By: Susan Hedeen and Tim Duncan

Through Y-DNA testing, traditional genealogy, and multiple trips to the Isle of Bute, a connection between a subgroup of Duncan descendants and McConnachie descendants was found on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

As administrators, we are familiar with our project members reaching out to discuss their lineages, their brick walls, their ideas of geographical origins, and their wonderings about relatedness to Y-STR or Y-SNP matches, historical and/or religious figures, clan leaders, royalty, etc. Often, members ask, “What do you think? Am I on the right path?”

For those of us who participate in the Y-DNA testing of our relatives, we may reach out to administrators of surname, geographical, and/or haplogroup projects where our relatives have joined.

We present to you an investigative case study. A step-by-step genetic genealogy investigation into a developing medieval kin group, its geographical origin, and subsequent migrations.

The First Part of the Experiment: Testing Hugh Stewart McConahey

In 2010, Hugh Stewart McConahey (deceased) tested his Y-STRs. Susan was very familiar with this particular lineage, as Hugh was of the Samuel Chalmers McConahey (1876–1971) lineage and was a major research contributor, donating to the McConnaughey Society of America all of his research and citations that began in the late 1800s.

While Samuel knew that his immigrant ancestor had sailed from Northern Ireland to the American Colony of Pennsylvania, he was of the opinion that his Ulster Scot ancestry was in or near Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Map of the middle states of America - Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center (Boston Public Library)
Map of the middle states of America - Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center (Boston Public Library)

One of the society’s hypotheses was that most of the Pennsylvania Ulster Scot McConnaughey (variants) emigres were related in some capacity. Some lines were definitely brought together through traditional genealogy, which in those days (prior to internet genealogy) was at least gumshoe efforts.

However, the major lines were difficult to confirm beyond the few with known geographical locations prior to sailing the Atlantic.

The Second Part of the Experiment: Understanding Surname Lineages From Clan Donnachaidh

Tim Duncan and other members of the Clan Donnachaidh DNA Project were also interested in the Gaelic-derived McConnachie surnames. The project was conducting outreach (some in Scotland and elsewhere), providing testing kits, and also looking into the heritages of other clan surnames.

These early Y-STR results were all over the place, and it was clear not all of those of the surname were related and that more study and testing were required. It seemed that a better understanding of the lineages of Clan Donnachaidh was a good place to start.

Surnames related to Clan Donnachaidh

As with many to most present-day clans, Clan Donnachaidh is associated with more than one Anglicized surname, even if the principle surname of the chief line is Robertson.

Joining Robertson as principles are Reid and Duncan; however, these are not the only names associated with Clan Donnachaidh. The following Anglicized surnames are as well:

Surnames related to Clan Donnachaidh: Collier, Colyear, Connochie, Conochie, Cunnison, Dobbie, Dobbin, Dobie – Dobieson, Dobinson, Dobson, Donachie, Donachy, Duncan, Duncanson, Dunnachie – Hobson, Inches, Kynoch, MacConachie, MacConchie, MacConechy, MacConich, MacConnochie, MacCullich, MacDonachie, MacGlashan, MacInroy, MacIver, MacIvor, MacJames, MacLagan, MacOnachie, MacRobbie, MacRobert, MacRoberts, MacRobie, MacWilliam, Read, Reed, Reid, Robbie, Roberts, Robertson, Robinson, Robison, Robson, Roy, Stark, Tonnochy

Also, as we are all aware by now, not all of the Anglicized surnames are related. Surnames are of multiple origins, as were the once known given name identifiers of those who spoke one of the Insular Celtic languages. You may see some of these names tested on the project’s public pages.

The interesting aspect of this surname list is that a good portion of these names are also derived from the Gaelic personal name Donnchadh. Donnchadh was a common Gaelic personal name within the Insular Celtic language geographies; Think Tom, Dick, Harry, etc.

As languages have evolved, spellings have as well; the hard and fast spelling of the clan name has changed over time until you get to the current Clan Donnachaidh spelling. Geographically speaking, ancestries with surnames are confined to the genealogical period.

The Results of Y-STR Testing on Surnames

As Y-chromosome (early Y-STR) testing expanded, it soon became clear that there were many different biological lineages/origins of the men carrying the clan surnames. There was not just one male progenitor within historical times that all these male lines descended from.

As the database grew, men started grouping into some distinct sub-groups which showed that indeed there were these different biological origins. There are many historical, cultural, and societal reasons for this. Within Clan Donnachaidh, adoptions of surnames by association with a more powerful family in a geographical area are one, perhaps the primary but not the only reason.

Understanding History of Surnames is Vital to Understanding Genealogy

Just like with surname origins, common personal names had/have multiple origins. It is also worth mentioning that the Gaelic language was not confined to Ireland, though Ireland held onto their linguistic Irish Gaelic dialects much longer than other geographies in the UK/Ireland region.

Argyll and other areas of the Scottish Highlands spoke assorted dialects of the Insular Celtic languages, including Brythonic and Gaelic; the Gaelic, collectively referred to as Scottish Gaelic. It seems that the Insular Celtic languages were rather mutually intelligible until the Bardic Schools were destroyed by the English.

The Anglicized Surname Origins for the McConnachie Variants

This notable and long-established clan surname is of Scottish origins and is an Anglicized form of the pre 10th century Old Gaelic “MacDhonnchaidh,” meaning the son of Donnchadh, the modern Duncan, an ancient male given name ultimately derived from the Celtic “Donno-catus”, with “donn,” meaning brown, and “cath,” a warrior.

The Clan Donnachie (Clann Donnchaidh) of Atholl are so named after Donncha Reamhar (Duncan the Fat) de Atholia, who lived in the reign of Robert the Bruce (1306-1329).

In historical references, the sheriffdom of Dumfries Scotland geography is the first documented McConnachie variant surname usage as noted in 1296 Ragman Rolls; hence, McConnachies were land holders in southwest Scotland at the time of that census and were using both given (first) names and McConnachie surname then.

In the broader scheme of things, this is quite early for apparent fixed hereditary surname usage, even among land holders.

The First Test: Discovering the Connection Between Hugh McConahey and a Section of the Donnachaidh DNA Project

One aspect of the Hugh McConahey Y-STR test was that his Y-STR results had significant matches with a subsection of Duncan testers in the Donnachaidh DNA project. This was curious to Susan, Tim, and the Duncan B subgroup. So they designed an experiment.

Research question: Could we find other testers in Duncan Group B who matched those in the McConnachie lineage?

In 2011, Susan began recruiting test subjects from the membership lists of the McConnaughey Society of America and the internet genealogy message boards. The testing results began to filter in, and the McConnachie A/B and the Duncan B groups’ matches increased exponentially.

Conclusion: The observation was repeatable, and there was a significant genetic tie between the Duncan B group and the McConnachie A/B groups of Donnachaidh DNA.

Further research questions were formulated from a review of known and anecdotal information.

The Duncan Descendants Understanding of Their Origins Was Limited

A significant number of McConnachie testers knew of their Ulster Scot anecdotal information. Some knew specifically the geography prior to immigration to America, though most did not know exactly where from in Northern Ireland, and most hadn’t a firm notion as to their Scottish heritage beyond family stories.

The majority of the Duncan of Duncan B group at that time were landlocked in the USA, with the opinion based on their surname that their heritage lay in Scotland, somewhere. Their family and anecdotal stories were all of Scottish origin, yet unlike the McConnachies, who knew and/or suspected their immigrant ancestors may have had a stint in Ireland prior to immigration to America, the Duncan descendants were less knowledgeable about their UK/Ireland regional heritage.

A Coordinated Outreach Campaign Increased Testers Within the Duncan Group

As the outreach continued, Oonagh Fowler (deceased), a Northern Ireland/American found Susan; they began an origins dialogue. She mentioned that her Antrim McConaghy lineage had a story of being from the Isle of Bute, migrating through Rannoch Moor (in Scotland) prior to migrating into Ulster during the latter 1700s.

Isle of Bute -1645, Pont, National Library of Scotland
Isle of Bute -1645, Pont, National Library of Scotland

This was perfect because Susan was familiar with the Isle of Bute story from various members of the society. Susan brought the notion to Tim along with an outreach strategy that many of the members of society employed:

  1. Acquire postal addresses within specific geographies of those of the surname
  2. Writing letters describing their experiment and its goals
  3. Request a response

At Susan’s behest, Oonagh recruits a Northern Ireland McConnachie relative to test. He’s a match for the McConnachie/Duncan lot. Tim and Susan’s concurrent research finds the Latin details of the 1506 Isle of Bute Crown Charters, of which six McConnachies were recipients of Isle of Bute land.

Oonagh subsequently traveled to the Isle of Bute, where she acquired a map and drew in the location of those six land grants.

A New Hypothesis to Test: How Are the McConnachie Lines and the Duncan Lines Related?

Having established an anchor in a Northern Ireland McConnachie with an Isle of Bute ancestral anecdotal story naturally elicited the next research question:

Is Isle of Bute the ancestral home of this McConnachie/Duncan genetically allied group?

Henry Stewart McConechy – The Last McConechy on the Isle of Bute

With this new research question at hand, Tim looked in the phone directory for Argyll/Isle of Bute to learn none of the McConnachie surnames are in residence on Bute. Susan recalled from the society research that Henry Stewart McConechy (1882–1935) was the last male of the surname residing on the island.

Henry Stewart McConechy also mentioned to the Reverend Dr. David McConaghy (of Antrim, Northern Ireland) during one of David’s visits to the Isle of Bute that Henry was the last to carry the surname on the island.

He also related that when the English insisted those of the Isle of Bute McConnachies change their names to a “name of ignominy.” As a result, most with the McConnachie surname “bailed out to Ireland” because they could keep their name there. They would “inflect” the Scots Gaelic dialect so as to not be associated with one another in fear of British reprisal.

Supposedly, this was one reason for all the Anglicized variant spellings in Ireland. Those that didn’t migrate to Ireland migrated to mainland Scotland in the direction of Aberdeen under the public cover name of Duncan, privately using their McConnachie surname.

This has been verified by a review of the old parish registers (OPRs) for mainland Scotland—both surnames would be listed, sometimes accompanied by the word alias. Those of the surname remaining on the Isle of Bute changed their names to Duncan beginning in the 1700s. This has also been verified by the OPRs and contemporary Bute histories.

Do you remember Samuel Chalmers McConahey’s anecdotal story of his McConnachie heritage in Scotland and Ireland? Yes, he was of the notion that his people prior to America migrated from the Aberdeenshire area into Donegal during the Ulster Plantation period and/or shortly thereafter.

Tim acquired the addresses for the Isle of Bute Duncans and posted a large number of letters. With luck, someone with a Duncan surname responded. After much correspondence, the located Duncan agreed to test, and Mr. Duncan was sent a testing kit, which he held onto for nearly a year. His hesitation was accompanied by the statement that he “cannot trace his Duncan lineage past the latter 1700s” threshold.

Mr. Duncan’s DNA Test Results Confirmed The Results of the Experiment

In 2013, Susan took a trip to the Isle of Bute after participating in “Who Do You Think You Are Live” in London, where FamilyTreeDNA had a presence with kits, ISOGG volunteers’ assistance in education, and presentations.

After meeting with Mr. Duncan, Susan went to the local library in Rothesay, where she worked with the genealogy he provided her. Using the births and marriages in the OPRs, she managed to trace his Duncan ancestor to a McConechy who was in the process of transitioning surname usage from McConechy to Duncan in the mid-1700s.

She printed out the information and returned to see Mr. Duncan. With evidence in hand, she shared the news. A wee tear escaped his right eye as he reached out to embrace her in a bear hug. He promised to swab and mail his kit!

The McConechy of Bute were once a very big deal, which he now knows with certainty is a part of his history. When questioned, he stated that his people have always been on Bute and never in Ireland.

Further investigation into Mr. Duncan’s McConechy lineage by Alan Milliken (R-M222 and Subclades co-admin and genealogist) establishes two additional generations and the location of one of the McConechy farms. Of course, his results are consistent with the other McConnachie/Duncan results.

The Experiment Was Written Into a Study for Others To Learn From

Tim writes up a notice entitled “Isle of Bute Surname Study,” and two more Isle of Bute McConechy descendants sign up to test. One is an Australian with the surname Duncan, whose ancestry included frequent travel and residence between the Isle of Bute and Dunnoon in Argyll, Scotland. His OPR data also reveals the surname shift from McConechy to Duncan. His people were never in Ireland; of course, he’s a match.

Then a McConechy citizen resident in England came forward with knowledge of his lineage migrating from the Isle of Bute to Glasgow prior to a descendant migrating to England. He’s a match. There is no Irish involvement with this McConechy. He’s a match.

Conclusion: Isle of Bute is the ancestral homeland of the McConnachie variants A/B and Duncan B groups of the Donnachaidh DNA Project.

The Experiment Also Confirmed the Age and Behavior of the McConnachie Line

Subsequently, as testing has continued, this conclusion has further firmed up. Clan Donnachaidh DNA Project presently has additional tested men with genealogies in Duncan Group B whose lines did not pass through Ulster, Ireland, but migrated from Bute or via other Scottish or English locations directly to North America and Australia.

A review of the available Isle of Bute birth, marriage, and death data indicated a considerable degree of cousin marriages in addition to repetitive allied family marriages. The Isle of Bute population appears to have been endogamous. Currently, Mr. Duncan is related in some fashion to much/most of the Isle of Bute year-round population, according to both him and one of his cousins.

Based on the historical research, it appears that the Isle of Bute McConechy has been in residence since (at least) the early 1300s, marrying and populating within the existing population since medieval times. This McConnachie Isle of Bute heritage may well be much older than the historical James IV Charters.

Test Results Confirmed the Lineage Haplogroup and Lack of Autosomal Relatedness

At this juncture in time, a number of the Isle of Bute McConnachie/Duncan men completed Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) testing. After NGS data grew for these groups, it became clear that R-FGC19845 is solely and specifically the marker of this kin group.

After this became apparent, Susan requested autosomal DNA testing of several of the McConnaughey variants who had completed NGS testing, as well as Mr. Duncan and the English McConechy. Autosomal results show no close relatedness among them.

Further to that, Susan requested the NGS testing of three men known to descend from the same immigrant ancestor to the Pennsylvania Colony, arriving shortly after 1754.

  • Two of them are third cousins with a great grandfather in common, born in the mid-1800s, and descend from the third oldest son of the immigrant.
  • The third descends from the oldest son of the immigrant. Of the immigrant’s sons, the oldest was born in Dungiven in 1747; the other was also born in Dungiven about 1752.

New Questions About Specific Lineages Have Come to Light Since the Conclusion of This Experiment

The conclusions aren’t the end of the research effort regarding this kin group. There is considerably more work to be done. NGS testing (now known within FamilyTreeDNA as Big Y-700) has been underway with these groups since the original Big Y testing began.

The Isle of Bute McConechy kin group is being fleshed out into individual lineages. Presently, in the project, there are 72 Group B Duncan and 23 Group A/B McConnachie that share a Y-tested definable kin group status. We’d like to further refine them through Big Y-700 testing.

Several trips to the Isle of Bute to the Mount Stuart Archive were made by both Tim and Susan, Oonaugh Fowler, Alan Milliken, and Mr. Duncan on site (as well as some individual project members).

L-R front: Alan Milliken, Tim Duncan, Lorraine Stewart, Dr. Keith Stewart (end), back Susan Hedeen, Terry McMaster, Ned Kelly in Edinburgh after a trip to Mount Stuart Archives in 2016

Original and transcribed historical documents revealed data dating back into the 1400s. Additional historical research conducted by Susan and Alan Milliken has pushed the Isle of Bute McConechy historical references further into the early 1300s.


These references are not legends, pseudo-histories, or stories, but hard-copy documentary evidence.

A New Brick Wall For the Isle of Bute McConnachie Lineage

We would like to pursue further investigations. Additionally, there is other information from the 1200s of a Donchadh de But, brother to Fearchar de But, both being sons of Neil de But, that Professor Stephen Boardman (by email to Susan) represented as part of a family in a powerful kin group at the time the Stewarts arrived to take possession of the island during the 1200s. The Norwegians held Bute from the early medieval period up until that time, and the Sodor Diocese maintained religious oversite even longer.

Research question: “Which Donchad do we postulate as the origin for this Isle of Bute McConechy kin group?”

Effort has been underway on this question, and it is more complicated and speculative than any of the questions we have thus far investigated. The reason being that we had during the 1300s at least two Sodor diocese clerics de Bute carrying the Donnchadh and/or Duncani identifier, one of which has a curious secondary identifier that could possibly be a corruption of the Gaelic McConechy with a possible Scandinavian phonetic addition.

Then, during the 1200s, the Donchadh de Bute, a member of a powerful family of a powerful kin group, was in residence on the Isle of Bute at the time the Stewarts took control of the island.

This last item is more intriguing than it might sound, as the Isle of Bute was also the seat of Gal Gaedhil power by the middle of the 9th century; historically, Bute was the Gal Gaedhil heartland up until the 13th century. The Gal Gaedhil, variously spelled, were a culture of Vikings and Gaels, predecessors of the Gallowglass Warriors, associated with Galloway in southwest Scotland. The McConechy were loyal to the Stewarts.

Kingarth, Isle of Bute, Scotland: Home of the MacDonnachaidh and the Gal Gaedhil
Kingarth, Isle of Bute, Scotland: Home of the MacDonnachaidh and the Gal Gaedhil

Research question: Was this the primary factor in their receiving the 6 Crown Charters, or are there additional considerations?

Occam’s Razor could suggest yes for the first part of that question; however, the historical documents reviewed thus far curiously infer more complexities surrounding prior infeftment of the land granted via the Crown Charters.

That suggestion of infeftment apparently was not related to the Scottish Crown but to the grantees of the charters. If the crown wasn’t involved, then the only other conclusion is that the land was being held by the Norwegians and was associated with the Gal Gaedhil. It has been argued that those residing on the Isle of Bute at the time of the transfer from the Norwegians to Scotland and the Stewart remained on Bute. This then pushes that kin group population back into the earlier medieval period. Additional research is required.

Continued Research for the Donnachaidh DNA Project Group B American Duncan Will Hopefully Answer Questions About Immigration

Regarding the subgroup B for Duncan ancestors, research continues in an attempt to uncover their immigrant ancestors. Mary Ann Duncan Dobson (deceased) spent a lifetime researching the Duncan of America, particularly the early arrivals during the Colonial period. She shared her Provo Utah LDS research with Tim, Susan, and another Duncan researcher, all of whom, like Mary Ann, attempted to collate American Duncan of the Duncan B subgroup. It is clear from reviewing this information that more Big Y-700 testing is required to help group the rest.

Presently completed NGS McConnachie/Duncan results are somewhat intertwined, although there is a small group of American Duncan that group up together. Interestingly enough, the Northern Ireland McConaghy happens to head up in parallel with that particular group, suggesting that the original Duncan immigrants into America were of the same Isle of Bute McConnachie lineage prior to immigrating.

Since this McConaghy ancestral migration into Ulster was contemporaneous with the earliest of these Duncans in America, these Duncans probably were not in Ireland during that time, if at all, and the Antrim McConaghy ancestor was not their progenitor but related in an earlier common ancestor.

The proverbial questions arise then:

  • When did these Duncans change their name from McConechy to Duncan? Before or after sailing the Atlantic?
  • Did they leave straight from the Isle of Bute, or could they be among those that migrated to mainland Scotland prior to sailing to America?

We believe we know that among these Duncans were both sailors and tradesmen. Additional historical research is required to determine if there is further information.

It goes without saying that all careful research takes time and money; for this effort thus far, quite a bit of both. We are happy to share with you what we believe is an inspirational process of discovery, analyses, interpretation and conclusions.

The Journey Continues!


About the Authors

About the Author: Susan Hedeen (Antrim N. Ireland Rathlin in distance)

Susan Hedeen

Group Project Administrator
Susan Hedeen has been administrator of the R-M222 and Subclades Haplogroup Project since 2013; she is also administrator and/or co-administrator of some surname projects and cooperates with several others, including clan and geographical projects. She has been studying her ancestral families since 1968. Coming into genetic genealogy as an observer in the early 2000s, she subsequently tested herself, members of immediate and allied families, funded the testing of others, calculated both STR and SNP TMRCA prior to FTDNA, and is a primary investigator of this presented case study.

About the Author: Tim Duncan (Antrim N. Ireland Rathlin in distance)

Tim Duncan

Group Project Administrator

Tim Duncan is the administrator of the Clan Donnachaidh DNA Project and has been doing genealogical research since the 1980’s. When the first DNA tests became available, he started DNA testing in 2003. He became a Donnachaidh DNA Project administrator in 2005 and has traveled many miles doing research, finding and meeting men of the clan surnames for Y-DNA tests. He has tested himself, members of immediate and allied families, funded the testing of others, and is the primary investigator of this presented case study. Both are advocates of genealogical and historical research, including flying the extra miles to conduct overseas research.