Henly/Henley Family DNA-Matching Project

Background and Introduction

The derivation of the place name "Henley" (which in its various forms can be spelt "Henly", "Hendley" and "Hendly" amongst others) is not totally clear. Some books on surnames attribute it to the Saxon words heah leah, meaning "a high clearing", whilst others believe it to be derived from henne leah - "a clearing of the hens". Nowadays there are dozens of towns, villages, hamlets and other places across the south of England which bear the name.

As a surname, Henley would have been used to describe someone who came from a place of that name. Probably the earliest-known person to bear the name was Walter de Henley who wrote a treatise on husbandry in the 13th Century. The fact that the word Henley is drawn from a Saxon phrase shouldn't be taken as meaning that the people who bore the name were probably also Saxon - Walter wrote his work in Norman French, so may well have been of Norman descent!

In more modern times the surnames Henly, Henley, Hendley and Hendly are found spread around many counties, mainly in the south of England. In the 1881 census there are large concentrations in Sussex, Surrey, London and Wiltshire, and the names are also well represented elsewhere. My own Henly family can be reliably traced back to Brinkworth in north Wiltshire, where Thomas Henlye worked as a tenant farmer on the manorial estate. At that time there is a strong link to another family of the same name in Berkshire, but at this stage the documentation becomes very sparse. Could there be a link to the Henleys in Kent and Sussex, or to those in Somerset and Devon? In all probability the manuscript evidence to prove, or disprove a link has not survived, which is where more modern methods may be able to help.

Scope of the Project

This project has been primarily set up to sow what links exist, if any, between people who bear the surnames Henly, Henley, Hendley and Hendly. The Soundex method of comparing surnames also includes Hindle, Hindley and Handley in this "family" of surnames. I have a completely open mind as to wheher these families may or may not be related - however, their strongest representation is in the northern counties of England, with many people claiming that the Hindley family is of Lancashire origins from times before the Norman Conquest. If anyone bearing one of these names wishes to join the project they are welcome to do so - if it later transpires that they definitely form a separate grouping then they may wish to take the option of creating their own project.


I am not a trained geneticist, but my understanding is that a woman receives two X chromosomes - one from each of her mother and her father. On the other hand a man receives an X chromosome from his mother and a Y chromosome from his father. This Y chromosome is hence passed from father to son down the generations in the same way as a surname. Therefore by matching the DNA make-up of the Y chromosome of two men with the same surname it can be determined whether they have a common ancestor.

Of course, this method is not infallible. Firstly there is no absolute guarantee that a woman's husband fathered her child - we all make the assumption that this has definitely been the case throughout our ancestry, but this doubt must always exist (We all know about the uncertainty that exists regarding the true identity of Queen Victoria's father!). Also, until the early 20th century, informal "adoption" sometimes took place between friends and relatives, with children unknowingly being raised by people who were not their biological parents. Lastly there is the fact that the DNA within the Y chromosome "mutates" from time to time - this is usually only a minor change and is thought to take place once every few hundred years. This all means that a perfect or near-perfect match will very probably mean that two people are related through their paternal lines. On the other hand a non-match does not definitely mean that the two families are not related, though that is probably the case.

In a similar way, the DNA of the X chromosone can be tested to determine the origin of someone's maternal line. It is thought that there were seven "daughters of Eve" from whom all modern humans are descended - I'm not sure though who Eve's mother was!

The Tests

The tests are organised by a company called Family Tree DNA who run many projects of a similar nature. The test kit itself comprises a simple cheek-swab which is mailed out by the company to project participants. They then collect and process the test kits, producing a detailed analysis of the results. They also provide help in interpreting the results so that relationships and be proved or disproved with a stated degree of certainty. For project members the test kits (including processing and analysis) cost 99 US Dollars (this is chealer than the price quoted on their website because, as the project co-ordinator, I will help in the administration of the project).

There are three levels of tests - the 12-marker, the 25-marker and the 37-marker. Usually a 12-marker test (the cheapest) is sufficient to prove a relationship over a timespan of several hundred years. However, if it shows that there is a "probable" relationship further back in time, then either a 25-marker or even a 37-marker test will be required to prove this (or otherwise). It is usually recommended that a project startes with 12-marker tests, as this is usually sufficient for the purposes of the project.

Progress to Date

The project was started on 13th December 2004. So far a number of people have expressed interest and some testing kits have already been ordered. The first results should be available by mid-January 2005.