and how the members of Vance Groups 1 and 2 relate to the rest of their wider groups.  I know for most Irish Vances, we want to know "so what does that all mean to the origins of these Vances and where our ancestors lived and who they were?".  We don't have a complete answer to those questions yet but we have more clues.  We'll explore the evolving story of Group 1 in the next article, and Group 2 after that.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Vances of the Past: The epitaph of Roland de Vaux of Triermain

The study of gravestone epitaphs is a fascinating offshoot of genealogy, and many of our ancestors have left us some humorous or reflective evidence of their personality in a quiet cemetery.   Rodney Dangerfield is said to have used the line "There goes the neighborhood" on his tombstone, and W.C. Fields himself started the urban legend that his tombstone would read "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia".  Whole books have been written about these and other famous last words passed on by our famous and not-so-famous ancestors.

If you subscribe to the origin story of the Vance surname with the de Vaux families of England and Scotland, then one of our far-away relatives left us one of those messages which is still remembered after more than six hundred years.

While the exact story differs in the histories, it seems that when Hubert de Vaux was granted the barony of Gilsland (in Cumberland near the English border with Scotland) in 1158, he re-gifted the smaller holdings of Triermain and Torcrossock to his second son Ranulf, who in turn passed Triermain on to his own son Roland.  The histories then record of Triermain that "Roland had issue Alexander and he Ranulf after whom succeeded Robert and then they were named Rolands successively that were Lords thereof until" the mid-fifteenth century,

One wall is all that remains today of Triermain Castle
(source:  Peter McDermott, Wikimedia)

The priory of Lanercost which sits about 5 miles from Triermain Castle was founded by Hubert de Vaux's eldest son Robert and for centuries the de Vaux remained important benefactors of the priory.  In the north transept, the oldest tomb of the priory is one of the Roland de Vaux lords from the fourteenth century.  Unfortunately the knight's effigy and tomb decorations are mostly now gone, but an 18th century writer recorded the tomb's details including the following epitaph:

Which translated into modern English becomes:

Sir Roland de Vaux who was once the Lord of Triermain, 
Is dead, his body clothed in lead, and lies low under this stone.  
Even as we are now so was he on earth a living man;
Even as he is now so will we become, for all the craft we can
(i.e. no matter how hard we try).  

Not quite the wit of a Rodney Dangerfield or a W.C. Fields, perhaps, but this reflective message has outlasted the de Vaux nobility of England and Scotland, most of their castles, and even nearly the tomb itself that it was written on.

Several books mention that while the inscription is gone from the tomb itself, it survives in a plaque that was mounted on the wall of the north transept near the tomb at Lanercost Priory.  If anyone visits the priory and can find the plaque, if you can send me a picture (Gmail id davevance01) I'll post it here with my thanks!

Lanercost Priory today
(source:  Peter McDermott, Wikimedia)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Reviving our Ancestors

This is not a blog about my personal Vance genealogy, but I recently tried a nice trick I read about reviving old pictures and I thought I'd share it.

A few years ago I had the luck of meeting a far-off cousin a bazillion times removed who was also researching our common Vance ancestors.   I had dates, wills, and other records to share, but she had something even more exciting - an album of pictures going back to my 3rd-great-grandparents!  Suddenly I had faces for many of the people that I had thought would always be just names on my family tree.  I felt like I had stumbled on to pirate gold.

Photography didn't start becoming widely available in the US until the 1840s, and even then the early daguerreotype and other methods often produced washed-out, blurry black or sepia-toned images that haven't held up well after over 150 years.  Many of the pictures in my exciting new album fit that description, like one of my favorites here of my 3rd-great-grandfather, John Vance:

John Vance (1786-1869)

John Vance was born in county Donegal, Ireland, in 1786 and emigrated at 18 with his parents to Pennsylvania where he became a farmer until his death in 1869.  This picture was undated, but appears to be from around 1860-65 when he was in his 70s.  The picture is actually in pretty good shape, although it's faded and his features and hair are difficult to make out.  But it's still one of my favorite pictures especially because this is my earliest Vance photograph.

Recently someone shared on Facebook a list of famous black-and-white photographs that had been colorized, and I realized the power of using color to bring out detail in old pictures.  Many people have realized that before me, of course, but I started playing with a scanned copy of this favorite picture of mine.

Meet the same John Vance again after some amateur cosmetic computer retouching:

John Vance with added color

I will always like the original, of course, because I completely understand the purists who would say it's the "truest" reflection of the times that John Vance lived in.  And the colorized version isn't perfect, but I think it adds a new dimension - it really brings his portrait "to life", even though I had to guess at some of the colors.

You need a serious graphics package like Photoshop or GIMP to colorize an old picture yourself, but honestly there are many professional photographers or photo restoration websites that could do a much better job than I did with this one.  I just might check out a few.  

So, if you have old black-and-white pictures of your ancestors too, you might consider getting them colorized.  To me it feels like now I have two pictures of my 3rd-great-grandfather where I used to have only one.   And it almost feels like I'm meeting John Vance again for the first time.

Now if I could just get him to share some stories...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Oldest Vances

Detail from Blaeu's 1645 map of the Luxembourg area, showing the town of Vance and its bridge over the Semois River

In the hills of the Ardennes in southern Belgium not far from where the Battle of the Bulge was fought in World War II the small village of Vance sits in a quiet spot on the Semois River away from major roadways and tourists.    The village dates back to Roman times and depending on sources it was first called Veen or Wannen but for nearly a thousand years now its name has been spelled Vance.   It is the oldest use of the Vance name that has been uncovered so far.

In the 10th century after the death of Charlemagne the local area was split up into counties with Vance falling into the newly-formed county of Chiny.  A fief system developed with knights ruling villages and their surrounding regions, subject to the local Counts.  One knight became the Seigneur (Lord) of Vance and following local tradition from that point forward his sons and grandsons adopted the last name "de Vance". 

The Lords of Vance flourished in the 1200's and 1300's.  It was the age of the Crusades, when chivalrous knights would feast, joust, and fight endless battles in the service of their local rulers.  Surviving records show that the de Vance knights were well-respected both in peace and in war, and educated enough to keep an enviable library.   Two castles were built in Vance over the centuries, but no trace now remains of either.

Seal of the Count of Chiny

The county of Chiny was eventually absorbed into Luxembourg in 1364 and soon afterwards the lordship of Vance passed through marriage to men of other names.  But the surname "de Vance" continued down other family lines until the last local person of that name was recorded in 1667.  It is believed that the surname died out after that.  

Although these Vances might be ancestors of any of us, it's unlikely that we got our surname from them.  But long before the Irish Vances or German Vances adopted that exact spelling of the name, one European family carried it with respect and honor.  And the village of Vance survived them all and still sits there today.

The village of Vance in Belgium today