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An Exciting Match With a Related Surname!

The Slaven DNA Project has its first non-Slaven member-- sort of! We welcome a descendant of William Mountain, born circa 1789 in Magheraculmoney Parish, Kesh, County Fermanagh, (Northern) Ireland. As you may know, Mountain is an English translation of the Gaelic word that gives us our surname. More on that in a minute.

Several of our Group A participants and the Mountain descendant have had the 67-marker test done at FTDNA, and their differences are on known fast-mutating markers. You can see these results on the extended results page.

A note about a couple of those mismatched markers:
413a: without getting deeply into the complicated science, the jump from 21 to 23 for the Mountain participant probably was a single mutation. Basically, somewhere in the Mountain line, the 413b "leg" overlaid 413a to give the family 23-23 on 413a-b instead of the 21-23 carried in the Slaven line.
CDY-a: It's interesting there's a mix of 37's and 38's between the five participants. It's difficult to guess which is the ancestral value (the value that the common ancestor would have had). CDY is a very fast mutating marker; some projects don't include it in trying to determine family groupings. We likely are looking at parallel mutations on CDY-a, where different family lines had independent mutations on the marker.

How far back is the common ancestor of the Moutain and Slaven lines?

If you enter the standard mutation rate of 0.002 into genetic genealogy pioneer Ann Turner's mutation calculator, 67 markers, and 32 transmission events (16 generations back to a common ancestor for each of the two family lines; at 25 years per generation, this would be 400 years, or ca. 1600. More on why I'm calculating back to 1600 in a minute) you get 4.3 as the expected number of mutations. FTDNA's comparison chart shows a 99.49 percent chance of a common ancestor in 16 generations between our Slaven and the Mountain. Or, as the FTDNA 67-marker interpretation page states, "Distance: 1-2 - Tightly Related. You share the same surname (or a variant) with another male and you mismatch by only one or two 'points' at only one marker. It's most likely that you matched 36/37 or 37/37 on a previous Y-DNA test. Very few people achieve this close level of a match. All confidence levels are well within the time frame that surnames were adopted in Western Europe. Distance: 3-4 - Related. Your common ancestor is probably not extremely recent, but your mismatch is likely within the range of most well established surname lineages in Western Europe."

Why care about a surname outside those derived from Sléibhín?

Usually matches outside one's own surname aren't anything to get excited about unless there's a known or suspected non-paternity event in one of the parties' background. Because the DNA mutates at such a slow rate, and because in some societies surnames have been in use only the past few hundred years, matches outside one's surname usually indicate a common ancestor in the time before surnames hundreds of years ago.

But this out-of-surname match is much more interesting and exciting.

As you probably know, Slavin comes from the Gaelic word for "mountain" or "hill." (More information here.) So a DNA match to the English translation of Sléibhín is very exciting.

Anglicizing Irish surnames has been going on for nearly as long as there have been Irish surnames. In 1465 an act was passed mandating that Irishmen living within the Pale should dress like English men, wear their beards like English men, and take an English surname. The families in northern Ireland were well beyond the Pale and not subject to this act, but may have had reason to anglicize Slavin to Mountain at some point. Maybe there were too many Slevin families with the same names in a parish so one family switched to Mountain. Maybe a family switched from the Catholic Church to the Church of Ireland-- or vice versa-- and changed their surname along with their denomination. We'll probably never know.

If the DNA match isn't exciting enough in its own right, how about this-- one of the Mountain participants can trace his background to a specific parish in Ireland! His family comes from Magheraculmoney parish in County Fermanagh. The parish is located in northern Fermanagh and adjoins the parish of Dromore, County Tyrone, which had many Slevin families in the mid-19th century. The parish is "18" in the map here.

So what's the deal about the year 1600?

Some very interesting information appears in the book The Fermanagh Story: A Documented History of the County Fermanagh from Earliest Times to the Present Day by Peadar Livingstone (Cumann Seanchais Chlochair, publisher, St. Michael's College, Enniskillen, ©1969). The chapter "The Maguire Years 1300-1589" discusses families that cared for church property:

We have noted already that one-sixth of Fermanagh was church land in the Maguire period. Nearly always each church owned the land around it, possibly several townlands. Through the years this estate was added to as very often pious people gave their land to the Church. To look after this land the church founders selected a family to act as tenets. The head of this family was called a "herenach" or a "termoner". The herenachs farmed the land and cared for the church. If the church needed repairs he had to provide two-thirds of the cost...

The position of herenach, just like the post of "Maguire", was hereditary. The same families were associated with the same churches down through the ages. As we have mentioned, the comparative sanctuary of the church land was a haven for non-Maguire families during a period of Maguire ascendancy. A glance at the herenach families of the period will reveal many of the family names which are so common in modern Fermanagh.

ChurchHerenach (Irish Surname and English Form)
Kiltierney   O Treasaigh, O Sleibhin (Treacy, Slevin)

Kiltierney townland and graveyard are located in the civil parish of Magheraculmoney-- the home of the Mountain family line matching our Slaven Group A! This is additional evidence that the connection between the two families is not a coincidence. Also, it should be noted that Mountain family was Protestant, and the O'Sleibhin line would have been Catholic, which could have been the reason for the surname difference.

The Maguire period in Fermanagh lasted from 1300-1589, so the mutation calculation above using the year 1600 places us at the end of the Maguire period. Since the Sléibhín family had this hereditary position in the parish for several generations prior to 1600, we see that there has been plenty of time for two current family lines descended from this historic family to have developed two mutations in 67 markers.

Connection to Sléibhíns in Dromore?

As mentioned earlier, Magheraculmoney abuts Dromore (number 23 on the map here), which was a hot spot for Slevin families. But is there a deeper connection with the Magheraculmoney line-- did the Dromore family also serve as herenachs for the Church there? While it's likely a coincidence, according to local history at the Dromore.info site, a Slevin family was connected to the St. Dympnas Chapel in Dromore in the 1830's: "John Slevin, the tenant of the 'Chapel Farm,' as it is still called, was, through the force of adverse circumstances, compelled to emigrate to America in 1835. During his absence... On Slevin's return..." Granted, this was more than 200 years after the Maguire period in Fermanagh, discussed above, but perhaps the Slevin family continued in that roll of church caretakers in the area in the centuries that followed? This would be an interesting possibility for someone to research.


Copyright © 2010 Larry Slavens. All rights reserved.