05 January 2016

MacGregor DNA Project Update January 2016

MacGregor DNA project blog update January 2016

Welcome to the annual blog update of the MacGregor DNA project.  Last year I gave an introduction to the various DNA tests and what they could show. In the past year, while numbers in the project have continued to rise, most people seem to be opting for either the Family Finder test, or for SNP testing, in order to determine where on the human family tree they lie. For this year’s update I have decided to focus in particular on two case studies –  one of which has been supplied by Prof. Neil McGregor in Australia. I’ll get to these in a moment.

When I wrote about Family Finder last year I didn’t really emphasise the importance of uploading a personal family tree into a personal DNA webpage. If you are familiar with .GEDCOM files this will need no introduction but for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the file format I hope these brief comments will help.

There are numerous propriety software packages on the market for recording family tree information and since, for once, the online community has agreed on a common format for exporting files, it does not matter which is used.  For PC a commonly used program is ‘Family Tree Maker’ and for MAC ‘Reunion’ is often found (though Family Tree Maker for MAC also exists). In the main, all programs do the same thing so it really comes down to personal preference in the way data is entered and displayed as to which one to choose. The two I have mentioned are simply those that I use myself and should not be viewed as a recommendation.

The important thing about a GEDCOM file when used with Family Finder is that it creates a list of surnames which can easily be searched to see if any surname is the same in two, or more, ‘genetic cousins’.

Also new for this year’s update is the mitochondrial grouping for those who have done this test in the MacGregor project. It is very unlikely that exact matches will be revealed by this grouping (unlike male Y chromosome DNA) because MtDNA does not go with surname and it is quite unlikely that two people in what is essentially a male surname-based project  would happen to have the same mother’s mother’s mother etc, although if a close match on the full genome sequence for MtDNA were found, it might suggest a common emigrant ancestor.

The grouping of MtDNA results can be found at: 

As for previous updates I am conscious that it isn’t possible to cover all participants in the project in detail, especially now that there are over 1100 folk taking part. I am happy to make up some comparative charts for project members, much as will be presented below in relation to the Stirling connection. I only request that if you wish me to run a chart that you say the kit numbers or group with which you wish to be compared. I can only run these comparisons for the Y chromosome test – and it does not give useful results if less that 37 markers are compared: in other words, the number of individuals who match within one or two mutations on 12 or 25 markers is so great as to make comparisons meaningless.

The other limitation to note on these generated charts is this: a computer program will only do comparisons on statistical or numerical result similarities, and since DNA mutates randomly close family connections (that is, over the last 500 years) can get obscured by random mutations – some families’ DNA mutates faster than others. Various factors have been cited for increased mutation, such as age of father, place in the sequence of births for a couple, environment, diet, and radiation. The value of such comparisons therefore lies in the clues that it affords to possible connections: when paper genealogy fails then such clues can be very important!

Case Studies 1
The Stirling MacGregors

I was asked to compare the 111 marker results for kit number 13201 – representing the branch of the main MacGregor line who adopted the alias Stirling sometime during the 17th century. The story goes that a MacGregor (some say of the Glenstrae family, and some say his forename was Robert, or William or Duncan) was employed in the house of the Stirlings of Keir near Dunblane when the soldiers came looking for the MacGregor. They were met by the lady of the house who declared “there is no-one named MacGregor here” and from that time the MacGregor and his family used the surname Stirling.

While the family tradition is that the Stirlings originated in Glenstrae the evidence shows the first use of the Stirling alias is a “Willeam McGregour VcCoueill callit to ane toname (alias) Stirling” in the 1611a list [prepared for the Laird of Luss]. This person seems to be the William spoken of in the tradition above regarding the establishment of the Stirling alias. This makes him a William McGregor son of Donald.  The 1611a list (#81) lists him as being of the House of Gregor McAne and hence of the Brackley family. Searching the data would place him in the following tree.

Gregour McAne (b~1520 alive 1595).
   |- Eion Dubh (b~1550 executed 1612). #43 in 1611a list (In Glenurchy)
   |    |- Patrick (b~1570)
   |    |- Alasdair cass (b~1571 executed 1613) #44 in 1611a list (Eion’s son)
   |    |- ? #48 in 1611a list (Eion’s son)
   |    ‘- Donmall (b~1572) (#45 in 1611a list (Eion’s son).
   |        ‘- William (b~1590) #81 in 1611 list.
   ‘- Niall (5 sons)
This family came from the lands in Glenurchy and may have claimed “FROM GLENSTRAE” as distinct from “OF GLENSTRAE”.  [previous 15 Line comment received from Neil McGregor after seeing a draft of the blog].

In order to see whether there were some possible connections with other participants who had also done the 111 Y chromosome marker test I abstracted all the 111 results in the MacGregor Ian Cam subgroup [supposed founder of the clan who died 1390 in Glenorchy/ Glenstrae].  What was known to this point was that every individual who had the surname Stirling and had the genetic profile of a MacGregor had a specific mutation from 17 to 16 at marker 32 – a mutation not borne by any other members of the Ian Cam group. This suggested that this specific mutation had occurred by at least 1700.

Running the marker results through the comparison tool created by Dean McGee (this can be found at http://www.mymcgee.com/tools/yutility111.html) gives a possible “Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor’ result for comparing any two individuals with each other. This is only a rough guide to relative distance between two results and since we expect that the time back to the originator of the clan is probably 600-650 years clearly any figures which exceed this number of years in the grid would be too far back if we accept decent from Ian Cam [or supposed father Gregor]. However, the program is assessing relative distance between individuals on the basis of numbers of mutations, and in that context it gives a helpful indication of possible closeness of different branches of the family.

In the chart the kit number for Stirling is 13621 (click image to expand).

Figure 1: TMRCA for members of the Ian Cam MacGregor group
So, according to this grid, the possible time distance between 13621 and, for example, 2124 – the line of the clan chief – is found by reading along the grid line of 13621 horizontally until it meets the line coming down vertically from 2124. This gives an estimate of 460 years and a split point of c1500 AD. There has been a suggestion that the Stirlings are were originally Glenstrae MacGregors – this estimate would not rule out that being possible. Less likely would be any connections closer than 260 years because we know that there has been a Y chromosome mutation in the Stirling family that must have taken place  before c1700. Also less likely are those time distances which exceed 900 years  separating them from other participants – simply because surnames as such did not exist prior to about 1300 AD.  This suggests that SNP testing (on individual results which show a larger time interval from other results) would be worth pursuing to see whether or not the individual concerned has the MacGregor SNPs S690 or S697. As more SNP results appear it may be that we will have to reconsider the formation of clan name groups as predating the adoption of an identifying surname. That will be a while coming however. [If you wish to see current results google Alex Williamson’s Big Y tree].

It is important to note that not all the individuals in the above grid are called MacGregor. When the Ian Cam group was created individuals were added to the group on the basis of what their STR numerical results suggested (that is, they looked like MacGregor). In the above grid it is therefore significant that those which show the furthest time distance are 381858 Murray, 292892 and 350316 Stewart, 121048 McPherson, 120820, 189492 and 258767 McFarland and 237186 Hunt. Only two of the ‘further out’ results are MacGregor which suggests that even if the Y chromosome  STR results look similar, SNP testing will be necessary to find out if individuals belong to the main surname group or whether they split off earlier. So far the McFarlands have tested S690- but 292892 Stewart is S690+.

If we look at the chart which the above table generates we see that there are some interesting family groupings suggested:

Fig 2: 111 marker Ian Cam group chart

In particular, on the right hand side of the chart we see that many of the kit numbers mentioned in the last paragraph are all grouped together in very close proximity which seems to imply some closer genealogical connection. It would be interesting to know what the terminal SNP for each of these individuals is.

Most of the other branches appear to represent separate families though as I mentioned earlier it’s hard to say anything absolutely since DNA can mutate randomly even within the same branches of a family.  In the chart above it seems like Stirling kit 13621 is more closely related to McGrigor kit 256584. If this truly is a family connection then it must be before 1700 because kit 256584 does not carry the distinctive Stirling mutation at position 32.

It is useful to compare the locations of the Stirling results in the 111 analysis in Fig 2 above with those members mentioned in the following case study which makes a similar claim to Glenstrae origin but using DNA and documentation to make the case.

Case Studies  2
A surviving MacGregor of Glenstrae family?

The second case study is extracted from a longer version which will be published in the Clan Gregor Society Spring 2016 Newsletter, and will subsequently be available to download from this blog. The material has been put together and analysed by Neil McGregor in Australia using 111 marker results from Family Tree DNA, Big Y results from Family Tree DNA, and MacGregor results from ScotlandsDNA. [the following text is an abbreviated version of their article].

Analysis of the y-DNA is associated with the known descendants of John McGregor (John of Monzie) who married Ann Stobie on 14 June 1826 in Monzie Parish, Perthshire, Scotland. As the y-DNA only traces the male line we obtained data from three male lines descended from John of Monzie. These sons were Charles John (b 1836 at Glassworks, Alloa), John (b 1838 at Balmain, NSW) and James (b 1840 at Braidwood, NSW) (See figure 1 and tables 1-2 for the lines of the DNA samples and the results of the analysis). The data in tables 1 and 2 show that the family descend from the Clan Gregor hierarchical family and that the DNA from current descendants of John’s line (NRM & AAM) differs from the current descendant of Charles (GCM) line by 2 mutations (one in each from the common ancestor) and James’s line differs by three mutations from the other two. Both John and Charles lines differ from the Clan line by five mutations (389a and 389b appear to be a single mutation not two) and James by six mutations. The Y-DNA pattern of John of Monzie (b1790), the common ancestor, can be predicted and would have differed from the Clan line by four mutations - his Y-DNA data is given in Table 1. The actual dates from the birth of John of Monzie to all the tested subjects is between 150 and 175 years, being 4-5 generations. The calculations are based upon the McDonald mutations rates and using average generation time of 30 years results in a reasonably accurate prediction. James’s data indicates that the family may have a higher mutation rate than is normal but recent research has indicated this may simply be the result of where the mutations occur on the Y-DNA and not an actual increase in mutation rate.

Lines of the Y-DNA samples from John McGrigor (Monzie b 1790).

John McGrigor (Monzie born 1790)
   |- Charles John (1836) (Alloa Scotland) 3rd generation Graeme Chisholm MacGregor
   |- William (No samples acquired from this line)
   |- John (1838 - Balmain NSW) 3rd and 4th generations Neil Roland and Alexander Andrew James
   ‘- James (1840) (Braidwood NSW) 4th generation  James Hardy

From these data we can estimate the time to the Clan common ancestor (Table 2) to be ~1350 using the McDonald mutation rate for the normal population. This figure is different if we calculate the mutation rates based upon the higher mutation rate seen within this family’s actual data, the date to common ancestor being between 1380 and 1618 with a median of 1480.

 Table 1. Summary of the Y-DNA 67 marker test for the Clan and the two subjects and that of John (1790).

Table 2. Time to common ancestor (Years) for John 1790 and his three descendants.

Using the Y chromosome mutation rates proposed by Doug McDonald the separation from the Clan modal occurred ~1380, however, as mentioned above, using the individual mutation rates determined for this family’s actual data gives later values. The mutations rates of NRM and GCM give the separation date as ~1480 and for GH ~1618. This date related to GH is far too short to the present and the mutation rate therefore too high to be meaningful over all the generations so only the data based upon NRM and GCM will be used.

Examination of the Clan documented history only places three Clan Gregor family lines in the Monzie/Crieff parishes in the 1600s and they are: Glenstrae, Glenlednock, Roro and a group who used the alias McAra, whom the documents show are actually of the Roro line. These Clan Gregor families have their common ancestors at various dates: Glenlednock have been proposed to have separated from the Glenstrae line in ~1400 and the Roro line prior to that date. However these dates are only speculative. Thus, the DNA evidence supports the possibility that the Bega family [family of NRM who first settled in Bega, Australia] could be derived from any of these three families. We have approximately 18-20 generations between the above tested individuals and Gregor [name father of the clan] born ~1300, which equates to 1 mutation every 3 to 4 generations. Whilst this mutation rate is higher than normal, it actually is found in the Familytreedna.

Firstly, it is noted that the Bega [NRM] family has a unique mutation in the Clan dataset at DYS 389a and DYS389b of 14/31. No other tested subjects have this marker so we cannot be matched using that data. It is likely that this mutation occurred after 1500 and before 1790 and therefore would only be seen in recently related individuals. Analysis of the Clan Gregor Y-DNA database shows several distinct clusters with few mutations and several high mutation clusters. Analysis of these latter groups shows potential correlation between the mutations and certain geographic locations. Two of these appear to be sequential, and they are mutations at DYS576 at 16 and 17 when compared with the general Clan data at 18. Those at 16 are the Stirlings who lived in Dunblane and those at 17 from people who claim to be from the Glengyle family. Both these groups could have descended from the Glengyle although other data suggest that the Stirlings are from the house of Gregor McAne of Brackley and have lived in Glenurchy on the Glenstrae lands. It is very unlikely that the Bega [NRM] family are descended from the families of Roro, Glengyle, Brackley / Ladasach, or McRob. This strongly suggests that the Bega family are descendants of the one remaining family: the Glenstrae line.

Assessment of other genetic matches.

The Bega [NRM]family has a mutation of 9 at 459b. This is shared by 5 other participants in the Clan Gregor database.

Table 3 Analysis of subjects within Clan Gregor who have 9 at 459b.

This seems to be an early mutation in one branch of the family. These kit numbers were assessed using comparative Y-DNA analysis, and table 3 shows the mutations within the group. Table 4 shows the dates to common ancestor for the group and this suggests that the closest common ancestor was with kit number 191228. The date of common ancestor being ~390 years ago or ~1560 using the same mutation rates as for Neil [NRM] and his cousin Graham in the analysis. The oldest known ancestor for kit 191228 was Alexander McGrigor born in 1790, living in Lanarkshire.

Table 4. Time to common ancestor for the members of the analysis.

Kit 94903 has their oldest known ancestor in Lanarkshire in 1790. Kit 119330 has their oldest known ancestor in Buchanan in Stirlingshire, and 121048 has their oldest known ancestor as one James McPherson from Abernethy/Kincardine and that they lived on the lands of the Grants. Kit 120679 did not report a location or ancestor.

The important factor about these different family locations is that they are very widespread across the Highlands and part of the lowlands. Whilst the dates and locations may be related to movement during the “clearances” or post Jacobite wars (1745/46), as appears to be the case with kit 191228, the others cannot be attributed to these events. This suggests that the 9-9 mutation group have an early mutation from a family that is now well scattered – most likely due to the early habitation of the occupation sites, movements during the proscription or some other upheaval. If the mutations occurred early in the family then the low numbers in the database could suggest that many of the 9-9 kindred may have been killed during the proscription hence their low numbers within the Clan database. The known aliases used by some within the 9-9 kindred are Graham for kit 191228, McPherson for kit 121048 and Murray which was used by the Bega (NRM kit 16198) family.

McGrigor in Lanarkshire.

McGregor (Kit 191228) respectively is the closest non immediate related DNA sample to the (McGregor Bega Kits) [NRM] and also to McPherson (Kit 121048) suggesting that all three have a high probability of being from the same family and from the discussion above, therefore most likely Glenstrae. Importantly the DNA data suggests that the common ancestor is likely to be Alaster Ruadh MacGregor. (The DNA suggests ‘time to common ancestor’ is 390 - 450 years respectively for all 3 Kits). This suggests that the individuals are likely to have arisen from different sons of that Chief (Alaster Ruadh 1524-1547).

[detail omitted which will be in the full report when published]

Of all the possibilities, when considering the actual family history, traditions and marriage connections, etc., the data at hand suggests Kit 191228 is most likely a descendant of Ewin the Tutor and probably from Kilmannan himself through the son Hugh. A more detailed report on this will be submitted later, in conjunction with the history of Kilmannan and Rob Roy that to date seems not yet to have been posted. In support of this contention Kit 191228 has 4 separate Autosomal DNA matches with known descendants of Kilmannan’s via his female line.

As Kit 191228 McGrigor and Kit 121048 McPherson both match the Bega McGregor [NRM] kits, with the DNA data being supported by the documentary evidence, the conclusion is that the Bega [NRM] McGregors are also Alaster Gald - Glenstrae descendants.

Neil McGregor has summarized this and other data analysed in a revision of the chart published in last year’s blog.

Fig 3: Proposed Clan Gregor descendancy chart as at end 2015

Just to repeat the invitation to request comparisons with other participants stated above: please state the group or individuals with whom you wish to be compared and I will help you interpret the results. Please note that it is only feasible to compare like with like (i.e. 67 markers with 67, 37 with 37). As usual my email address is richardmcgregor1ATyahoo.co.uk (substitute @ for AT).

Richard McGregor January 2016

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Posted by Michael Goddard, Software Engineer


  1. Where does kit no. 13165 fit in in that last chart Figure 3? I can see it in Figure 2...

    1. Barbara

      I can't say exactly for 13165 because he hasn't done SNP testing for S696 (which is the Chief's line) for which he could be positive, BUT, no-one yet has tested positive apart from the Chief's immediate family. . We are still not quite at the point of being able to assign individuals to the original 'houses' of clan Gregor but we're getting there slowly. That is whu he's not on Fig.3

  2. Thank You For posting this amazing document!

  3. My name is Andrey. I have mtDNA J1c1b1a.
    Caucausian Mountains, Chechnya, Russia

  4. K--thanks... Just found this reply today... Let me know if you find out anything; still searching for information on where the McGregors came from in Scotland for Mom (Dorothy McGregor Seager). She turns 88 this June; I'm stuck at a brick wall for now...

  5. Which DNA test should I start with? My Dads Grandad left Scotland as an infant. My Dad wants to participate in the study.

  6. Which DNA test should you start with. My Dads Grandad left Scotland as an infant. I am confused as to which test to order. Thank you for your help.

    1. Hi the problem is if you want to test a surname then the person testing must be male and bear that surname. Best write to me at the yahoo address in the blog

  7. How do I participate in this project? My gran was a McIntyre but always said they should have been McGregor...

    1. Go to www.familytreedna.com and put MacGregor into the surname search and follow the hotlinks. However it needs to be a male who bears the name now that has to test - so that would have to be a male cousin I'd guess??

  8. Amazing and extremely interesting even if I don't understand all the science yet. Do you have record of McGregors in Inverness, Scotland, circa 1745? My 4th great grandfather, by Canadian records, emmigrated from there by I can't find any records in Scotland. Advice?

    Doug McGregor

    1. Yes I do have a lot of material on Inverness. Best to write to me separately on the yahoo address given in the blog

  9. Yes I do have a lot of material on Inverness. Best to write to me separately on the yahoo address given in the blog

  10. My Great grandmother was Ina MacGregor

  11. Question...is there a Gedmatch kit # that I can use to find if my Stirling line has indeed descended from a Robert Macgregor Stirling, B1560, father of James Stirling?

    1. What is the geographic location of this Robert and James? The Robert Stirling who is the known McGregor in the DNA project was born around 1660 not 1560, father likely Duncan, father likely William. If your Stirlings were at Glassingall then they will more than likely be the same family. Unless someone has put up a gedcom file I am not aware of one but write to me at the email address in the blog with your straight line descent and I'll compare it with what I have

  12. My grandpa and dad are Alastair and Robert MacGregor

  13. Thanks for sharing this amazing blog and the details about DNA testing really awesome.
    Good work.

    DNA testing