NOTE: Robin and I are pleased to publish this article by Richard Rankin, an administrator of the Rankin DNA Project. He wrote it; I provided graphics. Everyone interested in Y-DNA testing should read it, even if you don’t have a Rankin ancestor. It’s a great illustration of what Big Y tests can do to place your surname into a genetic family tree. Enjoy! – Gary Willis


The Rankin surname has only become attached to specific branches of the human family tree in very recent times. As this article will demonstrate, there are known Rankin lines from branches of the genetic tree that diverged tens of thousands of years ago. By comparison, family surnames were adopted very recently, only within the past 1,000 years or so. People adopted surnames at different times, in different circumstances, in different cultures. Originally, a family surname was less related to genetics than to external factors like geography, occupation, or tribal association, despite sons having the same Y-DNA as their fathers. Thus, members of the same family might have different surnames based on each one’s occupation. For example, John (the) Smith might have sons named John (the) Wheelwright and James (the) Miller.

The families who first adopted the Rankin surname generally lived in Ireland, Scotland, or England in 1000 AD or later. However, they came from a wide variety of genetic backgrounds. That is because those islands experienced multiple waves of in-migration from different people groups long before written history, from the early Stone Age, through the Bronze and Iron Ages. As a result, Rankins are genetically quite diverse despite sharing a surname.


Advancements in genetic testing have opened a new world of discovery. In particular, Y-DNA genetic testing presents a bewildering array of choices to the interested genealogist. All of these Y-DNA tests examine the paternal Y chromosome, which is only passed from fathers to sons. The Y chromosome is inherited largely unchanged because it does not mix or recombine with anyone else’s DNA. Mutations or changes occur over very long periods of time.

The most common Y-DNA test for genealogy purposes is the Y-37, or 37 marker STR (or “short tandem repeat”) test. It gives just enough information to identify other test takers who might be related through the paternal line within a time frame of several hundred years. But that’s about all it can do. There are also “reversions”, or backwards changes in these STR markers, which can result in a false positive match. When this occurs, what appears to be a close genetic match is in fact just random. This is especially possible when only 37 markers are compared, rather than 67 or 111 markers.

In contrast, Family Tree DNA’s Big Y-700 SNP test (pronounced “snip” test) examines substantially more Y-DNA than any STR test. As a result, when a member does a Big Y-700 test, there is much more information available. This genetic information reaches back before surnames, beyond the reach of traditional paper genealogy, enabling the construction of a “family tree” back to the beginnings of humanity.

Not only does the Big Y-700 test reach back into the ancient ancestry of the Rankin family tree, it also has benefits for modern genealogical research. Big Y SNP results allow placement of an individual into a specific Rankin lineage with much greater confidence than STR results alone. Even better, the SNP results accrue additional benefits as more people test. When enough distant cousins within a known lineage do SNP testing, laboratories can identify and catalogue additional SNPs specific to that group. This is why the terminal SNP or Haplotype for an individual will often change over time. In this way, the additional SNPs become both more recent, and more relevant to specific sub-branches of a Rankin lineage. With enough testers, SNPs can work alongside STRs to help identify a very particular branch of a lineage. They can even help identify a Most Recent Common Ancestor (MCRA) when those terminal SNPs are known to have developed in the past few hundred years.

Most members of the Rankin surname project at Family Tree DNA have taken a 37-marker test. Thus far, the test results have enabled Rankin project administrators to group the members into nine identifiable lineages. The members of each distinct lineage likely descend from a common ancestor of that lineage in a genealogical time frame, that is, when written records are available. Often that period is within sixteen generations or fewer. However, the nine Rankin lines are genetically diverse and are not related to each other within a genealogical time frame.

If the nine Rankin lineages are not related to each other on a genealogical time scale, how are they related to each other? We have to go back nearly 50,000 years and rely on Big Y tests to answer that question.

Fewer than a dozen Rankin Project members have done the Big Y-700 test to date. These individuals have made a great contribution to the understanding of the ancient Rankin family tree. Despite the relatively small number of Big Y-700 testers, the results enable the creation of an ancient Rankin family tree. As more people test, more Rankin SNPs will be identified, and a more detailed genetic history can be written, both ancient and modern.[1]


All modern humans descend from a common genetic ancestor who lived over 200,000 years ago. Not surprisingly, he is denoted “Y-Adam.” All of the identified Rankin lineages come from a descendant of Y-Adam who appeared about 47,000 BC.  He carried the SNP M523 and is the common ancestor of all the Rankins tested to date and many, many other surnames as well.  Over the millennia, present-day Rankin lines diverged from M523 in four major branches to form their own distinctive groups. Charting these branches over time creates a Rankin DNA Family Tree analogous to a traditional “paper” tree. The tree developed below identifies each SNP associated with a major Rankin lineage branch and the approximate time the branching occurred. The currently identified Rankin lineages are shown as L1 through L9.[2] The final major branch for each lineage is in a highlighted box.

First Branch – 45,000 BC: Stone Age Europeans

The Rankin family tree first branched downstream of the M523 common ancestor about 45,000 BC, when the present day Rankin Lineages 4 and 8 diverged from the other groups.

Of course, they were not called Rankins at the time. Lineages 4 and 8 have SNP M429 while the others have SNP M9. Lineages 4 and 8 then developed M170, part of genetic Haplogroup I, which is among the earliest Stone Age groups to arrive in Western Europe. Lineages 4 and 8 diverged from each other and from M170 around 25,000 BC. Lineage 4 is defined by SNP I-P215.[3] The SNP distinguishing Lineage 8 is I-Z2699.[4]

The migration maps at Family Tree DNA illustrate the Haplogroup I migration path through the Balkans and into Scandinavia. M170 is among the most frequently identified SNPs in European remains dating from the Paleolithic. The frequency of this haplogroup in early Western Europe was later reduced by waves of other migrating groups, including Haplogroup R1b in the Bronze Age and Haplogroup R1a, especially during Viking expansion.

Second Branch – 20,000 BC: Norse Vikings

The remaining seven Rankin lineages descended from SNP M9, which developed via multiple steps into M207/Haplogroup R about 26,000 BC. The Rankin family tree then split from the downstream Haplogroup R1 about 20,000 BC.

Haplogroup R1a carries the M420 SNP, while R1b carries the M343 SNP. In Europe, the R1a/M420 group is strongly Slavic, Baltic, and Nordic. Lineage 1 is the only known Rankin line that comes from Haplogroup R1a / M420.

Lineage 1 descends from M420 through a series of interesting SNPs, including Z289, which is associated with Norse Vikings, Z284 associated with the Viking Expansion into Ireland and Scotland, and L448. The last SNP developed around 1200 BC and was found in the remains from a Viking grave in 9th century Dublin. Being strongly associated with the Viking Expansion, this group was likely among the later arrivals into the Scottish / Irish sphere.[5]

Third Branch – 3,000 BC: Germanics

The other Rankin lineages descend through R1b / M343, which is characteristic of both Celtic and Germanic peoples. They also descend from the downstream SNP M269, the Western Atlantic Modal Haplotype (WAMH). For the majority of Rankins who do an STR test only, their predicted haplotype will very likely be R-M269. Unfortunately, this SNP developed about 11,000 BC, so it isn’t terribly helpful for genealogy. It became prevalent in Western Europe in the Bronze Age.

The third major branch occurs downstream of M269 / WAMH, when Lineage 2 separated from Lineages 5, 6, 7, and 9 around 3,000 BC. Lineage 2 is defined by the distinguishing SNP U106, while the  other four lineages have SNP P312. “BritainsDNA” calls U106 descendants the “Germanic” group. At present, U106 occurs with the highest frequency in the Germanic areas of Europe but also in Britain, especially the historically Anglo-Saxon regions of southeastern England.[6] Members of this group appear more likely to have an Anglo-Saxon ancient paternal ancestry, although many are later associated with the largely Scots-Irish diaspora to the British Colonies.[7]

Celtic Branches – 2,000 BC: Britons, Irish, and Scots, Oh My!

The other Rankin lineages developed from the Western Atlantic Modal Haplotype in branches below R-P312, which is associated with a non-Germanic historical group called the Beaker Folk or Bell Beaker.[8] As part of the Bronze Age migrations westward, this group displaced or absorbed many of the earlier European arrivals.

Rankin Lineages 5, 6, 7, and 9 all carry SNP R-P312, and its downstream SNP L21, which is characteristic of the broad Celtic group in particular, and R-DF13. All four of these Rankin lineages branched from R-DF13 around 2,000 BC.

Lineage 5 branched off DF13 to its distinctive SNP R-DF21, which is closely associated with the Celtic cultures of the British Isles.[9] Interesting SNPs yet further downstream include R-S424, the “Little Scottish Cluster,” and R-S190, which is associated with certain Iron Age tribes particularly concentrated in the Clyde River valley.[10]

Lineage 6 diverged from R-DF13 with its distinctive SNP R-DF49. An interesting note about the downstream SNP R-M222 from “Sometimes called Northwest Irish, concentrated in Ireland and western Scotland. Associated with Niall of the Nine Hostages and Ui Neill clans. Britain’s DNA labeled this branch: Ancient Irish.” Members of this lineage are likely to have a very strong Irish paternal connection.[11]

Rankin Lineage 7 branched off DF13 with its distinctive SNP R-Z253 and downstream SNP R-FGC3222, closely associated with both Scotland and Ireland.[12]

Rankin Lineage 9  carries the same SNPs as Lineages 5, 6, and 7 down to R-DF13. Additionally, Lineage 9 carries the distinctive SNP R-Z255. Downstream of this, there is an additional distinctive SNP R-L159 called “Hibernian” or Irish.[13]


Thus concludes the story of the Rankin family tree as told by Y-DNA, stretching back to a genetic Adam. Here is the complete Big Y Tree:

All Rankins who have taken the Big Y-700 test to date carry the same SNPs, inherited from genetic Adam down through a common ancestor about 47,000 years ago. Roughly then, the first branch occurred, dividing the broad group of Stone Age Europeans, from a broad group of later-arriving Bronze Age Europeans. Additional branches occurred about 20,000 BC (Nordic), about 3,000 BC (Germanic), and about 2,000 BC (Celtic including Brittonic, Irish, and Scottish). Nine distinct genetic Rankin lines have been identified so far.

The more people test at a Y-700 level, the more discoveries are made. This story will continue to develop. May those who come behind us find it helpful.



[1] For those interested, new first time Y-DNA testers can order the Family Tree Big Y-700 test at An existing Y-DNA kit can be upgraded from the “Add Ons & Upgrades” button in your account, or go to An additional DNA sample is usually NOT required for an upgrade. FTDNA frequently offers discounts on these products around  main holidays including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Please note that the Rankin DNA Project and its administrators have no financial interest in test purchases.

[2] Lineage 3 is not shown because no member of that line has taken a Big Y test.

[3] Only one member of Lineage 4 has done a Big Y test, though two others have done limited SNP testing that places them along the same SNP tree downstream of I-P215.

[4] No members of Lineage 8 have done a Big Y SNP test. But the one current member of this line has done a more limited test, which confirmed a SNP I-L22, downstream of the distinctive I-Z2699.

[5] Three members of Lineage 1 have taken a deep subclade or Big Y test, with two distinct terminal SNPs at present.

[6] For more information about the SNP U106, consider reviewing or joining the U106 group project at Family Tree DNA ( According to this group page, “R-U106 …  rose to significance in the area of present Germany and the surrounding areas probably a bit before 3000 BC.  Although U106 is found all over Europe, and in countries that Europeans have migrated to, it is most significant in Germany and surrounding countries, Scandinavia, and Britain. In its time-frame of 3000 BC, U106 likely arose in the Corded Ware culture. Depending on which branch of U106 a member descends from, the people on that branch adapted to a variety of different cultures along the way….”

[7] Only one member of Lineage 2 has taken a deep SNP test, although three others have taken lower level SNP tests that place them definitively along the same SNP tree downstream from U106.

[8] An early Bronze Age culture that lasted in Britain from about 2,800-1,800 BC, so named for distinctive inverted bell-shaped drinking vessels.

[9] Only one member of the Rankin Lineage 5 has taken a Big Y-700 test. But there are numerous members of the Little Scottish Cluster project who have also taken the Big Y and carry the same SNP tree. These Sloan, Chambers, and other Big Y test results are also helping to shape the understanding of the Rankin L5 genetic history.

[10] These Brittonic tribes were known to the Romans as Damnonii, and later a confederation of tribes called Maeatae. These are not the Caledonii or the Picts, nor the Gaelic Scots (Scotii) nor Irish (Hibernii), but lived in close proximity to them near present day Ayrshire. These were a Celtic people, speaking a Brythonic language, possibly Cumbric, closely related to Welsh. These were later known as Strathclyde Britons.

[11] Rankin Lineage 6 has no members with Big Y-700 results. However, of the four members of the lineage, one member has done a limited SNP test. His confirmed SNP R-M222 allows for a good placement in the Rankin tree.

[12] Although 4 members have tested Big Y, they all happen to be part of the same 2 terminal SNPs. Not much more is known without some additional members and tests.

[13] Only one member of this lineage has tested Big Y-700, so once again this line is in particular need of additional testing in order to develop a more robust genetic storyline.