Turi has written, produced and appeared in a number of videos. These include videos for the University of Leicester, The Royal Society, The Royal Institution, BBC and The Galton Institute.
British Surname Origin: A quick guide to the origin of surnames in Britain written and produced by Turi King
Transcript: Surnames Origins - Professor Turi King
Knowing the meaning of your surname, and other surnames in your family tree, gives you a wonderful glimpse into the past and tells you something about your ancestors.
While there are various ways of classifying surnames, broadly speaking, they fall into five main categories: occupation, parental names, nicknames, location and feature of the landscape.
The use of hereditary surnames was brought to Britain by the Normans who had already been using them for a couple of generations. Before this, people who had what we would think of as a surname didn’t pass them down through the generations. They were known as bynames and could even change in a person’s lifetime. Hereditary surnames were first used by the wealthy land-owning families as a way of securing continuity of inheritance.
The practice of using hereditary surnames then gradually filtered down to the rest of the population starting earlier in the south and moving northward until by 1500s it was becoming rarer not to have a surname. In Scotland and Wales, the picture is a bit different. In Scotland, clan names and local customs played a part. In Wales, the practice of using a single hereditary surname didn’t start until later and was slow to be adopted widely.
The most common surname in Britain is Smith, and comes from the category of occupational names. In this case, an ancestor is most likely to have been the village blacksmith. This would have been a very important occupation in the village just as the local baker, the cooper, who made barrels, and the thatcher, who repaired roofs, would have been.
While Smith may be the most common surname in Britain many of the most frequent surnames come from a parent’s name, usually the father. Your surname could be Thomas or Thompson, son of Thomas, or, Marriot or Molson both of which come from Mary. In Wales, their practice of using a father’s name has led to surnames such as Jones, Williams, and Davies becoming among the most frequent surnames in Britain today.
Two types of surname derive from a place where an ancestor may have lived. The first of these is from a specific location such as a village, town or estate. And the second is from a prominent feature of the landscape. Examples of well-known surnames that are based on location are Attenborough, Durham and Thornton and being named after a place was usually associated either with owning land there or having lived there and moving elsewhere.
Surnames such as Bridge or Bell, could indicate where your ancestor lived in the village or town whereas living next to a natural feature could give you a surname such as Wood, Hill or Brook.
My favourite type of surname comes from a nickname because it can tell you something really personal about an individual. Brown is the most common surname of this type and is thought to come from a person’s hair colour or complexion, whereas Giffard is thought to come from fat cheeks. Newman is a surname that’s thought to describe a newcomer to a town or village.
One thing to remember is that your surname can have more than one origin. My surname King could have come from someone who worked for the King or as a nickname for someone who merely behaved as if he was one!
So whatever your surname: Shepherd, Andrews, Ecclestone, Orchard or Swift, your surname contains within it a glimpse into the life of one of your ancestors.
King Richard III’s relatives: How many people are descended from his family? – Professor Turi King
Transcript: King Richard III’s relatives: How many people are descended from his family?
Richard III left no known living descendants but that doesn’t mean you aren’t related to him through his family. Indeed, we’re all related to Richard III, it’s simply a matter of degree, but let’s get an idea of the probable number of people alive today, who are descended from his immediate family.
At the time of the Richard III project the mathematician Rob Eastaway went on BBC Radio 4’s More or Less and did the following back of the envelope calculation. Richard III had four siblings who went on to have children, they were Anne, Edward, Elizabeth and George. So, Richard had a fair few nephews and nieces around, some of whom went on to have children themselves. Indeed, one of Richard’s nieces went on to have 11 children, two of whom went on to have 11 children each themselves. So, fairly fertile there.
So, while some people will have more children and others will have fewer and the reproduction rate will fluctuate over time, we can look at historical estimates and give an average reproduction rate of about 2.3. So, with every generation the number of descendants slightly more than doubles.
Two things to consider, families intermarry and that’s going to reduce that number. Equally for wealthier families we know that the number of children they had, who went on to have children themselves, is known to be higher. Richard III’s nephews and nieces were alive 500 years ago, that gives us 20 generations give or take. So, from just one of Richard’s nephews and nieces that gives us a putative 17,161,558 descendants alive today. Now clearly, we can’t get an exact figure, but it must be the case that the number of descendants from Richard’s immediate family, must number in the millions. So, it may well be that you, or someone you know, is one of them.
Royal Institution and Genetics Society: Why are we all related to royalty? – with Turi King
Transcript: Why Are We All Related To Royalty? – with Turi King
So where are your grandparents from?
So my grandmama is my mum’s mum and she is from Zambia.
On my dad’s side I think it’s a bit more complicated – they’re from Seychelles and Seychellians have an Indian, Asian, African and French…
Okay, yeah, a mix
Someone in my family thinks there’s like a royal link and that ‘Oh no the records burnt down so you can’t tell’
Eddie Izzard did a programme years and years ago which was terribly flawed.
Danny Dyer got super excited about being royalty.
Oh yeah I saw that
And it was so sweet because obviously it meant a huge deal to him, but the thing is, is that we are all related to one another. It is simply a matter of degree, so we are all related to royalty, every one of us.
So I don’t actually know huge amounts about my family background, I know that they basically come from Britain and before that they’re bound to have come from Northern Europe.
I should probably look into it, but I’m like, maybe I should do that when I’m older and have time.
I did one of those online ancestry things.
10% of me is from the UK, 10% of me is French.
I wonder what the accuracy is of that though, you know?
If there are kind of little family stories and you want to be able to test that out, sometimes the DNA can help you with that.
What it does is it takes your DNA and it looks at little bits of it and then it compares it to other people who are also in their database and sort of tells you populations you’re most closely related to. And most people kind of know that just looking in the mirror.
How we calculate how many ancestors we have?
If it starts with you, you’ve got two parents, then they’ve got two parents each.
So that’s your parents, and then their parents or your grandparents. And then one, two – oh no, this is going to get messy.
Do we have to do the maths?
Are we gonna do the maths?
Going back 500 years is going to give you 20 generations.
So in this one – so we have 2, we have 4, we have 8, and then we have 16.
32 for generation 6. 64 for generation 7.
Five hundred and –Twelve? 512
I’m just gonna write ‘lots’ up here.
2 times 2, times 2
So you have got 2 parents, 4 grandparents, it basically, it doubles every time so basically, you go 2 to the 20, so that’s 2 times 2, times 2, 20 times. So you have got over a million ancestors.
This is going to not match up with the actual population they had back then, isn’t it?
As you go further back in time, so you’ve got, you know, two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on back. So your tree is widening out like this, but the population simply wasn’t that big.
But also how do you, the, what’s the?
Because you’re not accounting for inbreeding.
Like at one point you didn’t have three grandparents as opposed to four
So Darwin was quite worried about this because Darwin actually married his cousin, so he was quite interested in looking at this sort of thing, wondering what was happening in terms of marrying, intermarrying within families like this. Because this chap here, has got, he’s part of a first-cousin marriage – instead of having the eight great-grandparents he’s only got six. This is what’s known as pedigree collapse.
Ohhh! Gold star.
Everyone with blue eyes can trace their ancestor back to like one person.
That’s the Adam theory isn’t it?
Oh sorry, Eve. Is Adam not part of this?
There is a piece of DNA which is passed down virtually unchanged and it comes down through the female line, we all carry it – it’s known as mitochondrial DNA.
Which is like, ‘the powerhouse of the cell’.
And so the genes are actually really, really quite conserved. And you can start to look at the diversity and start to work your way back, and go okay, so we know that the common ancestor for everyone alive today, in terms of mitochondrial DNA, lived in Africa somewhere around 200,000 years ago.
Celebrating DNA Day: DIY Science – How to extract DNA from a strawberry
Transcript: DIY Science: How To Extract DNA From A Strawberry – University of Leicester
Pretty much everybody has heard about DNA from the telly and it’s really popular for people to get their DNA tested to tell them about things like their ancestry. But hardly anyone is actually seen what DNA actually looks like, so this is a really quick little experiment that you can do at home, using household goods, so you can actually see DNA yourself.
So what we’re going to do is we’re going to get DNA from strawberries and what you need to do is just take the tops off of the strawberries because it’s really hard to break up those leaves and things like that.
So what we’re going to do is we’re going to put the strawberries into a bag, because the DNA that we are interested in is in the cells and it’s in a little structure known as the nucleus.
So what we need to do is we need to break open the cell walls and get to that DNA, by squishing up the strawberries. So this is going to take a little bit of time and what you want to do is you want to get them as nice and as smooth a paste as possible, so you just have to work at it basically.
Okay, now that we’ve broken down the cell walls a little bit just mechanically what we want to do is we want to add a little bit of water, because we’re going to get the DNA to come into solution.
So we’ve got about a 100ml of water here, not terribly much and then we can break down the cell walls not just mechanically by squishing them but also using washing up liquid because the cell walls are made up of a fatty material and so the washing up liquid, just a few drops is fine, is going to help to break down those cell walls and break down the nucleus for us as well, to release that DNA into solution and then we’re just going to add a pinch of table salt and what that will do is help to clump the DNA strands together.
So let’s close this back up again and we’re going to give it a little squish. So what’s happening now is you’ve got the DNA, it’s coming out into the water, but there’s lots of things in here that we don’t want, so bits of cell wall, bits of cell that we don’t want, we want the DNA that’s come into solution.
So what we need to do is we need to filter out those bits we don’t want and we’re just going to do that with filter paper, this is a coffee filter, just pop it into a little funnel there and then just pour this in and then what happens is the cell walls, the bits of stuff we’re not interested in hopefully will stay in the filter paper and the stuff we are interested in, the DNA will come through in that water. So that’s going to take a little while for that to happen so you just have to let it go for a bit.
Now what’s happened is the DNA has come through and it’s in that water, now DNA stays quite nicely dissolved in water but it doesn’t stay dissolved in alcohol, so what we need to do is we need to add alcohol. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to pour this into here, now you can do all this with your own spit if you like but it takes quite a bit of time to get enough spit together to be able to get a really good set that you can look at.
Now I have got a really high proof alcohol, this is actually a white rum really high proof, which is great but you can use methylated spirits if you want to use a cheaper option and what we’re going to do is we’re just going to add alcohol to the top of this.
Now you don’t want to mix it in too much, what you’re going to do is you’re going to basically rest this alcohol here, on the top and you’ll see that where the two layers meet the DNA is going to start to come out of solution, it doesn’t like being in solution in the alcohol it can’t do it. So what it does is it starts to precipitate out, we’ll do about equal amounts of each one, so equal amounts of alcohol to strawberry juice, like this and you can see it already.
So you can see what looks like, sort of like clouds or cotton wool and that’s the DNA starting to precipitate out of solution. So if you have a look where the two layers meet you can see what looks like cotton wool, little strands of cotton wool coming out of solution there and that’s the DNA starting to precipitate out.
If you leave it for a little bit what you’ll get is a layer of what looks like clouds and that’s the DNA that you can actually see there. So we’ll just leave that for a bit and you’ll get a better look at it like that and that’s something you can really easily do at home so you can actually see DNA yourself.
The Galton Institute/The Royal Society: What DNA can, and cannot tell us about the past and the importance of interdisciplinary working
Transcript: Professor Turi King Interview - New Light On Old Britons Conference
I’m Professor Turi King and I’m from the University of Leicester. So I actually started out as an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge and it was when the early stages when genetics was starting to be used as kind of another layer of information.
So the Romanoff case was actually the first time that I got interested in that and as technology has improved this ability to retrieve analysable DNA from ancient remains has just been skyrocketing and one of the really nice things to do is to be able to look at the DNA and use that alongside archaeological evidence to build a sort of more holistic picture what went on in the past.
So I was the person who led the genetic analysis in the King Richard III case. What I was doing was I was looking at those two pieces of DNA that are passed down in a really simple way down through the generations, so mitochondrial DNA, female line, and Y chromosome, male line. So I had living female line relatives, did that mitochondrial DNA, that match the skeleton. Doing the Y chromosome, slightly different and I knew this going in because obviously the Y chromosome that a man has is that of his biological father, who might not be the father that he thinks it is. So if there’d been sort of any sort of medieval hanky-panky that had gone on that there wouldn’t be a Y chromosome match and as it was there wasn’t a Y chromosome match and it was interesting because we didn’t know where that had happened in the family tree, there’s 19 generations that it could have occurred in and in those 19 generations are some interesting historical royal figures.
So when we published it we said well this is quite interesting, we don’t know where it is but it could be potentially in these sort of areas and that could have implications for the royal monarchy and that’s what the press completely picked up on and I spent a long time going back up, back up, back up, we don’t know where this has happened and it doesn’t have an impact on Queen Elizabeth, because that was the big thing, should she be she be on the throne? I was like, oh my goodness what have we done, anyway so DNA is role in kind of looking at history, it’s just, it’s a layer of information. It’s very important to place it within context, such as the archaeological information or historical information, so for me it’s part of a bigger picture.
BBC Crimewatch Roadshow
Transcript: Crimewatch Roadshow Filming At The University of Leicester
Today BBC Crimewatch have been here filming. They are very interested in the forensic work that we do so they’ve been gathering material for an up-coming programme.
The reason that BBC Crimewatch have chosen the University of Leicester to film at is because of our long history in doing forensic research, not least the discovery of DNA Fingerprinting by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys here over 30 years ago.
The University has been continuing with its forensic research so they’ve been very interested in coming and having a look at the cutting edge research we’re doing
not just in Genetics, where I work, but in Chemistry, Engineering and Forensic Pathology.
Mary Jane Kelly’s Grave – Victim of Jack the Ripper
Transcript: Mary Jane Kelly’s Grave - Victim of Jack the Ripper
In 2015 it was widely reported that Dr Wynne Weston-Davies wanted to extract DNA from the remains of Mary Jane Kelly, the last canonical victim of Jack the Ripper. Now the reason why he wanted to do this was because his family history research had led him to believe that Mary Jane Kelly was actually his great aunt Elizabeth Weston-Davies and therefore Jack the Ripper could have been her ex-husband Francis Spurzheim Craig.
Not long afterwards Patricia Cornwell the internationally renowned crime writer, who’s known her meticulous research, contacted me to find out whether or not it would be even possible for a project such as this to go ahead.
The DNA analysis in a case such as this is actually relatively straightforward. If the DNA from the remains is sufficient quality you simply carry out a DNA test to see if there is a match such as would be expected between a great aunt and great nephew.
However what’s crucial for a case such as this is that we have to know that the remains that we’re looking at are actually those of Mary Jane Kelly. So what we did was carry out a desk based study to see if we could actually find her remains.
Mary Jane Kelly was buried here in St Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in November 1888. She was buried in a communal grave on top of five other burials, now from here it starts to become problematic.
We know in the 1940’s the land was reclaimed, any grave markers removed and a new burial system laid over the top of the old one but with no information about how they related to one another. So we simply don’t know the precise location of Mary Jane Kelly’s grave.
In order to carry out this project we would have to disturb the remains of potentially hundreds of individuals, all of whose relatives would have to give consent for the project to go ahead and the Ministry of Justice is highly unlikely to grant a license for the excavation.
Secondly we know of exhumations of remains from as recently as the 1950’s show that the graves are heavily waterlogged and remains are very poor condition, which would affect the retrieval of any usable DNA for this project.
Given the quality of the research question and extremely unlikely chance of success we feel that as it stands breaking ground on this project simply isn’t justifiable.