Clan Macnab DNA Project

Clan Macnab DNA Project

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,

14 Responses

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

    • 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. 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.

    • Hi Amelia
      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. 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?

    • 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

  4. I’m interested in finding out more. I’ve been interested in DNA testing for some time. I was orphaned when I was fairly young, and lost my grandparents soon after, so I don’t know much about my family history. My male lineage is MacNabb, and mother is Heigh, so I know I have Scottish blood. I will share results when I get around to it.

    • Hi Sean
      My apologies for the slow reply – it was a busy summer, and I haven’t been on the website nearly as often as I should have been.
      If you’d like to send me an email at I can send you some information on the Macnab surname DNA project, and we can discuss how it might potentially help you in your research.
      Look forward to hearing from you,
      Loraine Smith
      Shennachie to the Chief of Clan Macnab

  5. Hi Lorraine
    My name is Michael Abbey, and I live in Kent, England.
    I enjoyed the article on Clan Macnab DNA tests. I particularly liked the paragraph on the subject of the Abbotts in Brechin in the county of Angus, and whether that line carried on and has living descendants today. That excited me when I saw that paragraph. Let me explain about the Abbey family history. I did a lot of research on the family name.

    It was about the 11th century that the Scottish government and the rest of the uk brought in surnames based on peoples occupation’s for poll tax purposes. For example, Butchers, Bakers, and so forth. The Abbotts were no different. They took on the surname Abbe, without the Y at that time. Although they were members of the Macnabs clan, they decided to keep there Abbey surmame. Of course both Mcnabs and Abbe’s had families on the land around the Cathedral. I have seen a few instances where the surname Abbe was used in connection with the Abbotts of Brechin, also in other Monastries in Angus. The surname Abbe also appears in Charters in that period.

    I also have a family tree on “My Heritage” and “Ancestry” which I managed to trace back to Yorkshire in early 1600, I couldn’t get back any further. But a biggest group of Abbey’s live in Yorkshire. In one particular article, it stated that many of the Abbey family had to move from Scotland into Yorkshire for economic reasons in the fourteen hundreds, but not all of them.

    Also, I’ve already had a DNA test done a few months ago which showed that I was English, no surprise there. But other areas covered by it were the highlands of Scotland and a small section of Ireland on the east side.

    Look forward to your reply

    Michael Abbey

    • Hi Michael
      Thanks very much for this interesting post! Quite a bit has happened with the DNA project since my original post. We do now have one tester whose line claims descent from the Macnabs of Brechin, and indeed his DNA suggests he is likely of a somewhat different origin than the main body of Macnabs of Perthshire. It would be very interesting to see if your Abbey DNA matches up with his. From what you’re describing, I’m guessing the DNA testing you’ve had done is likely autosomal DNA, whereas what we are focusing on in the project is yDNA. Without getting into technical explanations here, yDNA has far more potential than atDNA for historical research of the kind we’re talking about here. It would be great if you would consider joining the project. I’ll also email you this information, and we can get a conversation going on the subject.
      Best regards,
      Loraine Smith
      Shennachie to the Chief of Clan Macnab

  6. Hi Lorraine

    I’d be happy to join the project, I’ll await your email


    • Hi Michael. Do you have any information on when the Abbeys may have changed their name from MacNab? My family came over to America in the 1600s and my DNA test reveal ZERO English DNA, it’s all Celtic, Scandinavian, and North West European. I was shocked at this since I’m half English on both sides. I guess I have old DNA.

  7. Hi Loraine
    I would be very interested in joining the project. I have done the DNA test through ancestry and also a tree using the findings of other family members. The farthest I have been able to reach with any degree of certainty is a James MacNab of Perthshire, born circa 1610.

    • Hi Leighton
      I have sent you an email with further information on the project, and joining instructions.
      If you have any further questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them.
      Best regards,
      Loraine Smith
      Shennachie to the Chief of Clan Macnab

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