My Recent Article in Chronicles of St. Mary's

My Recent Article in Chronicles of St. Mary's

This month Chronicles of St. Mary's, the quarterly magazine of the St. Mary's Historical Society, graciously published an article that I recently wrote, "Piecing Together the Wathen Family Tree." I sincerely appreciate their decision to highlight the research that has gone into my upcoming book The Wathens of Southern Maryland: Their Genealogy & History. The article that they published was a shortened version of a lengthier article of the same title that I've previously shared in PDF format here on

A couple of paragraphs were inadvertantly left out of the article in Chronicles of St. Mary's, making the conclusion of the piece difficult to understand - Mistakes like this happen easily! For the convenience of readers, I've reproduced the full text of the article below, along with the accompanying images.

Download PDF of "Piecing Together the Wathen Family Tree"

Piecing Together the Wathen Family Tree

New Discoveries through Y-DNA Research

by Leonard E. Wathen Jr.

If you’re from St. Mary’s County, you’ve almost certainly heard the last name “Wathen.” Although we’re not quite as numerous as the local Mattinglys, Quades, Russells, or Morgans, the Wathen name has a long and varied history in our county. I have lost count of the times that someone local has heard my last name and asked, “Are you related to so-and-so Wathen?” The best answer that I can usually give is, “Probably, but I couldn’t tell you how.”

A Disconnected Family Tree

For the past several years, I’ve been on a quest to make sense of the local Wathen family tree. My research was spurred on in part by two unexpected emails, several years apart, from self-described descendants of a colonist named John Wathen. John, the emails explained, was an indentured servant, a carpenter by trade, who immigrated to Southern Maryland in September 1670 from Bristol, England aboard the Francis and Mary. I work at St. Aloysius Church, and the senders of both emails, neither of whom are local, had found my name on our parish website when Googling St. Mary’s County Wathens. Each reached out to see if I was a descendant of the colonial John Wathen or had any additional information about him. I had never even heard of this historical Wathen, but the two emails piqued my curiosity enough for me to try to figure out if I have any connection to him.

John Wathen had five sons and three daughters, and the first few generations of his progeny in Southern Maryland are fairly well documented. Many Wathens throughout the United States can reliably trace their ancestry back to him. A well-researched book called Wathen Anthology by Carolyn Huebner Collins, for example, chronicles hundreds of his descendants across the country, with a great number concentrated in Kentucky.[1]

As I detailed in an article entitled “The Search for Benedict Wathen: A Journey through 19th Century Genealogy” in the Summer 2017 edition of Chronicles of St. Mary’s, I ran into a significant roadblock in my own efforts to connect to the historical John Wathen. Despite very thorough investigation of local and online sources, I could find no information about the parents of my great-great-great grandfather, Benedict Aloysius Wathen (c. 1830-1873), so I could not prove that my branch of the Wathen family tree descends from John Wathen. Many have presumed, quite reasonably, that all local Wathens descend from John, but I wanted to find proof.

As my genealogical research continued, I discovered that there are three separate branches of Wathens here in Southern Maryland. My branch, which resides mostly in St. Mary’s County, descends from Benedict Aloysius Wathen (c. 1830 to 1873), an impoverished farmer with no land of his own whose parents are unknown. Another branch, which resides mostly in Charles County, descends from George W. Wathen (c. 1803-1852), a land-owning farmer whose parents were unknown when I began my research. The largest branch of local Wathens, which resides mostly in St. Mary’s County, descends from James Hanson Wathen (c. 1765–1826), a successful land-owning farmer, blacksmith, tax collector, and justice of the peace, whose parents remain unknown.

After cataloging every local Wathen household in publicly available censuses, my conclusion was surprising: Not a single Wathen in Southern Maryland today had been definitively traced back to the original Southern Maryland Wathen, John, through genealogical records. Every single Wathen in St. Mary’s and Charles County that I’ve seen in historical documents descends from one of the three branches described above, and neither I nor other researchers of whom I am aware had found records to connect these three branches to one another or to the immigrant John.

A Brief Overview of Y-DNA Testing

With encouragement and support from a newly discovered cousin, Mary Bailey-Adams, I decided in 2018 to have a male Wathen of my family take a Y-DNA test through FamilyTreeDNA (see kit MK74705 in Table 1 & Figure 1), hoping that genetic research might accomplish what traditional genealogical records had not. The initial results did not provide conclusive proof that my branch was descended from John Wathen, but did prompt me to learn more about Y-DNA. For a thorough investigation of the topic, I’d especially recommend The Genealogist's Guide to Y-DNA Testing for Genetic Genealogy by David Vance.[2]

Unlike the more popular autosomal DNA tests, Y-DNA tests offered by companies like FamilyTreeDNA examine the one male Y chromosome that is passed down intact from father to son, generation after generation. Because last names are usually passed from fathers, Y-DNA tests are extremely helpful for tracing a particular surname, like the Wathens.

When copies of the Y chromosome are passed down from father to son, small copying errors are often introduced. When these copying errors or “mutations” occur, they are then passed on to all future generations, giving each branch of a family tree its own genetic signature. Y-DNA tests allow you to compare markers on the Y chromosome so that you can estimate how closely related two males are. Entry level Y-DNA tests examine “STR Markers,” and more advanced tests like FamilyTreeDNA’s Big Y-700 test also examine markers called “SNPs.”

The Y chromosome is made up of about 60 million building blocks called nucleotide pairs. A SNP (pronounced "snip"), or single nucleotide polymorphism, is a very small mutation – the change of a single nucleotide pair – on your DNA code. Once these mutations occur, they are passed down to all future generations and seldom change back, making SNPs very reliable for genealogical research. As SNPs at new locations on the Y chromosome are discovered, they are given unique alphanumeric names, like A13102 or BY11750. If two males share a set of SNPs on their Y-DNA, then you can be very confident that they both inherited those SNPs from a shared ancestor.

As I began to understand Y-DNA testing more fully, I realized that the Wathen family tree might be able to be pieced together if we had Y-DNA tests – especially Big Y-700 tests – from all three local branches of Wathens and from a couple of confirmed descendants of the colonial John Wathen. Because Y-DNA tests range in cost from about $100 to over $400 each, however, such a project would be beyond my own budget for genealogy.

Kickstarting a Project

By 2021, I had a clearer understanding of what it might take to make sense of the Wathen family tree, but the prospect of organizing and financing such a project seemed daunting. I had a recurring thought of using a Kickstarter campaign to raise both interest and funds for Wathen Y-DNA research, but would others find this investigation worthwhile? Would others be willing to donate money or take a Y-DNA test?

For those who may be unaware, Kickstarter is a funding platform for many types of projects, such as technology, films, art, games, and books. It allows those who have a creative idea to share it, set a funding goal, and offer rewards to backers. It seemed likely to me that some would be willing to contribute to receive a book about the Wathen family tree.

After consulting some family members, I decided to launch The Wathens of Southern Maryland project through Kickstarter on October 17, 2021, with a relatively modest minimum funding goal of $999. Based on their contribution levels, backers were offered copies of a book entitled The Wathens of Southern Maryland, listings on a Memorial Page within the book, and invitations to a future book launch. By November 7, we had reached our minimum funding goal, and by the November 30 Kickstarter fundraising deadline, backers had contributed a total of $1,341, showing that there was sufficient interest to move forward with the research.

At the same time, I began networking with other Wathens in St. Mary’s County, Charles County, and across the country to meet others in the Wathen family tree, to collaborate in research, and to locate potential Y-DNA test takers. It has been such a blessing to connect with other Wathen relatives, near and far!

TABLE 1: Sample Y-DNA SNP values from kits included in The Wathens of Southern Maryland Project. Kit 978240 is a confirmed descendant of Ignatius Wathen, son of the colonist John Wathen, and kit B534451 is a confirmed descendant of Hudson Wathen, another son of the John Wathen. Each shared Y chromosome SNP reveals a shared ancestor in the male line. This data confirms that SNP A9040 was handed on by John Wathen himself, though John may have inherited that genetic mutation from his father. These results prove that all descendants of John should possess SNP A9040, but they do not prove that all who possess SNP A9040 are descendants of John.

SNP Discoveries

As the project officially moved forward, I recruited a volunteer from the St. Mary’s County branch of James Hanson Wathen (see kit MK74703 in Table 1 & Figure 1) and from the Charles County branch of George W. Wathen (see kit MK74705 in Table 1 & Figure 1) to take Y-DNA tests from FamilyTreeDNA. As test results began to come in, I saw that all three local Wathen branches shared a unique SNP named A9040 with several other Wathens in the FamilyTreeDNA database. This shared Y chromosome mutation revealed a common male ancestor. Was this SNP inherited from John Wathen himself?

To know whether John Wathen himself possessed SNP A9040, I would need test results from confirmed descendants of two different sons of John. Since John would be the most recent common ancestor in their male lines, we would be able to conclude:

  • Any SNPs these two test takers shared were inherited from John Wathen’s Y chromosome.
  • Any SNP possessed by only one test taker was absent from John Wathen’s Y chromosome and is unique to that test taker’s branch.

With research assistance from a newly discovered cousin and fellow genealogist, Roberta Martin, we confirmed with confidence through genealogical records that one test taker in the FamilyTreeDNA database (see kit B534451 in Table 1 & Figure 1) is a descendant of John Wathen through one of his sons, Hudson Wathen. With the help of a Kentucky genealogist, Rhonda Patton Wathen, President of MD to KY and Beyond, Inc., I was able to recruit a second confirmed descendant of John Wathen to add to the project (see kit 978240 in Table 1 & Figure 1). This new test taker is a descendant of John Wathen through another of his sons, Ignatius Wathen.

With Big-Y test results from kits B534451 and 978240, the two confirmed descendants of John, I could see that John Wathen himself did possess SNP A9040, so all his descendants in the male line should have that same Y chromosome mutation. All three branches of Southern Maryland Wathens have this SNP, further suggesting that they descend from John. Because SNP A9040 may have been shared by paternal ancestors of John, however, this SNP alone still could not rule out the possibility that local Wathens descend from a relative of John Wathen, but not from John himself.

Other SNPs in the project revealed more undeniable evidence. Two of the local test takers – kit 834650, descendant of Benedict Aloysius Wathen, and kit MK74705, descendant of George W. Wathen – share SNP FT274726 with kit B534451, who descends from John through his son, Hudson Wathen.  This SNP is not found in kit 978240, who descends from John through his other son, Ignatius Wathen. From this we could conclude:

  • SNP FT274726 was not inherited from John Wathen himself, but is unique to the branch of Hudson Wathen, son of John.
  • Kit 834650, descendant of Benedict Wathen, and kit MK74705, descendant of George W. Wathen, inherited SNP FT274726 from Hudson Wathen or one of his descendants.

With this Y-DNA evidence, we can say with confidence that both the St. Mary’s County branch of Benedict Aloysius Wathen and the Charles County branch of George W. Wathen descend from the colonial John Wathen through his son, Hudson Wathen! Kits 834650 and MK74705 also share yet another Y-DNA mutation, SNP FTB74899, meaning that Benedict and George shared a still more recent common male ancestor.

In September of 2022, a trip to the Maryland State Archives revealed further information about the branch of George W. Wathen of Charles County. From an 1829 land deed,[3] I already knew that George W. Wathen and Elizabeth Bailey, presumably his sister, had purchased land from Bennett Wathen, a grandson of Hudson Wathen, but the deed did not specify the relationship between George and Bennett. At the Maryland State Archives, I found records of an 1836 legal dispute revealing that Bennett was George W. Wathen’s father![4] The Charles County branch of Wathens could now be completely connected to the colonial immigrant John Wathen!


FIGURE 1: Big Y-700 results suggest that the six key test takers are related to one another as indicated above. SNP A9040, shared by all the above test-takers, was passed on by John Wathen himself. SNP FT274726 is found only on Hudson Wathen’s branch and was passed on by Hudson, son of John. Benedict Aloysius Wathen and George W. Wathen had a more recent common ancestor, from whom they inherited SNP FTB74899. SNP A15638 is shared by a descendant of James Hanson Wathen of St. Mary’s County and a descendant of George W. Warthen of Frederick County, though their common ancestor is not yet certain. The connection of James Hanson Wathen and George W. Warthen to John Wathen remains speculative at this point, though further testing may shed light on the possibility.

A Remaining Mystery

Though Y-DNA tests strongly suggest that James Hanson Wathen of St. Mary’s County was also a descendant of the immigrant John Wathen, the genetic evidence so far is not completely conclusive. We do know that John Wathen and James Hanson Wathen both possessed and handed on the SNP A9040. Because we do not know if SNP A9040 originated with John Wathen or was shared by other Wathen relatives, however, it remains possible that James Hanson Wathen descended from a close male relative of John, rather than from John himself.

Several other Wathens emigrated from England to colonial Southern Maryland in the seventeenth century. Though none of them are known to have been closely related to John Wathen, and none of them are known to have had any descendants who remained in Southern Maryland, it nonetheless remains theoretically possible that James Hanson Wathen descended from one of these other Wathen colonists.

Dr. Robert Orr Warthen argued in his unpublished 2006 manuscript, “Early Wathen/Worthen/Warthen Colonists in America,” for example, that James Hanson Wathen descended from an earlier colonist named Thomas Wathen, a wealthy resident of London who immigrated to Southern Maryland aboard the Susan Constance in 1635.[5] If Thomas was a very close genetic relative of John Wathen, this argument remains consistent with the above Y-DNA data. However, because John Wathen seems to have been a man of modest means from Herefordshire, England – over 130 miles west of London – I find it unlikely that he and Thomas Wathen were closely related enough for the theory to remain plausible, considering the genetic evidence that we now have.

Carolyn Collins in Wathen Anthology asserts instead that James Hanson Wathen “was almost certainly the son, or grandson, of one of Ignatius Wathen’s older sons.”[6] If James Hanson Wathen was a descendant of Ignatius Wathen, son of John, then kit MK74703, the descendant of James Hanson Wathen, would be expected to be a close Y-DNA match with Kit 978240, the descendant of Ignatius Wathen. Instead, the two test takers share no known SNPs downstream from SNP A9040, the SNP possessed by all kits in this project. This does not rule out the possibility that James Hanson was a descendant of Ignatius, but casts at least some doubt on the hypothesis.

Y-DNA tests have revealed a further clue, however: Kit MK74703, the descendant of James Hanson Wathen, is a close Y-DNA match with kit 169548, a descendant of George W. Warthen (c. 1819-1882) of Frederick County, Maryland. George W. Warthen of Frederick County is not to be confused with George W. Wathen (c. 1803-1852) of Charles County: Notice the “r” that has been added to the Wathen name in his part of the family tree.

Kits MK74703 and 169548 share not only SNP A9040, inherited from either John Wathen or a very close relative, but also SNP A15638, inherited from a more recent shared male ancestor, whose identity is unknown. George W. Warthen is speculated to be a descendant of the colonial John Wathen through his son, John Wathen Jr., but genealogical records leave room for dispute. Is James Hanson Wathen a descendant of John Wathen through John Wathen Jr.? I’ve recently recruited another Wathen from outside Southern Maryland to take a Y-DNA test, and any new information that is obtained through test results will be incorporated into my upcoming book.

My Upcoming Book

In my forthcoming book, The Wathens of Southern Maryland: Their Genealogy & History, I’ll be exploring the historical and genetic evidence in greater depth to make further sense of the local Wathen family tree. The book, which is expected to be released in early 2023, will present the latest historical and genetic data more fully to explain the most likely connections between the three local branches of Wathens.

This book also includes the research that I’ve done over the past few years to trace the three local branches of Wathens down to our own time. If you are a Southern Maryland Wathen or have recent ancestors who were, the book should include your ancestors and will help you to figure out where you fit into the local Wathen family tree!

To pre-order a copy of The Wathens of Southern Maryland or to see updates on my research, go to


[1] Carolyn Huebner Collins, Wathen Anthology (South Bend, Indiana: self pub., 2002), 13ff.

[2] David Vance, The Genealogist's Guide to Y-DNA Testing for Genetic Genealogy (self pub., 2020).

[3] Charles County, Maryland, IB 18: folio 511, “Bennet Wathen to George W. Wathen & Elizabeth Bailey,” 29 December 1829; digital images, Maryland State Archives, MDLANDREC ( : accessed 4 January 2022).

[4] Maryland State Archives, “CHARLES COUNTY COURT (Equity Papers) 1829-1843,” Wathen, George W. vs Cornelius Bailey and Elizabeth Bailey, MSA C2234-5-11

[5] Robert Orr Warthen, “Early Wathen/Worthen/Warthen Colonists in America” (unpublished manuscript, 2006, Wathen Family Folder 2, St. Mary’s County Historical Society, Leonardtown, Maryland), 4.

[6] Carolyn Huebner Collins, Wathen Anthology, 115.


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