01 January 2014

MacGregor DNA Project 2014 update

MacGregor DNA Project - update 2014

Welcome to the annual update of the MacGregor DNA project.  This year, at the time of writing, we had welcomed 78 new members to the project and several members upgraded their Y chromosome tests from 37 to 67 markers, as well as ordering other tests which are available through FamilyTreeDNA.

2014 will be a momentous year for Scotland - a year in which those living there will be asked to vote 'yes' or 'no' to independence. The vote has been proposed by the Scottish National Party (the SNP) who currently have the majority in the Scottish Parliament. It will remain to be seen if this is the year of the SNP but I mention this because another SNP will make the news this year. 2014 is being described by genetic genealogists as 'the year of the SNP' and also as the year of the 'SNP tsunami'. Of course the SNP being referred to here is 'Single-nucleotide polymorphism'. Most people who have engaged in DNA testing are familiar with the sequence of numbers (12, 25, 37, 67 or 111) which result from STR or 'short tandem repeat' analysis but the significance of the upcoming SNP 'surge' is rather different.

Without wishing to make the scientists among you groan I will give a very basic idea here of what the difference is from the perspective of a DNA testing participant. I have also given some information on SNPs in earlier blogs.

As I said earlier, STR testing of the Y chromosome produces a series of number scores which can be compared with others in the surname group. Thus, by the conventional wisdom, those who share 33 out of 37 or 61 out of 67 markers are in common descent from the same individual, usually the person with whom the surname originated (or one of them, since surnames can have multiple origins). The number sequence also defines the 'haplogroup' - which for the main MacGregor line is R1b. The frustration for individuals with this test has been that while it clearly indicates common origin, it does not, except in some rare cases, really allow individuals to see if they are more closely related in historic time since DNA mutation is random. An assumption has sprung up that those who have less mutations difference with another member of the group must be related in more recent time. This is unfortunately not the case. A mutation separating individuals could have happened 200 years ago but it could equally well have happened 600 years ago. What is needed is a more accurate time clock for mutations causing a split in a family group. That is where SNPs come in.

The technology is now sophisticated enough to be able to isolate these SNPs, and as a result more detailed family trees based on genetic mutation can be constructed, and the level of detail possible in these genetic trees will only increase. The MacGregor Project has been fortunate to work with Dr Jim Wilson of ScotlandsDNA and he is in the process of analysing results from a number of MacGregors including the Chief's line [MacGregors of Glencarnaig]. 

The new SNPs and the Glencarnaig line
Chart 1 (chart is copyright ScotlandsDNA and Dr Jim Wilson)
MacGregor tree SNPs (as at December 2013)

At this point we do not have dates for the SNP mutations but the results for the Chief's line indicate a split of that line from other MacGregors tested - and we expect other MacGregor families will have similar splits which will mean that those more closely related to each other will be able to identify roughly at what point in time that split occurred. In the chart above, which has been supplied by Dr Wilson, you will see that the Glencarnaig line has two distinctive SNPs which characterise that family (the SNPs known as S696 and S698). As more information becomes available we should be in a position to actually broadly date these SNPs - currently only available for testing with ScotlandsDNA who discovered them using their newly developed Chromo2 microchip.  At this point, any MacGregors who think they might be from this line can find out by doing the Chromo2 DNA test at www.scotlandsdna.com.  You can choose to get the results presented in a brochure or you can just obtain the raw DNA data.

On the chart you will see many other numbers, sometimes prefixed by CTS, sometimes S etc: all these are SNPs, many newly discovered.  There will be much more interpretation possible once the SNPs for various other MacGregors tested is made available and so I am expecting to be writing a new update sometime during this year as the results begin to filter out.

The MacFarlands ('hidden MacGregors')
Chart 2

During the last year I was asked to draw a chart for the MacFarlands - now labelled 'hidden MacGregors' because their DNA doesn't match the MacFarlanes but rather the MacGregors, which means at some point an ancestor adopted the MacFarland name and never resumed MacGregor when it became legal to do so. Given the MacGregors' history it would seem likely that this split occurred when MacGregors were required to adopt different surnames following proscription which was imposed from 1603. The family have a quaint tradition that their name was adopted in America and was a reference to the fact that they came from a Far Land. More prosaically, it was probably how some scribe wrote it down that caused the final 'e' to change to 'd'.  The results which are displayed in the project, with one exception, seem to indicate descent from one individual. What is harder to estimate is exactly when that individual lived. There is a possibility that we are looking here at a split which occurred just at the point of adoption of surnames - for the sake of argument we'll call that 1300 - or, as I suggested above, we could be looking at a spilt that happened around 1600. I would hope that SNPs will sort this out in due course. What we can see is that there is a common point of origin and from the mutations which happen within the family groups there is pretty clear evidence that there are perhaps five or six different family groups that have emerged from that common ancestor. More significantly, some family groups have split again to produce those family groups associated with kits 279525, 162109 and 192356 on the one hand, and 149452, 258767 and 237186 on the other. These groups should look at their paper trails to see if they can identify an ancestor in the more recent past. It is possible also that 206815 and 189492 form a distinct family group.

The MacGregor Project 111 marker results
Chart 3

In this section I will be looking at all the 111 marker results for the R1b group. However I have included a version which shows 'Viking' Grier and Greer because I want to show something which is rather interesting. The length of time of genetic separation between the 'Viking' group, that is, haplogroup I, when compared with the rather large R1b group, shows separation in time of thousands of years. Yet see kit 33483 Grier and 1568 Greer - two individuals closely related to each other and rather distant from 239031 Gregor.  Now let's examine the lower portion of the chart in more detail.

Chart 4 specific group 111 marker results which includes MacGregor main line


This group of participants are very clearly a defined subgroup of R1b - observe the time distance (going up into the top of the picture) between this group and the other R1bs. This is where what I call the 'bloodline' MacGregors are, but as you can see this group also includes various surnames such as Moore, Bourland, Miller, McPherson, Boyd (a MacGregor alias it seems), Stuart (probably not the Stuart main line), Bissett and Lark. Some of these individuals have tested for the SNPs L1335 and L1065. It seems very likely that in this part of the chart individuals will have the SNP L1335 and possibly also the SNP L1065 - these SNPs have been tentatively dated to the middle of what we used to call the Dark Ages, perhaps 500-1000AD.  As usual, one would expect those individuals who share a branching line to be more closely related (such as is clearly the case for the Millers 250470 and 234239). Often we see single lines converging at a certain point and this suggests a common ancestor within historic time. It might be worth participant 131269 doing the Chromo2 test to see if he shares the unique SNPs of the Glencarnaig line.

Chart 5 - All 111 marker results except Greer outliers [70% confidence with modal]


I turn now to the rest of the 111 results. These are clearly very diverse but within the results are some potentially interesting subgroups. Perhaps the most important thing to say at first though is that most people are not related, other than having a common origin, and the time distances for those that look somewhat related probably takes those people - who tend to have different surnames - to connections which may be 2000 or more years old. 

That said, 197837 McAdams and 165907 McAdam are clearly related, and it is not so far back in time to the split with Hamill 270957 and, much earlier, Gammie 230380. It would be hard to put dates on these - geographical connection might be possible here. The same applies to 273521 Chandler, 23361 Gregory, 138123 Black and 226146 March, and indeed every other group of results which have a link later than the central point. There is one exception: 171234 McGee and 269879 McGee are clearly related to each other - that much is not surprising, but the close connection of 278878 Bowers to these two indicates that 278878 is actually a McGee - it would be interesting to know if there are any provable genealogical links among these three.

Making connections

In this final section I want to talk about how to make connections genetically from the results table at the FtDNA website. When you go to the webpage www.familytreedna.com/public/macgregor you will see that the various test results have been grouped together. Generally speaking I will create a new subgroup when two or more individuals share a common surname. Some individuals have yet to be grouped and they are found in the 'ungrouped' section. When you look at your results in the chart you will see that the company, FtDNA, group people with like DNA together within the name groups that I have created. When you find your own results you will see other individuals' results round yours. For the most part, these individuals will be your closest relatives and, unless you see a common ancestor indicated somewhere else in the subgroup (look in the most distant ancestor column) those are the people you should compare yourself with. If you want me to run a number of individual results together and produce a diagram which shows connectedness (as I did for the McFarlands), I am happy to do that. Two things however: first, I need you to identify the individuals with whom you wish to be compared and, second, I need to be able to compare like for like. 12 and 25 marker comparisons are not really very informative so I am basically referring to 37, 67 or 111 marker comparisons. Comparing a 67-marker result with a 37 will not produce useful results.

Please contact me at richardmcgregor1ATyahoo.co.uk, substituting the @ sign for AT.

As usual I have various acknowledgements:
The charts are generated using Dean McGee’s program using 30 years per generation, 50% probability and Doug McDonald’s mutation rate average. The website for Dean’s program is:

The networks are generated using the program Splitstree which is available at www.splits tree.org. I use the Closest Tree filter. The citation for this program is as follows:
D. H. Huson and D. Bryant, Application of Phylogenetic Networks in Evolutionary Studies, Mol. Biol. Evol., 23(2):254-267, 2006.

Richard McGregor
January 2014


No sooner had I written this than an interested contact provided me with an updated version of Chart 1. The detail of this chart speaks for itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment