About the Project




We're pleased to announce a Surname Project that may eventually answer some of our questions about how the major Burgess families in the United States are related, and where in Europe these lines originally derived.


The goal of the Project is to identify unique Y-chromosome markers for each of the major Burgess families in the world. Roughly 50-100 apparently unrelated Burgess lines were recorded in North America prior to 1800, scattered up and down the Atlantic coastline. None of these families can be linked through conventional research to a specific European ancestor or place of origin, although most undoubtedly derived from the British Isles. These families account for 95% or more of all individuals named Burgess living in the United States today, the residue having come from later immigrations. As test results have accumulated, a number of these Burgess lines have affiliated with each other in ways that could not have been predicted or proved through conventional genealogical research; some of these connections occurred prior to the time that our families settled in America.

Another long-term goal is to identify possible points of origin for our Burgess families, most likely in the British Isles. Early rural parish records there indicate several clusters of families named Burgess located in different British counties. These may each represent unique creations of the name. Most of our families probably trace back to one of these sixteenth-century Burgess groups. If we get enough participation from British Burgess families, we will eventually be able to identify the origins overseas of some of the Burgess families currently living in the United States and Canada today.


The genetic heritage recorded on the Y chromosome, the chromosome that determines that an individual becomes male, is passed virtually unchanged from father to son to grandson for spans exceeding fifteen or twenty generations, or 500-1000 years or more—in other words, prior to the time that most surnames were created. The genetic markers embedded on the Y chromosome remain almost identical for the majority of name-line male descendants of the original ancestor. Over long periods of time, some of these markers gradually change, but the match will be still be recognizable to the genealogist. Only a break in the chain of inheritance, caused either by an adoption or a natural birth, can produce a different set of markers for a particular family and its offspring.


All of the direct-line, male descendants who descend from one specific Burgess family should have near-identical number markers, unless a natural birth or hidden adoption intervene. If the markers from any one family match the markers of a descendant from one of the other major Burgess lines, then we know that the individuals have a male ancestor in common. If, on the other hand, the numbers don’t match, then they’re not related. It’s as simple as that. The numbers don’t tell us how far back families are related (if they are), although sometimes variations in markers in particular branches can be used to determine the lapse of time involved, or to identify those branches.


The key to ultimate success for a project of this type is getting as wide a participation among present-day Burgess families as possible. The more test results that we have available, the more matches that we’re going to make. We need at least two male volunteers named Burgess from each major line (and preferably from each major branch of that family). Knowing something about the genealogical background of the Burgess family being tested also helps considerably to provide a context to other researchers.


We are already discovering major connections between apparently unrelated Burgess families. We’re also disproving connections that had been assumed by earlier researchers. For example, the line of Col. William Burgess of Anne Arundel Co., Maryland, is not related to the lines of Edward Burgess of Prince Georges Co., Maryland and Pittsylvania Co., Virginia, or to William Burgess of Prince Georges and Montgomery Cos., Maryland; knowing this fact means that we can look elsewhere for possible ancestors for these lines. We’re also finding a number of very small Burgess families that are apparently unaffiliated with any others; some of these may originate from nineteenth-century European immigrants who changed their names from some other name to the more English-sounding “Burgess,” or they may descend from genetic breaks in those lines. The most exciting prospect is the continued discovery of unexpected links between our own families and those still living overseas. The conclusions are published on this website for everyone to use.


The Project does not examine anyone’s DNA for genetic illnesses or other such inherited characteristics. Such tests cost larger sums of money. The researchers only examine samples that are coded by randomly assigned ID numbers, not by individual name. They’re counting the repetitions of specific markers on the so-called “junk” portions of the Y chromosome (the chromosome that is passed virtually unchanged from father to son to grandson, etc., in the direct-male line).

The reports consist of lists of numbers that in themselves are meaningless. Only when compared to the results of similar tests done by other male Burgesses do the numbers statistically demonstrate either a relationship between the families, or the lack thereof.


Family Tree DNA offers five basic Y-chromosome tests, one generating a set of 12 number markers, the second 25, the third 37, the fourth 67, and the fifth 111. Each test builds on the others. The increase from 12-111 markers provides a refinement of the time that has elapsed since the death of the last common ancestor of the individual being tested. The more numbers that are generated, the shorter the time period involved, down to a level of perhaps three generations (75 years) or less with the 111-marker test.

The markers are broken for display purposes into groups of about a dozen each. A 25-marker DNA test, for example, generates results from the first two sets of markers (12 and 13 numbers, respectively). Each marker within the group corresponds to a specific place, a “locus” (plural “loci”) on the Y chromosome. These segments have been assigned standard ID numbers by geneticists, usually prefixed by the letters DYS (an abbreviation for “DNA Y-Chromosome Segment”). The markers picked are known to experience relatively predictable change rates, although these may vary from family to family.

The first set of 12 markers has the following labels, in this order: DYS 393, 390, 19 (or 394), 391, 385a, 385b, 426, 388, 439, 389-1, 392, 389-2.

The second set of 13 markers has the following labels, in this order: DYS 458, 459a, 459b, 455, 454, 447, 437, 448, 449, 464a, 464b, 464c, 464d, sometimes amended in a small percentage of the cases by 464e, 464f, and 486g.

The third set of 12 markers has the following labels, in this order: DYS 460, GATA H4, YCA IIa, YCA IIb, 456, 607, 575, 570, CDYa, CDYb, 442, 438.

The fourth set of 30 markers has the following labels, in this order: DYS 531, 578, 395 S1a, 395 S1b, 590, 537, 641, 472, 406 S1, 511, 425, 413a, 413b, 557, 594, 436, 490, 534, 450, 444, 481, 520, 446, 617, 568, 487, 572, 640, 482.

The fifth set of 44 numbers has the following labels, in this order: DYS 710, 485, 632, 495, 540, 714, 716, 717, 505, 556, 549, 589, 522, 494, 533, 636, 575, 638, 462, 452, 445, Y-GATA-A10, 463, 441, Y-GGAAT-1B07, 525, 712, 593, 650, 532, 715, 504, 513, 561, 552, 726, 635, 587, 643, 497, 510, 434, 461, 435.

When we report the numbers on this website, we do so in the order indicated above, broken out into eleven possible number groups. Someone who has been tested only for 12 numbers will just have the results from the first number set posted, and so forth.


When an individual agrees to be tested, we ask him to provide some basic idea of his family history, to the extent of which he is aware, so that we can include the context on this website when reporting results. It’s important for genealogists to know whether a participant claims descent from Col. William Burgess of Anne Arundel Co., Maryland, or Thomas Burgess of Barnstable Co., Massachusetts, or from one of the other major or minor Burgess lines. We try to summarize in each instance the name of the individual’s earliest known Burgess ancestor and where and when he lived, and also the branch of that family from whom the present-day Burgess participant derives. Susan Mortensen, Sherrie Boone, and many others have helped us in identifying these lines, and we owe them all a major tip of the hat.

We also ask each participant for permission to post his name on this website, in a way that is impossible to trace by any outsider, with a list of his Y-chromosome number markers. We will not post anyone’s data or name without his consent.


We’ve arranged with Family Tree DNA in Houston, TX to perform the actual test­ing; there are other providers, of course, and we welcome participants who've been tested elsewhere. The test is simple and easy, inexpensive, and painless, with no blood involved. Each person is sent a kit with two mouth swabs to rub on the lining of the inside of his cheek. Only direct-line males named Burgess can participate, since only males carry the Y chromosome. The group cost is $99 for a basic 12-marker test; the costs of the other tests are listed on the Project Participants’ Page. If someone wishes to participate but can’t afford to do so, Mary and I will help fund the tests, if we can afford to do so (we're now retired), whenever we think the results might advance the Project. We also have a fund on FT DNA to which others may contribute; all of the monies donated go to support Project testing.

For more information, please contact me directly at P.O. Box 2845, San Bernardino, CA 92406, or via e-mail us at the address listed below. You can also contact Family Tree DNA directly, stating that you want to par­ticipate in the Burgess Surname DNA Project (their website is http://www.familytreedna.com/). Look under the surname project list for the name Burgess, and follow the instructions given there. Once a kit has been returned, it takes about six weeks before results are received.

DNA testing is the only way that we can ever go beyond the extant civil and religious records, which are fragmentary, incomplete, and ultimately frustrating to the genealogist. Every line eventually comes to a dead end, as any researcher soon discovers. With Y-chromosome testing, we are able for the very first time to break through these limitations, and to establish links between our lines that can be found in no other way.

Michael Burgess & Mary Wickizer Burgess
San Bernardino, California

Additional information