Witcher Surname

yDNA Project

A Witcher Family Genealogy 

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Witcher Family Genealogy

Genetic testing is an invaluable tool for a family researcher attempting to determine how (or if) individuals within a surname group are related. These tests are now affordable and gaining in popularity. This essay will provide information about men with Witcher surnames who have taken the “Big Y-700” test. What those test results reveal is groundbreaking for those who are researching their Witcher family roots.

Before I discuss DNA test results, I feel it important to provide a few technical details pertaining to the origins of the Witcher family which lived in Colonial Virginia, during the 1700s.

When I began to seriously research my Witcher family roots, I quickly became confused by the conflicting accounts about who the Witchers in America descended from. Many inferred all descended from one man, a certain William Witcher, Sr., who was a militia officer in the American Revolution and a judge in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. 

However, extensive research into records has uncovered a trove of unpublished documents which indicate at least eight adult men surnamed Witcher lived in the Southside region of Colonial Virginia in the 1700s. These records prove it is impossible for William Witcher, Sr., to have been the progenitor of all the early Witchers of Virginia. Because of these records, I believe William Witcher was one of at least eight men named Witcher from whom most Witchers in America descend. It should be noted that some Witchers immigrated after the Revolution, but their numbers appear low.

Comparing DNA test results to historic records can prove, disprove, or unravel family lineages long forgotten. Therefore, before I discuss our most recent yDNA test results, it is important to list the Witcher men who lived in Virginia, before the Revolution. 

Henry Witcher was known to have lived in Amelia County, Virginia, in 1762. The Amelia County tithable tax record for Henry Witcher indicates he lived for at least one year on the property of a certain William Wily.  The 1763, tithable records for Amelia County indicate Henry Witcher no longer lived in that county. However, a 1763 record for Halifax County, Virginia, indicates Henry S. Witcher was paid money out of the estate of William Crawford. This record is dated, 20 January 1763. From these two records, I infer that Henry Witcher may have migrated in 1762 from Amelia County, VA., to Halifax County, VA. Amelia County is just to the northeast of Halifax County. It is important to note that by 1767, Pittsylvania County was formed from Halifax County. 

There is an early record for a certain Henry Witcher, who came to the American colonies in 1642. He was an indentured servant, who received passage to the colonies on the ship of Captain Samuell Mathewes. However, any relationship to the Witchers of Pittsylvania County, VA, is purely speculative at this point. Still, I thought I would reference this person out too.

Edward Witcher is an individual who was mentioned in Pittsylvania County’s open court, book 4, on page 85, dated May 28, 1778. In that record, a simple entry is made for Edward Witcher which exempted him from the payment of levies. Generally (though not always) it was the very elderly who were exempted by the court from paying tax. To this date, I have discovered no other record of Edward Witcher, but this man of tax paying age did live in the county in 1778, and supposing he was exempted because of his old age, he could have been born around 1728. I possess an almost complete list of tithable records for early Pittsylvania County, and there is no record of Edward Witcher as a young or old tithable in any household. Perhaps Edward Witcher was an elderly family member who immigrated into Pittsylvania County around 1778. 

Rueben Witcher is seen as a signor on the 1777 Oath of Allegiance list taken by Willliam Witcher. I have not located a single other record for this man Rueben Witcher. Like Edward Witcher, I have not seen Rueben Witcher in early Pittsylvania County tax or land records (which seem to be mostly complete). This man is a true mystery, as the Witcher family named their sons Rueben, and intriguingly, a Rueben “Whitcher” is seen in Revolutionary War records for soldiers from New Hampshire.

James Witcher was in Bedford County, Virginia as of February 7, 1763. I state this because on this date, James Witcher presented to the Bedford County court one “wolfe head” for bounty. If this James Witcher was at least twenty-one years of age when this bounty was awarded (as he probably was) then we may safely assume this James Witcher was born before 1742. This may or may not be the same James Witcher who was paid as a mercenary in Lord Dunmore’s War, in which the colony of Virginia and the Shawnee and Mingo American Indian nations fought in 1774. For more information about this James Witcher, click here to read my research into this man and his family.

John Witcher, originally of Bedford County, Virginia, is seen in the earliest Pittsylvania County records. Pittsylvania and Bedford County share a common border. John Witcher lived in Bedford County as of 1769. In May of that year, John Witcher gave permission for his “spinster” daughter, Sarah, to marry George Russell. For more information about this John Witcher, click here to read my research into this man and his family.

Daniel Witcher bought 191 acres from William Witcher in July, 1766, and Daniel’s household is listed in the Pittsylvania County tithable records in 1767. This Daniel Witcher is positively not the “Daniel Witcher, jr.” listed in William Witcher’s will, proved in court in July of 1808. This Daniel Witcher migrated with his family to Smith County, Tennessee in the early 1800s. 

On a side note, it is hoped that yDNA tests will one day help prove how the above mentioned James, John, and Daniel Witcher are related to the famous William Witcher, Sr. 

The fact that William did sit as judge in cases involving James and Daniel Witcher may yield clues about how closely these three men were related. It seems odd that Justice of the Peace William Witcher would adjudicate civil cases in which his presumed “brothers” were defendants, especially when other JP’s were seated during any given court session. 

In the Virginian colonial county court system, more than one Gentleman Justice served the needs of the people within a particular county. In Pittsylvania County, at least six justices were available at any given time to adjudicate local cases. It’s important to note that several times James and Daniel Witcher appeared before Justice of the Peace William Witcher. 

If this Daniel and James Witcher were judge William Witcher’s brothers, would he not have recused himself due to a conflict of interest? However, William Witcher did hear a couple of lawsuits in which James and Daniel Witcher were involved. Therefore I’ve speculated these two men were at least first cousins to William Witcher, and not his brothers. For more information about the above mentioned cases, click here.

Ephraim Witcher, who married Elizabeth (Betsey) Fips was definitely not the “Ephraim Witcher, jr.” listed as a son in William Witcher’s 1808 will.   From the Pittsylvania County tax records, we know this Ephraim was born before 1751, and he was not the son of William Witcher, the Revolutionary War officer. It’s important to note that many of the Witchers found in early Georgia records descend from this Ephraim Witcher. The latest yDNA tests have revealed a unique set of genetic markers from male descendants of this man. This point will be discussed in greater detail later in this essay. For more information pertaining to this Ephraim Witcher and his descendants, click here.

William Witcher, who was a Captain, a Major, and Justice of the Peace during the Revolutionary War, is the most chronicled of the adult males named Witcher who lived in early Pittsylvania County. Many Witcher family researchers tied their family trees to this one man, making him their progenitor. But Colonial era records have proven this William Witcher could not possibly be the original immigrant from which all the Virginia Witchers descend. For more information about this William Witcher and his sons, click here

Below the flow chart, I will cover what these tests reveal. ​

The latest set of yDNA tests have revealed there were at least three unique branches of the Witcher family which lived in Colonial Virginia. Those tests results, and why they are so important, will now be discussed. The names mentioned in the next part of this essay will refer to those individuals I have just covered.

FamilyTree DNA is the company our project has chosen to yDNA test men within the Witcher surname group. Those who will benefit from the information these tests reveal owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Debbie DuBrucq, as she has very generously contributed funds and time. Without her guidance and support, this yDNA project for the Witcher family would not have happened. Thank you, Debbie!

DNA science is complicated. If we can recall the days of our Biology 101 classes, we might remember males have Y-chromosome molecules; females do not. It is a fact that genetic codes found within the Y-chromosome are passed from father to son, and more often than not that genetic signature in inherited by the son unchanged.

However, at random and unpredictable intervals, in the process of a father passing his yDNA genes to his son, mutations will occur within that molecule. The term “mutation” is a way of communicating, in a simple way, that change within the structure of a DNA molecule has occurred. These changes within the DNA molecule are important occurrences to researchers, as they can be graphed, and so new branches within a family tree can then be identified.

FamilyTree DNA communicates the results of their yDNA test in a simplified manner. We are, after all, talking about the structure of a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule, and since so few in the general public are diagnostic molecular scientists, methods to make the test results understandable had to be developed. The company communicates the results of their yDNA test through the use of markers listed in spreadsheet form. Each marker (number) is meant to communicate the genetic information discovered within a tested region of the yDNA molecule.

Simply put, DNA mutations within each successive generation of males in a family line can be plotted, and from that information, unique family trees are recognized and named. These unique family tree branches are called “haplogroups.”

Progressive (higher) levels of testing reveal more genetic information and thus more accurate detail about relationships are revealed.  For the family researcher, the results of these tests are only useful when compared against the results of other men who have been tested at the same level.

As of this date (late-2019), almost ten men surnamed Witcher have been yDNA tested. Five of these individuals have taken the Big Y-700 test, and those tests have confirmed three specific haplogroups (Witcher family branches).

For more information about the process of identifying a haplogroup, please visit FamilyTree DNA’s help center. The pages found at this site explain the methodology and science behind the yDNA test. You may wish to view this YouTube training film.

From these yDNA tests, we know the Witchers of Colonial Virginia descend from a common ancestor in the I-M253 haplogroup. This ancient family branch (I-M253) was formed between 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, and it is of Nordic origins. From this genetic information, we believe with a high level of confidence our common paternal ancestor was Viking. 

Witcher family folklore is consistent in its belief that our immigrant ancestor came from England. If true, then our Nordic ancestors could have been Vikings who immigrated to the British Isles, either peaceably or by force. We know Vikings invaded the British Isles around 800 till 1100 AD.

Now the mystery is who, when and how did the Witchers immigrate to the American Colonies? 

As discussed earlier in this essay, there were a number of Witcher men who lived in Virginia before the Revolution. Fortunately, not all records of these individuals were lost to war and time. For example, the estates of Ephraim Witcher and William Witcher are well documented. Now, through the admission of DNA, paper evidence can now be strengthened through the use of genetic data. 

I will provide a synopsis of five recent Big Y-700 DNA tests. However, for a more detailed discussion about these tests and how the science works, please visit FamilyTree DNA or join our Witcher surname Genealogy Page or our DNA project Facebook Page. If you wish to join the Witcher DNA project at FTDNA, click here for instructions on how to do so.

We know our Witcher family’s common male ancestor descended from haplogroup I-M253. As of October of 2019, five Witcher males have expanded their DNA testing to include FamilyTree’s Big Y-700 DNA test. Those tests have revealed three unique family branches for the Witcher family. They are haplogroups I-BY187103, I-FT3407, and I-FT150302.

One of the individuals who has taken the Big Y-700 test is believed to have directly descended from Daniel Witcher. His results reveal a Witcher family haplogroup which apparently has not mutated since at least the 1700s. That haplogroup is I-BY187103. It is from this haplogroup that our two other known Witcher family branches descend.

I am careful about drawing too many conclusions from this one test, but I do believe the results are significant. They seem to indicate Daniel was not Ephraim or William Witcher’s brother. In fact, as I have previously noted for James and Daniel Witcher, I have suspected they were William’s cousins, because they appeared before William in his court, as apparent plaintiffs in lawsuits. Because of those records I have speculated Daniel and James Witcher were probably not William Witcher’s brothers. DNA evidence seems to support this hypothesis. Now, if a male tests positive for haplogroup I-BY187103, his scope of research can be narrowed to indicate he is probably not descended from William or Ephraim Witcher. They may be descended from Daniel Witcher or others mentioned in this essay (excluding William or Ephraim Witcher).

Two males who descend from William Witcher have tested at the Big Y-700 level, and their tests reveal a new family branch. That haplogroup is I-FT3407. So if a male’s DNA matches this haplogroup that may indicate William Witcher is their ancestor. However, it should be noted that Witcher men who descend from Henry, Edward, Rueben, James, and John Witcher may also be members of this halopgroup. Future testing will help narrow these possibilities.  

The last of these three family haplogroups is I-FT150302, which is identified as the family branch for Ephraim Witcher.

The name Ephraim Witcher first appears in 1773, in the Pittsylvania County tithable records. This man migrated in the mid-1790s to Surry County, North Carolina, where he and his wife Elizabeth raised a very large family on their Mitchell River plantation. Ephraim died late 1819 or early 1820, and a battle over his estate ensued, lasting over twenty years. From these estate records, we know with certainty Ephraim Witcher had sons named James and Taliaferro. Male descendants of James and Taliaferro have tested at the Big Y-700 level, and their names are Travis and Steve Witcher.

Travis Witcher’s great, great grandfather is James Witcher, while Steve Witcher’s great, great grandfather is Taliaferro Witcher. The lineages of Travis and Steve’s are certain due to an extensive collection of family and court records.

Y-DNA Test results for Travis and Steve Witcher have discovered a new Witcher family branch, named I-FT150302. Any man whose yDNA test reveals he is a member of the I-FT150302 haplogroup can know he is probably not descended through William or Daniel Witcher. They probably are descended from Ephraim Witcher or others mentioned in this essay (excluding William or Daniel Witcher).

These latest DNA tests strongly suggest William and Ephraim were not brothers. The tests also indicate Daniel Witcher may have been a more distant relative to William and Ephraim. I have always suspected a large family group of Witchers immigrated to Southside Virginia, now it looks as if DNA has furthered this hypothesis.  

What remains is for this surname group to test others outside the United States. It will be very interesting to see how closely the Witchers in England match those who descend from the Witchers of Colonial Virginia.

Some entry level yDNA testing has been done on individuals surnamed “Whitcher,” whose ancestry is apparently from the first immigrants to New England. Those tests indicate there is zero near-term relationship between the Witchers of Colonial Virginia and Whitcher/Witchers of Colonial New England. Still, for reasons time will not allow me to elaborate on, I am not convinced these two family groups are unrelated. More testing will need to be done to totally eliminate that possibility.  It could be that old-world, non-paternal events have skewed data results of those we tested. 

Lower levels of testing can be done at a much reduced price. These types of yDNA tests can determine the feasibility of the more expensive tests, but they will also help determine a basic level of genetic connection between the individual testing and those who have already tested. However, only the Big Y-700 test will drill into and reveal our most recent haplogroup discoveries. The lower level tests (the five yDNA kits, y37 through y111) only predict one’s basic haplogroup. So I highly recommend testing at the Big Y-700 level. Click here for more information about the different tests FamilyTree DNA offers. 

If you are interested in joining our yDNA project, please contact us at wayne@kcgsam. com or dsdubrucq@gmail. com. Our research team is especially interested in males surnamed Witcher outside the United States, as well as those who can prove connections to Daniel, John, James, Rueben, or Edward Witcher of Colonial Virginia. 

Wayne Witcher       10-19-20