Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thank you James E. Dowell!

For the last quarter century James E. Dowell has been my genealogical mentor in all things Dowell -- well at least until we got to DNA testing. :-) Soon after we moved to California in 1990, I found in the Los Angeles LDS Library the Index of Dowells he had put together in collaboration with Dick Dowell. After exchanging many emails, I visited him in his home in Walnut. We hoped that would be the first of many in person meetings but that turned out not to be. Shortly thereafter he moved to Colorado and I moved to the Central California coast in Morro Bay. We have never been physically together again in spite of a few attempts. However, we have continued to collaborate over the years. 

That index has now been digitized and can be downloaded.

Over the ensuing years James and I, in collaboration with Tadd Bartley, built the "Dowell Family History Site" at This became a much used venue for attracting and sharing a great deal of Dowell history materials until made the unfortunate decision to pull the plug on these sites a few years ago. 

Then came yDNA testing. One of our earliest successes was when Tadd's dad and James were compared and were found to be closely related thus confirming that the Bartleys descended from a woman who cohabited with a male Dowell but never married him. She gave her descendants her maiden name.
The next finding was jolting to some longtime Dowell surname researchers. Even a year or two after receiving the conclusive DNA results, some otherwise rational and objective genealogists were still in a state of disbelief. It long had been assumed that all Dowells were related in some way. If they just were able to push the paper trail back one more generation to the immigrant, they believed he would turn out to the “missing link” between his descendants who settled in both Maryland and Virginia. There were some Dowell researchers who could trace their ancestry back to early Colonial Virginia and some who could trace their roots back to early Maryland. No big deal. Back then, people traveled by water when they could. Roads were barely passable at best since President Eisenhower had not yet built the Interstate Highway system. It appeared obvious that upon passing through Hampton Roads some Dowells had gone west up the James River in Virginia and some had turned right and gone north up the Chesapeake Bay into Maryland. These were the paths that goods took when they came from England and were reversed when tobacco was exported. It would have been a relatively easy trip from central Virginia to southern Maryland via these waterways. But it didn’t happen like that. DNA results have established that the Maryland Dowells and the Virginia Dowells have not had a common male ancestor for about three centuries—a period that would extend far earlier than when surnames like Dowell began to be used. The use of this name had emerged independently in at least two separate locations. [David R. Dowell, NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection. Libraries Unlimited, 2015, p. 29.]

Big Y SNP testing has recently confirmed that the closest common male ancestor of the Virginia Dowells and the Maryland Dowells lived at least four millennia ago. The male progenitors of both Dowell groups were part of the invasion of Haplogroup R1b which sweep into Europe from the steppes five to seven thousand years ago with their horses and chariots thus overwhelmed the hunter gatherers and early farmers who were already there. However, genetically, they soon parted.

In spite of this family split, James has continued to mentor Dowells of all persuasions by willingly sharing the massive amount of family data he has accumulated over the last half century. Most recently he allowed me to copy more than a hundred 3 1/2 inch diskettes to a Dropbox location from which it will be easier for Dowell family researchers to extract data.

Thank you James for continuing to mentor us and to share your research data! We hope to spread far and wide the fruits of your research labor and your willingness to share.

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