Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series about FamilyTreeDNA’s involvement in the study “Unearthing Who and Y at Harewood Cemetery and inference of George Washington’s Y-chromosomal haplotype.” Read part two here:

FamilyTreeDNA collaborated with the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, a division of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES-AFDIL), on an exciting historical DNA study that helped identify the unmarked graves of Samuel Washington’s descendants at the Harewood Cemetery in Charles Town, West Virginia


  • Revolutionary Methods: Multi-marker identification was utilized using Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA.
  • Washington Confirmation: Identification of Washington family remains in Harewood Cemetery, West Virginia
  • Direct Paternal Lineage: United States First President George Washington’s detailed paternal line (Y-DNA haplogroup) has been documented for the first time through high-coverage Big Y testing.
  • Living Washington Descendants: The study was approved and executed in cooperation with a living descendant of two of George Washington’s younger brothers.
  • Presidential Haplogroup: The Presidential Washington lineage shares deep roots with Abraham Lincoln; Both belong to the same 4,500-year-old lineage known as R-U152.
  • Are You Related? This is an exciting opportunity to find more known and previously unknown relatives of the Washington family.
  • Pedigree Collapse: There was extra autosomal analysis complexity due to multiple cousin marriages in the Washington family.

Colonel Samuel Washington, once an owner of the Harewood plantation, is best known for being the younger brother of the first president of the United States, George Washington. George Washington did not have any children of his own, so his Y-DNA signature cannot be inferred from direct descendants.

However, this study allowed the Presidential Washington lineage to be mapped for the first time by combining ancient DNA analysis of the Harewood burial with modern DNA analysis of Colonel Samuel’s 4th great-grandson, Samuel Walter Washington, who actively participated in the study.

The new paper, “Unearthing Who and Y at Harewood Cemetery and inference of George Washington’s Y-chromosomal haplotype” by Cavagnino et al. 2024 was published in iScience. FamilyTreeDNA employees Göran Runfeldt, Head of Research and Development, Michael Sager, Phylogenetic Specialist, and Roberta Estes of DNAeXplained are co-authors of the paper.

Harewood estate in Charles Town, West Virginia. where George Washington's family remains are buried
Pictured: Harewood estate in Charles Town, West Virginia. (Photo provided by Samuel Walter Washington). Figure 1 from Cavagnino et al. 2024.

The New Study Was a Collaborative Effort Between FamilyTreeDNA, AFMES-AFDIL, and the Washington Family

The AFMES-AFDIL primarily works with identifying the remains of service members, and occasionally their scope is expanded to civilian historical projects. These civilian research projects help them finetune and validate their scientific methods.

Following a successful collaboration with the study DNA Testing Reveals the Putative Identity of JB55, a 19th Century Vampire Buried in Griswold, Connecticut where the inhabitant of a mysterious grave could be identified by comparing the DNA signature to public records in the FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA database, FamilyTreeDNA was invited to participate in the Harewood Cemetery project.

Samuel Walter Washington (S.W.W.), named after his grandfather and great-great-grandfather, was involved in the study from the initial excavation, gave permission for the DNA testing of the remains of his ancestors, and submitted his own DNA for testing and comparison.

What Revolutionary Methods Were Used?

The study’s multi-marker approach was unique in that it combined Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA testing for identification and confirmation of the remains buried in the unmarked graves. The Washington family genealogy introduced some interesting challenges given historical distant cousin marriages within the family, which caused the namesake descendant to be related to his great-great-grandfather in multiple ways.

All three types of DNA markers helped confirm the relationship and identify the unmarked graves as belonging to Dr. Samuel Walter Washington (1797–1831), his brother George Steptoe Washington, Jr (1806-1831), and their mother, Lucy Payne.

Samuel Walter Wahsington's family tree, limited to ancestors relevant to the relationships discussed in the new study about the genetic analysis of George Washington's family
Pictured: Samuel Walter Washington’s family tree, limited to ancestors relevant to the relationships discussed in the new study. Based on Figure 3 from Cavagnino et al. 2024.

FamilyTreeDNA is perhaps best known for being the multi-marker genetic genealogy company, offering high-resolution Big Y testing and mitochondrial (mtDNA) full sequence testing in addition to the autosomal DNA test (Family Finder) that most consumer DNA test companies offer. This made for a perfect collaboration on this project, because all three types of DNA were used to determine the identities and relationships of the burials.

Notable Connections to George Washington Using FamilyTreeDNA Discover™

What can we tell about the newly uncovered Washington lineage? Using FamilyTreeDNA Discover, we were able to find some interesting connections to George Washington. For a start, his high-level 4,500-year-old haplogroup R-U152 is shared with some other iconic Americans:

  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
  • Johnny Cash, iconic American singer and songwriter
  • Michael Jackson, the King of Pop
  • John Alden, Mayflower Pilgrim
  • Matthew Perry, of Friends fame

Utilizing the Migration Map within Discover, we learned that Washington’s haplogroup is also shared with some notable connections from the British Isles, where the Washington surname originated:

  • Robert Burns, popularly known as the national poet of Scotland
  • House of Percy, one of the most powerful noble houses in Northern England during the Middle Ages
Migration Map from FamilyTreeDNA Discover showing the migration of haplogroup R-U152, an early haplogroup on George Washington's family line

Ancient Connections to George Washington’s Y-DNA Haplogroup

The reconstructed deep roots of haplogroup R-U152 are thought to be from Southern Europe. The Washington lineage’s closest matches in the archaeological records, shown in Discover’s Ancient Connections, are curious:

  • A Medieval Italy man from a burial in the medieval settlement of San Lorenzo in Foggia, Italy, part of the Population genomics of the Viking world study by Margaryan et al. 2020.
  • A Historical Age (ca 1400-1600) man from Pericei in Romania who was buried in a church together with members of the aristocratic Báthory family (famous for the legend about the allegedly bloodthirsty Elizabeth Báthory), studied by Gînguță et al. 2023.

While these ancient connections are interesting fun facts about the Presidential Washington lineage, and help genealogists understand “where we came from,” it is important to remember that this connection goes back almost 4,000 years, long before historical times.

An ancient connection to George Washington's haplogroup, R-FTE201, connecting to Perical 8

Continuing to Test the Washington Line

Importantly, knowing the detailed Y-DNA profile of the Presidential Washington lineage will allow future research to confirm or reject different hypotheses about relationships to the Washington family, including the identification of unknown remains or the authentication of other artifacts.
Any genetic male who thinks they may be a direct patrilineal descendant of a Washington ancestor can take a Big Y-700 test and see if they belong to the presidential Washington lineage.

Take a Big Y-700