Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kowallis Name Origins

Distribution of haplogroup I2a1 (formerly I2a) in Europe
Y-DNA haplogroup I2a map from Eupedia.

Several years ago my wife bought for me a DNA test through the National Geographic Genographic Project. She got it for me because she knew how very interested I was in family history and, I think she wanted to test to see if I was actually human, there being, on occasion, some question about that fact. It was a 12 marker Y-DNA test that by today's standards is a fairly minimal sampling of the DNA, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

I was hoping that the DNA test would help to identify the origin of the name Kowallis. My most distant ancestor, Jacob Kowallis, was born about 1735 and lived in Berlin, Brandenburg, Prussia (now Germany). But Kowallis is not a German name. One of my Kowallis relatives, Stephan Kowallis, who still lives in Germany, communicated this about the Kowallis name to my niece, Jernae:

"The name Kowallis has a background in the east European old Slavic language. Kowall means smith (blacksmith). In different areas they extended the name with different endings. For example, Kowallow (Russia); Kowalski, Kowallek, Kowalsky (Poland); Kowallis (Latvia, Lithuania); Kowalowsky (Russia/Poland), etc."

So, what did my 12 marker Y-DNA test show? It showed that my Y-DNA haplogroup (my branch of the human tree) was I2a (I-P37.2). The map above shows where the I2a haplogroup is concentrated, mostly in the Balkans, the area of southern and eastern Europe that borders the Adriatic and Black Seas. The Kowallis family could still have migrated through one of the Baltic countries, but there is a strong possibility that prior to that they came from the Balkans.

This year in March while attending the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City I had my Genographic results transferred over to Family Tree DNA (the company that actually ran the tests for Genographic). They gave me some additional information about the test. From their database, my 12 markers were an exact match for 5 people: one each from Poland, Hungary, and Bosnia-Herzogovina, and two people from Greece. In addition, I matched 11 of the 12 markers with 8.0% (7 of 87) of the people in their database from Bosnia-Herzogovina, 3.3 % (7 of 213) from Croatia, 1.4% (2 of 148) from Slovenia, and much smaller percentages from 30+ other countries. All of the highest percentages for the close matches and most of the exact matches come from the Balkans area.

Now that I've got my appetite whetted with this fairly minimal information on the Kowallis family origins, I have ordered a more detailed 37 marker Y-DNA test as well as a mitochondrial DNA test. The additional markers on the Y-DNA test may help to further constrain the origins of the Kowallis family and tie me more precisely to possible relatives. The mitochondial test may help to find cousins on my maternal line, where I am also at a dead end.

There is the other possibility too. These tests may conclusively show that I am not human, as a number in the family have suspected for some time.


  1. That's so cool! Thanks for the info, I love it.

  2. Thanks, Jernae. I'll keep you posted on things when I get the next test results back, probably sometime in May.

  3. Bart, I'm fascinated by the study. So glad you are pursuing this. Our oldest ancestor was a military man and Prussian recruits often came from Silesia (now in Poland), and Hungary. Another Kowallis family has ancestry in Hungary. Greece?
    Bosnia? Keep me posted.

  4. Thanks, Laraine. I will let you know if I learn anything else from the new data I should get in a few weeks.

  5. Hello! I just found your blog while trying to track down the origin of the surname Kowallis as well! Jacob is also my ancestor. And Karl A. Kowallis is my great-grandfather on my mother's side, though his second wife Johanna. Valoa is my mother!

    Did you ever find out more about where our family name came from before Berlin? Mom and I would love to know.