Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Friday, 26 March 2010

DNA to solve origins of Anglesey shipwreck survivors

DNA information (generic)
DNA from around the world will be compared over the next two years

DNA analysis is being used to help solve the 18th Century mystery of the origins of an Anglesey medical family.

Two boys were sole survivors of a 1745 shipwreck and experts want to find out where in the world they were born.

One of the boys was a brilliant manipulator and healer of bones, and started a family of doctors who helped develop orthopaedic medicine.

Now DNA has been taken from a direct male descendant and scientists hope the mystery will finally be solved.

At the time of the shipwreck the boys were rescued off the Skerries by a smuggler called Dannie Lukie.

With a bit of luck, a quarter of a millennium after the event, we may within the next two years finally unlock the secret of the mystery of where Evan Thomas came from
John Rowlands, project scientist

The story goes that the boys were twins, and probably Spanish nobility, but there is no reliable evidence to support this.

Others say they were Manx, Scots or Dutch.

It is known however that after their rescue the boys were adopted and given the surname "Thomas", one was called Evan and the other Matthew.

The one called Matthew seems to have died early-on but Evan went on to become a brilliant manipulator and healer of broken bones.

This spawned an entire family of qualified doctors who helped develop orthopaedic medicine.

One of his descendants, Hugh Owen Thomas, invented the "Thomas splint" which reduced the incidence of deaths from femoral leg fractures during the Great War.

"This project comes at a time when the information we can extract from DNA analyses is developing very rapidly," said John Rowlands, a scientist part-funded by Anglesey Council's area of outstanding natural beauty sustainable development fund.

Soldiers during WWI
The 'Thomas splint' saved many soldiers during WWI

Mr Rowlands said he is delighted a living, direct male descendant of Evan Thomas was part of the project.

"Thomas David Evans was found after some local detective work, and we're really happy that Mr Evans has been so willing and enthusiastic to lend his support to this project," he added.

The project aims to read Mr Evans' entire Y chromosome - the chromosome that confers the male sex.

Latest scientific techniques will then compare this with genetic information obtained elsewhere in the world.

"With a bit of luck, a quarter of a millennium after the event, we may within the next two years finally unlock the secret of the mystery of where Evan Thomas came from," Mr Rowlands added.



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