The Winder Johnson DNA Project – the background

Two of the most enduring genealogical mysteries in the Winder and Hungerford families are the parentage and ancestry of Tom White Melville Winder (c1788-1853) and his wife Ellen Johnson (c1803-1887). They had one surviving son, Thomas Jr, while three of their daughters married three of the sons of Captain Emanuel Hungerford.

Family legend handed down by their children claims that Winder was the illegitimate son of Arthur Wellesley, future Duke of Wellington, and Lady Mary Melville. But no evidence has been found to substantiate this claim.

Ellen’s parents appear to be John Lyster (d1836) and Margaret Mooney (d1815), both convicts who were transported to New South Wales in 1797 and 1801. There is no record of Ellen’s birth which took place in Sydney, New South Wales.

We know so little about this couple, who met in Sydney around about 1817, settled in the Hunter Valley in 1824, and married in 1848. They are the ancestors of thousands of Australians and are among the earliest European residents of this ancient land.

DNA provides a vital new tool in the hunt to solve these mysteries, yet time is short. Tom and Ellen were born over 200 years ago. Their closest living descendants are great-great-grandchildren, some of whom may carry enough of their DNA to establish a match with their families of origin.

Many of Tom and Ellen’s descendants (perhaps 40) have already tested on Ancestry, MyHeritage etc. The majority of these have DNA from both the Winder/Johnson line and from the Hungerford family, which complicates the analysis.

A very small number of people (less than five) appear to have tested who are not descended from a Hungerford ancestor. This group can help find Winder or Johnson specific matches when looking within autosomal DNA. We need to expand this group so we can identify remote cousins more accurately, because the people who can help us triangulate the parents of Thomas or Ellen are likely to be in the 5-8th cousin range - a large number of matches with less confidence statistically.

So far, we have had no success with either of these ancestors. Both have two unknown parents, apart from hearsay and possibilities from later records in life. There is no baptism or record of birth for either.  While Ellen’s birth location is known, Tom’s is not. Tom's ancestors might have more distinctive names and could be located in England or Scotland, but also in perhaps in other colonies of the time. Ellen's ancestors are more likely to be Irish with less unique surnames. 

The data gathered about autosomal DNA matches in each project can help narrow the search in the other.  On the other hand, the projects have slightly different objectives and, being male and female, can use different approaches that can span more generations, ie Y-DNA and mtDNA.    

Y-DNA was useful in proving the shared Hungerford Knight ancestry. Y-DNA tests on Winder males might match a man somewhere else in the world who is close enough to find a shared ancestor.

We haven’t used mtDNA successfully yet, but we might find a mtDNA and autosomal DNA match here in Australia, given the interest in researching Australian convicts. We hope to collaborate with the DNA special interest groups at the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG) and surname groups at FamilyTreeDNA.

In 2021, we'll be asking certain people if they would help us by privately sharing more information from your DNA tests and perhaps doing some more specific ones at our expense.

We will be creating a closed group of members to discuss details of these projects. If you are a descendant in the "W" line and would like to be involved, please register your interest using our contact email form.

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