Background and Goals


Many genealogists find DNA tests useful.  The test itself is simply a saliva sample obtained by scraping the inside of the cheek.  The privacy of each participant is protected by analyses being limited to “ancestral markers” rather than to the full personal DNA “fingerprint” or "signature".  Participants’ names are not disclosed without their consent, and their e-mail addresses are not released to non-participants.

The interpretation of DNA test results depends on the transmission of DNA remaining unchanged from generation to generation, apart from small and occasional changes (“mutations”) in one or more of the “markers” that make up the genetic elements of the DNA profile or signature of each individual. The DNA signatures of individual participants can be compared to establish the likelihood of common ancestry, but DNA test results are never 100% conclusive.  Confidence in the interpretation of test results increases as more individuals participate and as the testing and analysis techniques continue to improve.

Four applications of DNA tests are popular with genealogists:
  1. yDNA Surname Studies.  These exploit the characteristic of both y-chromosomes and surnames to only descend by the male line.  yDNA tests can be undertaken for three reasons:
    (a) focussed testing, generally by two participants, to support or refute some specific hypothesised genealogical relationship - effectively a paternity test that is not legally binding;
    (b) blind testing, to seek and investigate genetic relationships ("matches") when compared with other participants in a data base, typically sharing a common surname, for example to explore branches of a surname, break a genealogical "brick wall", or find previously unknown cousins; or
    (c) deep ancestry studies, i.e. to explore ethnicity issues going back several millennia.
    However yDNA tests 
    have three important limitations:
    - females can only participate through a male relative;
    surnames only go back a millennium, at most; and
    not all descents though the male line have inherited the surname.
  2. Mitochondrial (mT) DNA tests.  These only follow the female line, and are usually undertaken to support or refute some hypothesised relationship, or for deep ancestry studies.
  3. Autosomal (aT) DNA studies such as FTDNA’s “Family Finder” test.  These test hypothesised relationships, male and female, up to 4th or 5th cousins. 
  4. X DNA tests are similar to aT tests.

This Study only addresses application 1(b) above (see also Ordering Additional Tests).  In other words, it is not concerned with relationships through female lines identified by mitochondrial or autosomal tests, or with Deep ancestry studies of ethnicity isssues. However individual participants may of course pursue such studies privately, and the Irvine Clan Autosomal DNA Project has recently been established to develop the potential of Family Finder tests (see  A summary of these findings relevant to members of this Study is now included in the main results table.

Since 2000 many Scottish Clans have launched surname studies and associated websites. Such studies offer opportunities to:
  • take DNA tests at discounted rates
  • enable direct comparison with other participants using similar surnames to establish genetic relationships;
  • help conventional genealogical research that has met a “brick wall”;
  • ascertain the probability of two or more participants being genealogically related;
  • identify branches within a Clan;
  • explore, develop and promulgate new ideas.
Turning to the Clan Irwin itself, the genealogical context of this surname Study is discussed at GENEALOGICAL BACKGROUND and the book The Irwin Surname: its Origins, Diaspora and Early Branches, details of which may be found at FURTHER READING.

Today over 100,000 adult males use the surname Irwin (or one of several spelling variants) throughout the British Isles, in Australasia, and, predominantly, in North America.  While many such individuals possess lengthy genealogical pedigrees, none of these pedigrees have reliably connected the diaspora of the surname. On the other hand some 90% of the participants in this Study have been able to connect their genetic paternal ancestry with a geographical origin within the surname era.
  1. To facilitate and co-ordinate STR and SNP yDNA tests, of all men bearing the surname Irwin or variant spellings thereof (including Arvin, Ervin, Erwin, Irvin, Irvine, Irving and Urwin), and of other men sharing similar DNA signatures. 
  2. To assess the results of these tests in the context of the traditional division of the surname into Bonshaw, Drum and Orkney branches, and the many other branches that have been identified since the project was founded, and refine the limits of these branches.  
  3. To combine these DNA test results with available genealogical data, particularly to combine the Border Irwin DNA sub-groups now being identified by the L555 haplotree with the pedigrees of members of these sub-groups.
  4. To cooperate with the Irvine Clan Autosomal DNA Project to develop the potential of  Family Finder tests involving the name Irwin or its variant spellings.
  5. To promote, co-ordinate and publish analysis and discussion of the results, primarily through the Study’s website, but also through other media such as the Clan Irwin Association's quarterly journal, the Holly Leaf Chronicle.
  6. To enable contribution to the wider research, development and understanding of genetic genealogy.
This website does not attempt to describe in detail the underlying principles and terminology of DNA tests for genealogists. For further guidance the following websites all give good background:                                                                                                          

FTDNA support a web-based seminar program at:

For a good bit of up-to-date, background reading on the application of genetic genealogy to surnames see

For those interested in deep ancestry a good review is at

For an excellent introduction to Next Generation Sequence testing, including BigY, see