Data analysis: What our Sainsbury DNA matches tell us

Earlier this year we started collecting information about any DNA matches that 19 of our known Sainsbury cousins have to other Ancestry users who have a Sainsbury, Saintsbury or Sansbury in their family tree.

We did this to see if a pattern would emerge to indicate where our Somerset ancestor, Richard Sainsbury (? – 1785), was born and who his parents and siblings were.

This generated a set of 114 matches. However, no clear pattern emerged. Instead, we have clusters of matches whose Sainsbury ancestors hail from various parts of England — mainly Wiltshire.

An argument could probably be made for each cluster being the one from which our ancestor emerged. In the next few weeks, I’ll profile those clusters, the Sainsbury families they include, and the likelihood that our ancestor was born to parents in that cluster.

Overall, here’s where our Sainsbury matches led:

Castle Combe, Wiltshire

4 matches shared across 6 cousins go back to two sons of Joseph Sainsbury or Saintsbury (c. 1630-1678) and his wife Agnes or Ann of Castle Combe, Wiltshire.

Chippenham, Wiltshire

2 matches shared across 2 cousins go back to John Sainsbury (ca. 1706-?) and Hester Caswell (ca. 1710-?) of Chippenham.


11 matches shared across 11 cousins go back to various Sainsbury couples in Hampshire in the 18th and 19th centuries. All of these lines almost certainly go back to places in Wiltshire, but the lines have not been traced back that far.

Heytesbury, Wiltshire

3 matches shared across 2 cousin go back to William Sainsbury (ca. 1744-1805) and Betty Dyer (1747-?) of Heytesbury. Unfortunately, it’s unclear who William’s parents and grandparents were, which means (for now) this line doesn’t get us back far enough to find possible parents for our Somerset ancestor, Richard Sainsbury, who was married in 1745 and was therefore born some time before 1725.

Heytesbury area, Wiltshire

2 matches shared across 3 cousins that go back to Edward Sainsbury (1705-1777) and Mary Miles of Codford St. Mary, Wiltshire.

Potterne (Worton), Wiltshire

6 matches are shared across 9 cousin that go back to Jonathan Sainsbury (1707?-1770?) and Elizabeth Hutchins of Worton, Wiltshire, and whose children were baptized in Potterne, Wiltshire from 1739 to 1749. Based on age range, our ancestor could have been Jonathan’s brother or cousin. But as with all the DNA clusters we found, there is currently insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions.

Urchfont, Wiltshire

6 matches shared by 5 cousins of which 4 matches certainly go back to John Sainsbury or Saintsbury (1664-1719) and Elizabeth Wilkins (1672-1720?) who had a son named Richard baptized in Urchfont in 1708. Nothing more is known about that Richard Sainsbury except that he was alive in 1720 when he was named in a lawsuit against his mother.

Westbury, Wiltshire

6 matches shared across 6 cousins. This is a complicated cluster because although most of the individuals are in Westbury in the late 18th century, tracing them further back is difficult:

  • One match is descended from William Sainsbury (1685-1756) and Ann Jones (1696-?) who had a son named Richard baptized in Westbury in 1722. Nothing more is known of that Richard Sainsbury.
  • One match is descended from Elizabeth Sainsbury (1772-1846) who married Samuel Otridge or Ottridge in Westbury in 1797.
  • Two matches are descended from a Mary Sainsbury (?-1797?) who married James Elkins in Westbury in 1754.
  • Two matches are descended from Hester Trimby (1773-1843) who was born in Corsley, Wiltshire but whose parents, Edward Trimby or Trinby (ca. 1745-1776) and Betty Sainsbury (ca. 1745-1797), were married in Westbury in 1754.

West Lavington, Wiltshire

This is the largest cluster of matches. It has several sub-groups or branches that go back to various 18th-century couples. Overall, 20 matches are shared across 10 cousins.


28 matches across 16 cousins go back to Sainsburys, Saintsburys or Sansburys in various locations in Wiltshire and beyond: e.g., Gloucestershire, Liverpool, London, and Newfoundland (4 matches across 3 cousins).


20 matches across 14 cousins could not be traced. This was usually because the Ancestry member’s family trees were private and the owners did not share them for this project.

Sansbury – USA

28 matches across 13 cousins had Sansbury ancestors in colonial America. There were two main clusters: 6 matches traced back to Daniel Sansbury (?-1816) of South Carolina; 15 traced back to 17th-century Maryland. None of these lines could be traced back to specific ancestors in England with any certainty so we won’t be pursuing them in this project.  For more information about the early history of the Maryland Sansburys see these sites:

So what’s next for our Sainsbury project?

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we take a “deeper dive” into some of the clusters of shared DNA matches among our Sainsbury cousins.






US shared matches lead to Vest and Alexander

Examining shared DNA matches among known cousins can help identify common ancestors.

As part of this project we’re examining a set of about 60 matches shared by two SAINSBURY cousins whose common ancestral couple were Richard Billet SAINSBURY (1753-1811) and Elizabeth SPROD (1749-?). That couple lived in North Somerset, England in the late 18th century.

A previous post described a subset of four matches of identifiable English origin who are descendants of William PINNELL and Sarah ELLOWAY (mother’s name, Dinah HINTON).

We’ve recently discovered a subset of five Americans among that group of 60 who are all descendants of George Washington VEST and Nancy aka Sarah (Sallie) O’NEAL who lived in Virginia in the late 18th century.

Here are their lines of descent:virginia

This adds a new subset to the full set of matches shared not only by those SAINSBURY cousins but with each other. This internal matching pattern suggests there is a common ancestor among all 60 shared matches.

A cursory investigation of the ancestries of George Washington VEST and Nancy O’NEAL leads to origins in Germany, Ireland, and France. This is not a hopeful sign in the search for English ancestors.

However, it’s easy to determine that three of these five matches also descend from James ALEXANDER (son of William Corpulent ALEXANDER and Jean McNUTT) and Rachel LONG (daughter of Andrew LONG and Ann JONES).

  • James ALEXANDER 1723 Lancaster, PA ? – 1809 Fayette now Jessamine, KY
  • Rachel LONG 1739 – 1811 Jessamine, KY

This could be the line that leads to a common ancestor among all 60 shared matches because ALEXANDER and LONG are both Wiltshire surnames.

So the search continues…

Are you a descendant of James ALEXANDER and Rachel LONG? Have you had a DNA ancestry test? Please get in touch to become part of this project!


Matches lead to Pinnell family of Warminster in the early 18th century

As we trace back the ancestries of our shared DNA matches to find a common ancestor, one set has led to the PINNELL family of Warminster, Wiltshire in the early 1700s. We haven’t established a connection between this PINNELL family and our SAINSBURY ancestors in that place at that time, but the findings are suggestive.

Two of our Somerset cousins (they are, to be precise, half third cousins once removed) share between 20 and 30 cM of DNA with a set of about five dozen matches on Ancestry who all, by and large, share this same amount of DNA with each other.

This pattern suggests the individuals in this set of shared matches are approximately 6th – 8th cousins and share a common ancestor somewhere in the 18th century.

The first approach to unravelling the mystery of these shared matches — which could lead back to a common SAINSBURY ancestor — was to trace the lineages of those matches whose family trees had already been traced back to England in the 19th century or earlier.

This provided a subset of five individuals who were good candidates to test the theory that, due to their shared DNA, they should have a common ancestral couple some time in the 18th century. Two of these matches are in North America, two are in Australia (a parent and child), and one is in the UK.

We found the first documented proof of a “cousin connection” between the two North Americans. Those individuals (names and Ancestry user names withheld for privacy) both descend from Jane TURVILL (b. 1794, Warminster, Wiltshire) and James Joseph HURL through their great-grandchildren Madeline Irene HURL (born in Coldwater, Ontario in 1899) and Levinia HURL (born in Peterborough, Ontario in 1875).

Levinia and Madeline were second cousins. Their descendants, whose DNA matches our Somerset cousins, are 3rd cousins, twice removed.

PINNELL- SAINSBURY DNA Family Tree. No common ancestor yet identified, but a pattern of DNA matches suggests it can’t be much further back. An arrow indicates Adam MOODY whose great-grandmother was Martha SAINSBURY SPAREY. That ancestral line was the subject of an earlier post. However, the shared matches described in this post are so far pointing in a different direction.

The next cousin added to this DNA family tree was our Australian match and her child. They descend from Jane TURVILL’s brother, James TURVILL and his wife Sarah JENNINGS.

This took the tree back another generation to Jane and James’s parents: William TURVILL and Sarah PENNALS (also spelt PANNELS). It’s important to note that from this point on it’s assumed Sarah’s surname (as recorded at her baptism and her marriage) is a variant of the surname PINNELL.

With this PINNELL surname in mind, the most recent addition to our theoretical family tree is the UK shared match. Their line (if our research is correct — and all this work needs to be verified) goes back to Sarah’s parents: William and Sarah PINNELL whose children were born in Warminster from the 1750s to the 1770.

Unfortunately we haven’t found a baptism record for William. Nor have we found a record of his marriage to Sarah. It’s tempting to think Sarah’s surname was SAINSBURY and (more tempting) that she was the sister of Richard SAINSBURY who married Mary WILLIS in Portbury, Somerset in 1745 — the couple at the top of the family tree of our Sainsburys of North Somerset.

In any case, at some point in this tree, if not at William and Sarah PINNELL’s generation then not much further back, there should be a SAINSBURY wife and/or mother to explain the DNA matches between our Somerset cousins who descend from Richard and Mary SAINSBURY, and this set of five cousins who descended from William and Sarah PINNELL, and the other 60 or so matches who share DNA not only with those PINNELL descendants but also with our Somerset Sainsbury cousins.

In a nutshell, that’s the theory suggested by this set of shared matches.

With any luck, some documentation will emerge to either confirm or refute this theory. But until then, we’ll keep working the shared DNA matches to solve the Mystery of Richard Sainsbury of North Somerset.

Poor Law entry: William and Sarah PINNELL

Although not immediately helpful for our SAINSBURY search, a William and Sarah PINNELL are listed in a set of records known as the Poor Law in Wiltshire. This is a published set of removal orders, settlement certificates and settlement examinations that provide information about many 18th- and 19th-century Wiltshire residents who relied on parish relief and other forms of assistance:

PENELL, William Age : 24; Occupation/status : scribler; Date : 1775 Jan 16

Ref : 712/20 Trowbridge. Settlement examination at Trowbridge

Detail : born Warminster where father William was a parishioner; worked Warminster; now in Wiltshire Militia; married at Trowbridge about 1773; wife Sarah; ch Richard 21 mths

This William PENELL (presumably a variant of PINNELL) may have been a brother of the Sarah PENNALS (PINNELL?) who married William TURVILL — the ancestors of three of the four shared matches we’ve connected to this tree.

So although not a direct ancestor of our currently identified shared matches in the PINNELL line, William’s entry in the poor law records opens up a window on what life was like for these family members in 18th-century Wiltshire.

It tells us William, born in Warminster around 1751, was a scribler — someone who tends a wool-combing machine called a scribler or “scribbling horse.” This was a wooden frame with iron teeth; the scribler’s task (if my understanding is correct!) was to drag the wool over these teeth with a carding comb to break up lumps and knots.

Trowbridge Museum fact sheet

The entry also tells us William was in the Wiltshire militia and in January, 1775 he applied to parish overseers to relocate from Warminster to Trowbridge with his wife, Sarah, and their 21-month old son, Richard PINNELL (b. April, 1773).

Unfortunately, this couple isn’t the William and Sarah PINNELL at the top of the Wiltshire side of our emerging family tree. But it’s a good reminder that, as we trace our ancestors, we’re tracing the lives of people who served their communities, built relationships, and did what they could — or what they needed to do — in difficult times.

Sources and further reading

Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum. West country cloth workers. (Describes resistance to industrialization among Wiltshire and Somerset cloth workers in the 18th century.)

Trowbridge Museum. Trowbridge museum fact sheet: Carding and slubbing.

Wiltshire Family History Society. (2017). Poor Law in Wiltshire: Removal Orders, Settlement Certificates and Settlement Examinations, 1670-1890 (CD 21).




Anatomy of a Match

What our matches to the Sparey-Sainsbury branch tell us, and where we go from here

We’ve so far found three descendants of Martha Sparey (1737-1811) and Gabriel Sparey (1722-1799) of Corsley, Wiltshire who share DNA with five descendants of Richard Sainsbury (?-1785) and Mary Willis (c.1714?-1806?) of Portbury, Clapton in Gordano and Nailsea, Somerset.

The results tell us that the Richard Sainsbury who lived in North Somerset in the mid- to late-1700s could have been a brother or cousin of Martha Sainsbury Sparey.

Martha’s father Edward might have been baptised in Heytesbury, Wiltshire in 1705. If so, Edward’s baptismal record tells us that his father’s name was Thomas. However, there are other Edward Sainsburys born in Wiltshire around the right time, so Thomas Sainsbury as our common ancestor is only speculation at this point.

This diagram shows the DNA connections we’ve so far established although the names of living descendants have been changed:

Lines indicate shared matches between descendants of these 18th-century Sainsbury men, Edward and Richard. Shared centimorgans range from 6 up to 26.

So what’s next?

We know from the Ancestry website that the person identified in this diagram as Irene shares DNA with George, Norm, Nancy, and Doreen. We known these four cousins (ranging from first cousins to 3rd cousins) are related to each other as descendants of Richard Sainsbury and Mary Willis of Somerset.

We also know (thanks to the chromosome mapping tool on the Gedmatch site) that the DNA shared by George, Nancy and Doreen is located on chromosome 14.

Therefore, if the DNA they share with Irene is also located on chromosome 14, it will indicate they all inherited the same DNA from a common (possibly Sainsbury) ancestor.

If we can determine the location of this match we will have a much stronger case for the family connection between Richard Sainsbury of Somerset and Martha Sainsbury of Wiltshire.

Over the summer

  • We’ll be looking for more connections between Sainsbury descendants on either side of the 300-year-old Somerset-Wiltshire divide.
  • We’ll use Gedmatch to examine the location of those matches. If they are on the same chromosome we’ll have stronger evidence of a shared family connection.
  • I’ll take a break from weekly blog posts, but please comment or contact me for more information or with new discoveries!



Shared DNA Matches and the Sainsburys of Corsley and Codford St Mary

One of the key techniques of DNA genealogy is to identify, classify and analyze shared matches between known cousins. When we find others who share DNA with two or more SAINSBURY cousins we can look at their family trees to see if they have a SAINSBURY ancestor.

Our goal in this phase of our project is to find shared matches whose SAINSBURY lines can be traced back prior to the 1720s. This would identify SAINSBURY families whose children were born around the time as our earliest known ancestor, Richard SAINSBURY. (Richard married Mary WILLIS in Portbury, Somerset in 1745. If we consider he may have been anywhere from 20 – 40 years old when he married, our ancestor would have been born between 1705 and 1725 — likely in Wiltshire, given the results from phase one of this project.)

When a shared match has a SAINSBURY ancestor it’s possible (even likely) that we all descend from a common ancestor on the SAINSBURY line. Additionally, the amount of DNA those matches share can provide a clue to when their shared ancestor was alive.

In genetic genealogy a match is considered to exist when a comparison of the DNA test results of two persons suggests there is a high probability of them sharing a common genetic ancestor within a relevant period of time.

International Society of Genetic Genealogy

This week we found a strong shared match between two half third cousins from our family who themselves share 137 centimorgans (cM) of DNA across four segments. According to the shared cM project tool this amount of shared DNA is well above average for individuals who share this relationship. It is, therefore, a great starting point to look for others who share DNA with those two cousins and who may therefore descend from our Somerset ancestor’s siblings or cousins. (See this post for a diagram that explains this concept.)

These third cousins share about 60 matches with more than 20 cM. Not all of them will be matches through the SAINSBURY line, but this week we found an early 18th-century SAINSBURY in the family tree of one of those matches. An Ancestry user in Australia who shares 26 cM of DNA with one of our cousins descends from a Martha SAINSBURY who lived in Corsley, Wiltshire in the 18th century.

Martha Sainsbury has been identified as the ancestor of several Ancestry users who share DNA with our Sainsbury cousins

Martha SAINSBURY was probably baptized in 1737 in Codford St Peter, Wiltshire. She married Gabriel SPAREY in Corsley, Wiltshire in 1769 — a gardener from nearby Boyton, Wiltshire.

One of their children was William SPAREY (b. 1772) whose daughter, Martha SPAREY (1791- ) married William MOODY (1784-1845) and had many children including Adam and Isaac. We have found DNA matches among our known SAINSBURY cousins to descendants of both of these men.

Adam and Isaac Moody are the ancestors of several Ancestry users who share DNA with our Sainsbury cousins

To return to Martha SAINSBURY (1737?-1811) who married Gabriel SPAREY in 1769. The results we’re finding suggest she could be a relatively close relation of our ancestor, Richard SAINSBURY (? – 1785).

More research and more DNA results and analysis are needed. But we’ve found some very suggestive DNA evidence by following the lead from that single shared match.

Other surnames of possible matches who descend from this line

Surnames of people who may descend from Martha Sainsbury and Gabriel Sparey include:

  • MOODY (in Warminster, Wiltshire from the 1840s)
  • MOODY, LAUNDER (in Australia from the late 1800s)
  • ELLIS, RUGH (in South Africa from the late 1800s)
  • And many, many more

Are you a descendant of one of these families? Have you had a DNA test? Please get in touch.

Research Recap

When we began this work — and by “we” I mean myself, cousins David Joy in England and Dave Fletcher in Canada, and each Sainsbury cousin, descendant and shared DNA match who are helping us along the way — a big THANK YOU to everyone! — we started with the knowledge that there were three, maybe four, baptismal records for “Richard Sainsburys” who were born in an appropriate time frame to be our first ancestor in North Somerset:

  • Richard Sainsbury and Elizabeth Pony had a son, Richard Sainsbury, bap. 25 Dec 1704 • St Peter and St Paul, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England.
  • John Sainsbury and Elizabeth Wilkins had a son, Richard Sainsbury, bap. 5 Sep 1708 • Urchfont, Wiltshire, England.
  • Richard Sainsbury and Jane Sanders had a son, Richard Sainsbury, bap. 3 Apr 1716 • West Lavington, Wiltshire, England.
  • William Sainsbury and Ann Jones had a son, Richard Sainsbury, bap. 28 Feb 1722 • Westbury, Wiltshire, England.

Can we find a set of DNA matches to any of these individuals?

The first phase of our research was to search the DNA matches of as many known Sainsbury cousins as possible for anyone who has a Sainsbury, Saintsbury or Sansbury in their family trees.

In theory, if our set of known cousins descends from one of these four couples (through their son, Richard), then we would find other Ancestry members who also descend from that couple. This would provide DNA evidence that the couple in question could be our common ancestors, and thus the parents of “our” Richard Sainsbury.

In fact, after searching for DNA matches with Sainsbury or a variant in their ancestries, we found 115 Ancestry members with 18th-century Sainsburys in their trees of which (only) 1 descends from John Sainsbury and Elizabeth Wilkins, 1 descends from Charles Sainsbury and Jane Sanders, and 1 descends from William Sainsbury and Ann Jones.

In conclusion, this DNA investigation did not provide the strong evidence we’d hoped would point to one of these four documented Richard Sainsburys.

Can we find a pattern among these Sainsbury matches?

Although we didn’t find a clear indication that one of these Richard Sainsburys could be our ancestor, we also found no DNA reason to discount any. In fact, by finding matches to three of their descendants, they all remain “in the running” — except perhaps the son of Richard Sainsbury and Jane Sanders. References to that Richard Sainsbury’s bad behaviour in Hunt’s Justicing Notebook place him in West Lavington, Wiltshire at the time our ancestor was a newlywed in Somerset.

That documentation doesn’t mean he couldn’t have travelled back to his home village for a few month’s of drinking, stealing vegatables, and hitting his father. We could look for a record of that Richard’s burial in West Lavington to confirm him as “not our ancestor.” (See Additional Information, below.)

What we did find among those 115 Sainsbury matches were faint patterns that could suggest which branch of the very large Sainsbury family we belong to. It’s possible our Richard Sainsbury was not baptised or the record was lost, so we could perhaps turn to our DNA results to find clues to our origins.

In theory, if some of those 115 Sainsbury matches share common ancestors and/or cluster around a particular location, that might indicate our ancestor’s branch of the family.

In fact, of the trees we’ve analyzed there are two main clusters — Hampshire and West Lavington — with smaller cluster indicated in this list:

Each row represents a single DNA match to identify where their Sainsbury ancestor lived in their early 18th century. Names in parentheses indicate specific family units. When two cousins matched the same unknown Sainsbury descendant that is indicated (X2)

Next steps

Up until now our data collection efforts have focussed on finding DNA matches with Sainsburys in their family trees. But not every Ancestry user has a well-documented tree going back to the late 17th or early 18th century!

What we need to do next is systematically investigate the shared matches between various combinations of our known cousins.

Those matches might be more likely than our surname search to reveal our unknown 6th – 8th cousins — those who descend from Richard’s siblings or cousins who did not move to Somerset but who stayed … who knows where? West Lavington? Hampshire?

Time . . . your help … and a lot more DNA and traditional genealogy will tell!

Additional Information

Numerous citations in Hunt’s Justicing Notebook [PDF] place Richard Sainsbury (bap. 1716) West Lavington around the time our North Somerset Richard (bap. ?) is getting married and starting his family in Nailsea/Clapton in Gordano, Somerset.

149. 23 Oct 1744. Warrant against Richard Sainsbury of Littleton, carpenter, for beating his father and at his complaint. But upon their appearing at the sessions above, they agreed it.

257. 9 Jul 1745. Summons against Richard Sainsbury of West Lavington for frequenting alehouses of a Sunday. [NB: Was this Richard Sainsbury a different person from the one designated Richard Sainsbury of Littleton, who was the son of Charles Sainsbury and Jane Sanders?]

275. 19 Sep 1745. Summons on complaint of Charles Sainsbury W. Lavington, carpenter, against … Richard Sainsbury , James Sainsbury, … sitting tippling in the houses of Robert Sainsbury and Thomas Parry, victuallers.

392. 16 Jan 1747. Summons at complaint of Charles Sainsbury of the tithing of Littleton, carpenter, against Daniel Salter of Great Chiverell, victualler, for his suffering Richard Sainsbury, son, to sit tippling in his house and for taking divers[e] tools from his said son of his property as a pawn for his reckoning.

438. 12 Jun 1747. Warrant at the complaint of Richard Philpott of West Lavington, gardener, against James Sainsbury, labourer, and Richard Sainsbury, carpenter … stealing cucumbers and cherries.

Sainsbury, Sansbury

As we look for distant Sainsbury cousins by checking the DNA matches of our documented cousins (and so far we’ve got 120 results from 15 cousins who’ve had Ancestry DNA tests) we’ve found other Ancestry members with Sainsbury, Saintsbury or Sansbury ancestors in their family trees.

Through this work, one pattern emerged early on:

  • Sainsbury is the most common spelling among English ancestors;
  • Sansbury is most common among the matches in Maryland and South Carolina.

But are these just different spellings of the same surname?

One way to test this is using Y-DNA:

When two males share a surname, a test of their Y-chromosome markers will determine either that they are not related, or that they are related. If they are related, the number of markers tested and the number of matches at those markers determines the range of generations until their most recent common ancestor (MRCA). 

In fact, thanks to Jen Sansbury and the Sansbury DNA Project she manages, we’ve got the first piece of evidence that those with Sainsbury or Sansbury in their family tree are likely descended from a common ancestor. In other words, we’re likely members of the same family.

“You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to . . .”

As part of the Sansbury DNA Project Jen examined Y-DNA tests from a male descendant of the South Carolina Sansburys and a descendant of our Somerset, England Sainsburys (well, OK, it was me) and found enough of a match to suggest we have a common Sainsbury/Sansbury ancestor who lived after the widespread adoption of English surnames, which had occurred by about the year 1400.

Ths connection between our Sainsbury clan and the Sansburys of Maryland and South Carolina is probably much more recent than the Middle Ages — especially since about 40% of the matches we’ve found by searching our Sainsbury cousins’ autosomal DNA matches are Sansburys from Maryland or South Carolina.

But these are just the first Y-DNA results, and we’re looking forward to more.

Are you or are any of your close male relatives Sainsburys or Sansburys? A Y-DNA test can indicate how closely you’re related to other branches of the Sainsbury and Sansbury family. More test results will enable more detailed analysis. Interested? Please contact Jen Sansbury through the Sansbury DNA Project Page.


Y-DNA information source: Surname DNA Projects.

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off by Ella Fitzgerald.