MacAulay Y-DNA Testing

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, allowing us to see 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.

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.

There are currently about 200 MacAulay men who have done Y-DNA testing, with about a third who have done the advanced Big Y-700 testing necessary to identify their unique family group. The majority 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, which can later be upgraded to a Big Y-700.

Y-DNA testers should join the free projects available at FTDNA in order to take advantage of the help and guidance of 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 individuals 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 SNPs they share.

Antrim Groupings

The Antrim groupings in the MacAulay Project at FamilyTreeDNA currently consist of over 40 men whose Y-DNA test results indicate they have a relatively close genetic relationship.  A few of these men have good genealogy records placing their families in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, as far back as the mid-1700s.  (Hence the “Antrim” part of the grouping names.)  BigY test results for the majority of the  members of this group indicate they are descendants of a common male ancestor who lived around the 1300s in Ireland. For a few hundred years previous to this in Ireland surnames had been slowly spreading among various families (from upper class to the peasant class).  These surnames were also influenced by surname practices of several groups of people from the area. There is evidence to suggest that this male ancestor (with no surname at birth) was a male from northern England or southern Scotland who migrated to Ireland, possibly due to the many military actions engaged in with the purpose of bringing Ireland under British rule. Testing and analysis companies can estimate the approximate age of Y-DNA mutations, so those identified in these tested men can be arranged into sort of a family tree showing how each branch connects. Five major family branches in this family have been identified among descendants of their identified common male ancestor:  “Mr. Y17484” (the haplogroup of the common ancestor). 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.

Lewis Groups

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 2020, there are 17 men who have done Y-DNA testing and confirmed to be from this extensive family. 16 of these men have done the advanced Big Y-700 test from FamilyTreeDNA and have helped to identify specific branches and how they are connected. This 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 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.

The testing data so far points to this family being descended from an Irish male 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 ancestor (note that there are many unrelated Morrison families found on Lewis, and indications there are even some other unrelated Macaulay families on Lewis as well). The first male who would have been recognized as a Macaulay 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). So far we can see connections between males from three of the four major areas of Lewis: Barvas, Stornoway, and Uig. We assume we will find more connections with the fourth area, Lochs, as well as sections of the connected Isle of Harris. We are hopeful of new Macaulay men to help build up the tree even further and help clarify the connections between even more branches of this large international family.

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 FTDNA.  In addition, both men and women from a MacAulay lineage are encouraged to take an atDNA test (“Family Finder”) at FTDNA.

  • FamilyTreeDNA – atDNA (Family Finder), Y-DNA / Big Y-700, and mtDNA tests.

               FamilyTreeDNA website – overview of atDNA and Y-DNA testing at FTDNA

  • MacAulay Surname Project at FTDNA

               FamilyTreeDNA MacAulay Group Background 

  • Ancestry – atDNA only, plus a huge network of family trees

               Ancestry website – overview of atDNA testing at

  • Please also enjoy Laurence Ross McAuley’s article:

              The Clan MacAulay DNA Project – A Dalriadic past

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

Click here to contact our clan genealogists.