New MacLeod DNA branch!

Exciting news from the L165 and Clan MacLeod DNA projects, there is a new subclade to the MacLeod R1b-BY3210, and it has a famous member! The new Subclade is BY19718, and it has been found positive in a descendant of Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal “Faithful Palinurus”, the boatman who aided the rebel prince Charles Edward Stuart’s escape from the failed 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. For a rough Pop Culture reference to Prince Charlie’s escapades, see series Outlander

Some background on Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal

The SNP Pathway to the MacLeod Y-DNA block for those familiar with Y-DNA:

R1b-M269>…>P312/S116 > Z40481 > ZZ11 > DF27/S250 > Z195/S355 > Z198 > L165/S68 > FGC29987 > BY3224 > BY3253 > BY3210 (STR estimate dates 1230-1350AD most recent common ancestor (MRCA), not SNP dated yet)

MacLeod Subclade Branches:

–BY13703: Isle of Harris potential association (STR estimate date 1650AD MRCA, not SNP dated yet)

–BY19718: Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal “Palinurus”

New overview of L21 (Gael Y-DNA SNP)



L21 researcher Mike Walsh has updated the “tip of the iceberg” for L21+ folks (a very common Scots and Irish Y-DNA haplogroup) in light of the results from the recent beaker people’s paper, source:

David Vance of the L21 Project Discussion group on Yahoo has also made this comprehensive chart: L21tree


Based on the latest discoveries out at the R-L165 DNA project, it looks like we are closer to discovering a marker for direct male-line descent from Leod!

Right now what is known:

Y-DNA Haplogroup R1b, marked by the SNP marker M343, originates about 16,500BC (Paleolithic)

Marker M269 originates about 4500BC (Bronze Age, Yamnaya culture, located on the Pontic Steppe & Between Black and Caspian Seas

Middle Bronze Age large scale migration to Europe, Marker P312 originates about 3500BC (Bell Beaker Culture; Proto-Italo-Celto-Germanic)

Marker DF27/S250 (Ibero-Atlantic Celt Branch) >  Marker Z195/S355 > Marker Z198 > Marker L165/S68 originates probably 3000-2000BC>

L165 divides into a group that later becomes MacNeils of Barra, Lindseys and Buies of Jura, some MacDonalds, and at least one Norwegian (>BY129/130/131/132/133/134/135/Y5114/R-BY132) and another, FGC29987 /BY456 (origin not certain, but before 600AD) which later gives rise to Leod about 1229AD

An introduction to genetics in a genealogy/historical context Part 7

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) as we mentioned earlier, is DNA that is only inherited from the mother. It is not the X chromosome, it is actually in the mitochondria of a cell.  mtDNA is non-nuclear DNA, so it is not part of your chromosomes or “genes” and is passed “unchanged” (except for SNP mutations that occur) from mother to all children, but can only be passed on by a mother, so a mtDNA shows the distant female-line descent. Genealogy mtDNA tests are for SNPs. mtDNA SNPs are not very numerous, so the branches are quite infrequent. Perfect matches may still not have had a common female-line ancestor for 500 or 1000 years. It is most useful on very old specimens, as samples have remained stable to test for many thousands of years.

Polar Representation of the spread of mtDNA Haplogroups

Polar Representation of the spread of mtDNA Haplogroups, color coded by thousands of years ago

At first mtDNA was compared by mutations against the revised Cambridge Reference Sequence (rCRS), which is the Haplogroup H2a2a, but now uses Letter and number Haplogroups just like Y-DNA.

Some of the Y-DNA groups we mentioned earlier have equivalents in mtDNA– Y-DNA Haplogroup I is probably the same population source as mtDNA U Haplogroup, and Y-DNA R1  is probably the same population source as mtDNA H, and specifically H2a1 mtDNA may be same population as R1a Y-DNA. 50% of Europe today is mtDNA H.

To read more, check out:

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An introduction to genetics in a genealogy/historical context Part 6

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) is recombined randomly between atDNA of both parents. The unit of measurement of shared segments is the CentiMorgan (cM): “It is defined as the distance between chromosome positions (also termed, loci or markers) for which the expected average number of intervening chromosomal crossovers in a single generation is 0.01”

Segments below 5cM might be identical by state (IBS), not identical by descent (IBD). Identical twins have a 6722.2cM match, Parents a 3400cM match; Siblings average 2640cM match; Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, ½ siblings- 1700cM; Great Grand Parents, 1st Cousins, Great Uncles- 850cM; 1st Cousins once removed- 425cM; 2nd Cousins, 1st Cousins 2x Removed- 212.5cM; 3rd Cousins, 2nd Cousins 2x Removed- 53.13cM; 5th Cousins- 3.32cM; 8th Cousins- .05cM


Percent of shared atDNA with different relatives

atDNA Products include FTDNA ‘s “FamilyFinder” and 23andMe, AncestryDNA, etc. Most of these companies sell Cousin matching (reliable to 5th Cousins and very occasionally out to 7th and 8th), and usually offer a very generic Biogeographic Analysis or “Ethnic Composition”

Picture12Where this becomes interesting is where you can download your raw data, and use at a site like against population genetics databases, and ancient DNA to make chromosome paintings like these:




The only problem is, the percentages vary depending on what was in the source/comparison database, so you can never take the percentage as universal- it’s just what percent was shared with that group in the comparison database. This has also led to an under-reporting of Native American heritage, as for various legal and sociological reasons many of that culture are opposed to testing and are therefore not found in many comparison data sets. The previous 4 graphics were all made with the same autosomal data, just against different databases.

One further complication is that due to recombination, all of your true genealogical ancestors are not going to be found in your atDNA. Since you can picture atDNA as two decks of cards that are shuffled between your parents, then half discarded, leaving only one 52 card deck going forward- repeat that with 2 more decks over many generations and shuffles the two hybrid decks and discard half gain, repeat with another 2nd gen hybrid deck, etc.. and there may be no cards from one of the original decks left in the many-many times descendant deck. Random chance determines some of this, so mixed population people like many Americans will have this problem with confirming distant ancestors admixtures.

Part 7 will conclude with mtDNA

An introduction to genetics in a genealogy/historical context Part 5

I1 is the Y-DNA hapolgroup associated with the Mesolithic (Stone Age) to early Chacolithic (Copper Age) dominant inhabitants of Europe. Some archeological cultures that have been postulated to belong to haplogroup I1:
Linear Pottery Culture (LBK) (5600-4240 BCE), Ertebølle culture (EBK) (5300-3950 BCE), Funnelbeaker culture (4000-2700 BCE) and Pitted Ware culture (3200-2300 BCE). Grooved Ware peoples, inhabitants of Skara Brae ~3100-2500BCE and builders of the Neolithic Megalith stone circles of Lewis (Callanish 2900-1000BCE) and Orkney (Stones of Stenness 3100BCE, Ring of Broadgar 2500-2000BCE, Ness of Broadgar 3500-2000 BCE , Maeshowe 2800BCE, etc)

I1 makes up 35% of the Y-DNA lines of modern Norway, and a majority of Fenno-Scandian Vikings. I1 is found in higher concentration on Lewis than Skye. Some subgroup SNPs such as I1-M253, P109, L1301, L1302, M307 are though to be Viking markers, but could just as easily be the aboriginal people of the Hebrides.

Picture10Part 6 will continue with some more about atDNA

An introduction to genetics in a genealogy/historical context Part 4

R1a  was thought to be dominant haplogroup among the northern and eastern Proto-Indo-European language speakers, which evolved into the Indo-Iranian, Thracian, Baltic and Slavic branches.

The Yamna culture of 3300-2500 BCE is a possible origin for R1a Proto-Indo-Europeans. Their expansion is linked to an early adoption of bronze weapons, the domestication of the horse in the Eurasian steppes and the invention of the chariot. The first expansion into europe probably occured with the Corded Ware Culture, sometime called the battle-axe people because of the corded-impressed pottery and polished battle axes found at sites associated with the Corded Ware culture. Testing bone from archeological digs confirmed R1a1a in samples from:
Corded Ware culture in Germany (2600 BCE), from Tocharian mummies (2000 BCE) in Northwest China, Andronovo culture (1600 BC) in southern Russia and southern Siberia, and finally various Iron-age sites from Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia.

Picture7R1a1 is defined by SNP M17. In a UK or Scots context, the R1a-M17 found is usually the sub-group R1a-L176.1, associated with Norwegian Vikings (30% of modern Norway) and the Gall-Ghàidheil, particularly in it’s appearance in the Chiefs of MacDonald and their claimed descent from Somerled. However, Many Gall-Ghàidheil descendants are also of R1b haplogroup, often L165 and L21 subclades, and R1b still comprises 28% of the Y-DNA lines of modern Norway.

Picture8Part 5 Continues the story with the Y-DNA Haplogroup  I1

An introduction to genetics in a genealogy/historical context Part 3

R1b-L21, The Haplogroup that best approximates North Atlantic Celt is defined by the SNP where the “C” at rs11799226 changed to a “G” in a man about 4,000 years ago. Many further SNP subdivisions have recently been discovered, some with geographic localization.

Picture5Perhaps due to the Scots and Irish cultural interest in genealogy, there has been an explosion of new subdivisions discovered in L21. The map below shows the population of modern males carrying L21 in Europe today.

Picture6This heavy sampling of Scots and Irish Y-DNA has made some SNPs start coming closer in time to becoming regionally identifiable, and in some cases Clan and surname associated in confluence with STR comparisons.

Part 4 will continue the story with R1a

An introduction to genetics in a genealogy/historical context Part 2

Y-DNA data has been around a while now, and growing exponentially as more people test. Current test companies have many more British Isles and European American samples than any other single group, but the diversity is growing as more people test.

Clan MacLeod is a very diverse group as our DNA project has shown, but there are 3 Main Y-DNA Haplogroups of interest. This is not to say anyone with a different Haplogroup doesn’t belong at all- Just that the biggest 3 groups so far in the clan project are R1b, R1a, and I1;

  • R1b (Most of Western Europe is R1b, there are many sub-groups)
    • R1b-L165: Leod, probably Norse Viking origin
    • R1b-L21: Significant percentage of non-chief’s lines of MacLeod and MacDonald, Is the dominant Y-DNA line of much of Scotland and Ireland, and is represented slightly less heavily in Iceland and Norway; Currently associated with Gaelic origins, and many down-stream SNPs are known
    • R1b-U106: Germanic; In our context, potentially Danish Viking
  • R1a (Most of Eastern Europe is R1a, with some wide outliers)
    • R1a-L176.1: Somerled/MacDonald Chiefs, Norse Viking
  • I1 (pre-dates Indo-European incursion into Europe)
    • I1: First inhabitants of the Hebrides, Northern Europe
    • I1a2a-P109: Vikings

Looking at the Clan MacLeod DNA project, of 229 participants 78% were R1b, 11% R1a, 9% I1, 2% Other. 136 of the R1b were not SNP tested, 32 were R1b-L165, and 11 were R1b-L21. About 14% of the participants were potential direct male line descendants of Leod (R1b-L165 Leod Modal)

An interesting comparison is the Clan MacDonald DNA project where 1225 participants were 70% R1b (519 not SNP tested, 337 R1b-L21, and 19 R1b-L165). 20% were R1a; 14% of the participants were potential direct male line descendants of Somerled (R1a-L176 Somerled Modal) and 8% I1, 2% other

There is a striking similarity in percentages: In both cases, 3/4 of the clan appear to have Gaelic male-line ancestors, with approximately 14% having potential male-line descent from a clan founder of non-Gaelic origin, and just under a tenth of pre-Gael indigenous male lines present. For more details on how I arrived at this conclusion, going much further back in time is required.

In prehistoric Europe, there were though to be three populations, Northwestern Hunter-Gatherers (WHG), Ancient North Eurasians (ANE), and Early European Farmers (EEF). One theory holds that the WHG group had Y-DNA of the I1 haplogroup, and the EEF had the Y-DNA I2 haplogroup. Much is still being learned, but recently some academic papers have suggested that expansion of horse and chariot riders from the Steppes, North of present Ukraine brought proto-Indo Europeans of Y-DNA R1b and R1a into Europe.

Additional groups of R1a folks went East into China, where the Tocharian Mummies have tested R1a, and others became Scythians, while still others moved into Eastern Europe and a small minority heading further north into Scandinavia.

Other R1b groups headed to the middle East, where Hittites and Trojans are thought to have been R1b, yet other R1b headed to Africa, with R1b-V88 found commonly in the Housa tribe of Sudan, and the Herero tribe of Niger-Congo area of West Africa.r1btree

The R1b that went to Europe, (R1b-M269) split into two main trunks, R1b-U106 which has some association with some Germanic tribes, and R1b-P312 which is thought to be proto-Celtic.


R1b-P312 further divided into DF27, which is concentrated in the Iberian Peninsula, U152 (also called S28) is thought to be Italo-Gaulish and may have been the Celts that interacted with the earliest Romans, and L21 (also called S145), which is centered on the British and Irish Isles.


A subgroup of DF27, only identified only in the last few years is L165. The larger group R1b-DF27, is thought to have had a maritime expansion north from Iberia.
R1b-L165, Also known as S68 by it’s first discoverer Jim Wilson of EthnoAncestry in 2007, was found in parallel by FTDNA in 2010 before it was published.
It is about 3,500 years old, and in a Scots context is tightly coupled to the Hebrides. It is the probable haplogroup of Leod, and another cluster of L165 was the progenitors of MacNeil of Barra, Lindsay of Jura, Buie of Jura, some families in the Uists, and more being discovered monthly (see the project at:

Part 3 will Continue the story with R1b-L21

An introduction to genetics in a genealogy/historical context Part 1

A non-scientific overview in 7 Parts

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is really just four chemicals: Thymine (abbreviated as T) pairs with Adenine (A), and Guanine (G) pairs with Cytosine (C).
DNA was discovered in 1953, but the first Human genome (3200 Million base “Letter” pairs, all the Human DNA in one person) was not sequenced (reading each letter) until 2003, and findings first published in 2007. Only about 2% of DNA encodes proteins, and 99.5% of any two random people’s genomes will be identical.

Aside from sequencing a genome (which was on pace to cost $100M in 2001, dropped to $10M in 2007, and was now just a few thousand dollars in 2015, projected to go below $1000 in the next few years), there are some inexpensive (by comparison) consumer level tests one can take by mail order. 3 “Kinds” of DNA can be tested from home easily, in 2 Main “Types” of tests.

Y-DNA tests can be taken only by genetic males, and one type (usually done first) looks at Short Tandem Repeater (STR)- phrases of repeated alleles, for example ‘GATAGATAGATAGATA’ would be “4” at a particular location, called a “DYS” (DNA Y-chromosome Segment). DYS are usually designated with a unique number. Used in Y-DNA to statistically decide what SNP (explained below) to test for, and based on known drift rates, can mathematically estimate number of generations between two men. Changes in STRs is basically a “copy error” that drops off or adds a set of repeats. An average rate is 1 per 500 generations, and there are up to 111 locations or “Markers” that are looked at for current Y-DNA tests.

Another type of Y-DNA test looks for specific Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP)–When a base pair of chemicals at any given location randomly changes from one chemical to another (like C becomes T, G becomes A, etc).

This mutation is inherited by all descendants of the individual in which the SNP occurred. SNPs occur very rarely, so they can be used to split a “Haplogroup” (think tree trunk) into “Subclades” (think branches). Because you have to know the specific location and mutation to test for, you usually need to have done an STR test to find someone within a comparable amount of generations that has already tested SNPs to know where to start from. Some testing companies like FamilyTreeDNA will also make a prediction of a Haplogroup, and even some subclades for you if you are very “close” to someone with a confirmed SNP. Other than copy error insertion and deletions, and SNPs, Y-DNA is passed unchanged from father to son, since there were humans. By tracking the branches in the tree through the errors, we have learned a lot about male-line-specifics.
A second kind of DNA test looks at Autosomal DNA (atDNA), which is the 22 non-sex chromosomes that are recombined between mother and father when passed on to children. Test can show cousinship within 6-7 generations, and also distant ancestral admixtures. Genealogy DNA atDNA test are for SNPs (Family Tree’s  atDNA test looks for ~700,000 SNPs). The forensic DNA you hear about is also atDNA, but it looks at STRs, so it is totally different. X-DNA (genetic males have one X chromosome, females two) is often tested at same time as atDNA, but the data not used in most genealogy matching systems.

The third kind looks at DNA that is only inherited from the mother– Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). mtDNA is non-nuclear DNA, so it is not part of your chromosomes or “genes” and is passed “unchanged” (except for SNP mutations that occur) from mother to all children, but can only be passed on by a mother, so a mtDNA shows the distant female-line descent. Genealogy mtDNA tests are for SNPs. mtDNA SNPs are not very numerous, so the branches are quite infrequent. Perfect matches may still not have had a common female-line ancestor for 500 or 1000 years.


Y-DNA Branches and mtDNA branches in a timeline

Part 2 will continue with some Clan MacLeod specific information