Clan Macnab DNA Project

| May 10, 2016 | 6 Comments

Recent advances in DNA analysis now make it possible to learn things about our past that were impossible only a few short years ago.

The Clan Macnab DNA Project will have its initial focus on yDNA , as we believe this has the most potential. Because YDNA is passed on unchanged and uncombined from fathers to their sons, this means your yDNA (if you’re a guy and you have some) is essentially the same as that of your 1000-great-grandfather.
What makes yDNA so useful for genealogical purposes is that it mutates much more quickly than mtDNA AND each mutation leaves a marker behind. To give you a simplistic example, if Finlay 12th Chief of Clan Macnab did in fact have 12 sons, he passed on his exact yDNA to each of them, unless there was a mutation. If a mutation occurred in his son Duncan’s yDNA, then Duncan’s yDNA, including the mutation, was passed to Duncan’s sons – and if we had today one descendant of Smooth John and one descendant of Duncan, Duncan’s descendant’s yDNA would still bear the marker of that mutation, whereas Smooth John’s would not. Thus, we would be able to distinguish a person descended from Smooth John from one descended from Duncan by their DNA.

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

What the recent advances in science have done is expand both the number of mutation markers we know about, and our understanding of how they fit together, or map. New markers are being discovered every day, and the mapping of them continues as results are tabulated and compared. There are a number of things we hope this study will accomplish, or at least add to our knowledge of:

  • evidence that might tend to support (or not) the Clan Macnab origin story of descent from a younger son of Kenneth McAlpin and/or from the Dalriadic Kings
  • evidence to shed light on the questions of the tribal origins of our earliest Macnab ancestors
  • add to the body of evidence that may eventually help prove
    whether Kenneth McAlpin was a Dalriadic King or a Pictish King
  • help to prove or disprove the stories of Clan Macnab’s blood
    relation with the MacGregors, MacKinnons, Grants, MacQuarries, MacPhies, MacAuleys, etc.
  • help to prove or disprove whether there is a blood relationship between Macnabs and the Clan Septs- help to prove or disprove the stories about the cadet houses, when they ‘came off’ and their relationship to each other and the line of the Chiefs
  • help to prove or disprove the theory that there may have been a second, separate grouping of people using the name of sons of the Abbott in the Forfar area, being descendants of the Abbott of Brechin, and whether that line carried on and has living descendants today

To participate in this study, you must:

  1. be male (sorry, ladies – I’m not any happier about it than you are – it’s just reality. If you feel a burning need to participate, may I suggest you find someone in your line or of the name who is reluctant and/or who can’t afford it, and sponsor their test.) At a later date, we will expand the project to autosomal DNA, but for now, we need to focus on the one study most likely to tell us about our Clan origins.
  2. have the surname Macnab (in any of it’s spellings or variations) or the surname Gilfillan, Dewar, Macandeouair, or one of the other Septs
  3. be willing to have your results shared with the rest of the Clan, and with appropriate genealogical study groups (this might be surname studies, haplogroup studies, geographical studies) for the purpose of furthering the larger body of research. Where results are made public (for example, we plan to put them on the website) names will not be attached unless you give us permission, but details re your oldest known provable Macnab ancestor and your cadet house association (if any) will.
  4. purchase from Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) a 37, 67, or 111 marker STR yDNA kit, using this link. You will get the best price by using this link to make the purchase through Alasdair Macdonald, who is co-admin of our project and Scottish representative for FTDNA:
    For any questions or assistance with the ordering process, please feel free to contact Alasdair at either OR
    This will result in your test kit being shipped from the UK; in addition, although I think the price is better, I can’t actually factor in credit card company conversions with pounds sterling to US dollars, so if you are in the US, you can also order direct from FTDNA using this link:
    which will also give you a discount over the regular rates.

Please also be sure to log in and join both the Macnab project and the Scottish DNA project once you’ve placed your order.

For most people, we recommend you start with either the 37 or the 67 marker test. That way, if the results suggest you don’t have much DNA in common with the majority of testers, you won’t have invested a great deal; if you do have a good match to the bulk of the clan, you can update your results to more markers later. If anyone is entirely gung ho, there are several options for additional testing, including FTDNA’s Big Y test, but they are quite pricey, and for the most part, we recommend starting with the basic test, and as we move forward, we will recommend additional testing as appropriate.

Please feel free to email or one of Alasdair’s emails above before you buy (or anytime) if you have any questions or uncertainties.
Loraine Smith,
Shennachie to the Chief of Clan Macnab,

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Category: Clansmen and Clanswomen Around the World, DNA, Genealogy, History of Clan Macnab

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  1. Bruce E MacNab says:

    I have the only full size copy (Oil painting by Bjorg Larsen)) of the Raeburn, “The MacNab” known to exist.

    • Loraine Smith says:

      Fantastic, Bruce! I’m curious about the circumstances under which Larsen copied Raeburn’s painting. Was it done recently? Would love to see a photo of it, if you’re willing.
      Loraine Smith
      Shennachie to the Chief of Clan Macnab

  2. Amelia Mac Nab Jones says:

    I am a third generation Mac Nab my grandfather was Archibald Herbert Mac Nab, My father was Archibald Hebert Mac Nab Jr, I plan to travel next year to Scotland, I don’t know if you can help but i would like to visit some places that pertain to the Clan Mac Nab while there.

    • Loraine Smith says:

      Hi Amanda
      My apologies for the delayed reply. The vast majority of Macnab sites of interest are located in and around Killin. Kinnell House, the Chiefs’ graveyard on Inchbuie, the farms of Bovain, Innishewan, Acharn, and the site of the ancient castle of Eileann Ran are all worth checking out, and all very close to Killin. Kinnell is a private residence, so your won’t be able to get into the house, but you can walk through the grounds. You can get the keys to access the graveyard at the old mill at the end of the bridge.
      I’m not sure when you plan to travel, but there is a Clan Macnab International Gathering in Edinburgh and Killen the first week of August that might be of interest for you. You can get details (and order tickets for Macnab night at the Edinburgh Tattoo, before March 1) by emailing
      I’d also encourage you to check out the Clan Macnab Facebook page.
      Loraine Smith
      Shennachie to the Chief of Clan Macnab

  3. Patrick M Pickett says:

    Hi, My name is Patrick Pickett and my grandma was a Dewar. I very much want to trace my Dewar/MacNab lineage but I can’t get ahold of anyone to talk to. I have had a dna test done through but they have very few genetic matches for me through that line. Is there somewhere I can upload my genetic data so I can see where my genetic matches fall in the Dewar/Macnab liniage?

    • Loraine Smith says:

      Hi Patrick
      I’ve sent you an email, and look forward to hearing from you.
      If anyone else has questions about Macnab and Septs DNA testing, please feel free to email me at
      Loraine Smith
      Shennachie to the Chief of Clan Macnab

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