Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A word of caution about Vance DNA

I'd like to throw some caution out there about what DNA tells us about the Irish Vances.  Over the past few months I've seen several comments on Facebook, public forums and via email from well-meaning researchers who are unwittingly cutting off potential avenues of research because of assumptions about what DNA results mean.

Here's how it starts.  As you can read in the Vance Surname DNA Project, (also summarized here under DNA Project Resources), the Vances of Irish descent belong to at least 5 different DNA Groups (I'm thinking of Groups 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8, but there may be others).   Two other things we know about the Irish Vances are:

  1. The best-known origin of the Irish Vances is from the Rev. John Vans of Kilmacrenan, who apparently came from the Vans of Barnbarroch line in Scotland, and according to the best available records they descend from the de Vaux of Scotland and England.  
  2. And the current Laird of Barnbarroch has been DNA-tested and matches Vance Group 1.

Those are the "simple facts".  So therefore based on DNA results, the Vances in Group 1 descend from the Rev. John Vans and the Vans of Barnbarroch and from the de Vaux.  And the Vances in the other Groups don't.  That's the only possible conclusion, right?

Wrong.  It certainly is one perfectly logical conclusion.  It's just not the only conclusion.

Why not?

First of all, let's eliminate the Rev. John Vans from this DNA discussion.  We have no family lines that reliably connect back to him, so we don't know what DNA Group he belonged to.  We don't even have a hint about who his parents were.  We do know he was Scottish and he went to Ireland, and that he sealed his will with a coat of arms that looked a lot like the Vans of Barnbarroch arms.  So certainly he could be the ancestor of the Vances in Group 1.  But we don't have any actual evidence of that, so it's really just conjecture.  He could also be from any or none of the other DNA Groups.

We do know the Vans of Barnbarroch share a more recent ancestor with the Vances of Group 1 than the Vances of any other DNA Group.  So at least we can say that a man from the same family as the Vans of Barnbarroch went to Ireland, maybe in the early 1600s, and all the Vances in Group 1 descend from him.   Although maybe it was more than one man who went to Ireland.   And maybe it was later than the 1600s, or some in the 1600s and some later.   Ok, there are still many possibilities for how Group 1 got started, but they did come from the same family as the Vans of Barnbarroch.  That much we do know.

But we don't know anything about the earlier DNA of the Vans of Barnbarroch before that or about the DNA of the de Vaux.  In genetic genealogy terms, Group 1 is called R1b-L193, which is concentrated in Scotland especially in lowland Scotland near the border with England and includes many other surnames like Little, Clendennin, and McClain.  The best analysis so far says that one man in early medieval times probably started the whole line.  Unless it was one of the de Vaux, that would eliminate any DNA link between the de Vaux and the Vans.  But we don't really know anything for sure.   Maybe there were different de Vaux family lines, too.  The possibilities are still endless.

Why am I bringing all this up?  Several Vance researchers in the other Irish Vance DNA Groups besides Group 1 have made statements recently like "we don't descend from the Rev. John Vans", or "we don't descend from the de Vaux".  My point isn't that those statements are true or false, only that we still don't really know.  You can still make a case for any Irish Vance DNA Group, including Group 1, to be descended from them.  Or maybe none of them are.  Just don't eliminate possibilities for yourself or others.

One person even went so far as to say that they didn't join the Vance Family Association because their DNA test said they "weren't part of those Vances" - i.e. the Vans of Barnbarroch line.  So let me be clear about that too.  The Vance Family Association is for ALL Vances and their descendants, regardless of origin.  It says so right on their website.   Yes, when the VFA started in 1984, the Rev. John Vans etc origin was the only one anyone knew about.   But for decades now it has included everyone whether of Irish, German, or any other Vance descent.   There is a lot of information in the VFA on many lines.

People using DNA for genealogy are fond of saying "DNA doesn't lie" but the truth is that after so many centuries what it's saying is pretty garbled and you can interpret it in many ways.  I'm not saying that any interpretation is better than any other.  Just remember that without traditional research to back it up, there are always multiple interpretations.


  1. In my line we have always considered adoption no big deal. That would explain Patrick Vance of KY having different DNA. We have not found his dad as far as I know and when I heard our DNA was different it got me to wondering if instead of him being first cousins with Rev Hugh Vance, maybe he was adopted? Not an unusual occurrence for a family to take in a stray child.

  2. Dad was Gerald Martin Vance,his mom was loethen,dad George W. Vance,Gerald had sisters Betty,darlin,Dave.any relatives on loethen side please contact Larry Vance 310-944-1334. larryvance43@yahoo.com

  3. Dad was Gerald Martin Vance,his mom was loethen,dad George W. Vance,Gerald had sisters Betty,darlin,Dave.any relatives on loethen side please contact Larry Vance 310-944-1334. larryvance43@yahoo.com