Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What's in a Name? (Especially when the DNA don't match)

This has been an active few days – active enough to allow me to justify my normal book writing procrastination.

Let’s take on the guise of Dr. Watson – recalling “The Case of the Ergolding DNA”. Obviously, with regard to that matter, we have gone about as far as published research will allow. From here on out it would be all speculation. What we really need is some ancient DNA from England – as they say, The More The Merrier. Ideally from 52 degrees north latitude and all from the period prior to the Norman Conquest.

Why 52 North? Because that happens to be a Megalithic zone and connecting DNA to astro-archaeology is always fun – check what they did with the Goseck Circle and the R1a family from Eulau Germany. But I digress. Our objective would be to establish the period of R1b occupation in the region connected to the Bavarian R1b soldiers. As we lack any of the information we need, let’s head North to Scotland and turn our attention to something which popped up on our R1a1 Yahoo Group.

In the best Holmesian (?is that a word?) we’ll call this: The Case of the Gillespie with MacDonald DNA.

Clan MacDonald, or Clan Donald, are generally R1a1. Those in the region who carry the surname Gillespie are inclined to be R1b. Sop why do we have a Scots Gillespie who is R1a1?

My first inclination was the infamous Non-Parental Event (NPE) – usually taken to be a wife was cheating or a child unrecognized by its father. Naturally, it can also indicate something else I have first hand knowledge of – an adoption. These three things are the first to come to mind when a DNA mismatch indicates someone doesn’t belong where the records seem to indicate the do. But there is a reality to be dealt with – surnames cannot be trusted.

For me, seeing the name Gillespie did not generate the spark of recognition which screams SCOTLAND! Rather, it said Italian. But an Italian which could be traced to periods prior to Italy formally adopting generalized surname use? Added to which, the researcher would have mentioned an Italian population or connection. NO! This was pure Scottish.

OK. I went for the NPE – but being me, I didn’t believe me. I never believe me. I never believe me to such a degree that I taught my kids never to believe me – whenever they asked a question, I would give them the answer; then tell them to go into our library and look on a certain shelf to find the book that had the answer. Just to see if I was right. More important – to always do that (regardless of the initial source). It comes from being raised by a lawyer – who both knew the law and knew enough to check his knowledge and facts before arguing them before a judge.

In any event – I Googled GILLESPIE SCOTLAND and discovered a page on the origins of the Gillespie surname. Turns out it is derived from the term for a clerical scribe, or Bishop’s Lawyer. In the best of surname tradition, the name was an occupation, or title, which apparently was imposed one its bearer – or the bearers son – when either the English or Scots adopted surnames. It might also have been the designation in a Census, or simply – as with a Smith, Tailor, or Miller – the way, in terms of primary trade or occupation, the family was designated. And yes! It would be interesting to see how Gillespie became associated with Italian naming tradition (either as a first or last name) – could it be that they took the name from the Scots who went to the Papal Court? OK! That’s more speculation.

DNA SPREAD THEORY REQUIRES that all possible explanations be applied – ideally using Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is generally the most accurate one. But, as we are dealing with people, add to that the idea that the moral assumption is also probably the most accurate one – for the simple reason that all cultures and traditions tend to embody a moral warning to their people act in their personal self interest and treat others as they would, themselves, wish to be treated.

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