Brewster DNA Test

DNA testing is rather popular among genealogists these days. The possibility of discovering ancestral origins, unknown relatives and family connections is appealing to us. So I recently decided to explore this area of genealogy, too.

I am still learning about using DNA for genealogy research but I know a little more about interpreting the results after last week’s Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) 2013 conference in Fort Wayne.


There are three main DNA tests for genealogical purposes, Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and autosomal DNA. When I first heard of using DNA in conjunction with genealogy I thought that a DNA test might provide answers to some questions in our Brewster line: Are we descended from the Mayflower Brewsters? Do we share a common ancestor with them?

My paternal grandmother was a Brewster. Gertrude Brewster was my dad’s mother and we can trace this line back as far as my third great-grandfather, Jackson Brewster (1816-1890).

I have always wondered (and hoped!) that my Brewster line was part of the Mayflower Brewsters. Some of our Brewster family histories have hinted at this and since we have not as yet been able to trace any further back than Jackson Brewster we have had no way of knowing for sure if this line did indeed descend from the Mayflower Brewsters. That is until now.

Researchers stress using genealogy research in conjunction with DNA testing. Thus far in my research I have found no link to the Mayflower clan and I decided the next step would be to test our Brewster line with a Y-DNA test. I would compare the DNA results to those of confirmed Mayflower descendants.

The Y-DNA is a test for males only and shows the DNA markers of the direct paternal line of a specific surname. It will show the DNA of the donor’s father, his father’s father, and so on. My uncles would not qualify for this test because they are Millers. Their father was a Miller and their mother was a Brewster. I needed a DNA sample from a male Brewster that descended directly from Jackson. My second cousin Brian fits that description and agreed to give a DNA sample. His grandfather was a brother to my grandmother, a direct male Brewster descendant.

I purchased a Y-DNA37 kit from FamilyTree DNA, got a sample from Brian and sent it back to FamilyTree DNA. This test shows 37 markers, but their Y-DNA tests can show 12, 37, 67 or 111 markers. I received the results a couple months ago.

I immediately joined the Brewster DNA Surname Project on FamilyTree DNA. By joining a surname project I could see the DNA results of several known Mayflower Brewster descendants as well as other Brewsters that have submitted DNA samples. FamilyTree DNA database has 7,659 surname projects and 482,854 Y-DNA records.

The DNA markers of all those in the Brewster Surname Project are shown and it is easy to compare the results. The Brewster Project has the DNA results from at least 13 known descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrim William Brewster.


Our Brewsters have the same haplogroup as the Mayflower Brewsters, haplogroup I1. According to FamilyTree DNA, a haplogroup is a major branch on either the maternal or paternal tree of humankind, associated with early human migrations. Migrations of this group date way back to the Vikings and early invasions by ancient Germanic people, about 4,000-5,000 years ago.  Today a haplogroup is associated with a geographic region and haplogroup I1 is the original paternal lineage of Nordic Europe. Its greatest frequency is in Northern Europe, in particular Finland, Denmark and Sweden. Our Brewster SNP is M253. SNP is a change in the DNA code at a specific point.

I then compared our genetic markers to those of the Mayflower Brewsters and saw that not all the markers were an exact match. To be exact, 13 of 37 of the numbered markers did not match. That seemed like quite a few miss-matches, although most were only off one number. There can be a few genetic mutations on an occasional marker, but I did not know how many there could be and still be considered “part of the family.”

To confirm my suspicious I spoke directly with Robert D. McLaren of FamilyTree DNA at last week’s conference. I showed him our DNA results and he compared the markers with those of the known Mayflower Brewsters. Unfortunately, he said there is “no way” we descend from William Brewster of Mayflower fame.

Now we know. On the bright side, more and more people are submitting DNA samples for comparison. I will remain in the FamilyTree DNA Brewster Surname Group and there may eventually be a match to another Brewster member. Some day we may get a clue to our Brewster origins as well as discover some new distant cousins.

And we may even discover who Jackson’s father was.


Further reading: [Great article!]


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    • Brian Brewster on August 30, 2013 at 5:35 pm
    • Reply

    This was very interesting reading. Not sure I understand all of it though. Maybe a little too deep for me. It was fun, and I was glad to assist you. Hope one day to get over your way.

    • Waldo on September 1, 2013 at 5:55 am
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    What we know about DNA is mind blowing! What we don’t know would fill volumes and volumes of books! So it is very early in the game to be making conclusions. We all share far more similarity in our DNA than differences. Indeed we have more in common with chimps and apes than most of us would like to believe. In fact the fact that DNA controls the genetics of all but the smallest of living things (and those small few use RNA, a very similar and still shared genetic material) clearly links nearly all life forms. Master plan or accident? Given that it is a code that men still don’t understand, perhaps a little too complex to just happen?

    • Waldo on September 9, 2013 at 11:47 am
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    DNA has been linked to life expectancy in many families. Are we genetically programmed to live a specific time? Are there any data to suggest the typical life expectancy of a Miller, Brewster, Caffee, etc.???

    1. I do not know the answer to that question. I have heard of, for example, genetic heart problems that tend to run in families. Sometimes because of this family members could have a shorter life expectancy and die young. I do not know if that type of medical problem would show up in DNA. But if genealogy showed that a medical problem like that runs in the family, physicians could be proactive and look to see if the specific genetic problem exists in a specific individual.

        • Frank D Brewster on September 28, 2013 at 10:26 am
        • Reply

        I have hair samples of great grandfather J H Brewster as well as Niles O Brewster. Would these be of any help?
        My grandfather’s sister, great aunt Jennie had saved these as well as great grandmother Jane’s hair and a sample of lace from her funeral dress. Please let me know.
        Frank Brewster

    • Trudy on October 5, 2013 at 7:58 am
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    Thanks for sharing the information. It seems for what we know now about DNA, we are not related to the Mayflower Brewster’s. For me that isn’t a bad thing, religious fanatics aren’t something I would ‘choose’ , however it would have made the linieage easier to follow!

    Is it possible Jackson changed his name or the spelling? The family came to Indiana when he was a bit old , ( later 40’s, early 50’s) something made him jump up and go. Generally if things are going well you don’t move on at that age. Masontown PA was extremely German (heritage) at the time, this seemed ot have happened on my grandmother’s side, they went from Kuhner to Keener … ?

    1. I have seen Brewster spelled Bruster. In fact their name was spelled Bruster in the 1840 census in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. After they left Pennsylvania Jackson and Mary Ann lived in the New Philadelphia, Ohio, area for a short time before moving on to Indiana. Family legend says that Jackson and Mary Ann’s daughter Mary Elizabeth became ill and was left with relatives in New Philadelphia. So they may have had relatives in New Philadelphia, which is in Tuscarawas County. People usually traveled and associated with family and/or friends. So they probably knew someone in New Philadelphia and someone in Indiana. People seemed to always move west, where the land was often cheap or where they could homestead. Where there were fewer people. There were a couple Brewster families in Jay County at about that time, but I have not been able to make any connection between the two families. Jackson’s family moved to Indiana sometime between 1860-1870. What could have made them want to move out of Pennsylvania? What was happening in Fayette County in the early 1860s? That will require some history research in the county. Could it have been the Civil War? Daniel and James Henry both enlisted in the 80th OVI, both living in Ohio at the time. After the Civil War both brothers stayed in Ohio for awhile. Daniel was living in Ohio in 1870 and James Henry was still living there in 1880. So many unanswered questions…

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