Invergordon, Braveheart, Urquhart Castle and my Birthday

Today, we’re in Invergordon, Scotland and we began the day by being greeted by oil rigs.  They “put” them here in this frith (fjord) for repair and refurbishing when they aren’t needed in the North Sea.  So they, the oil rigs, move around this frith all the time.  Quite interesting. You know, if you tended to drink a bit too much and you woke up to find that the oil rig had “moved,” well, let’s just say the results could be quite funny!

oil rigs

It’s raining, again, or more accurately, still, but hopefully, I broke the rain chain because I just gave up and bought a rain hat today.  Actually, it’s pretty cool and very Scottish with the Campbell tartan inside for a lining, so I’m really good with it – but I was also desperate so it could have been Mickey Mouse and I would have been OK.  So, I bought myself a birthday present!

Do not underestimate the importance of a rain hat here!  The umbrella is OK and sometimes necessary when it’s pouring, but it has its own set of challenges, especially with a bunch of other people with umbrellas in a small space.

I wasn’t going to share this photo, because, it’s, well, ummm, not terribly flattering, but then I had a change of heart. I think retaining the ability to laugh at one’s self is quite important – and truly – I love this hat!


Besides that, somewhat outrageous hats are a distinctly British thing.  When in Rome…

Kate’s got nothing on me now:)

kate hat

Our first stop was Cawdor Castle, another Campbell Castle, where I found the rain hat in the gift shop.


The Campbells were extremely influential in the Highlands for hundreds of years.  Some say they were the most influential family, others say it was their archrivals, the McDonalds.  In any case, we’re about at the waist of Scotland, looking at a map, not terribly far as the crow flies from Inverary, the Campbell seat, but it’s across the mountain Highlands.  Not a problem for a Campbell, but a big problem for a bus, which is why we sailed around the upper part of Scotland of course.  These trees outside of Cawdor Castle were old and beautiful.  I loved them.  Just think of the history they have witnessed.  It’s certainly possible that some of my ancestors may have stood here while visiting this castle, among these trees, when they were much smaller.  If they could only speak.


Cawdor Castle was a self-guided tour and it was interesting in that it was a Campbell castle, but it was one of the newer lines and not mine.  It was raining so the gardens weren’t really easily viewable, but I did venture into the side garden and found a very interesting ‘gazing ball’ for lack of anything else to call it. It’s not small – at least a foot taller than I am.


This is very cool and I’m sure, very expensive as well.


The story of the Cawdor thorn tree is also quite interesting.  It’s said that the man who build Cawdor Castle in the 1300s, who was not a Campbell (the Campbell line acquired this castle by marriage sometime later), tied a package of some sort to an ox and let it wander around.  Wherever is lay down is where he was going to build his castle and the ox lay down under a thorn tree.  The castle was built around the tree and it was venerated for decades until it died. Now it’s enclosed and you can walk around it inside.  However, the myth grew with time and became that this was the tree that St. Columba planted.  That’s believed not to be true.  In any case, the “tree” is still there. This photo is from the official Cawdor Castle Tour site as it’s quite dark in that part of the castle and my photos didn’t come out well.

cawdor thorn tree

After leaving Cawdor Castle, we traveled across the Highlands and Moors. I can’t say they were stunningly beautiful, but they were rich with vegetation and somewhat “purple,” a very distinctive color.

scottish moors

We arrived at Loch Ness, famous of course for Nessie, and visited Urquhart Castle, a very old castle, now in ruins, on the shores of Loch Ness.  And no, we didn’t see Nessie, but of course, we looked!

Loch ness

Urquhart castle’s beautiful ruins stand guard over Loch Ness.


You can easily see parts of the rest of the distant highlands from Urquhart castle across Loch Ness.

urquhart loch ness

The name Urquhart derives from the 7th-century form Airdchartdan, itself a mix of Gaelic air (by) and Old Welsh cardden (thicket or wood). Speculation that Urquhart may have been the fortress of Bridei son of Maelchon, king of the northern Picts, led Professor Leslie Alcock to undertake excavations in 1983. Adomnán’s Life of Columba records that St. Columba visited Bridei some time between 562 and 586, though little geographical detail is given. Adomnán also relates that during the visit, Columba converted a Pictish nobleman named Emchath, who was on his deathbed, his son Virolec, and their household, at a place called Airdchartdan. The excavations, supported by radiocarbon dating, indicate that the rocky knoll at the south-west corner of the castle had been the site of an extensive fort between the 5th and 11th centuries

It wasn’t until another several hundred years had passed until we hear of Urquhart again, now a castle or fort defending Loch Ness.  It’s believed that the current castle was built about 1200. It’s first documented in 1296 when it was captured.

urquhart map

Urquhart Castle stands just about dead center in the upper portion of Scotland, which would have been the center of the Picts kingdom based on this map from Wiki.

pict kingdom map

For the next 500+ years, Urquhart was a very important castle, and saw action many times, in particular, with the McDonald clan who attacked from the west of Scotland as well as a defense against the Vikings.  Finally, in 1690, the castle could not be held and was abandoned, but not wanting it to fall into enemy hands, they loaded the gatehouse with kegs of gunpowder, lit it, and left Urquhart castle to her fiery fate.

Today, the majestic and picturesque ruins stand guard at Loch Ness, silent sentry, never replaced or rebuilt.

urquhart ruins

Here are Jim and I at the top of the existing turret.

urquhart jim and me

While I felt only a minor connection to Cawdor Castle, I felt very close to Inverary and also to the ruins of Urquhart Castle.  I know that my ancestors were here, fought here, maybe died here, either attacking or defending it, or maybe just visiting at other times.  Of course, this stands to reason, logically, as I had many Scottish ancestors, so that they were here would come as no surprise.  It felt good to stand where they stood and look at what they saw.  It connects me to them, whoever they were.  They may be nameless, but they are not forgotten.

Our ancestors are our own personal version of Braveheart. Randall Wallace, the writer of the screenplay, has acknowledged Blind Harry‘s 15th century epic poem, The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie as a primary inspiration for the film. So, whether it’s entirely historically accurate or not, it is based on the history of this timeframe. Here’s the trailer. One thing is for sure, this region was constantly embroiled in a fight of some sort – between tribes – between rulers – between countries. And every able-bodied man fought. So warfare is the legacy of every family from Scotland.

Who were my Scottish ancestral families and what do we know about their roots, genetically? All of these families who have tested are members of haplogroup R.

  • The Campbells descend from ancient Scots, perhaps Picts, and carry the SNP, L1335, which may be Pictist.
  • The McDowell’s are subgroup L21 which provides general but not specific information about lineage and location.
  • My Andrew McKee/Mackie line out of Gloucester and Washington County, Virginia has Not been tested, but I will provide a scholarship to any direct male (who carries the surname, and therefore the Y chromosome) from this line.
  • My Hugh McMahon line found in York Co., PA by 1745 also has not been tested. He is alleged to have been christened on March 2, 1699 in Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland, but I don’t know that this is the same Hugh McMahon. In any case, I will provide a scholarship to any direct male descendant of Hugh McMahon. In the McMahon project, there is a County Monaghan cluster which is DF21, a subset of L21. If this is the correct McMahon line, then they are of the Three Collas lineage. The McMahon DNA project administrators have written a wonderful article about how the McMahon line ties into the Colla lineage and what it all means to genetic genealogists….now if I only knew if this was my line!
  • The McNiel line is descended from Niall of the 9 Hostages and carries SNP L222 which identifies that line.
  • My Thomas McSpadden line has not been tested, but I will provide a scholarship for any direct male McSpadden descendant of the Thomas McSpadden line found in Washington County, Virginia.
  • My Younger line of Halifax, Essex and King and Queen County of Virginia is L21, with no subset indicated.

The Highland men were extremely hardy.  It’s no wonder that they welcomed the remoteness of the American frontier and often found a connection with the Native people who were their neighbors.  I bet the warrior gene is found is higher proportion in both populations than in the rest of the people. It would be an interesting study.

For days now, we’ve been seeing sheep.  I didn’t know until today that sheep weren’t native to the Scottish Highlands, but a special kind of highlands cattle were.  However, in the 1700s, sheep were introduced, but were very controversial because sheep require about 4 times the space as cattle.  The landowners forced the tenants to have sheep and forced may tenants out entirely.  There was no more land to be had – so many immigrated to America, especially those not the first son, meaning the inheriting son.  So perhaps it was sheep who drove my ancestors to America, although several of my Scottish ancestors clearly came through the Irish plantations on their way.

Interestingly enough, today I found a field of sheep who I’m sure represent my entire family.  Most sheep here are white.  Very occasionally, you see one black one in the field.  I found the black sheep jackpot today.

All black sheep. Yep, my family, I’m sure of it.

black sheep

From there, our bus wound its way back to the ship across the mountains and across the moors.  It seems impossible that we had been gone for more than 8 hours.  Scotland is simply enchanting.

Our towel animal tonight had my rain hat, of course, and two birthday cards, one from Jim and one from Carnival.

urquhart towel animal

This was a great birthday, feeling the presence of Braveheart and my ancestral families at Urquhart Castle – and of course, my Campbell rainhat.

Drunken Sailors and a Porcupine

I should have known when I heard the ship groaning in the night as it shifted from side to side.  But I knew unquestionably when I sat up in the morning and began to sway back and forth.  I remembered someone telling me once about falling out of the shower on a cruise ship.  I doubted it at the time, but as of this minute, I believe that entirely.

One crew member said that it’s always cold in these northern British Isles ports, even in summer, often wet and the water in the fall especially is “choppy.”  If this is just choppy, I’d hate to see worse.

So today, I’ve gained an appreciation for drunken sailors.  You see, they may not be drunk at all, simply seasick and staggering around trying to find and maintain their footing – or the closest bathroom.  Last night, John, the cruise director said he can always tell the drunks when it gets rough.  The people who are normally sober are all staggering around, but the drunks, they are all walking in a straight line, referred to, appropriately, as “the line of experience.”  Obviously, I simply don’t drink enough!

In any case, it’s been an exceedingly rough day at sea. I spent the morning staring out the window at the horizon trying to keep the Dramamine down.  I called the spa to cancel my “happy birthday to me” massage for today since I “wasn’t feeling well.”  When I called, they told me that acupuncture cures seasickness, right after they told me that the cancellation charge was the same amount as the original spa charge.  I had my doubts, believe me, but I was so sick and miserable I was willing to try just about anything, so off to the spa I staggered – plus I was paying for it whether I went or not – so why not try acupuncture.  I couldn’t feel much worse.

Actually, I had my husband deliver me.  The wind was blowing so hard they had the outside decks closed.  The wind is howling like an unhappy banshee in the deepest Michigan winter blizzard.  That’s on the inside, sheltered deck with the open roof that can’t be closed over the pool area.  The outside is worse and unsafe, which is why it’s closed. The spa is on the other side so you have to walk through the open roof area.  If I was going to blow away, I wanted him to be with me.  I figured two of us stood a much better chance of hanging on and well, we were much heavier together and more difficult to get aloft like giant inflatable kites.

These ships were not made for winter, in fact, they have no heaters for the rooms.  You can have A/C or “regular air” which is whatever the air temperature is, recycled.  It’s in the 50s today.  I’ve taken to sleeping in my sweatshirt and wool socks with the bathrobe thrown on top of the blankets for extra warmth and I was finally warm enough last night.  If they were selling parkas, they would make a fortune because it wouldn’t matter how much they cost.  I swear to you, I saw a crew member today wearing gloves.

Tell me why I’m doing this again???  Oh yes, it’s a DNA trip, to find my ancestor’s lands and share their experiences.  And yes, some of them were mariners.  Probably, knowing my family, the ones walking in a straight line.  Ugh.  I could have passed on this particular shared experience, but no, this had to be authentic.

So after arriving at the spa, off with most of the clothes (brrrr) and in with the acupuncture needles.  There were needles in my face, in my ears and in my hands and feet including between my eyebrows and between my toes.  As I lay there, looking like a distant relative of the porcupine family and afraid to move for fear of impaling myself, the thought crossed my mind that not only did I do this of my own choosing, but worse yet, I’m paying for the opportunity.  I tried to fall asleep, which is difficult with a bunch of needles sticking in your skin.  Basically, they poke you like a pin cushion, turn the lights off, come back in about an hour and collect money for doing so.

Now the good news is that I did and do feel better.  I’m still staggering around like a drunken sailor, or what I previously thought was a drunken sailor, but I’m not sick. By mid-afternoon, after my spa treatment, food even sounded good, so I went up to the lounge deck with floor to ceiling windows and had a snack.  Yes indeed, things are improving for the old porcupine.  But the sea is quite rough again as we have left the shelter of the Isle of Skye and other islands off Ireland and are in the open North Atlantic now.  It may be rough, but it’s still exceedingly beautiful.

rough seas

This reminded me of another time, years ago, when my kids were young and we had saved enough to take everyone salmon fishing in Lake Michigan.  We chartered a boat for the day, and we invited my Mom and (step)Dad to join us.  For my Dad, who loved to fish, this was a wonderful opportunity he had never enjoyed before – and maybe he’d catch something more interesting than catfish and bluegill in the farm pond at home.

We spent the night before in a local bed and breakfast and got up early to begin our much-anticipated adventure.  I gave everyone in the family Dramamine, everyone that was, except my mother.  She refused, saying that she didn’t get sea sick.  I encouraged her to take it anyway, but she would have none of that.

You know what happened don’t you?  She turned green as pea soup – and not only was she miserable – so were the rest of us.  It’s hard to have fun when someone is so ill.  So we went back to shore, Mom and Dad departed for home, despite our protests, and the rest of us went fishing.  We caught and froze some salmon for Dad, but it just wasn’t the same as catching those fish himself.

However, this made me wonder – is motion sickness hereditary?  I have suffered with it all of my life.  My first memories of it are riding in a car when I was quite young, pre-school.  I still suffer from this same problem.  Mine is much worse than Mom’s was.

According to 23andMe, indeed motion sickness is hereditary.

In a paper presented at the 2012 ASHG Meeting, they state that:

Roughly one in three individuals is highly susceptible to motion sickness; the remaining two-thirds of the population may experience motion sickness if the conditions are extreme.

It’s estimated that up to 70% of a person’s risk for motion sickness is due to genetics, but the genetics of motion sickness has been very poorly understood … until now.

23andMe scientist Bethann Hromatka presented results from a genetic study of nearly 37,000 customers who were surveyed about motion sickness. The analysis identified 14 genetic associations with motion sickness that fall into a few different biological categories. Three genetic variants are involved in development, including development of the eye and ear. Other variants are involved neurological processes and glucose/insulin regulation.

Aha, I knew it. I get to blame my mother, and maybe my father for this unfortunate inherited trait – but I’m guessing my Estes mariner ancestors didn’t carry it – or they wouldn’t have been mariners.  But, according to Mother, she wasn’t motion sick, she simply had “an inner ear problem.”  Uh, yea, Mom, you did.  A rose by any other name…

Now, I wonder why acupuncture helps relieve the symptoms?  The crew, who also take these treatments because they have to keep working, says that one acupuncture treatment works for days too.  Although truthfully, I don’t care why.  I’m just glad that it does.  Given that the condition is genetic, I’ll probably be blessed with it the rest of my life so it’s nice to have a tool, any tool.

During the rest of the day, we were treated to a rainbow several times.  The end of the rainbow always seemed to wind up in the restrooms on the lower decks.  Not sure what to make of that pot-o-gold.  I guess it was near the casino.  The rainbow didn’t photograph well through the glass, but you get the idea.  It was pleasant and hopeful to see after not feeling so well.


Our towel guy tonight has, what else…no, not acupuncture needles, although that certainly would have been appropriate.  Ginger snaps to help with seasickness, Bonine (which also costs far more on this ship than an outfit at Kohl’s) and chocolate covered strawberries – the last 3 on the ship.  Well, after all, it was my belated birthday present.  Acupuncture, ginger snaps and chocolate-covered strawberries. Who could ask for more!

Tomorrow, solid ground again.  We’re going to Urquhart Castle.  Hope you’re coming along!


Native American DNA Projects

Native DNA in Feathers

I’m often asked about projects that are for or include Native American DNA results.  Please note that different project administrators have different criteria for admission to a project.  Some require definitive proof of descent, some require no documentation at all.  This is entirely left to the discretion of the project administrators.  Therefore, you should NEVER assume that because you match someone in one of these projects that you have Native heritage.  There are various ways to prove Native heritage using DNA which I’ve discussed in the article, “Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.”

Furthermore, some of these projects aren’t exclusively for Native American descendants, but you may find Native descendants or families among the project members because of the topic or where the project is focused.

Regarding haplogroup projects.  Some haplogroups include both people who are and who are not Native.  Check with the particular project to understand the nuances.  In many cases, research through the projects is ongoing.

If you know of additional projects which should be added to this list, please let me know.

Native American, First Nations or Aboriginal DNA Projects

Acadia Metis Mothers

Algonquian East DNA Project

American Indian DNA Project

AmerIndian Ancestry out of Acadia Project

AmerIndian Mexico (Southwest US and Mexico)

Cherokee DNA Project

Mitochondrial American Indian Founder Project

Mothers of Acadian mtDNA Project
Some Native results

Native People of Southwest Virginia

Piqua/Shawnee – no public website – contact admins below,,

Robeson Co., NC American Indian (formerly Lumbee)


Waccamaw DNA Project


Wiccocomico Native American DNA Project

Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Projects

Haplogroup A Mitochondrial DNA
Note – Native American DNA is a subgroup of haplogroup A.  See this link for specifics.

A2 Mitochondrial DNA Project
A2 is known to be Native.

A4 Mitochondrial DNA Project
Haplogroup A4 is known to be Native.

B2 Mitochondrial DNA Project
B2 is known to be Native.

Haplogroup C Mitochondrial DNA Project
Subgroups of haplogroup C are known to be Native.

Haplogroup D Mitochondrial DNA Project
Subgroups of haplogroup D are known to be Native.

Haplogroup X Mitochondrial DNA Project
Subgroups of haplogroup X are known to be Native.

Haplogroup X2b4 Mitochondrial DNA Project
X2b4 is currently being studied to determine if it is Native or has a Native component.

Y Haplogroup Projects

Y Haplogroup C
Subgroups of haplogroup C are known to be Native.

Haplogroup C-P39
This SNP defined Native Americans within haplogroup C.

American Indian Haplogroup Q1a3a1 – QM3

Related Topics

You may find Native families listed in these projects.

Caribbean DNA Project

Cumberland Gap Mitochondrial DNA Project

Cumberland Gap Y DNA Project

Early Chesapeake

East Carolina Roots


Mitochondrial DNA of the Middle Appalachians

New Mexico DNA Project

North Carolina Early 1700s

Puerto Rico DNA Project

Southwestern Virginia Roots

Virginia 1600s

Voices in Time

The Reverend George McNiel (c 1720 – 1805), Frontier Baptist Preacher – 52 Ancestors #21

Do you ever save old letters?  Thank goodness someone saved this one!

This letter is 116 years old and shares with us valuable information that we would otherwise have never known.  Some of the information in this letter has been substantiated with historical research.  For example, we know for sure that George McNeil (also spelled McNiel) was a Baptist preacher.  There are many records that confirm that.  But without this letter, we would not have been able to connect the William McNiel/McNeal who was a Revolutionary War soldier in Spotsylvania County, Virginia with my ancestor, William McNiel, son of Reverend George McNiel.

McNeal, William rev war

Unfortunately, it appears that William McNiel died just before the legislation passed in 1832 to provide pensions for Revolutionary War soldiers.  Had he and his wife not died before 1832, his pension application would have told us a great deal more.  To date, we have been unable to find the location of his original land in Hancock County (then Claiborne County), Tennessee.  He is assuredly buried there in a little family cemetery, and I’d love to place a Revolutionary War marker for him.  We live today in freedom because of the sacrifices of these early pioneers, our forefathers and foremothers.

The letter was written on May 28, 1898 in Maple Springs, Wilkes, North Carolina. It is recorded in the book, “George Michael Eller and Descendants of His in America,” by James W. Hook, 1957, New Haven, CN, pg. 400-404. [This book is on-line in’s Card Catalogue and in many libraries.] The following letter was written in 1898 by George W. McNiel Sr., son of Thomas McNiel and grandson of Rev. George McNiel. It helps to name and identify descendants of Rev. McNiel.

Maple Springs, Wilkes Co., N. C.

May 28, 1898.

‘Mr. W. H. Eller,’

Dear Cousin and Friend:

With respect to you I will answer your kind letter of June 25, 1896, hoping that you will excuse my neglect of not answering sooner. I will gladly give you all the information concerning the McNeils in Wilkes that I am able.

My grandfather, George McNeil, came from Scotland and his two brothers, John and Thomas, also came from Scotland. They left their native land, looking back with love as long as they could see a green leaf, on account of their religious freedom. George McNeil, my grandfather, came into the State of Virginia and married a Miss Coats, and as the country settled up, being a Baptist minister by profession, was called for to constitute Baptist churches and to attend as pastor of Baptist churches.

He came into Grayson County, Va., after which he came into Wilkes County, N. C., and constituted and attended churches here. He attended more or less churches down the Yadkin River. He was pastor of a church near the head of the Yadkin River. He lived in Wilkes County in about two and one-half miles of New Hope church on the north fork of Lewis’ Fork Creek.

He was afterwards registrar of deeds of Wilkes County (this was about the date of 1802). His son, William McNeil, volunteered in the war of Revolution, and his son, Joseph McNeil, said he would volunteer and go with William, but he was not old enough.

(Rev.) George McNeil and wife lived near the farm of Esq. Henry Lenderman, late deceased; from this union six sons and two daughters were raised, viz.

John, who married a Cleveland and who lived near Greenville, S. C., where Col. Benj. Cleveland, the hero of King’s Mountain, lived; my uncle.

William McNeil, moved to the State of Tennessee, Clayborn Co.

My uncle, James McNeil, settled in Ashe County, but moved to Redie’s River in Wilkes and married a Miss Shepherd – they raised six sons and three daughters.

Uncle Joseph McNeil lived on the homestead of his father and married a Miss Wilson and they raised three sons and three daughters. The Rev. James McNeil, his second son, was well known by his friends as a Baptist minister, living near Moravian Falls, N. C., at the time of his death, and was a faithful and respected preacher of great ability. The eldest son of Jos. McNeil, being named Larkin, married a Ferguson and raised three sons named respectively, Franklin, John and Milton; Franklin being a soldier of 1861. The Rev. Milton McNeil, and family are well known in the county of Wilkes.

My uncle, Benj. McNeil living on South Lewis Fork, three miles from old Lewis Fork Baptist Church, married a Miss Lips and raised seven sons and one daughter, all moving west but Enoch McNeil, who died near Moravian Falls in the year of 1865 or 1866.

My father, Thos. McNeil, married a Miss Parsons, being a daughter of Rev. James Parsons, of Surry County, living on New River, near the Old Fields in Ashe County, and was a soldier in the war of 1812. He labored as a Baptist minister in Ashe and Wilkes Counties.

You stated that you wanted me to give information about any ministers living at that time. I will give the names of Rev. Thomas Proffit and Rev. Smith Ferguson, who won many friends.

My father, Thos. McNeil, and my mother raised three sons and three daughters. The oldest being named James and being near fifty years of age, who died near Salisbury in the service of the Southern States on Feb. 16, 1855. The second son, Jesse McNeil, died from typhoid fever at his father’s home on North Lewis Fork on the date of June 8, 1830, being near twenty years of age. I, the youngest. My father, Thos. McNeil, lived to the great age of eighty-three years. He died September 8, 1865, He had two sisters not yet mentioned in this article.

Their names were: Elizabeth and Polly respectively. Elizabeth married Robt. Bingham, of the State of Virginia, being a Revolutionary soldier and living once near Hall’s Store, Stony Hill. They raised three sons named respectively William, Joel and George; Esq. George Bingham, of Watauga County, raised five sons, one of whom, Maj. Harvey Bingham, well known by many friends, went to the Senate of North Carolina in 1876. Mr. Thos. Bingham, having many friends, represented Watauga County three times in Legislature of North Carolina. Esq. John Bingham and Dr. Philmore Bingham are known by many friends.

My aunt, Polly McNeil, married Mr. Henry Miller, a son of Uncle William Miller, who was a soldier of the Revolutionary war, and lived on the farm where Mr. F. D. Hall now lives on the south fork of Lewis Fork Creek. They raised two daughters, one married a Parks, the other a Lankford. Mr. Harry Miller lived on a farm in Caldwell County on the Yadkin River, moving from there to the State of Illinois; Uncle Henry Miller’s grandaughter wrote to me giving her name as Mrs. Clarisa Rebecca Parks.

My uncle, James McNeil, raised his family on Redie’s River, having six sons and three daughters, the oldest named Larkin; others were John, George, William, Oliver and Eli. Fanny, married Capt. Simeon Eller, Rebecca, married the Rev. John Vannoy, a Baptist minister well known in Wilkes and Ashe; the younger sister being Nancy and married Edward J. Dancy, who lived in the town of Wilkesboro about the date of 1840. I further state that I was acquainted with Esq. John McNeil, Jr. He lived in Overton County, Tenn. He visited North Carolina about the date of 1840. His grandfather was uncle James McNeil, Sr. His widowed mother was a Miss Vannoy. He has or had four brothers, viz; John, Jesse, Neil and James.

The Rev. John Vannoy, a Baptist minister who married Miss Rebecca McNeil, lived in Ashe County on Beaver Creek. He was pastor of the old Baptist church at Beaver Creek many years. They had many friends as far as they were known, and raised quite a large family of children, four sons and four daughters, viz.: Jesse, William, James and Wiley, Mary, Louisa, Tilda. Mr. James Eller, of Wilkes County, married Louisa and Henry Hardin married Miss Tilda. The latter named moved to Colorado. Mr. Jesse Vannoy was in the late war of the ’60’s and died there.

So I will not write any more. I have given the most important history according to my knowledge of the McNeils in Wilkes. With my best wishes I will now close.

Your friend and cousin,

G. W. McNeil, Sr.

This old letter provided the family with a great deal of information otherwise not available, and certainly not available some 116 years later.

What I wouldn’t give to have a letter like this for all of my lines.

The Reverend’s Children

In summary, the Reverend George McNiel (spelled variously other ways including McNeil and both ways with double ls) was born about 1720 and died on June 7, 1805 in Parsonsville, Wilkes County, NC, at home.  He is very likely buried on his own land.

The spelling of McNiel always generates discussion.  George’s version is spelled McNiel, although not all of his descendants spelled it that way.  How and why is the stuff of family lore – the two brothers had a disagreement story – but I always check all spellings including McNeal and McKneal, neither of which he used personally but under both of which I’ve found records pertaining to this family.

George McNiel’s wife, Miss Coates, called variably Mary and Sarah, raised 9 children.  I’ve seen notes that she died in 1816, after George, but given that George’s 1790 census entry did not include a female of the correct age to be his wife, I suspect she died before 1790.  I’ve seen no actual evidence of an 1816 death.

The children of Rev. George McNiel and Miss Coates were:

  • Mary Hillary McNiel born 1757 – no further information and it is unknown if Hillary is accurate or not. If so, it could be a family surname.
  • John McNiel born 1759 married Fanny Cleveland
  • William McNiel born 1760/1761 died circa 1832 in Claiborne Co., TN, married Elizabeth Shepherd (my line)
  • James McNiel born circa 1763 died August 1834, married Mary “Polly” Shepherd
  • Benjamin McNiel born 1765 married Elizabeth Lips
  • Joseph McNiel born 1767 died circa 1855 married Hannah Wilson and Elizabeth Powell
  • Elizabeth McNiel born 1769 married Robert Bingham
  • Mary “Polly” McNiel born 1771 married Henry Miller

Additional information about George McNiel’s life has become available through other sources.

Revolutionary War Service at the Battle of King’s Mountain

As it turns out, the Reverend George McNiel had some part in the Revolutionary War himself.

In the North Carolina General Assembly, it is recorded that a bill to pay Elder George McNiel a pension for his Revolutionary War service was introduced.  It bounced around between committees, but no one questioned his service. However, the pension was denied on the basis that he had not officially enlisted in a militia unit and he had already been compensated for his horse.

It’s very likely that this is a result of the Battle of King’s Mountain.  Many descendant families carry the oral history that Elder George was at that battle on October 7, 1780, even though he was nearly 60 years of age.  The McNiel family was closely tied to the Cleveland family, and Benjamin Cleveland commanded the Wilkes militia in that battle.  George McNiel’s son, John was married to Benjamin Cleveland’s niece.

George McNiel is listed in the book, “The Patriots at Kings Mountain” by Bobby Gilmer Moss, as having been one of the soldiers at King’s Mountain, although no additional information is provided.

The Family Stories

What do we really know about the Reverend George McNiel?

We know that George was supposed to be from Glasgow, Scotland, born about 1720, but we have not one shred of evidence to prove that.  He and his brothers were supposedly educated at the University of Edinburgh for the Presbyterian ministry but again, no evidence.  I did check the University of Edinburgh web page and it said that, “Our records of students date back to the very first class which graduated in 1587. However they do not cover every student who ever attended the University. Because formal matriculation and graduation did not become mandatory until the nineteenth century, many do not appear in the records.”  I checked the records, which do not seem to be complete, and there was no McNiel or McNeal during this timeframe, but only the medical school was listed, so we still haven’t proven anything about George.

He reportedly immigrated about 1750 and landed in Maryland.  Reasonable, but again, no proof.  Other stories tell us he landed on the Cape Fear River.  Also possible.

He was Baptist minister.  Of that, we are positive, but we don’t know when he became Baptist.  However, there is a family story that covers that too.

The story says that for three months George and his brothers, unnamed, sailed the Atlantic and on the way to America, George and his brothers discussed religion, disagreed, and George seeing the light became a Baptist.  To show his disapproval, one brother changed the spelling of his name to McNeill.

The family story continues and part of it conflicts with the Baptist conversion on the boat above:

They came to N. C. and settled in Moore Co. between 1745-1750.  After arrival, George married Mary Coats.  They had 6 sons and 3 daughters.  He came as a Presbyterian preacher, but believing that he could reach the people better through the Baptist Church, switched and joined the church about the time of the Regulators Movement in 1771.  He joined the Regulators and after the Battle of Alamance fled for safety into Va. where he lived for a long time in Grayson Co.

I don’t believe that Moore County records have ever been checked, and they should be.  His signature does not appear on the Regulator Petition.  We do know that he was in Spotsylvania County, VA records in 1757, which seems to conflict with the dates above.  Although, the above information was provided by a grandson, so one would think he would be at least relatively familiar with his grandfather’s life.

Reverend George McNiel established churches, served as moderator of associations and served as the Wilkes Co. Register of Deeds 1787 to June 1805.

That we know is true.

He was a Chaplain in the Regiment of Col. Benjamin Cleveland during its famous campaign at Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War.

This too appears to be true, according to the NC State Records, although I’d love to see the actual memorial document being referenced.  (N.C. State Records, Vol. p10, 14, 18, 58, 241, 287-288 296).

Several descendants have written articles, or in one case, a small book, about the Reverend George McNiel and his descendants, this one being from a 1934 reunion.

During the past several years I have accumulated a lot of information on the McNiel family, including the reports by various branches of the family filed at the McNiel reunion held at Millers Creek in Wilkes Co., September 2, 1934.

The McNiels and their relatives in Wilkes, Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, Surry and Tennessee, South Carolina, Iowa and Texas are descended from Rev. George McNiel who was born in Scotland.  He is said to have married Mary Coates in Virginia.  We are able to know that he was living at Deep Ford Hill of Reddies River as early as March 1778 for in that month he filed an entry no 35 for 120 acres of land, including his improvements (buildings), adjoining the lands of Roland Judd and Robert Shepherd, see entry 35, deed book B-1, page 188.  This affords good proof why George’s sons, James and William, married Mary and Elizabeth Shepherd, daughters of Robert.  There are sixteen references to him in the “Land of Wilkes” besides the one on page 444 referring to his land entry and his improvement at Deep Ford Hill of Reddies River.

For convenience I shall spell the name McNiel although it often appears McNeal, McKneal or McNeill (or NcNeil).

In addition to his extensive activities as an early Baptist preacher, establishing churches, serving as Elder (pastor) and his attendance at the associations over which he often served as moderator, he served Wilkes Co., as Register of Deeds from 1787 to June 1805, having died June 7, 1805.

The exact time is not known but he moved from Deep Ford Hill to the north prong of Lewis Creek at what became the Parsonsville Post Office where he died and was buried.  Rev. W.H. Eller of Greensboro caused a monument to be erected at his grave on June 7, 1905, the 100th anniversary of his death, a pamphlet of which was published and a historical sketch is copied in Hook’s Book on George Michael Eller, pages 397-400.  This book is in the Wilkes Public Library and in the libraries of the Wilkes High Schools.

On the map below, which shows the 1786 Wilkes County militia districts, you can see that both Reddies River and Lewis Fork are between the numbers 6 and 10, just below the Blue Ridge Mountain divide.  Today, that divide defined the path of  the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Wilkes 1786 militia districts

Another record tell us that the Reverend George McNiel was a charter member of the Brier Creek Baptist Church in 1783.  Of course, he formed the Deep Ford Church.  In 1790, he was moderator of the meeting of delegates  who formed the Yadkin Valley Association of Baptist Churches.  It was this group who funded the Reverend George to “travel on” in the name of the association, which he apparently did.  Other churches in the region listing the Reverend George McNiel in their formation or as a member include Beaver Creek, Head of Yadkin, Three Forks (3 miles east of Boone, served as pastor,) Roaring River and Lewis Fork where he was a pastor.  Many McNiels are buried at Lewis Fork on highway 421 between Wilkesboro and Boone, NC.

Where Is George?

We first find George McNiel in the records of Spotsylvania County, VA, an unlikely location if he arrived via the Cape Fear River in NC.  There are also other McNiel men there at that time, possibly the brothers of the “3 brothers” story.  To add to the long debated topic of whether the George McNiel (McNeil) of Spotsylvania County is the brother of Thomas McNiel of that same county, I offer the following information from the book Apprentices of Virginia, 1723-1800.

James Cartwright, a white male, son of Thomas Cartwright decd, was to be apprenticed to Thomas McNial on October 1, 1754 to learn the occupation of a tailor.  This is from the county court order books, 1749-1755, pages 62 and 497.

Robert Mitchell, a white male, was apprenticed to Thomas McNeil on Sept 7, 1761 to learn the occupation of tailor.  Spotsylvania Co. will book B, 1749, 1859, page 540.

James Pey, a white male, to be apprenticed to George McNeil on March 1, 1757 to learn the occupation of tailor.  From Spotsylvania will book B 1749-1759, page 307.

I do find that both George and Thomas were tailors (or had tailors on their plantations) is an indicator that these men might have both been tailors themselves, or that they were related in some way.

In 1786, George McNiel witnessed a deed for John Shepherd in Spotsylvania Co., Va.  Keep in mind that George’s son, William, married Elizabeth Shepherd, daughter of Robert Shephard in 1781/1782.  These records put George in Spotsylvania County for 20 years and perhaps more.  The Shepherd family was from Spotsylvania County, as well.

The book “The McNeil Family” written by Mrs. Dorothy McNeil Moore (looks like about a 1950s booklet) of which the original is in the Wilkes Co. NC library, states that Rev. McNiel came to NC about 1750, later moving to Grayson Co., VA and then back to NC.  We know that he was living at Deep Ford Hill of the Reddies River as early as 1778, for in that month he filed entry no 35 for 120 acres of land, including his improvements adjoining the lands of Roland Judd and Robert Shepherd.

However, the 1786 deed in Spotsylvania County and the 1778 land application seem to conflict with each other, unless he was going back and forth, which is possible.

George McNiel, the Preacher

From the book, History of Western North Carolina, chapter entitled Pioneer Preachers:

First Church in the Mountains – According to Col. W. L. Bryan of Boone, the first church established west of the Blue Ridge and east of the Smokies was at what is still called “Three Forks of New River in what is now Watauga county, a beautiful spot.” It was organized November 6, 1790. The following is from its records:

“A book containing (as may be seen) in the covenant and conduct of the Baptist church of Jesus Christ in Wilkes county,… New River, Three Forks settlement.”

“This is the mother of all the Baptist churches throughout this great mountain region. From this mother church using the language of these old pioneers, they established arms of the mother church; one at what is now known as the Globe in Caldwell county, another to the westward, known as Ebinezer, one to the northeast named South Fork . . . and at various other points. Yet, it should be remembered that the attendance upon the worship of the mother church extended for many, many miles, reaching into Tennessee.” After these “arms” had been established “there was organized Three Forks Baptist association, which bears the name to this day, and is the oldest and most venerated religious organization known throughout the mountains. Among the first pastors of the mother church were Rev. Mr. Barlow of Yadkin, George McNeill of Wilkes, John G. Bryan who died in Georgia at the age of 98, Nathaniel Vannoy of Wilkes…”

Reverend McNiel was very active in the formation of the Yadkin Valley church association.

Minutes of the Mountain Asson. Began & held the 4th Saturday in August 1800 at Fox Creek in Grayson County, Virginia.

Names of Churches No. Delegate Names Readyes River 1 Thos. Johnson, Jas. Querry, Natt. Judd Three Forks of New River 2 Jos. Chambers, Jas. McCaleb & Shadrack Brown Beaver Creek 3 Wm. Landsdown Hd. Of the Yadkin 4 Solomon Smith, Jonathan Boon Lewises Fork 5 George McNeil, Natt. Vannoy…

He was then given the assignment of visiting another church and helping them with making decisions.

Yadkin Baptist Association. — This association constituted the Three forks association in 1790. From it many other churches had been organized east of the Blue Ridge.

{1} – William’s History of the North Carolina Baptists. In 1779 King’s Creek Church, in Caldwell, and Beaver Creek, in Wilkes, were organized. A few years later Brier Creek, in Wilkes, was constituted. It had many “arms,”{2} and from it grew Lewis Fork, in Wilkes, and Old Fields Church, in Ashe County. Three Forks was constituted by the Yadkin Baptist Association. It became an association itself in 1840. {3} – According to Rev. Henry Sheet’s History, “arms” were church communities which had not been regularly organized into constituted churches.

In 1790 Three Forks Church, the first in Watauga, was constituted. Part of the original members of this church came from the Jersey Settlement Church. Cove Creek was the second church in Watauga, being organized in 1799. At first these churches had only log houses in which to worship. The floors were rude, and large cracks were in the walls, so that they were often uncomfortable in winter. But the praises of God rang out from the lips and hearts of these old Baptist fathers. These churches first joined the Strawberry Association in Virginia, but in 1790 withdrew to organize the Yadkin Association. The first ministers of this body were George McNeil, John Cleveland, William Petty, William Hammond, Cleveland Coffee, Andrew Baker and John Stone . . . Later on, the Mountain, Catawba and Brier Creek Associations were formed, and so the Yadkin Baptists continued steadily to grow.

Note that the McNiel line and the Vannoy line were closely connected and intermarried often.  The Vannoy family came from the Jersey Settlement in Rowan County.

The Reverend George McNiel’s name was found in association with several churches.  He appeared to have “traveled on” in the name of the association, judging from their minutes, and helped to establish many churches, including the Brier Creek Baptist Church in 1783, Beaver Creek, Head of Yadkin, Three Forks (3 miles east of Boone, as pastor,) and Roaring River.  Lewis Fork Baptist Church, very near where he lived, was established in 1792 and he was the first pastor. Many McNiel’s are buried there today in the cemetery shown below.

Lewis fork

This current photo is from Find-A-Grave where you can view the burials.

The 100th Anniversary – 1905

Other tidbits of information came to us in other ways.  One hundred years after his death, his descendants honored him with a speech and a monument among other things.

Captain SIMEON ELLER married Frances McNeill, daughter of James McNeill, the third son of Rev. George McNeill. This Rev. George McNeill was a man of great power and influence. He came to North Carolina and settled in Moore County about the time of the French and Indian War. About 1771 he joined the Baptist Church, and, his denominational brethren having suffered much at the hands of the royalists, with them he went into the famous Regulator Movement, which met its overthrow as an organization at the Battle of Alamance. Fleeing for safety from Governor Tryon’s revenge, he lived for a short time in Western Virginia, finally, however, returning to North Carolina, where he settled in the Yadkin Valley above Wilkesboro, near New Hope Church. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1776 and became the great pioneer Baptist preacher of northwestern North Carolina, organizing the Yadkin Association in 1786, which is the parent of associations now claiming a membership of 35,000. On June 7, 1805, after a long and useful life and a most remarkable and successful career in the ministry, he passed away. Upon the centennial of this event in 1905 his large number of descendants and the Baptists hosts of northwestern North Carolina erected a monument to his memory, Rev. W.H. ELLER, of Greensboro, a great-grandson, delivering the address.

A memorial booklet of 17 pages, with paper cover, was printed in 1905 by the committee authorized in the above resolution, to record the address of Mr. Eller and other papers concerning the life and times of Rev. McNiel. this booklet was distributed to the various Baptist Associations in North Carolina, to certain libraries and Historical Associations, to descendants of Rev. McNiel and to friends of the family.

Mr. Eller spoke as follows;

In accordance with the resolution of the Brushy Mountain Association providing therefor the committee of Arrangements has made it my privilege to address you at this place where the repose of the mortal remains of our ancestor. He entered into his rest one hundred years ago today, an old man and full of years, and his sons buried him in this mountain field across the stream from which he had his home when the country was new and where he had for some years passed his days, when not upon his itinerant gospel missions. This piece of ground was his also and dedicated to become and remain the resting place of the dead until by the will of God the trumpet shall sound and the dead in Christ shall arise.”

The oldest piece of manuscript in which we find any written account of the subject of this Memorial is without date. It is signed by his son Joseph McNeil, and was found among papers left by Rev. James Vannoy (who was born June 27, 1792, and died February 19, 1857), It was probably written for Benedict’s History of the Baptists. Joseph McNeil, as memory has marked him, was born in the year 1767 and lived to 185-. We remember him as a man of advanced age and decrepitude in 1852. His statement with reference to his father reads as follows:

The Rev. Mr. George McNeil was bornd on or about the year 1720 and was ordained some time before the year 1776, but the exact time I cannot tel, and he was frequently a corresponding messenger to different associations, frequently appointed a help to churches whose difficulties arose in them, and was called to ordain preachers, and constitute churches, and was Moderator of the Yadkin Association for a number of years, and he and the Rev. Mr. John Cleveland went in the Revolutionary War with the army as they went from Kings Mountain and preached to them until they got up into Burke County. Him and the Rev’d Mr. A. Baker yoused to preach a great deal together. He departed this life June the 7th, 1805. This is correct an account as I am able to give.

(signed)                              Joseph McNiel

George’s Voice

Do we have anything that the Reverend George McNiel said, himself, something in his own words.  Indeed, I think we do, in the form of information taken from the book, George Michael Eller and Descendants of His in America compiled by James W. Hook.

Being assembled together in the fear of the Lord we thought it expedient to write unto you certifying that we have received a very agreeable account from the different quarters of our District Association especially when the brethren came to testify by their gifts that you walked in the truth, they being faithful. both to brethren and strangers. Seeing that the Lord hath afforded you the gracious visitations of his divine favors by sending forth his servants, crying at the door, thereby figuring out the glorious dispensation under which you live.

Brethren remember the wonderful displays of divine power amongst you and rejoice when you hear the voice of the turtle sounding in our land. Gird on the whole armor of God. March in order at the sound of the trumpet, be continually on the watch guard and see that you fall not by the way, believing always that He that is your Advance Guard has promised that he will lead captive your enemies and put them under an eternal arrest. Therefore beloved march forward in the powerful influence of his Holy Spirit, strive to love and serve Him in this world and finally to enjoy Him in the world to come, and as we have been favored with much harmony in our deliberations we trust that the Lord hath enabled us to act for the welfare of Zion. Whilst we bid you farewell in the Lord, be ye faithful. Be ye of one mind and the God of love and grace be with you all-Amen

‘signed by order of the Association’                     George McNiel, Moderator

I sort of feel like I just heard a mini-sermon from George.  Amen!

What About George’s Brothers?

Thomas McNeil was living in Caswell Co., taken from Orange in 1777, when he made his will dated April 20, 1781 in which he named his children.  He named three sons, Thomas, John and Benjamin.  No relationship has been established between that Thomas and the McNeil’s of other counties.

Thomas McNeil’s will:

In the name of God Amen I Thomas McNeil of Caswell Co NC being weak of body but sound of mind and memory do  April 20th 1781make this my last will and testament in the manner following.  I give unto my living wife Ann the use of all my personal estate during her life or widowhood.  I give unto my son Thomas a tract of land lying on Sanderses Creek containing 200 acres which land I bought of my son John and my desire is that my said son John do make a right of said land to my son Thomas.  I give unto my son Benjamin 150 acres joining the lines of Andrew Caddell and my son John Land to him and his heirs forever.  I give to my daughter Mary 100 acres of land lying on Henley’s Creek joining Wilson Vermillions line to her and her heirs forever.  At the death of my loving wife that my sons Thomas and Benjamin have each of them a horse and saddle and a bed which horses to be of the value of 10 pounds in specie also the plantation working tools I desire may be equally devided between them.  I further give unto my daughter Mary one feather bed and furniture and two  cows and calves after the death of my loving wife.  All of my negroes and their increase after the death or marriage of my loving wife be by three honest men equally divided amongst my 8 children, or the survivors of them, to wit John, Thomas, Benjamin, Elizabeth Roberts, Nancy Vermilion, Mary, Patsey Hubbert and Lois to them and their heirs forever.  Lastly I nominate and appoint my wife Ann , my son John and my son-in-law Wilson Vermillion and George Lea (son of William) executors of this my last will and testament revoking all other wills by me made in witness whereof I have hereunto sett my hand and seal…signed.  Witnessed George Lea, Lucy Lea, John Clixby.  Proved Dec court 1781.

It has long been rumored that Thomas is the brother of George.  DNA testing would certainly shed light on that question.  He had sons John, Thomas and Benjamin, so it’s certainly possible that Thomas McNeil has male descendants that carry his surname, meaning they also carry his Y chromosome, today.

I’d also love to DNA test any of the Spotsylvania County McNiel lines.  I’d also love to find baptism or other records in the old country, but I really have no idea how to go about that search, beyond what I’ve already done.  Seems like a needle in a very large haystack.

A Visit to Wilkes County

When I visited Wilkes Co. in 2003 and 2004, I spent time with historian George McNeil whose wife, Joyce, also my cousin in the Vannoy side, had recently passed away.  This was a very sad time for George, but he was kind and gracious and took me to see the grave of the Reverend George McNiel as well as where George McNiel had lived, shown below.  I believe this photo is of Deep Ford Hill where George originally live.  Unfortunately, I only labeled it as “George McNiel’s land” after my Wilkes County visit several years ago.

McNiel land

Originally, George was the minister at the Deep Ford Meeting house, and there used to be a cemetery there.  George McNiel, currently living, tells me that the owners sometime in the 1900s bulldozed all of the markers into the ditch/creek and farm the land now.

Another cousin, Jack Peterson, told me in 2003 that Reverend George McNiel’s home that he owned when he died, and where he is buried, on the north fork of Lewis Fork Creek is still visible “from Parsonsville Road when the leaves aren’t out.” He says it’s known as the old Walsh House, which still stands in front of the remains of George’s home. Lewis Fork is about 15-20 miles from Wilkesboro, the county seat, where George was the registrar of deeds from 1787-1805.  Maybe he stayed in town for part of the time.

The Reverend George McNiel’s grave is located in a location where someone who didn’t know the area would stand no chance of finding it.  It’s behind a mobile home, up lane, across a field, and not visible from the road.

geo mcniel cem

The stone was placed in 1905 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passing of this legendary man.  His descendants certainly didn’t forget him.  Unfortunately, his wife’s grave, which most likely lies beside his, is entirely unmarked and she is only remembered in passing as “Miss Coates.”  I find that very unfortunate and very sad, especially since it would have been George’s wife that kept the home fires burning and everything running well while George was traveling the country visiting and founding churches.

Geo McNiel stone

Geo McNiel stone 2

The names of the committee members are inscribed on the third side of the monument.

Geo McNiel stone 3

It’s actually a quiet and beautiful location.

Geo Mcniel stone 5

This is known as the Elder George McNiel site and is available on Find-A-Grave here.

Cousin George McNiel told me that the old chimney standing across the road (at that time) was what was left of George’s daughter’s home.

geo mcniel dau house

George also gave me a copy of the book, Genealogy of the McNiel Clan by Johnson J. Hayes 1846-1929, Wilkesboro, NC.  From which much information has been taken, including annotations made by George and his wife over the years.

DNA and the McNiels

Between the years of 1755 and 1770 one or more McNiel families emigrated to NC and settled on the Cape Fear River.  Others came and settled in the Shenandoah Valley of Va.  Are these families related?

Cousin George McNeil, in 2005, provided a DNA sample to represent the Wilkes County McNiel family in the McNeil family DNA project.  The results indicated that this McNiel clan is from Ireland, not Scotland, originally.  This cross immigration is not unusual.

We need a DNA candidate from the Thomas McNeil of Caswell Co., NC.

McNiel Clan History

The history of the McNiel clan is set forth in the book, The Clann Macneil by the Macneil of Barra, chief of the clan, published in 1923 by the Caledonian publishing company.  It tells a fanciful story of how one Niall of Scythia was invited into Egypt by Pharoh Cingeris and of the great work he accomplished in regulating the flow of the Nile River, which was named for him.  He married Princess Ecota, the Phariah’s daughter who rescued Moses from the bullrushes and by her had a son, Gaedhal, or Gael, after whom the race was named.

According to the book,

The McNiel family itself descends from one of the Noblest clans of Scotland, which traces its ancestry without interruption through a long dynasty of Irish kinds to Niall of the Nine Hostages who ascended the Throne of Ireland in the year 379 AD.  Before that, according to Irish chroniclers, the line runs back to Niall of Scythia dn beyond him to Fenius the Antiquarian, son of Boath, son of Magog, son of Japhet, son of Noah.

The first Macneil of Barra settled on the island of that name off the west coast of Scotland about 1050 AD.  From him is descended the Highland Scottish Clan Macneil.  The Clann Macneil Association was formed to perpetuate interest in the family and all members of which claim descent from Scottish progenitors of common ancestry.

Cousin George McNiel of Wilkes County was convinced that our McNiel family was from the McNeil of Barra line, and so was everyone else.  That’s what our family had been told.  In fact, in George’s home, a beautiful water-color of Kisimul Castle on the Isle of Barra is framed and hangs, matted in McNeil tartan colors.

Kisimul castle

The DNA Story

That, however surprisingly, is not what the DNA tells us.  It tells a different story.

Cousin George tested his Y DNA at Family Tree DNA.  Needless to say, when we saw the “Niall of the Nine Hostages” badge, we were thrilled.9 hostages

However, that turned to shock when we realized that while we were confirmed to be descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, we don’t match the Barra McNeil families, and they don’t descend from Niall of the Nine Hostages.  Furthermore, there are two Barra McNiel lines and we don’t match either of them.

We do match several McNiels and a few O’Niels from Ireland, of whom a few have tested positive for M222, previously known as R1b1a2a1a1b4b, a subclade of haplogroup R1b1a2 (M269).

However, much to our surprise, according to the subgrouping on the MacNeil project at family tree DNA, the two Barra groups test at SNPs L176 and L165, both of which are Norse.

barra groups

Cousin George does have several STR 67 marker matches, two of which are from Ireland but who don’t know where in Ireland.

The M222 Northwest Irish group in the McNiel project is quite sizeable, although at 67 markers, cousin George only matches 4 other McNiel (by any spelling) men.

niall group

Several participants haven’t tested at 67 markers, so cousin George has a lot more matches at lower levels.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, the McNeils of Barra aren’t descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, and our line is.  Maybe cousin George should take his picture of Kisimul castle down and install a picture of Tara, legendary seat of Niall of the Nine Hostages instead.

Who Is Niall of the Nine Hostages?

For many years, doubt existed that Niall of the Nine Hostages, known as Niall Noigiallach, existed as an actual person outside of mythology.  However, DNA findings first published in 2005 out of Trinity College in Dublin confirm genetically that indeed, a very powerful and prolific male did live about 1700 years ago, and from that male one out of every five males, 21.5%, living in Northern Ireland today have inherited his Y chromosome.   Researchers and historians indicate that there could be as many as 3 million descendants of Niall alive today.  If you live in Ireland, it’s almost inconceivable that you’re not descended from Niall, if not directly through the patrilineal line, then via marriage someplace in the approximately 64 generations between Niall and those of us alive today.

The following is reported by Geoffrey Keating in 1636:

After the Scots from Ireland, together with their king Niall Naoighíallach, had plundered many territories in opposition to the Roman sovereignty, they severely pillaged Britain—the northern portion of it at first; and when they had banished the old tribes from it, they themselves dwelt in it.

Histories vary, but the older and less well known version states that Niall’s hostages were taken from each of the nine subjugated tribal dynasties of the Ulster kingdom of Airghialla, among the first of Niall’s conquests.  Later scribes record that he took one hostage each from Ireland’s 5 provinces, Munster, Ulster, Leinster, Connacht and Mide, as well as from the Scots, Saxons, British and French.  Today, the Aghade Stone is endowed with folklore that associates it with one of Niall’s hostages.

An ancient bard composed the following lyrics about Niall and his hostages:

Son of the noble Eochaidh of honour
Was Niall, modest in each high distinction;
He held the sovereignty of successions
In Erin and in Alba.
He got a hostage from each province
In Erin through high valour;
He brought under his sway, without blemish,
Four hostages from Alba.
Hence he was called
In the mansions of the great,
Through the gold of the prosperous kings,
Niall of the nine hostages, the heroic.

Four accounts survive of Niall’s death, all of them in texts dating after the 11th century. In each Niall is pursued by Eochaid, son of the archrival Leinster king Énna Cennselach. Eochaid’s enmity begins when he is refused food by Laidcenn, Niall’s poet, for which he burns Laidcenn’s house and kills his son. In revenge, Laidcenn satirizes Leinster, depriving it of all foliage for a year, and Niall invades it. Eventually Eochaid is turned over to Niall by the Leinstermen, but kills Laidcenn with a stone, causing Niall to banish him for the rest of the ruler’s life.

Later, while Niall is abroad, Eochaid kills him either (1) in Scotland, while Niall is being entertained by Pictish bards; (2) in the Alps (which may be a confusion with Alba [Scotland]); (3) in the English Channel; or (4) by the River Loire in France.

In all versions his body is returned to be buried at Ochann/ Ocha [folk-etymologized into och cáini, sighing and weeping], now known as Faughan Hill, Southwest of Kells and 3 miles South of the assembly at Tailtiu.

Niall’s place in Irish history was assured by the Uí Néill dynasty, founded by eight of his (perhaps) fifteen sons. Four sons established the northern branch, displacing the Ulaid of Ulster, with small, powerful kingdoms in Tír Chonaill [Donegal] and Tír Eógain [Tyrone], and four other sons along with Diarmait mac Cerbaill established the southern branch in the midlands, adjacent to Tara, over the modern counties of Meath, Westmeath, and Longford. They kept the kingship at Tara between them, deeply influencing the writing of history as well as the development of Christian institutions.

niall pedigree

Interestingly enough, the ancient bard’s verbiage further tells us that Niall was blonde, primrosevery blonde; “as yellow as the primrose was the hair upon the head of Cairenn’s son.”  Furthermore, the next line tells us that his mother had black curly hair, inferring that it’s likely that Niall inherited his blonde hair from his father’s side.

Tara today is an archaeological site which includes the Hill of Tara, aerial view below, passage mounds, one named Mound of the Hostages in honor of Niall, and the reputed Lai Fail, coronation stone, named the “Stone of Destiny”, immediately below, although some dispute that this is the original stone.

stone of destiny

Most of Tara is unexcavated today, although it is known to have been in use as early as 3500BC and is known as the seat of the “High King of Ireland.”  Most of its known 300 features are below ground.  Recently a huge temple, over 170 feet in diameter, has been discovered.

tara hill

Amazing isn’t it where your DNA and genealogy will take you….Wilkes County, NC to Tara in Ireland nearly 2000 years ago.  Go figure.  Wouldn’t Reverend George have been surprised!

Finding Native American Ethnic Results in Germanic People

I’m often asked about the significance of small percentages of autosomal DNA in results.  Specifically, the small percentages are often of Native American or results that would suggest Native admixture.  One of the first questions I always ask is whether or not the individual has Germanic or eastern European admixture.


Take a look at this map of the Invasion of the Roman Empire.  See the Huns and their path?

Hun map

It’s no wonder we’re so admixed.

Here’s a map of the Hunnic empire at its peak under Attila between the years 420-469.

Hun emplire

But that wasn’t the end of the Asian invasions.  The Magyars, who settled in Hungary arrived from Asia as well, in the 800s and 900s, as shown on this map from LaSalle University.

magyar map

Since both the Hungarians and some Germanic people descend from Asian populations, as do Native Americans, albeit thousands of years apart, it’s not unrealistic to expect that, as populations, they share a genetic connection.

Therefore, when people who carry heritage from this region of the world show small amounts of Native or Asian origin, I’m not surprised.  However, for Americans, trying to sort out their Native ethnic heritage, this is most unhelpful.

Let’s take a look at the perfect example candidate.  This man is exactly half Hungarian and half German.  Let’s see what his DNA results say, relative to any Asian or Native heritage, utilizing the testing companies and the free admixture tools at

He has not tested at Ancestry, but at Family Tree DNA, his myOrigins report 96% European, 4% Middle Eastern.  At 23andMe in speculative view, he shows 99.7 European and .2 sub-saharan African.

Moving to the admixture tools at GedMatch, MDLP is not recommended for Asian or Native ancestry, so I have excluded that tool.

Eurogenes K13 is the most recently updated admixture tool, so let’s take a look at that one first.

Eurogenes K13

 JK Eurogenes K13 v2

Eurogenes K13 showed 7% West Asian, which makes perfect sense considering his heritage, but it might be counted as “Native” in other circumstances, although I would certainly be very skeptical about counting it as such.

However, East Asian, Siberian and Amerindian would all be amalgamated into the Native American category, for a combined percentage of 1.31.

jk eurogenes k13 chart

However, selecting the “admixture proportions by chromosome” view shows something a bit different.  The cumulative percentages, by chromosome equate to 10.10%.  Some researchers mistakenly add this amount and use that as their percentage of Native ancestry.  This is not the case, because those are the portions of 100% of each individual chromosome, and the total would need to be divided by 22 to obtain the average value across all chromosomes.  The total is irrelevant, and the average may not reflect how the developer determines the amount of admixture because chromosomes are not the same size nor carry the same number of SNPs.  Questions relative to the functional underpinnings of each tool should be addressed to the developers.


I understand that there is a newer version of Dodecad, but that it has not been submitted to GedMatch for inclusion, per a discussion with GedMatch.  I can’t tell which of the Dodecad versions on GedMatch is the most current, so I ran the results utilizing both v3 and 12b.

jk dodecad v3

jk dodecad v3 chart

I hope v3 is not the most current, because it does not include any Native American category or pseudocategory – although there is a smattering of Northeast Asian at .27% and Southwest Asian at 1%.

Dodecad 12b below

jk dodecad 12b

The 12b version does show .52% Siberian and 2.6% Southwest Asian, although I’m not at all sure the Southwest Asian should be included.


jk harappaworld

jk harappaworld chart

Harappaworld shows .09 Siberian, .27% American (Native American), .23% Beringian and 1.8% Southwest Asian, although I would not include Southwest Asian in the Native calculation.

In Summary

Neither Family Tree DNA nor 23andMe find Native ancestry in our German/Hungarian tester, but all 3 of the admixture tools at Gedmatch find either small amounts of Native or Asian ancestry that could certainly be interpreted as Native, such as Siberian or Beringian.

Does this mean this German/Hungarian man has Native American ancestry?  Of course not, but it does probably mean that the Native population and his ancestral populations did share some genes from the same gene pool thousands of years ago.

While you might think this is improbable, or impossible, consider for a minute that every person outside of Africa today carries some percentage of Neanderthal DNA, and all Europeans also carry Denisovan DNA.  Our DNA does indeed have staying power over the millennia, especially once an entire population or group of people is involved.  We’ve recently seen this same type of scenarios in the full genome sequencing of a 24,000 year old Siberian male skeleton.

Our German/Hungarian man carries 2.4% Neanderthal DNA according to 23andMe and 2.7% according to the Genographic Project, which also reports that he carries 3.9% Denisovan.  The European average is about 2% for Neanderthal.

The net-net of this is that minority admixture is not always what it seems to be, especially when utilizing autosomal DNA to detect small amounts of Native American admixture.  The big picture needs to be taken into consideration.  Caution is advised.

When searching for Native admixture, when possible, both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA give specific answers for specific pedigree lines relative to ancestry.  Of course, to utilize Y or mtDNA, the tester must descend from the Native ancestor either directly paternally to test the male Y chromosome, or directly matrilineally to test the mitochondrial line.  You can read about this type of testing, and how it works, in my article, Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.  You can also read about other ways to prove Native ancestry using autosomal DNA, including how to unravel which pedigree line the Native ancestry descends from, utilizing admixture tools, in the article, “The Autosomal Me.”

Ethnicity Percentages – Second Generation Report Card

Recently, Family Tree DNA introduced their new ethnicity tool, myOrigins as part of their autosomal Family Finder product.  This means that all of the major players in this arena using chip based technology (except for the Genographic project) have now updated their tools.  Both 23andMe and Ancestry introduced updated versions of their tools in the fall of 2013.  In essence, this is the second generation of these biogeographical or ethnicity products.  So lets take a look and see how the vendors are doing.

In a recent article, I discussed the process for determining ethnicity percentages using biogeographical ancestry, or BGA, tools.  The process is pretty much the same, regardless of which vendor’s results you are looking at.  The variant is, of course, the underlying population data base, it’s quality and quantity, and the way the vendors choose to construct and name their regions.

I’ve been comparing my own known and proven genealogy pedigree breakdown to the vendors results for some time now.  Let’s see how the new versions stack up to a known pedigree.

The paper, “Revealing American Indian and Minority Heritage using Y-line, Mitochondrial, Autosomal and X Chromosomal Testing Data Combined with Pedigree Analysis” was published in the Fall 2010 issue of JoGG, Vol. 6 issue 1.

The pedigree analysis portion of this document begins about page 8.  My ancestral breakdown is as follows:

Geography Pedigree Percent
Germany 23.8041
British Isles 22.6104
Holland 14.5511
European by DNA 6.8362
France 6.6113
Switzerland 0.7813
Native American 0.2933
Turkish 0.0031

This leaves about 25% unknown.

Let’s look at each vendor’s results one by one.


23andme v2

My results using the speculative comparison mode at 23andMe are shown in a chart, below.

23andMe Category 23andMe Percentage
British and Irish 39.2
French/German 15.6
Scandinavian 7.9
Nonspecific North European 27.9
Italian 0.5
Nonspecific South European 1.6
Eastern European 1.8
Nonspecific European 4.9
Native American 0.3
Nonspecific East Asian/Native American 0.1
Middle East/North Africa 0.1

At 23andMe, if you have questions about what exact population makes up each category, just click on the arrow beside the category when you hover over it.

For example, I wasn’t sure exactly what comprises Eastern European, so I clicked.

23andme eastern europe

The first thing I see is sample size and where the samples come from, public data bases or the 23andMe data base.  Their samples, across all categories, are most prevalently from their own data base.  A rough add shows about 14,000 samples in total.

Clicking on “show details” provides me with the following information about the specific locations of included populations.

23andme pop

Using this information, and reorganizing my results a bit, the chart below shows the comparison between my pedigree chart and the 23andMe results.  In cases where the vendor’s categories spanned several of mine, I have added mine together to match the vendor category.  A perfect example is shown in row 1, below, where I added France, Holland, Germany and Switzerland together to equal the 23andMe French and German category.  Checking their reference populations shows that all 4 of these countries are included in their French and German group.

Geography Pedigree Percent 23andMe %
Germany, Holland, Switzerland & France 45.7451 15.6
France 6.6113 (above) Combined
Germany 23.8014 (above) Combined
Holland 14.5511 (above) Combined
Switzerland 0.7813 (above) Combined
British Isles 22.6104 39.2
Native American 0.2933 0.4 (Native/East Asian)
Turkish 0.0031 0.1 (Middle East/North Africa)
Scandinavian 7.9
Italian 0.5
South European 1.6
East European 1.8
European by DNA 6.8362 4.9 (nonspecific European)
Unknown 25 27.9 (North European)

I can also change to the Chromosome view to see the results mapped onto my chromosomes.

23andme chromosome view

The 23andMe Reference Population

According to the 23andMe customer care pages, “Ancestry Composition uses 31 reference populations, based on public reference datasets as well as a significant number of 23andMe members with known ancestry. The public reference datasets we’ve drawn from include the Human Genome Diversity ProjectHapMap, and the 1000 Genomes project. For these datasets as well as the data from 23andMe, we perform filtering to ensure accuracy.

Populations are selected for Ancestry Composition by studying the cluster plots of the reference individuals, choosing candidate populations that appear to cluster together, and then evaluating whether we can distinguish the groups in practice. The population labels refer to genetically similar groups, rather than nationalities.”

Additional detailed information about Ancestry Composition is available here.

ancestry v2

Ancestry is a bit more difficult to categorize, because their map regions are vastly overlapping.  For example, the west Europe category is shown above, and the Scandinavian is shown below.

ancestry scandinavia

Both categories cover the Netherlands, Germany and part of the UK.

My Ancestry percentages are:

Ancestry Category Ancestry Percentage
North Africa 1
America <1
East Asia <1
West Europe 79
Scandinavia 10
Great Britain 4
Ireland 2
Italy/Greece 2

Below, my pedigree percentages as compared to Ancestry’s categories, with category adjustments.

Geography Pedigree Percent Ancestry %
West European 52.584 (combined from below) 79
Germany 23.8041 Combined
Holland 14.5511 Combined
European by DNA 6.8362 Combined
France 6.6113 Combined
Switzerland 0.7813 Combined
British Isles 22.6104 6
Native American 0.2933 ~1 incl East Asian
Turkish 0.0031 1 (North Africa)
Unknown 25
Italy/Greece 2
Scandinavian 10

Ancestry’s European populations and regions are so broadly overlapping that almost any interpretation is possible.  For example, the Netherlands could be included in several categories – and based up on the history of the country, that’s probably legitimate.

At Ancestry, clicking on a region, then scrolling down will provide additional information about that region of the world, both their population and history.

The Ancestry Reference Population

Just below your ethnicity map is a section titled “Get the Most Out of Your Ethnicity Estimate.”  It’s worth clicking, reading and watching the video.  Ancestry states that they utilized about 3000 reference samples, pared from 4245 samples taken from people whose ethnicity seems to be entirely from that specific location in the world.

ancestry populations

You can read more in their white paper about ethnicity prediction.

Family Tree DNA’s myOrigins

I wrote about the release of my Origins recently, so I won’t repeat the information about reference populations and such found in that article.

myorigins v2

Family Tree DNA shows matches by region.  Clicking on the major regions, European and Middle Eastern, shown above, display the clusters within regions.  In addition, your Family Finder matches that match your ethnicity are shown in highest match order in the bottom left corner of your match page.

Clicking on a particular cluster, such as Trans-Ural Peneplain, highlights that cluster on the map and then shows a description in the lower left hand corner of the page.

myorigins trans-ural

Family Tree DNA shows my ethnicity results as follows.

Family Tree DNA Category Family Tree DNA Percentage
European Coastal Plain 68
European Northlands 12
Trans-Ural Peneplain 11
European Coastal Islands 7
Anatolia and Caucus 3

Below, my pedigree results reorganized a bit and compared to Family Tree DNA’s categories.

Geography Pedigree Percent Family Tree DNA %
European Coastal Plain 45.7478 68
Germany 23.8041 Combined above
Holland 14.5511 Combined above
France 6.6113 Combined above
Switzerland 0.7813 Combined above
British Isles 22.6104 7 (Coastal Islands)
Turkish 0.0031 3 (Anatolia and Caucus)
European by DNA 6.8362
Native American 0.2933
Unknown 25
Trans-Ural Peneplain 11
European Northlands 12

Third Party Admixture Tools is kind enough to include 4 different admixture utilities, contributed by different developers, in their toolbox.  Remember, GedMatch is a free, meaning a contribution site – so if you utilize and enjoy their tools – please contribute.

On their main page, after signing in and transferring your raw data files from either 23andMe, Family Tree DNA or Ancestry, you will see your list of options.  Among them is “admixture.”  Click there.

gedmatch admixture

Of the 4 tools shown, MDLP is not recommended for populations outside of Europe, such as Asian, African or Native American, so I’ve skipped that one entirely.

gedmatch admix utilities

I selected Admixture Proportions for the part of this exercise that includes the pie chart.

The next option is Eurogenes K13 Admixture Proportions.  My results are shown below.

Eurogenes K13

Eurogenes K13

Of course, there is no guide in terms of label definition, so we’re guessing a bit.

Geography Pedigree Percent Eurogenes K13%
North Atlantic 75.19 44.16
Germany 23.8041 Combined above
British Isles 22.6104 Combined above
Holland 14.5511 Combined above
European by DNA 6.8362 Combined above
France 6.6113 Combined above
Switzerland 0.7813 Combined above
Native American 0.2933 2.74 combined East Asian, Siberian, Amerindian and South Asian
Turkish 0.0031 1.78 Red Sea
Unknown 25
Baltic 24.36
West Med 14.78
West Asian 6.85
Oceanian 0.86

Dodecad K12b

Next is Dodecad K12b

According to John at GedMatch, there is a more current version of Dodecad, but the developer has opted not to contribute the current or future versions.

Dodecad K12b

By the way, in case you’re wondering, Gedrosia is an area along the Indian Ocean – I had to look it up!

Geography Pedigree Percent Dodecad K12b
North European 75.19 43.50
Germany 23.8041 Combined above
British Isles 22.6104 Combined above
Holland 14.5511 Combined above
European by DNA 6.8362 Combined above
France 6.6113 Combined above
Switzerland 0.7813 Combined above
Native American 0.2933 3.02 Siberian, South Asia, SW Asia, East Asia
Turkish 0.0031 10.93 Caucus
Gedrosia 7.75
Northwest African 1.22
Atlantic Med 33.56
Unknown 25

Third is Harappaworld.



Baloch is an area in the Iranian plateau.

Geography Pedigree Percent Harappaworld %
Northeast Euro 75.19 46.58
Germany 23.8041 Combined above
British Isles 22.6104 Combined above
Holland 14.5511 Combined above
European by DNA 6.8362 Combined above
France 6.6113 Combined above
Switzerland 0.7813 Combined above
Native American 0.2933 2.81 SE Asia, Siberia, NE Asian, American, Beringian
Turkish 0.0031 10.27
Unknown 25
S Indian 0.21
Baloch 9.05
Papuan 0.38
Mediterranean 28.71

The wide variety found in these results makes me curious about how my European results would be categorized using the MDLP tool, understanding that it will not pick up Native, Asian or African.


mdlp k12

The Celto-Germanic category is very close to my mainland European total – but of course, many Germanic people settled in the British Isles.

Second Generation Report Card

Many of these tools picked up my Native American heritage, along with the African.  Yes, these are very small amounts, but I do have several proven lines.  By proven, I mean both by paper trail (Acadian church and other records) and genetics, meaning Yline and mtDNA.  There is no arguing with that combination.  I also have other Native lines that are less well proven.  So I’m very glad to see the improvements in that area.

Recent developments in historical research and my mitochondrial DNA matches show that my most distant maternal ancestral line in Germany have some type of a Scandinavian connection.  How did this happen, and when?  I just don’t know yet – but looking at the map below, which are my mtDNA full sequence matches, the pattern is clear.


Could the gene flow have potentially gone the other direction – from Germany to Scandinavia?  Yes, it’s possible.  But my relatively consistent Scandinavian ethnicity at around 10% seems unlikely if that were the case.

Actually, there is a second possibility for additional Scandinavian heritage and that’s my heavy Frisian heritage.  In fact, most of my Dutch ancestors in Frisia were either on or very near the coast on the northernmost part of Holland and many were merchants.

I also have additional autosomal matches with people from Scandinavia – not huge matches – but matches just the same – all unexplained.  The most notable of which, and the first I might add, is with my friend, Marja.

It’s extremely difficult to determine how distant the ancestry is that these tests are picking up.  It could be anyplace from a generation ago to hundreds of generations ago.  It all depends on how the DNA was passed, how isolated the population was, who tested today and which data bases are being utilized for comparison purposes along with their size and accuracy.  In most cases, even though the vendors are being quite transparent, we still don’t know exactly who the population is that we match, or how representative it is of the entire population of that region.  In some cases, when contributed data is being used, like testers at 23andMe, we don’t know if they understood or answered the questions about their ancestry correctly – and 23andMe is basing ethnicity results on their cumulative answers.  In other words, we can’t see beneath the blanket – and even if we could – I don’t know that we’d understand how to interpret the components.

So Where Am I With This?

I knew already, through confirmed paper sources that most of my ancestry is in the European heartland – Germany, Holland, France as well as in the British Isles.  Most of the companies and tools confirm this one way or another.  That’s not a surprise.  My 35 years of genealogical research has given me an extremely strong pedigree baseline that is invaluable for comparing vendor ethnicity results.

The Scandinavian results were somewhat of a surprise – especially at the level in which they are found.  If this is accurate, and I tend to believe it is present at some level, then it must be a combined effect of many ancestors, because I have no missing or unknown ancestors in the first 5 generations and only 11 of 64 missing or without a surname in generation 6.  Those missing ancestors in generation 6 only contribute about 1.5% of my DNA each, assuming they contribute an average of 50% of their DNA to offspring in each subsequent generation.

Clearly, to reach 10%, nearly all of my missing ancestors, in the US and Germany, England and the Netherlands would have to be 100% Scandinavian – or, alternately, I have quite a bit scattered around in many ancestors, which is a more likely scenario.  Still, I’m having a difficult time with that 10% number in any scenario, but I will accept that there is some Scandinavian heritage one way or another.  Finding it, however, genealogically is quite another matter.

However, I’m at a total loss as to the genesis of the South European and Mediterranean.  This must be quite ancient.  There are only two known possible ancestors from these regions and they are many generations back in time – and both are only inferred with clearly enough room to be disproven.  One is a possible Jewish family who went to France from Spain in 1492 and the other is possibly a Roman soldier whose descendants are found within a few miles of a Roman fort site today in Lancashire.  Neither of these ancestors could have contributed enough DNA to influence the outcome to the levels shown, so the South European/Mediterranean is either incorrect, or very deep ancestry.

The Eastern European makes more sense, given my amount of German heritage.  The Germans are well known to be admixed with the Magyars and Huns, so while I can’t track it or prove it, it also doesn’t surprise me one bit given the history of the people and regions where my ancestors are found.

What’s the Net-Net of This?

This is interesting, very interesting.  There are tips and clues buried here, especially when all of the various tools, including autosomal matching, Y and mtDNA, are utilized together for a larger picture.  Alone, none of these tools are as powerful as they are combined.

I look forward to the day when the reference populations are in the tens of thousands, not hundreds.  All of the tools will be far more accurate as the data base is built, refined and utilized.

Until then, I’ll continue to follow each release and watch for more tips and clues – and will compare the various tools.  For example, I’m very pleased to see Family Tree DNA’s new ethnicity matching tool incorporated into myOrigins.

I’ve taken the basic approach that my proven pedigree chart is the most accurate, by far, followed by the general consensus of the combined results of all of the vendors.  It’s particularly relevant when vendors who don’t use the same reference populations arrive at the same or similar results.  For example, 23andMe uses primarily their own clients and Nat Geo of course, although I did not include them above because they haven’t released a new tool recently, uses their own population sample results.

National Geographic’s Geno2

Nat Geo took a bit of a different approach and it’s more difficult to compare to the others.  They showed my ethnicity as 43% North European, 36% Mediterranean and 18% Southwest Asian.

nat geo results

While this initially looks very skewed, they then compared me to my two closest populations, genetically, which were the British and the Germans, which is absolutely correct, according to my pedigree chart.  Both of these populations are within a few percent of my exact same ethnicity profile, shown below.

Nat geo british 2

The description makes a lot of sense too.  “The dominant 49% European component likely reflects the earliest settlers in Europe, hunter-gatherers who arrived there more than 35,000 years ago.  The 44% Mediterranean and the 17% Southwest Asian percentages arrived later, with the spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent in the middle East, over the past 10,000 years.  As these early farmers moved into Europe, they spread their genetic patterns as well.”

nat geo german

So while individually, and compared to my pedigree chart, these results appear questionable, especially the Mediterranean and Southwest Asian portions, in the context of the populations I know I descend from and most resemble, the results make perfect sense when compared to my closest matching populations.  Those populations themselves include a significant amount of both Mediterranean and Southwest Asian.  Looking at this, I feel a lot better about the accuracy of my results.  Sometimes, perspective makes a world of difference.

It’s A Wrap

Just because we can’t exactly map the ethnicity results to our pedigree charts today doesn’t mean the results are entirely incorrect.  It doesn’t mean they are entirely correct, either.  The results may, in some cases, be showing where population groups descend from, not where our specific ancestors are found more recently.  The more ancestors we have from a particular region, the more that region’s profile will show up in our own personal results.  This explains why Mediterranean shows up, for example, from long ago but our one Native ancestor from 7 or 8 generations ago doesn’t.  In my case, it would be because I have many British/German/Dutch lines that combine to show the ancient Mediterranean ancestry of these groups – where I have many fewer Native ancestors.

Vendors may be picking up deep ancestry that we can’t possible know about today – population migration.  It’s not like our ancestors left a guidebook of their travels for us – at least – not outside of our DNA – and we, as a community, are still learning exactly how to read that!  We are, after all, participants on the pioneering, leading edge of science.

Having said that, I’ll personally feel a lot better about these kinds of results when the underlying technology, data bases and different vendors’ tools mature to the point where there the differences between their results are minor.

For today, these are extremely interesting tools, just don’t try to overanalyze the results, especially if you’re looking for minority admixture.  And if you don’t like your results, try a different vendor or tool, you’ll get an entirely new set to ponder!

Stories about Surname Origins

How many of us have seen stories about the purported origin of our family surname?  Until now, I never thought about DNA perhaps holding the answer to whether these origin stories might be accurate – but in the case of Campbell, it seems DNA might provide a clue if not an answer.Clan Campbell current coat of arms

Ron, on my blog, posted the following query:

“There was a story about Campbells I read in Reader’s Digest probably 40 years ago. They said a Medieval family named Fairfield fell out of favor with English royalty. Many fled the country and translated their name to the native language. Those who went to France became “Beau Champ” while those who fled to Italy became “Campo Bello”, each meaning “Fair Field.”

Some years later they were allowed back home where they Anglicized their names. Beau Champs became “Beachams” and Campo Bellos became Campbells. Now the Fairfields, the Beau Champs, the Campo Bellos, the Beachams, and the Campbells are all related. Hmmm. I wonder if that story is true?”

I had seen these stories myself, years ago, but I had entirely forgotten about them.  Thanks Ron, for jogging my memory.

From this oral history, it looks like Campbell should also match these or similar surnames:

  • Beacham
  • Fairfield
  • Beauchamp
  • Campo Bellos

The first thing I’ll do is to check my own family lines of Y DNA.  My Campbell lines match that of the Campbell clan from Inverary, so if this is a true story, the Inverary line should match at least some of these surnames.

At 12 markers, where the most matches would be found there are no matches to any of these surnames.  There were also none at higher match levels. While this doesn’t entirely disprove the story, it certainly doesn’t lend any credibility to it either.

Do you have any surname stories in your family that DNA could help to prove or disprove?  Even if you don’t have someone to test, you might discover that your line has already been tested by checking the surname projects at Family Tree DNA or by checking by surname at