I keep hesitating to send messages to all members of our Gaston DNA project because there are always pending results from Family Tree DNA that will most definitely resolve all our questions when they arrive. Alas, when the results do come in they invariably make our family history appear even more complex than before. I began this project with the unreasonable belief that there was a single Gaston lineage and this been proven false three times. We now have four distinct lineages and there are undoubtedly more. We also know that unrelated people chose the same surname back at the time when authorities required people to be identified by two names rather than one. The question still remains as to whether we "Ulster" Gastons - those of us in Lineage 1 who descend from a 17th century Irish patriarch - can trace our history back to France. Or more specifically, whether our Irish patriarch was really the son or grandson of a Jean Gaston who left France in the early 1600s for Scotland. The so-called "paper trail" leading us back in time ends abruptly circa 1660; prior to that, all we have our legend, some scattered hints ... and our DNA.
So what does the DNA says so far? Any of you in Lineage 1 can see on your FTDNA page that your closest matches are other Gastons. But beyond those you see names that have a distinct Anglo-Saxon or Celtic flavour. Of course, we know that the FTDNA database is highly biased towards descendants from the UK, so this is not surprising. There are only about 2,400 males who list their ancestral country as France compared to over 44,000 who list England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales or UK. But there are other DNA markers that one can use to shed light on this question. I have ordered a sub-clade test that refines my haplogroup. Let me explain. All males have been classified into haplogroups based on their DNA. Most of us Gastons fall into the group R1b1b2, although Germain Gaston is in the E group and Jean-Marc is in J. (These are interesting stories in themselves, that we can discuss another time). The R1b1b2 haplgroup is pervasive in Western Europe and it is thought to have originated during the last ice age, when our palaeolithic ancestors retreated south to the Iberian peninsula in order to survive. Read more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R1b
. Genetic genealogy is an evolving science and as more DNA samples become available, new markers are discovered that help to further refine these haplogroups. The haplogroup tree - or haplotree - is just like our family pedigrees, with branches and sub-branches. These are referred to as "sub-clades". If you access your FTDNA page, you can click on the Haplotree menu item under Y-DNA to see where we are situated in the R branch. You will note that each branching is defined by what they call a "SNP". For example, R1b1b2 is defined by the SNP M73. I have been tested for other SNPs and I am positive for L21. In other words, I am in the haplogroup sub-clade R1b1b2a1b6 but I am sure you will agree that it is easier to refer to it simply as L21. It is very likely that all the "Ulster" Gastons are in this same haplogroup. L21 is thought to have originated about 3.500 years ago, plus or minus 1,000 years.
Enough of these strange codes. What does it all mean? Well, I wish I could tell you. It is believed that L21 is Celtic. (Here is a rather readable site giving some background http://britam.org/DNA/BAMAD44.html#Is
) So, does this mean that our legend is wrong and that our ancestors wore kilts? A few of us have been debating this question for the last month and we came to the firm conclusion that we can't tell. Although we may well be Celts, we could have been Bretons, the branch of Celts who boast Asterix as their hero. How does this fit in with our Jean Gaston legend? There are many possibilities but one hypothesis is that an early Irish ancestor emigrated to France many centuries ago and one of his descendants was our Jean Gaston who went to Scotland. Or, perhaps Jean Gaston came from a long line of Bretons going back to the time of L21. He or one of his descendants may have spread the Gaston DNA in Ireland and Scotland, which could explain our matches to people who wore kilts.