We are a DNA project with over 600 members scattered across the world but with the shared aim of using DNA testing to tell us more about our ancestry than we have been able to find by following a paper trail alone. Please join us if you have (or your ancestor had) the surname MacLean, MacLaine, McLean or any of the other variants listed above and you have already taken or plan to take relevant DNA tests to assist with your research. As a surname project our focus is on male ancestors and Y-DNA testing because the Y-chromosome is passed from father to son just as a surname is normally passed in the same way.
Most people with our surname associate themselves with the Scottish clans MacLean of Duart, MacLaine of Lochbuie or one of their many branches. Recorded history of these clans goes back to 13th century Scotland when Gille eoin or Gilleain na Tuaighe (Gillean of the Battleaxe) founded Clan Gillean. The next main development was in the 14th century when Gille eoin’s great great grandsons, brothers Lachlan and Hector, were independently granted land and titles by the Lord of the Isles and from this act two separate clans were formed – the MacLeans of Duart and of Lochbuie. The images on the banner at the top of this page are of Duart Castle, ancestral home of the MacLeans of Duart and of the ruins of Moy Castle which was the base for the Lochbuie clan. Both castles are in the south-east of Mull. Use of the surname MacLean did not begin until about 1350 and interestingly, members of the Lochbuie clan did not adopt the MacLaine spelling until the mid-1700s, and even then it was not adopted universally.
Our clans are traditionally associated with the Isle of Mull but they didn’t have lands there until the 14th century and were also associated with territory in Morvern, Ardgour, Urquhart and islands in the Hebrides such as North Uist, Coll, Tiree, Jura and Islay. They were a warlike and seafaring clan, at the height of their powers between the 14th and 16th centuries. They then fell into decline due to vast debts and unwise alliances such that by the end of the 17th century many of their former lands had been acquired by the Crown and other clans, particularly the Campbells to whom the MacLeans were in debt. Repercussions for the clans which supported the Jacobite cause in 1745 ensured that the MacLeans would not regain their former powers.
From these early times, clan members spread across the world forming a diaspora which projects such as this can help to bring together once more. As a seafaring clan, the early MacLeans would have traded and fought in Ireland, including a period as mercenaries in support of Irish chiefs in the 16th century and the later Plantation (colonisation) of Ulster. Clan members also settled in North America (particularly North Carolina and Nova Scotia) during the period of colonisation and then others fought with the Highland Regiments during the War of American Independence. Other factors such as MacLean lands being taken over by other clans, the Highland Clearances, general famine and disease etc all contributed to clan members leaving Scotland for a better life elsewhere.
Both Clan MacLean and Clan MacLaine websites make reference to ‘One Family – Two Clans’ which is a nice concept but misleading in genealogical terms in that everyone with the surname MacLean, MacLaine, McLean or any of the other variants can consider themselves to be a member of one of the clans but they are not necessarily actually related to other clan members. If you look at our Y-DNA Results page you’ll see quite a wide variation but with a strong concentration on haplotype R1b1a2. So, if we’re all ‘one family’ why don’t we all have the same DNA? Three reasons come to mind – firstly, the clan system whereby membership of the clan was extended to supporters and those seeking protection of the powerful clan. Many of these people would have taken the clan surname to identify their loyalty and protector. Then there could have been non-parental events (NPEs) including illegitimacy, informal adoption and rape such as that by raiders such as the Vikings and members of other clans. Finally, although the Y-chromosome is passed from father to son it can mutate in the process with perhaps one or two of the markers changing value. If this did not happen all men on earth would have exactly the same Y-chromosome! Furthermore, in addition to descent from one of these highland Scottish clans there is growing evidence for variants of our surname developing independently, for example in lowland southwest Scotland and in Ireland. The clan's surname references Gille-Eoin as their patronymic "Servant of Saint John" but the given-name Gille-Eoin was not rare and translates literally to "John's lad" or "John's boy". So the surname MacGille-Eoin may have arisen and stabilised anywhere in Gaeldom.
The spelling of surnames is not necessarily significant as many clan members were Gaelic speaking and possibly illiterate but official documents such as parish records and censuses may have been recorded by English-speaking clerks. In the 1841 census of Scotland, 82% of entries for our surname were spelled McLean, 17% MacLean and the remaining 1% were made up from 5 other variants. This is very different to the current range of surnames on this project which contains 12 spelling variants. McLean is still the commonest at 37%, with McClain at 22%, MacLean 16%, McLain 13% and the remainder 12%. As most of our members live in North America and Australasia this clearly suggests that the spelling of many surnames changed on emigration to the New World with clerks recording names phonetically.Testing
· A DNA test requires a cheek swab or saliva sample which you send to a lab for analysis. There are several labs offering such a service but the MacLean/MacLaine DNA project is hosted by Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) of Houston, Texas, USA.
· There are three main types of DNA which can be used for genetic genealogy. Y-DNA is passed from father to son and so can tell us about the paternal line. The maternal line can be researched by testing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which is passed from a mother to all her children but only daughters are able to pass it on to their children. There is also autosomal DNA (atDNA) testing (eg AncestryDNA or FTDNA’s Family Finder) which can be taken by males or females and is good for identifying cousins etc in recent generations (up to 4th or 5th cousins) but will not tell you anything about your male or female ancestral lines further back in time.
· The MacLean/MacLaine DNA project is run by unpaid volunteers and we normally recommend testing with FTDNA as they have the largest database of Y-DNA test samples to compare results against. If you become a member of our project you will be able to make use of our team of five administrators for guidance, encouragement and support.
· This type of test can only be taken by men but as an alternative for any female MacLean wanting to research her paternal ancestors, any direct male MacLean relative can test their Y-DNA instead eg father, brother, uncle, cousin.
· There are different levels of Y-DNA test which can be ordered and the more detailed the test, the more reliable the results. Within this project we recommend ordering a test of at least 67 STR markers and preferably 111. Current prices (as at May 2020) from FTDNA are US$119 for 37 markers and US$249 for 111 although discounts are sometimes available. Once the results of this initial test have been published, many of our project members then choose to undertake further testing to improve the accuracy of their reported matches and bring the timescale of their most recent haplogroup (major population grouping) much closer to the period when traditional family research methods can be used. These additional tests look for SNP markers (either as a 'pack' or individually) which are known to be characteristic of a particular hapologroup - current costs are up to US$119. The most comprehensive DNA test currently available from FTDNA is called Big Y-700 and this is a discovery test in that it finds SNPs which have not yet been discovered in anyone else who has tested. It also increases the number of STR markers tested to almost 700. This is considerably more expensive (US$449 but considerably less if STR marker tests have previously been ordered) but very worthwhile and valuable to the individual and the project.
· When Y-DNA results come back from the lab they will suggest the deep ancestral origins (eg Western European, African, Middle Eastern) of your paternal line and identify other people who have already tested and appear to most closely match your own DNA.
· Your Y-DNA test result will then appear on our project Results pages alongside those other project members whose DNA profile is closest to yours and you will be able to make contact with your closest matches. Personal details are not visible on the Y-DNA results page – just surname (although even this can be hidden if privacy is a concern), name, location and dates if known of your Most Distant Known Ancestor, and a string of numbers representing the DNA test results.
· If you have already tested your Y-DNA with other companies, it may be possible (for a fee) to have your results added to the Clan MacLean/MacLaine DNA project within FTDNA’s database but not all testing labs are compatible. See https://www.familytreedna.com/landing/ydna-transfer.aspx
MITOCHONDRIAL DNA TEST (mtDNA)
· This test can be taken by males or females and, as with Y-DNA, the results will suggest the deep ancestral origins of your maternal line and identify other people who have already tested and appear to most closely match your own DNA. This type of test can be of value to some people but is not something which a surname DNA project such as ours finds helpful because female surnames generally change on marriage.
AUTOSOMAL DNA TEST (atDNA)
· This test can also be taken by either males or females and uses the part of your DNA which you inherit from both your parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents etc. For this reason it is not reliable beyond about 4th or 5th cousins but it can identify many possible cousins within this range allowing you to contact them and compare family trees. Results are personal to you so do not appear on our project Results pages. It is particularly powerful when used in conjunction with conventional family tree research.
· Autosomal results from other testing companies such as Ancestry or 23andMe can usually be transferred at no cost to FTDNA to increase your potential for cousin matches.
A Plea to Project Members
As one aim of this project is to link DNA to recorded family histories it is particularly important to identify your most distant ancestor in as much detail as possible – on your myFTDNA Home Page go to My Account > Most Distant Ancestors. Full name, dates and location (not just ‘Scotland’ or ‘Ireland’) where you know them please, for example ‘John McLean, b.1752, Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland’.
If you have a family tree please upload the relevant parts to your personal profile as a GEDCOM file at My Account > GEDCOM/FamilyTree. If you have the information but need help in producing a GEDCOM file this please contact Duncan McLean directly.
Please keep your Personal profile details up to date, in particular your email address as this is the project’s only way of getting in touch with you.
The discussion forum formally hosted by Yahoo is no longer available because of Yahoo's decision to stop supporting user-generated content on its platforms. Instead, please make use of the Activity Feed facility on our FTDNA project home page.
Further background information on the clans and their associations can be found on the official clan websites :
Clan MacLean of Duart http://www.maclean.org
Clan MacLaine of Lochbuie http://www.maclaine.org/
McLean of Coll http://www.mcleanofcoll.com/
A number of clan histories were published in the 19th century and as these are now out of copyright they are available on the internet as free PDF downloads.They include :
A. Maclean Sinclair, The Clan Gillean, (1899)
J.P. Maclean, History of the Clan Maclean, (1889)
‘a Seneachie’, A History and Genealogical Account of the Clan MacLean, (1838)
However, recent studies by Nicholas MacLean-Bristol suggest that all of these books, and others too, were based heavily on a 1734 manuscript by Dr Hector Maclean which he believes to have been less than objective. His own books are more recent and include sources not available to earlier authors, but may be out of print. if so, second-hand copies might be available.
Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, The Macleans from 1560-1707: A Re-appraisal (essay in The Seventeenth Century in the Highlands, Inverness Field Club, 1986)
Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, Warriors and Priests : A History of the Clan MacLean 1300-1570 (Tuckwell Press, 1995)
Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, Murder Under Trust : The Crimes and Death of Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean of Duart, 1558-1598 (Tuckwell Press, 1999)
Nicholas MacLean-Bristol, From Clan to Regiment : Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides 1400-2000 (Pen and Sword Books, 2007)
Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, One Clan or Two? : The feud between the Macleans of Duart and the Maclaines of Lochbuie 1100-1717 (2017)