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A Porter DNA Connection

In late November, 2008, I received an email message from Family Tree DNA as follows: A 37 marker match has been found between you and another person in the Family Tree DNA database!

Details of DNA Match

I visited the FTDNA web site and learned that someone by the name of Robert L. Porter matched my DNA on 35 out of 37 markers. Following is the summary information from FTDNA: Expressed another way:


Generations: 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24
Years Ago: 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450 500 550 600
Approximate Year: 1900 1850 1800 1750 1700 1650 1600 1550 1500 1450 1400

Family Resemblances

The person who sponsored Robert Porter’s Y-DNA analysis sent me some photos of her male Porter ancestors. In my opinion, one of the three Porter brothers in an old family photo bears a very strong resemblance to my youngest brother. The photo appears to have been taken in the 1860s or 1870s:


Porter One of my brothers

Based on the probabilities in the chart above, I’d put my money on there being a common male ancestor between 12 to 14 generations or some 300 to 350 years ago (that would be between about 1650 and 1710). From a genealogical standpoint, finding the records needed to link us together will prove to be quite a challenge. Here’s a photo of one of the other two Porter brothers. I didn’t see as strong a family resemblance, but you may think otherwise:  Last but not least, following are photographs of a more recent Porter and of my great-uncle, George Porteous (1881-1939). What’s your opinion?


Glen Porter George Ryerson Porteous



I have encountered the following surname pronunciations (the most common modern pronunciation is highlighted):

  • Por-tee-us
  • Por-tus
  • Por-chus
  • Por-shus


Following are some of our surname spelling variations: Pertus, Portas, Portass, Porteas, Porteaus, Portefs, Portehors, Porteis, Porteos, Porteous, Porteouse, Portes, Porteus, Portewis, Portews, Portheus, Porthiyas, Porthouse, Portice, Portieous, Portioues, Portis, Portish, Portous, Portouz, Portowis, Portows, Portris, Portues, Portuis, Portuiss, Portus, Portuus, Portuuss, Portwis, Pourtes Additionally, the “u” is sometimes misread as an “n” when modern transcriptions are produced, giving, for example: Porteons and Portens The jury’s still out on whether Porters and Ports are additional variations. Do these different spellings simply reflect the oral orientation of a pre-literate society? Today we pronounce names the way we read them; in the past people no doubt wrote names the way they heard them. I believe that Portis (that’s the actual spelling of our surname on the Canadian 1861 Census, and it no doubt approximates the pronunciation of our surname at that time) morphed into Porters, and that the “s” was dropped. This might have happened quickly. Portes/Portis/Portas → Porters → Porter The other possibility is that my own family started as Porter and the transition was as follows: Porter → Porters → Portes/Portis/Portas

Porter Genealogy

Here is what I know of this Porter family, based on details provided by my informant:

  • • Thomas Porter (unconfirmed), b. abt 1760-1770
  • • Thomas Porter
  • • Benjamin Porter, b abt 1801 in Tennessee, m Elizabeth Ann McKinney
  • • Elijah Porter, b Dec 1844, in Indiana, m Hester Ann Van Fossen
  • • Glen Harvey Porter, b June 1895, in Indiana, m Nellie Rose Ashcraft
  • • Clifford Wayne Porter

My informant also indicated that the family may have been living in Orange and/or Lee counties in Virginia in the early 1800s.


Where did our common male ancestor live?


First, here’s a Porter timeline. It is in greater detail than the Porter Genealogy above:


Year Location
1801 Tennessee, USA
1835 Thomas Benton Porter born in Virginia, USA
1838 Jaley Porter born in Lee County, Virgina, USA
1842 William Harvey Porter born in Virginia, USA
1844 Elijah (Eli) Porter born in Loogootee, Martin County, Indiana, USA
1848 Elcana Porter born in Martin County, Indiana, USA
1852 Trustin Kinder Porter born in Martin County, Indiana, USA
1856 Melissa Caroline Porter born in Martin County, Indiana, USA
1869 Martin County, Indiana, USA

Using Google Maps, we get the following very approximate migration: Clearly, when compared to my Porteous history (see below), the current Porter genealogy does not go back far enough for us to link to a common male ancestor.


As far as my Porteous background is concerned, there are three possibilities I’ve considered, all of which may not go far enough back in time to link us to the Porter family described above:

Richard Portas, ropemaker

Born in Barnard Castle, Durham, England in 1692. Migrated to Dunnington, Yorkshire ca. 1714. I’ve previously speculated that Richard’s father may have been Richard Portas of Jedburgh, on the Scottish Borders. I know from Richard’s IGI entry that his father was also named Richard. There are a large number of IGI entries for Richards in Lincolnshire, but if we focus on a north-to-south migration, there is the following marriage: Richard PORTEOUS, Male, Marriage, 16771212, Jedburgh, Roxburgh, Scotland, to Jonet HELLIBURTONE (now Haliburton?). The earliest parish registers for Dunnington (and not recorded on the IGI) show the death of Margaret Porteous, daughter of John Porteous, ropemaker, one day after the 1718 marriage of our Barnard Castle native, Richard Portas. In other words, there were other family members in the area, but whether they had been there a long time, or accompanied Richard is hard to say. One interesting point, Barnard Castle was well known as a ropemaking centre, at least that is what a fellow researcher has indicated. Note: This IGI entry may be telling: John PORTAS, Male, Christening, 16950203, Barnard Castle, Durham, England, son of Richard PORTAS. Perhaps the John Porteous whose daughter died in Dunnington is the brother of Richard Portas.

George Porteus, farm labourer

Born in Dunnington, Yorkshire, England in 1789. Almost certainly a descendant of Richard’s, he is a more conservative possibility, given that I can link this man to my Elvington, Yorkshire-born great-great-grandfather, George Porte[o]us. The senior George Porteus married Ann Simpson in Dunnington, Yorkshire in 1809.


A Lincolnshire origin, given the prevalence of Porteous IGI entries there. However, this may simply reflect the higher availability of old records in Lincolnshire and a more thorough transcription effort on the part of the Mormons, and I don’t have any specific evidence of a Lincolnshire origin.

 So what do we have? For the “northern” option:


Year Location
1677 Marriage of Richard Porteous and Jonet Helliburtone in Jedburgh, Roxburgh, Scotland
1692 Birth of Richard Portas in Barnard Castle, County Durham, England
1714 Richard Portas arrives in Dunnington, Yorkshire
1718 Richard Portas married Mary Gouterd (there is also a record of Mary’s last name as “Coulterd”)
1809 A likely descendant of Richard Portas, George Porteus marries Ann Simpson in Dunnington, Yorkshire
1818 My great-great-grandfather, George Porteus, is born in Elvington Yorkshire. He is identified as the son of George Porteus and his mother is given as Ann.
1842 The date is approximate. George Porteus migrates to Canada, possibly to somewhere in the Toronto area, and eventually settles near present-day Port Perry

My sense is that our common Porter-Porteous ancestor either lived in northern Lincolnshire, southern Yorkshire, or the Scottish Borders. I’m leaning towards a Scottish Borders origin at the moment, but am keeping my options open.

Written by Doug

January 24th, 2012 at 7:53 pm