02 October 2002

DNA Testing and Early Results

As of October 2002 there were 18 active participants in the test programme but the number is increasing month by month. We no longer use Oxford Ancestors for the newest tests because it has become obvious that the 10 markers that they offer are just not sufficient to produce any clear evidence of connections other than at a fairly superficial level. With Oxford we can really only see whether participants belong to the Celtic/Gaelic grouping or the Norwegian/Danish/Frisian/Icelandic groupings. The Scandinavian and Germanic groupings are not yet entirely clear within themselves but there seems to be good agreement on the Celtic/Gaelic one (formerly called Haplogroup 1 if you wish use the web to find more information).

We have decided instead of Oxford, to use FamilyTreeDNA based in Texas, and the tests are processed by the laboratory at the University of Arizona. FtDNA use 25 markers and this is clearly going to produce results which are more detailed. It is considered very likely that two individuals with the same name (or related name) who share 24 or 25 markers in common will have a common ancestor within the recent past.

Before summarizing the results which we now have available it is important to explain one aspect of early clan life which has not been much explored simply because there is hardly any written evidence. Early clansmen might well be related by blood, but they might also be related through community - that is by living together and adopting the surname of the principal leader of the community. Those not related by blood are often referred to as ‘part-takers’. When such people moved away from the community, or, over a period of several generations, the name would become fixed as a surname. We see this process happening everywhere when surnames appear - John the son of the cooper becomes John Cooper, James of Glasgow becomes James Glasgow. So, sharing a name does not usually mean sharing a RECENT ancestor.

What has been surprising with our MacGregor tests is that the same process is seen in our clan. As I said earlier it had always been assumed that because the clan was so persecuted only ‘true’ MacGregors would bear the name. Peter Lawrie’s (Vice Chairman of the Clan Gregor Society) recent work has demonstrated just how many of the bloodline MacGregors were in fact killed during the troubles which came upon the clan in the 17th century. Nevertheless, it is clear from the DNA that Clan Gregor does indeed have its origin in one individual but also that it contains ‘part-takers’ sharing a common ‘Celtic’, probably Dalriadic culture, AS WELL AS ‘part-takers’ whose paternal ancestry is Icelandic or Viking but whose ancestors over 400 years became entwined with the MacGregors. We should not be surprised to learn of the Scandinavian/Danish/Norwegian connection since the Viking raiders were well known for their activities along the West coast of Scotland.

As well as the results of our own tests we have been able to compare with individuals named Grier, Gregory and Grigg. It is important to remember that single individual results cannot be taken as absolute proof of a connection or the lack of it - to make statements about common ancestry you need to have a larger number of results for each name. All that we can say now is whether an individual is related to the bloodline MacGregor or not, and this is what those participants to our test whose names are Stirling, Nevens, MacAdams and Shankland want to find out. As a consequence of the sharing of results between DNA Project Managers from different surname groups it has also been possible to see that some Campbell and Stewart results are not as significantly different from the MacGregor bloodline as might have been expected.

In recent months there has been an increase in the number of books dealing with DNA and genetics published. Many studies to date have concentrated on the maternal line (mitochondrial DNA or MtDNA for short) since this has been widely used by geneticists in population studies. The use of the Y chromosome is still a comparatively young science and a list of some interesting articles can be found at the ‘Rootsweb’ site given above I would also recommend The Molecule Hunt by Martin Jones (ISBN 0-140289-76-3) which is as good an introduction to the whole field as I have found (in includes discussion about animal and plant DNA and what these can tell us about the lives of our ancestors). A more technical book but one which has a great number of articles concerning human DNA is Archaeogenetics: DNA and the population prehistory of Europe edited by Colin Renfrew and Katie Boyle for the McDonald Institute Monograph series (ISBN 1-902937-08-2). Both books are available from the Clan Gregor Book Shop.


Table A - Marker Comparison (click to enlarge)

From the results from the MacGregor tests shown in Table A above, you will see that two individuals share 25 Markers - kit number 2124 representing the family of MacGregor of Glencarnoch (Chief’s line), and kit number 1774 representing the family of MacGregor of Glengyle. Without question these two individuals are descended from Gregor the name father of the clan.

You will also see in Table A that kit number 2125 representing the family of MacGregor of Roro, has 24 out of markers in common with Glencarnoch and Glengyle. This is entirely consistent with a split from the main family branch in the 14th or 15th century. Kit number 3346 (MacGregor 1) belongs to an individual whose genealogy is not rooted in a paper connection, but who is nevertheless clearly of the MacGregor bloodline, having 25 out of 25 markers in common with the Glencarnoch and Glengyle branches. In this case the project member can confidently associate himself with a descent from Gregor the name-father of the clan despite not having the paper evidence to do so.

Next, compare the results for kits 2363 (Macgregor 2) and 2726 (McGregor 3) and you will see that while these are close to the bloodline they are not from the same immediate ancestor as the four just mentioned. Neither are these two individuals directly related to one another.
What we see is that it is more than likely all six of these individuals do share a common ancestor, but that that ancestor lived perhaps two thousand of years ago, long before the adoption of surnames. and probably somewhere in Ireland . It seems likely then that the all those MacGregors in the project who do not have the bloodline DNA signature were ‘part-takers’. We can also see that the one result which has been carried over from the Oxford Ancestors tests (MacGregor 5 OA only on tree) demonstrates a completely different pattern of marker results and one which is commonly associated with Icelandic/Norwegian stock.

If we now bring all the MacGregor results together we can see that, except for the Icelandic/Norwegian one just mentioned, all lie within the Gaelic/Celtic group (Haplogroup 1) but display a wide diversity suggesting that the adoption of MacGregor surname in the 14th and 15th centuries is completely in line with other clans where adoption of the laird or landowner’s surname was common, and that for the most far those who did so were probably part of the wider Dalriadic or even pre-Dalriadic originally associated with Ireland. These conclusions have to be speculative at this stage, though with more contributions to the project and increasing testing by laboratories of ‘British’ DNA, we should eventually be able to offer greater precision in dating and linkage.

Chart 1 (see below) also shows results for individuals having surnames historically related with Clan Gregor. Here we can see two MacAdams, one Gregory, one Shankland, one Stirling, one Grier and 2 Griggs. None of these results match the MacGregor line though most are Haplogroup One and therefore possibly Irish in origin. The Nevins test (chart only) is clearly Viking but at the moment interpreting the Stirling result is problematic. We could even be looking here at a signature which is the result of Roman activity!

It should be said that it is still not clear how to identify the DNA signatures for the original population of Scotland who first arrived after the last glaciation and whom the archaeologists identify as hunter-gatherers. It is also not possible to distinguish between Scots and Picts at this time. This is likely to prove quite difficult to achieve.

One or two final comments. As mentioned earlier we have been able to make a comparison between these DNA results and some results for Grier and Grigg - the markers show that the individuals who have tested are not related to the MacGregor bloodline, and are in fact quite unrelated. This will not necessarily be true for everyone with these names and some matches may be found in due course.

A Word About Other Clans

We have been able to compare some Campbell and some Stewart data with that of the MacGregor project. It is important to say that we have no idea to whom this information belongs, whether from a ‘proved’ bloodline or from a ‘part-taker’, but what is clear is that there is a reasonably close connection with the MacGregor bloodline (18 out of 21 in the case of two Campbells and 23 out of 25 for one Stewart) which helps to confirm a common Dalriadic origin - our histories are clearly more intertwined than we knew and for longer than just the last 700 years.

We are keeping in touch with the Stewart project because the origin of this clan should be Brettonic and therefore some interesting comparisons will be possible. However, there is a catch - there is a well attested and documented tradition that the MacGregors of Ardinconnel adopted the surname Stewart and fled or went to Ireland becoming in due course Marquesses of Londonderry! If the Stewart individual tested could be proved to be connected to the Londonderry line this would be very interesting!

Chart 1 - Phylogenetic Tree (click to enlarge)

All the results have been entered into a ‘phylogenetic tree’, developed by Fluxus Engineering. I have labeled it to make the information clearer and think this helps to clarify some of the genetic distances involved, as well as showing the clustering associated with haplogroup 1.

As indicated earlier, the more people who take part in this programme the more we will understand about our origins. I encourage you to contact me, Richard McGregor, or our Secretary. Why not take part in the adventure? As I wrote to one enquirer on the webpage, ‘kinsmen are united by blood or by community, by descent or by association, but DNA is about exploring our deeper past’.

Please remember that only males can take this test although it is quite usual for this to be organised by a member of the female line on behalf of brothers or cousins. The tested individual should bear the MacGregor name or a supposed alias. Mitochondrial DNA testing is available to both genders but does not link with paternal DNA inheritance at all.

Richard McGregor
Chairman Clan Gregor Society
Project Coordinator
Oct. 2002

01 October 2002

The Birth of the MacGregor DNA Project

The MacGregor DNA project exists to try to answer two questions - who are the MacGregors and where do they come from? Neither of these questions will be answered absolutely nor immediately since the science behind this is still young and results are still open to discussion.

However, even now, we are beginning to see very interesting results, and we have identified quite clearly 1) a MacGregor bloodline DNA, which confirms the traditional genealogies, 2) a strong connection with Irish DNA results (also sometimes called Celtic or Gaelic) which suggests that the tradition of a Dalriadic origin is probably correct and 3) that the MacGregor clan, like so many others, pulled in families who were not of the bloodline, into the clan. This last was unexpected because it was always assumed that the banning of the MacGregor name in 1603 would have had the effect of ‘weeding out’ all those not of the bloodline. Comparisons with other Dalriadic surnames have shown just how close the common ancestry really is.

Clan Gregor Society members will have seen my two reports for Newsletters 53 and 54. This project began using the British-based firm Oxford Ancestors who present results on the basis of 10 places (called markers or loci) on the Y-chromosome. The Y-chromosome is passed from father to son (only) normally unchanged, though occasionally differences do occur and it is these ‘mutations’ which show how close or far we are from a common ancestor. There are some excellent introductions and explanations available on the web which can tell you much more about the science behind this than is possible here. For a straightforward introduction try this website (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~allpoms/genetics.html), and if you feel that you would like rather more scientific depth, try http://www.le.ac.uk/genetics/maj4/SurnamesForWeb.pdf or for the really brave http://www.cstl.nist.gov/bioteck/strbase/y-strs.htm. Once you have your DNA test results you can put your numbers into the Y-STR database of the University of Leiden and see how many people match your haplotype! (Your DNA score is your haplotype - if your haplotype matches someone else’s on 24 or 25 loci you are likely related. The actual numbers are taken as a group to define which haplogroup you belong to).

As you may already know, or have read on the Clan Gregor web site, the MacGregor line traces its origin to a Gregor who lived in the 14th century though some genealogies go back further, to King Alpin. King Alpin’s descendants are said to have become the founders of not only Clan Gregor but, among others, the MacKinnons, MacQuarries, MacAulays and MacAlpines. At the moment no-one from these clans has undertaken DNA testing but the number of new projects increases weekly so we hope that there will be more information available in due course. The history of the MacGregors is a turbulent one and as a result the name was banned (proscribed) from 1603 to 1775, although in practice the worst years were from 1603-1642 and from 1660-1693 the ban was in fact lifted, but it was re-imposed on the accession of King William of Orange as ‘punishment’ for the MacGregors taking the wrong side. This later ban had most effect in commercial terms since one could not use the MacGregor name on official documents. Many MacGregor families did not retake the clan name when it finally became legal to do so, and as a result, the Clan Gregor Society now recognises more septs and aliases than perhaps any other clan.

Our hope is that over time it will be possible to understand more of the clan’s history from this project. Certainly there is no doubt that those who find that their DNA matches the bloodline will be able to claim a connection with the traditional genealogies, even if, for their particular family, the paper trail has dried up.