DNA testing in the Halsted one-name study

There can be no doubt that DNA testing is a valuable tool when investigating a family’s lineage. It can supplement the paper sources which are used in genealogical research and investigation.  It is very satisfying when the results from DNA tests confirm that a family line, which has been deduced from the records which document the lives of our ancestors, is correct. However, the source records may not have survived, are ambiguous about who is the correct parent, or our ancestors recorded erroneous information for whatever reason. As DNA cannot lie, its testing can be a very useful addition to the written records.

You may be “stuck” in your research and be confronted with an apparent “brickwall”. We all have those in our research. Used in conjunction with conventional genealogical research, DNA testing cannot solve every problem. It will not provide a definitive answer but it can provide a hypothesis to be investigated further. It will not tell you who your great-grandfather was but if you have two or more possible candidates it could certainly eliminate some of those.

Taking the Test

The tests are harmless and can be carried out in the comfort of your own home. Depending on the testing company chosen, that will either be a cheek swab or a saliva sample.

There are three different types of test used in genealogy. Those look at autosomal DNA, Y-chromosome DNA and mitochondrial DNA. Each has its own use and application. Which test you take will depend on the question to be asked. In some cases, more than one test may be required to find an answer.

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Where do DNA tests fit into the research conducted by the Halsted Trust?

John Hanson, our Research Director, is co-administrator of the Halsted surname project  hosted by FTDNA. Legitimately born males of those who use the surname of Halsted (and its spelling variants), will have inherited their Y-chromosome from their genealogical father. That chromosome causes humans to develop as men. The Y-chromosome can be tested in living men through a DNA test from FTDNA, the only company that currently offers such a test for genealogists. Do all current men who are now called Halsted (or one of its variants) have the same form of Y-chromosome suggesting that they all ultimately have just one male ancestor? Alternatively, do multiple current forms of the Y-chromosome suggest that the same surname was assumed by several different, geographically diverse, regional families, some seven centuries ago? What does this tell us about where those who emigrated to America, or elsewhere in the World, lived in Britain before they left its shores.

The Y-DNA results of those men, who are part of the Halstead surname project, can be viewed at:


It would be very interesting to add significantly to this database of males who bear the surname of Halste(a)d and its variants to see what this type of DNA tells us about the origins of the different family branches. As the very large Halsted research database is well on the way to being sorted for the modern (post-1800) period, we now want to try to see if we can connect some of the many smaller recent family trees into the larger picture. Also, there are many odd little stories and snippets of historical information that we want to explore, using DNA, to see if there is any truth in those which the paper (and vellum) records can’t yet prove.

Whilst the surnames Halsted, Halstead and Holstead all have the same basic meaning, probably derived from the old English Heald (a temporary hut or shelter) and stede (site), there are several major strongholds and the objective is to see if there are any DNA links between the three main groups.

The major enclave these days is in the county of Lancashire with the modern version of Halstead taking precedence over the older Halsted. Almost certainly the modern Yorkshire ones moved over from there and there is proof of this in the parish records. Then there are the Holsteads of Cumberland and whilst it can be suggested that they moved north from Lancashire it would be nice to find evidence to prove that. The third set are the Halsteds of Sussex who appear there in about 1700. John’s thoughts are that they are descended from Laurence Halsted, who was Keeper of the Keys in the Tower of London in the 17th century and was himself from Lancashire.

The Halsted Trust would like to test the Y-DNA from several direct male descendents from each of the major trees of these groups:

Descendants of William de HALLSTEDES William was supposedly a Templar Knight to Edward II

Descendants of John HALSTEAD (born before 1750-?) this is so far the earliest Cumbrian Halstead/Holstead

Descendants of unknown HALSTED This Halsted was the father of both William and Henry who died in the early 1700s in Sussex

The Trust is willing to pay the cost of DNA tests for males who can be shown, through its current research, to descend from any of these three groups. Those men interested in participating should contact John Hanson at: halstead@one-name.org. He will be able to advise of your suitability to take part in this study.

Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the generations only from a mother to her children, is very useful when looking at that very particular line of descent. This type of inheritance will not usually follow the Halste(a)d surname line. Rather its transmission will be through a woman in each generation whose surname may have become Halstead through marriage. Therefore it is not particularly applicable to a one-surname study. Some of those with Halste(a)d lines of ancestry have taken this type of DNA test with FTDNA. Those results can be viewed at: https://www.familytreedna.com/public/Halstead

Autosomal DNA is the other DNA which is passed down through the generations from parents to offspring which is not transmitted on either the sex chromosomes or as mitochondrial DNA. The normal human has 22 pairs of autosomes, one of each pair being inherited from his or her father and mother. Thus, everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each of their parents. However, each son or daughter of the same two parents will inherit a different half of their DNA from the father and mother.

Because of the random assortment and inheritance of each of the chromosome pairs at each generation, a grandchild inherits only, on average, 25% (or a quarter) of their autosomal DNA from each grandparent and in the region of 12.5% (or an eighth) from each of their eight great-grandparents and so on back up their family tree. In some cases, they will inherit, for instance, far more than expected from one great-grandmother’s line of the family tree and almost no DNA from one of their great-grandfathers. The more generations that have elapsed since two people are descended from a shared ancestor, the lower the percentage of identical DNA that they will share with each other. Indeed, after only about 5 to 7 generations, the amount of shared DNA will become so small that it will be very difficult to identify where that DNA has come from in the family tree.

To use such techniques in our research, we rely on other people taking a test, the results of which then become part of the rapidly growing databases compiled by the companies who offer tests for the genealogist and family historian. Of course, the person that you need to match with may not yet have tested. Yours is an investment for the future because when they or a relative of theirs tests in the future that match will be revealed. It is important that in lost connection cases your DNA results are as widely available in as many databases as possible, as that will provide the best chance of finding the necessary match. It is often possible to upload the results received from one company to the database of one or more of the other major companies. The major testing companies are AncestryDNA, My Heritage, Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), 23andMe and Living DNA. When you receive your raw data, you may also decide to upload that to a free third-party website such as GEDmatch which enables the researcher to search across the separate databases. Some companies have much larger databases of testees than others. For instance, AncestryDNA now has more than 22 million completed tests. It is probably most sensible to start with a test with that company and add the results to the databases of the other smaller companies free of additional charge.

Those in the same database will be able to identify previously unknown cousins, hopefully examine an online family tree to see where the relationship was in the past, discover who the common ancestors were, look for other shared matches in the databases, and, if necessary, contact them to further the research and learn more about the family’s history.

Some of those tested will have had the birth name of Halste(a)d (or any of its variant surnames), will have assumed it later in life or have ancestors or relatives within the past two hundred years whose relationships can be confirmed through DNA or genealogical research. This is a great tool for those wishing to learn more about the surname and the extended families.

Once more, it is an aim in the Halsted one-name study to build up a significant database of autosomal test results from those who have the surname, or one of its variants, in several generations of their recent family tree. Those who have such DNA and genealogical information, should contact the Research Director.