By: Mark Allan Bankston

Discover how I uncovered the origin of my surname and my Swedish ancestral heritage through FamilyTreeDNA’s Y-DNA testing.

Motivated by curiosity, I embarked on a profound journey into the world of genetic genealogy. With the help of FamilyTreeDNA, I uncovered connections that go beyond the confines of conventional research, unveiling my surprising lineage. I was able to trace the Bankston name from New Sweden’s historical realm to the heart of Texas. At the apex of my search, Y-DNA testing emerged as a strong tool, offering a look into my deep ancestral roots and clarity on my identity.

Curiosity About My Surname Sparked an Interest in Genealogy

My journey with FamilyTreeDNA began with a simple question: What is the origin of my surname?

Mark, his dad, and his wife.
Mark, his dad, and his wife.

My parents told me our ethnicity was Scotch-Irish and German. But “Bankston” did not sound like it was Scottish, Irish, or German. An online search revealed that Dr. Peter Stebbins Craig (1928-2009), genealogist and historian for the Swedish Colonial Society, already knew the answer. Bankston is an anglicized variant of the Swedish patronym “Bengtsson.”

A man named Anders Bengtsson was born in Sweden in 1640 and came to America during colonial times, where he lived in what was once the Swedish colony called New Sweden (1638-1655), which was located in what is today Pennsylvania, Delaware, and western New Jersey.

Map of New Sweden

He was known to the English as Andrew Bankson, and some of his descendants spelled the name Bankston. To say I was surprised by this answer is an understatement. The answer, however, only raised more questions. Who was Anders? What was New Sweden? Am I descended from this person? Swedish?!?

I Was Advised To Test With FamilyTreeDNA

The Swedish Colonial Society’s website recommended FamilyTreeDNA for Y-DNA Projects, including a Bankston surname project. I knew nothing about Y-DNA, but I was intrigued.

As FamilyTreeDNA explains, the Y chromosome is handed down from father to son unchanged except for small mutations that can be traced. Several men with the Bankston surname tested their Y-DNA on 111 markers. From those tests, researchers were able to identify Anders’ Y-DNA signature. I ordered a Y-DNA kit from FamilyTreeDNA and anxiously awaited the results.

Within a few short weeks, the results came back as a match, confirming that I am a direct descendant of Anders Bengtsson. Having grown up without a specific ethnic identity, I was so excited about the results that I started to learn everything I could about Sweden, its people, culture, history, language, food, and traditions.

A picture of Mark, Erich and Karen Wolz, and Göran Runfeldt from a celebration of Sweden’s National Day with the Swedish Club of Houston
A picture of Mark, Erich and Karen Wolz, and Göran Runfeldt from a celebration of Sweden’s National Day with the Swedish Club of Houston

I felt compelled to connect with a country I knew nothing about apart from IKEA, Volvo, meatballs, and Yngwie Malmsteen. I started reading everything I could find about Sweden and joined the Swedish Club of Houston, where I started making new friends.

Traditional Research Revealed How the Bankston Name Arrived in the States

From Dr. Craig’s work, I learned that Anders was born on a farm near Lilla Edet, Sweden, a small town north of Gothenburg. It is located along the ancient Göta älv, the river that connects Lake Vänern to the sea of Kattegat. In 1655, Anders boarded a ship called the Mercurius as a teenager to make the dangerous Atlantic crossing.

Map of Lilla Edet in Sweden

He was not listed as a passenger and had no family with him. He arrived in March 1656 only to find that the Dutch had conquered New Sweden and annexed it into New Netherland, which was the neighboring colony based on Manhattan. The Dutch would not allow the Mercurius to land until the Lenape Tribe, with whom the Swedish settlers enjoyed a close friendship, intervened. The Lenape boarded the ship and escorted it up the Delaware River.

Anders Bengtsson Played a Significant Role in New Sweden

In 1668, Anders married a woman named Gertrude Rambo, the oldest daughter of Peter Gunnarson Rambo, one of the original Swedish colonial settlers. They had nine children, seven boys and two girls. The Duke of York’s laws governed at the time and required every inhabitant to register their name and surname. Bengtsson/Bankson became the family surname instead of the children being named Andersson or Andersdotter in Swedish patronymic tradition.

Anders prospered as a farmer and landowner. After William Penn arrived, Anders owned large tracts of land in what is today the South Philadelphia neighborhoods of Moyamensing and Passyunk. He was elected to and served in the inaugural Pennsylvania Assembly and served two additional terms, where he witnessed the Charter of Pennsylvania.

Plan of Moyamensing, Southwark, Passyunk &c. within the limits, from South St. to Delaware River on the south and from the Delaware River on the east to the Schuylkill River on the west. Approved by Commissioners. Directed by an Act of the General Assembly, Sept. 29. 1787. John Hills, Surveyor., 1788
Plan of Moyamensing, Southwark, Passyunk &c. within the limits, from South St. to Delaware River on the south and from the Delaware River on the east to the Schuylkill River on the west. Approved by Commissioners. Directed by an Act of the General Assembly, Sept. 29. 1787. John Hills, Surveyor., 1788 (philageohistory.orh)

He drowned in the Delaware River in 1705, leaving behind a large family. He is buried at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes) Church in Philadelphia, the oldest church still operating in Pennsylvania today.

Picture of Gloria Dei (Old Sweden) Church in Philadelphia
Picture from Added by: Jean Roberts on 22 Dec 2011

Connecting My Family Line to Anders

But how did that family lineage connect to me? It is a question without a definitive answer. Testing with FamilyTreeDNA once again is helping break through barriers that traditional genealogy research cannot breach. The evidence to date suggests I am descended from Anders and Gertrude’s second son, Anders Bengtsson II, and his son, Lawrence Bankston.

Lawrence was born in Pennsylvania, but he became involved in Cresap’s War, which was the border dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland that led to the creation of the Mason-Dixon Line. Lawrence sided with the Marylanders and was apparently not welcome in Pennsylvania anymore. He moved to North Carolina and spelled his name “Bankston.”

I Started With My Paternal Grandfather

When I started this journey, my earliest known ancestor was my great grandfather, Arvil Wade Bankston (1859-1901), after whom my father was named. All I knew about him was that he died from knife wounds he suffered in a fight in Milam County, Texas. My grandfather, L.L. Bankston, and his brother, Malcom, witnessed it happen.

Headstone for Mark’s great-grandfather Arvil Wade Bankston
Headstone for Mark’s great-grandfather Arvil Wade Bankston

In the 1860 census, the only Bankston boy I found born in 1859 was to a couple named Micajah W. Bankston and his wife, Sarah Jackson. The handwritten census record for the boy looked like “Wade,” but other researchers read it as “Mose.”

Picture of the handwritten census record with Wade/Mose

Micajah also died young as a POW during the Civil War in 1863. Micajah and Sarah had four other children, two boys and two girls. The 1870 census was not helpful. Sarah was living as a widow with her children, including an 11-year-old boy identified only as “H.”

DNA Testing Linked New Sweden to Texas

Back to the Bankston Surname project, the results showed that another participant was a third cousin from Texas. He traced his ancestry back to Micajah and Sarah through their son, Sam Houston Bankston.

I was thrilled at this find. I decided to test my autosomal DNA with FamilyTreeDNA and found other third cousins who were descended from Micajah and Sarah. The DNA evidence was conclusive proof that Micajah and Sarah Bankston were my 2x great-grandparents.

Later, I discovered in the 1880 census records that Wade Bankston, 21, was living with his sister, Louisa Bankston McCall, who was Micajah and Sarah’s daughter.

Picture of 1880 census records of Wade Bankston living with his sister Louisa Bankston McCall

Connecting to Cousins Through Micajah

Genealogical records and DNA testing confirm that my 3x great-grandparents were James and Lavisa Bankston, both born in Georgia, who were Micajah’s parents. Most researchers believe that James Bankston (1800-1870) was the son of Elijah Bankston, who reportedly served in the American Revolution and War of 1812 (1765-1849).

Note: This James Bankston is often confused by researchers with James E. Bankston (1788-1844). They were of the same generation, but they were not the same person.

Big Y-700 Testing Unveils 11 Bankston Lineages

Once again, FamilyTreeDNA’s Y-DNA tests provided insight. Several participants in the Bankston Surname project, including myself, upgraded to the Big Y-700 test. As a result, the Y-haplogroup associated with Anders’ descendants, R-FTA3495, split into at least 11 descendant lineages, 8 of which are yet to be named.

Screenshot of FamilyTreeDNA Discover™ Time Tree for Y-DNA haplogroup R-FTA3495

The Big Y results of participants prove that my third great-grandfather James, was likely not Elijah’s son. The mystery continues, but there is reason to hope that a definitive answer will emerge with more participants testing with FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA Tools Uncover Ancestral Tapestry

FamilyTreeDNA’s tools also present a big picture of my ancestry.

For example, the Big Y-700 results suggest my paternal line can be traced back to Scandinavia during the Nordic Bronze Age since earlier haplogroup branches show their highest frequencies in Sweden and Norway as far back as 1550 BCE.

FamilyTreeDNA’s emerging ancient DNA research is uncovering all kinds of cool facts, showing I share common ancestors with several ancient remains, including Vikings. I also tested my mtDNA to confirm my maternal haplogroup, H13a1a1.

FamilyTreeDNA’s myOrigins (version 3) is the most accurate autosomal ethnicity estimate based on what I know about my family history compared to their competitor’s tests. myOrigins shows an admixture of:

    • 29% Central Europe
    • 23% Scandinavia
    • 16% England, Wales and Scotland
    • 13% Ireland
    • 20% Western Slavic

    The results are consistent with where my known ancestors were from.

    DNA Testing Provided Clarity on Where I Came From

    Choosing FamilyTreeDNA for DNA testing was one of the best decisions I ever made. The more I learn about my ancestry and family history, the better I know and understand myself, and the more I appreciate how all of us are connected to each other.

Mark Bankston - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

About the Author

Mark Allan Bankston

FamilyTreeDNA Customer

Mark Allan Bankston is a shareholder with the law firm of Johnson, DeLuca Kurisky & Gould, P.C.. Mark handles complex commercial and civil litigation matters with a focal point of representing motor vehicle dealers throughout Texas. His passion for representing dealers stems from his family’s involvement in the car business. A sixth generation Texan, Mark was born on May 29, 1970 in Waxahachie, Texas. He graduated with an English degree from Lamar University in 1993, where he served as editor of the student newspaper. After a brief stint as a journalist for a Hearst daily newspaper, Mark graduated from South Texas College of Law in 1997.

Mark is a member of the Swedish Colonial Society and the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce-Texas. He serves on the board of directors of the Swedish Club of Houston. Mark is married to Zee and has two stepsons, Austin and Vince. Mark is also a musician and plays guitar in a local rock band.

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