(Written by Dr. Deane Dayton)
Thanks to the trail of information left by our ancestors, the effort of many genealogists, and a growing set of research tools, those of us in the Dayton clan have a good understanding of how we came to be. Descendants of Ralph Dayton (1588-1658), the Dayton patriarch who immigrated to the new world from England, can trace our roots back to him. We can stand on the land he once owned on Long Island in East Hampton, New York, or visit the graves and homesites of his descendants, our American ancestors.
But what about Ralph? We know that he probably emigrated from Ashford, England, in the 1630s. Who were his ancestors and how did he get to Ashford? There are lots of theories, but the trail is fogged by generations of missing records, evolving naming conventions, a variety of phonetic surname spellings, and illiteracy. Did Ralph descend from a Dayton, a Drayton, a Deighton, or other variant of the Dayton surname. With a bit of luck, DNA may provide the answer.
Many of us have taken DNA tests from companies like Ancestry DNA, 23 & Me, or My Heritage DNA. These autosomal tests help identify ancestors that are within the past 6-8 generations (back to 1700s) but cannot detect much beyond that. To find Ralph’s ancestors (1500s and earlier), we must use Y-DNA, which relies on the fact that every human male has a copy of his biological father’s Y-Chromosome.
Since I am a tenth-generation direct male descendant of Ralph, my Y-Chromosome should be a copy of Ralph’s ancestors, if there are only males in the genetic chain that connects us and each male is the biological son of his father. By comparing my Y-DNA to that of other Dayton males we can determine if we descended from the same Dayton male ancestors.
Y-Chromosome copies are not always identical as they can mutate slightly between generations. These mutation rates are somewhat predictable, allowing us to estimate the number of generations to a shared male ancestor.
By comparing our Y-DNA to that of other direct male English descendants of people whose surname is a variant of the Dayton name, we hope to gain a clearer picture of Ralph Dayton’s ancestral roots.
If you think you share a copy of Ralph’s Y-Chromosome, you may be able to help with this process by adding your Y-DNA to Family Tree DNA’s Y-DNA database, the World’s largest of its kind.
If you would like to help find Ralph’s ancestors, you can join the Ralph Dayton Y-DNA project.