Monday, 7 October 2019

Iain McDonald - Speaker Profile

Iain MacDonald
Talk Title: 
Exploring new Y-DNA horizons with Big Y-700


Growing up in the Highlands of Scotland, I became interested in the ancient history of the megalithic monuments that surrounded me, and the people that built them. Following degrees in St. Andrews and Manchester, I took my PhD in Keele, and have been a post-doctoral researcher in Manchester for the last decade. I now hold an Honorary Fellowship in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies at the University of Strathclyde's Centre for Lifelong Learning.

What do you do as a Day Job?

By day, I'm an astrophysicist. I look for new planets around other stars, and try to identify what they're made of and how they are evolving. I also look into the death of stars, and how they seed the cosmos with the element needed for life. My day is mostly spent staring at computers, programming and extracting statistics for the papers I'm writing. However, for a few weeks a year, I get to jet off to exotic locations, spending nights on remote mountaintops, looking at the stars with some of the most advanced technology mankind has created.

What do you do as a Night Job?

By night, I'm a genetic genealogist. I've specialised in using the statistical knowledge from my day job to piece together the timings and migration patterns of family histories. Most of my time is spent as administrator for the R-U106 group, helping organise research into this large haplogroup (nearly 5000 members) and unravel how its families descend through 5000 years of mostly unrecorded history. I also help co-administrate the even larger Scottish Y-DNA project. Most of my time is spent working with individual testers, but I'm trying to find more time to work on my programming.

How did you get into genealogy?

Our McDonald family (originally Donald) had an oral tradition of descending from Banffshire that my father wanted to unravel and see if we were descended from the Lords of the Isles. We started researching this side of our family about 15 years ago, and traced back to a 1791 marriage in Aberdeenshire, where the trail ran cold. While researching my other lines was interesting, I always returned to try to unpick my Donald line. Eventually, this involved piecing together several thousand Donald individuals from more than 100 different families across the north-east of Scotland. I still didn't get any further forward with my brick wall, but I learned a lot about the history of the area and areas where the family name was common.

Tell us about your involvement with genetic genealogy

Y-DNA testing offered a fresh opportunity to research the origins of my Donald line, and I took my first test over 10 years ago. By comparing my Y-DNA to the Clan Chiefs, we found we weren't descended from Donald himself. I found myself part of the R-U106 group shortly after its foundation, and realised that no-one really had the expertise to tell me what my results meant: if I wasn't from the Clan Donald, where was I from? So I taught myself genetic genealogy and learned the statistics I needed to deduce my origins from another physicist-cum-geneticist (Ken Nordvedt). From there, I built my way up to performing age estimation (TMRCAs) and migration analyses for the R-U106 group, eventually becoming one of its administrators. I've helped many people, including noble families, royalty, and provided input to the RTE1 programme "John Connors – The Travellers". More recently, I've started to invent new statistical tools to make these estimations more accurate, and working with others in the field and Family Tree DNA directly to try and spread this knowledge more widely. I do some small amount of teaching as part of my role at Strathclyde, and we have just published a book: "Tracing your ancestors using DNA: a guide for family historians".

What will you be talking about?

The Big Y-700 test provides a new frontier in Y-DNA testing options. I will discuss the details of this test and what you can expect to find from it. I will focus on the ability to determine ages of Y-DNA haplogroups and how this translates into the ability to trace our ancestors' migrations from the most ancient times, down to the histories of individual surnames, and how these can be merged into times probed by autosomal DNA results.

Where can people get more information about you and the work you do?

Anyone wanting to know more can see my website: where you can also find information on how to get in touch with my directly.

These lectures are sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy).

No comments:

Post a Comment