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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Update on Vance DNA Group 8

Another in our continuing updates on the Vance DNA groups; this one is about Vance DNA Group 8.

If you remember this group it includes the US descendants of Thomas James Vance b.1795 of Newton Co, Mississippi and James Alexander Vance who d. 1821 in South Carolina.  The group also includes two lines still remaining in Ireland, and may have connections to several of the Vances mentioned by William Balbirnie in his book on the Vances from 1860.  All the background on the group is available in Adam Bradford's excellent summary indexed under the DNA pages of this site or at

The male line origins of this group have been found to belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup U152, which is a SNP that originated about 4400 years ago (using the ageing estimates by YFull).  Recent research on ancient burials has located several U152 men among ancient Bell Beaker groups and it has been tentatively linked with the spread of the Hallstadt and La Tene cultures although it was almost certainly not the only major SNP spread by those migrations.

U152 and its subgroup, L2, have been found at low frequencies today throughout the British Isles but most frequent in eastern and southern England, as well as around Durham, Lancastershire and southern Cumbria, and Midlothian and Berwickshire in Scotland.

Famous other lines of the L2 subgroup may have included George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but the subgroup is also over 4000 years old so it has a wide spread of descendants today.

Vance Group 8 sits below L2 on a branch of SNPs under L2 with a terminal SNP called BY3507 as shown in the picture below.  Ages on this picture were taken again from YFull for consistency.

While the BY3507 branch has not been dated, a lot of research has gone into mapping its SNPs in detail.  That picture (taken from Alex Williamson's Big Tree) looks like this:

Adam Bradford's original report on Group 8 included a possible connection with the Hay tester shown, but the SNP results are clear that the connection is back somewhere near 1400-1650AD when the Vance line broke off and other surnames - Craig, Hay, and Robertson, continued along separate lines.  Based on the known geographic distribution of these lines it is likely that the common ancestor already lived in the British Isles, but where exactly is not known.

DNA testing today includes both SNP and STR testing, and when both are combined with genealogy data we can start to see a picture of how the descendant lines may have evolved.  That picture is shown below (you may need to click on it or download it to enlarge), although I'll stress this is a likely tree only since it is partly based on STR statistics of how the STRs most likely mutated.  Different assumptions would cause the tree to look slightly different.

What does this show?  It shows that the Craigs, Robertsons, etc broke off very early from the Vances and all share the STR value of DYS576=18 .  The Vance line continued and resulted in the lines of James Alexander Vance and Thomas James Vance.  It shows as expected that kits 181224 and 192176 are older branches (these are the Irish branches), but it also suggests that kit 214504 is from an older branch as well.  The other Vance branches share the STR value DYS461=12 and so are likely all descended from a more recent common ancestor, although kit B3040 is not a known descendant of either James Alexander Vance or Thomas James Vance.

So combining all the data is starting to show us how all these lines are related to each other.  Where they all came from originally though is still uncertain but as always in genetic genealogy, more testing and more analysis should help map these lines in increasing detail.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Update on Vance DNA Group 2

For those of you who follow the DNA testing, the last blog update we had on Vance DNA Group 2 was this post from November 2015.

Vance DNA Group 2, if you recall, comprises a group of about 8-10 immigrant Vance lines from Ireland into the US between about 1730 and 1840, and one line surnamed Whalen who emigrated to Canada.  Notable descendants include Abner Vance of Abingdon, VA and Jim Vance of Hatfield/McCoy feud fame.

At the time of that last post, SNPs Z23507, Z23506, and Z23516 had been identified as major signposts within Group 2, and the descendant picture looked like this:

After another year and a half's worth of further testing, the picture has changed somewhat although the major SNP signposts still remain.  The following chart summaries the group's SNP signposts in yellow, with major STR mutations shown in red boxes along the various descendant lines:

You'll see the major SNPs that mark Group 2's branches marked in bright yellow above - first, SNP L513 which is the "major subclade" formed about 4000 years ago.  Group 2 is identified by SNP Z23507 which occurred about 2800 years later.  Groups 2a and 2b split off from each other about 1300-1400AD (give or take), and Group 2b (the green boxes in the chart) does not have any defining SNPs identified for it yet (there surely ARE some, there just hasn't been enough testing in Group 2b yet to tell). 

Group 2a splits into three major branches.  The branch that split off first includes the lines of Robert Vance of Mifflin Co, VA and George Vance of Bloomsburg, PA (the rose boxes in the chart) - this branch split off about 1500-1650AD.  Then at some point later along the other subbranch, SNP 23516 formed, and after that the line of Matthew Vance of Pittsylvania split off from the others (the purple boxes in the chart).  Matthew's line continued with John Vance of Burke Co, Abner Vance of Abingdon, VA, and Matthew Vance of Greenville's lines.  The other Vance lines continued as shown in blue in the chart. 

The chart also shows (in the red circled area) the generations that lived in Ireland.  How do we know this?  Well, each of the major branches (green, rose, purple, or blue boxes) have immigrants that are known to have either been born or lived in Ireland.  For all those immigrants to have come from the same location, it is reasonable to assume that the major lines continued to live in that location. 

The STRs are marked in the chart above so that male descendants of these Vance lines can look for these STR mutations in their own Y-DNA tests.  Or, if you are a male Vance who has had their Y-DNA tested, you can check your own STRs and see if any of these mutations exist in your own DNA - which would mark you as a descendant of that particular Vance line. 

While the chart above is useful it is really a simplified version of the full "mutation history tree", which you can see in the chart below (click on it to expand it for readability). 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The first Truly "Melting-Pot" Generations

This is really a US-based point and about general genealogy rather than just the Vances.  But I think the charting methods I describe below are a fun exercise for anyone descended of immigrant families.

If you're descended from Vances in the USA, whether they were of Irish or German origin it still means that line immigrated to the US back in the 1700s or 1800s so you have probably at least 4-6 generations in the US by now.  Possibly your other ancestral lines are equally old.

What happens in the US at least is that in some cases new immigrant families will cluster with others from the same home country and keep their language and original culture alive.  Their children are then raised in an environment very aware of their origin country's language and culture and they may choose to pass those on to their own children.  In other cases a new immigrant family will adopt local language and culture as fast as possible; so although their children may know something of their origins they know very little of their original country, and generally the grandchildren in turn won't have more than maybe a few artifacts and no personal knowledge of that background.  

Of course there are insular groups that stick together longer, but for many of us that means that somewhere between 3 and 5 generations after immigration, descendants will have lost the language, stories, heirlooms, cultural traditions, and other ties to the country of origin.  They MIGHT remember older relatives that still kept those traditions, but those roots fade into general awareness usually without much personal association.

For many of us in the US, somewhere among the approximately three generations alive today are where that point was reached for all of our ancestral lines.  We (or perhaps your parents or your children) are often the first generation with little to no personal experience with the cultural identities of any of our immigrant ancestors.  I'm not saying that that's a good or a bad thing, by the way.  But it IS one reason, for instance, for the continuing popularity of genealogy in the US.

I'll use my own ancestry to demonstrate this effect in a fun chart that you may find useful.

Many genealogists are familiar with showing their ancestry in a pedigree fan chart, with themselves in the middle, their two parents in the next outer ring, and so on out in a circle as many generations as you like.  For instance, here is my known family tree out to 6 generations, which incorporates all my known immigrant lines:

Now draw a pie chart behind the fan chart that forms a "pie piece" from every one of your 6th generation ancestors (or however far back you choose), and color the pie pieces based on their country of origin.  The colors don't matter, just pick a different one for each country.  When I do it, I get this:

(I used faded colors where I was less sure of the origins, but that's not necessary).

The first conclusion, of course, is that I'm a real mutt with many different countries in my ancestry.  My Irish Vance line, by the way, is the small green wedge to the right - I actually have very little Irish ancestry even though it's my surname line!  But the other conclusion is that I have large swaths of certain country ancestry (in my case British (blue) and German (yellow)).  These large swaths show more recent immigrant ancestry.  And in fact I have dim memories of ancestors who felt more connected to their origin countries than I do.

Take a look at similar charts for my parents though:

My colors of course are a combination of theirs.  But see how they're mostly made up of  VERY large swaths of the same colors?  Both my parents (especially my mother, on the right) remember ancestors who still kept cultural traditions from their home countries and even (for her German ancestors) still spoke the language of their country of origin.  By my generation, those experiences didn't exist.

Now in the other direction, look at how much of a patchwork my children are:

While they still have some larger wedges of colors, they're fairly well mixed into a multi-colored swirl.  And in fact in my family lines, my children are the first generation with no personal experience of any ancestors who felt any cultural identity with a country of origin.  For us, some 4-5 generations after all our immigrant ancestors, my children are the first true "melting pot" generation.

The only surprise for me through this exercise is that while the US is always considered a "melting pot", it's only recently that the final effects of that mixing are occurring.  But for those of us with a mixed country ancestry background, it's an interesting look at how far removed (or not) we are from those influences.

If you'd like to repeat this exercise for your own family lines, here's a template you can use to make the same fan chart for yourself.