An Ancient Ancestor of the Wathens

An Ancient Ancestor of the Wathens

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been waiting on final Y-DNA results for The Wathens of Southern Maryland: Their Genealogy and History. In the meantime, I’ve been editing the manuscript of the book, with the knowledge that the pending genetic test results may (or may not) add significant information. The book is taking longer to get to publication than I originally expected, but I’m more and more confident that the final product will be worth the wait.

Recently Family Tree DNA released a new feature on their website that is of interest to the Wathen family. Family Tree DNA has been adding more and more ancient DNA to their database, allowing test takers to compare their DNA with some people who lived thousands of years ago. Their new Discover feature allows you to see if you are a close genetic match with any of the many ancient people whose remains have been found and analyzed.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the male Wathens from Southern Maryland share a genetic marker on their Y chromosome that has been named SNP A9040. That means that sometime in the past, perhaps around the year 1600, someone was born with this genetic mutation on their Y chromosome that has been passed on to all descendants in the male line. Our colonial ancestor John Wathen had this particular SNP (“single nucleotide polymorphism”), which he may or may not have inherited from his own father.

The Discover tool reveals that everyone who possesses SNP A9040 is closely related to an ancient man whose remains were found in Birkrigg Common, Cumbria, England. This man, who has been named “Birkrigg 20997,” had a mutation on his Y chromosome named SNP A286 that is shared by everyone who has our Wathen A9040 mutation.

Here’s what Family Tree DNA says about our connection to him:

Birkrigg 20997
2450 - 1800 BCE
Shared Ancestor
* Before 2050 BCE
You and Birkrigg 20997 share a common paternal line ancestor who lived around this time.
Rare Connection
1 in 5,100
Only 48 customers are this closely related to Birkrigg 20997.
Birkrigg 20997 was a man who lived between 2450 and 1800 BCE during the European Bronze Age and was found in the region now known as Birkrigg Common, Cumbria, England.[i]

In other words, John Wathen and his descendants share an ancestor with the ancient man Birkrigg 20997, who lived sometime around 2000 BC. Although there are hundreds of thousands of men who have been tested by Family Tree DNA, only 48 men – including numerous Wathens who have been tested – share this SNP A286 with Birkrigg 20997. Local Wathens received this Y chromosome mutation either from Birkrigg 20997 himself or, perhaps more likely, one of his close ancestors. For some historical context, this common ancestor may have lived in ancient Britain around the same time that Stonehenge was being built (c. 2500 BC) or when the biblical Abraham is believed to have been born in ancient Mesoptamia (c. 2000 BC).

Birkrigg 20997 lived long before last names were introduced, but he's part of the Wathen family tree nonetheless. Birkrigg Common, England, where the remains of this ancient man were found, is just a couple hundred miles north of Herefordshire, England, where John Wathen is believed to have been born in the 1600s. This suggests our male ancestors lived in England for at least 3,600 years before crossing the Atlantic to Southern Maryland.

Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming release of The Wathens of Southern Maryland. Thanks for your patience!

[i] “FamilyTreeDNA Discover - Y-DNA Haplogroup R-A9040,” Gene by Gene, Ltd., FamilyTreeDNA ( : accessed 23 March 2023).

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1 comment

Thanks for the update. Can’t wait for your book. 🙂

tracy harper-curtis

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