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MacLean / MacLaine

  • 853 members

About us


As you can see we now have over 850 members which is a doubling in the last five years. Another great statistic is that 189 of you have taken FTDNA’s comprehensive Big Y test which is providing us all with an unprecedented level of detail on members’ Y-DNA and through that their paternal ancestral line.

As project administrators we are able to study all your results and as well as being able to advise you on interpretation and further testing we can also look for patterns across the whole project. As you can see from our public pages our focus is very much on grouping kits together which have similar DNA profiles. Such groups contain individuals who share a common ancestor, possibly thousands of years ago, possibly quite recently and are called haplogroups.  We all belong to hundreds if not thousands of haplogroups, some extremely old and containing millions of men but others much more recent and containing only a select few.  Y-DNA tests such as Y-DNA111 use STR markers in the DNA and are useful for finding matches and identifying ancient haplogroups but for confirmation of more recent haplogroups we need to search for different DNA markers called SNPs. Over the last few years more detailed testing by members (especially with the Big Y test) has allowed us to discover many of these more recent haplogroups and therefore members who share ancestors in relatively recent times, within the last few hundred years in some cases.

Particular areas of research for us are to see what Y-DNA can tell us about our surname such as which haplogroups are most common for men with our surname, can we link particular haplogroups into published clan history and which other families or clans are closest to us genetically speaking.

Haplogroup R1b is the most common haplotype in Western Europe having originated around 25,000 years ago and it’s no surprise that this is the commonest amongst our project members (77%). Next in frequency comes haplogroup I (10%) which had high frequency in Scandinavia after the last Ice Age and may signify Viking ancestry but is also found in other occupants of the British Isles such as Anglo-Saxons and Ancient Britons. Both haplogroups originated tens of thousands of years ago so the challenge for all Y-DNA projects is to identify layer after layer of more recent haplogroups, each layer coming closer to the present day and a time where it can overlap with conventional genealogy and recorded clan history.

A very recent subset of haplogroup R1b named R-Z17815 is estimated to have been formed about 1100CE and almost all of the men within it are MacLeans (of one spelling or another) or men believed to be descended from MacLeans. Within the MacLean/MacLaine project it forms the largest haplogroup for its age. Further testing has found even more recent haplogroups within R-Z17815 where men are thought to share a common ancestor within the last few hundred years, bringing it into the timescale of conventional genealogy and recorded clan history. Not only do these haplogroups identify recent common ancestors but they are also clearly significant in the genealogy of our clans and contain descendants from a major clan lineage. The other main haplogroup within R1b where project members have clustered is R-M222 which is particularly found in Northern Ireland but is also quite common in Scotland. It has been suggested that this haplogroup is linked to some of the ancient dynasties of Ireland.

One line of research we have been following is to try to find project members who have a credible ancestral trail back into recorded clan history. So far we have found eight such members whose ancestry connects them to the chiefly lines of Duart or Lochbuie. They are as follows :


·       One each in the Houses of Drimnin and Ross in haplogroup R-Z17815>A1067

·       Two in the House of Hynish (Tiree) in haplogroup R-Z17815>FT285970

·       One in the House of Auchnasaul in haplogroup R-S3058

·       One in the House of Treshnish in haplogroup R-Z253


·       Two in the House of Dochgarroch in haplogroup R-Z17815>A1075

These are obviously very small sample sizes but six of the eight lie within haplogroup R-Z17815 which was formed within the last few hundred years and as I said previously is the most common recent haplogroup for project members who have tested to this level.

Accordingly, I believe we can say that R-Z17815 is not only characteristic of our surname but also probably represents descent from the chiefly lines of Duart and Lochbuie. Given the nature of a Scottish clan the bloodline of the chiefs is only one source of MacLeans as anyone seeking protection or offering allegiance to the chief would have become a clan member and probably taken our surname. If anyone reading this believes that they are descended from significant men in the history of our clans and have had their Y-DNA tested (or are willing to do so) please get in touch!  Linking pedigrees to haplogroups is critical to our progress.

At the Feast of Aros in the C15th; Maclean, Macleod of Harris and MacNeill of Barra were mocked by John Macdonald saying “…these fellows … are upstarts, whose pedigree we know not, nor even they themselves”. This is in stark contrast to many of the other highland clans, the Macdonalds in particular, who claimed ancestry back through Somerled to the High Kings of Ireland in the C4th CE. Haplogroups can be used to determine which clans or families share a common ancestor most recently with a representative haplogroup of MacLeans, and just as importantly, which do not. I have already mentioned the prevalence of haplogroup R-Z17815 for MacLeans but going further back in time it isn’t until the formation of haplogroup R-L193 (S5982) that we see other surnames sharing common ancestors with this dominant group of MacLeans – the most recently that ancestors could have been shared is about 500AD.  Surprisingly these other surnames are not from other Scottish highland clans but from families with connection to the Scottish Borders – Little and Elliott in particular and to a lesser extent Kennedy/Kenney, Drummond, Vance and Glendenning.  This doesn’t yet answer the questions about our pedigree but it does provide some clues and further investigations continue.

Please get in touch with any of us if you have any questions and good luck with your own researches.

Duncan McLean

MacLean/MacLaine DNA Project Administration Team