DNA-research opens new perspectives on our family history.

The restrictions of search in archives

For many years the search in archives formed the basis of our knowledge of our forefathers. With a lot of patience and efforts, and a bit of luck, one can dig up from archives centuries of family history and that is for many people a fascinating occupation.

As regards our family that search in archives yielded a lot of interesting information. At first we thought that our roots would lie in Germany, soon it became apparent that we had to look further. In the year 1763 our lineage Danz was imported in Germany by a knife grinder from the Savoy, who was associated with a field hospital of a French army, probably as sharpener of the surgical instruments. At the end of the Septennial War (1756-1763) this army was disbanded in Cologne. His name was not Danz, but Joseph Donche, he married a German widow, Catharina Leymans, and settled in Cologne as a scissors- and knife grinder. The name Danz pops up at the christening of their first four children, that were entered in the baptismal register as Antonius Josephus Danche (1765), the stillborn Child Dans (1767), Josephus Danse (1768) and Joannes Dantz (1775). That 't' wears out slowly, in 1801 we see the name Danz for the first time, and yet in 1861 a child is still registered as Dantz.

Joseph Donche came from a small village, Viuz en Sallaz, and there the archives take us back to about 1610. Then the limits of the search in achives come in sight, because there the parochial registers with their baptismal and marriage records stop. There are older data, such as the 'Gabelle du Sel' of 1561, wherein the population was registered on behalf of the taxation on salt. But the 'gap' between 1561 and 1610 is just too big to establish the connection between those registrations. But there good fortune was with me. I found in Annecy a notarial marriage certificate, dated 1606 of André Donchoz dit Reybaz and Nicollarde Decollonges dit Mullinet. I found the children from this marriage back again in the parochial baptismal registers and the father of André was mentioned in that certificate as well. That brings us back as far as about 1560. A connection with the 'Gabelle' was not found unfortunately.

But there are more families Donche in the Savoy. In the village St. Jean de Tholome, two miles south of Viuz, I found a family Donche, that I could trace back in the archives till 1696. From that family descends Monique Donche, whom I met already during our first visit in 1993 and with whom we still have pleasant and frequent contacts. We call one another more or less jokingly 'cousin' and 'cousine', but a confirmation of our hoped relationship was not to be found in the archives. At the time of the Gabelle du Sel there were no Donches registered in St. Jean.

In another village, St. André de Boëge, about three miles north of Viuz as the crow flies, Donches also occur. That branch goes back in the books till 1595. A relationship to the Donches of Viuz and St. Jean was not to be found. In the Gabelle du Sel in St. André there do occur two families with the name Donche.

Then the limitations of the search in archives make themselves perceptible. But the official registrations have more shortcomings. They represent the family relations, as put on record, but do they coincide with the real, biological relations? Pregnant brides are more the rule than the exception, and the groom is registered as the father of the child. But is he the real father? When an unmarried mother marries, her child is often legalized by the spouse. But is he the real father? And even in the best families one cannot completely exclude conjugal unfaithfulness. A common saying among genealogists is: 'Motherhood is knowledge, fatherhood is belief'. Thus supposed relationships can land in archives, that do not exist at all in reality.

The potentials of DNA-research

For a number of years interesting outcomes of DNA-research are being presented. It is common knowledge that in procreation the Y-chromosome, that determines the gender of the child, is passed from father to son unaltered. Mutations occur in them, enough to distinguish different groups on the very long term, but so little, that family relations that go back centuries, can be made visible. At first those techniques were troublesome and expensive and they were only applied in scientific projects, but gradually these techniques have been developed to handy processes, that can be offered for genealogical purposes at an everyway reasonable price.

An American enterprise, 'Family Tree DNA', that executes such investigations in cooperation with the University of Arizona, has made its reputation in this field. On demand they send those interested handy testkits to draw samples of cheek scraping. These are investigated in their laboratories to analyse the Y-DNA or the mitochondrial DNA, or both. Such analyses can be executed on 12, 25, 37 or 67 'markers'. The number of investigated markers raises the accuracy, but of course also the price of the investigation. Mitochondrial DNA passes unaltered from mothers to their children, very interesting for research in the female line, but not applicable in our situation.

One can have such an investigation done on an individual basis, whereby the outcome is compared with all profiles present in their extensive database that contains already over 200.000 testresults. In this way one can trace relationships, sometimes unexpected. Moreover out of these results the 'haplogroup' can be determined, the population whereto one belongs originally, for many thousands of years, and how this group migrated over the globe. On that research the 'Genographic Project' is based, a worldwide study of historical human migration patterns, that is executed in cooperation with 'National Geographic'.

But most interesting for us are their 'surname-projects' where people with the same or similar surname can find out whether they have common ancestors. By participating as a group costs are reduced and moreover someone from the group can be designated as 'group administrator', who will be informed about all results and can act as a coordinator. They state that when people with the same surname match on all 12 investigated markers, it is 99 % sure that they have a common ancestor. As a matter of fact for such a project only male namesakes can be considered since the investigation is based on the Y-DNA.

The execution of the investigation

The more I read about it, the greater became my interest and my ambition grew to try to solve our problems in this way. In April 2008 I took that step. I launched a 'surname-project' on the name 'Donche' with 'Danz' en 'Dantz' as derived names and myself as 'group administrator'. Thereupon I ordered 8 testkits, and of course I used the first one for myself immediately after receipt. With the other sets in my suitcase we travelled to Viuz en Sallaz in June 2008 for a week's holiday with genealogical side reflections.

There I tried to find from all four Donche families a male representative, who would be prepared to supply a cheek scraping for the good cause. Our Monique was worth her weight in gold in this matter. My French from school is reasonably intact, but on this subject so many specific words and expressions are used, that my stammering would have had little persuasive force. But Monique proved to have worked out the subject and made quite a convincing speech, that I wouldn't have done better in Dutch. Moreover, as a retired schoolteacher she carries weight and even when she didn't know the person in question before, she needed few words to introduce herself.

From two of the three branches we could get hold of the required samples without much trouble. The third branch was that from Viuz. We descend in straight line from that branch and in fact my own DNA would do the job. But in view of the earlier mentioned uncertainties in descent lines I would have preferred to involve a French descendant as well in the investigation. Only one candidate was available, Maurice Donche from Viuz en Sallaz, 86 years of age, not married and as far as we know without children, the last Mohican! With him I would have a check on 11 generations, going back to 1689! It turned out that he lived in a nursing home and he received us quite cordially. But DNA… thank you. Not interested. On February 28, 2009 he has passed away in the hospital in La Tour! Fortunately I found a descendant from the same branch in Cologne who was prepared to participate. With him I found a check on this branch over 8 generations, going back to 1766.

The samples were sent to Houston immediately after our home-coming on June 17 and then the waiting started. After our departure Monique found another member of the family prepared to participate, with whom a check on the branch from St. André de Boëge was possible over 8 generations, going back to 1707. Fortunately I had left two of the four unused testkits with her and she arranged perfectly to have the samples taken and sent to me. They also were forwarded to Houston.

The participants

The following persons participated in the 'surname-project':

Pierre Marcel André Donche.

Pierre was born in 1926 and lives in St. André de Boëge. He is married to Marie Thérèse Bellosat and they have three children, Jacky (1958), Hervé (1959) and Fabienne (1964).

He belongs to the branch Donche from St. André de Boëge descending from Estienne Donche-Reybaz, born 1595.

Charly Donche

Charly was born in 1945 and lives in St. André de Boëge. He is not married.

He also belongs to the branch Donche from St. André de Boëge descending from Estienne Donche-Reybaz, born 1595.

Jacques André Donche

Jacqy was born in 1953 and lives in Bonne. He is an engineer-fitter and he is not married.

He also belongs to the branch Donche from St. André de Boëge descending from Estienne Donche-Reybaz, born 1595.

His test has been upgraded to 37 markers.

François Donche

François was born in 1948 and lives in St. Jean de Tholome. He is owner of a building company. He is married to Thérèse Jolivet and they have 2 sons, Nicolas (1975) and Sébastien (1979)

He belongs to the branch Donche from St. Jean de Tholome, descending from Joseph Donche dit Baron, born about 1696

Franz Michael Danz

Michael was born in 1947 and lives in Cologne. He is a subordinate official. He is married to Gisela Elisabeth Paulus and they have 2 sons, Thomas (1975) and Thorsten (1979).

He belongs to the branch Donche from Viuz en Sallaz, descending from Claude Donchoz dit Cocquard, born about 1505.

His test has been upgraded to 37 markers.

Peter Danz

I am born in 1933 and I am living in Gouda. I am a mechanical engineer. I am married to Riet van den Berg. Our three children, Sanne (1961), Michiel (1963) and Josse (1965-2009).

I also belong to the branch Donche from Viuz en Sallaz, descending from Claude Donchoz dit Cocquard, born about 1505.

My test also has been upgraded to 37 markers.

The results

To my astonishment the results of the samples that were mailed together didn't arrive at the same time. The first two I received on the 5th of August 2008. From the representatives the branche from St. André de Boëge. Bingo…!! Match on all 12 markers. And the success was complete when two weeks later the others followed. All samples proved to be completely identical on the twelve tested markers. On the 25th of September came the result of the sample that was forwarded later. That one also matched on all 12 markers! Proof was given with this outcome, that all the investigated branches of the Donche family had one common forefather, who must have lived before 1560.

In 2011 three participants had there results upgraded from 12 to 37 markers. Again they had a complete match, an enormous contribution to the reliability of the investigation.

These results show that the genealogy as put on record fits in completely with the biological lineage, no false conclusions have been drawn from the retrieved documents and there are no children in the lineage, whose 'official' father is not the biological father. Five centuries conjugal faith in six branches! One can hardly imagine a more satisfactory backup of years of search.

Our early ancestors

The Haplogroup that has been established from the Y-DNA-profile of the tested individuals, and confirmed in a so-called 'deep clade test' is group I1. That is applicable to the whole of the family Donche/Danz from this outcome the migration of our early ancestors over the globe can be reconstructed out of Africa, that is regarded as the cradle of modern man. That migration must have taken place more or less as follows:

  1. 'Adam', our earliest ancestor, roughly 50,000 years ago
    He lived in northeast Africa in the region of the Great Rift Valley, perhaps in present-day Ethiopia, Kenya or Tanzania. After the African ice age the Sahara became warmer and moister and our nomadic ancestors followed the good weather and the animals they hunted in northerly direction.
  2. Moving through the Middle East, about 45,000 yeard ago
    The first people to leave Africa followed a coastal route that eventually ended in Australia. Our ancestors followed the expanding grasslands and plentyful game to the Middle East and beyond, through what is now modern-day Iran to the vast steppes of Central Asia. They were part of the second great wave of migration out of Africa.
  3. Occupying the Balkans, about 20,000 years ago
    While other groups travelled eastwards eventually as far as Korea, or north to Anatolia, the group to which our ancestors belonged continued to migrate northwest into the Balkans and eventually spread into central Europe. These people may have been responsible for the expansion of the prosperous 'Gravettian culture' which spread through northern Europe from about 21,000 to 28,000 years ago.
  4. Surviving the Ice Age, 20,000 to 15,000 years ago
    During the last ice age our ancestors, like many Europeans, sought refuge from the massive sheets of ice that covered much of the continent. They found temperate ice-free refuge, in which they could survive, on the Iberian Peninsula.
  5. Moving to the north, about 15,000 years ago
    As the earth warmed and the glacial maximum passed, the ice finally began its slow retreat. The refugee dwellers left the peninsula and began to repopulate other parts of Europe that had been covered once by ice.
This is a brief summary of the outcome of the Genographic Project of National Geographic and IBM. You can read more on the website of the Genographic Project and in the full report that can be read online or printed out at will.

How to continue?

Is it worthwile that more members of our family do a DNA-test? I want to warn against that. The main lines from the 'common ancestor' to the representatives of the four investigated branches proved to be correct, and everyone knows his relationship to those main lines. What else can a new test reveal? A confirmation of the known result or ... a deviation. And a deviation can hardly lead to another conclusion than an unexpected foreign fatherhood in the short stretch to the main line. And do we want to know that? When two first cousins prove not to match, grandma or one of the two mothers must have had, knowingly or not, a child from another man. That is no knowledge to make you happy, so I discourage it strongly. It is for that reason that I have executed the 'checks' with individuals with common ancestors eight or ten generations away. When in such cases a 'mismatch' comes to light, it is not possible to trace the cause and nobody can be blamed.

But the success has encouraged me to give an extension to the 'surname-project'. There may be descendants in France from other branches of the Donche family from the Haute Savoy. In Flanders there are also a number of families with the name Donche. Of those families the lineage is traced back in archives much earlier than from the Donches from the Savoy. But a relationship has never been found. There the DNA-research might possibly throw a new light on that. I therefore kindly invite male bearers of the name 'Donche', who do not find their ancestors in one of the four descendants reports of the Donches from the Savoy on this site, to join our surname project 'Donche'.

Furthermore two familynames exist in France, that have a great similarity with our name, 'Donche-Gay' and 'Le Donche'. From those families too I invite male descendants to join the surname project 'Donche'. When those investigations get off to a good start, I will certainly report that in this place.


Finally I want to tender my best thanks to the participants in the investigation. Although it was in nearly all cases our first encounter, we were received very cordially everywere and we were given all cooperation. I am happy to count them as my (far) cousins and as my friends now. But my thanks go above all to Monique, who as a woman could not participate in the investigation but nevertheless contributed substantially to the success thereof.

Monique Donche.

Monique was born in 1943 and lives in Viuz en Sallaz. She is a retired schoolteacher. She is not married.

She belongs to the branch Donche from St. Jean de Tholome, descending from Joseph Donche dit Baron, born about 1696.

Gouda, July 2011

Peter Danz