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Neely YDNA Project 


Our Neely YDNA project will be 10 years old in 2016. It is a powerful genealogical tool when combined with conventional paper trial genealogy. We now have almost 60 Neely related participants. Jim Neely and Stephen Taylor Neely have been the Administrators of the project since its inception in 2006. Jim has concentrated on researching and documenting conventional Neely genealogies, while Stephen has become an 'expert' on the technical use of YDNA analysis and is on the forefront of exploring advances that are taking place that have great promise for providing more information on the origin of the Neely groups.

A lot has been learned about Neely branches, but trying to tie the first Neely immigrants in Colonial America back to records in Ulster, Ireland has been painfully slow because of a lack of paper trail genealogies back to the first Neely immigrants from their descendants, the current participants. We need additional progress in this area. However, the YDNA STR results we have accumulated as well as upcoming advances in YDNA SNP analysis has helped and prompted this update. We will discuss the advances in YDNA SNP analysis first:


This is a rapidly advancing field and has the potential to greatly enhance the effectiveness of YDNA as a surname genealogical tool in the next few years. While the STR test looks at relationships over the last few hundred years, the SNPs look at surname relationships over several thousand years. You likely have read about the FTDNA "Big Y" test this year, but you may not have understood what it does or have heard about the work on the "King's Cluster" and the DF98 test and the R1b-M343 Backbone Pack test. Stephen Neely has had several of these tests done on his YDNA. So, what are these tests and what do they show and how much do they cost? To start, here is a link that gives you the background that explains the differences between SNPs and STRs, which we have been using for our project.

My first real exposure to this new and evolving approach using SNPs came at the beginning of August in the form of an email from Stephen about the results of some of his testing this year. This reads like a complex explanation you might hear from a geneticist, but it is necessary and to keep it as simple and meaningful as possible, a portion of the SNP-based phylogeny of the Y-DNAR-DF98 "King's Cluster" attachment is shown at the end so you can see where the Neely location is based on Stephen's Big Y confirmed SNPs test results.

"The U106 Project administrators have now selected the SNP called FGC13445 as defining the haplogroup branch that contains both Duttons and Neelys. The downstream SNP called FGC13446 defines the branch that contains Duttons, but not Neelys. So, Duttons test positive for both FGC13445 and FGC13446, while Neelys test positive for FGC13445 and negative for FGC13446. The Neelys branch is represented only by my YDNA in this analysis, but it likely extends to all the members of our first two subgroups. The Dutton branch includes Warburton and Howell. One person with each of these surnames has taken the BigY test.

It's interesting that Dutton and Warburton both trace their ancestry back to the same geographical location in northern England, near Liverpool. This is shown on page 7 of the King’s Cluster PDF, which contains a map of surnames created by Iain McDonald. The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of Dutton & Warburton lived 1000 years ago, probably in England. The MRCA of Neely & Dutton lived 3000 years ago, probably near the Rhine Valley. So, we can surmise that the paternal ancestors of Neelys probably migrated from Germany through England on their way to Scotland.

In my BigY test results, there are 23 SNPs that are labeled as "singletons" because none of the other 480 participants of the U106 participants who have taken this test have these particular SNPs. Someday, some of these SNPs may uniquely identify those who belong to our first two Neely subgroups. However, this association will require a few members of each of these two subgroups to also test positive for these SNPs. Unfortunately, the only method currently available to test for these SNPs is the BigY test, which costs over $500 (because it also tests for thousands of other SNPs). So, it may be not cost-effective to pursue further testing of the Neely-singleton SNPs at this time. 

As these tests become more affordable, we should encourage our Neely project participants to take them.  Nevertheless, it seems we need to be patient for a while and watch while haplogroup definitions creep gradually closer each year."

FTDNA has recently introduced several SNP packs that test about 100 SNPs at once, which is more efficient than testing one at a time. Results of these SNP tests will help us better define haplogroups, which will benefit our Neely branches by revealing relationships across these branches that may date thousands years ago. Specific recommendations regarding SNP tests are included below. Use this link to learn more about what they can do.

Ok, that is the technical explanation for the current state of SNPs, but identification of new ones and their use in surname genealogy is accelerating and the costs will come down. So what do we do now and in the future to use them in best balance of cost vs. benefit of new knowledge on origin of Neely branches. I believe the answer is to rely on Stephen's recommendations. The summary posted on the Neely YDNA project with Stephen's recommendations is hyperlinked to this more detailed explanation.


All YDNA projects appear to be comprised of several different genetic groups. The more common and older the name, the more genetic groups. The Neely project is no exception. It is hard to say how and when the blending of the genetic groups happened. We have recently recognized a total of six Neely "branches" from the different genetic groupings that have evolved from participant's YDNA STR results. In order for a grouping to qualify as a branch, we have decided it must contain at least 3 Neely surnames (or spelling variant) of 37 marker haplotypes, with each having a FTDNA TiP calculation of 50% or more probability for a MRCA from the group average (modal haplotype) in the last 12 generations. This should be useful for looking atNeely history back to about 1500 or slightly earlier The remaining participant groupings may or may not grow into a Neely branch in the future, depending on results of future participants.  A brief summary for each of the 6 Neely branches as of 2015 is shown below. We consider a 37 marker STR test to be the minimum needed to give us the information we need to understand groupings and relationships. Additional marker tests, up to the maximum 111 marker test are helpful in refining STR relationships and are also more "accurate" than the 37 marker test, but also cost additional money.

1. Listed as PA group,the 24 participant's results show a tightly related genetic group. The originof this group appears to be from Scotland or perhaps England based on currentinformation. The MRCA of several participants in this group, including Jim andStephen, has been traced to Thomas Neely, who came from Co Tyrone to PAabout1730 with his young family. At least two of his sons moved to theCarolinas about 1760. At this time, we have been unable to tie participantsfrom this group to records of their family in Ulster, Ireland.

2. Listed as VA group,the 18 participant's results show a slightly looser related genetic group thatis related to the PA group. Comparison of the averages of this group and thefirst group above are exactly the same except for DYS570 and CDY a & b(markers33, 34 and 35). One group must have mutated from the other sometime inthe fairly distant past. Several of the participants of this group aredescended from James Neely in Botetourt Co, VA in the 1700's whose brother, Dr.John, lived there and first married sisters in the Philadelphia area about1740. Initially it was thought James and John were from NY (hence the original groupname), but we have been unable to find evidence of this. Like the first group,they also appear to have originally come from Scotland or perhaps England.Also, several MRCA have been identified in the early 1700's as coming fromUlster from paper trail genealogy, but no connection to the records in Irelandhave been established thus far.

3. Listed as the John Neelygroup, it is the most recent branch with 4 participants who have allcompleted testing with 111 markers. John Hill Neely is the MRCA for this groupand was born about 1756 in Ireland and immigrated to America with his parentsand siblings as a boy. It is a completely different haplotype where matches could not be found. There are identified descendants living inLancaster, SC and Cowetta, GA in addition to those from Mobile, AL who will be contactedto take the YDNA tests to better document this group. It could be possible thisgroup may have originated from the MacConghaile Clan in the area around Galwayin western Ireland, but they could equally have different origins. We have noevidence to even speculate at this time. There were two Gaelic native-Irishclans whose names eventually became McNeely, Neely, etc. after beinganglicized, probably starting around 1700 or so. The other was Mac an Fhilidhin Ulster.

 4. Listed as Mac anFhilidh group, this 4 person (5 including a matching McNeely from theMcNeely YDNA project) genetic grouping of Neilly, Neelys and McNeelysis believed by Mark Neilly, based on circumstantial evidence he hasaccumulated, to be descended from the Mac an Fhilidh (Gaelic) Clan/Sept ofNative Irish living in Co Antrim in Ulster since before the 1500's. Mac anFhilidh was one of  two Gaelic native Irish clans whose names eventuallybecame McNeely, Neely, etc, etc. after being anglicized, probably startingaround 1700 or so. The other is the MacConghaile Clan of the area around Galwayin western Ireland and was probably anglicized several years later. Mark'sancestry has been documented in Glencul, Co Tyrone from the mid 1700's. Markspeaks, reads and writes Gaelic and also Middle Scots. He is a nephew of JohnNeilly and now lives in Scotland.

 5. Listed as the McGregorgroup, this 4-person group all live in Ireland. They directly descend fromthe McGregor Clan. The McGregor history shows the Scottish government attemptedto annihilate their clan beginning in 1603. Their very name was banned and thegovernment planned to ship their male children 12 and older to Ireland andEngland based on the minutes of the 1611 Privy Council. We believe a Neelyfamily in Co Donegal likely adopted one of these McGregor boys ( prompted by asubsidy).

 6. Listed as the Vikinggroup, this 7-person group of Neelys have a 37 modal haplotype exactly thesame as a large 40-person subgroup of McNeils, except for one step differencein marker 34 (CDYa). The halplogroup is I1a, which is associated with theVikings. Thus, it seems likely that these 'matching' McNeills were most likelypart of their clan living in the Hebrides islands where the Vikings settled,then mixed with them, and the Neelys in this branch are descended from them.Some of these early descendants may have migrated into western Scotland firstand from there, perhaps adding an 'ie' to their name, then moved to Ulster,Ireland. Name changes that became McNeely and then dropping the Mc whenarriving in Ireland were not uncommon in the early Plantation period of Ulster.

 Other Neely project participants have been identified as having at least 50% chance of being related within 24 generations to at least one other participant. These participants have been assigned to three additional subgroups.

 7. Listed as the McDaniel group. Their closest non-Neely matches are McDaniels.

 8. Listed as the Niall group. A Neely and a McNeely who possibly descended from the fifth century warlord Niall of the Nine Hostages. They match the main group of 17 participants in the McNeely YDNA project.

 9. Listed as the TX group. A Neely and a Neeley who both currently reside in Texas.

10. Listed as the Wise Co., VA group. Possible ancestral link to Neelys in Wise Co., VA.

The chart below show show these 10 subgroups may be related to each other based on shared SNPs ("kya" means "thousand years ago"). 

Primary Haplogroup

Downstream SNPs

Neely Groups

34.8 kya

4.7 kya


10. Wise Co., VA

27.5 kya

4.6 kya

3.3 kya

1.70 kya

06. Vikings

13.3 kya

4.4 kya

3.7 kya

1.55 kya

05. McGregor

4.2 kya

1850 AD

07. McDaniel

2.0 kya

1.45 kya

08. Niall

4.3 kya


09. TX

5.1 kya

4.5 kya

1101 BC

1400 AD

01. PA


02. VA

3.4 kya

2.1 kya

0.55 kya

03. John Neely


04. Mac an Fhilidh

The most comprehensive YDNA SNP test offered by FTDNA is the BigY. If any of our Project participants are not concerned with the cost ($575), then we recommend they order this test for the benefit of the Project. (FTDNA sometimes offers $100 discount coupons.) The results of the BigY test are sufficiently comprehensive to eliminate the need to do any other SNP test