Long before I got involved in Genealogy I started learning about my family history through a 2nd cousin who was researching my “Grass” family. this was in the pre-internet age, when genealogy involved long hours in visiting the county archives and reading through old parish records. I was naturally curious about what he found – after all this was my, rather rare, surname. At first he dug up cousins that my father hadn’t even heard off, my grand-father died before my Dad was 5, so he was brought up by my grandmother’s family. Later, he found the source of our family name, and the story behind it. The earliest Grass family member was a widow, Elizabeth Grass, who had a “base” son, Henry Grass born in 1764 in Brandon, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border. As far as I can ascertain he was born long enough after the death of her husband that we can assume he was not the father. This means that the Grass surname that I carry is biologically the one thing I don’t possess.
Fast forward a few years. In 2006 (ish) I took the first test being performed by the Genographic Project. The results were a little underwhelming. My paternal line came out of Africa and wandered around for a while before one of them settled in East-Anglia. What I hadn’t realised was that I’d taken my first y-chromosome test, testing 12 markers. To clarify, this is a test of parts of my y-chromosome for short repeating patterns (known as STR – Short Tandem Repeats). These patterns tend to mutate, and either increase or decrease in number, and thus can normally give you a good indication of common paternal ancestors. Naturally since it’s a test of the y-chromosome it’s for boys only.
Jumping a few more years forward to early 2014. I took the early-morning flight from Frankfurt to LHR to attend “WhoDoYouthinkYouAre-Live!” a genealogy event being held in London. Among the presentations I listened to was one by Debbie Kennett on the “Three DNA Tests”. Finally the penny dropped. I realised that my y-DNA may give me a clue as to my real paternal line. Conveniently the FamilyTreeDNA (hereafter FTDNA) stall was next to the lecture space and was offering a discount on y-DNA testing. So, for £85 I took a 37 marker yDNA test (an upgrade from my rpevious 12 marker test).
Whilst I was waiting for the results I discovered I could transfer my old Genographic Project test to FTDNA, and as a result see the 100-odd other people who are genetically close enough to me to share a common paternal ancestor. Looking through the names there were a lot of Berry men coming through, perhaps that was the clue I needed?
Finally leaping forward to Easter this year and my results arrived. Rather disappointingly my list of common paternal ancestors had shrunk to four. Two had not given information on their earliest paternal ancestor and the other two showed family lines tracing back to Switzerland and Denmark. The Denmark connection makes some sense, My paternal haplogroup is I-Z138, which suggests that my paternal line probably goes back to a Scandinavian homeland. Worse news was to follow. After looking more thoroughly at my results I realised that even these 4 matches only matched me at the more basic 25 marker level, meaning I’m on my own. So far no-one else carrying my y-DNA “family line” has been found via DNA testing. I have no further clues on the father of Henry Grass and I’ll just have to wait until someone else tests positive.