Thursday, October 4, 2018

It's Time to Talk: YDNA & the Horton Surname Project

While investigating the life of Barnabas Horton, I purposely limited my time examining scientific evidence such as genetic testing. I was new to the field and information at that time caused more confusion than clarity. Now, however, it’s time to discuss this important, parallel track of genealogical inquiry—YDNA testing and its impact on known Horton family lines.

In a recent issue of its quarterly magazine, American Ancestors, the New England Historic Genealogical Society published an article summarizing important findings of the Horton Surname Project hosted at I’m grateful to NEHGS for granting me permission to upload the article permanently on my website. You can find it at Resources tab at the top of the webpage, then under Books and Articles. The NEHGS article and this blog should be read together as companion pieces.

The Horton Surname Project seeks to determine possible connections among various Horton lineages in the U.S. and U.K. The best way to do this is by comparing YDNA samples from men whose surname is Horton (along with some spelling variations), since YDNA is passed from father to son. My husband submitted his YDNA in 2012 along with a written summary of his Horton lineage as he knew it, ending with Barnabas Horton of Southold.

I soon learned from project administrators, that test samples from men who self-described as descendants of Barnabas fell into two distinct groups not one, as expected. The surname project had samples from males who descended from Barnabas’s son Joseph and from males who descended from Barnabas’s son Caleb. You could think of these groups as Team Joseph and Team Caleb. In the future, there could also Team Joshua and Team Jonathan as descendants of those lines submit samples, but never Team Benjamin because he died childless.

My husband was assigned to Team Caleb.

Project administrators noticed some unusual groupings. YDNA from Team Caleb matched samples from men whose oldest known ancestor was a Quaker named Abraham Horton, born in Pennsylvania around 1720. Team Caleb also matched YDNA from men with surnames other than Horton, such as Johnson and Curtis, all of whom had southern lineages. In an attempt to find where these genetic breaks occurred, project administrators actively recruited test samples from descendants of other lines. Eventually, YDNA was secured from three previously untested teams—Team Jonathan, a new subset of Team Caleb, and Team UK.

Although the meaning of Team Jonathan should be clear, the two others not so much. Try thinking of it this way: My husband was on Team Caleb via Caleb’s son Richard. The new participant was on Team Caleb via Caleb’s son Elijah. And Team UK was just as implied. A British national named Horton whose line traced back to late-seventeenth century Mowsley, agreed to have his YDNA tested. A first for the project.    

I won’t keep you in suspense. Team Jonathan’s sample matched those of Team Joseph. The sample from Team Caleb via Elijah matched those of Team Joseph, but did not match my husband’s sample, Team Caleb via Richard. And Team UK’s sample matched those of Teams Joseph, Jonathan, and Caleb via Elijah, but not the sample from Team Caleb via Richard. My husband’s team had struck out. Science proved he and others on the same team had no genetic connection to Barnabas Horton of Southold. Instead, Team Caleb via Richard descended from a Pennsylvania Quaker of unknown origins!

So how did this incorrect family assignment occur? Perhaps in a rush to align their families with Southold’s local hero, Barnabas Horton the Immigrant, early 19th-century researchers presumed kinship ties based on identical surnames, proximate locations, and the inevitability of westward migration. Roxbury Township, New Jersey was formed in 1740, eight years before Caleb Horton (Barnabas3, Caleb2, Barnabas1) arrived from Southold, Long Island, with his family. His 1759 last Will & Testament made no mention of a son named Richard, but did name a son Elijah. A 1768 codicil to that Will also made no mention of a son named Richard, but again named Elijah. Finally, the Salmon Papers made no mention of Richard’s birth in Southold nor his marriage to Elizabeth Harrison.[1] The earliest records made by Richard Horton of southeastern Pennsylvania are from the late 1760s, creating a twenty-year gap from when Richard allegedly arrived in New Jersey to when he was taxed in Pennsylvania. The absence of paper evidence mirrors the lack of scientific evidence.

An objective researcher would have to acknowledge that the documentary evidence cited above concerning Richard’s relationship to Caleb Horton of Roxbury, faltered under close scrutiny and collapsed under the weight of scientific evidence. As a dedicated biographer, I appreciate what a big let-down this is for my family and will be for hundreds of descendants on Team Caleb via Richard. Yet, it’s not unheard of in the age of genetic genealogy. Buck up, Team Caleb via Richard! I’m open to receiving primary evidence about Richard Horton and/or Elizabeth Harrison, but please—no references to George Alloway’s book. He cites no concrete evidence. Descendants on this line must consider an unfamiliar path towards discovering their family’s new Immigrant Ancestor.

I haven’t given up on the ultimate challenge however—identifying the parents of Barnabas Horton of Southold. Earlier this summer, I spent a week at the Leicestershire record office tracking down clues and indirect evidence discussed in the book. I don’t know yet if there will be enough material for a second edition of In Search of Barnabas Horton, but perhaps a stand-alone expansion of Chapter One. Stay tuned.    

[1] The Salmon Papers was a private account of marriages and deaths in Southold. I should note that it missed many events, not just Richard’s marriage. Interested readers are directed to a detailed treatise on the Horton family of Roxbury, New Jersey written and posted by Terry Harmon at, entitled “Caleb & Phebe Terry Horton Family Theories,” dated July 12, 2011.