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Clan Macnab DNA Project

Recent advances in DNA analysis now make it possible to learn things about our past that were impossible only a few short years ago. Dr. Bruce Durie has given us an excellent primer on genetic genealogy, which is included.

The Clan Macnab DNA will have its initial focus on yDNA , as we believe this has the most potential. Because YDNA is passed on unchanged and uncombined from fathers to their sons, this means your yDNA (if you're a guy and you have some) is essentially the same as that of your 1000-great-grandfather.

What makes yDNA so useful for genealogical purposes is that it mutates much more quickly than mtDNA AND each mutation leaves a marker behind. To give you a simplistic example, if Finlay 12th Chief of Clan Macnab did in fact have 12 sons, he passed on his exact yDNA to each of them, unless there was a mutation. If a mutation occured in his son Duncan's yDNA, then Duncan's yDNA, including the mutation, was passed to Duncan's sons - and if we had today one descendant of Smooth John and one descendant of Duncan, Duncan's descendant's yDNA would still bear the marker of that mutation, whereas Smooth John's would not. Thus, we would be able to distinguish a person descended from Smooth John from one descended from Duncan by their DNA.

Now, obviously, we can't go back and yDNA test Finlay 12 (although don't think I haven't given some thought to digging up a few ancestors and pilfering a little DNA!). What we can do, though, is test as many individuals as possible, some of whom know their line of descent and some of whom do not, and put them all together and see where the matches and mutations lie. So if you know you're a Macnab, but your people left Scotland so long ago you don't know what branch of the Clan you came from, you might discover that your yDNA carries a mutation marker that only also appears in the French Macnabs (who are a branch of Acharn) and that would show a clear kinship with the line of the French Macnabs (not necessarily that you're descended from them, but for example, that you might be descended from a brother of Edward Daniel Macnab, the founder of the French branch).

None of this is to suggest that any person (male or female) with Macnab ancestry cannot do any other DNA testing they wish (autosomal or mitochondrial) and have the results included in the Project. It’s merely to suggest that, as a Clan, our initial focus will be on analyzing the yDNA data.

What the recent advances in science have done is expand both the number of mutation markers we know about, and our understanding of how they fit together, or map. New markers are being discovered every day, and the mapping of them continues as results are tabulated and compared. There are a number of things we hope this study will accomplish, or at least add to our knowledge of: -Evidence that might tend to support (or not) the Clan Macnab origin story of descent from a younger son of Kenneth McAlpin and/or from the Dalriadic Kings. -Evidence to shed light on the questions of the tribal origins of our earliest Macnab ancestors -Add to the body of evidence that may eventually help prove whether Kenneth McAlpin was a Dalriadic King or a Pictish King -Help to prove or disprove the stories of Clan Macnab's blood relation with the MacGregors, MacKinnons, Grants, MacQuarries, MacPhies, MacAuleys, etc. -Help to prove or disprove whether there is a blood relationship between Macnabs and the Clan Septs -Help to prove or disprove the stories about the cadet houses, when they 'came off' and their relationship to each other and the line of the Chiefs -Help to prove or disprove the theory that there may have been a second, separate grouping of people using the name of sons of the Abbott in the Forfar area, being descendants of the Abbott of Brechin, and whether that line carried on and has living descendants today

To participate in this study, you must:

1) be male (sorry, ladies - I'm not any happier about it than you are - it's just reality. If you feel a burning need to participate, may I suggest you find someone in your line or of the name who is reluctant and/or who can't afford it, and sponsor their test.) At a later date, we may expand the project to autosomal DNA, but for now, we need to focus on the one study most likely to tell us about our Clan origins.

2) have the surname Macnab (in any of it's spellings or variations) or the surname Gilfillan, Dewar, Macandeouair, or one of the other Septs

3) be willing to have your results shared with the rest of the Clan, and with appropriate genealogical study groups (this might be surname studies, haplogroup studies, geographical studies) for the purpose of furthering the larger body of research. Where results are made public (for example, we plan to put them on the website) names will not be attached unless you give us permission, but details re your oldest known provable Macnab ancestor and your cadet house association (if any) will.

4) purchase from Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) a 37, 67, or 111 marker STR yDNA kit, using this link. You will get the best price by using this link to make the purchase through Alasdair Macdonald, who is co-admin of our project and Scottish representative for FTDNA:

For any questions or assistance with the ordering process, please feel free to contact Alasdair at either OR

This will result in your test kit being shipped from the UK; in addition, although I think the price is better, I can’t actually factor in credit card company conversions with pounds sterling to US dollars, so if you are in the US, you can also order direct from FTDNA using this link:

which will also give you a discount over the regular rates.

Please also be sure to join both the Macnab project and the Scottish DNA project once you’ve placed your order. For most people, we recommend you start with either the 37 or the 67 marker test. That way, if the results suggest you don't have much DNA in common with the majority of testers, you won't have invested a great deal; if you do have a good match to the bulk of the clan, you can update your results to more markers later. If anyone is entirely gung ho, there are several options for additional testing, including FTDNA's Big Y test, but they are quite pricey, and for the most part, we recommend starting with the basic test, and as we move forward, we will recommend additional testing as appropriate. Please feel free to email or one of Alasdair’s emails above before you buy if you have any questions or uncertainties.

5) once you get your test kit, email with the following info:

- your kit number - your name - your country of residence - signed consent - your cadet house association if known - your earliest known provable Macnab ancestor and where and when he lived - your earliest known speculative ancestor and when and where he lived. (To give an example of this, my earliest KNOWN Macnab ancestor is Iain Mohr McNab of Mid Lix born about 1700 - 1720, because I can prove this via his children's birth records, but my earliest SPECULATIVE ancestor is Alexander McNab of Badenoch likely born about 1670-1700 , because my family tradition says he was Iain Mohr's father, but I haven't been able to find a record proving it.) - any other information you think is relevant - names of any of your relatives who will be testing as well (and their relationship to you)

6) Once your results are forwarded to you (usually 8 to 12 weeks after the test kit is submitted), please email them to with any questions you might have. Your results will also be posted to the project groups on FTDNA, but you will be identified only by kit number, oldest known ancestor, etc., unless you specify otherwise in your FTDNA account settings. We will tabulate all results and post them on the Macnab website, with or without your name attached as per your request, and give some commentary on what the results are showing as we go along. We will also commit to answering any questions you may have, although as "we" is one person, responses may be a little slower then "we" might prefer! If your initial results clearly show you are, for example, not Scottish but Polish, we will contact you to discuss this before posting anything publicly.

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