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  • DNA Solves A Wilder Ancestral Enigma

    Donald F. Hansen and Michael F. Hansen

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    Between 1638 and 1640 five persons named Wilder settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Genealogies by Wilder descendants claim these five were all of one family — based partly on fact and partly on tradition. DNA techniques have tested that tradition and allowed Wilder genealogists finally to reach some definitive conclusions.

    The earliest Wilder genealogist, Rev. Moses Hale Wilder, claimed a supposed descent from Nicholas Wilder to son John and grandson Thomas Wilder (d. 1634) of Sulham, Berkshire, England.[1] This Thomas had married a Martha, heiress to property in Shiplake, Oxfordshire, after which he was known as Thomas of Shiplake. Thomas and Martha had five children — John, Thomas, Elizabeth, Edward, and Mary.

    After Thomas of Shiplake’s death, Martha was thought to have sold the Shiplake property to her eldest son, John. After disposing of her effects, Martha and her youngest daughter, Mary, left Southampton in 1638 and sailed to New England on the Confidence.[2] According to family tradition, Martha’s two younger sons, Thomas and Edward, and her daughter Elizabeth had previously sailed for either the Massachusetts Bay Colony or Plymouth Colony earlier in 1638. No existing record identifies the ship, date of departure, or destination.

    Martha and Mary settled in Hingham, where they were reunited with Elizabeth and Edward. Hingham granted land to Martha and Edward. Martha remained a widow and died in 1652. Elizabeth married Thomas Ensign in Hingham. Mary’s subsequent history was unknown to Reverend Wilder, but later sources proved that Mary married Joseph Underwood, settled in Watertown, and left children. Edward married Elizabeth Eames, daughter of Anthony Eames, about 1650; the couple had four sons and seven daughters. Edward lived in Hingham until he died on October 18, 1690.

    Martha’s supposed son Thomas1 Wilder never appears in any Hingham town record, and no document connects Thomas “the immigrant” with these Wilders of Hingham. Instead, Thomas Wilder settled by about 1638 in Charlestown, where he was received into the church on March 30, 1640, and made a freeman in 1641. He married an Anna or Hannah ____,[3] and had four sons and two daughters. In 1659, Thomas and his family moved forty miles inland to Nashawena, now Lancaster, Massachusetts, where he died in 1667.

    Rev. Wilder wrote, “It is on all hands conceded that they were all of one family,” reflecting the tradition that Thomas was Martha’s son.[4] But buried in the reverend’s own history of the Wilders is a letter written by a great-grandson of Edward1 Wilder of Hingham. This letter asserts, “My grandfather Jabez’s sons were Jabez, Edward, and Theophilus Wilder, and from the above spring all the Wilders that ever lived in this town, or any part of the State, except from what originated from a family of Wilders which was settled at Lancaster some years after, and we do not know of any relations between us and them; and they are numerous as well as ourselves.” The letter directly contradicts the tradition reported by Rev. Wilder that Thomas1 Wilder of Charlestown was a son of Martha and brother of Edward, Elizabeth, and Mary Wilder of Hingham.

    Dr. Edwin Milton Wilder updated Rev. Wilder’s book in the 1960s[5] and repeated the tradition of kinship between the Hingham and Lancaster families, claiming the evidence was based on additional research in English archives and elsewhere. Dr. Wilder stated that Thomas Wilder of Shiplake, a grandson of Nicholas of Nunhide, Berkshire, England, married Martha, the eventual immigrant, and that John, Thomas, Edward, Elizabeth, and Mary were their children.

    Dr. Wilder added the caveat that “the data on this early period is still incomplete and inadequate” but also stated that “personally we believe that Thomas and Edward were brothers, both because of the evidence from the English records and from Massachusetts traditions persistent from those early years but also because individuals from the Thomas and Edward line, supposedly separated by over 300 years from blood relationship frequently show resemblances and similarities of face, skull formation, character and conduct.” Dr. Wilder offered no documentary evidence to support his conclusion.

    The authors of this article (Don and Mike Hansen) are eighth and ninth great-grandsons of Thomas1 Wilder of Charlestown. Shortly after beginning their genealogical research, they learned of the controversy over possible kinship between Edward Wilder and Thomas Wilder. They then realized DNA could solve this long-standing mystery. A consultant, Charles Kerchner of, was engaged, as technological guide. Mr. Kerchner recommended that three descendants each of Thomas and Edward should be tested; ideally, the three sons of Thomas and the three sons of Edward would each be represented by a participant.

    The Y-Chromosome DNA (hereafter Y-DNA) of six descendants — from three sons of Thomas1 Wilder and two (of the three) sons of Edward1 Wilder (see chart) — were tested to sixty-seven markers by FamilyTreeDNA. Y-DNA results for the six participants are shown in Table 1

    The Thomas Wilder group has the following genetic distances (GD). A GD=2 between Frederick and Raymond (single mutations at markers 34 and 44), another GD=2 between Frederick and Justin (a two-step jump mutation at marker 34), and a third GD=2 between Raymond and Justin (again, single mutations at markers 34 and 44).

    The same analysis of the Edward Wilder group finds that the haplotypes of James and Jason are a perfect match (GD=0). This result is expected as both men descend from John Wilder, son of Edward (the immigrant). Both James’s and Jason’s haplotypes differ from Calvin’s haplotype by a GD=3 (single mutations at markers 13, 27, and 30).

    Given the known pedigrees of the six Wilder participants outlined in Figures 1 and 2, and applying the above genetic distance interpretations, we can conclude that Thomas1 Wilder is the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of Frederick, Raymond, and Justin Wilder. The MRCA of James, Jason, and Calvin Wilder is Edward1 Wilder.

    Most significantly, we also learned the Deduced Ancestral Haplotypes of the three descendants of Thomas and three descendants of Edward (as shown in Table 1), which settled the question of whether Thomas1 and Edward1 were brothers. The genetic distance between the two ancestral haplotypes is so great that the descendants of Thomas and Edward Wilder were not patrilineally related within the last 1,000 to 2,000 years. Not only were Thomas and Edward not brothers, their kinship is too distant to calculate in any genealogical timeframe. We also discovered that the haplotypes of the Edward Wilder descendants are quite common and the haplotypes of the Thomas Wilder descendants are rare. This difference further confirms our conclusion that Thomas1 Wilder and Edward1 Wilder were not brothers.

    That Thomas1 Wilder of Charlestown and Lancaster and Edward1 Wilder of Hingham were not related was a disappointment to the authors, as it will presumably be to many descendants of both immigrants. However, for the descendants of Thomas, another important genealogical question arises. If the Hingham Wilders were from Shiplake, what were the origins of Thomas1 Wilder of Charlestown and Lancaster?

    Table 1

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    Figure 1

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    Figure 2

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    1 Moses Hale Wilder, Book of the Wilders (New York, 1878).
    2 Charles Edward Banks, The Planters of the Commonwealth (Boston, 1930), 195, 197.
    3 Mary Lovering Holman, Ancestry of Colonel John Harrington Stevens and His Wife Frances Helen Miller (Concord, N.H., 1948–52), 1:43–44.
    4Book of the Wilders, 10–11.
    5 Edwin M. Wilder and Harold K. Wilder, “A Further Contribution to the History of That Branch of the Wilders Who Immigrated to Massachusetts about 1638 by Enlargement, Extension and Correction of Book of the Wilders,” photocopy of a typescript, 1961–1969, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS.
    6 C. F. Kerchner, “Triangulation Method for Deducing the Ancestral Haplotype in Y-DNA Surname Projects,”, 2004.

    Donald F. Hansen is a retired physicist living in Needham, Massachusetts. He is a member of NEHGS and has been researching his family genealogies for the past twelve years. He may be reached

    Michael F. Hansenis an NEHGS member living in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He is CEO of J&E Companies of Lakeville, Minn., and has been collaborating on family genealogies with his father, Donald Hansen.

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