After a rather lengthy wait, my son’s long anticipated Y-67 results have come through, and they were a big surprise.
Everyone says that, I know. It’s probably true too. We think we know just what we are dealing with. I’ve examined my son’s ethnicity breakdown, and I have researched his direct paternal line quite diligently. I’ll tell the whole story.
My husband’s family is surnamed O’Keefe. When we were first married, his family’s idea of family history was knowing which cemetery your grandparents were buried in. Anyone who read my Road Trip blog posts might remember that I phoned my in-laws to ask where my husband’s grandfather was buried, and they didn’t know. That’s how much interest the O’Keefe family has in family history.
Having said that, I’m quite blown away by the interest they show in everything I discover. It’s new to them, it’s amazing and they tell all their other relatives. It just doesn’t occur to them that they could find it out for themselves, and they wouldn’t take the time but they are glad that I do. My mother in law is very good with photos and mementos of family she has met, but earlier generations are just dead and gone to her. Luckily, she is very interested in the DNA angle.
I was twenty when I married and had a patchy ten years of research under my belt. Initially I wasn’t even interested in my family in law, not till my first son came along. Then it suddenly clicked that these were his ancestors too and I started my research.
It was a slow start. My husband, my father-in-law, his estranged father who no one wanted to talk about, his father who had become the hero by taking in and raising my father in law – this much the family knew. It took us back to Percy O’Keefe born in Tasmania in 1893. I would have faltered here but I was lucky. Percy O’Keefe had married Lily Wilton, and she was a member of the Wilton family who made up half the population of their little town. The first Wilton had three wives and many children to each. Those twenty six or so children proceeded to marry and multiply, and they have a strong gene for family research. Each and every descendant knows every family member, has photos and copies of photos, keeps every postcard, every letter. Thus, our O’Keefe family didn’t know about the O’Keefes but the Wiltons sure did.
At this time, I forged a friendship with a man who was researching the same lines. Percy O’Keefe married Lily Wilton. Percy’s sister Augusta O’Keefe married Lily’s brother Alfred. Percy’s son and Augusta’s son were double cousins. Alfred and Augusta Wilton were my new friend’s great grandparents. He was my husband’s double-second cousin (does that exist?). I’ll call him Nick.
Nick had discovered that Percy’s parents were William O’Keefe and Rebecca Clarke and they also lived their whole lives in the same little Tasmanian town. William born 1861 was the son of John and Mary O’Keefe. There was another O’Keefe man in town – a shoemaker – who was no relation to ours. My family had told me this, and Nick’s family had told him this too. We debated asking him if he knew anything but the elderly Mr O’Keefe passed away before we could.
Twenty years ago, records were not as available as they are now. Through visits to the archives, to the local cemeteries and to the library we deduced that John O’Keefe born 1834 was a shoemaker and that his wife was Mary Ann Johnson. Unlike his son William, John had shifted between the small town and the nearby city of Hobart. After Mary Ann died, he married her sister Susan, when they were both quite elderly.
We have only found three children for John and Mary Ann, which seems unusual for that time period. Records were sketchy in early inland Tasmania and it took the best part of twenty years to find those three. All boys, called James, William and Henry. William’s brother Henry, it turned out, was the father of the elderly Mr O’Keefe the shoemaker. That man was Percy’s first cousin. The relationship was that close and the family did not know of it.
After a while, we had John’s life mapped out as much as possible. We never did find a marriage record and don’t know if the union was formalized. His death record states a birthplace of England , which surprised us as he was surnamed O’Keefe. He had a shoemaking shop for much of his adult life, and from his son’s birth certificate we know that John had a brother called Henry. John O’Keefe and Henry O’Keefe can be found in many records. Henry married in Hobart and had five children there before moving to Sydney where he had several more children. John stayed in Tasmania.
After two years of researching, Nick wrote me a letter in which he said ‘We may never know who John O’Keefe’s father was’.
It’s the sort of statement that galvanizes me into action. At this point, I was ready to move on to other lines, but I just wasn’t having that.
I honestly don’t remember what the vital record was now, but I found him. John O’Keefe born 1834 in England was the son of Patrick O’Keefe and Jane Kelly. Patrick was a soldier in the 99th Regiment and came from Ireland. John’s English birth was entirely a matter of the posting of the regiment for a two year stint in Hampshire. From there we made great headway and pieced together a very interesting life.
Patrick O’Keefe was born in Kilmacduane, Clare, Ireland in 1811. I have found no baptism. He was Roman Catholic and could not read or write. He had brown hair and blue eyes. In the 1826 Tithe Applotment Books for his townland there are only three O’Keefe households, headed by John, Arthur and Hugh. One of those three might be Patrick’s father and I’d wager it’s not Hugh.
Patrick was nineteen when he joined the military and was stationed first in Ennis where based on pregnancy dates he met and married his wife Jane Kelly. The company was posted to Dublin and was then moved across to Hampshire where our John was born. Two years later in the midst of another reposting, William was born in Gosport.
Patrick and Jane spent two years in Dorset before the regiment was sent back to Ireland. Their third child, Edward, was born in Athlone. Then the Regiment headed for Gravesend for apportioning onto ships, guarding convicts to Australia. George must have been born at this time. They arrived in Tasmania in 1845 and after several months were sent to Queensland. Their fifth son Henry was born at sea on the way. Next came Thomas, born in Sydney, and the youngest two were Arthur and James both born back in Hobart. James died of measles as a toddler.
All of this being before Federation, it was a complicated family to put together. It has required research in every single state of Australia. As adults, Edward settled in Queensland, Henry in New South Wales, George and Thomas in Victoria, Arthur in South Australia with one of his sons settling in Western Australia, and our John in Tasmania. Adding in the children’s births in two counties of England, plus one in Ireland, I am still quite astounded by our success. No one could have done this alone. Nick, myself, a lady who descends from Edward and a man who descends from Henry were eventually able to collaborate and bring the family to life. We are all very proud. There’s more to be done, but we have come a long way. We don’t know what happened to William in his later years and suspect he might have spent some time in New Zealand.
Now to the DNA test. The results were there when I woke this morning. Being a member of the O’Keeffe Project I knew what to expect. It’s a sea of R-haplogroups which is very Irish apparently.
My son is not R at all. He is an ‘I’ haplogroup and not a common type at all. His haplogroup has the greatest concentration in Germany and is believed to be very old, found among the Visigoths but believed to come from a Saxon or Vandal tribe.
More than that – there isn’t a single O’Keefe among his matches, at any marker level.
At a genetic distance of one, matching 66 out of 67 markers, he matches the surname Creed from England. At a genetic distance of six at 67 markers he matches Calder. At various genetic distances at 37 markers, he matches Reddy and Vowell and at greater distance another Creed from the same county of England.
So what does it mean? None of the matches are also family finder matches so they are not close. Could the surname O’Keefe and Creed have evolved from the same origin? It is surely possible, but what of Calder, Reddy and Vowell? The surname exists in Ireland in its own right but at least two Irish Creeds have also tested and have a different haplogroup again.
And I thought this part would be simple! But I have to admit, it’s impressive how much we can learn about a lineage from one cheek scrape. Never a dull moment with DNA testing.