My Scottish Origins as revealed by my DNA

The Custom House at Greenock, Scotland | Robert Salmon (1755–ca. 1844)

My earliest known Scottish ancestor is, as mentioned earlier, Alexander Campbell. Alexander died in 1826 while returning to his family in Jamaica from a trip to Scotland. In his will, he stated his mother was Agnes McKinlay, who lived in Glasgow and left legacies to members of a Crawford family who lived in Greenock. I’ve determined that at least some of those Crawford family members lived and died at Mansion House in Greenock, suggesting a close tie to that region of Scotland. Additionally, Agnew Crawford was named as an executor of Alexander’s will.

There is no doubt of the existence of Agnew Crawford and his sisters—Mary, Arabella and May— for research shows that Misses Arabella and Marian Crawford, of Greenock, Scotland were unsuccessful claimants in a lawsuit challenging Alexander’s will. May or Marjory Campbell, who died at Mansion House, Greenock, Scotland on 15 Dec 1823, age 78, married Thomas Crawford, an excise officer who died 26 Apr. 1813 in Greenock). May and Thomas lived in Callander and Greenock, where they had four children: Mary, Agnew, May, and Arabella (age 50 in 1841 and died at the Mansion House, Greenock, on 1 Oct 1845).

Given that the Crawfords were prominently mentioned in Alexander’s will—the only Scots to be named aside from his mother—and given their mother’s maiden name was Campbell, I concluded that Alexander was almost certainly from Scotland and the Crawfords were close family members. I have also received additional reinforcement of my conclusion from a Cana­dian source. Arthur Owen who speculates—based on an 1814 let­ter from his ancestor George Camp­bell to Ag­new Craw­ford—that George Camp­bell was Ag­new’s cousin. This would make these Crawfords part of the Campbell line. Moreover, using autosomal DNA comparison, we determined a distant link between my Campbell family and the Owens, who descend from George Campbell. Also supporting a family relationship between the Campbells and the Crawfords is that “Agnew” is the male version of “Agnes,” Alexander Campbell’s mother’s name.

There is a tradition that says Campbell men of Greenock liked to marry their daughters to customs and excise officers to obtain preference for their trade goods from the West Indies. This is supported by the official record, which shows Campbell and Crawford family members frequently holding posts as excise officers.

And that is about all I was able to find out about my links to Scotland that can be supported by documentation. That is to say, my Campbell family history project had hit a dead end. So, like many family researchers, I turned to genetic genealogy to find out from where in Scotland my Campbell family came, and to which of the branches of the Campbell Clan did we belong. 

In earlier posts, I wrote about my Campbells belonging to the ancient subclade, R-L1065, which has been identified as The Scot’s Cluster. This cluster contains many of the old Highland clan chiefs and members, including MacDonalds (though not their clan chief), O’Donnell, McCoy, Campbells, MacGregors, Buchanans, MacPhersons and Alexanders, to name a few.

Within the R-L1065 is the unique Y-DNA haplogroup, R-BY23069. This is shared by a cluster of Campbells who seem to be identified with North Western Scotland, especially Argyllshire and Perthshire. Within this cluster, my specific haplogroup is R-Y33315. Below is the probable path—estimated by the SNP Tracker—my paternal ancestors took on their multi-millennium-long journey to our historical homeland in the Highlands of Scotland.

Ancient Migration Path of the R-Y33315 Haplogroup

Here, I will pause to give credit to Mr. Dean Robinson, who has done so much to uncover our Campbell cluster and who had led much of the research into our ancient Campbells. Working with Dean is Mr. Alasdair MacDonald, genetic genealogist of Your Scottish Ancestry and a Teaching Fellow/Lead Tutor with the University of Strathclyde.

Here is an excerpt from Alex Williamson’s Big Tree, a phylogenetic tree for the R-P312 Y-DNA haplogroup, which contains, among many others, our specific Campbell cluster, which is clustered with sets of McCoys and MacDonalds: 

Big Tree | Campbell Cluster R-BY23069

Going by the family history of some members of our Campbell cluster, Argyllshire and Perthshire seem to be the “where” our people were centred. Still, the specific “who,” i.e., which particular Campbell branch, has yet to be determined. My best guess at this time is we are affiliated in some way with the Glenorchy/Glenlyon cadet family of the Clan Campbell. Uncertainty remains, however. Let me explain.

We now know Y-DNA haplogroup R-BY23069 does not belong to the main Argyll Campbell line. We have a common ancestor, but he lived in ancient times before the formation of our clan. So, since the recorded lineage of some members of our cluster implies we are affiliated with the Glenorchy/Glenlyon Campbells, and since those Campbells are supposed to be an early branch of the main Argyll line, we have a problem. There appears to have been a “Y-DNA break” somewhere in our paternal lineage.

Time and further research may clarify the “fit” of the R-BY23069 Campbell cluster within the overall Campbell family. For now, though, we are at a stalemate. In his post of 16 Sep. 2020 on the Family Tree DNA Website, however, Mr. Robinson does offer us a ray of hope:

He writes, “Of course, now, it is impossible to say where this [Y-DNA paternal] break occurs, but we are currently looking to triangulate against the cadet branches of Knockhill/Lecropt, Roro, Lagvinsheoch, and Monzie Campbell’s for new discovery. Should we discover this break, this could bring interesting new revelations to the hierarchal [Clan Campbell] tree, as well as the historical genealogical record itself.

Let’s hope this research bears fruit.