MacAulay Y-DNA Testing at FamilyTreeDNA


How do we learn about the genetics of our MacAulay paternal line?

After high-level Y-DNA testing, various named DNA mutations can be identified on the male Y chromosome. They show those found in the whole family, and some that are contained only in specific branches of a family. By comparing mutations between males, trees can be built showing how each branch is related to each other. Up until now, many of these branches were not connected, and their potential inter-relationships could only be imagined. Points where different branches meet represent a specific male ancestor who was born with a brand-new mutation that can be detected in only his descendants.

As more males test, a more complex tree can be built up from the resulting genetic data. This allows us to see which known Macaulay families are actually related to each other (and how), and which families are completely separate. We can then use traditional genealogical research to start identifying possible named ancestors that fit into these points. In some cases, the common ancestor will have lived before church and government records existed to record them.

Identifying your MacAulay lineage helps focus your research on the MacAulay family you actually descend from. Over the last decade or so, MacAulays of all spellings have been participating in Y-DNA testing at FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA), the only company that has a matching database of Y-DNA testers and a suite of tools to use in the analysis of results. Y-DNA testing has identified dozens of unique and unrelated MacAulay families. This is expected, as we know that the name was adopted by many unconnected males from all across Ireland and Scotland during the long span of time when families were choosing their own surname. Further advanced testing (“Big Y-700”) offered by FTDNA has been able to place many of these distinct families at specific points on the human genetic tree. This helps in showing connections between specific branches within the family, as well as connections with other families of different surnames from well over a thousand years ago.

There are two examples of these distinct paternal lines where advance testing has been heavily utilized.  One is from the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, and one from County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. Some individuals from other MacAulay families have also started on the path of advanced testing and are in need of support from other matches in order to establish these families on the human genetic tree. Analysis of Big Y-700 test results has made it possible for us to recognize that each group is descended from a different common ancestor.  As more men participate in these tests, approximate dates when our MacAulay ancestors lived can be estimated more precisely and a much more comprehensive understanding of both genealogical connections and ancient geographic origins can be gained. FTDNA has also introduced tools such as the TImeTree and Discover that can be used to get a clearer sense of the timeframes and connections involved.

There are currently about 250 MacAulay men who have done Y-DNA testing, with close to half who have done the advanced Big Y-700 testing necessary to identify their unique family group. The rest are still at a more basic testing level which makes it difficult to understand their connections to other males and other families. Additional Big Y-700 tests by MacAulay men will increase the chances for others to identify their particular family group.

The Clan MacAulay Y-DNA testing is done at FTDNA. Because Y-DNA signatures for testers with ancestors from the British Isles can be very difficult (sometimes impossible) to tell apart, the Big Y-700 test is recommended due to its being the most comprehensive Y-DNA test at that company.  There are also entry-level tests available (Y37 and Y111), which can later be upgraded to a Big Y-700 using the original DNA sample and for a discount from the regular price.

Y-DNA testers should join the free projects available at FTDNA in order to take advantage of the help and guidance of volunteer Project Administrators.  There are MacAulay-specific Projects, as well as a good many other special interest groups. Project Administrators can help you interpret your results and further your personal and our collective research.  Clan Members have access to these Project Administrators as well as the body of knowledge built up so far as a result of Y-DNA testing by MacAulay men from around the world.

Men are grouped within the MacAulay-specific Projects based on the Y-DNA markers they share.

MacAulays of County Antrim

The MacAulays of County Antrim Project at FamilyTreeDNA currently consist of about 60 men (as of 2023) whose Y-DNA test results indicate they are all related in the last 600 years, in the surname-period.  A few of these men have good genealogy records placing their families in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, as far back as the mid-1700s.  Big Y test results for the majority of the members of this group indicate they are descendants of a common male MacAulay ancestor who lived around the 1400s in Ireland. There is evidence to suggest that this male was descended from a man (likely with no surname at birth) who was from southern Scotland and who ventured into Ireland in the early 1300s. This may have been due to the military actions engaged in during the First Scottish War of Independence, with the purpose of driving English/Anglo-Norman forces out of Ireland. There are other possibilities, but this one fits with the timeline of the Y-DNA data. Five major branches in this family have been identified among descendants of their identified common male ancestor “Mr. Y17484” (the haplogroup of the common ancestor, representing a specific Y-DNA mutation he was born with). A general view of this tree can be seen by clicking here:

FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA Haplotree R-Y17484.

Additional Big Y-700 tests by other males in this family have the potential to further refine the branches in this tree. The goal is to gather enough data to identify the branches within genealogical time, where traditional genealogy research might discover how the families are related with specific named ancestors, or at least within a few generations of each other.

MacAulays of Lewis

Currently, there are numerous research groups using DNA samples from men around the world to piece together long-forgotten relationships. One such effort has been to reconstruct the Macaulay family of Lewis. The Isle of Lewis is quite large and is found in the Scottish Hebrides to the north of the mainland. As of 2023, there are over 50 men tracing back to the Isle of Lewis who have done Y-DNA testing. 85% of them are all related paternally, while the rest represent 6 smaller Macaulay families who also originated on Lewis. Virtually all of these men have done the advanced Big Y700 test from FamilyTreeDNA and have helped to identify specific branches and how they are connected. The largest group represent the Macaulay family of Uig parish, in northwestern Lewis, and where traditionally the family is said to be from.

The testing data so far points to this family being descended from a male with Irish ancestry who migrated to the Isle of Lewis in the late 1200s or later. This fits with known historical events, as Scotland attained the rights to the Hebrides through the 1266 Treaty of Perth with Norway, and afterwards encouraged migration of people from Gaelic speaking areas to populate the area. This male did not have a surname, and we know that no other Irish Macaulay families are related to those of Lewis. He likely had a few generations of descendants before the Macaulay surname became associated with them, as we know that a distinct Morrison family also descends from this pre-surname common (note that there are several unrelated Morrison families that live on Lewis). The first male who would have been recognized as a Macaulay in this family was born around the 1400s on Lewis and we call him today “Mr. FGC29773”. A general view of his genetic tree and descendants can be viewed by clicking here:

FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA Haplotree R-FGC29773

Some of the better known members of this family are Iain Ruadh “John Roy” Macaulay (b.1490), Domhnall “Cam” Macaulay (1570-1640), and Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay (1800-1859). The extensive testing that has been done had identified many branches of the family that all show ancestry back to specific regions of Uig, namely around the villages of Crowlista and Brenish. This lines-up with traditional stories of the family origins in those areas, and as the branches move further east across the Isle of Lewis, the timeframes match up with known migration events as land became scarcer and the Highland Clearances became an ever-increasing issue the families had to deal with.

Results for this group of men has also had the effect of showing that several branches do not agree with the traditionally “accepted” genealogy found on many online websites and trees. This is not surprising, as traditional research has often mixed up the names of Macaulay men in old records and stories on Lewis and this has generated some very inaccurate genealogies. With the new level of Y-DNA testing, the goal is to continue to recruit males from this Lewis MacAulay family and use documented ancestry to fit everyone in. This includes estimating timeframes in which each branch is connected.

In addition to the largest family above, we have also identified other smaller Macaulay families on Lewis. Some of these are now proven to have been established through illegitimate births a few hundred years ago. Others, especially MacAulay families tracing back to the eastern side of Lewis (Stornoway area), show Nordic ancestry, consistent with the historical migrations of those people into the Hebrides over a thousand years ago.

MacAulays of North and South Uist

The small islands of North and South Uist are found just to the southwest of the Isle of Lewis. One might think that any MacAulays found here would be somehow connected to the MacAulays of Lewis, and some online genealogies purport this. However, a large group of about 30 testers (as of 2023) have now proven that the MacAulays found here are completely distinct, and actually comprised of two unrelated paternal lineages. 90% of these men fit into one family, though only 1/3 of them have done advanced testing. The results have still helped to establish a larger history for the family, and appears to show a migration of one branch from North Uist to South Uist several hundred years ago. It has also allowed us to see that this family was on the islands before surnames were established but at some point between 900 and 1,200 years ago the ancestor to the family lived on mainland Scotland. The first male who would have been recognized as a MacAulay in this family was born around the 1400s on one of the Uist islands and we call him today “Mr. FT78238”. A general view of his genetic tree and descendants can be viewed by clicking here:

FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA Haplotree R-FT78238

The second MacAulay family of North Uist is much smaller and more work is needed to identify their exact origins and structure through Big Y testing.

Other MacAulay Families of Scotland and Ireland

Dozens of other unrelated MacAulay families have been identified throughout Ireland and Scotland. For the time-being they are less understood than the larger groups described above. In the future it is hoped that further advanced testing and recruitment of more males will help to discern their full origins and structure.

Helpful Links

Below are a few links you might find useful.  In order to participate in the paternal-line studies supported by Clan MacAulay, males must test at FamilyTreeDNA.  In addition, both men and women from a MacAulay lineage are encouraged to take an autosomal DNA test (“FamilyFinder”) at FamilyTreeDNA or upload their previously taken autosomal DNA test done at other testing companies (23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage for example) for free using the FT DNA Autosomal Transfer program. Click on any of the following links for more information.

Want to know more about Y-DNA testing and your MacAulay research?

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