© J.H.Mathieson
Pseudoscience begins with a hypothesis—usually one which is appealing emotionally, and spectacularly implausible—and then looks only for items which appear to support it. Rory Coker, Ph.D. Quackwatch  Origenes is a commercial enterprise which markets case studies under the names "Irish Origenes", "English Origenes" and "Scottish Origenes". Amazingly it claims it can locate the "Genetic Homeland" of your ancestors  where they first took their surname 1000 years ago with a simple cheek swab. It should be noted from the outset that the DNA science behind claim has been called into question by numerous DNA scientists and researchers. Case study deficiencies: Built into the methodology employed in the studies are two additional elements that can cause the results to be inaccurate and frequently completely erroneous. · the reliance on farmers as an identifier for the test subjects "genetic homeland". · rudimentary mapping techniques used to identify the "genetic homeland" The case studies are based on the assumption that the distribution of farmers extracted from the census can be used to identify a genetic homeland. This presumes that your genetic ancestors continue to farm the same land for 1000 years, approximately 30 generations. To my knowledge the claim of farmer persistence has never been demonstrated by Origenes, nor has the claim ever been scientifically validated. The foundation of the idea is based on the pioneering work of H.P. Guppy  who did not draw the type of inferences made in the Origenes studies. No accredited genealogist, historian or demographer would endorse this premise. The article Can the Distribution of 19th Century Farmers Be Used To Identify a Surname's Genetic Homeland? addresses the likelihood of surnames persisting on the same land for 1000 years or more. In addition to questionable DNA analysis, and the problematic use of farmers, the case study conclusions are presented with manually generated Google Earth maps on which pins are placed to represent the distribution of farmers, and by inference, the surname's distribution. However the Origenes studies ignore the more complex realities of surname distributions. To truly understand the nature and intricacies of a surname's distribution and the surnames possible origin, one must study the distribution in it's entirety. This can be an extremely time consuming and labour intensive process which involves specialized knowledge and software, neither of which are evident in Origenes studies. The studies also avoid using historical records (other than the census) believing that the DNA methodology stands on its own. The author has often trumpeted the phrase "DNA doesn't lie" to which it might simply be said; "yes but it doesn't always tell the whole truth". The following four summaries of more detailed reviews point out the typical shortcomings of Origenes studies. The reviews are drawn from English, Irish and Scottish case studies to provide representative samples.  (each case study can be viewed in it's entirety by following the blue links) The English Tucker Case Study The first case study concerns the Tucker surname in England. The claim made in the study was that: The Surname distribution of Tucker and Garrison show an association with Devon. The surname Tucker and some Garrison’s share close ancestry based on the high numbers of individuals that occur as genetic matches. Both of these surnames overlap only in Cornwall and Devon. The Genetic Homeland of the English Tucker is to be found in Devon and Cornwall A thorough examination of the 1881 census would show that the Garrison association in Devon and Cornwall referenced above, was with a single Garrison individual, in this case a young girl residing at the time with relatives in Devon. Her birth place was actually in Gloucestershire and of course females do not carry the Y chromosome referenced in Origenes studies. The conclusion of the study is absurd, but demonstrates the superficiality of the Origenes methodology. Tucker is a common occupational surname with scores of independent origins. Had English Origenes been capable of undertaking a detailed map study or taken the time to check the actual census records, the matching surnames would have all be shown to localize in the industrial region of Birmingham, not in Devon or Cornwall. Additionally It is highly likely the surname matches represent non paternity events, not relationships that occurred more than 1000 years ago. The Irish Kiely Case Study The foundation of the Origenes method is to identify areas where related surnames overlap. But what if the surnames can't be shown to overlap? This was the conundrum faced by Origenes in the Kiely study. Most of the matching names appeared to be English or Scottish, not Irish. Farmers of 4 of the 40 matching surnames could be show to concentrate in the vicinity of Royal Leamington Spa in the Midlands of England. However there were no Kielys to be found in or near the cluster of matching surnames. The author explains this problem away with a version of the old adage that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence": It may well be that the Kiely surname did arise in England near Royal Leamington Spa but that all of the Kiely’s departed for Ireland with the Normans and settled in the southwest". The author should have been aware, that despite not being "Irish surnames", 34 of the 40 matching surnames in the DNA test results, including the four used in the study, could be found in Ireland, and 26 of those in northern Ireland. More noteworthy was the fact that two of the matching surnames, Lantz and Rickinbacker, were obviously German. In the 18th century the Scots Irish and Germans followed the same migration paths as they emigrated and settled in America. The terminus of the Great Wagon Road, central to this migration, was South Carolina. The first census of the United States was taken in 1790.  Had this census been consulted the author would have found the Kaely and Rickinbacker surname in Orangeburg county South Carolina. Additionally 10 of the rarer matching surnames could also be identified in South Carolina. The matching surnames may have arrived in South Carolina as a result of the early 18th century Scots Irish migration to America . The Kielys found in the south of Ireland may also have emigrated to South Carolina much earlier, possibly during the Cromwellian expulsions of the 17th century.  The Chaney Case study The Chaney case study demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the structure, complexity and history of English surnames. In the case study there were a number of related variants that had to be considered. Chaney was clearly a minor variant of Cheney. It had a distinct distribution which was spatially isolated from the major Cheney distribution. Again because of the inability to map at a high resolution, and the use of a small subsets of data, the author was unaware of this surname complexity. The study mistakenly presumed the two surnames were not variants but simply one and the same. Supporting this speculation is the fact that place name evidence in Northamptonshire where the genetic homeland was  presumed to be, and which clearly referenced the Cheney name, was assumed to refer to the Chaney surname which was absent from the area. The case crumbles when the distribution of the Chaney and key matching surnames, Cady and Hatcher, are mapped together. Rather than Northamptonshire where none of the matching surnames could be found, and where Origenes claimed the homeland could be identified, they were found to cluster on the coastal border of Norfolk snd Suffolk. The Scottish McMillan case study The Scottish McMillan study amplifies many of the shortcomings  evident in the previous studies. In this instance matching surnames are cherry picked from a long Ysearch list. Four of the thirty two matching surnames were known to be at least partially localized in the borders of Scotland and on this basis the border region was identified as the surname homeland. However a much stronger case could be made for northern Ayrshire where 22 of the 32 surnames from the Ysearch list could also be be found. Again reliance on the limited farmer evidence lead the study to conclude that the coincidence of two Chesney farmers with three McMillan farmers was sufficient evidence to conclude Mr. McMillan's ancestors had resided in the area for 1000 or more years. Truly remarkable. If genealogy was only that easy. Again had the entire distribution of surnames been mapped at the parish level two critical observations would have become clear. With the exception of the two Cheney farmers none of the other matching farmers  used in the study are found in the genetic homeland as inferred in the study. A detailed spatial analysis of the surname distributions would have pointed to the single parish of Kilmarnock in Ayrshire where the case study's matching surnames and rare surnames from the actual test results were found to localize. General observations The reviews have lead me to conclude that the fundamental inadequacies inherent in the reports are such that the chances of getting it "right" are a risk not worth taking. The price of joining the Origenes club, is listed at $200, which includes a series of wall maps. If you think the maps are worth the price of admission to the "club", by all means join, but don't expect the advise will actually solve those nagging brick walls.
Origenes Case Studies Reviews