Family Stories - The Earldom Lineage

Niven has written that every branch with the exception of four have held the Earldom Lineage.10  Given that R.W. Saint-Clair identified 34 cadet branches of our family in Scotland in his 19th Century book, that leaves 30 branches with direct ties to the Earldom Lineage.

Webster’s defines an Earldom as “a member of the British peerage ranking below a marquess and above a viscount.”

Etymology: Middle English erl, from Old English eorl warrior, nobleman; akin to Old Norse jarl warrior, nobleman -- Date: 12th century

The definition and the era connote that the phrase 'Earl' carried land and title. DNA does not acknowledge titles or land holdings. Given that we have as many as seven lineages in our family, the Earldom could have been held by at least 3 of these. Keep in mind that the timing of the mutations which led to our distinct lineages could well have been as far back as 25,000 years ago, long before Earl William of Roslyn (E1b1 lineage to others, and 3,270 years S21 to others 154).

When someone wants to connect to the Earldom lineage, what you must ask is – when. Because the title changed hands and moved between family branches who may have thought they were related but likely were not.

“The Caithness line of descent was fascinating as the legitimate male line died out several times. When the deceased earl died with no heir, the search was on through the family tree for the next eligible Sinclair.

Alexander 9th Earl of Caithness was the third and last of the Murkle line of earls. The descendants of David of Broynach should have succeeded him but were denied the earldom because the marriage of David of Broynach and Janet Ewins could not be proven satisfactorily.” 108 - Rhondo Blue, in a very succinct summary on a Yahoo discussion group

So you can see that the fact they all carried the surname doesn’t guarantee they share a common ancestor within 3,000 years or more.

However, while the direct male descendant line died out, the line's DNA trail likely continue on to the present day. Second sons of second sons surely survived and had male children that lived on. A good reading of Caithness family history in Roland William Saint-Clair's book shows several lines where he simply stopped tracing the descendants, focusing instead on the lines that held the Earldom.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Many of those who seek to establish a connection to the ‘Earldom Lineage’ all want to connect to William of the 1400’s who built Rosslyn Chapel. Thus, they’ll be descended from all the mysteries of our family - the Merovingian line, the Cathars, Rennes-le-Château, and from the Holy Grail itself. Who among us wouldn’t want to prove that? I sure wanted to early on. However, lately, I've found the more everyday history of our family far more interesting.

Our separation into as many as seven lineages cannot be accounted for by mutations that occurred since William “The Seemly” St. Clair (and likely others) first set foot in Scotland. All five to seven distinct mutations (with perhaps one exception) had already occurred by 1066. Thus, there were four to six other lineages yet to get to Scotland. And we can’t leave out England. Both Niven and Beryl Platts have long scolded us for being to Scot-centric, when those who understand the wider history of the region know the St. Clair family influenced
events from Norway, to Flanders, to Normandy and France, to England and Scotland.

And let’s not fail to question our own family bible, R.W. Saint-Clair’s “Saint-Clairs of the Isles,” the definitive history of our family. Dare I say it? He could have made mistakes. R.W. was also apparently looking for that one true line of St. Clairs going back, unbroken, to the Viking Rognvald and into the misty and enviable history of the Norse.

Such a direct and singular goal of research can cause one to overlook the most blindingly obvious pieces of evidence. Such as all the places in France from which our surname could have come and which could account for so many very distantly related lineages – St. Clair sur l'Epte, St. Clair-sur-Lo, St. Clair Sur Elle, all these became place names for families that were likely not closely related at the time. Add to this Hugh Montgomery’s email to me that he has seen ancient records of our family name in Southern France as well.

We know of at least four places from which the surname may have been taken. Yet R.W. Saint-Clair then goes on to look for his one, true, unbroken line of descent from Rogenvald and Rollo. But who can blame him? This is the lure of genealogy.

Most of us don’t descend from Earl William of Rosslyn. I can state this flatly. Some of us are S21+, some are S21-. Some of us are DYS390=23, some =24, some =25, some =26. All of the separations between our lineages predate the 1400’s by many thousands of years. Our five or seven lineages are showing genetic distances that are far enough apart that some are not connecting until at least 3,900 years ago and some much further. All of the above is proof that we can’t ALL share the same ancestor from the 1400’s.

The question remains, which of our lineages descends from Earl William of Rosslyn? The answer is, it could be one of five lineages. And there are limited ways ot proving exactly which one.

A correction on an earlier statement regardng Ian Clennel Sinclair’s and Niven Sinclair’s independent research.

Originally, I’d said that Ian Clennel and Niven’s research was carried out by two independent parties. This proved not to be the case. Both were helped by Margaret Stokes. I had been very excited about the credibility that such independent research might bring to each person’s research, then to be verified by DNA.

Documents research is always open to debate. While you say you connect to someone, all you can really prove is that you are going down the same lines. You can rarely pinpoint with absolute certainty who was the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) unless it's more recent.

A genetic distance of 3 on the faster mutating alleles means that Niven and Ian don't share a common ancestor in the last 200 or 300 years. That's pretty certain. And their documents research proves they DO share a common ancestor no earlier than the 1st Earl of Caithness. So, sometime in between those two times, they have a common grandfather.

Documents comparisons will shortly clear up whom that MRCA is.  There is only ONE correct line of direct male-to-male (YDNA) documents research. There are THOUSANDS of wrong possibilities. This lineage has become the oldest documented connection in our project and, I suspect, one of the older ones in any family project anywhere.

In looking closely at the exact markers that have mutated (the genetic distance of 3) you'll note that all of these are red numbers. This means they're alleles that are known to mutate faster than the norm. The point it, this genetic distance of 3 could mean they share a MRCA in less than 400 years. Again, a documents comparison will clear this up.

What this all means is a very important point for our project. Ian's line has been factually traced back to the mid 1600s, however family legend, passed to Ian from an aunt, stated that the line went back to the 1st Earl of Caithness. This shared common ancestor with Niven in the 1400s helps us understand what a genetic distance of 3 means in this project. This is the power of DNA when paired with good documents research. Understanding this timing is a very important discovery for the project as a whole as I’ve seen no research on the subject of genetic distances beyond 2 and how far back in time they might point.

The prevailing attitude on the Family Tree DNA website is that if you’re not a genetic distance of two or less, you’re likely not related. This has rubbed me the wrong way since we began this project. I suspected that families as old as ours are rare in the Family Tree DNA database. For families that know they go back only to the 1700’s, it makes sense that they look at a genetic distance of 2. But for families that go back as far as ours, it makes much more sense to look at genetic distances of 3 and 4.

William the Conqueror connection

If the stories are true, and if R.W. Saint-Clair's book is accurate, then the true Earldom Lineage must descend from William the Conqueror. So if we examine those lineages who seem to connect to the legitimate descendants of the Conqueror, we might be getting closer. As you'll see in that section at the link at left, this isn't as easy as it sounds.

The Irish possibility

The fact that Ian’s line went to Ireland at the time of Charles II (1660-1685) is interesting in that Ian is not connecting to the other known lines of Sinclairs there. Clearly, there were many sources of our family in Ireland. We now have 3 that are genetically very distant from one another, yet all living in Ireland at some time. Could all these families have arrived in Ireland with the Ulster Scots? We simply don't yet know.

The family story of the Earl Who Fled, in the links above at left, is another possibility for a connection back to the Earldom Lineage. The group I call the Irish Lineage is seeking out this trail and finding some interesting supporting evidence both in Ireland and in Argyle.

A McQuiston Connection

About two years into the project, I received a lengthy email from a man named Jim McQuiston. It seems there is a story in his family that the Earl of Caithness had impregnated a McQuiston female. He asked if I thought this was true. My reply was that DNA doesn’t lie. Now it could be written off to be an Atlantic Modal Haplogroup match, but I doubt it. We’ve got the story, the geography and the DNA all adding credence to the result. Many legends are true. That plus the DNA match could mean we descend from whoever was the Earl in the 1400’s. But, then, why don’t we more closely match Niven and Ian Clennel? Niven and Ian Clennel don’t match the McQuiston name. Could there have been something funny going on with the Earldom lineage itself? Or is Rhondo's explaination above, a well-known truth in our family, the explaination? Are several of our lineages connecting to the Earldom Lineage?

In this world of DNA, it seems like there’s very little solid ground on which to stand. All around us is moving.

William the Conqueror  |  The Earldom Lineage  |  Jarl Henry St. Clair  |  Our Norse Heritage

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