04 January 2015

MacGregor DNA Project  - update January 2015

Welcome to the MacGregor DNA Project update for 2014-5 

This year's DNA update will move away from discussing Y chromosome results as I have done in previous years to consider the other tests currently available. This year there have been 49 new members of the project whose names reflect the aliases adopted by members of the clan or sept  names (such as Magee, Gragg, Greer, or Black) associated with the clan, and many of the results published this year were for tests other than the male Y chromosome test (in fact, in total there were over a thousand pieces of genetic  data reported). Most males who join the project will first do the 37 marker Y chromosome test. If they find that they match someone else with 35, 36, or 37 markers being the same, it can be useful for establishing familial connections to increase the number of markers to compare, up to 67 or even 111 instead of just 37. However there are limitations to the use of STR (Short Tandem Repeat) markers, as they are known, in that DNA mutates randomly. As a result some testees find that their Y DNA is very similar to that of another male, but neither person's DNA has mutated very much in 600 years, and as a result what looks like a recent relationship with another person from the same family branch is probably simply an indication of connection with the common ancestor from whom that surname developed as many as 600 years ago. On the other hand, some distinctive mutations - for example in the project all Stirling/MacGregors have '16' at DYS576 whereas the norm for the group is '18'- probably indicate descent from a more recent common ancestor.
      When surnames are grouped together by variant spelling (e.g. Greig, Gregg, Grieg, Grig etc) it quickly becomes clear that there are multiple origins for these names. Some of the results in these groups suggest a connection with the main MacGregor group that predates the actual founder (Gregor) who, it is believed, flourished c1360, rather indicating a strong genetic connection pre- surnames. What also emerges, in some cases, is an indication of contradictory genealogy  - individuals with very different genetic profiles who are supposed to be from the same ancestor.  Such cases suggest that genealogies need further checking for accuracy.
       It has been noticeable this year that there has been an increase in interest in the other DNA tests available as participants seek to learn more about their genetic descent. In order to help with the interpretation of these, or simply to help with choice, this blog update will concentrate on some of the more common: Family Finder (also known as My Origins, Ancestry Painting, All my Ancestry and so on, depending on the company used); MtDNA (mitochondrial DNA); and SNP testing.  I will deal with each in turn.

Family Finder/My Origins/Ancestry Painting

This test is designed to give participants an indication as to the origin(s) of their genetic ancestry. Most geneticists believe that human beings emerged out of Africa perhaps 70,000 to 100,000 years ago, but this test looks for more recent connections than that. For those whose later ancestry is British the test usually indicates a predominance of DNA from the British Isles, with reasonably high proportions coming from Scandinavia and/or the Mediterranean. These can usually be explained by links with Viking invaders in the case of Scandinavia and with emigration from the Spanish ice age refuge, as well as the possible influence of invasion by the Romans and their soldiers after AD43. 
     The results of such tests are often expressed in colours located geographically like this anonymised one from FamilyTreeDNA:

Fig. 1: My Origins geographical plot from FtDNA

All the companies which offer this test use the same principle for presenting results, that is, to show the results as percentages.  Here are the results for the same individual from 23andme.

Fig. 2: Genetic ancestry percentage chart from 23and me

Although the results show some variation (for example in FamilyTreeDNA 3% Middle Eastern against 1.1% Ashkenazi in 23andme) they are essentially the same. 23andme also show these results as Chromosome View concentrating on the past 500 years - and this has been highly rated by users. Here is the same information as Fig. 2 but in the chromosome view.

Fig. 3 Chromosome view of Fig. 2

BritainsDNA [aka ScotlandsDNA] adopt a colour graph approach which is a bit different from the others just mentioned but tends to produce similar overall results. These graphs are obtained by comparing sections of a person's DNA with the same sections from individuals in known populations. There are two versions - Figure 4 is based on a global analysis of the DNA, while Figure 5 refines the European elements of the global report.  Note, however, that these results are not from the same individual as the first three examples.

Fig. 4: BritainsDNA Ancestry Painting - global result

Fig. 5:  BritainsDNA Ancestry Painting - European

And the same company's presentation of chromosome painting:

Fig 6: BritainsDNA  Chromosome Painting

As more data are made available to geneticists, charts and grids such as these will be refined and developed further. FtDNA, for example, uses the results from My Origins to suggest relationships between individuals on the basis of shared DNA segments.

MtDNA - Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from a mother to her sons and daughters but only the daughters can pass it on afterwards.  What this means for genealogical purposes is that MtDNA identifies those people who are related through the mother's mother's line back through time. However, whereas surnames for males can be tracked back in time for perhaps 600 years or more and related to the passing on of the male Y chromosome, societies tend not to preserve information on maternal genealogy (unless there is a royal connection). Participants are therefore most interested in the possibility of identifying others who have the same genetic grouping or haplotype as they do, or, they are interested in finding out about the origin of their particular haplogroup - for example where did the woman who originated the genetic line live and how many tens of thousands of years ago was she alive. Migration maps have been created to show how migration based on mitochondrial DNA happened and also to show how the different genetic lines developed. One such map can be found here:


There are three levels of testing: HVR (hyper variable region) 1; HVR2; and FGS (Full Genome Sequence). Typically a participant will match a number of others at HVR1 but matches will decrease the more detailed the level of testing. Here is an example of report for haplogroup J1c1b1a:

Fig. 7 mitochondrial (MtDNA) results

I should add that 23andme actually covers the whole genome X, Y and autosomal. It has a lot of medically relevant information as well although recent American legislation has limited the company's ability to offer this.

SNPs - Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms

Perhaps the most interest in DNA in the past year has been generated by the developments in SNP identification.  The following websites might help in the understanding of the significance of SNPs:


At the moment, as far as Scotland is concerned, the greatest attention has been directed to using SNPs to distinguish the points at which different clans split off from each other in the early Medieval period. Some of the most important SNPs for this analysis were identified by Jim Wilson of ScotlandsDNA using the Chromo2 chip. FamilyTreeDNA had previously released their product - BigY -which was designed to test for a large number of SNPs but did not include those which were of most significance to Scottish genealogy, though they have since made the most interesting SNPsavailable for purchase as single SNPs. Towards the end of this past year the company known as YSEQ started offering panels (groups) of SNPs including those which identify the Scottish clan groupings.  The most comprehensive genome testing is done by Full Genome Corp - which currently offers comprehensive testing of the Y chromosome for less than 900 dollars US.  This last is the only test currently available (because it is comprehensive) which has the potential to identify SNPs which are more recent and important for dividing up family groups in historic time - that is, since the beginning of surnames.  With this comprehensive Y test comes the possibility of identifying all the SNPs which link specific families together in the centuries since the introduction of surnames.

The most informative website for seeing what has been learned so far about the relationship of clans is the one created by Alex Williamson:

http://www.littlescottishcluster.com/RL21/NGS/Tree.html  and
http://www.littlescottishcluster.com/RL21/NGS/R-L1335.html which is the main group for those of Scottish descent of which the MacGregors are part.

A summary version of the tree is found here:

The key discovery as far as Scots from the Western Highlands is concerned came about through the work of Dr Jim Wilson of Edinburgh University. Through his work using the Chromo2 chip the sequence of SNPs ending with S690 which defined the MacGregor line was identified. Since we believe that S690 was probably found for the first time in Gregor the founder of the clan (who flourished c1360), anyone who thinks they might be a MacGregor can test for this SNP on its own, and this is now much the cheapest starting point in searching for genetic origins (but of most value to those who believe that they currently bear an alias).  As far as MacGregors are concerned, there are intriguing suggestions that a much smaller and less productive group of MacGregors broke off earlier than 1360, and it is speculated that those MacGregors and the McFarlands (now known as 'hidden MacGregors') who have S691 or S695 are part of this group.
     Current thinking is that SNPs occur about every 90 years, and even if this is an underestimate it is clear that all Scottish clans are very strongly related. The next Figure shows an adapted version of the genetic tree identified by Jim Wilson (as presented to the International Clan Gregor Gathering in summer 2014).

Fig. 8: SNP tree as presented by Jim Wilson in July 2014

The sequence of SNPs which arose is therefore, in chronological order:
S690  MacGregor (and ?S697)
S696  MacGregor of Glencarnaig (Chief's line) (and ?S698)

According to the current date estimates L1335 could have arisen at c790AD.  We believe that there are some, as yet undiscovered, SNPs between S690 and S696 (and S698) which define the Chief of MacGregor's line only. If S696 happened in say 1420 we would expect to see more clan members having this SNP than appears to be the case.  At any rate it seems likely that S696 dates to within the last 250 years. However do not currently know the status of the SNPs S697 and S698 which seem to be related to S690 and S696 is some way.
     Thanks to the work of Dr Neil McGregor in Australia we are beginning to break down the SNP results to see which particular SNPs define which families. Our aim is to raise money through the Clan Gregor Society in order to pay for full Y chromosome testing on 5 individuals who represent different branches of Clan Gregor. The difficulty then will be in identifying the significant SNPs from the tens of thousands which will be reported! The picture below taken from a recent Excel file shows the speculative tree to date.

Fig. 9: Hypothetical breakdown of MacGregor genetic tree (as at December 2014)

This draft tree is based on the following data which Neil McGregor has derived from a combination of STR (marker) results and SNP results. The number on the left hand side is the Family Tree DNA kit number.

Fig.10 STR data on which Fig. 9 is based

As usual if any individuals wish to see how their results relate to anyone else in the project I am happy to do a comparative chart such as those found on previous blog updates.  Since this opportunity has been available to all since the beginning of the project this offer is particularly directed to those who have tested their Y chromosome in 2014. As usual my email address is richardmcgregor1ATyahoo.co.uk (substituting @ for AT).


  1. Hello,

    I was wondering if anything further has been learned with regard to the paternal ancestry of Clan MacGregor?

    As well has anything been learned that supports any of the theories regarding the paternal ancestry of the Progenitor of Clan MacGregor?

  2. I subscribed to this group because I am ScotlandDNA S695. I am of course looking for matches. I am a Anderson. There are 5 of us Andersons that match in the FTDNA Anderson Andersen Y-DNA Project. I am the only one of the 5 that has been tested by ScotlandDNA. Can anyone tell me who has also tested and matched S695? And also how and why S695 is part of the MacGregor clan?

  3. Thank you for your so cool post,it is useful,i love it very much. Please share with us more good articles.
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  5. My name is David MacGregor Densford living in Texas. My mother has 3 very thick geneology books for the bloodline which may help. My older brother is suppisedly authorised to wear the Rob Roy plaid. My email is david.densford@gmail.com

  6. The competitive chart is one of the best updates for the tool made by MacGregor! Where was this instrument when I write my thesis at university. It might help me to compare a statistic information for relatives and neighbours from Louisiana. Great tool, though!