Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Was Mormon founder Joseph Smith Irish?

The Joseph Smith DNA was unusual for Smiths -- even among Smiths in the United States. Without any success in the target area, Perego cast a wider net -- using both Joseph Smith's specific DNA Y chromosome profile and a haplogroup to look for matches. A haplogroup is a grouping of Y chromosome profiles that share similar characteristics. These haplogroups are usually very geographically specific. First, Perego put the Joseph Smith DNA profile into the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation database of 23,403 Y chromosome DNA samples. He was looking for matches from about the time when Robert Smith came to America. He found close matches, many of which were Irish. From there, Perego identified a part of Joseph Smith's DNA that had a very rare marker called M222. With this "higher resolution" he found that the same marker was found in Northwest Ireland with a little bit in Lowland Scotland. Finally, Perego looked at a study published in 2006 that dealt with this same area of Ireland. A Y chromosome profile had been found that was attributed to the many descendants of "Niall of the Nine Hostages," a fifth-century Irish warlord who was the ancestor of the kings of Ireland up to the 10th century. Perego compared that Y chromosome with Joseph Smith's profile and found they matched very closely. This was another indication that Smith's ancestors along his paternal line were not just Irish, but probably related to Irish royalty. "Perhaps this indentured servant, this 12-year-old boy, was an Irish descendent, perhaps only one or two generations before they were living in Ireland ... and moved to England," Perego said. "Irish people were not viewed too well in England, perhaps there was a surname change. Perhaps Smith was not a Smith, was something else at some point." Perego speculated the Irish Smiths were likely not in England for many generations, otherwise he would have found a lot of genetic matches from the samples he collected from the English Smiths who live now in that area. "I hope that that doesn't change anybody's testimony here," he joked. "I feel OK about the Irish people."

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