An Analysis of the English Origenes Report on the Tucker Surname

The stated aim of the study was to:  "demonstrate the reproducibility of an analytical research method that uses the surnames of an individual’s ‘genetic matches’ to pinpoint a time and place where a founding ancestor (e.g. the Tucker Adam’) lived".

The approach is based on two premises flowing from a client DNA report. First, that genetic matches with a primary surname can represent genetic links that came into existence prior to the development of surnames. Second that the "genetic homeland" of the surname in question can be determined by observing the geographic overlap of one or more of the matching surnames with the primary surname.
 
In the case of the Tucker report there are a number of genetic matches including: Garrision, Adkins, Hulley, Radcliff, Boyett, Moulding, Smith, Wilson and Quiring.

I am not qualified to discuss the technical aspects of Dr. Bowes DNA premises and methodology. Rather I will focus my attention on  the geographic analysis associated with the study.

A number of claims are advanced in the report:

"Tucker is unusual and distinct, being associated with a single geographical area concentrating in the far southwest of England. This may indicate a single founding ancestor for all Tucker’s"

"Garrison appears to originate in at least 2 distinct locations one of which is Devon"

"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 (Emphasis added) in County Devon"

"The Genetic Homeland of the English Tucker is to be found in Devon and Cornwall"

The suggestion that the Tucker surname is a single origin surname, and may indicate a "single founding ancestor for all Tuckers" is simply unsupported speculation on Dr. Bowes' part. In the Tucker report's cautionary notes, he states that with respect to occupational surnames "English surnames often have multiple points of origin, and hence potentially with a large number of unrelated founding ancestor’s". He then proceeds to ignore his own cautionary note and without any collaborating evidence suggests there may be a single "Adam" Tucker responsible for all Tuckers.

He is correct in the observation that the Tucker surname is found in the south of England. However the distribution of the surname is fairly ubiquitous in the southwest, stretching from Cornwall thru Devon, coastal Wales, Somerset, southern Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset. In fact the Tucker surname is a very common surname (ranked 234 in 1881)  with a frequency of 16,547. Hardly the pattern one would expect from a single progenitor.

Tucker was a common occupational surname associated with the manufacture of cloth at the time of surname formation. David Hey notes in Family Names and Family History that occupational names were distinct and were readily chosen as surnames. With respect to the Tucker surname he notes:

"A fuller in the cloth trade was known as a walker in parts of the country, especially in the north, as a tucker in  south west England, and as a bowker in parts of south east Lancashire, so we have four surnames in one".

To reinforce Hey's point the Tucker and Fullers map illustrates the dialect divide between the two surnames in southern England. 

The late Richard Mckinley, for many years the director of the Survey of English Surnames in the department of Local History at Leicester University, observed the following regarding regional surnames, with particular reference to the Tucker surname:

"It has already been remarked that some of the more common occupational surnames were present throughout the English speaking parts of Britain from an early date and were never confined to particular regions. There are, however, some surnames of the type which were found only within limited areas, and these include some names which have been, and still are quite numerous...... the surnames Tucker Walker and Fuller had at first a corresponding distribution which was still in existence in the 16th century, little changed. Subsequently population movements gradually broke up the original distribution but even at the present day traces of the original state of affairs have not entirely disappeared". - A History of British Surnames

The most serious shortcoming in the report concerns the claim of a single Devon origin for the Tucker surname. As evidence in support of the Devon origin, a series of maps of each surname are included in the report. The source of the maps is the GB Public Profiler which generates county level distribution maps based on the 1881 census. The key maps are those for the Tucker and Garrison surnames. Garrison was selected because it had the highest number of surname matches (14) with the Tucker surname. (the public profiler maps are for private personal use, if you wish to see the maps on which the studies conclusions were based they can be viewed at the Public Profiler site)

Dr. Bowes correctly observed that the only area on the Public Profiler maps where the Garrison and Tucker surnames overlapped was in Devon. Evidently it is on this basis, and the apparent assumption that Tucker is in fact a single origin surname, that Devon was selected as the Tucker homeland. Unfortunately, as is often the case, maps frequently hide more than they reveal.

The major oversight committed by Dr. Bowes was to base his conclusion on maps drawn at the county level. Given that the two surnames have dramatically different 1881 frequencies, (Tucker 16,537, Garrison 138), the scales of the two maps do not lend themselves well to meaningful visual comparison. In the case of the Garrison map, it is capable of displaying extremely low frequencies. in fact the Garrison surname only appears once in the county of Devon in the 1881 census. The need to display very high frequencies on the Tucker map results in very low frequencies not being displayed at all.
 
 

 

Click on the map to view a larger image

 

Click on the map to view a larger image

 

In fact there is considerable overlap, between the two surnames when mapped at the Registration District level, and not in the areas Dr. Bowes expects (see maps above). The Tucker surname can be found in 70% of the RD's in England and Wales. Excluding London, twenty two RD's in the following counties have clusters of both the Tucker and Garrison surnames with a sprinkling of Adkins, Hulleys and Mouldings thrown in for good measure: Wiltshire, Berkshire, Sussex, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire,The West Riding of Yorkshire and The North Riding of Yorkshire. The most striking association can be found in the general vicinity of Birmingham where there are seven contiguous Registration Districts each containing both Tuckers and Garrisons. 
 

 Dr. Bowes Is evidently unaware of the broader association of the Garrison and Tucker surnames. If he had been, he could hardly have selected Devon as the "Tucker homeland" based on the presence of a single Garrison census record, a female born in Gloucestershire. Clearly his conclusion is based on a surprisingly superficial geographic analysis. Considering the relative frequencies of the two surnames, the the chances of their spatial coincidence in Devon being a non random event (one not caused by chance) is miniscule at best.

Given Dr. Bowes' claim that he will not put his name on a report that he is not prepared to stand behind, the Tucker report does nothing to instill confidence in his research methods with respect to English surnames. Given the price of his reports, ($350 by one account), researchers should exercise extreme caution when considering the purchase of an English Origenes report.

Howard Mathieson

Works consulted:

McKinley, R.A.  A History of British Surnames. Longman London and New York, 1990 Print pp. 143

Hey, David. Family Names and Family History. Hambledon and London, 2000 Print pp.72

1881 census England and Wales. Findmypast.co.uk

1881 census England and Wales. Familysearch.org

Archer Software. The Surname Atlas

 

 




 

 

 

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