John Allen resembled his mother Mary Brown Allen in the fullness of his face, in his heavy brow, and in the shape of his wide, straight mouth. Where her skin was a smooth walnut-brown, however, his was the creamy pale yellow of a pat of butter. Of his father, we know nothing at all except this: he was white. This conclusion, which has long rested on family lore, physical appearance and common-sense conjecture, has been confirmed in the Y-DNA haplogroup of his male descendants. The DNA of my uncle, son of John Allen’s son John Jr., yielded haplotype R1b1b2a1a1. R1b is the most common haplogroup in western Europe and is particularly prevalent in men whose ancestors lived in modern-day England, Ireland and France. Y-DNA is passed solely along the patrilineal line, from father to son. (In other words, my grandfather and his brothers, then their sons, then the sons of those sons, inherited. By my count, seven of my great-grandfather’s patrilineal descendants survive. Their ages range from 10 to 81.) It does not recombine, and thus Y-DNA changes only by chance mutation at each generation. For this reason, it is useful in making connections among the male descendants of a common ancestor. Additional testing may help solve the mystery of John Allen’s paternity. [Update here.]
Photograph in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.