Tuesday, June 2, 2009

McNeills and Y-DNA

At the conclusion of my last post on Lee McNeill, I mentioned how Y-DNA had provided further evidence for my research. Like many researchers, I had been watching the progression over the last decade of DNA testing for genealogical purposes. I was interested but the price had deterred me from considering it even as I watched it come down. Earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ancestry.com offer Y-DNA testing for a mere $79 for a 33 marker test. This price was a significantly more budget-friendly.

The next problem was who to test. Obviously as a female, I couldn't take a Y-DNA test. The next logical person would be my father. As I've mentioned in the past, I have a limited relationship with him and I wasn't sure he'd be willing. As it happened, I spoke with my grandma and discussed this with her, explaining what the test could tell us. In no time flat, he agreed to take the test.

The turnaround time for the results was only about two and a half weeks, which was much quicker than the month they estimated it would take. When the email arrived telling me the results were ready, I was nearly sick with anxiety over all the years spent working on this family and what if I had been barking up the wrong tree for a decade? Based upon my research and reading on the FTDNA group for MacNeils, I knew there were two primary haplogroups (with a few others scattered in there) that were the groups most McNeills (of all spelling variations) fell into. They were R1 and H1. H1 is where the majority of McNeills from North Carolina were classified.

So with a great deal of trepidation, I viewed my father's results. We were H1 and there were some others that had either tested with Ancestry.com or that tested with another company but posted on Ancestry.com that had similar names. McNeely and McNeil stuck out immediately so I felt somewhat comfortable with being on the right track. I took the results and posted them on Ysearch in the hopes that more matches could be found. I was somewhat disappointed as many people that tested with Family Tree DNA apparently never bother to also post their results on Ysearch. So the next step was to take my father's results and I manually compared them to the McNeill H1 haplogroup participants. My father had tested using the Ancestry.com's 33 marker test. Family Tree DNA uses a 37 marker test but there are a couple of differences from Ancestry's. Of the markers that are comparable our results matched on every marker except marker 391. I've since learned that marker 391 is a slow-to-change marker but obviously our line was the one to have the change.

What was most striking to me is that of the participants that matched many of them were descendants of McNeills that came to the Cape Fear region of North Carolina, typically before 1800. This was good news as family lore indicated we were from McNeills that came to the Carolinas in the 1760s. There were also some participants that had Nova Scotia or other Canadian ancestry.

So while these results added credence to the fact that we were McNeills, were they from the branch of McNeills that I had spent a decade researching? As you know, Y-DNA results are useless if there isn't anyone to compare them to. So the next step was to find a male descendant from the same line from the Mitchell and Yancey Co. McNeills. Because Lee had a brother, I was fortunate to be able to find as close a male relative as you can get. He agreed to take the test. I was almost more ill feeling when his results were ready than when my father's were. Fortunately for me and my 10 years of hard work, they were 100% identical. My grandpa Lee was without a doubt Lee McNeill, born in Mitchell Co, North Carolina to Charles and Della Grindstaff McNeill.

Lessons learned:
1. Try to post results to as many places as possible, including Ysearch.org and on Ancestry.com. You do not have to test with Ancestry.com to post your results there. The more places you post matches, the most greater chance of finding a match.
2. Try to find the closest male relative to your line as possible to test for comparative purposes.
3. Be prepared for surprises. I was even though I didn't really have any.
4. Never give up hope! My gut instinct told me I was on the right path and this helped solidify that.

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