UTERMOHLEN DNA PROJECT
Males surnamed Utermohlen (or Utermöhlen, Utermohle, Utermoehlen, Uttermohlen, Utermahlen or any other variant of the name) can participate in an Utermohlen Surname Study designed to determine the extent of relationships between such families through the use of DNA testing of the Y chromosome.
Those who are not male Utermohlens by birth can participate by assisting with the cost of testing for others (which is $99 for a 12 marker test and $169 for a 25 marker test; participation in the Surname Study permits a discount on the test costs from the regular prices of $159 for 12 markers and $225 for 25 markers) or by soliciting the participation of at least one member, and preferably two members, of their family. The actual test is simple, involving sending two swabs of the inside of a cheek to a laboratory for sequencing of the relevant markers. Those interested in participating (or donating) should contact me. You can also submit a join request through the Surname Study website at: http://www.familytreedna.com/surname_sum.asp?let=U. While the laboratory is located in the United States, kits can be mailed anywhere in the world and instruction sheets are available in German upon request.
The popularity of such testing has grown greatly in the last few years. It can be very useful in determining whether particular families bearing the same surname are related (the best known example was the use of such testing to determine that certain of Sally Heming's male line descendants bore markers indicative of their descent from the Jefferson family, although the technique is just as useful in conventional genealogical contexts).
The basis of the test is that the Y-chromosome is not mixed with the other chromosomes at each generation but, barring a mutation, passes down intact from father to son. In fact, absent mutations, all males would presumably have identical Y-chromosomes, indicative of their descent from a common ancestor at some indeterminate time in the past. Mutations do, however, occur. For genealogical purposes, the most useful portions of the chromosome are those that mutate the most quickly, since the timeframe of genealogical interest is on the order of hundreds, not thousands or millions, of years.
DNA is a very long molecule made up of sequences of only four bases--adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G)--that are strung together. The most important portions of the chromosome are those that code for particular proteins that cause the body to develop and function. However, there are other stretches of DNA that seem to do little or nothing. It is among those parts that mutations most readily occur and survive, since they typically do nothing harmful at that point. One of the common features of this part of the chromosome is Short Tandem Repeats (STRs): stretches where the same sequence is repeated over and over (for example, GATAGATAGATA, made up of three repetitions of GATA). It is particularly common for the number of such repeats at a particular place on the chromosome to mutate, changing from 11 to, say, 13 or 10 repeats. It is these STRs that are used in the Y-chromosome testing for genealogical purposes. A number of sites where such STRs occur have been identified and those sites are sequenced to determine how many repeats are at each location.
While a mutation occurs very rarely at any given location (it has been estimated once every 500 generations), by putting together a number of such "markers," a mutation within a relevant time period is very likely. The estimates furnished by Family Tree DNA indicate that persons having an identical sequence at 12 out of 12 markers have a 50% probability of sharing a common ancestor within 14.4 generations. With full identity at 25 markers, there is a 50% probability of a common ancestor within 7 generations. On the other hand, if there is divergence at several markers in a 12 marker test, it becomes clear that there is no close common ancestor. More than that would indicate inaccurate genealogy, an unrecorded adoption or, perhaps, adultery. The probability of such a result, while not zero, appears to be less than 1% per generation. For more information, go to http://www.familytreedna.com.
My hypothesis is that most Utermohlens are descended from a common ancestor, regardless of the spelling of their name (the notion of a "correct" spelling, rather than a spelling that approximates a phonetic transliteration of the spoken word, is a relatively recent phenomenon). The small number of Utermohlens, both currently and historically, and their geographic clustering in a particular area of Germany suggests that the name may have originated as a surname only once, or at least that the largest group of Utermohlens have a common origin. Of course, a few adoptions of the surname into a female line, or the like, are to be expected, and it is possible that there are multiple major clusters. The limited available records prior to the Seventeenth Century, and the difficulty just in tracing back that far, makes a Y chromosome DNA test the only feasible way to cast light on such issues.