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MacLean / MacLaine

  • 729 members

About us


It has been some time since I last wrote a newsletter to bringyou up to date on some of the achievements within our project for which Iapologise. As you can see we now have over 650 members which is a doubling inthe last five years. Another great statistic is that 189 of you have takenFTDNA’s comprehensive Big Y test which is providing us all with anunprecedented level of detail on members’ Y-DNA and through that their paternalancestral line.

As project administrators we are able to study all yourresults and as well as being able to advise you on interpretation and furthertesting we can also look for patterns across the whole project. As you can seefrom our public pages our focus is very much on grouping kits together whichhave similar DNA profiles. Such groups contain individuals who share a commonancestor, possibly thousands of years ago, possibly quite recently and arecalled haplogroups.  We all belongto hundreds if not thousands of haplogroups, some extremely old and containingmillions of men but others much more recent and containing only a select few.  Y-DNA tests such as Y-DNA111 use STR markersin the DNA and are useful for finding matches and identifying ancienthaplogroups but for confirmation of more recent haplogroups we need to searchfor different DNA markers called SNPs. Over the last few years more detailedtesting by members (especially with the Big Y test) has allowed us to discovermany of these more recent haplogroups and therefore members who share ancestorsin relatively recent times, within the last few hundred years in some cases.

Particular areas of research for us are to see what Y-DNA cantell us about our surname such as which haplogroups are most common for menwith our surname, can we link particular haplogroups into published clanhistory and which other families or clans are closest to us geneticallyspeaking.

Haplogroup R1b is the most common haplotype in Western Europehaving originated around 25,000 years ago and it’s no surprise that this is thecommonest amongst our project members (77%). Next in frequency comes haplogroupI (10%) which had high frequency in Scandinavia after the last Ice Age and maysignify Viking ancestry but is also found in other occupants of the BritishIsles such as Anglo-Saxons and Ancient Britons. Both haplogroups originatedtens of thousands of years ago so the challenge for all Y-DNA projects is toidentify layer after layer of more recent haplogroups, each layer coming closerto the present day and a time where it can overlap with conventional genealogy. 

A very recent subset of haplogroup R1b named R-Z17815is estimated to have been formed about 1000AD and almost all of the men withinit are MacLeans (of one spelling or another). Within the MacLean/MacLaineproject it forms the largest haplogroup for its age. Further testing has foundeven more recent haplogroups within R-Z17815 where men are thought to share acommon ancestor within the last few hundred years, bringing it into the timescaleof conventional genealogy and recorded clan history. Not only do these haplogroupsidentify recent common ancestors but they are also clearly significant in thegenealogy of our clans and contain descendants from a major clan lineage. Theother main haplogroup within R1b where project members have clustered is R-M222which is particularly found in Northern Ireland but is also quite common inScotland. It has been suggested that this haplogroup is linked to some of theancient dynasties of Ireland.

One line of research we have been following is to try to findproject members who have a credible ancestral trail back into recorded clanhistory. So far we have found six such members whose ancestry connects them tothe chiefly lines of Duart or Lochbuie. They are as follows :


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

·       One in the House of Hynish (Tiree) in haplogroupR-Z17815>FT285970

·       One in the House of Auchnasaul in haplogroupR-S3058


·       Two in the House of Dochgarroch in haplogroupR-Z17815>A1075

These are obviously very small sample sizes but five of thesix lie within haplogroup R-Z17815 which was formed within the last few hundredyears and as I said previously is the most common recent haplogroup for projectmembers who have tested to this level.

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

At the Feastof Aros in the C15th; Maclean, Macleod of Harris and MacNeill of Barra weremocked by John Macdonald saying “…these fellows … are upstarts, whosepedigree we know not, nor even they themselves”. This is in stark contrastto many of the other highland clans, the Macdonalds in particular, who claimedancestry back through Somerled to the High Kings of Ireland in the C4th AD. Haplogroupscan be used to determine which clans or families share a commonancestor most recently with a representative haplogroup of MacLeans, and justas importantly, which do not. I have already mentioned the prevalence ofhaplogroup R-Z17815 for MacLeans but going further back in time it isn’t untilthe formation of haplogroup R-L193 (S5982)that we see other surnames sharing common ancestors with this dominant group ofMacLeans – the most recently that ancestors could have been shared is about 500AD.  Surprisingly these other surnames are notfrom other Scottish highland clans but from families with connection to theScottish Borders – Little and Elliott in particular and to a lesser extentKennedy/Kenney, Drummond, Vance and Glendenning.  This doesn’t yet answer the questions aboutour pedigree but it does provide some clues and further investigationscontinue.

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

Duncan McLean

MacLean/MacLaine DNA Project Administration Team