Project Success Stories

A DNA Testing Success Story

I joined the Phillips DNA Project at the request of James Phillips, who believed that the lineage I had traced for myself might help him find out more about his. James, as it turned out, had correctly guessed we might share common ancestors. And we do. James and I and four others are represented in Group 20. This, alone, might be reason enough to participate in the project, collecting cousins who may not know their detailed lineage, but suspect they are in a group of relatives from a common geographical area, and then sharing genealogical information about their common ancestors.

However, I also wanted to solve an old genealogical puzzle. Based on my own genealogical research, I was convinced that I traced back to Rev. George Phillips of Watertown, Massachusetts. After all, genealogists and historians for over 150 years have claimed lineage links from the original colonists of Massachusetts, who came with the Winthrop fleet seeking a better life in the New World, to the Newtown, Long Island, and old Hunterdon County, now Mercer County, New Jersey, Phillips families. As these printed references claimed, Theophilus, Joseph, Daniel, and their sister who married Henry Mayle, who lived at and helped found the town of Newtown, Long Island, descended from Zerobabel Phillips of Southampton, Long Island, Rev. George Phillips and his second wife, Elizabeth's first son. After all, if it was printed in a book, let alone many books, how could this claim be wrong? Well, there were "hints" over the years that this might not be correct and always ended in too many "unknowns."

In conjunction with another well known Phillips researcher, I set out to learn everything I could about Zerobabel and his alleged children. In the process, I uncovered many source documents that other well known genealogists apparently never looked at or ignored. An example was Zerobabel's inventory of his estate on 9 October 1687 at Southampton, Suffolk County, New York, after his death, and the administration of his estate by his wife Martha Topping Herrick Phillips, with whom Zerobabel had a pre-nuptial agreement. This agreement stated that should he die first, she would get everything. It was she who brought both her pre-nuptial agreement and Zerobabel's inventory into court and claimed administration over his estate! Wow! No-one else had ever cited this before and no-one had ever cited a death date confirmed by source documentation! And there were bunches more historical documents and information about him, his life, his occupations, and his two documented wives that others never included in their writings about him. Fascinating!

But there was not one word about any children Zerobabel may have sired by any of his wives! That his mother in her will would not leave any part of her estate to Zerobabel unless he had lawful heirs only confused the issue, no pun intended. Elizabeth Phillips' will, as written when you look at the original, not the abstract, simply doesn't help one decide whether Zerobabel had children or not, yet is cited as "proof" that he didn't.

So here were both sides of the puzzle that we had been given. One set of genealogists said Zerobabel didn't have any children and another set claimed that, based on proximity and naming patterns, and since all of Rev. George's other children's genealogy were known, then who else could be the father of the Newtown Phillips if not Zerobabel? Finally, DNA testing here in the 21st century can now confirm or deny whether, at least, the Newtown Phillips descend from Rev. George Phillips. If the DNA tests prove a link, then it's possible Zerobabel was in the chain. Before I answer this big question, what was it going to take to prove the case one way or the other?

What we in Group 20 needed were documented ancestors of Rev. George Phillips to be tested. This requires one to do the genealogy first as this is the only way that a DNA test can prove anything! The donors have to be validated in some manner as being descendants of a common, or not, ancestor. "Ya' gotta do the genealogy!" As of the end of 2007, there were no known descendants of Rev. George in the Phillips DNA project. That was about to change!

Nancy Kiser, the Phillips DNA Project assistant coordinator, located an individual in the Sorenson Molecular DNA database who claimed descent from Rev. George. We both knew that one test would not be sufficient, but I undertook to verify this individual's pedigree and it seemed to play out ok. So I then worked it forward and figured out exactly who the individual was and shared that with Nancy. To our amazement, the individual had also submitted the information to our project under kit number N1888 and was represented in it as a single entry not associated with any group. That the results didn't match our Group 20 results was the first hint that we might finally have the answer to our puzzle. I won't go into the details of how Nancy and I did all this but shall we say it took a retired computer programmer and a former land resources royalty researcher to piece it all together!

Then in late 2007, Nancy let me know that another individual had joined our project, claimed descent from Rev. George, had ordered a test kit, and that in early February, 2008, we should have the results. And when the results finally did come in, they matched those of kit N1888 and so Nancy set up a new group, Group 30, consisting of two matches, and both claimed descent from Rev. George Phillips of Watertown, Massachusetts.

So, as far as I'm concerned, this is a tremendous success story for the Phillips DNA Project. DNA testing has put to rest this one long standing genealogical puzzle so that we don't have to continue to try to prove a linkage that never was! Some may say this finding makes them sad. After all, Rev. George Phillips was from all accounts an ancestor anyone would be proud to claim. But then, our ancestors in Group 20 were pretty special, too. My ancestor, Theophilus Phillips, was the town clerk at Newtown for over 10 years. All of the Newtown Phillips were busy making a living in the wilderness of the New World and that they survived and prospered is a matter of genealogical record. We're here today as a consequence of their hard work and fruitful lives.

So where do we in Group 20 go from here? We keep looking, of course, filling in the gaps between our earliest known ancestor and the Newtown, Long Island, Phillips. And we keep looking back to see if we can determine where they originally came from. Of course there are hints. And those of us interested in genealogy will continue the hunt for those ancestors, now avoiding the proven negative relationships. After all, there were many other Phillips running around the New World in the middle 1600's beside Rev. George Phillips and his children.