Bob McLaren, Beloved Clan McLaren Genealogist Meets His Ancestors

McLaren Profile.jpg

Compliments of Scott Stewart, photographer.

Bob McLaren, Clan McLaren genealogist and founder of the McLaren DNA Project, was one of the most beloved people in the genealogy community. He tried hard to be a curmudgeon, but he mostly failed at that. His smile and laughing eyes gave him away.

McLaren solo 2

Photo, compliments of Janine Cloud.

Bob’s sense of humor was dry, the same way he liked his Glenmorangie 12, single malt scotch whiskey, neat. Yep, he could tell you all about that, and don’t even think of mentioning some heresy about Cardhu. Unless of course, you wished to debate for the evening. Bob had been known to leave establishments, as is more than once, for having NO acceptable scotch in house.

Bob was Scottish, and Scotch apparently, through and through – always wearing his McLaren plaid kilt and educating anyone who would listen – at genealogy events, conferences and bars around the world. Bob was the consumate ambassador in every sense of the word.

Bob joined his McLaren ancestors on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, probably in protest of the danged Irish kidnapping a perfectly good Scotsman, Patrick, born Maewyn Succat in Scotland about the year 387, taking him to Ireland and turning him into a Saint. Waste of a perfectly good Scotsman in Bob’s book. Bob took his Scottish history seriously, very seriously, indeed. Just ask. Well, on second thought, no need to ask – he’d tell you one way or the other.

McLaren early

I remember the first time I ever saw Bob in person, from afar, at the 2004 Family Tree DNA Conference – wearing his kilt and dagger. Yes, dagger – known as Sgain-dubh in Gaelic, in his sock. At first, I was struck by his kilt, but then I couldn’t stop looking at his sock.

McLaren dagger

Courtesy of ISOGG, photo contributed by Candy Camprise.

Even when Bob had a cast on his leg, that sock and dagger were still very much present. After 9-11, he had to stop traveling while wearing his dagger. Airlines frowned on that for some reason.

McLaren talking

Courtesy ISOGG, photograph by Candy Camprise.

The never-failing commonality in all pictures of Bob is that he is always talking to someone, always educating, always sharing. Extremely outgoing with a “let’s get it done” attitude, Bob was passionate about every aspect of genealogy.

McLaren Jeremy

Photo courtesy Family Tree DNA.

Bob McLaren with Jeremy Balkin at the Family Tree DNA project administrators’ conference in 2013.

McLaren Kherlen.JPG

Photo compliments of Katherine Borges.

Bob, with Kherlen, volunteer project administrator for the Mongolian DNA Project at the 2014 conference reception.

Bob not only attended the conferences, he was a presenter from time to time as well.

Ever-present, we never thought about the day that Bob wouldn’t be with us. He seemed timeless. A tall man with a wizard-like beard, he seemed a bit like he was transplanted from another era. Maybe at first a little intimidating – at least before you got to know him and realized that his gruffness was mostly bluster. Underneath, Bob was a kind-hearted, gentle teddy-bear of a soul. Bob wasn’t trying to intimidate anyone, he just wanted to provoke you enough to get you to engage in an interesting conversation. I soon learned that two could play that game.

At one of the early FTDNA conferences, my husband and I had walked across the street from the hotel to a restaurant for dinner. I had seen Bob from a distance, but never actually met him. He was always talking to someone else!

He sat at a table near us, by himself. I walked over to his table and asked if he’d like to join us. A genealogist eating by themselves is a perfectly wasted opportunity. Of course, had Bob realized at that moment that I was a descendant of the dreaded Campbell clan, he might not have accepted that invitation.

I’m glad he did, because that dinner sparked a friendship that deepened over the years as the Family Tree DNA conferences became like family reunions – and Bob became family – to me and so many others too.

Bob was a man on a mission – genealogy and McLaren clan genealogy specifically. He didn’t so much love genetic genealogy for the genetics part of the equation, but for the fact that DNA could, did and would unravel the knots in genealogical mysteries. In particular, his goal was to document the various paternal branches of the McLaren clan through Y DNA mutations.

Bob also realized that collaboration was the only way to achieve this goal – hence his constant presence at various conferences, like NGS, RootsTech, FGS and others.

In order to interact with the maximum number of people and convince them of the benefits of DNA testing, Bob volunteered at the FamilyTreeDNA booth at many conferences – wearing his signature kilt of course. Everyone knew him, it seemed, and came by to say hello.

I don’t think Bob would ever admit it, but as he aged, it was a lot easier for him to sit in one place and let the conference walk by him rather than walk through the conference – especially large conferences like RootsTech in particular.

McLaren Rootstech 2015

RootsTech 2015, compliments of Family Tree DNA.

Just don’t make the mistake of telling Bob you were a Campbell, or even worse, a McGregor. He’d educate you on clan history right then and there.

McLaren table.jpg

Photo compliments Janine Cloud.

When an employee became ill at a conference, Bob along with Doug Miller, at right, volunteered and stepped in at the FTDNA booth at the FGS conference in 2011. That’s the kind of guy Bob was.

McLaren listening

Photo courtesy of Janine Cloud.

Bob was a wonderful listener, utilizing his decades of experience to dispense advice about genealogy research, clan history, trees, DNA testing, or pretty much anyone someone needed. He was a marvelous teacher.

Of course, Bob loved nothing more than to buddy with other genealogists, especially other Scottish men wearing kilts.

McLaren Moffitt

Photo courtesy of Robert Moffitt.

Here, posed with friend Roger Moffitt, Bob would call Roger “Laddie” and tell him he was a bad Scottsman when Roger failed to wear his kilt. Roger pays his respects to Bob, here, on his own Facebook page.

You may need to be Roger’s friend to see this and other Facebook postings about Bob.

McLaren dressed up.jpg

Photo courtesy of Scott Stewart.

I didn’t realize that there were casual and dress kilts and regalia, but Scott Stewart took this absolutely dashing photo of Bob “dressed up” for the 2009 NGS banquet standing beside fellow Scotsman, John Ralls.

Bob chastised Scott for not wearing his kilt too. No one escaped Bob’s encouragement😊

McLaren Beidler leiderhosen kilt

Photo courtesy James M. Beidler.

That Leiderhosen/kilt ad…well, here they are.

Bob and I were volunteers on various committees together, so I knew that he had become rather frail over the past couple of years. I was concerned about him last year at RootsTech and also at the NGS conference in May 2019 in St. Louis.

For a man who did not participate in social media and didn’t much care to have his picture taken, there are certainly a lot of photos out there that feature Bob and…well… everybody it seems.

That’s because Bob was quite kindhearted, despite what he would have you believe, and never denied anyone anything. Except maybe a McGregor.

In the 24 hours of so since the word of Bob’s passing crept out on social media, many people have shared such heartwarming stories about Bob. I’ve been smiling and laughing through my tears.

McLaren me

This photo was taken of me and Bob in February 2019 at RootsTech. I told Bob I loved his black leather purse, or bag, whatever it was. Acting quite offended, which I knew he wasn’t of course, he very quickly schooled me on the fact that it was NOT a purse and it WAS a sporran. Call it what you want, Bob😊

We had an absolutely lovely week at RootsTech, running into each other several times.

McLaren Benihana

Attendees tend to form groups that eat together. This particular evening, part of the MyHeritage team and the FTDNA team invited me along and we had dinner at Benihana. One person in the group had a birthday and the photographer took a photo of the group together. We teased the birthday person mercilessly – Bob goading him into drinking some birthday Glenmorangie 12 in celebration.

I asked Bob if Campbells were allowed Genmorangie 12. He said, “absolutely not” and that he would have to drink mine for me.

We gave this picture to the birthday person, and I discovered this morning that he placed it on his fridge where it remains today, as a memento of a lovely evening with friends.

What happy times we had, and how we need those memories desperately today.

McLaren Addy

Photo compliments of Jennifer Zinck.

For some reason, Bob was especially inspirational to young people, and they in turn were drawn to him. One person mentioned that he is a sort of father-figure for her, and now he’s gone. Someone else said that he reminds them of the grandfather they wish they had known.

Addie Zinck, above, with her friend, Franklin the spider, attended her first Family Tree DNA conference in 2018. She too is missing her friend, Bob, today. Addie, don’t worry, Bob’s still with you.

Community Memorials

McLaren Katherine.jpg

Katherine Borges, Director of ISOGG, has known Bob almost as long as I have. She too had a very special relationship with Bob and remembers him, here, on the ISOGG Facebook page with this commentary and poem:

I’ve know Bob since the first Family Tree DNA conference in 2004. I’ve been blessed to get to know him better over the years because he had a huge heart and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. I used to tease him that I was going to buy him some McGregor whisky and he’d pull his skean dhu on me in reply. 😆

God willing and the creek doesn’t rise, I will dress in full Scottish regalia at the FTDNA conference in November in memory of Bob. And we’ll toast the life of this wonderful man with a wee dram.

“An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”

– Robert Burns

Many people have replied to Katherine’s post with their own memories, so do take a look.

McLaren Borges Magellan

Photo courtesy Katherine Borges.

Bob with his fellow Scots, Linda Magellan and Katherine Borges, above. Looks to me like Bob, Linda and Katherine are plotting something!

McLaren Beidler Southard.jpg

Photo compliments of James M. Beidler.

Blaine Bettinger posted this photo, with Diahan Southard and James M. Beidler – and memorializes Bob here in the Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques group with this commentary:

In Memoriam. Robert “Bob” McLaren, who passed away yesterday, was a fixture of the Family Tree DNA booth at just about every conference. Bob was a project administrator, DNA expert, DNA educator, and all around incredibly nice person. Over the years he educated and assisted 1000s of people with all aspects of DNA. And I’ve rarely seen someone as proud of their heritage! He will be very much missed.

Be sure to read the many comments on this post too. Bob inspired so many.

It’s incredibly gut-wrenching when these iconic legends pass over.

The McLaren Quilt

This year, just before RootsTech, Bob became ill and was unable to travel. Based on what he said and the medical testing underway, we knew that he needed a care quilt.

Folks at Family Tree DNA and RootsTech that knew Bob signed blocks, although we were being quiet about his illness and his privacy.

McLaren quilt.png

I quickly ordered McLaren tartan fabric from a custom design/print shop. The signature blocks were overnighted to me from Utah and Texas after RootsTech and I pieced the top. The quilt was quickly quilted over a weekend with a Scottish thistle design, bound on Monday and overnighted, arriving the morning of Tuesday, the 17th.

Sadly, Bob never received his quilt. I spoke to Mrs. McLaren today, and she said that the quilt is now spread on the couch with the family admiring it and telling stories. That’s what Bob would have wanted anyway – although I am gravely regretful that I couldn’t somehow have gotten it there a day or two earlier. If it was humanly possible, I would have. I hope his “McLaren Quilt” will bring his family comfort, knowing how many loved Bob and reading their caring messages.

Several people have said to me, “Bob sees it now,” and I desperately hope they are right. I wish now that I had told him it was on the way, but I wanted it to be a surprise and I had absolutely no idea Bob would only be with us another 24 hours.

I am incredibly glad that I called Bob on Monday and spoke with him at length, explaining how he had inspired me, thanking him for being such a strong pillar and foundation in our community.

Bob was planning to be dismissed the next day and his wife was preparing for the same at home. Bob told me, among other things, that he hoped and indeed, planned, to be at the next Family Tree DNA conference in November 2020 in Houston. After that, he said, “it’s probably lights out.” By this time, Bob was aware of his diagnosis although he was optimistic and encouraged to think that he would attend one more conference. I had already spoken with his wife and was surprised to hear Bob planning for November, but make no mistake, if any human could have pulled that off, it indeed was Bob.

Sadly, that wasn’t in the cards, as Bob slipped away the next day with his family gathered round.

While I’m crushed, as are decades’ worth of friends and acquaintances in addition to his family, I’m incredibly grateful to have had Bob’s presence in my life. I’m glad I told him that, in so many words, and thanked him for being an inspiration to a whole generation, or two, of young people.

I know he’s no longer suffering, and knowing Bob, he’s still close by, silently encouraging us.

In fact, I strongly suspect that indeed he has seen the quilt – including my block that I signed, “Your Campbell Cousin.” I know he would have smiled, in spite of himself. I think he secretly forgave me for that Campbell thing long ago.

He’s probably quite amused that his funeral is on hold due to this virus, although I’m sure his family is not.

Update: Bob’s obituary and funeral information is here:

Bob McLaren’t funeral information is included in his obituary, here:!/Obituary

But I have news for Bob – it’s not lights out. Not at all. In fact, the illuminating light of Bob’s life will continue to shine for a very long time – through the generations by virtue of the thousands and thousands of people he helped, those he encouraged to DNA test who are one step closer to unraveling the mystery of their own ancestors and the young people who look up to him as a role model and (grand)father figure.

That’s one heck of a legacy, one we all can and should aspire to.

Rest in Peace, Bob McLaren, Sir. Well done.

I know you have flown to the McLaren homeland, Creag an Tuirc.

McLaren homeland

By User:JacobiteMacLaren, CC BY-SA 3.0,, Balquhidder from Creag an Tuirc, the gathering place of the Clan MacLaren

Condolences, Memorials and Family Contact

Bob’s funeral plans are on hold for now due to the pandemic.

Update: Obituary and funeral information:

Bob McLaren’t funeral information is included in his obituary, here:!/Obituary

Those who wish to share stories or pictures of Bob over the years may either comment on this article, send photos to me via e-mail at and I’ll post them in this section of the article along with a description and your comment, so long as I have permission from the people in the photo.

I told Bob’s family that they are welcome to use download and use any portion of this article for his service or any other purpose that brings them comfort.

To contact the family directly, send an email to Bob’s son, Sean at

To send cards, Bob’s address is given on the Clan McLaren website, here. I do not know if anyone will check Bob’s personal email again, so I would not suggest reaching out that way.

Contributed Memories

From Ally Woods in California:

Sir MacLaren will always bring a smile whenever I hear his name …

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

McLarenn and Ally Woods.jpg

From Marie in New Zealand:

Scottish Gaelic

Caud ye the door laddie – snak it my loon
Breng o’er  a cher and Sett Doon man, Sett Doon
It’s ainly but richt that yer  Kinfolk shud courl
To gie ye advice Tae gang oot in this worl’


Close you the door laddie – snib it my loved one
Bring over a chair and Sit Down man, Sit Down
It’s only but right that your Kinfolk should care-at-all
To give you advice to go out in this World

My best to you Roberta –
On losing a fine friend who would have heard and kenned / known this from an early age.


43 thoughts on “Bob McLaren, Beloved Clan McLaren Genealogist Meets His Ancestors

  1. Bob gave me advice about a research project I shared during a lecture. His advice about the use of autosomal DNA was kind and helpful! He gave me his card, which I used to ask for more help with a Y-DNA project. He was responsive and had many recommendations! I loved seeing Bob at RootsTech and the BYU conference on family history. he will be missed!

  2. Roberta, I am sadden to hear this news, but happy to have shared a lunch table with Bob at the 2019 conference in Houston. You are so spot on when you say that Bob’s attitude was “let’s get it done!” That was his approach when I described my Bristol Channel DNA project to him. He was rather non committal when I told him that my sister and I are of Clan Frasier through my mother’s side. But I soon made up for it when I told him of my fondness for Glenmorangie. I will hold his memory dear when I next clasp a glass of the golden nectar in my hands.

  3. First time I ever met him, I was a baby genealogist and told him the only Scots I knew in my ancestry was Buchanan. He pulled his sgian-dubh and slapped it on the table. Apparently my ancestors and his had a tussle he hasn’t yet forgiven us for. It was only maybe seven or eight hundred years ago. Always helpful, always cheerful, always a gentleman, and will be so very missed.

  4. You know how to make a guy shed a tear for sure.

    From my personal experience I know there is life beyond this. Take heart if he can he will be there!!!

  5. Roberta,
    Thank you for such a beautiful remembrance of Bob McLaren. I never met him – nor had I ever heard of him – but I felt like I knew him after reading this and found myself crying. I am sorry for your loss and for all the people that knew and loved him – especially, his family.

    • I think the best legacy we can leave is that we have changed things for the better. That means a lot of people miss people who fit that bill.

  6. Thank you for writing this column. I didn’t know Bob, but I have seen him many times at conferences. I am a Bruce. I thoroughly enjoyed your talks at the NC Genealogy Conference in Raleigh, NC last fall.

  7. What a nice tribute, both your wonderful quilt and your heartfelt post. I am glad that I was able to meet Bob at the 2019 New England Regional Genealogy conference. We chatted about FTDNA and my McClerie ancestor probably belonging to the Clan. I am sorry that I only met Bob once, but it was definitely memorable for me.

  8. That was very moving, Roberta. The photo of the two of you is splendid and the whole section on THE QUILT made me weep. I have to believe he can see it!

  9. Thank you for a memorable tribute to a most memorable man. I always enjoyed seeing him at conferences. He wore his kilt with great pride and showed all of us how important it is to honor your ethnic heritage.

  10. Again Roberta, Thank you for an absolutely wonderful tribute to Bob. I am planning to attend the next FTDNA conference and will plan to wear my MacLaren kilt in honor of Bob’s contributions to both the genetic genealogy community and his kinsman in the Clan MacLaren Society

    • I think the honor falls upon you to lead the toast then. Bob would absolutely LOVE that!! If you don’t have a project to manage, I’d bet the McLaren admin would be glad for the help!! 😁

      • It would be an honor to give a toast to Bob, and I would be happy to do so. I’ve been in contact with the current MacLaren project admin and offered to sign on as a co- admin.

  11. A very nice tribute to a kind man Roberta. I did not know him, but it was interesting reading of his clan history. I was born a McPherson and was startled one day when a Davidson chastised me for our clan leaving their clan in the lurch at a battle 500 years ago. Then when my brother did his Y dna testing we found out that we were really ‘hidden MacGregors’, whose name had been changed during proscription 300 years ago. Apparently I have a whole new list of people that my family pissed off. The Campbells were one of them (that we share with the MacLarens), but I did not know about the feud with the MacLarens. Thus was the system back then when royalty decided to give one families lands to someone else. It does make for interesting family stories!

  12. Bob was one of the first people I spoke with at the first Family Tree DNA conference I attended. I remember he presented his own interesting family case study involving genetic distance. Bob shared that he had worked with a research laboratory that was a part of my professional life at the time and made me feel right at home. He always wore that shirt with his kilt as I recall. So very sorry for your loss.

  13. Roberta, this was one of the most beautiful tributes I think I have ever read. Bob was such a fixture at conferences, and I thought something may have been amiss when I didn’t see him at RootsTech. Thank you for memorializing him in a way that helps us remember him, and that others can be introduced to him.

  14. Beautifully written for a beautiful man. I am sure I am not the only one feeling I missed out on meeting this remarkable man in person but the story you told helps me to indeed know him a bit. He must have been quite tall judging by the picture with you. When my Mom died, hospice asked for some of her clothing and they made 4 teddy bears for us as a memory of her. The quilt you made with the help of others is probably the best thing anyone could have given them as a remembrance. I would have loved to have known what he thought of clan Donald. Did he ever write a book?

    May you have –
    Walls for the wind
    And a roof for the rain,
    And drinks bedside the fire
    Laughter to cheer you
    And those you love near you,
    And all that your heart may desire
    Celtic Blessing

    • Hi Marsha. Bob didn’t write a book, at least not that I know of. And yes, he was very tall. He might have been on the sunny side of 60 when I met him, and 70 later, and finally 80, but I still would pity anyone who decided to mess with him.

  15. Bob was the first person I met at NGS Chicago in 2006. He was so encouraging and welcoming to a conference newbie! We have seen each other several times over the years since then, and hoisted a little scotch along the way. He was always warm, sincere, and passionate about genealogy.

  16. I chatted with Bob at several conferences over the years, and love this tribute to him. You’ve done a wonderful job of capturing his character. He certainly will be missed–and long remembered.

  17. Very nice tribute.

    I have spoken with Bob at FTDNA conferences. He joined our table or maybe we joined his one year. He was a fixture whom I had come to expect to see. A conference was not complete without his presence. He will be missed.

  18. hi i am Edna (mclaren)Bridge after seeing Bob my brother Bill you wood think they were one of the same and he is the same as Bob scottish all the way so glad to have seen this will let Bill know may be connecited soom where alonge the line thanks Edna

  19. A beautiful tribute to a special man. A conference just wasn’t complete without seeing Bob in his kilts, and stopping to enjoying a visit.

  20. I have attended all the RootsTech conferences, and at one of the first I went to the FTDNA table. At that time, I told Mr. McLaren of my family oral tradition, told to me by my paternal grandmother. The oral history given to my grandmother, personally, by my 2nd great grandmother was that she was a direct descendant of Pocahontas! Mr. McLaren laughed loudly, and said EVERYONE wants to be an Indian Princess! I stand just under five feet tall, and he was standing above me! I was quite discouraged, but with recent DNA testing, it is looking more correct than not, that I do have the Indian heritage. At this last RootsTech in 2020, I was looking to speak again to Mr. McLaren, and never found him at the desk. I was so looking forward to discuss possibilities. He stood tall in person and in knowledge. We all lost a large library! My sympathies to his family and acquaintances.

  21. Such sad news on this already dreary day. Although I did not know him all that well, but I did meet him at my very first NGS Conference in the States in 1999 at Richmond, VA. I think I have a photograph somewehre. Yes, he definitely was a fixture, the most memorable person attending all the NGS Conferences that I have been fortunate enough to attend, Pittsburgh, PA in 2006 and North Charleston, SC in 2011. I do wish I could have seen him once more. My sympathies to his family and the Clan MacLaren. I will certainly miss seeing Bob if I am ever so fortunate to be able to attend another NGS Conference in the States.

    • Excellent tribute, Roberta! A huge loss to the genealogy community. I’ve chatted with Bob at the Scottish Heritage Symposiums at St. Andrews University in North Carolina. A fascinating man and speaker. He and I were typically the two biggest persons in the room. I wish I had another opportunity to chat with him, as he was quite knowledgeable about Ulster Scots. I recently confirmed, by DNA, lineage to one such family. He will be notably missed the world over.

      Btw, Roberta, I match one of your kits (years ago) and need to revisit now that I know considerably more about my family.

  22. I knew Bob as a Hayfield neighbor for many years. He did so much for the neighborhood and kept us up to date on happenings in the county that would affect our area and was always present at the monthly HCA meeting. He was also a regular blood donor at my American Legion Post 176. Always a kind word and smile for everyone he came in contact with. He will be missed by many – RIP.

  23. Robert McLaren was a fixture a NGS. I looked for him every conference, when I saw his kilt I knew everything was alright in the world. I am so sorry to hear of his passing. I knew as soon a read about his tribute who it was. I talked to him one time about how I always hoped to see him at Conferences. He will be sadly missed.

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