23 December 2022

MacGregor DNA Project 2023

Welcome to the MacGregor DNA Project blog for 2023. I began last year’s DNA blog looking at how SNP results could be used to understand historical connections between surname groups and how different family groupings are suggested by subgroupings of the results. Over the past year, there has not been considerable development in terms of DNA testing other than the fact that individuals have realised the usefulness of Y700 for identifying closer family relationships. I am going to use the initial part of this blog to explore further this idea based on the fact that family tree DNA have introduced a new feature which uses scientific tools to explore potential connections between participants. I am taking examples taken from the MacGregor project and based on the main Argyllshire line as we already have some traditional sources which suggest when family groups split off from the main branch.

     I want to begin with an example which appears to show a family connection within the last 250 years, and which suggested that individuals that appeared in two family trees could in fact be brothers – which in turn led to a search in parish registers for an appropriate family living in the area from where it was believed these individuals lived.  In this ftdna example our 2 participants are suggested to have close familial connection dating to approximately 1802. As it happens that is slightly too late as we appear to be dealing with two brothers but given the proximity to 1800 of the averaging process it was determined that these two participants ancestors were more than likely related. 

 Fig 1: two closely genetically related individuals – with SNP BY23340.


It seems that BY23340 is a relatively modern terminal SNP as can be seen in this graphic analysis:

Fig 2a: graphic representation of the DNA relationship between two individuals and Fig 2b the Mean which suggests a date of 1802.


In Fig 3. we see how this is projected forward:

 Fig 3: How this translates into two related lines today.


This parish register research suggested that two brothers James and Robert were the children of Alexander who lived in Stevenston, Ayrshire  in the second half of the 18th century.

          SNP – R-S696

In the MacGregor results one SNP, which was identified almost a decade ago by Jim Walker,  has significance as it is borne by the Chief’s family and two others (both related to emigrants to America whose earlier histories are not recorded).  The SNP is labelled R-S696.

  Fig 4: The genetic descendant to S696


The graphic in Fig 4 is slightly misleading as it only relates two SNPs whereas in fact R-A14374 is a descendant of S690 and we already know that S690 arose about 1300-1350. The suggested split of A14374 sometime in the early to mid 1500s seems very likely, and that S696 did indeed happen not too long after the banning (proscription) of the MacGregor name following the Massacre of Glenfruin in 1603.  The fact that two of the participants with S696 ended up in America but with no known genealogies available suggests that they may have gone there during the time of proscription to escape the personal danger and legal difficulties that were in force at that time. Proscription lasted from 1603 to 1660 when Charles II became King after the Commonwealth collapsed. Proscription was reimposed in 1692 following the unsuccessful attempt to restore the catholic King James II to the throne since the MacGregors were largely supporters of the Stuart cause. The second period of proscription was principally legal in nature but lasted through to November 1774. 

 Fig 5:  other lines related to S696. 


You can see from this diagram that there is a younger line (FT140264) from the same descent. One of these participants has a genealogy suggesting a Glengyle MacGregor connection which has been discussed in the last three blogs (Rob Roy MacGregor was a Glengyle). In summary: there was a gap in the documentary evidence at c1800 which threw  doubt on that family connection and that instead this participant comes from the main MacGregor family (that is, of Brackley)

     One final example will show, I hope, how accurate this scientific predicting could turn out to be. It is well known within MacGregor genealogies that the main line split into 4 main houses – Glengyle or more correctly Dugall Keir (as later epitomised by Rob Roy), as mentioned, was one, MacGregor (main line – Brackley) another, Roro (based on a location in Glenlyon near Fortingall in Perthshire) was a third and the family (Sleik [sliochd = tribe]).  of Gregor vcIan.

     The family based in Roro were known to be there from about 1460, so this Time Tree for SNP R-BY54364, carried by a descendant who has a good claim to have Roro descent, is therefore suggestive that the claim is accurate.

 Figs 6a/b: the genetic split that suggests the origin of the Roro family of MacGregors


The above discussion of SNP connections is clearly still somewhat speculative, but, since we know that S690 split off around 1300, or slightly later, leading to the establishment of the MacGregor main bloodline, then the results do begin to help us identify family groupings post 1300. We can see that so far there are seventeen family lines currently identified, some reaching back to the late Medieval/early Renaissance, and others (as in Fig 1) much later. This shows the importance of as many individuals undertaking the Y700 test, particularly those who have more comprehensive genealogies, so that more inter-family relationships can be established.  To end this section here is the current family descent tree for S690 as revealed by Y700.

Fig 7:  MacGregor Y700 test results as at December 2022


For the second half of this blog I want to go back to questions I am often asked:


1)    What is a clan?

Six hundred years ago this question was quite simple to answer. You would have been born with the name or you would have adopted it, rather than being called by a patronymic (e.g. John MacPatrick vicDonald = John son of Patrick son of Donald).  The name itself then becomes complicated with non-standardised spelling and attempts to render Gaelic into English which meant that, in the MacGregors’ case, the word might be expressed as Gregor, Grigor, MacGregor, McGrigor, McGregor with a whole range of alternative spellings. There were also accepted variants, such as Grierson, or Grier, Greig/Grieg/Grig etc. These were understood to be shortened (or ‘anglicised’) versions of the main clan name. So, Grier-son equals Gregor-son and Grier is the same name without the ‘son’ on the end.  Whether or not the people bearing these accepted names were genetically related to the main family line was not the point, since the clan was composed of members using a collection of related surnames who recognised, as Chief, the head of the main line (the Chief of the MacGregors for example).

     The time of Proscription (when using the name MacGregor was banned), also caused a great many different surnames to be associated with Clan Gregor, many as the result of the adoption of an alias (such as Stirling, Drummond, Bain, Black, Campbell – hence Rob Roy’s alias of Robert Campbell).


2)    What is a sept?

Other clan members bearing different names were from septs or associated groups of the clan. Sometimes the same name can appear on several lists of accepted septs for different clans.  This is the case for the surname King, for example: for MacGregors this surname was certainly thought to connect to the clan motto ‘Royal is my Race’.


3)    We have male MacGregors in our tree, how can they test?

Go to www.familytreedna.com, use the surname search box for ‘MacGregor’ and follow hotlinks on that name until you get to the project join page then select Y chromosome testing for one of the males – do at least 37 markers or any number of markers above this number.


4)    Why are there no family grids/list of results for Ancestry/Family Finder results and can I not prove my genetic connection to MacGregors that way and appear on the list?


From here I am largely repeating some text from my 2017 blog.


There has been a noticeable increase in the number of individuals taking the test known as ‘Family Finder’, or something similar, rather than Y chromosome or mtDNA tests. This has probably been as a result of quite aggressive marketing by Ancestry.com [it has a variety of website endings depending on where it is based] in particular. This has promoted the equal use of DNA testing for both males and females, and tied it into the submission of family trees which individual testers can use to identify the same family name(s) with others who have tested and submitted their genealogies. What has perhaps been rather glossed over in this is the fact, firstly, that DNA gets ‘lost’ over time – if it didn’t, we would have the DNA of billions of ancestors in our bodies, and, secondly, that it is only a tiny portion of our DNA which is currently being examined for genealogical purposes.

     You do not inherit 25% of your autosomal ancestry from each of your 4 grandparents. This is because your autosomal DNA is randomly recombined, and not in equal proportions from each parent, and so the more you go back in time the percentage inherited from people in a particular generation becomes smaller and smaller and therefore the more distant the ancestor is the more difficult it becomes to identify what you received from that person. What then are the chances of that same bit of DNA being preserved from a specific ancestor in yourself and someone else? For example, if your name is, say, Smith, and your male MacGregor ancestor lived 10 generations ago on your mother’s side it is really not feasible with today’s technology to identify that ancestor’s DNA by looking at your DNA today. The tests which are offered by Ancestry, Family Tree DNA etc. only try to identify links to 5/6 generations back. The key thing to remember is that if you and someone else have, say, people called Brown in your trees it does not necessarily mean that you have a recent ancestor in common, or indeed that you have any ancestor called Brown in common at all. For these tests of connection to work properly, you, and the person you are comparing with, need to have as much genealogical information as possible on every ancestral line in your respective trees, going back 5 or 6 generations (and that you both have a significant shared portion of DNA). This test works best for up to third cousin. You have 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and 16 great great grandparents and beyond that it is usually very difficult to have all ancestral lines documented.

     So, you and the person you are comparing with both have to put all your family information into one of the computer genealogy programs (like Family Tree Maker, Reunion etc.), save it as a GEDCOM file, and upload it to whichever DNA company with which you have both tested your autosomal DNA. The possible links between the two family trees are then highlighted in some way which allows a comparison of ancestry to be made in order to explore if there is a family match on some surname. As /I said in the previous paragraph the fact that there is a match on surname does not necessarily mean that it is the same family, only that there is a surname in common. Clearly the more unusual the surname, the more likely that the match will be with the same family.

    I give an example from my own ancestry. Using the compare options on the top of the page I find this result:

   Fig 8:  comparison results for FMS (full mitochondrial sequence) and X-match.


For x-match the x means ‘not a match’ and the ‘-‘ means no result. The 9 matches that I do have all have 3 variants except for two individuals who match me either exactly or with one variant.  For obvious reasons I have edited out the names if those who match. This is My mother’s side (and her mtDNA) and unfortunately her family history knowledge was non-existent. 

 Fig 9: a search using Family Finder


I have 171 pages of matches, and this is fairly common, but almost all are 3rd to 5th cousin or distant, and only one is described as a first cousin to second cousin. In fact I am his second cousin. Interestingly his son is described as my second to fourth cousin, and he is actually my second cousin once removed. None of the other participants show surnames I can relate to, and about half of the participants have given no family genealogy background at all which means that it is impossible to work out the relationship, although in most cases a contact email is available. My experience here is quite typical of what happens with Ancestry-based tests and it would be good if more people who do DNA tests for genealogy could be encouraged to upload trees – or even just a list of ancestral surnames.

     As a project administrator I am very aware of the need to keep participants’ personal details secure and in familytreedna I can only undertake changes if given ‘Advanced Access’ (and the default for familytreedna is ‘Limited’ so I am unable to update most participants’ earliest known ancestor tab which means that the results grid has gaps). I would encourage everyone who reads this to update their information – it helps both the participant and others.

     To end with, I repeat my final paragraph from last year’s blog, which can easily be accessed from the side menu:

     You will have noticed that again I have not used spider diagrams. I now prefer to offer individuals the possibility of seeing a spider diagram (Y chromosome only) for their own result, generated for them alone. You can see the sort of spider diagrams I mean by looking at previous versions of this blog. If you would like me to generate one for you, ask me offline and suggest up to 12 individuals with whom you would wish to be compared by reference to their kit number (for me to be able to do that these 12 need to be in the MacGregor project). You can email me on chairmanATclangregor.org [change AT to @ - I just want to avoid spam!).

05 January 2022

                           MacGregor Project Blog 2022

Welcome to my annual blog for the MacGregor DNA project. This past year has not seen a great deal of development in the relationship between genealogy and DNA as far as the project is concerned, although it has been good to observe that people have used the opportunity of being at home during the pandemic to do more genealogy, and to order Y700 tests which will, during next year, as the results begin to gather, potentially allow for more focused research on the various family  relationships which are being revealed by the SNP links. 
     To begin this discussion I thought it would be useful to show how SNPs can be used to suggest origins, not just genetic, but geographic. This year, therefore, I am presenting case study based on the McAdam, Macpherson, and Irish results. The second half of this blog will consist of an update on Gregg (Greig/Gragg) and Gregory SNPs, and conclude with comments on the Rob Roy descendant discussion, following on from last year’s blog.


During the year, I was contacted by a McPherson participant who could not work out why in his Y700 results his nearest matches were McAdams. The genealogical origins of the two surnames are quite different. Macpherson as a surname is mostly associated with a group of families originating in the south of Inverness-shire – round the areas of Kingussie, Newtonmore, Insch and Laggan (see this parish map for location http://www.scotlandsfamily.com/parish-map-inverness.htm). The McAdams on the other hand mostly originated in south west Scotland below the central belt, more or less the opposite end of the country. They also were found in Ireland and there is a fairly direct connection between Southwest Scotland and Ireland.

     If we look at the spider diagram for the McAdams [also Adam, McAdam and McCadam] (Figure 1) who are in the MacGregor Project we can see that there is a very large group, and then several apparently unrelated singles (such as 499181) or pairs (such as 510026 and 49834) results.

Figure 1: McAdam/Adam/McCadam

Next, in Figure 2, the kit numbers for those results which seem to suggest an Irish origin, which, in a good number of cases, is confirmed by known genealogy (plus IN100960 McPherson)

Figure 2:  McAdam/Adam/McCadam group connected with Ireland (bottom right)

Figure 3 shows the spider chart for the Irish group (all the charts are based on 67 markers):

Figure 3: the Irish group (kit numbers only)

In Figure 4 I have overlaid those McAdam results onto the Irish results and included the kit numbers with the addition of the first letters of the surnames (this being all the program will allow me to do). However, you will see that the McAdams in that tight group of results is embedded within the Irish results – for example kit 165907 or kit 183682. This suggests that these surname groups arose in the same location but in different individuals, creating strong genetic relationships which are not indicated by the surnames. You can see that the Irish group, which appears to have three separate branches coming from the main stem, contains various surnames including White, Black, and, what is especially notable, a tight and separate group of Grier/Greers.

Figure 4: McAdam results and McPherson IN100960 embedded in the Irish group

One thing I do need to mention at this stage is the limitation of STR testing and subsequent mapping of relationships. Since STR mutations are random, comparisons of results can be influenced by the occurrence of a mutation earlier in the sequence of 37, 67 or 111 markers – in other words if a mutation occurs in the first 25 numbers as read from left to right the program assumes that this is a significant mutation, because, in the early days of DNA testing for genealogy certain markers were chosen because they mutated more rarely than others.  With the program assuming that a mutation in this area is more significant it is possible for an individual’s results to be grouped with others which have that same mutation rather than the program ignoring that and focusing on later mutations so occasion misalignments may take place.  This limitation alone makes the use of terminal SNP testing more reliable for grouping individuals together (and why Y700 uses the SNP tree format designed by Alex Williamson and which Family Tree DNA call Block Tree). I discuss the meaning of ‘terminal SNP’ later (see the subsection heading below).

    Now to return to the question which I began with. In Figure 3 kit number IN100960 is McPherson and it is quite clearly in the same group as the McAdams but the line is longer indicating greater predicted passage of time since the shared ancestor. The most obvious interpretation of this result is that IN100960’s ancestor originally came from Ireland pre surnames. It is said that Ireland seems to have had the earliest use of surnames but by the 12th century it was only really the highest class who would be using them, while most of the population would be known by patronymics (e.g. John son of Patrick son of John). The Ancestry blog website https://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/history-of-irish-surnames-is-yours-here/ says the following:

‘It was around the 1100s, as the population was increasing, that people in the upper social classes started taking hereditary surnames (those that remain fixed over the generations); others didn’t need surnames, or even get around to them, until the 1500s’

     Perhaps the earliest that that IN100960’s ancestor could have come over to Scotland would have been in the settlements that took place not long after 500AD, but it could equally be much later especially since the distance between Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland is just 15 miles across the North Channel between the two land masses.  Over several centuries one can imagine the movement of people who were originally settled in Argyllshire migrating further north to Inverness-shire, so that one of IN100960’s ancestors found himself in the lands of the MacPhersons, and, instead of using patronymics started to use the surname of the local landowners.

     What I have just suggested follows the DNA and social history and is perfectly possible as an interpretation of IN100960’s DNA result, but it should be noted that it is only one interpretation. There are still comparatively few individuals who have DNA tested to find their terminal SNP but of those that are available, and checking not just the terminal SNP, but also those which came immediately before it shows that there are related individuals in Scotland and Ireland. It is possible to look at results which have been mapped onto a  very useful SNP mapping website:

https://www.genetichomeland.com/homeland.asp. You have to register to use this site but once registered (it’s free) you can map the results for most SNPs which gives you geographic locations for these SNPs and you can save a limited number of maps for individual SNPs to your account.

     Finally, it is important to remember that there are other reasons for the adoption of a surname, and in particular death of father and the adoption of a stepfather’s surname, and illegitimacy, where the child is named for the mother’s surname, being the most common.


Having previously explored the results for Grieg and Gregory I thought that it would be interesting to see if there was any link between them, always remembering that while those who test are a random sample of the population they include a high proportion of those in America who may in fact be related as a result of genealogical connections which have occurred in America/Canada over the last 400 years.

     Figure 5 shows the complete picture of the two surname groups in order to show those results which lie on the right of the Figure and belong to quite separate genetic groups. Starting from the top, 275997 is Gregory but the haplogroup is J which has its origins in the fertile crescent or further east in west Asia. The larger group with 877623 etc contains the surnames Gregory and Gregg – and these have Viking origins (haplogroup I). 239031 (Gregor) is haplogroup T which also originated in West Asia.  Finally, 212046 is from Haplogroup R1a which spread from eastern Europe but may have originated in India.

Figure 5: Gregg/Gregory all results

Figure 6 is a close-up of the much larger collection of Griegs (Greig/Gregg/Grig/Gragg) most of which can be seen beginning with ‘Gr’ while the Gregories are shown as “GY’. What this shows are two discrete large unrelated groups, one of Greigs (including 29673) and one of Gregories (including 8100). Then, apart from three much smaller groups, [the first in the bottom right which has a collection of Griggs, Graggs and a Gregg (e.g. 372126) and the second near the middle bottom of Gregg and Gragg (including 851482), and third, a quartet of Gregories (including 374579)], almost all the rest are either singles or pairs of results which lie some distance from their common point of origin (the split point where their lines divide). Only one pair looks as though they could have been related, namely, 950624 Griggs and N52932 Gregory but they only share a point of origin and are not otherwise a related pair.

Figure 6: close up of Grieg (all variants) and Gregory results

                                Terminal SNPs

Figure 7 adds the terminal SNPs which have, so far, been tested for these two surnames. To understand the significance of a terminal SNP it is important to understand that, in almost all cases, a SNP is a point on the Y chromosome which has become a fixed point in the genetic tree. Very early on in DNA genealogy the SNP R-M269 was the most recent SNP used to classify individual results for the R haplogroup common in Europe, but that SNP appeared sometime between 4000 and 10,000 years before the present. More recent SNP research and identification has been able to create a family tree of SNPs reaching down through time towards the present. So, a terminal SNP represents the most recent occurrence currently known to research. The company YFull publish a tree where some of the SNPs in sequence have approximate dates assigned – however more recent SNPs are mostly as yet undated.

Figure 7: Figure 6 with tested terminal SNPs added

In Figure 7 the four SNPs which are seen in the Gregg results [top middle] are all connected – some of the SNPs shown occurred earlier than others in time but they all connect together so that the individuals whose results they show are close cousins genetically of each other. Current mapping puts this SNP group in Scotland.  The screenshot in Figure 8, which is taken from the Gregg Block Tree shows how the lines spread out from the common terminal SNP BY135575 (courtesy of familytreedna.com). 

Figure 8: FT108241 as terminal SNP with later terminal SNPs BY212591 and FT106941 in the other individuals

The large Gregory group has a different terminal SNP – there are only two individuals in this group who have tested but their terminal SNPs are likely to proceed from BY34346, a completely different origin from the Griegs (all variants). All the other terminal SNPs shown for Gregories are either unique to an individual or shared by a small group. In some cases, for example 214992 Gragg and Gregg BY173545, there is a close genetic relation but the Gregg individual has acquired a later terminal SNP.

                                  Descendants of Rob Roy MacGregor

In the last two DNA blogs I have shared some of our DNA research to try to identify an individual who is definitely descended from Rob Roy MacGregor, and discussed some of the difficulties in verifying descent through paper genealogies and available records. As well as trying to identify a Rob Roy descendant we are also hoping to identify the Glengyle family of MacGregors of which he was a part.  In my report, I explored the possibility that an individual participant in the DNA Project was descended from Rob Roy’s grandson James who had a son Donald but suggested that it was a concern that this Donald who married Elizabeth Stewart in 1804 was probably too young to be the correct one, and, in addition, terminal SNPs suggested a closer connection to the Chief’s line of Glencarnoch. I am grateful to John Andrew Hutchison who contacted me with a huge amount of information from years of research into the various families who lived in and around Balquhidder and surrounding parishes. John has a family connection to the MacGregors and has been trying to link families together across generations, a task made much more difficult when individual members of families moved around and away from their ancestral homes.There is simply too much information from John to try and summarise here in any meaningful way, particularly as it involves consideration of a large number of different MacGregor families in historical records, as well as family records going from the 18th century onwards. However the main thrust of the research suggests that Donald who married Elizabeth Stewart was  probably not of the Glengyle branch but possibly of the family who were designated in the Balquhidder children list of 1787 (which I repeat here complete below) as of Brackley, which could explain our participant’s close genetic connection to the Chief’s line – of Glencarnoch  - and/or possibly to the Roro family.    

This list is found in Central Archives Stirling with the call number PD60/651. It is incorrectly dated as possibly 1830.

A list of the young children of the tree of McGregor with their names and Designations within the parish of Balquidder [all listed McGregor unless otherwise stated]

Bracklys family [sic]



Robert 1

Gregor 2

Donald 3

Alexander 4

William 5

Alexr in Lickseridan

Peter 1

Alexr 2

Dun 3

Alexr in Gartnafuaran

John 1

Duncan 2

James 3

Gregor 4

Malcom 5

Dun in Inverlochlairgemore

Donald 1

Alexr 2

Peter 1

John 2

2 orphans

Dun in Craganmore

James 1

Alexr 2

Peter in Milltown

Dun 1

Alexr 2

Donald in Rinacraig

Donald 1

John 2

Dougal 3

Alexr 4

Alpin 5

all orphans

Dun in Rinacraig    

Duncan 1

in all 27

Dougal Keers Faimily

Duncan in Minachallwaroo

John 1

Robert 2

Patrick in Blarerioch

Malcom 1

Dougal in woodend Stronslany

John 1

Gregor 2

Donald 3

Malcom 4

Gregor in Gartnafuaran

Dougal 1

Gregor 2

Duncan in Stronair

Malcom 1

Alexr 2

Robert 3

Allan 4

John in Criganmore

Gregor 1

Duncan 2

James 3

Twins John and Donald 2

Donld Coock in Ruskachan

Dougal 1

James in Ruskachan

Duncan 1

in all 20

McGregors Faimily

Donald in Ardchullary

Hugh 1

Robert in Adchullary

Donald 1

James 2

Robert in Rinacraig

Peter 1

John 2

Alexr in Rinacraig

Peter 1

John in Rinacriag

Peter [ ]

Robert in Achtowmore

James 1

John in Achtowmore

Hugh 1

Hugh in Achtowmore

John 1

in all 9

Roro Faimily

Duncan in Stronslary

John 1

Donald 2

Peter 3

Hugh 4

Duncan in Balcnoick

Alexr 1

John in Lichscridan

William 1

Alexr in Dalreach

John 1

Hugh 2

Hugh    Drover

James 1

Patrick Decest Balifoil

Duncan 1

John 2

Donald 3

in all 12

A mistake in Brackly Faimily that they not aded togather (sic)

John Decest in Gartnafuaran

Donald 1

John 2

Robert 3

Jobert (sic) 4

Donald in midleachton

Peter 1

Hugh 2

John 3

John Decest in midle achtow

Duncan 1

John 2

Gregor 3

Dun in Glentarkan

James 1

Peter 2

John 3


Brackly Faimily

27 (+) 13  (=) 40 of them

As usual I end this blog with the offer to compare a single result with up to 11 others using the spider charts, or to offer further advice on further DNA testing, particularly Y700 and terminal SNPs (and consequently the relationship of differing groups of the same name to each other). Contact me on richardmcgregor1ATyahoo.co.uk (substitute @ for AT).

I am grateful to Central Archives, Stirling, familytreedna.com. and the authors of the spider diagram program Splitstree, Daniel Huson and David Bryant.