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We have a Match – Mcneill and Beyond

This is part of Mcneill and Beyond - a Memoir

This is a longish response/open letter to the few folks who contact me regarding genetic genealogical research, usually about some kind of match we have discovered in our Y-DNA.

A Match at 12 Markers

Any matches on markers (using FTDNA) indicates some amount of probability of a common ancestor within a certain number of generations, based on mutation rates.

If we have a match at 12 markers (12 out of 12) but not higher than that -- that is, there are more than 2 mutations at the 25 marker panel, 4 at 37 and 7 at 67. The probability of our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MCRA) within a certain number of generations, is as follows:

  • 4 generations 33%
  • 8 generations 55%
  • 24 generations 91%

I've got a fairly good 12 generations of genealogy (of course one can always be wrong, but I've got cousins and uncles back five generations with genetic material matching). I've got much better matching with some other/previously unknown folks who are not in our personal stories.

I've recently updated my profile to 111 STR markers. Only two matches in the database (as of 30 Oct 2016) are within a reasonable deviation of markers (one at 7 and one at 9). Interestingly, at 104/111 is probably related and 103/111 is only possibly related, which indicates a dividing line. For a 104/111 STR marker match, the probabilities of relatedness within a number of generations are:

Note that for haplotypes, there is a more accurate mutation rate that is now used.

The Possibilities of Probable Relatedness

  • We could be related through some common ancestor/branch from the family in the US, but I do not have comprehensive genealogies for everyone descending in the US from the 1725 immigrant ancestor.
  • There could be a "Non-paternity event" for somebody along the line, which means we would not be able to uncover that from a known genealogy. Note that this could have occurred in either my line or yours, or both. See for probabilities.
  • Note that the length of a generation impacts both mutation rates and NPE probabilities. For my patrilineal line I've got an average 39.5 years per generation. This is very different from the 25 years and 30 years/generation that most models have. My guess is around 30% on average back to 1600 (10 generations). Every 10 generations/400 years = another 30% probability of NPE.
  • We could be related previous to my Immigrant ancestor leaving Northern Ireland (~30-50% chance -- because our markers have less matching at the higher numbers, e.g., 25, 37, 67, and 111). The genealogical story ends back in Northern Ireland, though we can likely trace back to Argyll before that. I've got some potential places to look at (graveyards in Northern Ireland) but I haven't tried to extend that part of the story yet.
  • Note that physical description is not all through the Y chromosome, as much of that can come from mothers, esp. balding patterns, which are generally shared between male offspring and their maternal grandfather.

There is a lot more info I've compiled as this area of research is interesting to me and I've been doing these genetic tests on and off for nearly a decade. My own story and the most credible tale that comes out of the genetic genealogy is at

You may want to skip to the second part, where I discuss the haplotype groups and most-recent-common-ancestor relations. Long story short, my genes are most likely Anglii, as in the Angles (as in the Angles and the Saxons). Certainly my "Mcneill" which is Gaelic Scots is not a match for my genetic genealogy, and so I definitely have an NPE for any of the following reasons as given at: . Note that NPE simply means a paternal name (and the genealogy around that) is not literal.

Non-Paternity Event Causes

  • Illegitimacy outside marriage: boy taking maiden name of mother
  • Infidelity within marriage: boy taking surname of mother’s husband
  • Re-marriage: boy taking surname of step-father
  • Rape: boy taking surname of mother or partner
  • Changeling, surrogacy, sperm donation, unintentional embryo/baby swap: boy taking surname of mother or partner
  • Adoption, incl. ‘hidden’, orphan & foster: boy taking surname of guardian
  • Apprentice or slave: youth taking surname of master
  • Tenant or vassal: man taking surname of landlord or chief
  • Anglicisation of gaelic or foreign name: man taking translated/phonetically similar name
  • Formal name-change, e.g. to inherit land: man taking maiden name of wife or mother
  • Name-change to hide criminal past, embarrassing surname, or a stage name: man taking unrelated surname
  • Informal name-change, alias, by-name: man taking name of farm, trade or origin
  • Mistake in genealogy, or in DNA analysis

Next Steps in Genetic Genealogical Research

My suggestion for next steps with testing is to get into specific Terminal SNP testing. You've been put in a general haplogroup but that is not useful enough to locate MRCAs that might make a meaningful connection (in the last 2,000 years or so). There are two main types of testing at FTDNA, one is the marker sets, and the other are SNPs (which identify smaller group mutations). Terminal SNP is a much more precise set than # of marker matches.

In FTDNA, go to Y-DNA > Haplogroup and SNP

The point is that in this highly branched and very wide tree there is a spot at which you do not test positive any further to the right. That is the terminal SNP. Now, they are discovering new stuff all the time, so you can be given a terminal SNP and then a few months or years later another part of the tree will be expanded and you may have a new test to try out. FTDNA is fairly slow at this, and a custom lab called YSEQ that does cutting edge panels (and better prices) but you really have to know what you want there.

I suggest spending time on FTDNA and in the groups and read up on the science until it makes sense (it took me a while). Ultimately some kind of story can emerge that fits the known genetic and genealogical facts that you have.

You can find a group to join and ask for advice on which test to take next. If you are related to me, they should let you into the Anglo-Saxon Y-DNA group, and you can ask for advice.

Once you are there they will sort you into the chart and you can gain more guidance on the SNP tests to take next. Unless you have money to burn, you don't have to do the Big Y which is a huge set of tests, that try to sort into nearest terminal, though there is usually a test or two to take after that. This test is nearly $ 600 USD as of June 2016.

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American Colonies – Mcneill and Beyond

This is part of Mcneill and Beyond - a Memoir

  • Note: This is incomplete but the names and dates of patrilineal descent are here which is important

Virginia Colony

One Plantation to Another

Our journey so far has taken us from Africa, to Central Asia, to Europe. Next stop: America, or rather the American Colonies. In 1722/1725 our emigrant ancestor set sail for the New World which would take another fifty years to become an independent nation.

New Family in a New Land

John married in 1744 (yes, at age 64) in a Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, and later migrated to Northern Virginia (dying at 85 after raising three boys). If he was Presbyterian when he emigrated, then he may be an Ulster Scot.

Genealogy of The McNeill

Here is the male line for the past ten generations. Besides those still alive, all were born and died in the new world, with the exception of the latest member who is a dual national Thai-American, born in Thailand.

  • Daniel, b. 1630 d. 1684 - fathered at 50, died at 54
    • Born and died in Northern Ireland
  • John, b. 1680, d. 1775 - fathered at 65, died at 85
    • Born in Northern Ireland, died in the Colony of Virginia
  • Daniel, b. 1745 d. 1806 - fathered at 23, died at 61
  • Daniel Renick (aka Daniel Jr.), b. 1768, d. 1844 - fathered at 50, died at 76
  • Benjamin Seymour, b. 1808, d. 1890 - fathered at 43, died at 82
  • John Wilkinson, b. 1851 d. 1940 - fathered at 37, died at 89
  • Raymond Lee, b. 1888, d. 1968 - fathered at 25, died at 80
  • John Hanson, b. 1913, d. 1964 (Jan 09, 1965?) - fathered at 28, died at 51
  • Robert Bradley, b. 1941 - fathered at 25
  • Jeffrey Robert, b. 1966 - fathered at 49
    • Benjamin, b. 2015 (born in Thailand)
    • Daniel, b. 2017 (born in Thailand)

Fatherhood (of direct descendents): 50, 65, 23, 50, 43, 37, 25, 28, 25, 49 = 395, Avg. 39.5, Median 40.

Lifespan: 54, 85, 61, 76, 82, 89, 80, 51 = 557, Avg. 72, Median 78.

Note that our generations (at least for the male offspring for our male line) are an average of 39.5 years which is much more than 25 or 30 used to compute mutation-to-year estimates. Which means our mutations could be older on average than what they are estimating. (However, there is now a way through next generation sequencing to estimate mutation rates directly, which obsoletes generation counting.)

The Lands of Hardy County


Agriculture and Pastoral


The McNeill and America


Depopulation of the Homestead


A Time of Migration


Additional Genealogical Resources

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Clan Mottos and Antifragility – Mcneill and Beyond

This is part of Mcneill and Beyond - a Memoir

Clan MacEwan - Reviresco - I Grow Stronger

I've been reading Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This book is about the interesting notion of the opposite of fragility (rather than robustness, which endures disorder, but something that actually gains from disorder). As someone with a scottish surname (and motto) and reflecting on the mottos in Game of Thrones for the various houses, it is interesting to look for antifragile mottos. There are a few:

  • Sweeter out of Difficulties
  • Repairer of Ruin
  • I flourish again
  • Increasing both in Sunshine and Shade
  • Courage grows Strong at a Wound

These are qualitatively different than mere robustness or resilience such as:

  • Through Difficulties
  • Always Ready

Clan MacNeil - Buaidh No Bas - Victory or Death

Indeed, the antifragile remind me the most of Nietzschean motto of What does not kill me makes me stronger. I think the Clan MacEwen/Clan Maxwell Reviresco (I Grow Stronger) is the most succinct formulation.

I prefer a slightly different source and translation, from the Anglo-Saxon (in Latin script, Runic script, Latin translation, and modern English:

Híg blówaþ swá swá gærs eorþan ᚻᛁᚷᛒᛚᚹᚪᚦᛋᚹᚪᛋᚹᚪᚷᚪᛖᚱᛋᛖᚩᚱᚦᚪᛀ florebunt sicut fœnum terræ I abound again

Unfortunately, my own Clan MacNeil has an extremely fragile motto:

  • To Conquer or Die

However, we do have some connections with MacEwen, including relations with the Campbells and the Earl of Argyll.

Of course much of this clan nonsense was invented in the 18th and 19th century, little more than a combination of tartanry, and an alien highland culture. Of course clans did exist and did have traditions, though most of that died with the clearances and their aftermath.

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Lands – Mcneill and Beyond

This is part of Mcneill and Beyond - a Memoir

If we go back far enough, our ancestors are from Africa, as are everyone else's. If we are to talk about a meaningful genealogical timescale, something on the order of human history is needed, not archaeology. The story of families is one entwined with that of the story of homo sapiens and individual people. Therefore, oral and written history is needed as a backdrop. However, it is true that archaeological remains are many times considered a part of human meaning and have value. Essentially this corresponds roughly with the bronze age, beginning around 6,000 years ago.

What we also mean by lands of our ancestors is the journey from one place to another. Those journeys and their impetus can be as interesting as the years and generations in a single place. And so we need a way to trace our journeys and our respites in various places, but the story-telling can now be supplemented with the tales written by our very bodies, our genetic code.

And so we will deal with three kinds of history: family history, that is the stories of descent. This is the timescale of several hundred years. Then next will be a clan and national histories, in which last names are present. This goes back a few hundred years or so, though there are claims to greater antiquity. Third is genetic genealogy which is in the timescale of thousands to tends of thousands of years, and is based on chromosome mutation rates.

History and Genetic Genealogy

Genetic Genealogy is the use of genetic mutation rates to determine divergence and similarity, and so can help trace the relationships between people, and groups of people, over a fairly long time-scale that has been lost in other ways. We can find out how related we are to others over hundreds and even thousands of generations, and therefore the journeys which our ancestors took, even starting back in Africa.

Genetic Genealogy is the study of families using analysis of DNA. There are two kinds of DNA to study this, Y-DNA is part of the Y chromosome (passed from fathers to sons), and MTDNA which is passed on from Mothers to their children. Both males and females have X chromosomes (females have two, one from each parent), whereas males have an X and a Y, which is why good genetic tests are done with DNA from males. For females who want testing of the Y-DNA, it is most accurately done with DNA from a male sibling who share both parents.

Genetic Genealogy deals with hundreds to thousands of years, whereas genealogy alone (the stories of families) best deals with tens to hundreds of years (10 generations or so). One thing about genealogy is that stories can be wrong (and so-called non-paternity events can take place, where the actual father of a child is not known or hidden).

Genetic Genealogy can't lie, as long as samples are taken accurately and not contaminated. However, it is less accurate in terms of dates and places as we are dealing with a longer time scale and the variability of mutation.

It turns out that both for Y-DNA -- inherited from father to son -- and MTDNA -- inherited from mothers -- there are less than 20 root ancestors. These are coded by letters. Indeed, there is a Y-chromosomal Adam (as well as a Mitochondrial Eve), a common ancestor to all modern humans, whose chromosomes are from 200,000-300,000 years old (for Eve it is 99,000-200,000 years). Note that this does not mean everyone is descended from this Y-chromosomal Adam, but descent from other humans are not solely through the Y-chromosome. The implication is that this Adam had at least two sons who both have unbroken lineages to the present day. This is the definition of most recent common ancestor Y-MRCA, that is two individuals have an ancestor in common (namely, Adam).

Genetic Bottlenecks, Culture, and Writing

The human species may be 200,000 years old or so (though alternative approaches make claims of up to 1 million years). Full human modern behavior (culture, from the anthropological perspective) appeared around 50,000 years ago. The surviving species emerged from Africa after the Toba Eruption Event around 69-77,000 years ago. Toba is suggested as a near-extinction event, which could have killed off any other humans who may have been alive before then, though there is now evidence that some local populations in equatorial areas did survive (Flores Man).

Whatever the cause (Toba event or not) there is a known hourglass or bottleneck where the human species was likely reduced to around 10,000 breeding pairs (some say 7,000).

Africa may not have been the original place of origin of the species, but is generally thought to be the starting point after Toba/hourglass. Most Haplogroup time estimates are shorter than 50,000 years, and so here we enter the genetic genealogical time frame. Humans took up different routes at different times out of Africa, and this kind of haplogroup wandering can be found in the fossil record.

Some time around 10,000-12,000 years ago some human groups left the hunting and gathering lifestyle and innovated with wild grains but turned into true agriculture (and animal husbandry, which may have occurred before then).

Around 6,000 years ago the Bronze Age /Late Neolithic ushered in advanced mining, smelting and metalworking. Evidence of Bronze technology continued as late as 500 CE, such as in Thailand.

Around 5,000 years ago writing technology also first appeared (in Sumeria). In places like Ireland, scripts such as Ogham could be a little over 2,000 years old, about the same time that the 500 year old Buddhist canon was being committed to writing in Pali in Sri Lanka, South Asia. In terms of Southeast Asia, the written Cham language in Vietnam appeared around 1,800 years ago. Khmer had a script (based on Pallavi) around 1,500 years ago. Myanmar, Thai and Vietnamese writing is of more recent origins, around 700-800 years ago (possibly a little longer).

Six hundred years ago, the moveable type printing press came into existence, having an enormous impact on literacy, and hence human culture and behavior (though it took hundreds more years to produce mass literate education).

Human history and culture flows from the bottleneck of 70,000 years ago, to animal husbandry and agriculture, to metalwork, to writing technology. Our genetic history changed throughout this time period with internal mutation rates. Our people migrated to different places, living and moving along. At first they may have followed animal migration patterns, or were forced to move based on changing resources, and the threat of attack from larger groups.

The McNeill Haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1c2b2a1

If we look at the origins for our McNeill Haplogroup, we begin the story around 10,000 years ago when the R1b people are purported to have been the first Neolithic cattle herders. R1b1a2 (M269) were Caucus people and reached central asia. These people genetically are also associated with the diffusion of Indo-European languages. the R1b1a2a (L23) mutation is somewhere between 6,000-4,0000 years ago in the Caucuses. However, it is unclear at which point these people traveled eastward.

And so we are at the late neolithic/bronze age, at time of Standing Stones, proto-written languages, and a diversity of people interacting through trade, migration and warfare. Events in history begin to be chronicled in a way that can be verified (e.g., the Trojan War as told by Homer was an actual event approximately 3,000 years ago).

R1b1a2a1a1a (S21/U106) occurred somewhere during the Bronze age roughly around 4,000 years ago. This is associated more closely with Scandinavia (essentially the Y-DNA mutation and specific migration patterns occurred coincidentally).

  • R (R-M207), 52,000-81,000 years ago1
    • R1 (R-M173), Central Asia, 12,000-25,000 years ago
      • R1b (R-M343)...
        • R-M269 (R1b1a2)
          • R-U106/S21 (R1b1a2a1a1), ~5,400-4,500 years ago
            • R-L48 (R1b1a2a1a1c2b) 95+/-22 Gen., Frisian ~5,300-4,100 years ago
              • R-Z9 (S268) R1b1a2a1a1c2b2 ~5,300-4,100 years ago
                • R-Z30 (S271) R1b1a2a1a1c2b2a ~5,300-3,700 years ago
                  • R-Z2 (S511) R1b1a2a1a1c2b2a1 ~4,600-3,500 years ago

(Note that we may have further mutations but this the extent checked so far, as of 23 April 2015. This science is progressing fairly quickly and only recently was the R-L48 and the R-Z2 established as haplogroups. Tests taken: U106+, Z2+, Z31-, Z8-, ZU198-, L1-, P107-, P312-. In the diagram above there are intervening mutations but not of significant research interest. Currently we are terminal Z2 though there are some side mutations that have not been lined up to indicate whether future tests would be informative.

See additional experimental subclades of Z2 (excluding Z7) as of 29 Oct 2015:

Compare this with the developments that have occurred by 06 Jun 2016, less than 9 months later:

As of 06 Jun 2016 there are tests at YSEQ for S9342 and S20054 (but not Y17999 or S9342). YSEQ is the most advanced lab, the most up-to-date analyses available, and has the best analysis prices ($ 17.50 USD per SNP).

YSEQ also has a Wish a Panel custom panel, choosing from at least 7 existing SNP or STR markers. For example, once enough SNPs are available under Z2, it would be great to have a panel that could sort people easily. Then all the Z2 folks at FTDNA could head over and get an affordable advanced SNP sort. This could speed up discovery.

Note 08 Aug 2016 - One of my close genetic relations had a terminal SNP (which may or may not stay that way) identified as S15510, which is exciting as it is below Z2, but parallel with Z7, just where we should be looking.

If I read this correctly, and the entry has been added to the main R Haplogroup Tree, we are now officially (so far):

(R-S15510) R1b1a1a2a1a1c2b2a1b5, FGC23425/Y7415, S23231

There is currently another haplogroup beneath this one, and two haplogroups beneath that. We could be terminal to the S15510 or in any of the three others currently known, or in any given unknown haplogroup beneath our current one.

Note: Y-SEQ puts the haplogroup for S15510 at R1b1a2a1a1c2b2a1 though the b5 has been assigned subsequently (though may be revised in the future).

Note 03 Sep 2016 - I've got confirmation on the S15510 test via Y-SEQ. I've inquired if there are additional downstream tests that are recommended. I've also upgraded my STRs from 69 to 111 at FTDNA, which can help with increasing the accuracy of MRCA for some of my matches that also have results for 111 markers. Note that S15510 is named R-Y7374 in YFULL YTree.

Note 30 Jun 2017 - We've gotten back a negative confirmation on the S20654 test, which means we are not under that mutation, though there is still work being done for downstream mutations under S15510.

Frisii, Anglii, and Saxon

Note that in general, we are dealing with disjointed timescales. That is, the mutation ranges (which are themselves quite large) are not in written history for the locations of these peoples. That is, the time of the mutations do not align with historically recorded events. However, the location of the mutations -- where they existed after taking place -- can be tracked to recorded history.

S21/U106 is considered the proto-germanic branch of the Indo-European family tree. However, not truly germanic in location, it is rather centered more north-central-western orientation. The maximum presence found around the Netherlands along with a so-called Frisian branch. "The Frisians and Anglo-Saxons disseminated this genetic mutation to England and the Scottish Lowlands."2

The Frisians, a germanic tribe, are first mentioned by Roman writers around 2,000 years ago. The Angles and the Saxons were also both germanic tribes, and whose source of information is also Roman writers, specifically Tacitus' Germania originally composed in 98 CE.

The people known as The Frisii or Frisians migrated to Frisia, modern day northern Netherlands, around 2,500 years ago. While identified by our L48 haplogroup markers, the exact date of this mutation could have been before or after. However, the location of Frisia is indeed the center of the prevalence of the mutation. This is more or less one of the homelands our ancestors had. Modern day Friesland is a province in the Northern Netherlands. Friesland is largely agricultural, with Frisian cattle and horses, as well as sea and island tourism. There are nearly 200 windmills in Friesland.

The Anglo-Saxon mass migration occurred roughly 50 generations ago (1,500 years at 30 years/generation). This migration can be traced by the L48 mutation that we possess (along with others we don't, e.g., L47, L21).3

Haplotype Groups and MRCA Relations

The methods for non-specialist use of genetic genealogy is twofold: In terms of haplogroups, we can determine what larger genetic group we belong to and place that geographically (and somewhat historically). In this case, for the McNeill, we can see our L48 mutation as being a part of the Angles/Saxons/Frisians group. Subsequent historical knowledge of this group gives some indication of how and when (in rough terms) our genetic ancestors got to where we are today.

Secondly, by comparing most recent common ancestors (MRCA) with other individuals, we can see where our ancestors and their relations have lived (subsequent to the larger group migrations).

Combined with genealogy, we can compare genetics with names, and also do research with standard genealogical tools, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates, headstones, property deeds, lawsuits, and the like.

Genealogically we can get back to our immigrant ancestor. Genetically (doing comparisons between tested individuals) we can see some evidence for Ulster (and lack of evidence with island and highland Scots, as well as other groups such as the Irish). Genetic Haplogroup testing provides us with larger group membership.

Note that this grouping does not exclude the possibilities such as having Danish Viking blood (since the Danes were indistinguishable from the Frisians, Angles and Saxons by the latter's migration to southern Denmark). Also in all of this the female line is not considered, which is the other half of the story (yet to be told).

The Angles and the Saxons, from which we have the term Anglo-Saxon, as well as Frisians are believed to have been located in present-day Southern Denmark/Northern Germany (precisely Schleswig-Holstein) prior to their migration to Briton.

The Frisians and the Anglo-Saxons had similar languages and political organizations. Old Frisian is the most closely related language to Old English. Frisians, Angles and Saxons are genetically indistinguishable by current findings.

Jumping ahead of a few mutations our ancestors inherited the Z2 mutation (R1b1a2a1a1c2b2a1), and we may have further, more recent haplotype mutations, as the science is still ongoing.

Power and Progeny

There are two specific lessons to learn about the diffusion of Y-DNA, one is the use of power by a single individual, and his progeny, to create a horde of descendants. This is most illustrated by great warrior king Niall of the Nine Hostages. Niall Noígíallach was an Irish king who lived around 1600 years ago (about 400 CE). His specific Y-DNA is estimated to be present in about 3 million living (male) persons, including up to 21% of Northern Ireland and 2% of the state of New York.

Even with that impressive count, Niall holds second place in history. Genghis Khan beats him out with approximately 16 million living heirs. To reach this level of propagation wholesale slaughter of his opponents and rapine and a harem culture, along with a multi-generational power structure which provided ongoing propagation.

Genghis Khan beats Niall Noígíallach because Genghis Kahn conquered at a much later date (approximately 800 years), had greater technology and wider ambitions. But what about our own more modest ancestors? They did not conquer in terms of vast lands, but they did produce viable progeny, and their actions are why we are here today.

In order for these two warlords to produce such progeny they needed exclusive access to a significant amount of fertile females. The converse is that they needed to deny access to other fertile males. There can be two approaches to this. The first is killing large numbers of males. The second is a culture which enforces the same kind of access. With Genghis Kahn, the vast areas and populations he conquered (along with the killing of the men), along with a dynasty which lasted many generations, ensured procreative effectiveness.

For Niall of the Nine Hostages, we have much less to go on, but the same kind of conditions likely held. Kill and subjugate the male competition and reinforce for generations a culture which provides the ruling kings and their family with ongoing and widespread access to fertile females.

The cultural aspect has been called a Sexual Apartheid by Mark Thomas of University College London.4 He has applied this term to the whole of Anglo-Saxon Britain, where in the settled towns a complete domination of the migrating groups' Y-DNA in the population. He claims that to make sense of the current genetic evidence, there was historically:

a sexually biased, ethnically driven reproductive pattern, in which Anglo-Saxon males fathered children with Anglo-Saxon females and possibly Celtic females, while the reproductive activities of Romano-Celtic males were more restricted, is the most plausible explanation for the demographic, archaeological, and genetic patterns seen today.

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Livelihood – Mcneill and Beyond

This is part of Mcneill and Beyond - a Memoir

The Seven Kingdoms

The Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy is the Seven Kingdoms in Britain in the early middle ages. Strathclyde is the Northwestern-most of the kingdoms and includes present day Ayrshire in the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

The earliest Anglian settlement established in Northeastern England and Southeastern Scotland was Bernicia, around 420 CE. It was merged with the teritory of Deira to form the kingdom of Northumbria. Bernicia included the area of Galloway.

Around 603, the Battle of Degsastan was fought between Anglian king Aethelfrith of Benicia and the Gaelic king Aedan mac Gabrain, king of Dal Riada. The Angles won a crushing victory, and the Gaels would not attack them again. However, this was short-lived as a defeat by the Picts in 685 curbed the expansion of the Angles.

The Kingdom of Strathclyde was at the time one of the kingdoms of the Gaelic Britons, and included modern day Ayrshire and Argyll with the capital at Dunbarton Rock. Strathclyde was one of the the Seven Kingdoms (known as the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy) in Britain in the early middle ages. Vikings sacked Dumbarton from Dublin in 870, and the center of the kingdom shifted to Govan.

The Viking invasion of York in 867 severed the Northumbrian kingdom, and the Angles power was diminished, later becoming members of the court of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, rather than holding their own kingship. The Norman conquest of England ended in Anglians leaving Northumbria for Scotland, for good.1

Some time between 1018 and 1054 CE Strathclyde was conquered by the Gaelic Scots, though there was likely some amount of immigration of Anglii from Northumbria.

It is a real possibility (based on what evidence we have) that it is at this point when our ancestors established themselves, if not earlier, in modern day Ayrshire, one of the best farming and cattle-raising regions in Scotland. Throughout the Kingdom of Strathclyde there is only limited Anglian place names and changes so this has been predominantly Gaelic Scotland. It is here (or later, in Ulster) where our forebearers may have acquired the name of McNeill, aligning with a clan in this area.

And so, our Anglii ancestors may have left Frisia around 400 CE and landed in Northumbria about that time, and 500 years later or so began or concluded migration West to the Southern Scottish Kingdom. These people spoke Old English at around 900 CE, and Early Scots around 500 years later (1400 CE).

Around 1,000 years ago the people and their language endured, but was reduced as a governing power. At this point the Gaelic Scots ruled over a good section of Southwestern Scotland, having previously conquered the Picts (whose genes are still present in a small part of the population) and having incorporated Anglians.

Warriors, Horses, Cattle and Farmland

There are four themes that run through the geography of our genetic and genealogical adventure:

  • Warriors,
  • Horses,
  • Cattle,
  • and Farmland.

The warring element is present in the early Anglii; the later battles with Gaels, Picts, Vikings and Normans; possibly a martial role in Ulster; and our emigrant ancestor being a military man and Colonel in the militia at the end of his life (qualified on June 17, 17642).

Horses are a part of the warring element, but also the Border Reivers who were adept cattle rustlers and horsemen par excellence. Some excellent horses, and cattle are found in Friesland as well.

Cattle raising (and raiding) is a part of the Anglii for the past 2,000 years. Cattle raising in Ayrshire and in Ulster is continued in the new world.

Some of the best farmland in Northern Europe is in Frisia. Some of the best farmland in Scotland is in Ayrshire. Some of the best farmland in Ireland is in Northern Ireland, including around Coleraine. And of course some of the best farmland in America is around the South Fork of the Potomic, destination of our emigrant ancestor.

Daniel McNeill (1630-1684), Coleraine

Our emigrant ancestor is John McNeill (1680-1765) born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland Ireland during the Plantation scheme. He emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1722. The date of emigration coincides with a large emigration due to financial pressures on Presbyterians that began around 1717/1719. Rents were raised precipitously during this period in time. As John was married in a Presbyterian church in Philadephia in 1744, there is evidence he was Presbyterian in Coleraine.

John's father Daniel McNeill was also born in Coleraine, Ireland. There is some question as to the dates of his birth (1629/1630/1658) and death (1683/1684/1743). The current estimate we are using is 1630-1684. At this point the trail goes cold. We do not have any knowledge about Daniels' father. He could have been:

  • Presbyterian Scots Ulster settler (1611-1630) (of the 100,000 Scots settlers)
  • Scottish military quartered there (1642-1650) (of the 10,000 troops under Munroe brought to fight the Irish Confederate war). Some of these were called Redshanks, a particular kind of scottish mercenary from the lowlands and the Islands.
  • Native Irish converted to Presbyterianism (this is not unlikely and sometimes the only thing that needed doing was changing of O'Neill to McNeill).

Other Possibilities

Our Y-DNA does not correspond to any other known population of McNeills (Gigha, Barra, Colonsay, Taynish Argyll) based on current samples (and there are more than a few at this point). That means we are not genetically related patrilineally to those McNeills. And we are not descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages (who was quite otherwise prolific).

Non-Paternity Events are when someone is descended from someone else than they thought. The individual's genetic father is not the same as who raised them as their father. Some researchers put this around 1-5% of each generation, some even higher, depending on the population. And in many cases the offspring are unaware of this fact. We have to take into consideration that this could be the case nearly everywhere along the path back into the past.

Family names can be given to non-genetic offspring either through adoption or other kinds of family affiliation. In the case of Ireland/Scotland, apparently last names were an innovation around the 11th century. Also, they were not consistently spelled one way, but were largely phonetic transcriptions (most people being functionally illiterate and living in a largely spoken culture). Changing one's last name was easier to do, and for various reasons, much different than in the USA today.

In Thailand, it is one of the easiest things to change one's first name, changing a last name requires a bit more work -- and also it has to be unique -- but it can be done. This is actually common, especially if someone starts having a lot of bad luck. The thinking is that some naughty spirit or ghost is causing trouble. These spirits are a little dim-witted, so if you change your name, they lose track of you, and the troubles go away. This is a part of the culture and I personally know people who have done this (adults).

In addition, the genealogical stories themselves that we have are not necessarily accurate. Some are half-truths, wishful thinking, half-remembered or completely forgotten, or outright deceptions.

And so, in sum, one or more of the following occurred:

  • Non-paternity event(s) to some nice McNeill family somewhere
  • Took on the name McNeill from a different name, either to change our origins, fit in with a community, or were adopted into a family or community where that would be common to do. Perhaps even took on the name as a servant to the family, again not uncommon.
  • Lived many or few generations as a McNeill. (We are however conclusively unrelated genetically to the McNeills of various Scottish locations, who have so far been genetically tested for Y-DNA markers.)

Unfortunately, we cannot know at this point the whole story. Indeed we could have had non-paternity events in the US after emigration, and while the genealogy is correct, the genetic history is off. The truth is somewhere out there. When the genealogy and the genetic history match up, then we will have at last a credible family history (or at least a part of it).

The story told so far is plausible but there could be any number of alternative explanations. What I have attempted to do is provide a story that fits the facts and evidence we do have, drawing on genealogy, genetic forensics, history, linguistics and religious history. We may find further evidence, for or against, in future developments and discoveries in genetic genealogy, history, or even some future genealogical research (in Ulster).

Clans, Kilts, and Mottos

Clans in Scotland and Ireland are centered on the Chief and under him were a number of related families as well as unrelated people who took as their patronymic the clan name and often first names of the Chief and his family. The family of Daniel McNeill, father of emigrant John McNeill, may have looked to one of the clans with the name of McNeill/MacNeil of Ireland, or the Islands for protection and as part of the unemployed and landless masses where were forced to move to Ulster Londonderry/Antrim County during the second wave of Plantations. Parts of the (various) McNeill clans were listed as part of the plantation effort to Londonderry. Records of these resettled McNeills don't exist in Northern Ireland until the 1800s -- long after John McNeill left for America.

In Scotland, a clan or family is a legally recognized group, a so-called noble incorporation with a recognized head, a clan chief (i.e., director or ceo). Membership in the clan had a genealogical component, but the chief could adopt or expel individuals, families and groups of families. As well, individuals could claim allegiance to a clan and be accepted (provided the chief did not disapprove). At some point the wearing of a clan kilt (though specific design or colors may or may not have been important) signaled clan membership. This is the source of a clan chief being the only one who has the right to give permission of who can wear the clan kilt. As well, the clan seal of arms is similar to the seal of a corporation, and only legally usable by the clan chief.3

The word clan is derived from the Gaelic word clanna, meaning children. However, the need for proved descent from a common ancestor related to the chiefly house is too restrictive. Clans developed a territory based on the native men who came to accept the authority of the dominant group in the vicinity. A clan also included a large group of loosely-related septs – dependent families – all of whom looked to the clan chief as their head and their protector. 4

And so, even though there are lovely Clan kilts, seals, and mottos, they are from a bygone era when there was, along with our name McNeill, a membership in clan or family structure, previous to the departure of our emigrant ancestor from Ulster in the early 18th century.

If we want to reconnect with the original kilt, it would be what is known as the Border tartan or Northubrian tartan. This style of dyed wool cloth predates the modern kilt styles, which owe more to modern manufacturing processes and colors than any historical sources.

Northumbrian Tartan

In any case, the modern kilt is more or less an invention of the imagination of Sir Walter Scott in the 19th century. As one commentator puts it:

Sir Walter Scott invented Scotland as we know it. Kilts were first made fashionable by Scottish peacocks prancing around the French Court.

Even with this provisio, clan membership, and the origin of the naming of our ancestral line was likely important and possibly life-saving, granting protection and membership in a community. However, we McNeill's of today do not have the firm evidence to which specific clan or group our emigrant ancestor belonged. It is possible to find this with more genealogical and genetic research. I believe this research will need to be done in Ulster, as that is where our genealogical story stops. Genetic genealogy points to Ulster as a place where common ancestors may be. I imagine we may need to skulk around cemetaries and dig into archives.

Next Steps: Genealogical Research in Ulster

In terms of a place to visit (ancestral home), the Northern part of Northern Ireland is pretty neat. Ballycastle, Antrim and Colleraine, Londonderry are quaint towns and roughly between them is The Giant's Causeway which looks fascinating. Also there is Bushmills' distillery and other forms of Northern Irish beverages, and nearby Rathlin island for viewing seabirds.

In terms of places we may likely have been from at some point (as Scots), my betting would be on the areas of Argyll and Ayrshire, Southwest Scotland (lowlands/inland, not islands). One can see Ulster from the Mull of Kintyre on a clear day, so these areas are not so far away.

A possible relation: Mrs Mary McNeill Ramage, 31 Gortamaddy Drive, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, BT54 6RZ

Next Steps: Genetic Research at FamilyTreeDNA

There is a new test called Big Y from FTDNA, current cost is $575. MT-DNA Full Sequence is another $199. These are the next logical steps to take to track our genetic inheritence. Since these are large investments, a piecemeal approach may be useful for now, such as testing R-Z8 SNP for $39.

One challenge on both fronts is that we have some of the oldest genealogical references (Daniel McNeill, b.1630) and are a Y-67 report (the earlier reports are Y-12, Y-25, Y-37). Only the latest Y-111 yields more data and few people have taken that test (we could upgrade to that for an additional $129).

Eventually more and more people will take these tests and there will be a critical mass achieved which makes the data more interpretable.

It turns out that I fortunately made a good choice of FTDNA back in 18 February 2007 when I ordered the first kit. There were a few competing projects/companies at the time but FTDNA looked to be the best, and it is still pretty much the leader. It has been eight years and I've continued to invest in additional tests as the came available, trying the right combination of information and affordability. Over the years I have ordered the following tests:

  • Y-DNA25
  • Deep Clade-R
  • Y-DNA37
  • Y-DNA67
  • Z2

There are several stages to this kind of research: First is the discovery of SNPs and Haplotypes, usually done statistically. Second is the availability of those those tests to individuals. And third is enough related people taking those tests to make those relationships visible and plot them against genealogical information (names, dates, and places).

Over time the information found in tests become more valuable as more people take them. Taking tests earlier help the project gain momentum.

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Ulster – Mcneill and Beyond

This is part of Mcneill and Beyond - a Memoir

See also Plantations of Ireland (Wikipedia)

Note: This section is taken from History of the Scotch-Irish or Ulster Scot


Most Ulster Scots were in Scotland before they migrated to Ireland. MOST but not ALL.. We'll discuss where else they might have been later. But for now, where were they in Scotland and when did they move to Ireland and why?

Most of them were in areas of Scotland adjacent to Ireland. The largest migration of Scots to Ireland was in the early 1600's. Due to lack of definitive records, we do not have exact numbers, but in the early 1600's 120,000 are believed to have migrated -- from both England and Scotland. Bailyn says in one 24 month period in the 1630's at least 10,000 Scots migrated to Ireland (Bailyn, Bernard. The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction, Vintage Books, 1988, p 26).

In the early 1600's Ireland was the primary destination for migrating Scots because it provided opportunities that Scotland couldn't offer-- and Scots were not welcome in English colonies. Protestants were welcome. Catholic Scots, of which there are many, were not welcomed by the government in Ireland, though some did come, largely at the behest of Scottish Catholic lords, on whose lands in Scotland they may have already been living. But the bulk were Presbyterian lowlanders. They include a group of Protestant lowlanders that the Scottish government settled in Kintyre. They were run off by hostile natives and sheltered by Sir Randal McDonald (Catholic) on his lands in Antrim. He appreciated the lowland farmer. This group were a few of the many victims of the McDonald/Campbell feud.

Many tenant farmers came from Ayrshire -- though Ireland attracted enterprising landlords and merchants from all over Scotland. Other Scots had come from Argyle and other McDonald homelands in the mid 1500's with the McDonalds. Many of them were Catholic. They are still settled in the Glens of Antrim. Many are ethnically Irish because they are Catholic.

Another source of Scottish and English settlers was the Scottish/English border. At the time, James I/VI was breaking up those clans to secure the border between the two countries. Many fled hanging in England or Scotland to Ireland, largely settling in Fermanagh. Often lords acquiring lands in Ireland recruited from their own Scottish estates or the estates of their neighbors, relatives, and friends. An unknown number of Scots fled back to Scotland in the 1630's to avoid religious persecution in Scotland.


In the early 1600's the Scots joined a small Irish population. Since poor Ulster had been decimated by more than 50 years of war at the time of the Plantations there were not many Irish. AND, contrary to popular belief, they were not "run off". If you doubt me, read Elliott The Catholics of Ulster --or any number of history books. True, the government WANTED to run them off and pursue a "Cherokee" type solution. However they were very short of men to farm and bring in the harvests. They could not afford to displace the Irish as their lives depended on them staying to bring in the harvests.Though the law prohibited the newcomers from renting to Irish, many did anyway. The Church (Protestant) was under no such restraints so many of its tenants were Irish.

The Ulster Irish spoke of course Irish, which was simply a different dialect of Gaelic. Scots and Irish could communicate without difficulty. This isn't surprising since the Scotti, an Irish tribe, moved from Ireland originally. They also followed similar naming patterns to the Irish. There were sons of Hughs, Johns, and James everywhere. So they sometimes ended up with the same or similar surnames as the incoming Scots.

Due to the destruction caused by war, there were no habitable houses. All the churches were in ruin. There were very few priests or Protestant clergy. It is documented that in at least one Antrim parish the entire Irish population became Presbyterian because the only minister about was the Scottish Presbyterian minister. If you wanted the baby baptized, he did it. In a world where religion was not yet politicized, this happened without communal pressure -- in some locations.

In 1641 many Ulster Scots were killed by the Irish in the Rising, but we are not sure how many. We do not know how many people were in Ulster as many had fled to Scotland in the 1630's to avoid the Black Oath. In 1642 more Scots arrived to defend the survivors as part of Monroe's army. It founded the first Presbyterian presbytery in Ireland. Before that, there was none. Though Presbyterian, not all these men were lowlanders. I have an ancestor who presumably arrived in 1642 in Monroe's army. He came from Kintyre and was a Lamont, though the surname of his descendants is BLACK. They settled into Antrim.

In the 1680's more Scots came to Ireland, fleeing the Killing Times in south western Scotland. In the late 1690's another period of enhanced Scots immigration to Ireland occurred after King William secured his throne. Apparently whole new towns and villages sprang up at this time. There is also evidence of a famine in Scotland which caused increased migration.

After the Williamite Settlement there were no large movements of Scots to Ireland because economic conditions in Ireland were not good. Sometimes they fled to Ireland to avoid religious persecution, though sometimes they fled back to Scotland to escape it in Ireland. People also moved in both directions at various times to avoid political problems. People also migrated seasonally to Scotland to work on farms.

Non-Scots Ulster Scots

However not all Ulster Scots were from Scotland. Assimilating into this ethnic group, which has become synonymous for Presbyterians in Northern Ireland, were the English settlers of the Ulster Plantations. The English did not survive well in the tough climate of Ulster in the early 1600's. The Scots tended to replace them even in the English Plantations.

Other English/Welsh blood was donated by the Chichesters, who started a colony of their tenants in Antrim from their lands in Devon and Wales in the later 1500's. This is called the "Lost English Colony". The surnames remain in the Also you have other immigrants such as the Thompson family, who emigrated from Holland. They became a prominent Belfast merchant family. After 1690 many of King William's continental soldiers settled in Ireland. Not too many of Cromwell's soldiers were settled in Ulster since it already was largely in the hands of loyal Protestants.

Protestants such as Huguenots and Germans also settled in Ireland in the 1600's. Many of these settled elsewhere in Ireland than Ulster, though there were settlements of Germans in Antrim and Huguenots in Lisburn -- as well as others.

The surnames of the non-British settlers rapidly became anglicized so that they can be difficult to identify by surname alone.

Finally Irish assimilated into the Ulster Scots ethnic group. As Irish converted to Protestantism, descendants assumed their families came from Scotland as they adopted the myths of the Ulster Scot as their own. However some don't. Surnames were fluid. Adopting a new ethnic identity was very simple: drop the O. Some Irish surnames began with Mac as well as Scots. By dropping the Mac, the name was anglicized and indistinguishable from English surnames.

In the 1600's there appears to have been an ethnic fluidity in Ireland. Your ethnicity was determined more by your choice of religion rather than your ancestrage. In some areas in south Antrim, it is believed that, due to lack of both Catholic and Church of Ireland clergy and the presence of Gaelic-speaking Presbyterian clergy, the indigenous population became Presbyterian by default. The first Presbyterian minister in Bushmills was an Irishman named O'Quinn in the early 1600's. He preached in Irish to his congregation and went on missions to convert the Irish. Evidence remains that the Scottish Presbyterians maintained an active ministry in Irish though this became impossible to maintain due to the government policies outlawing the use of Irish. Meanwhile Scottish men were marrying Irish women -- who raised their offspring Catholic and Irish speaking. In fact, when the law was repealed in the early 1600's which made it illegal for Scots to marry Irish, we are told there was great rejoicing.

Let none of this of course detract from your current ethnic tag. We are who were are; our ancestors, however, may well have been something different. At one time they were Strathclydians, Mercians, Northumberlanders or Irish or Scots warriors fighting with Irish or Scots warriors of differing clans. These kingdoms and the clan rivalries are forgotten though at one time their inhabitants fought bitterly with one another to establish their cultures in Great Britain. In fact, the Scotti of Roman days were an Irish clan -- from County Antrim. They later invaded Scotland (500 AD) and won the local cultural battle with the Picts.

As long as Ireland and Scotland have been next to each other, there's been migration between the two to adjacent areas. Ulster is adjacent to Scotland -- so that's where many Scots went. It was easy to go over and come back again.

Often it was difficult to tell a Scot from an Irish because in many cases, they shared a common culture and spoke a common tongue. They had similar cultures. Many Scots clans are founded by Irish clans. In fact, Scotland is a colony of Ireland. Before 500 AD the "Scotti" were in Ireland. Scotland was called "Alba" then and Picts lived there. The Scotti established a colony on the western shores. Eventually these Antrim boys lost their lands in Ireland to marauding Irish clans, but they supplanted the Picts. Kenneth McAlpin united the thrones of the Picts and Scots. However the eastern lowlanders were a different people. They are the descendants of Angles and Vikings and Pictish clans, not the Irish Scotti.

In the late Middle Ages a new phenomena began to occur that would have a massive impact on Ireland. Irish lords began to hire Scottish mercenaries to help fight their intertribal and wars with the English. They were called Galloglass soldiers from the Irish gall oglaigh or stranger soldiers. They were apparently from the western Scotland and of mixed Scots and Viking origin. They changed the course of history in the 1500's. Through one dynastic marriage an Irish lord got 10,000 of these soldiers. Some of them settled down in Ireland and established clans of their own. The McSweenies are one example of a galloglass clan who assimilated into the Irish. If they stayed Catholic, they assimilated into the Irish and lost their ethnic identity as Scots.

As mentioned, the majority of the Ulster Scots came in the Ulster Plantation period. They came willingly, recruited by their lairds, many of whom were also acquiring Irish estates. Their forte was not only farming but also the skilled labor required to create a colony. They could build homes, raise livestock, blacksmith, and so on.

Seventeen Hundreds


In the early 1700's the political situation in Ireland stabilized. There would be no more rebellions till 1798. However economic conditions worsened, at least partially due to trade restrictions placed on the economy by Parliament.These laws also impacted the Scottish economy. Consequently Ireland was no longer an attractive destination for immigrants.

While in the 1600's the Presbyterians were persecuted and neither they or Catholics worshipped in churches, as the Penal Laws were reduced in the 1700's, they began to construct churches, called meeting houses. While in the 1600's it was common for families to move to new farms frequently, in the 1700's people "settled down" and attempted to hold onto the lease that they'd had. Thrown into competition over reduced resources, Irish and Scots began to conflict locally. For instance the Hearts of Oak disturbance.

The great wave of emigration of Ulster Scots to American began in 1718 and continued till the start of the American Revolution.

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Origins – Mcneill and Beyond

This is part of Mcneill and Beyond - a Memoir

3 Things We Know About McNeill

There are three stories we are told about the McNeill (and by The McNeill we mean both our earliest known ancestors, the people and culture they were a part of, and of course, ourselves).

  • We hear about the Island of Barra, and its Castle Kisimul as the seat of the McNeills.
  • We hear about the other islands (Gigha and Colonsay), and also about the McNeill name variants as being particular to locations (spelling related to each island, and O'Neill being Irish, McNeill being Scots).
  • And we hear about the great Irish King Niall of the Nine Hostages (more on him later).

It turns out there is a lot less, and a lot more, to the story.

Crofters and Stories from Barra

The first thing one should know is that the entire story from Barra of descent from Irish Kings, as well as dates of arrival and the claim to clan leadership has no actual historical evidence. Historians have checked on this, and it is all, in a word, bollocks.1

Although the traditional MacNeill descent is now perhaps the best known of all the families considered, it is by far the least well supported by documentary evidence. Indeed the crucial links in the MacNeill pedigree appear to rest, incredible though it may seem, on the authority of two crofters living in Barra at the turn of the century. This pedigree as recorded by R.L. MacNeil traces the descent of the Barra MacNeils from 'Niall son of Muirceartach, son of Donal, son of Aodh, son of Niall, son of Aodh Alaind, son of Aodh Aonrachan, son of Aodh Athlamh, son of Flathartach'. Although the names are clearly garbled and although MacNeil's account of the early history of his clan is, to say the least, highly questionable, there can be little doubt that the Barra MacNeils claimed the same descent as the Cowal and Knapdale families. No traditional pedigree of the MacNeills of Taynish and Gigha has survived but it seems more than likely that they descend from the same parent stem as the Barra MacNeils.

Against this view it is sometimes argued, following A. MacLean Sinclair, that the two families of MacNeill are not related and have separate origins (Sinclair 1906-7; 1901-10). MacLean Sinclair, however, cannot be relied on in this matter: be gives hardly any authority for his views, which involve taking a pedigree in MS. 1467 thought by Skene to be that of the MacLennans for that of the MacNeils of Barra and tacking the MacNeills of Taynish and Gigha on to the MacLeans. In view of the Cowal and Knapdale associations the claim of MacNeil of Barra to be chief of all Clan Neill does not appear to be beyond question and the date given in Castle in the Sea for the arrival of the first MacNeil ancestor in Barra c. 1030 A.D.) cannot be accepted. The Clan Neill, in any case, would appear to have been a junior branch of the descendants of Aodh Alainn, distinctly overshadowed in the thirteenth century by the MacSweens, the Lamonts and the descendants of Gilchrist.

MacNeil of Barra is said to be descended from Nial of the Nine Hostages, and Castle on the Sea and the arrival of MacNeil to Barra is set at 1030 CE. Both of these claims have a single origin with no historical corroboration. Don't go telling people of Barra that this might not be so, but for the historical record there is no evidence. Indeed as well the claim that Barra MacNeil was the chief of all MacNeil/McNeill is obviously false. Whether the MacNeil at Colonsay and Gigha is related is also unclear.

We have to recall that this kind of genealogical research and interest (and the tools we have at our disposal) are simply a foreign concept even 100 years ago, with ramapant illiteracy the norm. Though there is clearly some blame at the feet of the historian who allowed this to enter mainstream belief, it is also true that families have always told their story to each succeeding generation, but written chronicles preserved over time belong to a much smaller number of families that existed. Those stories become distorted, or changed either willfully or through simple error. So the two crofters may be true believers but there is no evidence for, and quite a bit against their tale.

What is in a Name

The old use of the surname O'Neill, McNeill and the like can provide a bit of confusion. In America it is assumed that O'Neill is Irish and McNeill is Scot, but that is not necessarily the case. First, there is confusion because the name Neil is derived from different historical persons with related names (some of whom are related to each other).

Confusion can arise between this surname 'O'Neill' (otherwise 'Ua Neill') and the names 'Ui Neill' and 'MacNeill'. As a body, the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages are often referred to by Annalists and historians as the 'Ui Neill', taking their name from him: included among the northern Ui Neill are the O'Donnell chieftains and the O'Neill and MacLochlainn Kings of Ailech, while the southern Ui Neill includes the O'Melaghlin Kings of Meath. The 'O'Neills' are a branch of the northern Ui Neill and take their name from the Niall 'Glundubh' who was killed in 919. The 'MacNeills' on the other hand, although claiming descent from both Niall 'Glundubh' and Niall of the Nine Hostages, take their name from a later and Scottish Niall. 1

Add to these spelling origins the fact that there are historical Irish kings and subjects who took the name McNeill (in variant spellings) and were yet Irish (and had not left Ireland for Scotland). In addition, spellings changed over time.

However, names are only mistakenly changed. In many cases the written spellings of names change, for a variety of reasons, making genealogical research difficult. For example, in 2015, Lachlan MacNeil (no relation) wrote on the MacNeil group on FamilyTreeDNA:

I always assumed that my paternal line originated on the Isle of Barra: at least that is what my father told me. After many visits to Barra, before the PC, I could not find any evidence of this. In 2013 whilst on the Scotlands People webpage I discovered via the Scottish Census for 1851/1861 that my great, great grandfather Alexander McNiel, the spelling of the name at the time, was born in Heylipol Isle of Tiree and baptised 21 December of the same year. A visit to Tiree concluded that Alexander's father was James McNiel and his mother Catharene McLean.

Here we have a person with one spelling -- MacNeil -- using the basis of that names' spelling to do research, when in fact McNiel was the spelling used by an ancestor 150 years previously. It turns out that many a McNeill has fallen for the siren call of Barra, not only due to the purported pedigree, but also the accidental written form.

In many cases, spellings did not survive in the crossing to the new world. For one thing, sometimes people hid their origins by changing their names altogether. For another, there illiteracy was predominant, and a multitude of spellings could render a given name (which was an oral reality, not a fixed written form).

We see this in two historical family documents in the US. The first is the marriage registration in 1744 for emigrant ancestor John McNeill, where his name is spelled McNeali.

The second document is the will of John McNeill, (son of our emigrant ancestor), which has three different spellings of McNeill in the single document alone (McNeel, McNeill, and McNeil). And John himself signed with an X.

Another possiblity is disguising a name based on the threat of persecution. Apparently my maternal great grandfather, Hayes Bradley, is an example of Irish name changing, as his family name was changed from O'Brady during immigration to this country to avoid discrination against the Irish -- I guess that there was a relative somewhere with the nice sounding name of Bradley.

While there is a danger that we've gotten the wrong person with the different spellings, what should be abundantly clear is that names were written in different ways at different times (and sometimes at the same time) due to an oral culture. The finer points of consistent spelling simply did not exist, except maybe among royal chroniclers or church scribes.

Scotch-Irish / Ulster Scots, and Many Kinds of Celts

In the history of Scotland, there are many unfortunate historical misapprehensions. We are told that the Scots came from Ireland (pushing out the Picts), and that that is how the Irish became Scots. It is true that various celtic languages do or have had a degree of mutual intelligibility. This is a key factor, as mutual intelligibility is almost a prerequisite for a intermarriage (barring warfare and military domination).

It is in general true that from the time of the earliest records until the wars of Montrose in the seventeenth-century Gaelic Scotland and Gaelic Ireland, sharing common traditions and a common language, were in constant cultural and political contact.

As well, the current history of Ireland vs. Northern Ireland is seen as one of foreign oppression (on the one hand) and a long lineage of possession (on the other). It is also colored by religious differences. It is certainly the case that previous to English plantations, the history of the region was just as contentious and bloody, and common language and culture did not render it any less so.

In America, we have the term Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish, which is another term for Ulster Ireland Protestants. Note that this term is only used in the US for convenience sake. In the UK and Ireland the term is Ulster Scots.2 However, what is less obvious is that Ulster Scots is also a language, that is a dialect of Scots (more on this soon)

But even this religious divide, the Catholic Irish and the Protestant Scots, which indeed is serious and real, was not a comprehensive barrier to people and their livelihood and relations. Lines are not so neat and solid, as they are when viewed from thousand of miles away.

And so the difference between the Scots and the Irish include:

  • Language (which again, were mutually intelligible);
  • Religion (which was not always a dividing line, in early 17th century Ulster a single church would be good enough for both Catholics and Presbyterians when faced with few choices);
  • Race (where the people were distant cousins rather than distinct races); and
  • Location (insular Scotland is a very different place from the highlands, the islands, much less Ireland's various locales)

In pre-Anglo-Saxon Briton and Eire, we generally think of Irish, Scots (formerly Irish), and Britons, all Gaels/Celts (as well as the nearly extinguished Picts and various others). However, rather than very distinct racial boundaries, Gaelic communities were considered to be a kind of culture which had fluidity to it, rather than a monolitic people. The various Gaels/Celts of Briton and Ireland were not monolithic tribes (as commonly taught) but of many different tribes, some closely related, some distantly, some hardly if at all.3

Two Kinds of

Indeed, the extent of genetic diversity of the British Isles and Ireland has been recently discovered using genetic genealogy. There is now clear evidence of their being two kinds of people in Northern Ireland: One which came from the Western Islands and Highlands of Scotland, and another which came from Southern Scotland and Southern England.4 This matches the linguistic data.

Much less the fact that parts of the Gaelic speaking world have deep influence form others, such as the Norse Gaels.

Scots, not a Gaelic Language

Scots is a Germanic language spoken in Lowland Scotland and Ulster, as opposed to Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language spoken in the Highlands and Islands (and Irish Gaelic, also a different language). Scots descended from early Northumbrian Middle English, itself descended from the Germanic language of the Angles. If our immigrant ancestors from Frisia traveled all the way up into Northumbria upon the initial (or subsequent) voyage to the British Isles, then he would be in the proximity to Southwestern Scotland from which it is likely he traveled to land in Ulster, Northern Ireland.

This would make him a Scot (but not a Celt, not Gaelic, and not Irish, originally or otherwise). There is one group whose language evolved into modern-day Scots, and whose migration pattern is the same, and that is the Angles or Anglii, a germanic tribe who was a part of Anglo-Saxon mass migration around 400 CE.

Scoti/Scotti/Scottis is the term used by the Romans to describe the Gaels (aka the Gaelic speaking people, the Celtic tribes found in the Briton and Ireland). This becomes complicated because around 1500:

...what was then called Inglis had become the language of government, and its speakers started to refer to it as Scottis and to Scottish Gaelic, which had previously been titled Scottis, as Erse (Irish). 5

From 1610 to 1690 it is estimated some 200,000 Scots-speaking Scots migrated to the Plantation of Ulster. From the genetic evidence we have, the McNeill indeed is a Scot, but not a Gaelic Scot, not a Celt, but a right Scots-speaking Scot (that is, a former Anglic-speaking Anglii).

From here we can pick up our genealogical study. For we have some evidence through various genealogical research that we have an ancestor who was born and died in Coleraine, Ulster, Northern Ireland in the years 1630-1684.

Back to the table of contents for McNeill and Beyond - A Memoir

Mcneill and Beyond – A Memoir

This is an extended essay. It is not complete, the work is ongoing in fits and starts. It contains three parts.

The first part is a genealogy and genetic forensics in searching for my male ancestral line. It centers on our emigrant ancestor John McNeill (1680-1765) who emigrated to the American colonies in 1722 and his father Daniel McNeill (1630-1684) who was born and died in Coleraine, Ulster, Northern Ireland.

The second part is a personal memoir from the circumstances around my birth and personal history, up until the birth of my son Benjamin.

The third part takes up the issue of evolution, human groups, stories and praxis in general, our practical activity that has resulted from and results in a lineage. It is meant to indicate the various ways of how a past and a present can be understood, in a truthful way.


To my emigrant ancestor
Great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather John McNeill
- (1680-1765)


I am of a healthy long lived race,
and our minds improve with age.
- William Butler Yeats

Being an old race, an early ancestor of the McNeill was asked by Noah to accompany him on his ark. Our ancestor replied: "Thank ye, but The McNeill has a boat of his own".

Indeed, the McNeill has a tall tale of his own as well, though not the one we may have thought he had.

Section 01

  1. Origins and Descendants, names, places, and peoples
  2. Ancestral Lands, genetic genealogy and history
  3. Interlude: We have a Match - Open letter re: matching on Y-DNA markers
  4. Families and Livelihood, the Seven Kingdoms to Ulster
  5. Ulster Scots, history of the Ulster Plantations
  6. Interlude: Antifragility and Scottish Clan Mottos
  7. America, descent in a New Land
  8. Asia, migration in the 21st century
  9. Return to the ancestral
  10. Postscript: Language, ancient and modern

Section 02

  • Incomplete

Section 03

  • Incomplete