Monday, March 30, 2015

Irish and Scottish Clan Surnames

Clan Surnames
Many people with Gaelic origin surnames are interested in researching their clan connections. This is cannot be done by simply assuming one’s last name is also a clan surname.  Many Gaelic surnames are not clan surnames and do not relate to historical clans.  They are surnames created from Gaelic patronymic naming customs.  Many Gaelic surnames did not develop a fixed form until very late, circa 1500s into the 1600s.  Even then the use of clan surnames was not universal and was often a form only found on legal documents written by government officials, rather than the surname a family actually used in their community.  Clan surnames were used more by older sons of landed families. In some cases families related to a historical clan via marriage, via legal contracts such a manrents (military obligations to a lord), tacsmen (land managers) or just allies, would take the surname of the clan to which they were associated.  The best way to research one’s clan connections is through Y chromosome DNA testing (Y-DNA) and a study of the history of a district that the family originated.
Y Chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) testing usually provides a kinship group of families that share the same paternal kinship.   Often the non-surname matches are as important as the surname matches when confirming clan connections.  In the primary sources often a group of surnames are associated with one clan or sept that will fit this kinship group of families.  
If you have tested your Y-DNA at the 67 or 111 and a definite kinship group has appeared the surnames in the group usually give data relevant to past clan connections.  A good first step is to have research done on the etymology and history of those particular surnames.  Sometimes this alone reveals a family past clan connections.  For example, the common Ulster and west Highland surname of Campbell.  This surname is usually anglicised form of Caimbeul from the well-known Argyll family.   But some Campbell families have a kinship group that includes the surname Caulfield, which is an anglicised form of the name Mac Cathmhaoil, a county Tyrone Irish Gaelic family. This family used both Caulfield and Campbell as anglicised forms of their surname.  Another example is the surname McDonald/McDonnell, that is from the Gaelic name Mac Dónaill. The surname books will inevitably link the anglicised form to the great Clann Dhónaill; in fact, many clans had branches named Mac Dónaill, in both Ireland and Scotland.
If one of your research goals is to explore your clan connections and you have reached a brick wall with your paternal kinship group matches it might be of help to have an expert look at the group and to an analysis of them.  This involves an etymology study of the surnames in the group and a history of the surnames along with geographic connections to the group and an examination of any primary sources.  It is complex work often working with Gaelic language sources, but can provide insight into a family’s clan connections.   

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Genetic Genealogy of Irish, Scots, and Scots-Irish

There are several firms that do DNA testing for individuals and groups doing genealogical research as well as research concerning ethnicity and genetic characteristics.   It has developed into a huge and profitable business.  We chose Family Tree DNA Ltd., whose headquarters are in Houston, Texas, because they are user friendly and have the largest number of participants in their data base.  In 2000, Family Tree DNA was founded by Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld.  It was the first company dedicated to direct to the consumer DNA testing for genetic genealogy and family history research.  For surname studies, the Y chromosome (Y-DNA) test is used.  Surnames are handed down through the paternal line making Y-DNA testing the perfect tool for paternal ancestry research because this DNA material is only passed from father to son. For this reason only men can participate in the test.  The results are classified by haplogroup and haplotype.

Haplogroups are the major branches of the Y-chromosome tree. They are defined by Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) which have accumulated over many generations as the Y-chromosome is passed from father to son. These SNPs map the paths back to the single common male ancestor from which all from that group descend.  Haplogroups are mainly used for anthropological and deep ancestry research because the time frames are usually prior to the adoption of surnames.  Haplogroups are useful for researchers who are studying human migration patterns and have archeological value.  They can also be used to study tribal groups in early European history.  In layman’s terms, this data can tell you if you are a Celt, Viking, Anglo-Saxon, or if your ancestors spent the last Ice Age in Iberia.

The Y-DNA haplotype is used for genetic genealogy.  It deals with a more recent time frame relating to one’s ancestor and all the men that descend from him during the time when surnames were coming in use.   One’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather and so on, all carry the same Y chromosome DNA.  All the males that descend from the same forefather will have the same or very similar Y-DNA. Once a man tests his Y-DNA, all the other men that have tested who also descend from that common male ancestor will show up as a match in the DNA results.  When a Y-DNA haplotype match group is located the next step is genetic genealogy.

Genetic genealogy compares the haplotypes of two or more people that are a Y-DNA match to determine the degree of genetic relationship between their respective lines.  The closeness of the match, or distance, gives an indication of the time to the shared paternal ancestor.  At this point, other factors become important such as having the same or similar sounding or meaning surname, or a surname’s clan connections, or the geographic location of a match. All these factors help to determine if two related lines are of genealogical interest.  Many families triangulate with members of their match group to fill in gaps, or smash through brick walls, to add to their family’s genealogy and locate members of their family still in the old country.  An example of this; let us say Y-DNA testing confirmed that three families, that did not previously know they were related, actually share a paternal kinship dating to circa 1700.  Family A might have part of the story, and then match Family B which has more of the story, which matches Family C still in Ireland which has even more of the story.  When the stories of Family A, B, and C are put together, often a complete shared family history and genealogy are revealed.  In the case of many Irish and Scottish families, both surname and non-surname matches are important because surnames were not fixed until the early modern era in parts of Scotland and Ireland.  Members of the same clan that share paternal ancestry may not share the same surname, but in the primary sources it is often possible to discover a group of surnames linked to a paternal line.  Y-DNA haplotype testing allows primary sources from families in your match group to be used with confidence since paternal kinship has been confirmed. 

The actual process of starting a project is simple.  You go online to the Family Tree homepage, exchange emails with their contact people and in a matter of minutes you will have DNA Project up and running.  Next, order your DNA test via credit card.  The test itself is also easy to do.  You have two sterile cotton swabs with which you take a tissue sample from the inside of your mouth by rubbing your inner cheek.  This procedure is done twice 24 hours apart.  The samples are placed in sealed containers which are mailed back to the lab and some four to six weeks later you receive your results via an email message.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Barry R McCain on the JT Show

I was interviewed today by JT from the JT show on Mississippi Supertalk.   This network goes over the entire state of Mississippi and parts of TN, AL, and LA.   It was fun and JT did a good interview.  The interview was at 11:05 AM.  The response has been great.  Many people asked about how they could hear it.  The shows are archived on the MSsupertalk website.   I provide the link below, just click on the one with my name:

Link:  Barry R McCain on the JT show.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Finding the McCains Press Release


Contact: Barry R McCain: 662 202 6615


Barry R McCain tells of his long search to find his family in Ireland

Oxford, MS, 16 March 2015-----Mississippi author Barry R McCain grew up with stories of his McCain family and old tales of their life in Ireland and Scotland. Senator John McCain and his cousin, novelist Elizabeth Spencer, both include a short history of the McCain family in their respective memoirs Faith of our Fathers and Landscapes of the Heart.  Their history is a romantic tale of Highland Scots who supported Mary Queen of Scots and who fled to Ireland after her downfall in 1568.  Barry R McCain was the family member who decided to find the McCains in Ireland and discover their real history.  The search for the McCains became a mystery story with clues, false turns, many adventures, and then ultimate success through Y chromosome DNA testing.  In 2008, the McCains were reunited with their family that remained in Ireland, after 289 years of separation.  Mr. McCain’s new book, Finding the McCains, tells this remarkable story.

The author drew from his many experiences of the forty years he spent traveling to Ireland and the UK and presents a biography of this well-known Canadian and American family.  His book is part memoir, part history, and explores the relationship between Diaspora and homeland.  Finding the McCains is also an excellent genetic genealogy how-to guide for people of Irish and Scottish ancestry.

Barry R McCain is a writer living in Oxford, Mississippi.  He has a degree in history from Ole Miss and is the author of The Laggan Redshanks, The Highland Scots in West Ulster 1569-1630.  McCain is available for interviews and appearances. For booking presentations, media appearances, interviews, and/or book-signings contact


Friday, March 6, 2015

St Patrick Day Gifts

As a writer I can say I have only had good service from the omnipotent Amazon.  Not one issue has come up and I can focus on the actual writing and leave the logistics up them.  Very nice.

And with that in mind, I post today to mention that the good lads and lassies down at Amazon have placed both of my books on sale.   The have the new one Finding the McCains for a very reasonable US $16.83, and the have The Laggan Redshanks, The Highland Scots in West Ulster, 1569-1630  for US $13.46.

Not only are those good prices, but both these books make good St Patrick's Day gifts.
Andrew McCain of the RCMP