Anglesey Bone Setters DNA Project
Prosiect DNA Meddygon Esgyrn Môn

A project part-funded by the Welsh Government's Sustainable Development Fund
via Anglesey County Council's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Office

Chromosomes Wreck

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Grahame Davies, Poet.
We are indebted to the leading Welsh poet, Grahame Davies, for his very kind contribution to this project in translating Evan Thomas's elegy. 

This web site and all material presented on it is Copyright 2009 - 2012 (C) All Rights Reserved John Rowlands/Anglesey Bone Setters DNA Project except where indicated otherwise.  See full rights assertion at the bottom of this page.

One dark, stormy night about 1743, a ship is said to have become wrecked off the treacherous north Anglesey coast. 
The only survivors of that wreck, rescued by a local smuggler named Dannie Lukie, were two boys of about 11 years old. 

They were said to speak an unknown language.

Where had they come from?

The geographical origins of the boys has long been a mystery, with notions of a Spanish nationality commonly found, theorising that they may have been in transit to or from Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.

One of the boys - given the name Matthew by locals, died soon after his rescue.  The other, now named Evan Thomas by his adoptive family in Llanfairynghornwy, flourished and demonstrated a remarkable ability at healing the broken bones of animals.  Evan later applied his great skill to human bones, and became much sought-after by the common people and gentry alike.  Evan's later descendants became fully-qualified doctors and spawned a new branch of medicine we now call orthopaedics.  A useful summary of the various sons and their professions can be found here.

A BBC 'Coast' video clip giving the background to the bone setters story can be viewed here (please scroll to 'extract 3'.)

Origins - The Evidence

There is no surviving record of the geographical origins of Evan Thomas.  The most widely-held belief has always been of a Spanish origin, and the historical events of the period, coupled to a foreign language might lend some credibility to this.  But it is far from conclusive.  The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office has no database record of a shipwreck within a 5 mile radius (about 78 square miles) of the Skerries, the area where the wreck was said to have occurred.  However, the UKHO staff kindly supplied information to this project from a book that showed a record of two wrecks between the period of 1730 and 1745.  One is of a 'Barbadoes Packet' in 1743.  The other, rather tantalisingly, is of a 'sailing ship, unidentified, probably Spanish'.  The frustrating thing is, we have no means of knowing for sure on what basis that presumption of being 'probably Spanish' was made.  Was it due to the type of ship, or simply down to the expectation of considerable Spanish shipping in the area at the time?   And, of course, simply being a passenger on a Spanish ship didn't necessarily mean the boys were themselves Spanish.  It is notable, from a reliability of historical accounts point of view, that a book about the bone setters, written in the 1930s, is specific in saying the boys were not of a dark complexion.  Yet, by today, almost all modern accounts have it that they did have a dark complexion!  The disagreement seems to stem simply from a misreading or a 'wishful' reading of the book's text!                                                                                          

Until this project's initial findings in 2011, there was no hard evidence for where Evan Thomas and Matthew came from.  Now we have a rapidly-developing picture - based on scientific evidence - that makes a Spanish/Iberian origin increasingly unlikely.

DNA - Unlocking the Past


Today, the analysis of genetic information has developed very quickly into a sophisticated and reliable means of uncovering all sorts of information about humans and their origins.  From just one cheek swab, we can work out the route that a person's remote ancestors took in their long journey out of the cradle of civilisation in Africa. 

But DNA analysis can tell us the more recent story of a person's genetic origins.  In particular, the Y-chromosome, encoding the instructions for the male sex, is a permanent record of mutations in the DNA, passed down largely unchanged from father to son.

First Step - Finding a Living Male Descendant

For this project to have any chance of success, we had to find a living, direct male descandant of Evan Thomas, the shipwreck survivor.  This was to be a difficult task, admirably undertaken to the highest standards of proof by Helen Osborn of Osborn Family Research.  

After a few months of examining wills and various birth, death and marriage certificates, Helen was able to provide the first names of direct descandants who were likely to be still alive today.  The final detective work involved contacting members of the family who were likely to have knowledge of the whearabouts of this descendant.  Sure enough, within 24 hours of contacting the family, we were visiting Mr. Thomas David ('Dafydd') Evans in Moelfre, Anglesey to tell him all about this project!   For those who wonder about the surname of today's descendant being Evans and not Thomas, this is a result of the historical way in which sons were named after their father in Wales.  So, for example, Richard, son of Evan Thomas became Richard ap Evan, which becomed the more modern version of Richard Evans.  In Nordic countries, this principle gives rise to, for example, Peterson (son of Peter) and Eiriksdottir (daughter of Eirik).

Next Step - Sampling and Analysing Descendant Y-Chromosome DNA

Our direct male descendant, 'Dafydd' Evans, kindly provided saliva samples for the initial DNA analysis and for more detailed analysis, blood samples taken with the kind assistance of Dr. Dyfrig ap Dafydd of Meddygfa Coed y Glyn Surgery, Llangefni.  Comparisons with Dafydd's second cousin, Dr. Richard Anwyl Evans of NSW, Australia were also undertaken.  The initial science outcomes are detailed in the report, below.

Latest Project News (funded project now ended):

November 2012  Leading Welsh Poet, Grahame Davies, has been extremely kind in skilfully translating Evan Thomas's elegy for this project, for which we are profoundly grateful.  Grahame's translation is now available hereAccessing the document indicates acceptance of the copyright assertion in favour of Mr. Davies.

August 2012       Accessing the full reports of this project indicates acceptance in full of the copyright assertion found at the bottom of this page.  The reports are available here.

October 2011      The project receives excellent coverage by BBC Wales

Meet Our team

Contact details:  Please note this project is not aimed at yielding general family history information beyond the direct male lines or 'family trees', so we are unable to help with those types of enquiry.  Media or general enquiries about the science, aims and output of the project are, however, very welcome.  Please e-mail john[AT]pixaerial[DOT]com

This web site and all material presented on it is Copyright 2009 - 2012 (C) All Rights Reserved John Rowlands/Anglesey Bone Setters DNA Project except where otherwise explicitly indicated to the contrary.  No permission for unauthorised use of any kind is granted, nor should be inferred to be granted by the presentation of any material on this web site.  Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following: (1)  you may print or download to a local hard disk extracts for your personal and non-commercial use only (2) you may copy the content to individual third parties for their personal use only, but only if you acknowledge as the source of the material and indicate it is copyright protected material.  You may not, except with our express prior written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content, nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.