How to find your genetic homeland

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24 January 2014
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Find_your_genetic_homeland_Page_1-300x212-92400.jpg How to find your genetic homeland
As family historians we’re increasingly getting used to the idea of quite how far DNA testing can help us find out about ou

As family historians we’re increasingly getting used to the idea of quite how far DNA testing can help us find out about our genetic genealogy. For instance, Y-DNA tests will help us trace our direct paternal lines back, from son, to father, grandfather and so forth. Combine these findings with research into the origins of your surname (also traditionally handed down the male line, father to son), to find out where it first came from, and you can trace your ‘paternal Ancestral Genetic Homeland’. In the February issue genetic genealogist Dr Tyrone Bowes uses just these techniques with the case study of a Mr Patterson. By combining knowledge of his Y-DNA test results and surname distribution maps, Dr Bowes identified where Mr Patterson’s ancestors were living a thousand years ago - and what’s more sheds light on Mr Patterson’s clan connections too. Intrigued? Find out more in our February issue, complete with graphs and maps to explain the findings further.

Unfortunately there were text glitches in the article as printed, resulting in all instances of ‘paternal’ in the main text printing as ‘nal’; likewise ‘paternally’ printed as ‘nally’ and Paterson/Patterson occasionally appeared as 'son'. We're sorry for the errors and any confusion caused when reading the article. Please find the corrected version of the text below, or click here to download. If you have any further queries, please email me at [email protected].

How to find your genetic homeland

Modern science can confirm the ancestral link to an area by DNA testing its current inhabitants. Piece together your paper trail and combine that with a fuller understanding of genealogical DNA tests, and you could be on track to find out where your ancestors were living 1,000 years ago, as Dr Tyrone Bowes explains.

A commercial ancestral Y-chromosome DNA test will potentially provide you with the names of many hundreds of individuals with whom your share a common male ancestor, but what often confuses people is how you can share common ancestry with many individuals with different surnames? The answer is simple. Roughly 1,000 years ago your direct male ancestor, the first for example to call himself ‘Paterson’, was living in close proximity to others with whom he was related but who took other surnames such as Campbell, McGregor and Buchanan. In the 1,000 years since paternally inherited surnames became common, there will be many descendants of those first Patersons, Campbells and McGregors, some of whom will today take a Y-DNA test. Hence the surnames of your medieval ancestor’s neighbours will be revealed in today’s Y-DNA test results.

In the UK and Ireland surnames can still be found concentrated in the area where they first appeared. You can therefore use census data to determine the origin of the surnames that appear in your Y-DNA results, identify an area common to all, and reveal what scientists call the ‘paternal Ancestral Genetic Homeland’. This will be the area where your ancestors lived for hundreds if not thousands of years. It is the area where your ancestor first picked his surname surrounded by relatives who picked others. It is the area where your ancestors left their mark in its placenames, its history, and in the DNA of its current inhabitants. Modern science can confirm the ancestral link to an area by DNA testing its current inhabitants.

Find your genetic homeland

The first step to identifying your paternal ancestral genetic homeland is to identify the surnames that continually appear as genetic matches in your Y-DNA results as these will reflect the surnames of your medieval ancestors’ neighbours.

The genetically recurring surnames for a ‘Mr Patterson’ are shown in Figure 1. The Y-DNA test results revealed that Mr Patterson is a genetic match to others called Paterson indicating that he has retained the surname of a ‘son-Adam’ (the first to take that surname) who lived approximately 1,000 years ago. What the results also reveal is that Mr Patterson’s genetically recurring surname matches are associated exclusively with Scotland or are found within Scotland (this is not unexpected as Paterson is a Scottish surname). More precisely, though, surname distribution mapping indicates that Paterson is associated with multiple locations within Scotland, which means that 1,000 years ago there were a number of unrelated Paterson-Adams living in various parts of Scotland. However, Mr Patterson’s surname matches are to Scottish Highlander surnames, ruling out an ancestral link with Lowlander Patersons (Figure 2).

Identify your surname-‘Adam’

So which Highlander Paterson-Adam is the test subject (Mr Patterson) descended from, and where did he live? This can be answered by examining where within northern Scotland Mr Patterson’s closest genetically recurring surname matches were found. Those surnames arose among a group of related males living in a tribal group in a very specific location. So if you plot where those surnames were found you will reveal an area common to all, and hence discover where his particular Paterson-Adam lived. The reason this DNA method of pinpointing your paternal geographical origin works so well is that it exploits the link between the Y-chromosome, surname, and land, which are typically passed from father to son through the generations. You must remember that when paternally inherited surnames first appeared the majority of the male population were farmers, who passed their land, surname, and Y chromosome to their sons. It was not until the industrial revolution that this link with the land was weakened, and even by 1841 you could still find farmers working the lands where their surname first appeared.

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Census data reveals many Highlander farmers called Paterson in 1841 and they cluster in groups spread throughout northern Scotland (Figure 3). However farmers called Paterson, Henderson, Stewart, Chisholm, McKay, McLean, Logan and McDonald (the surnames that appear as Mr Patterson’s closest genetic matches) are found concentrated in the 1841 County of Ross and Cromarty (Figure 4). By plotting the parishes where farmers with these surnames were found it reveals that they all cluster together in the area known as the Black Isle, a peninsula just north of the town of Inverness. Paterson farmers are found in their highest density in the parish of Knockbain in the centre of the Black Isle literally surrounded by farming communities with the surnames that appear as Mr Patterson’s closest and most frequent genetic matches (Figure 5).

Discover your clan connections

The clan system in Scotland has been extensively recorded. Remarkably almost everyone with paternal Scottish roots will show common ancestry as revealed by their Y-DNA test result to at least one of the prominent clans or families that dominated the area where their Scottish ancestors originate. Mr Patterson’s genetic relatives the MacKenzies, Stewarts, and Chisholms are recorded on, or near, the Black Isle (Figure 6). Mr Patterson’s closest genetic matches reveal an ancestral link with Knockbain on the Black Isle and evidence of his ancestor’s long association with that area can also be found in its history, monuments and placenames (Figure 7). An examination of the area did not reveal Paterson placenames, but there are ones associated with their genetic relatives – in Kilkoy (McCoy’s church), and various castles including Kinkell, Kilkoy, and Red Castle, which are associated with the MacKenzies. In addition it is known that Clan Loban (now called Logan) have been associated with Drumderfit on the Black Isle since AD1372 when the clan’s founder was the sole survivor of a massacre at the hands of the Frasers and McDonalds. The descendants of the Paterson, Henderson, Stewart, Chisholm, McKay, McLean, Logan and McDonald clans can still be found farming on the Black Isle and a simple commercial ancestral Y-DNA test can confirm the ancestral link.

Track possible migration routes

The more DNA markers that you share with somebody the more recently your shared male ancestor lived. However, if you explore the distant genetic matches in your DNA results, which reflect earlier shared paternal ancestry, the DNA results will often reveal an ancestral link with another location, indicating that an ancestral migration has occurred.

For example a male with British-Viking ancestry may have close genetic matches to surnames originating within, let’s say, Yorkshire, while his more distant genetic matches will lead back to an area of Southern Norway from where his Viking ancestors originated. In this manner you can use the Y-DNA results to literally track your paternal ancestral journey over many millennia.

Although Mr Patterson’s closest genetic matches demonstrated a paternal ancestral link with the Black Isle, the absence of placenames together with the finding that the area's most notable clan, the Logans, have their founding date as late as AD1372 may tentatively indicate that at least some of these clans were relatively recent arrivals. If a migration has occurred then it would be reflected in Mr Patterson’s distant Y-DNA results.

Home in on your origins

Following the introduction of paternally inherited surnames, when you examine the surnames that appear in Mr Patterson’s Y-DNA results from this time period (Figure 1) you will notice many matches to surnames associated with the Highlands of Argyllshire. The most prominent clans that appear in Mr Patterson’s Y-DNA results from the time when paternally inherited surnames became common include the Campbells (>100 individual matches), McGregors (>25), Buchanans (>30), McFarlanes (x9) and McLarens (x9). There are also find some notable surnames such as the McAskills (x3) and McArthurs (x5) – surnames that are exclusively associated with Argyllshire. When you examine the historical evidence for these clans in Argyllshire an interesting discovery is made! They are all found in the lands surrounding the northern shore of Loch Fyne, placing Mr Patterson’s paternal ancestral genetic homeland at the historical centre of Clan Paterson (Figure 8).

Mr Patterson’s Y-DNA results demonstrate that when surnames became common in the 9th century AD his son-Adam lived on the northern shore of Loch Fyne. His son-Adam lived surrounded by relatives who became the Campbells, McGregors, Buchanans etc of the Scottish Highlands. At some point between AD1200 and AD1400 his ancestors migrated north to the Black Isle where some became Logans, MacKenzies and Chisholms.

The Scots today are the descendants of a diverse mix of Picts, Scots (Irish-Gaels), Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Vikings and even Romans. Amazingly the Y-DNA results can reveal which of these ethnic groups your Scots ancestors descend from. A striking feature of Mr Patterson’s Y-DNA results is the overwhelming presence of Scottish surnames throughout his genetic matches. There are very few matches to Irish, English, Welsh, Scandinavian, or indeed mainland European surnames – which would indicate Gaelic/Scots, Anglo-Saxon, ancient Briton, Viking, Norman or Roman ancestry respectively. The exclusive Scottish nature of his genetically recurring surname matches and their overwhelming association with the area north of the Clyde and the Firth of Forth indicate that Mr Patterson is descended from the ancient Picts who were themselves the descendants of some the earliest people to colonise Scotland.

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