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.

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