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Are you descended from Irish High King Niall?

In February 2006 Trinity College in Dublin released the results of a DNA study on Irish men, which found that a certain pattern of markers was common in northwest Ireland and in men with surnames associated with the Uí Néill sept or clan. They postulate that this could be due to what's been dubbed "the Genghis Khan effect"-- where a powerful ruler or conqueror leaves a legacy of many thousands of descendants because of his many sons, some of whom retain power and have many sons of their own, for generation after generation. In this case, the legendary Fifth Century Irish high king Niall of the Nine Hostages may the progenitor of these millions of men. The media picked up the story, with stories in the New York Times and lots of other places which no longer have the story on the internet. ;-)

Additionally, a SNP has been discovered that corresponds with this group. A little basic genetics: the numbers on our DNA project table are measurements of STRs, or short tandem repeats. An STR is a place on the Y-chromosome where a pattern of the nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA) is repeated numerous times; for example, at DYS 391 the 10 or 11 that our project members have is how many times the pattern TCTA is repeated. A SNP, short for single nucleotide polymorphism, is a specific location on the Y-chromosome where the nucleotide normally found at the location has been replaced by another, like a "G" replacing an "A". The majority of men with a western European background are haplogroup R1b; having the SNP mutation that corresponds to Trinity's "Niall" STR pattern puts you in the subgroup R1b1b2a1b5b. (Because this R1b1b2-etc. designation keeps changing as new SNPs are found-- it started as R1b1c7-- we'll refer to it by the common shorthand designation R-M222.)

Anyone who's done much genealogy learns quickly to be skeptical of claims of descent from Charlemagne, John the Baptist, Adam and Eve, etc. And this study has stirred up a little debate amongst the geneticists and the Irish history scholars. The man with the first R-M222 mutation is the haplogroup's founder, and all his male descendants have that mutation. Likewise, the founder's pattern of STRs are passed on to his male descendants; but as more and more generations go by, the STRs (which mutate more often than SNPs occur) would start to drift away from the founder's original STR pattern. By examining the diversity of STRs in men who share the same SNP, you can estimate how long ago that founder lived. The diversity of STRs among men who are R-M222 puts the founder back about 3,400 years ago, about twice as long ago as Niall of the Nine Hostages lived. So it's unlikely that everyone with the Trinity "Niall" pattern is descended from the high king. Because of the high degree of correlation between surnames associated with Uí Néill septs that the old histories declare descended from Niall and his family, it's very likely that Niall was a member of this R-M222 group and had a large part in its spread, even if he wasn't its founder.

Two family groups in the Slaven DNA project are definitely members of "Niall's" clan, and another is quite likely. Participants 6897 and 8755 have been tested and are positive for the SNP defining the R-M222 haplogroup. Also, participant MSCAQJ ("Group AB") has been SNP tested; the company tests for all the mutations for the various subgroups on the same branch of the R1b tree as R-M222 but doesn't test for that SNP. However, he is negative for all the other mutations, so by process of elimination and on the basis of his other marker results, he's almost certainly R-M222 as well.

A version of the Slaven Project results table is below, with the Niall haplotype derived from comparing the STR results from those testing positive for the R-M222 mutation, at the top for reference.

  DYS#
Kit3
9
3
3
9
0
1
9
3
9
1
3
8
5
a
3
8
5
b
4
2
6
3
8
8
4
3
9
3
8
9
|
1
3
9
2
3
8
9
|
2
4
5
8
4
5
9
a
4
5
9
b
4
5
5
4
5
4
4
4
7
4
3
7
4
4
8
4
4
9
4
6
4
a
4
6
4
b
4
6
4
c
4
6
4
d
4
6
0
T
A
G
A

H
4
Y
C
A

II
a
Y
C
A

II
b
4
5
6
6
0
7
5
7
6
5
7
0
C
D
Y

a
C
D
Y

b
4
4
2
4
3
8
R-M222 13251411 11131212 12131416 17 91011 11251518 30151616 17111119 23171618 17383912 12
Group A13 251411 111312 121214 141617 91011 112515 183015 161617 11 121119 231516 171838 381212
Group B13 251411 121312 121213 141617 18 91011 112515 183115 161617 111219 231716 181738 391212
AB13 241411 1113 121212 131416 17910 111125 141830 15161617 1112?1923 17      1212
Group C13 241411 111412 121213 131717 91011 112515 202815 151617 1212?19 2216      12 12
Group D1425 1410 1111 131212 1213 1414 16179 101111 251518 301516 1616              

The cells in white with the two numbers represent markers where members of the group have different values, with one of the values matching the ancestral Niall value. Because labs count the TAGA H4 value differently, I have to go back and confirm the members marked "12?" but I didn't want to delay this website update any longer.

Slaven Project comparison to the original Trinity study results

This table shows the Slaven project test results against the original Trinity study results, for those markers that are tested by the commercial labs. The Niall haplotype is again at the top for reference. Mismatches have been highlighted. Note that the results for the DYS 389-1 and 389-2 markers are represented differently than on our project page. Marker 389-2 contains 389-1 and the Trinity study subtracted that count from 389-2, so the 14-30 for 389-1/389-2 on the main project page becomes 14-16 here, 13-29 becomes 13-16, 13-30 becomes 13-17, etc. Also, the way that DYS 461 is reported has changed since the start of the Trinity project; the "10" reported in the study is equivalent to the "12" in today's genealogy studies. As with the 389-1 and 2 markers, 461 is reported here as it appears in the Trinity study.

 DYS#
Kit3
9
3
3
9
0
1
9
3
9
1
3
8
8
4
3
9
3
8
9
|
1
3
9
2
3
8
9
|
2
4
3
7
4
3
8
4
6
0
4
6
1
4
6
2
4
3
4
4
3
5
4
3
6
Niall132514111212131416151211101191112
Group A132514111212141416151211     
Group B1325141112121314161512111011   
Group C1324141112121313171512121011/12   
MSCAQJ132414111212131416141211101191112
697213241411121213131615       
696413241411121313131715       
N13683132414111213131317        
690114251410121214141615       
43HDG61323141012111313151512111010   
696513231410141112111716       

The following are the oldest known ancestor of the project participants. More complete descendency can be found on the the main results page:

Current participants.

Group A - Oldest confirmed ancestors are John Slavin, born in Rowan County, North Carolina in 1757, died 1851 in Garrard County, Kentucky; Richard Slavey, pioneer resident of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland area of Kentucky; and Robert Slaven, who died about 1814 in Gibson County, Indiana.

Group B - Oldest confirmed ancestors are John Slavin, born ca. 1723 in County Tyrone, Ulster, and died 1788 (or 1802) in Highland County, Virginia; Jacob Slavens, born ca. 1818 in Tennessee, died April 14, 1882 in Morgan County, Illinois; and James Slavin, born in Ireland, date and place unknown.

Group C - Oldest confirmed ancestors are Tully Daniel Slevin, born in County Tyrone in 1774, emigrated from Ireland in 1811, settling in Ohio; and Oldest known ancestor: Michael Joseph Slaven, born ca. 1881-2, Glasgow, Scotland, emigrated to Canada in 1922 and settled in California.

ID MSCAQJ - Oldest suspected ancestor is Thomas F. Slavin, born ca. 1887 in Ireland.

ID 6972 - Oldest known ancestor: John Slavin, born about 1822 in Ireland (family tradition says County Tyrone), died July 12, 1885; buried in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

ID 6964 - Oldest known ancestor: Barnabas Slaven Sr., born ca. 1763 in County Antrim or Down, Ireland; came to America early 1790's, settling in Ohio.

ID N13683 - Oldest known ancestor: Michael Slevin, b. Ireland in 1825, d. Philadelphia in 1873.

ID 6901 - Oldest known ancestor: John H. Slaven born ca. 1846 in Louisiana and died after 1920 in Pike County, Mississippi.

ID 43HDG6 - Oldest known ancestor: Patrick and Eliza (Welch) Slaven, born County Wexford, Ireland, and emigrated to Picton, Ontario, in the mid-1800's. Descendancy: William Alexander and Mary (McCaw) Slaven; Harry Bartholemew and Florence (Heffernan) Slaven, all of the Picton, Ontario, area.

ID 6965 - Oldest known ancestor: Amos Slavey. Parents, date, and place of birth for Amos Slavey, unknown.


Copyright © 2009 Larry Slavens. All rights reserved.