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

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.