Sinclair Caithness DNA

Update - Z346* Caithness Lineage

by Shawn Sinclair and Steve St. Clair

Get the latest on our U106 Lineage
at our Sinclair DNA blog

Recently, Shawn Sinclair asked John Thurso to take DNA and SNP tests to help the family learn more about connections to his ancient genealogy. He agreed and has been found to be U106, Z1, Z346*. This means John Thurso matches our Sinclair Z346* Caithness Lineage. Z346* is a mutation that is currently believed to have occurred between 400 AD and 800 BC(1)

I began to ask various members of the Clan to test some years ago as did Steve. When I asked John Thurso in 2012 I was fairly certain he would not, but to my surprise and delight he courageously agreed and we now have the results listed above as Steve has stated. St Clair Research agreed to do further testing on SNPs like Z343 and others. We await the results, which we believe will match other participants of our Caithness lineage with Z346* and 343-.

There is, however, a chance that he may show a mutation and hence why we are confirming it. St. Clair Research will continue to test John Thurso on the markers downstream of Z346 as they are made available.

Thurso's known lineage

John, Viscount Thurso, born John Archibald Sinclair has a genealogy that points back to the Ulbster branch of the Sinclair family who descend from George Sinclair, 4th Earl of Caithness (c.1529 - 1582). This earl was married to Lady Elizabeth Graham, daughter of the Earl of Montrose and wife Janet Edmonstone(2). The 4th Earl of Caithness and Lady Graham had 7 children. Their second child was William Sinclair, first Laird of Mey, who left no legitimate children, but did leave two illegitimate sons, Patrick (who had no heirs) and John. This John had children and thus founded our Ulbster line. These illigitimate sons, Patrick and John, had two different mothers - Margaret Mowat and Lucy, daughter of Gordon of Gight.(3, p.248) Isn't it interesting that the Mowat name was among the witnesses of the gift of Roslin and Catcune to William Sinclair? (see below) Unfortunately, there appears to be no Mowat DNA study as of this writing.

According to the written records, the line of Sinclair earls of Caithness was founded by Sir William Sinclair, earl of Caithness (c. 1408 - 1480). He was also baron of Roslin, descendant of the first known Sinclair of Roslin, Sir William Sinclair sheriff of Edinburgh (d. 1299).

Father Richard Augustus Hay, Roland William Saint Clair, and others who have studied our family arrived at differing conclusions about the origins of our Roslin family in Scotland. You see, it's impossible to be certain with the complete absence of documents on the origins of the Roslin family. Many researchers state that they received Roslin from King David I, but recent unbiased researchers have stated that no record exists of this land grant.

The first known Sinclair into Scotland was Henry St Clair of Herdmanston c. 1162 who received Herdmanston from Sir Richard de Morville and also Carfrae, but there is no documented proof that the two families are connected.

There is, however, a Henry of Roslin who resigned the land of Roslin(4) to King Alexander III in 1279. The king then granted them to William Sinclair, knight, the first documented Sinclair at Roslin. No one is quite sure who Henry of Roslin was.

14 September 1279, Traquair - "Alexander, king of Scots, gives notice that, since Henry of Roslin, tenant of his lands of Roslin (MLO) and Catcune (nr Borthwick, MLO), has resigned and quitclaimed these lands to him by rod and staff, he has given to William Sinclair, knight, said lands of Roslin and Catcune, doing service of half a knight" (4)

The witnesses to this grant of land might be informative:
Robert Wishart, bishop of Glasgow (d.1316)
William Fraser, bishop of St Andrews (d.1297)
Gilbert de Umfraville, earl of Angus (d.1307)
William Comyn of Kilbride (d.c.1283)
Simon Fraser (d.1291×92)
Bernard Mowat (son of Michael)
William Bisset, knight (late 13C)
Patrick Graham, knight (d.1296)

source - Newbattle Registrum, Cartae originales, no. 6 - RRS, iv, no. 126

There are three names of great interest in that list of witnesses - Umfraville, Comyn (Cumming), and Bisset. Of those, the surname Cumming shows up on the list of Z346* Z343- SNP matches for the Caithness Lineage. That said, these 2 Cumming family members match closely on their 111 marker test with some of our Caithness Lineage, so at least 2 researchers in that Lineage believe it's a "non-paternity event" (NPE). I wouldn't be so hasty coming to that conclusion. I doubt those two fully understand the medieval history they're looking at.

That surname Umfraville (Humphrey) is interesting to me as it shows up in Northamptonshire, England where St Clairs, de Morville and the de Vaux family held land. To date, there is no DNA connection between our Caithness Lineage and these other families.

The full list of names our Caithness Lineage match on SNP Z346* as of October 2013:

  • Wildey - England
  • Cummings - unknown
  • Beckes - USA
  • Kinkead (Kincaid) - Ireland
  • Frenckinck - Germany
  • Dirksen - Netherlands
  • Mitchell - England
  • Wheadon - England
  • Gilbert - Scotland

(It is incumbent upon the reader to keep up with any additional names added in the future at this link )

One might expect more surname matches given the timing of a MRCA between 400 AD and 800 BC. That lack of matching surnames might be the result of under-sampling in the UK and France.

Determining a matching date

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) makes two methods available for determining a time to most recent common ancestor (TMRCA):

1. The TiP Calculator - This has been known to be sketchy and caution has always been advised in making absolute statements based on the results. That has never been more true than in December 2012, when FTDNA briefly changed the way they calculate short tandem repeat (STR) matches and threw off all the calculations before that date. But that's the nature of DNA work. We expect it to be absolute, but it delivers probabilities instead.

2. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) - These are irrefutable. but, as you've seen above, the estimated times are given in wide ranges. In this case, it's a 1,200 year spread defining the timing of the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of the entire group showing Z346*. The connection with Thurso is likely sooner. But how much sooner? The best thing to do is wait for the next SNPs downstream of Z346.

The fact that John Thurso and many of our Z1 Caithness Lineage both show Z346* means they definitely share an ancestor. The date is the issue. And the next issue is the difference they show on a slow-mutating allele, DYS390. Now, we know that any marker can mutate at any time, but I like to urge caution before leaping to conclusions. Several years ago we heard that EthnoAncestry's S21 SNP was absolute and unequivocal proof of descent from the Earldom lineage. Now we have at least 3 groups who show that mutation, yet their ancestors diverged from one another at least 2,300 ago, long before the timing of the Earl of Caithness. So that original pronouncement by Dr. James Wilson of EthnoAncestry was proven to have been too early and far too broad.

Given the closeness of the Z1, Z346* Caithness Lineage using FTDNA's TiP Calculator, it's tempting to say we're done. That DYS390 mutation and a couple others may be saying something different. We may yet see another SNP downstream of Z346* which will add greater clarity to these results.

I encourage everyone to study the case of two supposedly closely related people in the i1 study at this link. These two members of the i1 study matched on 60 of 67 markers. Most people would call that a close match. However, they turned out to be unrelated until about 3,000 years ago. After SNP testing, one turned out to be L22+ and the other L22- (5). This is why I keep urging members of our study to wait for SNPs that can determine more recent relatedness.

History and Geography Tell Their Own Story

The fact that our Caithness Lineage members all have genealogies pointing back to northern Scotland is the first major clue. Except for Thurso, our Caithness Lineage's known genealogies are all stuck in the 1700s in the Orkneys, Shetland, and Caithness. That geography and FTDNA's TiP calculator mean the location and the timing fits nicely with the move north of the Sinclair Earl of Caithness. That's certainly interesting, and it's easy to leap to conclusions. But as ever, I'm the wet blanket in this research and I remain somewhat cautious.

A short while ago, a member of a Yahoo group I follow who studies the lineages of the U106 SNPs posted the following:

"We simply have to take whatever information we have at any point along the way, and make the best decision we can about it, until such time as we might have better information. That is genealogy. It isn't about proving anything. However, triangulated results that match matching DNA to well-documented paper, are as good as it gets, back to the point of the triangulation, but only on the triangulated lines, and only to the tested descendants of those lines." source - Tue, Feb 12, 2013 at 1:37 PM, Charles Moore (6)

Charles was speaking of the recent DNA work on King Richard III, but his point resonates here - "That will create a presumption about [the Sinclair ancestry] further back up the line, but only a presumption." (My words in the brackets).

DNA is a study of probabilities, and I give the Z346* Lineage a high probability of connecting back to Roslin. For now I give them 90%. I'd go higher, but there's the lack of SNP matches, Thurso's DYS390 allele mutation to 24, and the fact that Z346* shows a TMRCA only as recently as 400 AD at best. I've been cautioned that this sort of statistical data works on a Bell Curve and weights towards the earlier dates, thus closer to 800 BC than to 400 AD. Further SNP tests, which are already become available, will tell the tale.

As to any proof of Norman geography, I don't currently see much. Certainly the Z346* SNP might have been in Normandy. The L48 group was certainly in Western Europe at some point well before the Norman invasion. In May of 2012, I put up a blog post inspired by a researcher named Dienekes Pontikos regarding the prevalence of the U106 SNP among those with "authentic" Flemish surnames. The U106 SNPs are far less prevalent among the Normans. Click here to read. Keep in mind, I have no confidence in the supposed histories of our family connecting to Rollo of 911 Normandy fame. I cannot accept that story as evidence in this study.

The history of the particular U106 Z346* (Caithness Z1) group can tell us much about their origins and it has a long story to tell, especially when looking at just where and when they were in Europe and which countries. Our best evidence of this is Ergolding. Ergolding is where Dr. Vanek et al conducted a dig and extraction of DNA from human bones which included a relatively close STR match to the Caithness Sinclair Lineage and others who are U106 and have different surnames. While not a perfect match of the 19 markers extracted, it is very close indeed. Some of the other surnames are Radcliff, and Martin which have a lot of documented historical information in various countries including England, Scotland and France.

The date on the tomb from Ergolding is around 670 AD in Bavaria. Samples in the tomb A, B, and C are related as a father, son and perhaps cousin. When asked if the three listed above were Merovingian, Dr. Vanek answered 'yes' due to artifacts found in the tomb like clothing, armour, swords, spurs, etc.

In conclusion of this evidence and the recent testing of Viscount Thurso matching various members from our Caithness Lineage, it would explain various lineage charts from numerous writers and historians. Their belief and research that indeed the Merovingian (the ' Salian' peoples) DNA is U106 and have descendants living today with various surnames. The reason for using Salian instead of Merovingian for the name of these people is that Merovingian has been given to a group of peoples from one ancestor, rather than a group of peoples. Descendants have to explain where their early ancestor originated. History usually forgets that there were many illegitimate children, either from war or other activities. The bodies found at Ergolding prove this, for little is written on their history and even forgotten about, hence why we do not have the names or even a tombstone to mark their graves, but we do have a lot of info on the Salian Franks, as mentioned by various writers such as Sidonius, Gregory of Tours, and a host of others from various centuries to shed light on these people.

The Salians were the people who took control of vast parts of Western Europe after the fall of Rome and its armies which many had served in and became administrators in the government of Rome. Important people like this use government to fill many positions, and the tradition carried over the centuries as we saw at Senlac.

Salic law is still in practice today, which is a true testament to the people who created that system.

If Ergolding and tombs A, B, and C are ancestors of the Caithness Lineage of Sinclairs, then we must continue to look at it and further test other tombs and people today. DNA research is a fantastic tool to identify ones relations no matter the century.

So to all those who have tested, a very large thank you for your help, and your contribution to our research, which we will continue for the future of all Haplogroups.

Shawn Sinclair
Admin Salian DNA Project

In conclusion, here's what we know for certain:
1. The Caithness Lineage shares a male ancestor with John Thurso sometime since 400 AD - 800 BC, geography western Europe, England, or Scotland.
2. John Thurso's documented history via research (which to my knowledge has not been verified in the last hundred years, only repeated) ties into the Sinclairs of Ulbster through a non-paternity event (NPE). This NPE was a male Sinclair and so provided YDNA which almost certainly connects the Caithness Lineage to our Ulbster branch.
3. The origins of the Sinclairs of Roslin before the mid-1200's, and from whom they acquired Roslin, are unknown.
4. Our Caithness Lineage's SNP matches show 3 names of interest, but only 1 of these is showing in their SNPs, and some people in this lineage claim that matching surname is a non-paternity event.
5. Geography points to a likely connection with the Earl of Caithness.
6. Current SNP connections do not seem to correlate with a Norman origin, but this might be explained by a general under-sampling of DNA testing in the UK and France.

Steve St. Clair
Sinclair DNA Study

Sources -
1- Tim Janzen's estimate as of July 2, 2012. These are estimated dates and are subject to change as more data is collected. It is incumbent upon the reader to keep up with any changes in TMRCA Janzen makes -

2 - Website "The Peerage" A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe -

3 - Saint-Clair, Roland William, The Saint-Clairs of the Isles, being a History of the Sea-Kings of Orkney and their Scottish Successors of the Sirname of Sinclair," H. Brett, General Printer and Publisher, Shortland and Fort Streets, Auckland, N.Z., 1898.

4 - People of Medieval Scotland website -

5 - Rootsweb,

6 - With permission of Charles Moore,'s U106 SNP Study Group


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