Yorkshire link with Africa revealed in genetic study
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Published: 24 January 2007
White men with a rare Yorkshire surname have been found to be descended from black African ancestors who came to Britain many centuries ago.
A study of Caucasian men who share the same English surname has found that they also share a type of Y chromosome that has previously been found only in men living in west Africa.
Scientists believe the findings show that Africans who came to Britain as Roman soldiers nearly 2,000 years ago or as slaves after the 16th centuryleft a line of descendants.
The results are the first genetic evidence of black Africans living in Britain centuries before the influx from Commonwealth countries with black populations in the mid-20th century.
The researchers say they have to keep the Yorkshire surname confidential - it begins with the letter "R" - because they would need permission to release it from everyone with the surname who took part in the study.
Professor Mark Jobling of Leicester University said the men are white and did not know they had black ancestry until his team pointed out that they had a type of Y chromosome that could only come from west Africa.
"The Y chromosome is passed down from father to son, so this suggested Mr R must have had African ancestry somewhere down the line. Our study suggests that this must have happened some time ago," he said.
The type of Y chromosome is known as hgA1 and was found in seven out of 18 men who shared the same surname. Only 25 other men have the same Y chromosome, all from west Africa.
Because of the west African connection, it is more likely that the origin of the gene in Britain lies with the slave trade which was heavily based in the region, although a garrison of Moors was installed by the Romans when they were building Hadrian's Wall.
The study is published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.