More recently the following article appeared in the December 2022 Historian


by Tony Quinn.

When the Brooking Society completed its DNA research more than decade ago, we were at the cutting edge of this fascinating new area of research.  We had definitely proven that the American Branch X and Y Brookings were indeed part of the Devon Brooking family, and we had shown some relationships between the different branches.  This plus the extensive paper trail we have gave us a good sense of the early history of this family.

But in the past decade, DNA research has become more sophisticated and has allowed researchers to delve much more deeply into family histories.

Let me try to explain what we are looking at and what we have found. DNA is both extremely simple and terribly complicated.  It consists of just four chemical molecules, each of which is given a letter name: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T).   They repeat themselves in long strands within our body’s cells.  The problem is that there are a lot of them: each of us has about 100 trillion cells in our bodies, and each cell has two billion strands of DNA that wrap around themselves in a process scientists call the “double helix”.

Simply put, the DNA tells the cell what to do.  We have only one nose and two eyes rather than two noses and one eye because the DNA has told our cells that’s what to produce.  When a baby is born it gets half its DNA from its mother and half from its father, and that single cell of DNA with which we all started carries all the genetic markers that shape our lives, which is why certain diseases and human characteristics are known to be genetically based, they are passed on through the DNA of our families.

The research undertaken by the Brooking Society only dealt with a tiny bit of DNA, and only on the male side.  Mothers and fathers pass on different segments of DNA.  Our bodies have 23 sets of chromosomes, and among them are the sex chromosomes; women have two X chromosomes; men an X and a Y chromosome.  The mother will pass onto her child an X chromosome, the father and X or a Y.  If the father gives the baby a Y chromosome, it will be a boy, since only males have the Y chromosome.

The DNA within the chromosomes consists of repetitions of these four DNA chemicals, in what are called “short tandem repeats,” or STRs.  There is a segment of the Y chromosome called “junk DNA” that does not do anything.  However the STRs in that bit of DNA will change over time, and these changes are called “mutations.”  The STRs are called “markers” since the number of repetitions of the DNA chemicals can be measured.

It is known that the markers within this part of the Y chromosome mutate over time; that is the number of repetitions change.  Scientists can determine how often these markers mutate.  Put another way, two brothers are very likely to have exactly the same marker repetitions because markers do not mutate every generation.  But fifth cousins are likely to have some mutations in their markers just because there are seven generations from their common male ancestor.

Relating to Brookings.

When the Brooking Society started its DNA project in 2002 we tested ten markers in the Y chromosome of seven men with the Brooking last name for whom we knew their branches.  The results showed that several of the men were likely closely related.  The following year we switched to a company in Houston, Texas, called Family Tree DNA which has the largest database of Y chromosome tests.  Here we tested 25 markers.

Among the six testees that year were three American Brookings that we know descend from the Society’s X and Y Branches.  The paper trail suggested that the three Americans were all descendants of William Brooking, the immigrant ancestor who died in Gloucester County, Virginia, in 1703, and from his two sons Robert and William, Junior.  It was assumed that the two Brooking families in Virginia were related, but because of the loss of records during the American Civil War we did not know how.

Well, the results were exactly what we had hoped for; the test showed conclusively that they were the same family.  And it also showed that the American Brookings were related to the Brooking families in Devon, something we could never prove with the paper record.

One problem is that at 25 markers we found connections with a large number of males with other last names who perhaps had a common ancestors with the Brookings but maybe a thousand or more years ago.  But over the next few years we expanded the testing to 37 and then to 67 markers.

With more markers, of course, you get more precision in the relationships, and at 67 markers, only men with the Brooking last name matched each other.  So we had found the unique Brooking male DNA, which did not match any of the other million or so males in the Family Tree DNA database.

But even at 67 markers, we were unable to determine the beginnings of the various branches.  There was reason to believe that Branches B in Totnes and UDC in Plymouth had a common ancestor, and the paper trail also strongly suggested that this was the case.  Branches G, N X and Y seemed possibly to have a common origin, but that could not be proven conclusively.  Fortunately, the testee for Branch N, James Brooking of South Dakota, gave us results that allowed Branch N to become the standard against which the other branches could be compared.

We also have the strong presence of Brookings in Devon from Medieval times.  Helpfully, King Henry VIII ordered a “lay subsidy tax roll” be taken in the year 1524, sort of a census, and the results for Devon have survived.  There were 15 separate Brooking families in the tax roll, seven of them in the Plymouth-Plympton-Cornwood areas, two in Yealmpton and one in Ugborough.  The other five Brooking families seem to have died out in the male line.

The early days.

But where did these folks come from.  In the early 1300s, a similar roll was taken and there were no Brookings in Devon.  However, in 1388 an archer by the name of Richard Brokyng sailed with the Earl of Devon, one Edward de Courtenay, on a naval mission in the midst of the Hundred Years War with France.  It seems that the Earl had gathered his men from the east of England, and it is known that he returned to his family’s baronial seat in Devon, where the Courtenay’s were the richest family, after this mission.  So could Richard have sailed to Devon with Edward Courtenay?  It is certainly possible but far from proven.  A hint comes through an entry in the British National Archives that mention “lands in Kingsbridge that were the grant of Richard Brokyng of Plympton Earl”.  Plympton Earl was the seat of the earl of Devon.

Whether it is Richard or someone else, it does seem that a “Brokying” arrived in Devon sometime in the 1300s and that by 1524 there were at least 15 men with that last name in the county, and certainly the family did expand quickly in Devon.  At the time of the Devon Muster Roll in 1569, ordered out of fears of a pending Spanish invasion (which did indeed take place nineteen years later), there were sixteen men of military age named Brokying or name variants.  By the time of the Protestation Oath of 1641 (ordered to make sure all families belonged to the Protestant faith) there were 60 adult male Brookings in Devon and Cornwall.

But within only a few years of the 1641 oath these Brookings began to move about England, and by the late 1600s there were significant Brooking settlements in London.  A diaspora of this family from Devon was clearly underway and by 1677 a William Brooking was living in the Virginia colony while a John and a Henry Brooking were found in the New England colonies.

But what about the family before Devon?  Here we have a surprising amount of knowledge, thanks in large part to research done by Rosemary Sjolin.  Helpfully, the Medieval Calendar of Patent Rolls has survived.  These were simply letters and communications from and to the monarch and the government so they would know what was going on in his realm.  And in 1287, a commission was granted in Great Yarmouth to deliver to gaol one John Broking for larceny, and note made that said Broking had surrendered to the authorities.

The year 1287 was in the reign of King Edward I, the famous “Longshanks” (he was a tall guy), also known as the Hammer of the Scots for his numerous wars north of the English border.  It is probable that the bureaucrats in Great Yarmouth wanted to be on the good side of royal favour, and saw an advantage in informing London of their upholding the law.  So we can be very grateful to the larcenist Mr Broking, because it seems that this is the first time that the Broking name appears in official documents.

Over the next two centuries there are a number of Brokings and name variants that appear in the records of Great Yarmouth and its neighbouring villages.  Great Yarmouth is on the English coast in the county of Norfolk in East Anglia, the most easterly part of England, near where the English Channel and the North Sea meet.

Also in Norfolk are the villages of Waxham and Somerton.  In the Lay Subsidy of 1327 through 1332 for these villages a Matilda Broking, a Mich Broking and a Michael Broking are found.

Part of this family may have migrated south from East Anglia.  In the county of Sussex, in the south of England, several men named Brokyng are found into the 1500s.  But then the name seems to disappear from both Sussex and East Anglia.  It appears the name simply died out in the male line in the east and south by the 1500s, but then the name shows up and expands in Devon, far to the west.  So it has been a working hypothesis, at least, that the name begins in East Anglia and then somehow migrates to Devon.

The Brooking DNA quickly determined that this is an Anglo Saxon family.  That is because our Brooking testees are part of Haplogroup RM-269.  A Haplogroup is a genetic population, or a group of people who share the same common ancestor on either the male or female line.  But that Brooking common ancestor may have been thousands of years ago, and the DNA of that common ancestor has come down through the centuries in such a way that it can be measured by its mutations.

Haplogroup RM-269 is the most common Haplogroup in Western Europe.  It may well have come into Europe with Celtic populations who are generally considered to be the earliest Europeans of which we have decent knowledge.  It is certainly the most common Haplogroup in the people we call Anglo Saxons.

The Anglo Saxons invaded England from what is now Denmark and Germany’s Lower Saxony between 400 and 650 AD.  They seem to have landed first in the east and then spread throughout middle and southern England.  Given that Great Yarmouth and Norfolk are known to have been early Anglo Saxon settlements, there is no surprise that the Brookings would be Anglo Saxon.

Recent scholarship has given us a greater understanding of these early Anglo Saxons.  In 2016, the journal Nature Communications published a study by several archaeologists and biological scientists that showed Anglo Saxon migrations into Eastern England using the DNA structure of skeletal remains from three archaeological sites in East England.  The scientists were able to determine that 38 percent of the people living in East Anglia today are of Anglo Saxon origin, and that 25 to 40 percent of all the people living in Britain today are of Anglo Saxon origin.  It is also known that the origin of the Anglo Saxons who migrated to East Angelia was not the Saxon part of Germany but rather the “Angle” area that is in today’s Northern Germany and Denmark.

Conclusions and questions.

So we can conclude that probably the Brookings originated in the area now known as Schleswig-Holstein that is divided between Germany and Denmark.  There is every reason to believe that the first males of the Brooking line came to the area around Great Yarmouth from this area; that they probably came with the Anglo Saxon invasions of Eastern England and simply stayed there from say 400-650 AD until the 1300s.

That is what history, science and the paper trail tells us.  But would we learn more from additional DNA research?

Since we concluded the Brooking DNA project a decade ago, the science had made further gains.  We tested men at 67 markers; Family Tree DNA, the company we used, now offer a “Big Y” DNA test that looks at 700 markers.  This test looks much farther back in the genetic history of its testees with much more detailed analyses of what are called “single nucleotide polymorphisms”, called “SNPs”, and pronounced “snips”.

What are these things; well it is not easy to explain.  Simply put, they are a common type of genetic variation between people.  The building blocks or our DNA are called “nucleotides”; about every thousand or so of these nucleotides there is a switch in the DNA chemicals.  That is a SNP.  We have lots of them in our bodies.  

Here’s what’s important.  These SNPs are passed on from father to son over thousands of years.  So if you want to figure out whether two males had a common ancestor say in the year 1000, you look for common SNPs.

Enough of the science.  Here is what these SNPs mean in practical terms, in an example taken form my own family.  My father was Irish and English, my mother Italian Swiss.  The Italian Swiss are the southernmost part of Switzerland, formerly part of Italy.  It is a very obscure area in the Alpine foothills but one where the people have not changed much over the past couple thousand years.

About 600 BC the area was settled by a Celtic tribe known as the LePointi.  Shortly thereafter the area became part of the Roman Empire, and apparently some of the LePointi men accompanied the Roman armies to Gaul (modern day France) and in their conquest of Britain.

I thought nothing particularly about all this when I asked my cousin do a Y Chromosome test so I could see if he matched other Italian Swiss on the male line.  He did match one, but quite far back.

Then earlier this year I received a communication from a banker in Frankfurt, Germany, who is into the new deep DNA research, and he had discovered reason to believe that his Celtic ancestry that was found in England actually originated with the LePointi in Italian Switzerland.

So he did the “Big Y’ test with Family Tree DNA on several Italian Swiss testees that I had managed, and he found indeed that my line could be tied to another Italian Swiss line about 1,000 years ago, and that we all shared very ancient LePontic DNA ancestry.

The Big Y test looks at 700 Y chromosome markers – remember our Brooking DNA test looked at only 67 markers.  It also looks at SNPs as well as the STR DNA markers.  There is a lot of archaeological work going on in Britain, especially after the success with the 10,000 year old Cheddar Man.  It is possible that a deep DNA test of our Brooking testees could show SNPs in common with early Celtic people in East Anglia, thus telling us more about the Brooking beginnings.

There is also the 111 marker Y Chromosome test, the follow-up to the 67 marker test.  This test allows more matching of males beyond the ten generations or so that we have now.  In my own case, two 111 marker tests on men from my grandfather’s village shows they had a common ancestor at about 600 years ago, although they have different last names and nothing in the paper trail suggested they were related.  Six hundred years ago was well before common last names in the Italian world.

Despite our great success with the Brooking DNA, we have never been able to determine just where each of the branches began in the period before good church records.  For the Americans, we still do not know which Brooking branch in Devon gave us the elusive William Brooking who sailed to Virginia, or even if he was from Devon at all.

There is a shadowy genealogical period between 10 and 20 generations in most families where the church records run out but you have some anecdotal evidence.  In our case that would be generally before 1600 when Brookings first appear in Church of England records, and after the 1300s when we know some Brookings were living in Devon but we do not know the relationships.  Big Y DNA looking at SNPs as well as additional STRs might unlock some of these mysteries.

There is no guarantee additional DNA testing would tell us anything, and a good possibility it will be a bust.  But maybe not, maybe there is a mysterious SNP floating around in the Brooking DNA that would tie unknown people together, just waiting all these centuries to be discovered.

And if there is, we will never know unless we test and find out.


This article written by Mary Logan about the Brooking Genetic Programme and and the use of DNA analysis as a tool.

This complex science is led by our DNA expert Dr. Ian Logan.

The Brooking Society considers itself amongst the leading groups in the use of DNA for Genealogy study.  Ian Logan is our principal scientist for the society and has commissioned several Brooking studies over the years. As with all good scientific research all of our results and analysis are freely available on this site. Not everyone understands the analysis the same way Ian does so Mary Logan has written the following notes to advise readers of the success and relevance of analysis programme for the society.

To put it very basically, DNA is found in every one of the cells in our body.  Some small parts of the DNA have been identified as being helpful in genealogy.  These are called ‘markers’ and are found on the Y (male) chromosome.  A random change occurs over time in each marker, and this is what we call a mutation.  In Family History Research we are looking at Brooking males’ DNA for similarity and differences in markers.  When the police look at DNA as evidence of a crime, they are comparing DNA linked to the crime, with DNA taken from a particular person.  We are comparing the DNA of different people.

For example we tested two men from Branch N who have almost identical DNA.  One lives in Devon and the other in Hawaii, but clearly they have a common ancestor, with slight random changes over the past 200 years.  But their DNA has no similarity at all with members in Branches I and S.

As these markers are passed down through the male line only, the use of DNA is only relevant to some Brookings.  It cannot be used for Branches that we know are descended from an illegitimate line.

But what it does  show us is how two people are linked by a common ancestor, and how two people with the name Brooking, appear not to be related at all.  Does this mean that we have several “family trees”, from different ancestors, all named Brooking, but not related at all?  It certainly does not mean that some people are less of a Brooking than others.

The first tests we did looked at 12 markers, and now the science has moved on, so we are able to analyse more markers and therefore more mutations.  Thus we have found that Branches B, J, X, Y, G and N are very closely linked, but Branches I, S, and SR appear not to have common ancestors.

This is fascinating, and of interest to the Society, but of course we are continuing to research through the traditional methods of records and census returns.

When the Brooking Society completed its DNA research more than decade ago, we were at the cutting edge of this fascinating new area of research.  The first of these  two fascinating papers describes our research up to 2009 by Dr. Ian Logan.   

The second follow-on paper (Tony Quinn) discusses the advancements made in the use of the DNA analysis for genealogy and the variety of more sophisticated analysis types now widely available that is allowing researchers to delve much more deeply into family histories.

Copyright Brooking Society 2021

19 July 2024