In 2003, the United States Congress declared April 25th “DNA Day”. They picked April 25th because, on April 25th, 1953, scientists James Watson, Francis Crick, and their colleagues, announced their discovery of the structure of DNA. We now know there is not just one type of DNA in the human body, but multiple.
We have, in the mitochondria of our cells, what is called mitochondrial DNA, or mt-DNA. It is passed down to children from only their mothers. This is useful for tracing families through maternal lineages.
But we also have, in the nucleus of every one of our cells, 23 pairs of chromosomes. These roughly X-shaped bundles of amino acid contain the code that determines almost everything physical about us. Twenty-two of these pairs are 50/50 mixtures of genes inherited from our mother and father. These first 22 pairs of chromosomes are called our “autosomes”. The twenty-third pair of chromosomes, however, is our sex chromosomes. If we inherit an X sex chromosome from both our father and mother, then we are born female. If we inherit one X sex chromosome from our mother, and one Y sex chromosome from our father, then we are born male.
Because Y sex chromosomes are not recombined mixtures of mom and dad’s genes, like the other 22 pairs of chromosomes are, Y chromosomes are passed down remarkably unchanged from fathers to sons, generation after generation. In the Western world, surnames are also usually passed down from fathers to sons. This makes Y-DNA an excellent way to trace families based on their surname.
What Does Our Schmidt Y-DNA Tell Us?
Schmidt men descended from Hans Schmidt (1594-1680) belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup of R-BY23442. This makes us part of the larger R-L21 and R-M269 haplogroups also. The Schmidts’ paternal ancestors farmed and herded in the Fertile Crescent of western Asia about 10,000 years ago, and migrated into Europe about 5,000 years ago. Our R-BY23442 haplogroup classification puts us with a lot of male lineages in the Scotland and Ireland region. In fact, when looking at Y-DNA matches, almost all of the families who connect with ours from roughly 1,000 years ago or earlier are Scottish or Irish. This strongly indicates that, if we were able to trace our ancestor Hans Schmidt’s paternal lineage even further back before 1594 (in other words, to find Hans’s father, his father’s father, his father’s father’s father, and so on), we would eventually come across a paternal ancestor who was born in Scotland or Ireland and moved down into continental Europe.
It is unlikely we will ever find any surviving paper documents explaining why one of our paternal ancestors migrated from Scotland/Ireland down to Germany. This mystery ancestor may have served in an army that took part in one of the many European conflicts, or he may have been a peddler or pilgrim who migrated into Germany for a peaceful reason.
Can Y-DNA Be Wrong?
While DNA cannot lie or be mistaken, people can. If two men both believe that their paternal lineages trace back to a common male ancestor, then Y-DNA testing should show that they are both in the same Y-DNA haplogroup. If Y-DNA testing shows otherwise, then there must be a misattributed paternity at some point in one of their lineages.
Misattributed paternity can happen for three reasons:
- Incorrect genealogical information – perhaps a genealogist incorrectly matched up two purported ancestors as father and son by misinterpreting historical records
- Adoption – some families throughout history have chosen to adopt a son who was not biologically theirs, and this might have happened either openly or secretly
- Infidelity – if a married woman is impregnated by a man who is not her husband, any resulting son will not pass down the husband’s Y-DNA
Our Schmidt Y-DNA Testing Project
The Hans Schmidt Family Association has been undertaking some testing of Schmidt males in our family, hoping to learn more about our Y-DNA. We have so far established that, in at least one of the major clusters of American Schmidts (who settled near the area of West Bend, Iowa), there were no misattributed paternities in the first couple of generations. Currently-living Schmidt men who trace their paternal lineage back to Dietrich Schmidt Sr. (1803-1847), whether through Dietrich’s son Conrad Jacob Schmidt (1841-1891) or through Dietrich’s son Dietrich Schmidt Jr. (1833-1885), consistently show up within the same Y-DNA haplogroup.
We are now trying to recruit Schmidt men who can trace their lineage back to other Schmidt patriarchs, like:
- George Ernest Schmidt (1853-1901), who was born in Machtlos, Germany, and died in Baltimore, Maryland
- Heinrich Friedrich Schmidt (1867-1927), who was born in Machtlos, Germany, and died in Scranton, Pennsylvania
- Konrad Schmidt (1821-1895), who was born in Blankenbach, Germany, and died in Houston, Texas
- (especially Konrad’s son, John Ernest Charles Schmidt [1857-1934] of Houston, who has multiple male Schmidt descendants still living)
If you are a Schmidt man who has never taken a Y-DNA test, whether you descend from one of the aforementioned patriarchs or not, we highly encourage you to take the leap and order a Y-DNA test kit from one of the reputable companies, like FamilyTreeDNA. Every person who tests is an immense help to us and other genetic genealogy researchers. If you are a Schmidt male who has chosen to test their Y-DNA, please get in touch with us to let us know! We would love to be able to confirm more branches of our Schmidt family.