Clan Chief Y-DNA Origins and Variations

Updated: Apr 5

DNA testing has become a popular strategy for researching genealogy.

During the last virtual Clan Forbes Gathering in March 2021, Clan Forbes FamilyTreeDNA administrator Philip Stead reviewed the origins and variations Y-DNA Haplogroup M-269 of the Forbes chiefly line. Philip is a postgraduate student at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, in the MSc Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies Programme.

Background: DNA Testing

Twenty-three pairs of thread-like chromosomes are located in the nucleus of each human cell. Half of the chromosomes are provided by each parent. Each chromosome contains a single molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid or “DNA.” This DNA contains the genetic blueprint for their child. The 23rd pair is the chromosome that determines the biological gender of the child. You can take any of three types of DNA testing for genealogical research. Autosomal DNA testing looks at your entire chromosome history and can connect you with ancestors up to 200 to 300 years in the past. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down through women. DNA testing of the Y chromosome can only be conducted for males, which have the Y DNA in the 23rd pair, as noted. Specific Y-DNA indicators are the short tandem repeats (STR) marker which are useful to find genealogical matches within the past 500 years or so, depending on mutations. The more precise indicators are called single-nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs, which may reach much further back in time. Rob Spencer, though his Scaled Innovations website, has created a “SNP Tracker” which indicates the migration paths of the people carrying specific SNPs. This is located at The chielfy line is the broad haplogroup R1b and, more specifically, R-M269.

Background: Migration into Scotland

Human migration into the British Isles began after the sheets of ice from the Ice Age started to recede. The first immigrants were likely the “Bell Beaker” people, named from the shape of their pottery jars. Starting in about 2,500 B.C., they migrated over the land mass known as Doggerland that connected what is now the British Isles to the rest of the Europe land mass. Most likely, the Bell Beaker people moved into northern Scotland and were the origins of the Caledonii, called the “Picts” by the Romans. Later migration of Gaelic-speakers from Ireland created the kingdom of Dal Riada in the western islands and highlands. They intermarried with the Picts. Later invasions from the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons pushed into England.

Background: Scottish Surnames

The use of surnames in Britain did not occur until after the French-Norman invasion of 1066 and were not prevalent in Scotland until after 1200. Before that time, people used place names (such as “Duncan de Forbes” for Duncan who owned the barony of Forbes) or patronymics (such as Kenneth Mac Alpin for Kenneth, son of Alpin.) David I, King of Scots (c. 1084 – 1153), was a dependent at the court of King Henry I of England and was influenced by the Anglo-French culture of the court. He likely introduced the use of surnames when he became king in 1124.