Friday, December 13, 2013

King Robert the Bruce, a Vance Ancestor?

Many researchers into the Irish Vance family lines have documented their connection through the Vans of Barnbarroch back to Robert the Bruce, who reigned as King of Scotland from 1306 to 1329 and defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314, securing for a time Scottish independence from England.  This connection is real - Robert the Bruce IS an ancestor of the Vans of Barnbarroch, and by extension of any Vances who descend from them.

To be honest, having royal ancestors from 700 years ago is pretty common; our family trees all have around thirty million branches by that point and even though the same people will show up on different branches as families marry into each other multiple times, the odds are still very high for all of us that nobles and royals are hiding somewhere in those leaves.  And Robert the Bruce certainly has plenty of descendants; he married twice and had five children plus another six acknowledged illegitimate children... so it's very likely that a sizable percentage of people today with Scottish ancestry are descended from him!  But not everyone can document their exact line of descent.

In fact, Robert the Bruce is a Vance ancestor multiple times, because his descendants included the Kennedy family who were aligned with the early Vans of Barnbarroch and intermarried with them several times.  The first three connections are shown in the picture below, but there are probably also many later connections from other Vans family spouses who were also descendants of Robert the Bruce through other lines.

Jumping ahead to the 21st century, the Vances of DNA Group 1 probably have the best claim to this ancestry, since their group includes the current Laird of Barnbarroch.  But who knows?  None of us Vances today (to my knowledge) can reliably document our exact tree back this far, so it's a possibility still for most of us.   For now, the best we can say is that if you have reason to believe that your family tree goes back to any of the Vans family of Barnbarroch, then you also have reason to believe that King Robert the Bruce is your ancestor through the family connections shown here.

The early connections from Robert the Bruce to the Vans of Barnbarroch.
From these connections anyone who traces their ancestry to the Vans of Barnbarroch
is also a descendant of King Robert the Bruce.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What's New at the VFA?

The November 2013 Newsletter

The VFA's November newsletter is out!  Members who enjoy stories of notable Vances will find a biography of US author Jack Vance (pictured) and a history of the Vance knights who ruled the area around Vance, Belgium for 700 years.   There is also a summary of the VFA's biannual reunion this past summer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a recap of the Allen County Library's Genealogy Center and its resources.

Big changes have also been added to the Vance Family Association's website at and are reviewed in the November newsletter.  The website now includes an Archives section with new resources for members like:

  • Newsletters - fifteen of the VFA's newsletters from the past 30 years have been added already with more to come (by the way, if you aren't already aware, the VFA has indexed all the past newsletters, and indexes by topic and by Vance ancestor are already available at  
  • Book Titles - to contain a growing list of books on Vances and Vance history, with titles, tables of contents, the V and W entries found in the index, and where copies of the book can be found either online or available via inter-library loan, and 
  • Historians' Research, where digitized copies of the VFA's other archives will be posted.

There are also Newsletter Forums and DNA Project Forums set up for members to post corrections or questions on past newsletters and discuss items relating to genetic genealogy and the Vance DNA surname project.

If you're a VFA member already, don't forget to sign up for a user name and password to check out these new online resources.  And if you're not a member, look over the options at and see if we have one that fits your budget.  For as little as $15 a year, you can avail yourself of all the resources of the VFA, get the quarterly newsletter, and support our goal of helping Vance researchers across the globe at the same time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Spread of the Vance Surname

I was introduced recently to a Facebook group about surname distribution mapping - the use of census and other data to plot the geographic distribution of a surname.  While it's fun for anyone who loves maps, it can also be useful in genealogy to understand the origins and spread of a surname.

A first note:  the maps shown in this post are taken from various websites (as attributed in the captions) which allow limited use for personal or professional genealogy use.   It is our aim to respect these sources' copyrights and we would ask you not to copy these pictures without understanding and respecting the original allowed uses as well.

So where to start?  Our page A Short History of the Vance Surname describes the known and conjectured origins of "Vance" as a last name.  While there are a few possible derivations, sources at least agree that "Vance" as a modern surname appeared first in Ulster in Ireland in the 17th century; best documented first in Donegal county in Kilmacrenan and around Donegal town.  

Anyone doing Irish research knows that data before 1901 is hard to come by; but from census substitutes and Balbirnie's book in 1860, the VFA can document more than 150 Vance heads of households between the early 1600s and 1860.  The growth in Vance families looks like this:
Earliest spread of the Irish Vances
(Source:  author)

But I suspect that the data above under-counts the later Vances in Antrim and Down counties in the east of Ulster, since by the time of Griffith's Valuation (1847-1864) those counties rivaled Donegal in number of Vance families.  The Irish Times has a good Vance distribution map from Griffith's Valuation.

The Vance name in the 1800s

By the mid-1800s of course Vance had begun to spread to other countries in the waves of Irish emigration, most notably to the US and Australia.  While I don't have early distribution maps for Australia, maps for the 1840 and 1920 US censuses show "Vance" was well-established in the middle Atlantic states and spreading:

Back in the UK. a surname distribution map for the late 1800's shows that "Vance" was centered in it's expected lowland Scotland origins, but had also spread to England as well:
And now into the 1900's, the 1901 Irish census still shows the same patterns as earlier data:  a decidedly Ulster bias and a Donegal/Antrim/Down county concentration:

The Vance surname Today

The surname "Vance" around the world today according to 2000-2005 data from the website Public Profiler, is found mainly in the US (182 FPM, or frequency per million people), Australia (61 FPM), Ireland (55 FPM), Canada (40 FPM). the UK (36 FPM), and New Zealand (20 FPM):
Worldwide distribution of "Vance" today
(Source:  Public Profiler World Names)
Within its major countries, here are the surname distributions for 2000-2005:
North America - distribution of "Vance" today
(Source:  Public Profiler World Names)
UK and Ireland - distribution of "Vance" today
(Source:  Public Profiler World Names)
Australia - distribution of "Vance" today
(Source:  Public Profiler World Names)
So what does all this show, apart from the obvious conclusion that there IS such a thing as too many maps?  One conclusion is that while the Vance name has grown more numerous in the former British colonies, its distribution in Ireland and Scotland even today still greatly reflects its origins in lowland Scotland and Ulster.  In the US, it also seems to indicate that "Vance" has spread slowly south over time although it is still heavily concentrated in areas originally colonized by the Scots-Irish.   Of course, this data doesn't distinguish other sources for the "Vance" surname like the known Wentz immigrant families whose surnames were changed to Vance in their new US home.  

Data at this "macro" level may not help genealogists who have a good family tree already documented, but it CAN help suggest focus areas for people who don't know where their ancestors emigrated from.   Do these maps suggest anything about your research?  Or do you have any other distribution maps to add to the set?  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Bewcastle Cross - a Vaux/Vance Legend

In a little churchyard in Bewcastle in Cumberland, England, there stands one of the largest Anglo-Saxon high crosses in the British Isles.  Its connection to Vaux/Vance history has been debated for centuries, but the story of the debate still merits a place in the legends of our family surname.

The Bewcastle Cross
(picture source:  Wikimedia)

High crosses are Christian crosses intricately carved out of stone in the early medieval period as the Anglo-Saxon and Norse communities across England, Scotland and Ireland were being converted to Christianity.   Some crosses were erected at churches and monasteries, others at major cross-roads or meeting-places.  Many still stand, but Bewcastle has one of the largest and best studied.

The Bewcastle Cross is missing its head (often high crosses were topped by a Celtic cross) so only the shaft remains, standing 14 ½ feet tall in its original location.  While the rich detail of the carvings remain clear, the inscriptions are worn by time and weather and the age and origins of the Cross have been fiercely debated for centuries.

The earliest mention of the Bewcastle Cross in print is in 1607 by a man named Nicholas Roscarrock who was writing to the British historian William Camden.  Earlier editions of Camden’s works had not mentioned the Cross, and Roscarrock said (in updated English)  “If you have any occasion to speak of the Cross of Bewcastle, I have assured myself that the inscription on one side is Hubert de Vaux; [and] that the chequy coat of arms is above that on the same side.”

Arms of the de Vaux
barons of Gilsland
Hubert de Vaux had been granted the Barony of Gilsland (in northern Cumberland) by King Henry II in 1158.  This de Vaux family (see A Short History of the Vance Surname) is thought to be one origin of the Irish Vances.   And the original coat of arms of the de Vaux was a check pattern (“chequy”, in heraldic terms) of either gold and red or silver and red (see What is the Vance Coat of Arms?).

Camden may have investigated further, for his next editions include the passage “In the church-yard is a cross…neatly wrought, and having an inscription, but the letters too much consumed by time to be legible.  But the cross itself being chequered like the arms of the family of Vaux makes it probable that it was their work”.

So for the next century or two the de Vaux barons of Gilsland were given credit for erecting the Bewcastle Cross.

Much of the Cross’s carvings are clear – there is a figure of John the Baptist, holding the Lamb of God and walking on the desert hills.  Below him is Christ himself as King and law-giver, and a third figure is thought to be St. John the Evangelist.   There is a sundial on its surface that has been called “by far the earliest English sundial to survive”, divided into the four “tides” which governed the working day in medieval times.  But with their faded lettering, the inscriptions have been reinterpreted many times.

Four Sides of the Cross
(note check pattern on far left)
(picture source:  Gentleman's Magazine
ca. 1790)
Later examinations of the Cross from 1685 through 1794 concluded the inscriptions were Saxon runes which suggested that the Cross was much older than the 12th century.    Those scholars also noted the possible connection between the checkered Cross and the de Vaux coat of arms, but they stopped short of drawing any definite conclusions.  Then in the early 1800s an antiquary named Henry Howard reversed the theory and suggested that the de Vaux had themselves adopted the chequy pattern for their arms in honor of the Bewcastle Cross.   But no other evidence was found to support this.

The de Vaux association was further weakened in studies in the 1850s by John Maughan, the rector of Bewcastle, who noted that checkered patterns were common in medieval illuminated texts and artwork as far back as Egyptian, Gallic, and Roman cultures.

Maughan also had a fierce academic rivalry with a scholar named Daniel Henry Haigh over the Bewcastle Cross and through the 1850s they both published several conflicting interpretations of the cross’s inscriptions and origins.  By this time the de Vaux connection with the cross was dismissed by both as unlikely.  Maughan in particular became somewhat obsessed with his subject and apparently around 1856 even painted his interpretation of the runic letters directly on the Cross!   When he was censured by the Society of Antiquaries for this act of graffiti, Maughan indignantly fired back that he was only trying to make the letters clearer, not deface them, and that he could not even “conceive how such a puerile idea can have found a lodgment in the cranium of the antiquated patriarchs of such a renowned Society.”

The current prevailing theory is that the Cross is from the late 7th or early 8th century and possibly commemorates King Alchfrith of Deira, who around 664 made an unsuccessful bid for control of the entire area, and his wife Cyneburh.  It is speculated that Alchfrith lived in exile after 664, died in Bewcastle (his mother was a local princess) and that the memorial was organized by his half-sister Abbess Aelfflaed of Witby (d. 714).  Others though look to a slightly later date in the reign of King Eadberht (737-758).

Could the shaft’s design be the origin of the de Vaux coat of arms, as Henry Howard proposed?  Possible, but doubtful.   Firstly, there is no reason that a Saxon cross would be important to the Normans or any evidence that it was.  Hubert de Vaux’s seat of power in Gilsland was over 10 miles away at  Castlesteads near Irthington, and there is no sign that he paid much attention to Bewcastle.  Secondly, in 1158 there were already other English de Vaux knights as far away as Norfolk and while heraldry was only just being formalized, all the de Vaux nobility adopted some variation of the chequy pattern.  That certainly argues that they were a common family and while Hubert as baron of Gilsland was an important de Vaux family member, the idea that he convinced them all to adopt a pattern from a remote part of his barony suggests an unlikely level of coordination for the Middle Ages.   It is still possible, but the more likely conclusion is that the de Vaux family had already settled on a common pattern before Hubert moved to Gilsland.

The Cross still stands in its churchyard today, drawing tourists and scholars alike.  The controversy over its origins has settled down but is by no means settled.  Its association with the Norman de Vaux may be in doubt, but if you get a chance to visit Bewcastle, you can stand as people have done for hundreds of years and draw your own conclusions.  Just don’t draw them with paint.  


Bewcastle Cross, Wikipedia (website),

Cook, Albert Stanburrough.  Some Accounts of the Bewcastle Cross between the years 1607 and 1861.   New York, Henry Holt & Co, 1914.    Google eBook at

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Vance Family Association's Reunion - Aug 19-20, 2013

VFA members on tour at the Allen County Public Library

Officers and members of the Vance Family Association met on August 19-20 last week in Fort Wayne, IN for the Association's biennial meeting and reunion.   Thanks to everyone who made it out this year!  The sessions were well-attended and discussions were lively.  After the obligatory reviews of the by-laws and new officer elections, the group got down to some serious sharing of genealogy stories and techniques... and let me tell you this is a great group of people with a LOT of energy and experience in Vance family research across many family lines and DNA groups!  There should be a lot more about the reunion activities in upcoming VFA newsletters.

More of the VFA group on the Genealogy Center tour

But undoubtedly the highlight of the reunion was the tour and research time at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, which to my view is probably the best genealogy research facility in the US after the LDS archives in Utah.   The Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne has miles of collected reference works and stacks of microfilms, and every librarian there is a certified genealogist ready to help point you in the right direction.  Well-worth a visit if you are in or come through Fort Wayne!

One of the prize collections in the Genealogy Center is over 55,000 family history works collected over more than 50 years from past genealogists and associations.   Included in this collection are all the past Vance Family Association newsletters and bound copies of many family histories from past Vance researchers with all the details and pictures of their research.  The picture below shows them all on the library shelves.  I copied down the titles, authors and family lines and plan to share the list in a future blog post!

Books in the Allen County Genealogy Center related to Vance family history

The VFA reunion was planned this year to coincide with the FGS (Federation of Genealogical Societies, of which the VFA is a member) conference which was held for the rest of last week in Fort Wayne - sorry, I wasn't able to stay on myself but I'll be very interested to hear from the VFA members who did.

One more time - thanks again to all who made this year's VFA reunion a huge success!

By the way, you can find the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center website at for more information and their complete card catalog available online.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Australian Vance Immigrants

I started looking at the Vance family lines that emigrated to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries, using the Public Family Trees on  While this is a completely non-scientific poll, a lot of current research tracks back to the same fifteen original immigrants. I'm sure these are not the only Vance immigrants into Australia, but they show up on the most number of well-researched and well-sourced public family trees.  So if you are researching a Vance family line in Australia, you may well find that the trail leads back to one of these immigrants - and know that you have a good shot at connecting with other genealogists who have followed these families before. 

One interesting common link between these fifteen immigrants is that they ALL came to Australia from Ireland or England, meaning the origin of these Vance families is very likely to be the same origin as the US Vances of Irish descent.  Have any Vances in Australia done Y-DNA testing?   

(Tip:  if you're going blind trying to read the table below, click on it to see a bigger version.  If that still isn't big enough, right-click on it and save it as a JPEG on your computer, then open it with your favorite picture viewer!).   

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Companion Map for Balbirnie's Book

If you're descended from Irish Vances, you should know of William Balbirnie's book; a genealogy of Vances in Ireland in 1860 and listed on our Online Books of Interest page.    While it certainly contains errors (and it's not really a primary source, so you need to take it with a little skepticism), his book is still the best available source of detail about Irish Vances in Ulster from 150 years ago and so has been referenced for decades by Vance researchers looking to tie their family trees back to Ireland.

Balbirnie lists dozens of places in Ireland where Vance families lived or were known to have lived in the past.  Many of these placenames were Gaelic in origin and their written names in English have changed over the years, even from Balbirnie's day to modern times.   But because of these and other changes across the landscape of Northern Ireland, many of these places are hard to find on a map today.

I made the map below for a book on the older Vance lines and I thought it might be useful to anyone else researching Vance lines in Ireland (credit for the map image, by the way, goes to JPL/Caltech, and the mapping tool was Google Earth (TM) - both of whom require attribution!).

You'll find a table of details for each location, with Google Earth(TM) lat/long references and comments where appropriate ("WB" in the table means "William Balbirnie").   You'll see a confidence assessment too - for example Balbirnie mentions the will of Patrick of "Lifficulty" in 1697, but that place appears nowhere in modern or old books about Ireland.  However, the modern transcription of the Index to Raphoe Wills lists the same will for Patrick of "Lissacully", and there IS a modern "Lissacholly" in Donegal.  Is it the same place?  It seems the best fit, but I listed it with lower confidence and I'm happy to be corrected if anyone has a better answer.

There are two more detailed views where the larger map gets densely crowded and hard to see.  Click on these pictures below for larger versions.

Hope this helps anyone looking to find the path of their Vances in Ireland!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013 Summer Vance Reunions (in the US)

That's right - "reunions" plural!  I would like to point out that there are two Vance surname-related reunions this summer in the US.   Social media and connecting over email are great in their own way, but after all, genealogy is in its heart a study of human connections and there is no substitute for getting out there and seeing people face to face!

The first Vance reunion is from July 5-7, 2013, at Beaver Lake near Rogers, Arkansas.  Kim Richardson Adams Emery and her relatives have organized several local Vance reunions in past years; most of their family is I believe descended from the Vances of Calhoun County, MS (themselves descended from James Alexander Vance who died in 1821 in South Carolina, and part of Group 8 of the Vance DNA Project).  You can bet this will be a festival of true Southern hospitality overrun by very active and energetic Vance family researchers!  Details, directions, hotel suggestions, and more are on their website at

The second is the Vance Family Association (VFA)'s own bi-annual reunion, from August 19-20, 2013, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The VFA has coordinated their reunion with the Federation of Genealogical Societies' Conference (which takes place Aug 21-24 also in Fort Wayne, and VFA members may participate in any of the FGS conferences as well).  Most of the VFA's own meetings will be conducted before the FGS Conference at the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Library which includes a tour and research time taking advantage of the library's facilities and helpful staff.  A great way both to connect with VFA staff and members and further your own research at the same time!  This reunion is for VFA members, so details are in the May newsletter, or visit to sign up for membership and get a quick note off to to request more details about the reunion.

Any other Vance or Vance-related (Vaux, Vans, Wentz, etc) reunions going on out there around the world? Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Map of the earliest US Vances

I don't know if anyone has a list of the various mapping sites out there that help you show locations and migration paths on a world map.  I don't have a full list, but I've seen some of them in action and they work pretty well.

Me, I'm a visual guy.  I don't get the sense of where my ancestors lived or how far they traveled unless I see it on a map.  For instance, when I read all the Vance DNA group reports (available under "Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project" on the right hand side of this blog or else here) I can see how the research connects the early Vances in the US, but I don't get a good sense of how many or how widespread they were.  So I mapped them.

I picked the Community Walk website mostly because it was easy and free, and it has pretty good options.  The picture shows the results - you can access and play with them using this link: 

Each pin is a county where genealogists have found their earliest Vance ancestor in the US.  The colors show what DNA Group (from 1 to 8) that ancestor belonged to based on the y-DNA tests of their descendants.  Using the Legend, you can turn on or off certain Groups, and using the "Show Marker Titles" option, you can see the ancestor's name and the record and year that first showed them in the US (warning:  it gets pretty crowded if you turn on titles when ALL Groups are shown on the map!).

Please note not ALL of these Vances were the first immigrants into the US - many are known to be born in the US, and some have been confirmed through DNA analysis to be related to each other.  They're just the different lines we all have found connections to (that still have male descendants available to be DNA tested).

Interesting?  I thought it was.  Do you have a better site for mapping your ancestors?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The new Facebook Page is here!

For the Facebookaholics among us, there is a new Facebook page about Vance History Online, designed to bridge those who enjoy social networking on Facebook with our blog here.

You can find the Vance History Online Facebook page at

"Like" us on Facebook, and spread the word to others you know on Facebook that are interested in Vance history!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Vaux Manuscripts

An alert reader noted that a couple of medieval illuminated manuscripts have survived the centuries which had links to the Vaux family of England, thought to be the original family surname that started at least some branches of modern Vances of Irish origin.  We can add the libraries where these manuscripts are housed to the next edition of the Vance Travel Guide; they are occasionally on display and anyone visiting might feel a closer connection to medieval history through a richly decorated manuscript that might have once been carried by a possible relative many centuries ago!   

Illustration from the Vaux-Bardolf Psalter

The Vaux-Bardolf Psalter

Housed at the Lambeth Palace Library in London, this psalter (a collection of psalms and other texts from the Bible) is thought to have been written about 1310-1320 and woven throughout its many illustrations are heraldic arms for the Vaux, Bardolf, and other medieval noble families.  It is believed to have been written specifically for a noble lady of the Vaux family from the county of York for her devotional use.  This psalter has apparently not been digitized (or at least is not apparently available on the Internet) but according to several more modern books, its complex illustrations are major sources for what we know today of medieval religious beliefs and practices.

The Vaux Passional
Illustration from the Vaux Passional

Housed at the National Library of Wales, this manuscript IS digitized and available on their site.   Written in French around 1503, it contains the Passion of Christ and religious poetry and was owned by Lady Jane Guildford (née Vaux), who was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and married to King Henry VII's comptroller.   This book holds rich examples of late 14th and early 15th century court practices and also some of the few surviving illustrations of noble figures of that age, including what is believed to be the future King Henry VIII as a child of 11, weeping on his mother's deathbed.   A good review of the importance of this manuscript with a close-up of the figure of Henry VIII is given here.

So were these books actually carried by medieval relatives of Vances living today?  I don't think anyone knows for sure - I don't know of any Vances who have reliably traced their ancestry far enough to show these exact Vaux connections on their family tree.  But with 500-700 year old manuscripts, it's very likely many people living today are related to these Vaux somehow, whether or not we inherited our last name from them!  And if you have reason to think that your own Vance ancestry includes the Vaux (or de Vaux) of England from the 14th and 16th centuries, then you might possibly be looking here at pages from books that your own ancestors once held in their hands and used every day.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Vance Family Association Corporate Tartan

Posted by Ron Vance

During my tenure as VFA president, I have received a few requests for help in purchasing an article of clothing made using the Vance tartan.  Individuals have either seen the tartan while surfing the Scottish websites that manufacture and sell these articles or by scanning the 'Gallery' tab on the Vance Family Association website. Yes, it is possible to make such a purchase and the VFA may be able to help.

VFA Member James Brady Melton showing off the Vance tartan
at the 2012 Highland Games!

The History

In 1994, an idea was put forth by Mark W. Vance, a VFA member and the tartan designer, to develop our own Vance Family Association tartan.  The idea was approved, the tartan was designed by Mark, and the registration purchased by the VFA.   

Please be aware that the approval of a VFA tartan was not unanimous.  Some researchers linked their family history to Vance's that did not go through Scotland on their way to the USA and saw no need for a tartan.  Also, as you will read, we have yet to prove that the ancestral Vance clan of Scotland had a tartan.

In 1995, VFA members made a coordinated order of the Vance Corporate Tartan material from a mill we believe to be:

  D.C. Dalgliesh Ltd.
  Tartan specialists
  Dunsdale Mill
  Selkirk, TD7 5EB

We have no knowledge of any later VFA group orders being made to this or any other mill.

As previously mentioned, the best we can determine, the ancestral Vance clan in Scotland did not have a specific tartan. This tartan was made specifically for the VFA and is not a product of our genealogy research into the history of  the Vance family.  Given all the spellings of our surname (Vance, Vass, Vans, Vanse, Vause, Vaus, Vaux, de Vallibus, Wass, Waus, Wentz, there's more) researching tartans and their history can get complicated.

According to our researchers, Vances, possibly listed as Vass, Vaus, Wass, and Vaus, may have fought with the Ross and Munro clans and presumably wore their tartans.  However from one of researchers:
" In my clan maps etc., the Vass family is always listed as a sept of the Ross and Munro families.  The strange thing about this is the Ross and Munro lands are adjacent to one another in the far north of Scotland along the west of the Moray Firth and across the firth from Colloden while the Vance lands were in the far southwest along Solway Firth.  That is a long way to communicate for battle."
[Then again, the Scots fought the English all over Scotland so it is hard to tell.] 

Some references that may be of interest:

  •  The Clan Almanac by Charles MacLean (Eric Dobby Publishing)
  • Clan Ross compiled by Alan McNie (Cascade Publishing Co, Jedburgh, Scotland)

Purchasing a Tartan

We contacted the Scottish Register of Tartans,, who confirmed our tartan and stated that a purchaser would need to obtain an authorization letter from the VFA to sent to the supplier with the order.  Since this tartan is a VFA registered tartan, the VFA requires the purchaser to be a member.  Authorization from the VFA can be obtained by writing, or emailing, the VFA President and requesting this letter.

The Scottish tartan business has gained participants since 1994 and our tartan may not be shown on all supplier websites. Examples of three suppliers who currently display our tartan are:

If you decide to purchase a garment, please let us know which supplier you choose and this specific supplier will be designated in the authorization letter.

Any more information you can find on an ancestral Vance tartan would be appreciated.  Please reply to this blog with your input.

Closeup of VFA Tartan pattern from VFA website

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

George Vance the Vicequicentenarian

While compiling his book in 1860 on the Irish Vances, William Balbirnie interviewed several members of the family of John Vance (a Dublin politician and Member of Parliament at that time) who all said that the first Vance in their family who came to Ireland

…was named George, that in 1662 he fled from Wigtonshire [in Cumberland in northern England near the border with Scotland] to the North of Ireland, in consequence of having married his cousin Grace, a rich heiress, and settled near Dungannon in County Tyrone…Further, that this George was born in Scotland about 1637…and died about 1757, aged about 120 years [Balbirnie, p. 57].

Balbirnie dismisses the whole story partly because he couldn’t quite believe someone would live to be 120:

The great age to which it is stated that this refugee lived…seems an incredible statement. ..after the most diligent enquiry…we have not been able to receive any confirmation of this astounding statement…We do think this story is incredible [Balbirnie, p. 58].

It’s a shame Balbirnie didn’t have Internet.  It turns out that George Vance’s advanced age actually WAS remembered starting all the way back in 1758 when the Scots Magazine in that year even gave a little extra personal health information in his obituary under Deaths:

Another publication from 1758, the Gentlemen’s Monthly Intelligencer, also gave an obituary for George.   Then in 1799 he was included in a book about supercentenarians (those over 100 years old) called Human Longevity.  In 1820, he was one of Kirby Magazine’s Remarkable Characters.  John O’Hart also mentions George Vance in his famous 1881 book Irish Pedigrees – and O’Hart even mentions his new set of teeth (except he says at the age of 90)!  George has even made it in modern times into Wikipedia on a list of reported supercentenarians.   In fact, although he’s not much remembered in genealogy circles, the George Vance who died in 1758 in Tyrone, Ireland has had some of the longest-running media coverage of any Vance in history.

Was George really a vicequicentenarian (literally, “20 and 100 years old”)?  Who knows?  But it does seem incredible if he lived almost three and a half times as long as the average human lifespan at that time.  John O’Hart claims to have found George’s baptism record from 1640, which would certainly support the story if it were the same George Vance.  

George Vance’s real age (and the health of his teeth) may never be known for sure.  But his story also raises a very possible second immigrant ancestor to Ireland for the Vances.  John O’Hart says George’s father was named Joseph Vans, probably born around 1590 and from either Cumberland or Scotland, and he also documents some of George’s descendants in Ireland and England up to about 1877, several of whom became prominent Vances in Dublin or London.   The origin of this Vance family could certainly be from another de Vaux/Vans family line, since both the English Vaux and the Scottish Vans families lived in areas close to Wigton for centuries.  Or they could be from a completely different origin of the Vance surname.

No modern Vances have connected their family trees to George yet, but it is certainly a possible ancestry for any of the Irish Vance DNA groups.   It would be interesting if we could find a male descendant of George’s to test and see what DNA Group he was from.   Or maybe we should just check if any of our older relatives have noticed any new teeth…

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Back to DNA: Is it Worth It?

The past few weeks have been pretty hard on genetic genealogy (DNA testing).  First, a professor of evolutionary genetics came out strongly against genetic genealogy, calling it "genetic astrology".  Next one of the testing companies was accused of making exaggerated claims at a genetics conference.  And then a widely-publicized "consumer report" was issued slamming DNA testing and the companies and their claims.  

Debate still rages around the Internet about the value of these warnings, but most of the cooler heads seem to agree that the extreme positions are unwarranted; that DNA testing for genealogy can be very useful but people should have realistic expectations - and yes, some testing companies have made exaggerated claims.  So I thought I would post my own experience of what people should expect that DNA testing can and can't do for them.  

What it CAN do:

1.  The best value – by far – of any DNA test is that it can match your DNA to others who may already know more about your common ancestors.   An autosomal test could find a second cousin who knows who your biological parent was.  A Y-DNA test could connect you to someone with a documented 400-year old family tree.  This is mostly luck and depends on others testing and available historical data, not just DNA.  But you might never know you were connected to those people and that research if you didn’t take the test.  I include here the connections you can make to the projects that collect and analyze what is known about people with related types of DNA to help them as a group learn more about their origins - for instance, the Vance/Vans/Wentz Y-DNA Project is a great example of group knowledge you can connect to.  

2.  A Y-DNA (and to some extent a mtDNA) test can estimate for any two tested people how long ago their common ancestor lived (but still with a fairly wide margin of error, so it can’t tell you who that common ancestor was).   

3.  Any DNA test can identify general geographical areas where people with your DNA are believed to have lived.  But there are limitations.  Y-DNA and mtDNA tests identify your haplogroups which reveal the migrations of your ancestors thousands of years ago (many years before your family tree).  Autosomal testing identifies general areas for your more recent ancestors – areas as wide as “British Isles”, or “Eastern European”; nothing more specific, and it won’t say which ancestors or when or for how long they lived there. 

4.  A DNA test can tell you what countries today have the highest number of tested people that most closely match your DNA.  That could be useful as a general indicator of what part of the world your ancestors came from.  Or it could just be a coincidence if someone from a branch way back in your family tree moved there and had a particularly large number of descendants.   

5.  A DNA test can put you in a group that will continue to grow as more people are tested, and whose story will continue to grow with each test.  It may take months or years, but our knowledge of our ancestry will continue to evolve as the information and knowledge grows.

What it CAN’T do, unless you luck into a match with someone who has that information already:

1.  By itself a DNA test can’t name your ancestors, and it won’t add people to your family tree.

2.  Although some testing companies like 23andMe can give you medical information based on your DNA, the test can’t tell you which of your ancestors had those medical conditions.   Or where you inherited your red hair, blue eyes, or webbed toes from.

3.  It can’t tell you that your ancestors were Vikings, Celts, Romans, Normans, what tribe of Indians they were from, or how you personally connect to any other historical group of people.  Actually the experts can theorize that close matches to your DNA existed, say, among the Vikings, either through modern analysis or because they tested old bones.  But people intermixed so much throughout history that all those groups were made up of many kinds of DNA, and that’s still no evidence that YOU personally descended from one group and not another.  Any identification with a historical group is based on a general theory, not from anything they discovered in your DNA. 

4.  It can’t tell you that you’re descended from royalty or any historical figure, although groups who already believe they do try very hard to claim it’s proven when the DNA shows they all really ARE a close match to each other.   It’s still the historical research that proves the lineage, not the DNA.   You don’t have proof through DNA unless you dig the ancestors up.    Even if you match a known descendant of Prince Eduardo the Magnificent, your ancestor might have been his third cousin Fergus the Drooler. 

5.  And finally, a DNA test only tests part of your family tree, because even an autosomal test only gathers data from pieces of your total DNA and anyway you have many more ancestors than sections of DNA so many of your ancestors aren't reflected in your DNA at all.  So be prepared that the test may show a different ancestry than the one you thought you had.  You may still be right.

So... is it worth testing?  Only you can answer that.  But I still thought it was and I learned many interesting things from my tests and connected with many people who share my interests and research.  Just be sure you know what you're getting into before you test.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

U.S. Research Tip: The (News)Paper Trail

Most people go straight to census records and other government resources for vital statistics about their ancestors: where they lived, the "BMDs" (birth, marriage, and death dates), and so on.

My ancestors in 1844
(Ok so the printer couldn't spell "Married"...)
But if you know where they lived, local newspapers can be a treasure-trove.  In the United States newspapers in major cities were common well before the American Revolution, and by the early 1800's even small towns had at least one and often several supporting the community.  In those days newspapers were the only source of news besides word-of-mouth and a sometimes unreliable mail service, and a local paper served a vital need.   If your ancestors were part of any community, there's a chance that they're mentioned somewhere in a local newspaper.

If newspapers for the places you're researching have survived, a local county or state historical or genealogical society will know about it.  Often state or local libraries will have copies already on microfilm and if you can't visit in person they will know someone who can do the research for a small fee.   Subscription sites like or GenealogyBank are starting to offer images of many newspaper archives online, but before dropping money check if your local library already has a subscription to those or to ProQuest.  Or check out the free Library of Congress digital newspaper collection.

A local paper would usually carry marriage and death announcements (or even an obituary, if you're lucky) for subscribers.  You can confirm BMD dates, or even find other clues for your search.  What church did they attend and what records may have survived there?  Who else attended their wedding or funeral?  What did they die of?  What family relationships are mentioned?

But newspapers offer much more than dry facts - they give snapshots into our ancestors' lives.  Sometimes they're sensational... how would you like to find your ancestor in the story under one of these headlines (no, these aren't my ancestors, they're just taken from a sampling of the St. Louis Republic between 1888 and 1900):

Another tip:  don't rely just on the automated searches for the digital archives.  They're good, but they're not perfect at deciphering the old and often faded print.  Do your own manual search through newspapers over the time your ancestors lived there.  At the very least you'll understand more about your ancestors' lifestyle and what they were interested in.  And if you're lucky, you can find a hidden legacy from your ancestors that will help bring them alive in your records.

My oldest find - my 5x-great-grandmother's death in 1803.

Apparently in 1895 my ancestors were the place to rusticate!

A moment of my ancestor's farming life from 1844

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hannah Vance Crawford School

In the February 2009 Vance Family Association Newsletter I wrote an article "A School to Honor Hannah Vance". The school is part of the Colonel Crawford Local School District in North Robinson, Ohio.

When I wrote the article I had some pictures of the school that I was not able to use due to space considerations. Here they are:

The top picture is the Hannah Vance Elementary school. The bottom shows the center with the William Crawford Intermediate School on the left, and the Hannah Crawford Elementary School on the right.

The district's website gives the following description of the district:

"The Colonel Crawford Local Schools is a district housing 960 students grade pre-k-12. The district, covering 120 square miles is located in rural Crawford County about one hour north of Columbus, Ohio and 30 minutes west of Mansfield, Ohio. Colonel Crawford is a result of the consolidation of the Leesville, North Robinson, Sulphur Springs and Whetstone Schools.

The facility is located just south of the village of North Robinson. Pre-k-8 building The William and Hannah Crawford Schools was opened in 2006 and is located just south east of the 9-12 Colonel Crawford High School opened in 1960.

The Colonel Crawford Local Schools has a strong tradition of academic and athletic programs. Colonel Crawford is a proud member of the North Central Athletic Conference and the Ohio High School Athletic Association."

I took the pictures the day I visited the the then district superintendent, Ted Bruner, at the school district. He gave me a tour and showed me one of the schools that was replaced by the one built in 2006. Colonel Crawford was captured where the front yard of that school stands. As a descendant of Colonel Crawford, I found that particularly interesting. The district stands in the area where Colonel Crawford fought his last battle and died.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Vance History "Travel Guide"

Have you ever read something about Vance history and wondered just where in the world it happened?  Ever come across a town of Vance or a Vance Peak and wondered how it got its name?  Or have you ever planned a trip and wondered if there was anything to see there related to your ancestry?  If the answer to any of those is "Yes", then the World Guide to Vance History is for you!  Click on the link under "Useful Information" on the right hand side of this blog and discover the hidden world of Vance history.

Don't worry... we're not going into competition with the major travel companies.  This is a community project to collect together in one place a reference to all the spots around the world associated with the Vance surname and its history.  Along the way we're also collecting stories, legends, and facts of interest about these places to highlight their role in Vance ancestry. 

But we need your help!  The first draft of this Guide has 47 locations in 7 countries, and we focused on collecting historical locations in England, Scotland, and Ireland first so you'll see we have a lot of entries for those countries already.  But you'll also notice we've only barely started - or haven't started at all - in other countries yet.  What Vance-related locations do YOU know of?  We invite you ALL to contribute - this will be a massive undertaking before it's anywhere close to finished, so we need your help to collect up all the many locations around the world that have an association with Vance history.  I think you'll get the idea if you take a look at the current version of the Guide.

But for now, even as a first draft, enjoy the World Guide to Vance History!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The "Vance Coat of Arms"

In the past two months since the Vance History Online blog has been active, we have been visited over 1,200 times by more than 300 people!  Thank you for your interest in Vance history and the Vance Family Association and we hope you have found this site useful. 

One of the most popular reasons people visit the blog is to learn about coats of arms associated with the Vance family name.    If this is an interest of yours, you've probably already seen the What's this Coat of Arms at the top? link under Useful Information on the right hand side of the page that describes the VFA's Vance coat of arms.  But from that link you can now also visit a slideshow summary of the other coats of arms related to the Vances at What is the Vance Coat of Arms?

It turns out that's not an easy question to answer, since there were many!  But we hope the summary gives you a good overview of Vance-related heraldry - at least enough to either answer your original question, or narrow down your search. 

If you are interested in any particular coat of arms from the slideshow, please drop me a comment or email and I will be happy to send you the related image.