Family  Association





by  Bradley N. Knowles
A descendant of Henry Knowles (b 1609)
Knowles Progenitor - Rhode Island #01


Using Y-DNA in Knowles Research
by Bradley N. Knowles


When 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 project.

Bradley N. Knowles
February 1, 2007



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