A Witcher Family Genealogy
You may contact me at wwawitcher @ windstream. net or check out our facebook page at Witcher Family Genealogy
Genetic testing is an invaluable tool for a family researcher who is attempting to determine how (or if) individuals within a surname group are genetically related. These tests are now affordable and are gaining in popularity, especially as people become aware of their usefulness. This essay will provide information about five individuals with Witcher surnames who have taken the “yDNA” test. What those test results reveal is groundbreaking for those who are researching their Witcher family roots.
Before I discuss test results, I feel it important to provide a few technical details about the yDNA test.
Companies which provide this type of service have done a good job in simplifying how they communicate the results of those tests to the customer. 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.
If we can recall the days of our Biology 101 classes, we might remember that male humans 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 can occur within that molecule. The term “mutation” is a way of communicating, in a simple way, that change within the structure of a yDNA molecule has occurred. These changes within the yDNA molecule are important occurrences to researchers, as they can be graphed, and new branches within a family tree can then be observed.
FamilyTree DNA is the company I used to test men within the Witcher surname group. This company communicates the results of their yDNA test in a very simple manner. The results are posted as a row of numbers in spreadsheet form. Those numbers are called “markers.” Each marker (number) is meant to communicate the genetic information discovered within a tested region of the yDNA molecule.
There are different levels of testing provided by FamilyTree DNA. Currently the company tests at the 37, 67, and 111 marker levels. The cost of the test increases with each level of testing.
As previously noted, those “markers” are then shared with the customer as a series of numbers in a spreadsheet. Progressive (higher) levels of testing reveal more genetic information and thusly will cull more individuals who are not closely related to the testee. 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. Otherwise, the numbers are boring and valueless in meaning to the average person.
It’s easiest to think about these yDNA tests in terms of probabilities.
For example, if two men have been tested at the 111 marker level, and those two men share exactly the same markers, according to the geneticists at FamilyTreeDNA, there is a very close or immediate relationship between these two men. If these same two men share 110 out of 111 markers, this indicates a close relationship, and so forth down the line one can arrive at probabilities of relationship between two men. You may read about this logic in clearer detail by clicking here.
It should be noted that once a marker does mutate within the timespan of two generations (between a father and his son), the mutation of that marker is generally observed as a slight shift in the numeric value of that specific marker. Here is an actual example. For one of the Witcher men tested, the numeric value for marker DYS464 (a marker known to rapidly mutate) was “12-15-15-16.” However, the other four Witcher men who were tested revealed a numeric value of “12-15-16-16” at that same marker. One can note the slight shift in the third number in the sequence. This detail needs to be remembered as I communicate the test results of these five men in the Witcher surname group.
Those who will benefit from the information these tests reveal owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Debbie Debrucq. She is the individual who motivated me forward with this project, and she has very generously contributed to the fund which offsets the significant expense of these tests. I am certain I would not have ventured into this level of family research without her guidance and support. Thank you, Debbie!
We initially tested five men surnamed Witcher at the 37 marker level. One is a pedigreed, direct male descendant of Major William Witcher. The other four men are pedigreed descendants of Ephraim Witcher, whose wife was Betsey Fips. Out of those four descendants of Ephraim Witcher, two separate groups contain two men who are second cousins to each other.
The yDNA test results indicate these five men share a common male progenitor. In other words, the test indicates these five men share a common male ancestor.
At the 37 marker level, three of the five men are a perfect match to each other, and two of the five are a 36 out of 37 marker match when compared to the other three men. Those mutations are slight, they being different by one click (one numeric value).
Three of the men tested at the 37 marker level were then tested at the 111 marker level.
One of those tested at the 111 marker level is the pedigreed descendant of Major William Witcher; the other two are pedigreed descendants of Ephraim Witcher.
Those 111 marker tests continue to indicate a tightly shared, common male progenitor. When the test results from the two descendants of Ephraim Witcher are compared against the results of the descendant of Major William Witcher, one test was off by one marker, the next by three markers. These mutations are slight, and are found in places within the DNA molecule known to quickly mutate, they each being one click off in value.
I will note that, out of a group of almost a million men tested, at the 37 marker level, these five men pretty much stand alone in their close genetic match to each other. The exception is the perfect match three tests have with another in the data-pool who is surnamed differently. That individual’s connection to the Witcher surname group may provide interesting genealogical data for future research.
Significant effort was made to completely pedigree each of these five separate family lines before the tests were submitted. Even though these individuals have no problem with their names being used in this essay, after considerable thought, I feel it best to only indicate the family lines each person descended through and to generalize their test results in comparison to the group.
One of the individuals tested at the 111 marker level has a complete paper-trail back to Major William Witcher, of Pittsylvania County, Virginia. This individual descends from William Witcher through Hezekiah Witcher, son of James and Gilley Witcher. Click here to read about Major William Witcher, and here to read about William Witcher’s great grandson, Hezekiah Witcher, a surgeon who was killed in the Civil War.
The next two individuals who were tested at the 111 marker level are pedigreed back to Ephraim Witcher, whose wife was Betsey Fips. One individual descends from Taliaferro Witcher (son of Ephraim Witcher) and the other from James Witcher (son of Ephraim Witcher). Because of the significant amount of family and court records pertaining to these descendants of Taliaferro and James Witcher, those two pedigrees are near certain. The subsequent yDNA tests seem to confirm what paper had already indicated; remember these tests are all about probabilities. Click here to read about Ephraim Witcher and his immediate family.
One could wonder, “With such a complete paper trail, why expend the money and effort for these yDNA tests?” There are several good reasons why these types of tests benefit a well-researched pedigree.
The yDNA test reveals the old-world, paternal roots of the male being tested. By old-world, I mean to say roots that are thousands of years old. The Witcher men who were tested are all members of “Haplogroup I-M253.” This classification indicates these men probably have an ancient connection to the Scandinavian region of Sweden and Finland. Therefore it’s not unreasonable to speculate that the first Witchers to migrate to America may well have descended from the migratory Vikings, who invaded the British Isles over a millennium ago. If one speculates that genetics has anything to do with the imprinting of dispositions, the origins of the Witcher line may well explain the dominating, warlike tendencies seen in so many of these men during the formation of our country.
Another reason to promote yDNA testing is to confirm a pedigree or perhaps unveil a non-paternal event.
To the above point, my interest in yDNA testing was peaked after a very close relative took an autosomal DNA test through Ancestry.com. This type of test reveals family connections, such as cousins, from both parents' side of the family. After this close family member’s test data was compared to others in the Ancestry.com database, I saw instances where the autosomal test did not validate claimed family connections. This revelation greatly motivated me to test the Witcher line using the more reliable yDNA test. After all, a non-paternity event could have occurred somewhere within the lines I was researching. In my mind the yDNA test results have dismissed that possibility, at least back to the 1730s.
Briefly, I would like to comment a bit further about the DNA testing services provided by companies such as Ancestry.com. I know for sure people have been greatly benefited by these types of autosomal DNA tests. When used correctly, this resource is of immense value, especially when this test breaches a wall. However, these types of “family finder” services cannot replace the old-school, boots-on-the-ground research that must go into validating a family line. Inaccurate data (or no data at all) posted to sites such as Ancestry.com strains the resources of serious researchers. This is especially true if a person’s autosomal test indicates a genetic connection to another test client, but that other test client has posted inaccurate information or no information at all. (And need we to even discuss the frustrating issue of blocking from public view family tree data which correlates a matching DNA test?)
Thirdly, by using the information gleaned from these yDNA tests, family researchers can graph any changes within the yDNA molecule. After these graphs are populated with enough data points, it may be possible to accurately determine long ago, father-son relationships. Perhaps additional tests can provide a path for those who cannot locate the paper trail needed to prove their line. Also, females who can prove their line to a specific male can benefit, as they too can follow the yDNA line back in time.
However, the most exciting prospect about these yDNA tests is the real possibility of making empirical connections to the Old World.
I am intrigued by the possibility that the first Witcher men who migrated to Virginia’s “Southside” came from the New England area of Massachusetts. Records from the mid-1600s indicate the presence of an establish family of “Whitcher/Witchers” who lived and prospered in early New England. It’s my quest to locate and test individuals who are known to have descended from men such as Rueben and Chase Whitcher. Click here to read about this New England family of Whitchers/Witchers. Several yDNA tests would either prove or dismiss this theory. If there is a family connection between the Witchers of Virginia and the Whitcher family of early colonial New England, there is a real possibility that Witcher family research could be advanced, as many of these New England records have been preserved.
Should testing the New England Whitcher line disprove a connection to our Virginia line, then efforts to yDNA test Witchers located in Great Britain could open up whole new avenues of research. I suppose it could be possible to tie into family lines in old Europe, in ways never before possible.
If you are interested in joining our yDNA project, please contact me at wwawitcher @ windstream. net (without the spaces). Our research team is specifically interested in males surnamed Witcher who can prove descendancy from Daniel, John, James, Rueben, or Edward Witcher, the supposed brothers of Major William Witcher of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
This link will allow you take a look at some of these yDNA results for the Witcher surname group and how each person compares within the group. In order to see the graph, select "y-Results" from the header at the top of the page.
Wayne Witcher, 5X grandson of Major William Witcher