Cobb DNA

I recently submitted samples of my DNA for Y-chromosone analysis at two places, Oxford Ancestors and Relative Genetics. The following notes may be of interest to other Cobbs and I can recommend both of these services. Each provides different parts of the puzzle when you are looking deep into your past or your "relationship" to the present.

You might also want to check out The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, an organization founded to build a correlated genetic and genealogical database (funded by the owner of Relative Genetics).

Note: None of these places are related to any government agency. They do not collect the kind of DNA data that the federal government or insurance companies might abuse. That is why I have no qualms about including a chart of the relevant portion of my DNA above.

A General Observation

Scientists studying DNA have now amassed a tremendous amount of data about the genetic makeup of people all over the planet. One of the most significant findings is that race, as a scientific concept, is virtually meaningless. The reason that different groups of people in different parts of the world look different is not because they are fundamentally different. They look different because they evolved in different parts of the world. For example, the aboriginal Australians probably looked Asian before they got to Australia. And if you go back far enough, most Europeans looked African. In other words, the observable differences between peoples from different parts of the world are largely the result of historical adaptation to the environment and living conditions.

When discussing this topic with people I find there is some skepticism about the science behind such sweeping statements. I have two responses. First, read The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes. Second, consider the connection between the hand-lettered family tree that hung on the wall in my grandparents' living room and the Cobb DNA analysis that I discuss here.

Cobb Specific

Through analysis of today's rapidly expanding DNA databases it is becoming clear that most people alive on the planet today are descended from a relatively few direct lines. For example, on the maternal side I am descended from "Ursula," one of a small number of female lines from which most Europeans are descended. On the paternal or Cobb side I am descended from what Oxford Ancestors has named "clan Wodan," representing one of just fifteen "clan fathers," themselves descendants of the "Y-chromosome Adam," the common ancestor of all men. Oxford Ancestors actually maps this out here (pdf file, Acrobat Reader required).

Many years ago I formed the idea that, if you were to go back far enough, you would find that most people with the last name 'Cobb' came from the same family in Kent. This idea was formed from numerous accidental encounters with other Cobbs and from reading about Cobbs in books like "Cobb Chronicles." I wanted to test this idea, and I also wanted to find out where the Cobbs came from, back before John Cobb in England the 1300s.

To begin my investigation of my own DNA I started with Oxford Ancestors. They produce both maternal and paternal mappings (I consider my forebears on my mother's side just as important as those on my father's side, but this article is about the Cobbs, not the Turners).

On the paternal side I purchased a "Tribes of Britain" report. This compares your Y-chromosome DNA to that of many other males in Europe but makes most sense if you think your family came from England at some point in the past, e.g. circa 1600 to 1800 A,D. Oxford Ancestors has enough collected DNA to tell whether your paternal ancestors were Celts or Anglo-Saxons, or something else, such as Norman invaders or remnants of the Roman occupation. Obviously the Cobbs of Kent can trace their line on paper as far as the county of Kent, which was frequently invaded, by Romans, Danes, Saxons, and Normans, because it is in the far Southeast of England. The short version of my Tribes of Britain report is as follows:

"your Y-chromosome has been inherited from an ancestor who belonged to one of the Anglo-Saxon tribes"

The results for my DNA should hold true for all male Cobbs linked to me on the "Cobbs of Kent" family tree. However, in the process of learning about DNA, I found that there are several different strains of Cobb from the UK. In other words, it would appear that not all Cobbs in America come from the Cobbs of Kent.

Ancient History

The following narrative, provided by Oxford Ancestors, places these early origins in context: "When the Romans left Britain around 400 AD to defend Rome, they left Britain to the mercy of Anglo-Saxon invaders from Germany and the Danish Vikings from Denmark. These invaders displaced some of the original Celtic inhabitants and changed completely the language and culture of southern and eastern Britain."

The science of DNA matching at this level involves probabilities rather than absolute certainties, and here is what Oxford Ancestry says about my "Cobb of Kent" DNA:

"On the balance of probability, your Y-Line result indicates that your paternal ancestor was most likely to have been a member of one of the tribes of conquering peoples that invaded Britain shortly after the Romans withdrew."

There is one more wrinkle. "If you trace your paternal ancestors to central or southern England [as do the Cobbs of Kent] then your ancestry is most probably Anglo-Saxon." At some point I would like to test this statement by looking for Cobbs in mainland Europe to see if I can find the forebears of the English Cobbs. However, this might be a daunting task, especially when other DNA research suggests Cobb origins are further afield.

A Relative Thing

The folks at Relative Genetics have been analyzing their growing database of DNA and come to possibly contradictory conclusions about the distant origins of Cobbs. When Relative Genetics tested my DNA they found it to be most likely Haplogroup I1a (this starts to get complicated--read here for more about haplogroups). The oversimplified meaning of this is that the DNA markers above are common in Scandinavia; Swedish, Norwegian and Saami populations. Here is Relative Genetics' distribution map of this DNA grouping (click the map to get more details):


A Cobb Theory

Bearing in mind that I am definitely not an expert in this field, I do have a theory about the distant origins of the Cobbs that might include both of the above findings. Suppose that people the first Cobbs were living somewhere in Norway. Then they moved South, possibly during one of the major climate changes, to the area of Saxony. They became established there before undertaking a further move to the South of England as the Romans withdrew.

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This page updated September, 2006, by webbloke at cobb.com © Copyright, 1996-2006, Stephen Cobb