Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sinclair DNA Templar Myths

Because our Sinclair DNA website is easily searched out on the Internet and because my contact information is right out in the open, I get a lot of emails about the St. Clair / Sinclair family.

Tonight I received another email about the St. Clair family being on crusade and being members of the Knights Templar about 1118 AD. Here's my reply:

I've never seen a single record which proves that a St. Clair was on Crusade, and I've looked at everything written since the 1800s. Much of this confusion probably comes from the 1700s when a charlatan was going around to the Scottish earls selling them false genealogies. Ours said we all connect to Rollo, the viking who invaded Normandy in 911 AD. Another myth was a supposed connection to the Templars, again never really proven. Or it's more recent revisionist history.

In 1118, when these St. Clairs 'of Rosslyn' were supposedly related to one of the knights on crusade, the 'St. Clairs of Rosslyn' had not yet gone to Scotland and had not yet received the lands of Rosslyn from Hugh de Morville. The earliest evidence that any credible genealogist has of a St. Clair obtaining lands in Rosslyn is a charter from 1244, over 100 years later than 1118.

There was supposedly a Henri de St Clair who accompanied Godefroi de Bouillon to the Holy Land on the 1st Crusade in 1096 and was subsequently granted Rosslyn by Malcolm III. I have this on the wall of my office, and it states this (among other things) about our family in a beautifully framed poster. There isn't a single sentence in that particular passage that's true. Supposedly Godefroi married a Catherine St. Clair. Not true. Supposedly Henri de St Clair went on crusade and became known as Henri "the Holy." Not true. It's all fake. All make-believe.

Can the DNA of the Sinclair Family Help?

Now, that said, I have some interesting evidence of Templar surname connections to the St. Clair family in our DNA study, and that could point to a very distant connection. But so far, no one has produced an actual document connecting our family to the Templars. Many people believe the myth-making books about Rosslyn Chapel as proof of a connection but, again, there is no credible source, like an actual written document. Being important people in England at this time, one would expect to find grants of land or actual participation in a crusade, but no proof has yet surfaced.

In the case of the St. Clair family and the Templars, many resort to this approach - absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It's the oldest trick in the book. There is an absence of evidence that our family were Templars. There is an absence of evidence that Rosslyn is a Templar building (I've been there). Conspiracy theorists try to say that this absence of evidence is proof that there was critical, heretical evidence these Templars were forced to hide. I say bunk.

Working on the Sinclair DNA study, I find it very rewarding to have new evidence that can shine a bright light on all these theories. Maybe someday we can finally prove or disprove the Sinclair Templar story.

We did some work on possible Templar connections to the Sinclair family using DNA name matches.

The original YouTube video we put up on the Sinclair DNA website.

Are you thinking of joining the Sinclair DNA website?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sinclair DNA Basic Training Had Wide Following

So far, the DNA training we had for the Sinclair / St Clair / Siceler family has had 203 listeners. The ability to track your success (or failure) is one of the great features of online properties. For instance, here are our overall statistics:

492 Listeners - "St Clair DNA Research & Prince Henry Sinclair" - 2/17/2011 - This was the interview with Richard White, author of the book on Prince Henry Sinclair.

317 Listeners - "Sinclair DNA and SNPs, the Next Step - Terry Barton" - 3/8/2012 - This was the interview with Terry Barton, founder of

1,435 Listeners - "Sinclair DNA and Bennett Greenspan, Founder of FTDNA" - 4/14/2012 - I promoted this one heavily before the show and the recorded version got a very good following.

778 Listeners - "Sinclair DNA Interviews Andrea Di Robilant" - 12/29/2011 - This was a very fun show about Andrea's new book, "Irresistible North, From Venice to Greenland on the Trail of the Zen Brothers," regarding the voyage of the Zeno Brothers.

203 Listeners - "Sinclair DNA Basic Discussion" - 3/03/2012 - The DNA training session.

Naturally, those shows which have been up for a long time will continue to built up "listeners" because they continue to attract attention.

It's gratifying that we're putting up content that people find useful. The latest one, the DNA training session, will definitely help those who are new to DNA testing.

Other ways Sinclair DNA can help out beginners

On our website,, you'll notice the links to the left. There, if you click the link "New Visitors Click Here," you'll see a series of 6 pages you can visit. I highly recommend two of these -
About DNA Testing - This page has 2 videos on it from Family Tree DNA, our testing lab. It also covers the basics of what will happen with your results.

Privacy Concerns Answered - Early in our DNA study, several people expressed concerns about giving something so private as their very DNA to a testing company. After a lot of research on the question, I answered all this openly and honestly.

Another link down that left hand side of our website is "Methodology." This is a lengthy page that approaches the subject scientifically, starting with 2 hypotheses. On this page I show you what your results page offers; I define a Lineage; discuss the limits of YDNA versus mtDNA; and generally lay out the overall approach of this or any DNA study.

On the left hand side of the Sinclair DNA website, you'll notice 3 other links where we get into the meat of the study. As we move forward in time, you'll notice more links at each of these 3 sections of the website. That's because we're working our way from the "trunk" of the family tree out to the disparate "branches."

Early Path Through Time - This page takes you all the way back to the origins of man and begins the journey forward. The chart you'll find there needs to be updated for some of our SNPs. For families to have arrived at a place during a time period, they had to have come from somewhere. The locations of their travels were effected over long periods of time by outside events, like the last glacial maxim, 18,000 years ago. If you're alive today, then your ancestors were, in some way, effected by that event.

Lineages - More Recent Path - This page is in the process of being updated and re-structured. The big changes that have effected our study and the way the results must be displayed is SNP studies. This page and the links on it are all the result of our being split into Lineages by SNP studies.

Genealogy Groups - 1600 AD+ - This is the most recent of the 3 pages that get into our path through time. As genealogy must, this page divides our family based on where they migrated since the 1500s. Accurate records research before the 1600s is nearly impossible. But the combination of SNP studies plus honest records research can begin to point the way to understanding who our ancestors were.

The final DNA step

On the Sinclair DNA website, you'll see a page called "A Confluence of Surnames - SNP Connections." This is my attempt to connect the dots between SNP studies and ancient documents. An important part of this 24-page document is the statement that I'm not making any claims in this research. This particular paper took me about 9 months of ongoing research into ancient documents, DNA connections and more. The great joy of the project for me was in not making any claims, but simply looking to see if medieval records also connected in similar patterns to our SNP connections.

Every St Clair / Sinclair DNA participant can take the same approach

If you're in a DNA study, don't just focus on your DNA. Instead, look into the records of your ancestors. If you decide to look back in the medieval period, then you might find people of different surnames circulating around each other. Remember that the use of surnames was very fluid in the medieval period. I found several records in which people were clearly using a different second name based on where they lived. Too many "purists" think their ancestors used the same surnames since the 1100s. It's highly unlikely.

If you look through that "Confluence" section on the Sinclair DNA website, you'll see 14 mentions of the name Ashley. This is one that shows up in my STR matches. My next stop would be to go look at their DNA results. Click here.

There you'll see they have quiet a large group who show the R1b1a2a1a1b4 SNP. This is the L21 group. Many of them claim ancestry back to England. I only count 3 participants who look like they'll show the U106 SNP, a clear divide in our family.

This is all very interesting because, in my STR connections, I have the Ashley name. Also, I'm a part of the L21 SNP, just like the Ashley family. And to top it off, in my medieval records research I found 13 different mentions of the Ashley family in close proximity to the St Clair family, likely descendants of Bretel de St Clair. They signed documents together at Wells Cathedral, the Benedictine Priory of St. James at Bristol, and Montacute Priory. The Ashley family received all but one of the Domesday properties of Bretel St Clair upon his death.

And to really seal the deal, there is a record of a Willelm de Sancto Claro (St Clair) who had 2 sons: one was Philip de St Claro, and the other was Walter de Esselega (Ashley). That second son took a different surname.

As you can see, DNA is fun, but the real satisfaction comes when you see strong coincidences between your DNA and ancient documents. When you find medieval records which clearly connect people with different surnames, and you see the same surname connections in your DNA SNP matches, then you may be on your way to some real discoveries.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sinclair DNA Participation, Getting More from Your DNA

On our website, you'll see me mention again and again that DNA is just a string of numbers. On our recent DNA training session, the least interesting page in the show notes was the one that showed the DNA results. There was almost nothing to say about the string of 111 markers.

DNA gets interesting when you can compare it to other data; and there's a lot out there with which to compare.

 - Burial methods
 - Pottery techniques
 - Burial artefacts
 - Other artifacts
 - Roman
 - Greek
 - etc.

 - Artefacts
 - Tombstones
 - Land transfers
 - Monastic beneficence
 - Shipping records
 - Business records
 - Burgh records
 - Guild records
 - Maps
 - Chargers
 - Cartularies
 - Wills

Recent: (1600s onwards)
 - Business papers
 - Birth/Death
 - Marriage
 - Wills
 - Diaries
 - Letters
 - Newspapers
 - Books
 - War records
 - Slave records
 - Land records
 - Tax records
 - Indentures

Finding resources for your search for more Sinclair DNA data

More and more, I find myself going to Google books to type in particular phrases which interest me, and then finding amazing, old out-of-print books which pop up in the search results.

Another often overlooked resource is academic papers, which have been written by medieval experts. One of my favorite experts is K.S.B. Keats-Rohan. Quite by accident, I found a paper which she wrote entitled Doomsday Book and the Malets: Patrimony and the Private Histories of Public Lives. This has been an extraordinary resource, pointing to a "super family" which was living in Normandy before the use of surnames or place-names.

A book by K.S.B. Keats- Rohan entitled Doomsday Decendents a Prosopography of Persons Occurring in English Documents 1066 to 1166. My copy of this book already has tattered pages. Another place to look is in the work of other family experts. Having an SNP match with the Vance / de Vaux family, I ran into a wonderful paper by J David Vance entitled Notes on the Norman de Vaux. With a little digging, you might find papers or books written about the other surnames you match in your DNA matches.

Working your way back further in time, it's wonderful to find overview books such as that by Peter Brown. His book, The Rise of Western Christendom, Second Edition, has been a great resource to help me understand the wider context of what was going on in western Europe before the middle ages.

I have many such books. Another which helped me a great deal was The History of the Goths by Herwig Wolfram.
When I was still working in the 1700s on my genealogy, I found a book by David Hackett Fischer. The title, Albion's Seed, Four British Folkways in America. This book is simply extraordinary. He takes a totally different approach to understanding the broader migration patterns of America's early settlers.

Working in that same time frame for my own genealogy, I ran into the records of Landon Carter. The Sinkler / St. Clair family of Northern Virginia had business dealings with Landon Carter. I ordered the book Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom with great excitement, hoping for any knowledge I could glean. While nothing stood out which directly connected my ancestor with Landon Carter, I did learn a great deal about life during this time period.

One of my favorite obscure books regarding 18th century history is by Eric J Graham. His book, A Maritime History of Scotland, 1652-1790, was incredibly useful for me; especially considering that my ancestor traveled toNorth America on a ship in 1698.

For obsessive Sinclair DNA participants

If you truly want to become as obsessive as I am, you must look for all sorts of obscure books. One of my favorites is a two volume set by Jacob M price. This set entitled France and the Chesapeake, a History of the French Tobacco Monopoly 1674 to 1791, and its Relationship to the British and American Tobacco Trades, paints a tremendously detailed picture of what was going on between France, England, Scotland, and Virginia during the time my ancestor lived there. Alexander Sinkler became an important tobacco grower in Overwharton Parish, Prince William County, Virginia. So you can imagine, being as obsessive as I am, that I have dug into at least 15 different books on tobacco trade in the Chesapeake, France, Scotland, and England. And I'm digging into other resources as well.

About a year ago, using Google books, I found an old book which mentions a great tobacco company being formed in Glasgow to treat tobacco to Virginia, the Caribbean Islands, Barbados, New England, St. Christopher's, Montserrat, and other colonies in America. This reference mentions a tremendous number of names who had later business dealings with my ancestor, Alexander Sinkler.

When I'm doing research on a subject, I always look for their source material and go get them myself. First, it confirms that the researcher quoted the source correctly. Also, it gives me more resources for further study.

Here are just a few examples - - PDF of K.S.B. Keats-Rohan's paper. Look at the sources for her work. - Loyd's great book, The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families

Happy hunting!

Steve St. Clair
St Clair Research - the Sinclair DNA Study

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sinclair DNA by Any Other Name

When participants first get their DNA results back from the Sinclair DNA study, they are often surprised to find that their DNA matches other families with completely different surnames.

It is important to remember that the use of second names has only been around for about 1000 years. And when they first came out, especially among the Norman people, they were often changed based upon the land one found themselves living on.

For instance I have found records that indicate the family named Villers lived on different land and therefore changed their name. They may in fact be direct brothers of the St. Clair family of England.

Another very interesting name change occurred in about 1164. Willelm de Sancto Claro occurred in the pipe role of 1129 in Dorset in Wiltshire England. He was apparently the successor, and perhaps the son, of Bretel de St Clair in the barony of Stoke Trister, held of Robert Mortain in 1086.

This Willelm was probably the father of Philip de St. Clair and Walter de Ashley who held the barony of Stoke Trister in 1166. There you have a father named St. Clair with a son who had the second name Ashley. This seems to have happened often among the Norman people.

So, if you find a lot of different names appearing in your DNA matches, don't immediately assume that it means one of them is your surname and that you are the product of infidelity somewhere back in time. In the case of the St. Clair family, I believe that the St. Clair's of England were in fact part of a larger group who moved to different land and took many different surnames as a result. Many of these surnames continue to be used to this day, which is why we now match them in our DNA study.