Mitochondrial prospects

My mother’s great-grandmother Mary Bethiah Paine (1848–1933).

With the new start of a new year (and decade), I always make genealogical resolutions. Often these renewed exercises in persistence focus on long-standing unsolved puzzles. At the top of my list, my mother’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Jane Durin. Inspired by several articles in Nexus almost twenty years ago that outlined various contributors’ matrilineal ascents, I worked out my own matrilineal line that hit the brick wall with Jane’s marriage in 1667. My documentation for each successive generation looked reliable, especially since most of the marriages were recorded in town vital or church records:

  1. Jane Durin married in Salem, Massachusetts 1 October 1667, John Elwell (Salem VRs)
  2. Rachel Elwell married in Gloucester, Mass. 19 March 1694/95, Joseph Haskell (Gloucester VRs)
  3. Rachel Haskell married in Gloucester 31 December 1716, Jeremiah Riggs (Gloucester VRs)
  4. Rachel Riggs married in Falmouth, Maine (intention dated 14 June 1735), Thomas Pennell (Falmouth VRs)
  5. Lucy Pennell married in Portland, Maine (intention dated 5 November 1761), William Cotton (Falmouth VRs)
  6. Sarah Cotton married in Harpswell, Maine 13 April 1788, Seth Phinney Jr. (Harpswell VRs)
  7. Bethiah Phinney married in Bowdoin, Maine 15 September 1817, Silas Curtis Hall (Joseph B. Hall, Hatevil Hall and Descendants)
  8. Louvica C. Hall married in New Shoreham, Rhode Island 5 January 1847, Reuben Welch Paine (Original family register)
  9. Mary Bethiah Paine married in Fairhaven, Mass. 8 September 1879, Mariano Sylvia (Fairhaven town record)
  10. Marian Adeliza Sylvia married in Marion, Mass. 13 July 1904, John William Rhodes (Marion town record)
  11. Lois Irene Rhodes married in Rutherford, New Jersey 11 May 1931, Emory Maurice Morse (Rutherford town record)
  12. Marilyn Morse married in Maywood, New Jersey 13 July 1957, Francis Michael Dwyer (Maywood town record)
Mary Bethiah Paine’s mother, also a matrilineal ancestress, Lovicy C. (Hall) Paine (1821–1878).

Who was Jane Durin, wife of John2 Elwell (Robert1)? Though much has been written and published on the Elwell family, no one has yet discovered Jane’s identity. Based on the Durin surname and location in Salem and Gloucester, Massachusetts, I speculate that Jane may be a sister of Susanna Durin who married John Best, also in Salem, on 10 October 1670. Perhaps Moses Durin/Durell, a servant of Robert Elwell, and a soldier of King Philip’s War, belonged to this family. Without finding Durin antecedents in Massachusetts, I continue to explore the possibility that the Durins came from the Channel Islands.

Accessing mt DNA testing through FamilyTreeDNA, I hoped this tool might supply some answers in identifying other matrilineal descendants of Jane Durin, or at least generate fruitful possibilities for further research. That did not happen. Mom’s line had 84 matches in this database (Haplogroup H5k), only two with a genetic distance of zero. Both of those matches derived from women in Norway whose lineage charts ended in the late eighteenth century. Of the remaining matches, none had lines extending to ancestors in colonial New England.

Once I adjusted to the disappointment of no Eureka! moment, it left me to ponder several explanations:

  • Jane Durin’s remote ancestor could also have been the mitochondrial ancestor of the two women in Norway with no genetic distance.
  • The database at this time may simply reflect that none of Jane Durin’s other mitochondrial descendants have paid for this level of testing.
  • My paper trail could be wrong, and if so, where did the break occur at what I thought was the correct parentage?

Autosomal test results from other companies suggest that the six generations preceding my mother are correct. Certainly, Bethiah Phinney Hall connects to me through the DNA of three of her children. Bethiah’s mother Sarah Cotton had a sister, Comfort Cotton (not a fabric!), whose descendant matches my mother’s DNA with 15 cMs in one segment.

As with all DNA databases, I await the exciting prospect of notification of a new close genetic match in my mother’s mt DNA line. In the meantime, though, I resolve to collect and assess evidence that may or may not prove Jane, Sarah, and Moses Durin were siblings—my first resolution of 2021.

Michael Dwyer

About Michael Dwyer

Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he edits Vermont Genealogy. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, The American Genealogist, The Maine Genealogist, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. The Vermont Department of Education's 2004 Teacher of the Year, Michael retired in June 2018 after 35 years of teaching subjects he loves—English and history.

13 thoughts on “Mitochondrial prospects

  1. What a great project! I have also hit a brick wall on my matrilineal research. It very frustrating, I know. I wish you good luck.

  2. I’m sure that you have thought of this, but I have a Lydia Duren in Billerica who father and 3 more generations preceding spelled the name as Durrant. Perhaps a change in spelling is something to pin a hope on?

  3. Thanks, Chris, and I appreciate the link to that article, read again with renewed interest. “Best” next step is do just that and begin working on John and Susanna’s matrilineal descendants.

  4. Michael,
    Having enjoyed your articles, this is somewhat related to past comment. In my lineage research, to one of your posts, first name Jane is rare. Bethiahis rare, though more frequent than Jane, in my lineage. In researching Jane/Jean Rogers, marrying Thomas Oldham, it’s written mostly as Jane, yet Jean appears. Her daughter Jane Oldham, has appeared as Dorothy Jane Oldham, who married Seth Hall, son of Timmothy Hall, first wife listed as unknown or Bethiah Truent, second wife Sarah Silvester. Oliver Winslow, descendant of Kenelm, brother to Edward, married second, Bethiah Prior. His first wife being Agatha Bryant. The Anc. of Joseph Neal is very helpful though some errors exist.

    1. Catherine, thank you for your comments. I will check out the Ancestry of Joseph Neal. If Jane was from the Channel Islands, her name likely would have been spelled Jeanne.

  5. I’m curious about the number of Scandinavian matches. I have something like 35 0-distance matches, and a very large majority are from Scandinavia and like your matches the earliest known ancestors were centuries back. Does anybody know if more Scandinavians do mtDNA testing than elsewhere? Has anybody else seen a disproportionate number of Scandinavian responses in their match lists?

    P.S., don’t give up hope! I had the same concerns about my matrilineal line as you do. And have finally found a common matrilineal ancestor (Esther Ruth, b. 1585) from the 1-distance matches. Still have proof to do, but it’s a good feeling to have found something!

    1. These matches certainly deepen my curiosity about our remote ancestry. One of my mother’s zero matches wants to learn more as I do about that region of Norway. There is also a tremendous variation among the testing companies as to ethnic background. What a boon to my research to have my mother’s DNA analyzed as way point of separation from my father’s most Irish and Scandinavian DNA. Since last week I have had about a dozen notices “We have found a new match, etc.” No pot of gold yet.
      Your original question should elicit more responses!

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