WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Almost all my life I have known that my last name, Turco, in Italian means what it says: “Turk.” It dates, I understand, from the period of the Arab rule of Sicily from the ninth to the tenth centuries, and it is not an uncommon name in Sicily where my father was born. Since there was no such place as Turkey at the time, the word simply means “Arab” or “Moor”; moreover, according to Halbert’s1, a Turco family coat of arms can be found in Rietstap Armorial General, and the shield is described as “Silver with a Turk, facing front, dressed in a blue tunic and red pantaloons; wearing a red turban on his head, holding in his right hand a silver scroll, and in his left hand a silver scimitar trimmed gold. Family mottos are believed to have originated as battle cries in medieval times, but a motto was not recorded with the Turco coat of arms.”
However, I am something of a cynic, and I have long believed in an adage that would serve well for any family’s motto: “It is the wise child that knows its father.” Since everyone has trampled over Sicily since time began, including Sicils, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, French, Vikings, Normans, Danes, English, and so on ad infinitum, many of them raping and pillaging as they wandered across the countryside, I assumed that somewhere along the line there must have been a break in the chain and that my name might as easily have been Smith or Jones as Turco. So when it became possible, I decided to have my DNA tested to see where I really came from.
In 2006 I participated in the National Geographic Human Genome Project2 and discovered that my blood confirms what my name asserts: I am paternally a Turk through and through! Males are traced genetically through the Y-DNA marker which is passed down unchanged from father to son over generations; women are traced through their mothers’ mitochondrial DNA which is passed from mother to daughter, also unchanged. Of course every now and then, at great intervals, both Y-DNA and MT-DNA do take on characteristics that differentiate them from other evolutionary lines, and these mutated lines can be traced.
So far as can be discerned with the data currently at hand, it turns out that my father’s branch of the Turco family is part of a group of people about which little is known. My Y-chromosome results identify us as members of haplogroup G, “a lineage defined,” my National Geographic report stated, “by a genetic marker called M201” which had its origin some 60,000 years ago with an ancient Y-chromosome marker called M168.
According to Spencer Wells3 there was a single male who lived perhaps 75,000-100,000 years ago whose mutated Y-chromosome is carried by every male currently alive. Although scientists call this person “Genetic Adam,” or “Eurasian Adam,” in fact he was not likely the first fully human male, but none of the other males alive at the time have passed down to posterity their particular genetic markers. Adam’s line is the only one to have survived and proliferated.
A descendant of Adam identified by a mutation called “M94” was an inhabitant of the East African savannahs 75,000 years ago, and it was he who was the progenitor of most modern males because he was the founder of all haplogroups from B through R (haplogroup A did not leave Africa in ancient times). A later mutation on this male line called “M168” 60,000 years in the past is believed to have lived in an area that includes what is now Ethiopia in Africa, and he is the founder of haplogroups C through R.
To the north of Africa, according to Spencer, an ice age was developing and drying up Africa’s ecology to the extent that at least two groups that were descended from M168 migrated from Africa. The first group left around 60,000 years ago, and they are believed to have gone east following the southern coast of Asia populating southeast Asia, Australia, southern China, and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. A few appear to have been reunited with their by-then-distant kinsmen in North America about 10,000 years ago. A second wave of M168 emigrants from Africa traveled to the east and the north from the area of what is now the Sahara through Egypt and the Middle East.
A mutant marker on the M168 line called “M89” inhabited what became Mesopotamia and is now Iraq perhaps 45,000 years ago. As the founder of haplogroup F, this male was the ancestor of all the members of haplogroups G through R which include almost all Middle Eastern, European, Asian, and native American males. Several groups of M89 males traveled in various directions to a variety of places, but the founder of haplogroup G appears to have lived around 30,000 years ago in the area of the Indus Valley in what is now northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Up to around 10,000 years ago the members of haplogroups G through J were hunter-gatherers, but those people who lived in what is known as the “Fertile Crescent” developed agriculture, and “settled civilization” became possible — not only possible, but established, and disseminated far and wide. Populations expanded, farming and farmers followed the pioneers along the shores and through the islands of the Mediterranean, into the lands now called Turkey (since the early 20th century), the Balkans, and the Caucasus. The Indo-European language and its offshoots were soon to be found in northern India — including the Indus Valley — the Middle East, and Europe.
The Indus Valley civilization was the largest of the four great early civilizations including Mesopotamia in the Fertile Crescent, Egypt, South Asia, and China, but it is the one that is least known and understood because, unlikely as it may seem, it was discovered only in the 1920’s! How it was possible for modern mankind to live unwittingly among the ruins of this Indus civilization in one of the most populous regions of the Earth is confounding, but so they did, and still do. Archaeological researches are in their infancy there, and very little is known of the early tongues of the Indus because few language-bearing artifacts, most of them square stone seals with indecipherable symbols and animal motifs, have been found. So far, for lack of a Rosetta Stone, none of those scripts can be read, but we can recognize the animals, in particular the mythical unicorn, the bull, the rhinoceros, and the elephant. However, some of the major Indus cities have been identified and explored to a certain degree.
The first, Harappa, discovered in the western part of South Asia during the early 19th century, flourished from about 2600 to 1700 BCE. Its inhabitants built with bricks of the same size as were found in other Indus cities such as Mohenjo Daro and Dholavira. Harappa had well laid-out wide streets, public and private water supplies and distribution-drainage systems. Remnants of this Indus civilization exist in the south from the former Bombay in India to the Himalayas and Afghanistan in the north, and in the east from beyond New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh to Baluchistan, Pakistan, in the west, adjacent to the border of Iran.
Since there is evidence that trade existed between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization, some of those members of haplogroup G living in its western portion must have gravitated toward the major centers of the Middle East. The westernmost Harappan site is Sutkagen Dor, located on the border of Pakistan and Iran on what once was, apparently, a navigable inlet of the Sea of Arabia and thus part of the trade route to Mesopotamia — in particular the fishing trade — between 3500 and 1700 BCE. This is the route, or one similar to it, that the early Turcos must have taken on their way to Sicily.
Gazing at a map of the world, one sees that a straight line drawn between the Indus River and a spot just below Sicily in what is now Tunisia, the ancient site of Carthage (not that our forebears followed anything like a straight line) crosses Iran (once Persia), Iraq (once Mesopotamia), Arabia, Jordan / Syria, Egypt, and Libya. Other modern countries in the area between the Indus and Tunisia are Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, and Israel / Palestine.
Family Tree DNA is the name of the Internet organization that administers the DNA results of those people who have been tested and agreed to have their results publicly posted. Subgroups of FTDNA include organizations that follow individual haplogroups, including the Haplogroup G web group. There are other specialty groups including the Turk Name group, and the Sicily Project, to all three of which I belong. Peter Christy, administrator of the Haplogroup G organization, in an e-mail message dated October 27, 2006, wrote me, “Our haplogroup is seeking members from the Middle East and adjacent areas, but with little success. There are a number of ‘high profile’ members of the Saudi royal family, as well as a claimant to the throne of Iraq, Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, that are members of Haplogroup G. Perhaps by your efforts to publicize our haplogroup in Saudi Aramco World, [to the editors of which I wrote a letter on October 25, 2006, to which, as of February 8, 2007, I have not had a response] readers familiar with that part of the world may come to realize that they are a significant source of additional members.
“We have been attempting to contact those who have already been tested, but with little success. Bill Van Hemert has been using modal matching to profiles of known members of our haplogroup to find candidates who are registered at Ysearch. As you might expect, few of our emails even get through to the intended recipients and even fewer respond. All we have is some tantalizing clues left by a long list of potential Haplogroup G members with names that start ‘Al-‘ e.g., Al-Blais, Al-Bukhary, Al-Khalili, Al-Kureishi, Al-Qureshi, Al-Rikabi, Al-Ruwaili, Al-Sada, Al-Saman, Al-Shaibani, Al-Suwaidi and Al-Wazzan!” There is evidence that members of the haplogroup once served as members of the Persian cavalry.
The history of the swift spread of Islam is amazing. Muhammad was born in the Arabian city of Mecca circa 570 CE. Around 610 he experienced a revelatory vision, began to write what became the Koran, and in 613 he began to preach publicly. He left Mecca and settled in Medina in 622, and he died in 632 CE. Only sixty-five years later Islamic Arabs, many of them Moors — a mixture of Arabs and Berbers — lived in North Africa and occupied what was left of Carthage which had been destroyed in classical times and was again destroyed in 698. Today it is a wealthy suburb of Tunis.
In the ninth century CE, around 820, the Tunisian Arabs began to set up trading posts in Sicily. Incredibly, they were soon invited by Euphemius, a Byzantine general, to invade the island, and on June 13, 827, they did so from the town of Sousse, 120 km south of Carthage, with ten thousand infantry and seven hundred cavalry. According to Sandra Benjamin, “Although the invaders originated in many parts of the Muslim empire (including Spain), most of the men were Berbers (from the North African coast) and Arabs (from farther east).” Seventy-five years later, on August 1, 902, the Arabs captured Tauromenium, the Byzantine capital and the last unconquered Sicilian city. All the inhabitants were slain and the city burned to the ground.5
Surnames began to be used only about 1000 years ago, so the surname “Turco” dates from about 1000 CE, the eleventh century or 100 years after the Arab conquest of Sicily, that is to say about the same time as the Norman conquest of both England and Sicily. Sicily was the earlier to be conquered, by the brothers Hauteville, Robert the elder and Roger the younger who did most of the fighting, conquering Massena in 1061.
The Hautevilles’ success is said to have inspired both the envy and ambition of their countryman William the Conqueror who invaded and subjugated England in 1066. Although he never ruled there, he pretended to the kingship of Sicily as well. It was William who ordered the Domesday Boke of England to be written in 1086, and it was in this statistical survey that surnames were first assigned to every family. Something similar during this period was occurring throughout Europe, including Sicily.
Michael Maddi who administers the FTDNA Sicily Project, in an e-mail message dated October 27, 2006, wrote me, “Have you noticed that out of 81 yDNA results in the Sicily Project, 10 are in the G haplogroup? That’s about 12%. This has been the biggest surprise to me so far in our Sicily Project results. My guess, based on my previous reading, was that we would have maybe 5%.
“I have always wondered what the Arab contribution is to Sicily’s genetic pool. It’s hard to figure out how many people of Arab ancestry remained in Sicily after the crackdown by Frederick II on Muslims about 1230. (Frederick actually had good relations with Muslim rulers and spoke Arabic and appreciated the scientific knowledge promoted by Muslim scholars. It was the Vatican which demanded that he expel Muslims from Sicily.) One book I read recently [see Benjamin, op. cit.] said that 1/3 of Sicily’s population was ethnically Arab when the Normans defeated the Muslim rulers around 1075. The town where my paternal grandparents were born, Mezzojuso, was founded by the Muslim rulers in the 10th century. It remained a majority Muslim town until about 1220, when Muslim rebellions in western Sicily and the subsequent crackdown led to many Muslims fleeing their towns for mountain refuges.
“I think our [haplogroup] G results, if they continue to stay above 10%, indicate that there is significant Arab deep ancestry in Sicilians and Sicilian-Americans.”
The branch of the Turco family to which I belong has long resided in Riesi, a village in south-central Sicily. The closest city of any size is Licata, on the south coast. Although I know for a fact that a number of my relatives still live in the area, at the end of 2006 I was the only person worldwide with the surname Turco who has been identified through DNA analysis as belonging to haplogroup G2. (My son and my brother and his sons may be presumed to be members in this country.)
According to Halberts (op. cit.) “Census records available disclose the fact that there are approximately 450 heads of households in the United States with the old and distinguished Turco name. The United States Census Bureau estimates that there are approximately 3.2 persons per household in America today which yields an approximate total of 1440 people in the United States carrying the Turco name. Although the figure seems relatively low, it does not signify the many important contributions that individuals bearing the Turco name have made to history.”
In fact, although I am not so far as I know related to any of them, a survey of recent volumes of R. R. Bowker’s Books in Print yields a seemingly disproportionate number of Turcos who are authors: Richard P. Turco is a science writer who has collaborated with Carl Sagan; Peggy Turco is a nature writer; Marco Turco writes travel books; Christopher Turco (not the Christopher who is my son, a musician) pens science fiction; Laura Lo Turco has written on the pyramids of Egypt; Ronald, on crime; Lorenzo Del Turco is an art historian; Vincent J. Turco publishes in the field of medicine; Douglas is a sports writer; Alfred is a scholar of English literature; Emanuele, diplomacy; Frank, food; Antonio, chemistry; Michael P., the Everglades; Page Turco is a media writer and performer; Salvatore J. is a nutritionist, and Mario Turco, a music historian. One recollects that the Moor on the Turco crest in his left hand wields a saber, but in his right he flourishes a scroll!
Apparently, none of these people has ever had his or her DNA tested. However, analysis shows that a person with a different surname, Frank Ricchiazzi of Laguna Beach, California, is rather closely related to my people although all of his family is from Montalbano, a suburb of Messina in the northeast corner of the island, and Santa Maria. (Is there a connection between this family name and the Arabic name Al-Rikabi mentioned above?) On December 11, 2006, he wrote in an e-mail message, “Clearly, our DNA shows a lineage going into the Indus region many centuries ago.
“Right now, I’m trying to find the time when my lineage first came to Montalbano. I have traced each grandparent to approximately 1500, but there does not appear to be any way to go beyond that date because I have exhausted the furthest points of the church records and the Rivelli in Palermo.
“My thought is that sometime in the late 1400’s, there may be some information from the Kingdom of Two Sicilies that had a notation of a [member of my family] given some land in the Montalbano area. That of course means trying to locate some records from that Kingdom.
“One thing that you and I and others who do this research can say: Every day brings a new finding or another piece to the puzzles of who we are. Thank you for sharing your information.”
My first name, “Lewis,” is also a family name in both my paternal and maternal lines; it was originally a Middle English version of the French masculine “Louis,” of Franco-Germanic origin, derived from the German “Ludwig,” “hlōd” (fame) and “wīg” (war): “famous warrior.” The French “Louis” (pronounced lu-EE) was a common name among royalty and the nobility, dating from the 8th century King Louis I, son of Charlemagne. Louis XVI, last in the line of that name, was executed in 1793 during the French Revolution. The name was imported to Great Britain after the Norman Conquest in 1066; its spelling was often Anglicized as “Lewis.”
Various versions of the name include my father’s first name, “Luigi” (Italian — he had no middle name), “Aloysius” (Provençal), “Luis” (Spanish), and “Ludvig” (a “v” instead of the German “w,” Scandinavian). Pet or short forms of the name are Lou, Lew, Louie, Lewie, and Geno (Italian). In 2009 “Louis” was the 4th most popular boy’s name in France. The British prefer the spelling Lewis, but Americans usually opt for the French spelling. “Lewis” is currently the second most popular name in Scotland, the 27th most popular in the UK, and the 30th most popular in Northern Ireland. Lewis is also a popular name in Australia and New Zealand.
My middle name is “Putnam” (Lewis Putnam Turco) which was my mother’s maiden name (May Laura Putnam), and my namesake, “Lewis Putnam” (b.1763) was the second son of my triple-great grandfather Asa Putnam (1743-1795}. An earlier member of the family was George Puttenham (1529-1590), author of the first book on poetics and prosody in the English language, The Arte of English Poesy (1589).
Traditionally, Weird (Fortune) seems to smile on men named “Lewis” and is augmented by optimism and good-nature. Lewis has a quick wit, a cerebral mind, and is usually persuasive. The bearer of this name traditionally is believed to love the excitement of life and can easily adapt to all situations. A natural adventurer, Lewis thrives on the new and unexpected and prefers to be in constant motion. It makes him feel alive. Lewis will stir up some action if there's not enough around. Naturally rebellious, Lewis has no fear and never resists change. Traveling and new experiences feed his soul; he is social, attracts friends with ease — people enjoy being around Lewis’s humor and energy.
1”Turco Coat of Arms, Historiography,” Bath, Ohio: Halberts, n.d.
2National Geographic Human Genome Project, on-line at www.NationalGeographic.com.
3Wells, Spencer, The Journey of Man—A Genetic Odyssey, New York: Random House, 2004.
4 Indus River Valley civilization, etc., on-line at www.harappa.com/har/indus-saraswati.html
5Benjamin, Sandra, Sicily, Three Thousand Years of Human History, Hanover: Steerforth Press, 2006.
Satan’s Scourge: A Narrative of the Age of Witchcraft in England and America 1580-1697 e-book edition, by Lewis Putnam Turco, Scottsdale, AZ: www.StarCloudPress.com, Kindle edition, 2012, 808 pp. Winner of the Wild Card category of the 2009 New England Book Festival. THIS BOOK IS ALSO AN EARLY HISTORY OF THE PUTNAM FAMILY IN AMERICA.