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The McDuffie DNA Surname Project applies the new and accurate Male Y-Chromosome DNA Test in order to establish the Clan’s genetic roots and determine which members with the same surname share a common male ancestor.  In some cases this may link up with family tree data.

Revised report on McDuffie DNA Surname Project

Dated 6th March 2010

Thanks to many Clanfolk with a fascination with family history and origins, the McDuffie DNA Surname Project has gathered 147 participants and it is now possible to publish some findings.  Readers should bear in mind that these conclusions are made on a balance of probability and where there is no positive conclusion is does not prove a negative.

Surnames became more stable around 1000 years ago and in parts of Europe pass unaltered from father to son.  Remarkably, the same applies to the Y-chromosome.  This useful parallel allows DNA and genetics to be extremely useful to genealogists.  A more detailed explanation follows.

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes.  These contain the “pattern” which determines the physical characteristics of the individual. Half of the chromosome material originates from the mother, and the other half from the father.  The exception is in the sex chromosomes.  Females have XX chromosome pairs and males have XY.

The consequence of this is extremely useful to genealogists.   As only males carry the Y chromosome, it passes almost unchanged from grandfather to father to son all down the generations.   However the key word here is “almost”.  Over very long periods of time, occasional random mutations occur in the Y chromosome.

This means that the degree of relatedness of males can be determined by examining the Y-chromosome.  The chromosomes have “markers” represented by a series of numbers which can be sampled and measured by taking a simple cheek swab test.  When the series of numbers are available they can be compared with others who have taken the test, and if they are similar it can be determined that they have a common male ancestor and according to the similarity, the distance in time to that common male ancestor can be estimated.

The test results allow individuals to be placed within groups, each member of which has a common ancestor within the last 1000 years.  The different groups probably don’t have a common ancestor within the last 10,000 years.  So in common language that translates to separate bloodlines.  The reasons for the existence of different bloodlines with the same surname are given later.   As well as the DNA data the project gathers the current spelling of the surname.  Furthermore, some participants have provided extensively researched paper genealogy, which lists the male line back through many generations.  All this information taken together combines to form a very valuable genealogical research tool.

The DNA markers can be plotted on a kind of “map” called a Network Diagram, where the different members are represented by dots on the chart.   Where members have markers that are very similar, the dots lie close together, where they differ greatly, they lie far apart.  Where they are identical the size of the dot is increased.  Looking at the pattern of dots, it is possible to say that some will have “radiated” from a common ancestor and form a group or bloodline.   Also if the number of different members in a group is large and they have “radiated” over a range of distances, then the group is probably quite ancient.  The distance corresponds approximately to ticks on the genetic clock, with one marker change happening, on average, every 200/250 years.  The project Network Diagram is attached.  Only members who have gone for 25 or more markers appear on it, since the resolution with 12 is insufficient.

Another clear indicator of the oldness of a group, is the diversity of surname spellings or styles.  Combining the DNA with the surname diversity gives a very firm indicator of a group having had the surname for a long time.

Main Bloodline Group 1

This is the dominant bloodline, or MacFie “haplotype” containing the largest number of members.  Fascinatingly, it contains all main surname spelling variants, namely: McDuffie, McDuffee, McAfee, McPhee, McPhie, McFee and McFie and all the Mac of variants thereof, thus absolutely and conclusively proving that all were once the same name.  One Duffie and three Catheys have also matched within Group 1.  This follows a number of non-matches.  At the moment, no matches have been logged with Coffey, Coffee, McHaffey, Fee etc, although that is not to say this will not happen in the future.   Following the generation of the Network Diagram it became clear that Group 15 was part of Group 1.

This Group 1 bloodline is that of the immediate past Clan Commander, Sandy MacPhie who has so encouraged this project.  It is also the bloodline of the new Clan Commander Iain Morris McFie.  Additionally, it contains the line of the last McPhee on Colonsay, the ancestral home of the McDuffies.  There are also those in this line, descended from ancestors on Mull and on Skye, thus confirming the history that MacPhies were dispersed all over the Inner Hebridies.  The history linking McDuffies with Antrim is also confirmed, as there are those in Group 1 who can trace their ancestry to Londonderry.  Several in Group 1 have descendants who migrated to the USA or Canada.  One of the lines on Prince Edward Island is in this line.  Clearly they would have come from the Inner Hebrides originally.

Finally in group 1 (and in others) the spelling McAfee is invariably connected with clan members who are Scots Irish who arrived in the New World from Ireland where the name McDuffie took on the spelling McAfee.  By the same token MacDonald is rendered as McDonnell in Ireland.  In earlier times movement back and forth between the Inner Hebridies and Antrim was commonplace.  The McDuffie common ancestor in Group 1 may go back as much as 1000 years to the advent of surnames.  It seems likely that the clan chiefs would have been of this line.

Other bloodlines

Now in common with all other DNA Surname projects, it transpires that there are many different bloodlines bearing the family name.  This can arise for many different reasons.  At the time of origin of the surname around 1000 years ago, the surname would be a mark of affiliation to a group or clan of families living in close proximity and with a perceived shared destiny. There would be a clan chief and a number of other males in the group. Not all these males would necessarily have shared the same male ancestor at the time of surname adoption. Clans often absorbed other non-genetically linked groups as they expanded. Adoption of orphaned offspring of a sister was common, and if there was no heir it may also occur. Infidelity was probably a fact of life then as it is now.  Over the years this leads to many genetically separate lines with a common surname. This can be seen in all other projects including the Campbell and McGregor DNA Projects.  Consequently, different bloodline does not mean “not of the MacFie Clan”.

Some of the other Groups have clear evidence that they have had the MacFie name for many hundreds of years.  Having more than one member, “Genetic radiation” and surname spelling diversity points to this.  In particular, Groups 3, 4, 5, 5a, 9, 10, 14, 20 and 24 show this.

Group 9 is interesting, as these are the “Glen Urquart McFees”.  This group of 14 members have almost identical DNA and all hail from Lochaber, Glen Urquhart and in some cases can trace ancestors back to the early 1700s.  In all probability all these members have a common ancestor within the last 400 years.  This is supported by less spelling diversity, being confined to McPhee with two McPhies.

In Group 10 one common ancestor is confirmed, James McPhee b1758 in Scotland.

Groups 7 and 12 may not really each have two members, as the surnames are so different and the DNA match is quite distant.  Hence they may be incorrectly grouped.

Group 3 has McPhees and McAfees in it indicating that one group were Scots Irish at one point.

Group 4 has two Fees of Ulster origin.

Group 5 contains most of the McDuffs and Duffs.  This is the Clan MacDuff Haplotype.  There is now sufficient data to show quite clearly that McDuffs and McDuffies are not the same bloodline.  Earle Douglas MacPhie asserted this in his genealogies and has proved to be quite correct.   McDuff Group 5 is a very “old” line too, again radiating from a common ancestor.  The origins in Scotland of this line seem to be in the county of Perth and adjoining areas.  A 100% match between MacDuffs who now live overseas and a family who are still living in the area that their ancestors lived in, has supported this theory.  Both Duff and McDuff surnames appear in this group and there is significant genetic spread, evidence which supports the antiquity of this line.  New members genealogies have confirmed the Duff family's origins in Perthshire.  Also it is interesting to note that there is a line of Stewarts which matches the Macduffs.  There were many Stewarts married to Macduffs in Perthshire so perhaps an adoption of orphans occurred.

Group 5a should be entirely independent from Group 5 as this group contains McAfees, a Duffy and a McDuffey.

Group 14 has three Duffs, two of whom are outside the project.

Group 15 contains McFee and McAfee surnames.

Group 20 has four McAfees whose descendents are all in USA

Group 24 has two McAfees.

Group 35 has been associated with Group 8

Group 40 has been associated with Group 12

Celtic and Viking Origins

Of the 42 separate bloodlines most are R1b Haplogroup, which in layman's terms means Celtic origin.  They would have come over from Ireland to Scotland between 1000 and 1500 years ago and prior to the last Ice Age which was 10,000 years ago, would have occupied the Basque area of what is now Spain.  One McDuff or McDuffe is of R1a Haplogroup which can be termed Norse Origin.  They would have come from Northern Scandanavia around 1,200 years ago.  As the glacial ice sheet receded 11,000 years ago, they moved up from an area between the Black and Caspian Seas into Scandanavia.  Other McPhees of I Haplogroup which inhabited the area which is now Croatia around 11,000 years ago and also migrated up through Scandinavia as the ice receded.  Two McPhees are of J2a, and one Duffy is of J2 Haplogroup which was found in the Middle East  until about 8,000 years ago when they moved in several directions including into Continental Europe.

The future

Remarkably, the McDuffie DNA project has been able to answer all the questions it posed at the foundation.  We can now quite clearly see the origins of the clan, the changing of the style of name and the different groups that make up the clan.  We can see the Hebridean origins, the Ulster connection and the connection with the new Clan Commander and the former Clan Commander.  We can also see the separate origin of the McDuffs in Perthshire.  The pattern of groups and “singletons” is very similar to other DNA surname projects such as Campbell and McGregor and this give further weight to the conclusions.

There are probably now fewer findings to be uncovered, however there are 1000s of McFies and McDuffies and McDuffs still out there who do not know their origins!  Having this database available now allows them to do so at relatively little cost.

There may be some usefulness in the future of separating the McDuffs and Duffs from the data set, however at present there is no pressing need.

This venture has been most exciting for me personally as I have seen so many puzzles solved and so many people across the seas reunited.  Thank you one and all McDuffies and McDuffs.

Rod Macduff

rodmac @

The Network Diagram only shows results for members with 25 or more markers.
Where member results are identical, only one identifier is shown and the dot size reflects the number of members with that result.

Members with 25 markers or more can look at the genetic distance to other members by observing the table at the foot of the following link:


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This page and Results page were last updated on 13th June 2010

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