Updated 28 Jan 2003

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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DNA Testing

Here are details of a fascinating project to use DNA testing to find how the Derbyshire population was divided between Celts and Saxons around 500 AD.
Dr Paul Brotherton gives an overview of the project here. If anyone would like to take part, please contact Dr Paul Skellington direct.

Dr Paul Skellington thinks a Wirksworth-based genetic anthropolgy study might be possible if he can get 20-30 pedigrees that look "robust" enough. Anyone male wanting to take part, and can trace their male line back to Wirksworth in the 1700s, and forward again to another living male, contact and I will try to confirm their pedigree from records in this website.

From:  Paul Skellington {paulskellington@yahoo.co.uk}
Subject:  [DBY] Y Chromosome study 
Date:  Sun, 26 Jan 2003 00:05:52 +0000 (GMT) 
To:  {DERBYSGEN-L@rootsweb.com}  

Dear All

I have just joined the list today after finding an
in-tray full of emails! I am pleased, and grateful,
that Kathryn (Morano) has kindly spread the word about
the genetic anthropology project I am undertaking with
University College London. I thought I'd better let
everyone know what the purpose of the project is
and the exact kind of pedigrees that we would need to
carry it out successfully. If any one has a suitable
pedigree and details of living descendents then I
would be delighted to get information from people on
the list.

The key thing to remember is that we would need:
1) A direct male>male>male etc line (some kind of
pedigree would be very useful) from 1700s NW
Derbyshire / Peak District / NE Cheshire to a living
male descendent.
2) Contact details for the living male relatives so
that the University could write to them and enquire
whether they were interested in taking part in the

I have already been deeply impressed by the
helpfulness of list members and hope to hear from
anyone with suitable information/pedigrees etc.

Thanks in advance!

Dr Paul Brotherton (Glossop)

Here is a rough overview of the aims of the study:

Basically, there are two models for the birth of what
we now call England. As you probably know, prior to
around 450 AD the people of (all but the very north
of) Britain spoke a language very similar to modern
Welsh. The future English language was spoken only on
the continent in Holland, Germany and Denmark. In the
early 400s, some of these Germanic continentals
migrated over to Britain to work as mercenaries for
the British/Celtic kings. Seeing the depleted
capacity of post-Roman Britain they turned on their
masters and began to take over the east and south of
the country. Between 450 AD and around 650 AD, most
of what is now England fell under the rule of Germanic
immigrants. Gradually, Celtic speech and customs died
out (except in Wales, parts of S. Scotland and
Cornwall) and we were left with Anglo-Saxon England by
the 8th century. A Germanic-speaking people (the
closest living relative of English is Friesian from N
Holland), with a Germanic culture.

But! There are tantalising clues - in both
archaeology and place-names - that there was survival
of the aboriginal Celtic population in some numbers in
some areas. That is what this work is trying to get a
window on. The two models are (1) a 'mass migration'
with ethnic-cleansing etc meaning the majority of
English people derive from continental stock, or, (2)
an 'elite dominance' model, where a relatively small
number of Germanic warriors were able to dispatch the
existing Celtic ruling class, and take over the
country - but with the mass of the peasantry staying
intact and in place. They would have then abandoned
their language and culture - as did the Gauls etc
under Rome - to get on and prosper under their new

Both models have evidence in their support and it has
been a HOT potato for many, many years. At last
genetics might be able to give us a window on the
relative proportions of 'Celtic' and 'continental' Y
chromosomes. I have picked NW Derbyshire for two
reasons. One because I live here so it's easy to
work. The second is that there is a high
concentration of probable Celtic place names that
survive which, along with archaeology, suggests that
the area is a very promising candidate for a strong
Celtic survival. 

The Y chromosome is useful because (as the male
chromosome) it doesn't have a partner. This means
that it doesn't undergo the genetic shuffling that all
other chromosomes do to make sperm and eggs. 
Essentially, this means that the Y chromosome is
passed virtually intact and unchanged generation after
generation down the male line (conveniently enough
along with surname). Due to the vagaries of human
evolution and migration (and mutations), there are
definite patterns of particular Y chromosome 'markers'
(kind of DNA fingerprints). Using DNA sequencing and
appropriate population genetics models it is possible
to relate whether a population (e.g. NW Derbyshire) is
closer to a Germanic population or to a Welsh/Celtic
population. Hence I hope to get an indication of
whether the 8th century inhabitants of the Peak
District (the Pecsaete) were largely natives or

This is where your help would be greatly appreciated. 
Due to population movements in recent eras it would be
very insecure to randomly sample people in the area. 
Many people have moved in since the late 1700s - from
Lancashire, Cheshire, Wales and Ireland - to work in
industry, mills etc. This could render any work
meaningless. I therefore would like to get the names
of a group of living men together (men only for this
particular study, though there can be matriarchal
studies using mitochondrial DNA) who can show their
male-line ancestors were living in the area prior to
around 1800 (latest).

The reasoning is that if they were here in the 1700s,
then it is likely that they were here a lot further
back (not in all but in the majority of cases) and we
might be getting a sample that roughly reflects that
of 8th century NW Derbys. Once I had a list of people
who fitted this description - pedigrees etc - then all
that needs to be done is to request their help - mail
them a cotton bud and a few mls of 70% ethanol
(essentially vodka!). A quick flick inside the cheek
and pop it into the tube and mail it back. 
(Naturally, a legal waiver is included that ensures
that all data is confidential and would not be used
for ANY other purposes etc - but this is standard

So can you help? I need to approach people - alive
today - who can (as securely as possible) trace their
male line back to (at least) 1700s NW Derbyshire or NE
Cheshire. Obviously if you were kind enough to help I
would ensure that your contribution to the work was
made clear in any subsequent publication. 

So, I'll let you have a dig around your archives and a
think. Hopefully, even though it isn't directly on
your line of work, you might think that this is an
interesting and worthwhile project. I'd be happy to
discuss things further by correspondence or
by telephone as you wished.

Thanks for your interest.


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