by Phillip G. Goff, GGFA Director of Genetic Genealogy

A Chinese proverb says that “People from the past plant the tree, so we could hide in its shade.” Trees require nutrients from the soil, rain from the sky and light from the sun in order to grow. In the same way, a family tree requires care from lots of generations. For the last 500 years or so, people around the globe have dutifully recorded births/baptisms, marriages and deaths/burials, which form the basis for most family trees. Unfortunately, some recordkeeping only commenced in the last 100 years or so. In other cases, records have been destroyed or lost.

When paper trail records are not available, the growth of our family tree is stunted. Goff and Gough are surnames originated in England, where hereditary surnames were adopted starting about 1300 AD. If records were preserved all along our Goff and Gough lineages, it would be possible to trace our lineages to 1538 AD, when English parish record keeping began. Since most Gough/Goff families encounter a point when there are no vital records, DNA can fill in the gap, all the way back to 1300 AD.

The GoffGoughMcGough Project at Family Tree DNA was at the forefront of consumer genetic testing starting about 20 years ago. When records are missing, genetic genealogy can be used to reconstruct family trees. Today, 34 genetically distinct Gough/Goff families around the globe have been identified.

The GGFA website includes an in-depth DNA site. To access it, follow these steps:

  • Select “Archives & Research” from the top menu
  • Then choose “DNA Surname Study”
  • Scroll down and click “Current GGFA DNA Family Groups”

The DNA page for each of the genetic Goff/Gough families is a wealth of information. Today, all genetic families include a narrative discussion of the findings of the DNA research. In addition, many include a genetic diagram of lineages of YDNA test takers and, in some cases, autosomal DNA participants. Most recently, trees have been posted for the 1658 and 1745 genetic families. The DNA page also includes the names of current GGFA members who are part of each genetic family. Please check frequently for updates and leverage DNA research findings, joining centuries of predecessors who helped grow our family trees.

Phillip Goff is the co-author, along with Roy L. Lockhart, of The Four Goff Brothers of Western Virginia. Since 2004, he has run the Goff/Gough Surname DNA Study, which today has about 400 participants. You can email Phil at

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