Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why are there so many variations of the spelling of the Pruitt/Pruett/Prewitt surname? If my family spells the name one way today, can I track that spelling back to my earliest ancestor?
Answer: We have found that the Prew-it surname has been spelled more than 20 different ways. However, one thing each spelling has in common is the pronunciation, which is why we refer to our name generically as Prew-it. If our ancestor could not read or write, it was up to the enumerator or registrar to guess the spelling. As a result, the spelling of our name could change from one official document to the next, particularly in census records. In fact, one of our families has an 1850 census record in which the last name of a family of five, living in the same household, was spelled three different ways.
Question: I have found many family trees online that refer to Thomas Prewitt/Pruitt, who immigrated to Virginia in 1636, as the patriarch of my Prew-it family. They also indicate that Thomas was the son of John Prewitt, born in 1587 in Salisbury, England. Since so many people are passing along this information, can I rely on it?
Answer: Tho. Prewitt was claimed as a headright by Joane Bennett in 1636. She received 400 acres of land (plus an additional 50 acres she purchased) in Charles River County, Va. for transporting 8 individuals to Virginia, including Thomas. Thomas is the first Prew-it to appear on any document in Virginia and many early chroniclers of Prew-it genealogies identified him as their earliest ancestor. Unfortunately, there are no surviving records to indicate whether Thomas had children and, if so, what their names were. Since the headright process was very fluid (headrights could be bought and sold), we can’t be sure who was responsible for transporting Thomas to Virginia, nor can we be sure of his age or the date of his arrival. The patent filed by Joane Bennett only indicates when she was claiming his headright for 50 acres. His arrival in Virginia could have occurred many years earlier and there’s no way to know his age when he arrived. There were no age restrictions on claiming a headright. The idea that John Prewitt of Salisbury was the father of Thomas seems to be an invention, perhaps based only on Thomas's presumed age in 1636, and even John’s existence may be owed to a misreading of a document in Salisbury, England (as one researcher claims). Anyone who draws a line from John Prewitt through Thomas Prewitt to Henry Pruitt or any other pre-1700 Prew-it, is not basing that inference on any historical record we know about. Could Thomas Prewitt have been the earliest Colonial ancestor of one of our Prew-it family groups? Yes, but based on Y-DNA evidence, only one line could claim him and there’s no way to know, at this time, which line, if any, that might be.
Question: Why do all of this project’s Prew-it Family Groups have their earliest known ancestor in Virginia?
Answer: Good question! The jury is out on Family Group F, but all the rest got their start in Virginia between 1654 and 1754 and probably entered the colony through one of the Tidewater ports. Why didn’t any of our families enter the Colonies through Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston or another port of entry? We can only speculate. We’ve identified six Prew-it Family Groups so far. Over the years, other Prew-its have joined our project at FTDNA or Ancestry (when they were still doing Y-DNA testing), but were not assigned to a group because their Y-DNA was unique. Perhaps if more people were tested, we could identify other family groups that started outside Virginia. At this time, we’re just treating this as an odd phenomenon, but it does deserve some serious study.
Question: Why do we find three different Prew-it Family Groups living in south central Virginia, particularly Pittsylvania County or one of its predecessor counties (Halifax and Lunenburg), around the same time in the 1700s?
Answer: Most early Virginia colonists entered through the Tidewater region. If they decided to seek land outside that region, they usually headed south to North Carolina or west to less sparsely settled areas of Virginia, Tennessee or Kentucky. The western route generally took them through southern Virginia. We believe it’s just coincidence that at least three Family Groups lived for a time in Pittsylvania County. But that coincidence has given many people fits in sorting out who belonged to which Family Group. Family Group F lived in Pittsylvania County the longest and it’s been challenging to explain to some researchers that their placement of certain individuals in their family tree is incorrect because Y-DNA tests do not support their findings.
- Question: Why can’t we seem to find any Prew-it cousins in Europe, particularly England, where most of us think our ancestors came from? It would be so helpful in trying to identify our roots in England or another country.
Answer: We do not have a great answer for this question, but we can speculate. Y-DNA testing, which is the only way to find our surname ancestors who lived in Europe before 1750, is not as pervasive there as it is in the U.S. We need a Prew-it (or other surnamed individual) from the old country to take a Y-DNA test that matches one of our family groups and we need that person to have a documented family history going back to this time period. So far, finding that tester has eluded us. Another possible issue is that the Prew-it surname appears to be less common in Britain than it is in the U.S. A search of the 1881 British census finds far fewer Prew-its compared to the 1880 census in the U.S. If our Prew-it roots in England are as shallow as this and other findings suggest, then there may not be very many Prew-its today who could take a Y-DNA test and match their American cousins. Also, see the answer to Question 8 below for another possible reason for the lack of matches. Most of our families arrived in the Colonies before the early 1700s and matches may not show up from that period because of FTDNA’s Genetic Distance match cutoff criteria.
Question: Which Y-DNA test should I take?
Answer: We’d prefer to answer this question by telling you about our experiences and then let you make up your own mind. At this time, FTDNA has four Y-DNA tests, Y-37, Y-67, Y-111 and the Big Y-500. Unless you’re a very serious student of Y-DNA testing, we’d suggest not springing for the cost of the Big Y test as your first entry into Y-DNA testing; you can always upgrade to that test at a later date. So, let’s restrict this discussion to the other three tests. Our first observation is that the more markers you test, the fewer matches you’ll find. One of our Family Group F testers has 7 matches at the 111 marker level, 16 matches at the 67 marker level, and 19 matches at the 37 marker level. [As an aside, that same tester has 510 matches at the 12 marker level (at a Genetic Distance of 0 or 1) which will tell you just how useless that test is.] One factor driving these numbers is that the greater the number of markers tested, the higher the cost and the fewer the number of matches you’ll find. So, if you have a larger pool of people taking the 37 marker test, you’ll naturally get more matches than you’ll get at the 111 marker level. That said, are there differences in the quality of the matches? Our second observation is that, yes, the more markers you test, the more precise the estimate of genetic distance between you and your matches and thus the better the quality of the matches. Our Family Group F member’s closest match is known by primary records to be four generations distant. At the 37 marker level, he was estimated to be two generations distant; at the 67 marker level he was three generations distant, and at the 111 marker level he was four generations distant. Other matches went from 2 generations distant to six; four to seven and even two to seven generations as the tests went from 37 to 111 markers. If you have a match at 3 generations on the 37 marker test, you might go looking for a common ancestor with that person around 100 years ago; if the 111 marker test says they’re seven generations distant, you’d need to look for the common ancestor around 200 years ago. That’s a very significant difference. Is there a downside to increasing the number of markers tested? That brings us to our third observation. Sometimes, matches drop off as you test more markers. That can be good when you know that person is not a match in the time period you’re interested in, but it can be bad if that person could be a match going back more than 300 years. The good news is that person will still show up on your 67 and/or 37 match list and you can still pursue a possible common ancestor with that person. So, which test should you take? Best would be the 111 marker test because of the greater precision. The good news is that you will still get all your 67 marker and 37 marker matches with the 111 marker test. If the 111 marker test is too pricey, then we suggest ordering the 67 marker test.
Question: Why do some of my matches drop off as more Y-DNA markers are tested, even when both of us have taken the 111 marker test?
Answer: FTDNA uses a very rough calculation of Genetic Distance (GD) to determine which matches to include on your match list. In this case, Genetic Distance just means the total number of markers that do not match. For the 37 marker test, only GDs of 0-4 are included; for 67 markers, 0-7; for 111 markers, 0-10. If 6 markers do not match on the 67 marker test, the person would be listed on your match list with a GD of 6. If that same person did not match on 11 markers on the 111 marker test, he would not be listed on your 111 marker results. As we can see by the answer to the previous question, the GD computation generally gets more precise with the more markers you test. So the GD calculations at the lower marker levels need to be taken with a grain of salt. A better calculation of genetic distance (or Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor) is provided in the Y-DNA TiP Report provided for each of your matches. In that calculation, FTDNA doesn’t just use the number of mismatches (or mutations). They also use their proprietary calculation of the mutation rates of the individual markers to adjust the distance computation.
Question: Is FTDNA’s GD match cutoff criteria problematic?
Answer: We believe so. There will be people who have 11-13 mismatches on the 111 marker test, and also appear just outside the boundary on the other tests, who will not show up in any of your results. If the 11, 12 or 13 mismatches include some fast mutating markers, then the TiP computation could indicate this person has a good probability of sharing a common ancestor with you in the last 300 years (i.e., early 1700s). However, you will not see this person on your Y-DNA match list. We believe it would be better for FTDNA to use the TiP calculation and include all matches that have a certain probability (TBD) of sharing a common ancestor in the last 350 to 400 years. There used to be online utilities that could fill this information gap, but all are now gone including one of the most useful, Ysearch, which was removed by FTDNA in 2018 “as a result of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that went into effect on May 25th 2018.”