Rob Noles first started the Knowles Y-DNA project (in 2002), I
considered joining and tried to decide what the benefits to me and
my personal genealogy research would be. I could come up with
nothing that would affect me personally, but I realized that it
would help in establishing any commonality with other Knowles lines,
and the search for the ultimate "Knowles Patriarch". Thus I
concluded that it would help the genealogy research in general, and
the Knowles research specifically. As far as assisting
me in my personal research, I didn't see any benefit.
The genealogy industry is built upon a network of helping others.
When I considered how much help I have had building on the research
of others, I felt a great debt to these unknown people. I felt
that by having my DNA tested and posted for others to see and use,
it could be one way to acknowledge this debt and perhaps partially
pay back the genealogical community for what I had personally
gained. With this reason in mind, I joined the
Knowles Surname DNA Project. As it has turned out,
my personal research also benefited immensely.
A few years ago, I discovered an ancestor who was a descendant from
a royal family of England (Sir George Neville,
2nd Lord Abergavenny). This particular royal
familyancestor had married outside the titled class and thus
provided a path for commoners like myself to have royal ancestry.
Since the royals could only marry others that held peerage, (whether
of England or other countries of Europe), I soon found that I had
grandfathers that were kings of every country of Europe; e.g.
I had 17 grandfathers that were Kings of England alone, and 12
unique paths back to Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor. My
experience is not unique; almost anyone that can find a paper trail
to one royal will have similar paths to all of Europe.
About a year ago, I found an ancestor that provided ancestry back to
Niall of the Nine
Hostages, High King of Ireland 380-405 AD.
Actually, as it turns out, I found 3 separate paths back to Niall;
He was my 44th great grandfather. Niall was the progenitor of
the Niall dynasty, a line that ruled Ireland for over 600 years.
When I had finished my research, I ended up with 23 grandfathers
that were High Kings of Ireland.
Note: Niall was one of the great Irish Kings. One of his
accomplishments that are known about him today is that he was
responsible for bringing Saint Patrick to Ireland. When
Patrick was a young lad of about 16, Niall's raiding parties
captured him and brought him to Ireland as a slave.
After 5 years, Patrick escaped and made his way back to England and
France. After studying and becoming a priest, he returned to
Ireland and became the great evangelist, turning the people of
Ireland to Christianity.
All of this genealogy was done via a paper trail research.
It is possible to trace back so far because records of royalty and
peers of the realm have been kept for centuries. Records of
commoners, such as my Knowles line, usually don't go back beyond
1500, if that. My Knowles line goes back to
Henry Knowles (b 1609) in
Yorkshire, England. He came to the new world in 1635 and is
recognized as the Knowles Progenitor from Rhode Island.
Tracing back his ancestry in England can get to his father Robert
(b. 1585) and there the paper trail ends.
As mentioned before, a few years ago, I joined the
Knowles Surname DNA Project, starting out with
a 12 marker test. It wasn't long before I started getting
matches with other participants, indicating a common ancestor with
these people. However, none of them were named Knowles.
Most of the names were what you would classify as Irish, with a few
Scottish names thrown in. As of today, I have 420 exact 12
marker matches and I would estimate 75 % are Irish names, 10% are
Scottish names, and 10 % "other". That was my first clue that
my deep ancestry in the Knowles line had Irish roots.
(Remember, all my other research except for Henry and Robert, was
not on the strictly paternal Knowles line.) I later upgraded
my DNA testing to 25 markers which resulted in a severe drop in the
number of matches, but a big leap in the quality of the matches.
As of today, I have no exact matches, 4 families that match with a
distance of 1, and 8 families with a distance of 2.
About a year ago, I received a notice from Family Tree DNA, the
organization that does the Knowles Y-DNA testing, that my Y-DNA
markers match those of
Niall of the Nine
Hostages! It seems that researchers at Trinity College in
Dublin have reconstructed what they think Niall's Y-DNA was by
looking at the markers of living Irish males. This established
without a doubt (even if the reconstructed Niall markers are
incorrect) that my Knowles "deep roots" are Irish. If
the Niall DNA is correct as reconstructed by the research team, it
means that there is a high probability that I am a direct descendent
of Niall, or at least we have a common ancestor.
Probably everyone that has done much research on the name "Knowles"
has found the
explanation in books and on the web that it originated from the
Irish sept* of O'Tnuthghail (Tnuthghail in galic is pronounced like
"Newell", hence it has been angelicized to Newell and Knowles).
Before the days of DNA research, the thinking seemed to be that
there was one source for the name, and this was the source for
"Knowles"; e.g. see
Clan Knowles. One thing that DNA research has told
us is that there was not just one source, but apparently many unique
sources for the name. Somewhere between 400 and 1585 the name
"Knowles" was created by my ancestors. Since O'Tnuthghail is an
Irish source for the name and my "deep roots" are Irish, maybe my
ancestry comes from this source. With this in mind, I pursued
this avenue of thought.
*sept is a division of a
family or clan.
In Ireland and Scotland, a sept is usually a family that is absorbed
into a clan for mutual benefit.
The Knowles (O'Tnuthghail) Sept was located on the north end of
County Kildare, near the border of County Meath, in the Province of
Leinster. Historically, Meath was a separate province and
included this northern part of Kildare. Tara, the
ancient political and spiritual home of the Irish High Kings, is
located in both the historical Province and current County Meath,
and is about 30 miles from the Knowles Sept location. Thus the
Knowles Sept was in close physical proximity to the Niall dynasty
(and descendents) of High Kings. History records several
of Niall's descendents in the area at the time of the Knowles Sept.
Conall Creamhthaine, Niall's son and King of (ancient) Meath, was
the patriarch of a line of Kings of Meath that lasted until 1173AD.
Another son, Cairbre (Carbury) was the source of the name of the
lands in North Kildare around the present day barony of Carbury.
This is the area of the Knowles (O'Tnuthghail) Sept. Thus it
seems likely that the people of the Knowles Sept could have been
descendents of Niall.
Another way to use the DNA testing to establish a tie to this part
of Ireland is to examine others Y-DNA participants to see if they
can establish ties to this same area. Two of the people with
close 25 marker Y-DNA matches to me are named Dunn. The Dunn
Sept is from the same area of Ireland (Counties Laois and Kildare).
Although I can't say for certain that I am a direct descendent of
Niall (we both could be descended from a common ancestor), the
feeling of the researchers at Trinity College seem to feel that
those with matching markers to Niall are his descendents.
Niall's father had only one son. Niall had at least 12 known
sons, perhaps more by unknown wives or concubines. Being a
powerful King, he would have been in position to establish a strong
household; something none of his fathers could have done.
Also I can't say for certain that I descend from the Knowles (O'Tnuthghail)
Sept, but there is strong evidence to say that I might.
Hopefully, as genetic genealogy grows, I will be able to collect
more information to support these contentions. None of this
research would have been possible without joining the Knowles Y-DNA
Bradley N. Knowles
February 1, 2007