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The y-DNA of the Darius Shaw Family

By Jared L. Olar

March 2017

The y-DNA of my Shaw family belongs to the R1b1a2 haplogroup. This is shown by the y-DNA of several Shaw males, including some of my own cousins. We may consider three Shaw males in particular: Jonathan A. Shaw of Massachusetts, Jerry Walter Shaw, and Paul Hardy Shaw of Tennessee. Jonathan Shaw, who currently has his y-DNA tested out to 37 markers, is the author of "John Shaw of Plymouth Colony, Purchaser and Canal Builder," published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (1997) 151:259-285, 417-437, and his genealogical research traces his Shaw lineage back to John Shaw of Plymouth Colony. The lineage of Jerry W. Shaw also has been traced back to John Shaw of Plymouth by a different branch.

Similarly, Paul Shaw's research also traced his Shaw lineage back to John Shaw of Plymouth by yet another branch of this family. His branch has long been thought to be descended from DARIUS SHAW, born in 1767, son of Jonathan Shaw IV and Martha Weeks. (See, for example, the Boston Evening Transcript's genealogy section, 23 Oct. 1912, page 26, which states that Paul's family line was descended from Darius, son of Jonathan and Martha.) Historical records and DNA testing have confirmed Paul's descent from the Darius Shaw who graduated from Dartmouth, and genealogists have long identified that Darius with Jonathan's son Darius. After graduating from Dartmouth, Darius married Joanna Winship and had two sons, Darius Jr. and Xenophon -- Darius Jr.'s name was later changed to Oliver Abbot Shaw, who left Massachusetts and settled in Mississippi.

Curiously, however, while the y-DNA results of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw match each other perfectly (and also perfectly match the y-DNA of my known Shaw cousins), the y-DNA results of Paul Shaw do NOT match those of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw at all, which indicates a likely error in one or more of their genealogies, or perhaps there was an unrecorded adoption or instance of adultery somewhere along one of the lineages. Jonathan Shaw's test results are Kit No. N64745 ("JA Shaw") in the Shaw DNA Project, while Paul Shaw's results are Kit No. 242499 ("John Shaw b abt 1597 d. 1663/66 Plymouth, MA"). Whatever the explanation of their divergent DNA results, all three of these Shaw lineages belong to the R1b1a2 haplogroup.

The y-DNA test results of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw place them in a small group of Shaws who appear to be of English origin, Haplogroup R1b Lineage IV in the Shaw DNA Project. As for Paul Shaw, he has tested his Y chromosome out to 111 markers, which has placed him solidly in the R1b1a2a1a1b4 haplogroup and has revealed that his DNA is remarkably close to the y-DNA of the O'Sheas of Counties Kilkenny and Tipperary in Ireland. In contrast, the test results of Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw suggest that their Shaws were an English family -- the Shaw DNA Project includes the y-DNA results of a family that descends from a Thomas Shaw who was born in 1775 in Westhoughton, Lancashire, England (Kit No. N30731), and Thomas' male descendants show a close match at 12 markers with the Shaws of Haplogroup R1b Lineage IV. Until Thomas' family tests out beyond 12 markers, however, it cannot be determined conclusively whether or not Jonathan Shaw and Jerry W. Shaw belong to the same Shaw family as the Thomas Shaws in Lancashire. My Shaw family also has tested positive with certain single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that show an origin in the South Baltic Sea area, which is where the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes (ancestors of most of the medieval English) came from before migrating to Britain, settling heavily in what is today England and the Scottish Lowlands.

Thus, considering our current state of knowledge of Shaw y-DNA, further DNA testing will be required to determine whether our Shaws were of English origin (and/or Scottish origin). As for Paul Shaw's DNA test results, however, they have placed his Shaw family solidly as descendants of the O'Sheas or Shees in the area of County Tipperary, Munster, and County Kilkenny, Leinster.

In the summer of 2012, Paul Shaw did a 67-marker test, which failed to find a match with any Shaws in the Shaw DNA Project. A comparison of Jonathan's and Paul's y-DNA with that of known Scottish Shaw families yields no matches with Shaw families of known Scottish descent. Surprisingly, Paul's Shaws belong to the Irish Type IV sub-clade, which includes Anglo-Norman families who settled in Ireland in the 1100s and 1200s A.D. The closest matches to Paul's y-DNA turned out to be members of the O'Sheas or Sheas (or Shees) of the area of Counties Tipperary and Kilkenny, traditionally known as one of the Ten Tribes of Kilkenny. Additional analysis indicates that his Shaws have a genetic connection specifically to the O'Sheas or Shees of South Tipperary. Subsequent y-DNA testing has confirmed that his Shaws did indeed branch off the O'Sheas or Shees of Tipperary/Kilkenny.

In a 29 July 2012 email, Dick Shea of Texas, one of the administrators of the O'Shea DNA Project, offered these preliminary comments on the closeness of Paul's y-DNA test results to that of the Tipperary/Kilkenny O'Sheas:

"The simplest explanation is that your family were descended from Kilkenny Shees/Sheas. This family was well off, and at least one was knighted (Sir Richard Shee). It wouldn't be surprising if some members of the family moved to England, and then moved to America shortly after the Pilgrims. . . . Since the Kilkenny O'Sheas were probably Anglo/Norman, it is possible that the Shaws and the Shees had a common ancestor in, say, the 11th century, and your family stayed in England while the Shees moved to Ireland. I would tend to believe the simpler explanation that your family were an English branch of the Shee family, particularly since Shea and Shaw sound so much alike. I think this is very interesting!! It's a whole new concept to think of some O'Shea relatives in America in the early 1600's."

In a second email of 29 July 2012, another O'Shea DNA Project administrator, Margaret Jordan, explained that additional testing was needed to confirm that Paul's Shaws had once been Irish Shees or Sheas:

"We have found that the Tipperary/Kilkenny Group of O'Sheas (also Shees and Sheas) matches several other surnames even at 67 markers. We don't fully understand how all the surnames such as Coker, Allen, Fletcher, Burton, etc., match these O'Sheas at 67 markers but to me it looks like a late adoption of surnames in the country where these people settled in Norman times. However, not all of these surnames are connected with Ireland. With a name like Shaw it is possible that it was Shea. Some of the surnames matching the Sheas of Tipperary/Kilkenny are English and a few are continental, hence the description 'Irish Type 4/Continental' for the cluster."

In other words, based only upon the initial results of his 67-marker y-DNA test, his Shaws could have been a branch of the Shees or O'Sheas of the Tipperary/Kilkenny area of Ireland, or our Shaws could have shared a common male ancestor with the Kilkenny O'Sheas -- an ancestor who lived before the Shees/Sheas came to Ireland in the late 1100s A.D., and who left male-line descendants in England who became the ancestors of our Shaws. In an email of 30 July 2012, the third administrator of the O'Shea DNA Project, James O'Shea, wisely advised against assuming too readily that his Shaws had once been O'Sheas:

"[Paul Shaw] does have a 7/8 match with the eight signature markers of the Irish Type IV, and he would thus appear to belong to it. However he only distantly matches our Kilkenny/Tipperary group so any relationship is very distant. Unfortunately not too many of the group have tested to Y67 so it's hard to be too emphatic. I see the Shaw surname itself appears to be Anglo-Saxon with only a relatively recent history in Ireland. If the date of 1597 for the birth of the ancestor is correct it's actually hard to believe that his father could have been an Irish arrival from S.E. Ireland. It's just too early. I think we would have to be very cautious on assuming your cousin is a Shea/Shee. While of course possible, it's more likely he is of the same Norman extraction as were the Shea/Shees and just ended up with a similar sounding surname. We will probably never know."

As explained above, the Shaw surname originated in Britain as an Anglo-Saxon placename in England and the Scottish Lowlands, but as a Gaelic patronymic in the Scottish Highlands. In Ireland, Shaw families are almost always relatively recent arrivals, descended from Englishmen or Scots who settled in Ireland within the past four centuries. Therefore, as James O'Shea said, it would be unusual for a Shaw family to be descended from an Irishman named Shee/Shea who had settled in England prior to 1600. However, human history is full of strange and unexpected events, and the period from 1200 to 1600 offers more than enough time for a scion of the Tipperary/Kilkenny Shees/O'Sheas to have arisen in Ireland and migrated to England. The similarity of "Shaw" and "Shea" could have just been a remarkable coincidence, but further analysis and testing of Paul's Shaw y-DNA has established that his surname was changed in the course of history from "Shee" or "Shea" to "Shaw."

James O'Shea's preliminary appraisal of our DNA results -- that Paul H. Shaw "only distantly matches our Kilkenny/Tipperary group" -- was in contrast (but not necessarily contradiction) with that of his fellow project administrator Dick Shea, who said in an email of 29 July 2012, "I agree they are very close to the Tipperary/Kilkenny O'Shea modal." Study of the human Y chromosome has shown that "very close" test results nevertheless often mean only a "distant" kinship with other families within the same group. Thus, according to a Family Tree DNA report dated 30 July 2012, based on then-available y-DNA results, there was a 92.42% probability that Paul H. Shaw and a fellow participant in the O'Shea DNA Project surnamed "Shea" shared a common male ancestor 16 generations ago (that is, the common ancestor lived in the 1400s or 1500s), but a 99.88% probability that they shared a common ancestor 28 generations ago (that is, the common ancestor lived in the 1200s or 1300s).

Further DNA testing refines and alters calculations of probability, however. Thus, the analysis of the results of a 111-marker test of Paul H. Shaw's y-DNA completed in April 2013 again yields a 92.42% probability that Paul and the same "Shea"-surnamed individual shared a common male ancestor 16 generations ago, but a 99.48% probability that they share a common male ancestor 24 generations ago (that is, the common ancestor lived in the 1300s). This means his Shaws are male-line descendants of the Sheas/Shees of Tipperary/Kilkenny who branched off anywhere from the 1300s to the 1500s. As Margaret Jordan informed me on 5 April 2013:

"One Shea, one Shaw and one Allen have results for 111 markers in the Tipperary/Kilkenny Group to date. These indicate that all are connected subsequent to the origin of the Shee/Shea surname within this group. This is good news for Shaw and Allen. We await one more O'Shea result. There is no pattern in the small number of mutations in the 38-111 set of markers and two of these mutations are on volatile markers."

In early May 2013, an O'Shea belonging to the Tipperary/Kilkenny group also obtained 111-marker y-DNA test results. The O'Shea results indicate that his branch did not belong to the South Tipperary subgroup of this family.

Now, calculations of probability aside, it is remarkable that Paul's Shaw y-DNA does not closely match any other results in the Shaw DNA Project. Perhaps that is because his English or Scottish Shaw kin have not yet submitted their DNA for testing, or perhaps his English or Scottish Shaw kin are extinct in the male line. But it more likely means that his Shaws, having originally been Irish Shees/Sheas who moved to England, did not live in England under the surname of "Shaw" long enough for collateral branches of his family to arise in England or Scotland. (This is in contrast to Jonathan A. Shaw's results, which suggest a possible English origin due to the presence of a known English Shaw in the Shaw DNA Project whose results are close to Jonathan Shaw's.) Along with the possible implications of the lack of any close matches with other Shaws, in an email dated 8 Aug. 2012, Margaret Jordan informed Paul H. Shaw of a possibly significant development in the further comparison of our Shaw y-DNA with that of the Tipperary/Kilkenny O'Sheas:

"I have been studying the results for the Tipperary/Kilkenny O'Sheas in conjunction with others of the same y-haplotype and I spotted that some of them, noticeably those of South Tipperary, have a value of 12 on DYS392. This value is very rare in this cluster (13 is typical) and I believe the mutation from 13 to 12 occurred in Ireland. There is more work to be done but so far it looks like this marker is a very good indicator of having Irish ancestry in common with the Tipperary O'Sheas."

If further y-DNA testing continues to support these findings, it would strengthen the conclusion that Paul's Shaws were of Irish descent, because his DNA results show a value of 12 on marker DYS392. Furthermore, in August 2012, Paul H. Shaw had additional analysis and testing of his y-DNA conducted, in order to see if his Shaws have significant identifying "single nucleotide polymorphisms" (SNPs) that would more precisely place him in the human family tree. Margaret Jordan comments on Paul Shaw's SNP test results in an email dated 21 Aug. 2012:

"Your SNP results put you firmly into the subclade of L21, which is Z253+. This subclade (Z253+) is divided into separate clusters, some of which have further SNPs which differentiate them from other Z253+ people. The cluster which your pattern of ySTRs (results for yDNA markers) places you, also includes people with surnames other than O'Shea and we are finding that a few of these people have close STR matches to O'Sheas at 67 markers and we are working to understand this more fully. However, as I mentioned before, DYS392=12 is very rare in this cluster and appears to represent a South Tipperary branch of the O'Sheas. You also have 12 (not 13) on DYS392. Note that Shea, Shee and O'Shea are interchangeable in the Tipperary/Kilkenny Group."

In emails on the same day, Jordan's fellow project administrator James O'Shea also commented, "Your confirmation of Z253+ does strengthen the possibility of your being of our Tipperary/Kilkenny group," while the third project administrator Dick Shea explained his own analysis (emphasis added):

"I copied the results from the L21 Project into a spreadsheet. Sheet 1 in the attached spreadsheet shows the distribution of the values for each marker in the L21 group. This helps understand how quickly the various markers mutate, and also shows how common or rare a given value is for each marker. I've put Paul's results alongside the Tipperary group in Sheet 2. I then put the percentages of the L21 group that match Paul or the Tipperary group's value for each marker. As you can see, Paul matches all the rare values of the markers that the Tipperary group has, so there is no doubt in my mind that he belongs to that group."

In a subsequent email to Paul H. Shaw dated 21 Aug. 2012, Dick Shea reiterated his conclusion: "I agree that you match almost all of the rare values for the [Tipperary/Kilkenny O'Shea] group, so there is little doubt that you belong to it."

Additional SNP testing has confirmed that Paul's Shaws are L1066+, which further strengthens the classification of his Shaws as members of the Irish Type IV/Continental subclade. In an email of 20 Sept. 2012, Margaret Jordan told Paul H. Shaw:

"It is fairly certain that all 'Irish Type IV' people are L1066 thanks to you and the others who tested on this SNP (Shee, also in the O'Shea yDNA Project has tested L1066+)."

A further SNP test has shown that his Shaws are L2183+, but the implications of that test result cannot yet be discerned. So far, only men who belong to the L1066 group have tested positive for the L2183 single nucleotide polymorphism, while all the L1066- men who have tested for L2183 have found that they do not have this SNP. In an email to Margaret Jordan dated 25 Oct. 2012, Greg Hockings, one of the administrators of the R-Z253 DNA Project, commented on current understanding of the Z2183 SNP:

"So we still don't know if Z2183 is upstream or downstream from L1066; at present they're equivalent. We do know that both Z2183 and L1066 are downstream from Z2185 and Z2184."

A further development in Paul Shaw's genetic testing occurred in March 2014, when Paul learned that his y-DNA had tested positive for an SNP called CTS9881. The significance of this SNP is that it appears to be specific to individuals who belong to the Irish Type IV/Continental sub-clade. In an email of 8 Feb. 2014, Greg Hockings said to Paul:

"Two L1066+ persons, McElroy (157233) and Barry (288343), who fit the Irish Type 4 STR signature, have tested positive for CTS9881 in their Chromo 2 results. McElroy has now confirmed this result by testing with FTDNA by Sanger sequencing, currently the gold standard for SNP testing. Importantly, twelve other L1066+ persons who have their Chromo 2 results and do not fit the Irish Type 4 STR signature did not have CTS9881 listed among their positive SNPs. So it looks as though CTS9881 is specific for Irish Type 4 and probably covers all or most of this subclade, as the Genetic Distance between McElroy and Barry at 67 markers is 13. Therefore we can conclude that CTS9881 is a new terminal SNP downstream of L1066."

Then, after Paul Shaw was determined to be CTS9881+, Hockings told Paul in an email of 17 March 2014, "Your result is consistent with CTS9881 being specific for Irish Type 4. It will be interesting to see the Big Y results for type 4 and also the rest of L1066 to see if this holds up."

Based on genetic testing, then, Paul Shaw's prehistoric male lineage traces back to a man whose Y chromosome had the M269 single nucleotide polymorphism. Among that man's descendants was a man who had the L23 SNP. He in turn had a male descendant who had the L11/S127 SNP, from whom descended a man with the P312/S116 SNP. That man had a descendant who acquired the L21 SNP, and from him descended a man with the DF13 SNP. Among his male-line descendants was a man who had the Z253 SNP, and from him descended a man with the Z2185 SNP. From that man descended the male ancestor of the vast, ancient L1066 family, which includes the Irish Type IV/Continental sub-clade -- a genealogical group that includes Anglo-Norman families, and from whom Paul's Shaw family descends in the direct male line. Members of the Irish Type IV/Continental sub-clade apparently all have the CTS9881 SNP. Researchers have offered speculation about when and where these male ancestors, who are known today only by the classification codes of single nucleotide polymorphisms on the Y chromosomes of their male descendants, may have lived. The general picture is one of gradual migration over several thousands of years from the Middle East to Central Asia, then west into Europe by way of Scythia (modern Ukraine), eventually reaching Northwest Europe, and finally arriving in Britain and Ireland. But such great uncertainty attaches to this speculation that I can only feel safe to say that God alone knows who they were, and just when and where and how they lived.

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Return to The Shaw Genealogy

The Shaw DNA Project
The O'Shea Y-DNA Surname Project
O'Shea Surname: O'Shea, Shea, Shay y-DNA and Family History Weblog

The O'Sheas of Tipperary and Kilkenny (Part One)
The O'Sheas of Tipperary and Kilkenny (Part Two)

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