by Peter Clarkson, Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey, United Kingdom

I started my family research about 10 years ago.

I was mainly interested in my maternal grandfather’s side of the family and it’s fair to say that over the ten years of research that side of my family has provided a rich seam of family history gems including secret children, multiple marriages, possible bigamy, name changes… the list goes on! While this was keeping me entertained, I wasn’t paying too much attention to my direct paternal line. I had mapped it out very early on in my research and it initially went like this:

  • Myself born in Blackpool, Lancashire
    • My father born 1923 in Preston, Lancashire
      • Alfred Clarkson born 1890 in Preston, Lancashire
        • James Clarkson born 1864 in Preston, Lancashire
          • James Clarkson born 1828 in Kirkham, Lancashire
            • Thomas Clarkson born 1794 in Kirkham, Lancashire

All very straightforward. However, after a couple of years feeling this lineage was cast in stone, I was able to take a closer look at the Kirkham parish records and it became clear that Thomas Clarkson had died in 1826. He therefore could not be the father of James born in 1828. This meant my paternal line was certain back as far as 1828 rather than 1794. I know this is as good as it gets for some people, but I still felt a little frustrated that there seemed to be little chance of finding out who was the father of James.

In the meantime around 2018 I took an Ancestry DNA test. This revealed yet more mysteries on my maternal side, which kept me busy over the next four years or so. In the back of my mind, however, was a constant niggle that I wasn’t seeing any DNA matches to any Clarkson descendants.

In the middle of 2021 I decided that I should spend a little more time on the paternal line and see if I could find out who was James’s biological father. James’s mother, Jane, had married a Henry Wood about a year after James’s birth. So it seemed to me to be possible that Henry Wood could be the father. I looked into doing a Y-DNA test, and finally took a Y-111 test, thinking that I wouldn’t be surprised if it gave me a connection to a long line of Woods.
When the results came in it was a surprise. So much so that immediately ordered an upgrade to BigY-700. My results pointed me to three names – Barlow, Barlar and Goff, all with histories going back to Virginia and the Carolinas. This has started me on a whole new line of investigation, which quickly led me to the GGFA where I soon learned the story of the Goff orphans and a family legend carried through various strands of Goffs that they had originally been called Barlow.

In the meantime I have identified a few descendants of my paper paternal line who have taken DNA tests but do not show up as matches. The working hypothesis at the moment is that I along with various Goff, Barlow and Barlar families descend from a common ancestor, probably from England, called Barlow. Presumably one son went to settle in Virginia around 1600 and another son remained in England.

Further exciting research lies ahead with a view to finding:

  • Where and when some Barlow children became Goffs.
  • Who is the common the common ancestor that we Goff, Barlows, Barlars and Clarksons share?
  • My true paternal line.

One clear take-away from this is that no matter how solid your genealogy may appear on paper, DNA can open up new mysteries – sometimes where you least expect them.

Editor’s Note: GGFA members can explore more about the Barlow branch of the GGFA families or other branches in our GGFA DNA Surname Study pages. Do you have a discovery to share? Send your story to

6 thoughts on “How a Y-DNA test threw my paternal line into question.

  1. Peter, this is so interesting! I’ve been told several times that “DNA doesn’t lie!” But it certainly sends us on trails we never expected! My husband Gary is the Goff through his mother. His birth surname was Teats. I have upgraded his DNA to the Y-111, but still his matches recognize no connection, not even if the name was Tietz or Dietz! I’ve decided that my own Sneyd-Jones lines will be easier than figuring this one out! 😁

  2. Well hello cousin! Glad to welcome you to the Goff-Barlow, and now Clarkson mystery! Hopefully with your help and that of Phil Goff, we can find more answers.

  3. I have just recently discovered the Gawf-Barlow connection. My husband is a descent of Edmund Gawf of Henderson County, TN. His paternal grandmother was a Gawf. Would love to know if any news has come out about the connection with this line!

    • Avatar
      Robert Beshears says:

      Hello, it seems that your husband and I both descend from Edmund Gawf. I am a Beshears, but found out about 8 years ago that my grandfather was actually born William
      C Goff, son of Edmund Thomas Goff, son of Thomas Gawf, the son of Edmund Gawf.

  4. Hello Teresa. We are still working to find the link from the Goff/Gawf orphans to a specific Barlow ancestor. It always seems that we are tantalisingly close. New data is always welcome, so if there is any chance of your husband’s family members doing autosomal DNA tests or YDNA tests (for those who have a direct male line back to Edmund Gawf), it could all potentially help.

  5. I love your story! And, I can identify with your DNA surprises and mysteries. My 2nd great-grandmother is Nancy Goff, born and died in Illinois (I believe.) My 3rd great-grandfather is David Goff. Then 1870 census says he was born in Connecticut and his wife Elizabeth Tubbs was born in New York. I cannot find any evidence of birth or death of David or Elizabeth (not that I haven’t tried!!!)

    On another line, I have a 2nd great-grandfather, John McCandlish, who was born in Manchester, England. His father, my 3rd great grandfather was Richard McCandlish. Everyone in my family and all my family trees show he married an Ann Higginson. I have marriage records to prove it. But my family insists he married an Ann Hesketh. I had a nice lady from England helping me with this line and she told me to follow the evidence, not hearsay. So, I have the only family tree that shows Ann Higginson as my 3rd great-grandmother, instead of Ann Hesketh. Yikes, I am stirring up trouble !!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>