Just who was Thomas Spencer? - Part 2

Now I am totally confused!

In the earlier story concerning the rumours and family mythology about who Thomas Spencer really was there was a suggestion that Thomas was not actually who he said he was.

The family myth may be true!

Recently I (Ian Spencer -John descendant) undertook a y-DNA analysis. y-DNA is passed from father to son complete. Essentially the son's y-DNA is exactly the same as his father and his paternal grandfather and so on. 

For this reason y-DNA is good for tracing family names. Its also good for looking at deep ancestry back tens or even hundreds of thousands of years (But that is another story altogether).

For about 10 years there has been a Spencer y-DNA project underway. There are now about 350 men from around the world who have supplied y-DNA results to the project.

I am a direct male line descendant of Thomas, so my y-DNA should show where Thomas fitted in the greater family of Spencers.

My y-DNA results, when put into the Spencer project, did not match any of the other Spencer records. Common Spencer ancestors were no closer than 500+ years . Most of the prominent lines are thousands of years distant!

I think its fairly safe to debunk any relationship to the Bedfordshire Spencers, which as they were related to the Althorpe Spencers, means we have no claim on the Spencer Earldom!  

Our common ancestors with the Bedfordshire Spencers were litterally somewhere back in the last Ice Age. I said before y-DNA was good for determining deep ancestry. What it shows is, with the Bedfordshire mob, we are deeply unrelated!

The biggest problem with the Spencer y-DNA project is that it only has 350 participants and there is a very strong bias towards descendants of the Bedfordshire Spencers now living in USA. Basically the sample is too small and quite biased.

However when you compare my y-DNA to a sample of several hundred thousand males who have done tests from all over the world a different picture altogether appears.

There are relatives who I share a common male ancestor with within the 200 years before Thomas was born. None of their names are Spencer and all have an exclusive Irish heritage.

The biggest group of these are called Feeney, or Feeny or Finney (These are all variants of the same Irish name). There is one O'Mahony and further back several Johnsons.

So what to make of this?

  • Thomas was of Irish male descent.
  • Some time in the 200 years before Thomas' birth, a male we are related to, probably named Feeney, changed his Family name to Spencer
  • This could have been by adoption - legal or casual.
  • Spencer is also what is called a "By Name". It relates to work title like Smith or Miller. A deSpencer or later just Spencer was a work title for essentially a Butler. The keeper of the house provisions or Buttery. In this respect a Paddy Feeney working for an estate may have been given the title Spencer and kept it as his Family name.
  • Another option was a Spencer child was fathered by a Feeney without his nominal father knowing. NB: this could be as late as my Great Grandfather John. Before you Pooh Pooh this Keith Spencer - son of Adelia Spencer did not actually have the same y-DNA as his nominal brother Albert. His father was not shown on his birth certificate (and hopefully was not a Spencer).
  • Finally Thomas or one of his ancestors may have opted to change his name from Feeney to Spencer as it was a less Irish sounding name. The Irish name Feeney comes form a Gaelic "O Fiannaidhe" word meaning a warrior or mercenary. It has the same Gaelic root as Fenian (19th century term for an Irish revolutionary). Thomas may have felt a non Irish sounding name might be a safer option in notoriously anti Irish, colonial NSW.

No sensational solution to Thomas' origins but a few myths put to bed!