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According to The Internet Surname Database this surname is a variant of Holland (and Hoyland) and derives from one of several places of this name found in Essex, Lancashire, Lincolnshire & Yorkshire. All the places so called share the same meaning and derivation, which is "land on or by a ridge", from the Olde English pre 7th Century "hoh", ridge, spur of a hill, with "land." As such, not all Howlands in England are expected to be related to one another.

Henry Howland (c1564-1635) is the ancestor of the Howland Brothers (Arthur, John & Henry) these brothers early settled in Plymouth Colony and were from Fenstanton in the historic county of Huntingdonshire (now part of Cambridgeshire). There was a contemporary Henry Howland who lived in nearby Ely, Cambridgeshire, England who also had sons named Henry & John, so it is believed the two families are somehow connected.

DNA testing, and in particular Y-DNA testing, is a relatively new tool which adds an element of hard science to the traditional "soft" field of genealogy. We can not only see whether males bearing the surname of Howland are related to each other (within a genealogically significant time), we can also see which other surnames are closely related (genetically) to the Howland family. In addition, we can trace the female "umbilical" line (daughters daughters daughters etc) through mtDNA testing.

There are two types of Y-DNA testing:  STR tests and SNP tests.

STRs stands for Short Tandem Repeats. These are places where the DNA repeats itself, for example TAGA TAGA TAGA TAGA being a repeat of four. During replication, the number of repeats can mutate (change) either up or down. It typically changes up or down by one, but rarely can change by a greater number. STRs mutate fairly quickly, and even members of an extended family may have slightly different values.

SNPs stand for Single Nucleotide Polymorphism. This is when a single location on the chromosome mutates. This type of mutation is quite rare (much less than one in a million occurrence). However, the Y-Chromosome has millions of locations which can mutate, so these SNP mutations do occur, and accumulate within the DNA. SNP testing discovers these mutations, and they can be used much like a "bread crumb" trail to trace our lineage from the common ancestor of mankind down to the present time.

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In addition, the Howland surname DNA Project is interested in the mtDNA of the wives of the Howland brothers:  Elizabeth Tilley (wife of John Howland), Margaret _____ (wife of Arthur Howland) and Mary _____ (wife of Henry Howland). This will include other early Howland wives such as Elizabeth Prence, wife of Arthur Howland (II), Mary Lee, wife of John Howland (II), etc.