One of my most frustrating brick walls in my genealogy research has been my 4x-great-grandfather, John Fraser. We have records for his two marriages and the births of his six children, but nothing about his own birth or death. And not for lack of trying! A research trip to Scotland back in 2015 did little to advance this particular line.
Since then, I’ve been trying to see what we can learn from DNA testing. Autosomal DNA testing (the typical kind you can get at Ancestry or MyHeritage) is not very useful once you get out beyond about six generations. Bruce is five generations removed from John, so in theory it should be possible to turn up something. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any relevant matches.
Luckily, though, cousin Bruce has been an enthusiastic contributor of Y-DNA for testing. Y-DNA is passed exclusively from father to son. And although the test results don’t tell us anything more about John Fraser himself, it does give us some very interesting insights into our deeper Fraser ancestry.
Y-DNA Testing History
We conducted Bruce’s Y-DNA testing through FamilyTreeDNA. An initial test in 2016 showed a close match1 to a living individual, let’s call him “Tester A”, who could trace his ancestry back to an Alexander Fraser. This Alexander was born in Boleskine & Abertarff Parish, Inverness, Scotland in 1789 and died in Lanark County, Ontario, Canada in 1872. The test results suggested that Bruce and Tester A “…are estimated to share a common paternal line ancestor who was, with a 95% probability, born between 1700 and 1950 CE. The most likely year is rounded to 1850 CE.”
From this result, I inferred that the this Alexander Fraser could have been as close as a first or second cousin to our John Fraser! I was hopeful that I could find a paper trail that would validate this.
In 2022, we did another Y-DNA test for Bruce, this time advancing to the “Big Y-700”, the most comprehensive Y-DNA test available. This more accurate test showed that the common ancestor of Bruce and Tester A was actually more likely to have been born in 1700, 150 years earlier than what the previous test showed.2 So back to square one; I don’t have a paper trail to find John Fraser’s parents, let alone an ancestors from this much earlier time period.
Well, so much for my brick wall. It’s still standing strong. HOWEVER, the Big Y test does tell us a lot of interesting things about our deeper Fraser ancestry…
This is fun…scientists can use Y-DNA to accurately identify very very distant cousins. Here are some of our ancient Fraser cousins3:
- We share a common ancestor with Tutankhamun (“King Tut”). Our common ancestor lived about 19,000 years ago. King Tut was born in 1341 BCE.
- We share a common ancestor with Nicolaus Copernicus. The common ancestor was born about 3,300 BCE. Copernicus was born in 1473 CE.
- We share a common ancestor with many other famous persons, including: Tsar Nicholas II Romanov, Charles Darwin, Ulysses S. Grant, Jesse James, and Ernest Hemingway.
- Our closest “ancient cousin” is actor Woody Harrelson. Bruce and Woody share an ancestor who was born in about 1550 BCE – more than 3,500 year ago.
Don’t get too excited – any man’s Y-DNA testing will turn up famous ancient cousins. It’s just fun and interesting that DNA proves that we are very distantly related to these people.
Scientists can even use Y-DNA to trace the migration of our ancestors. Our Fraser line came out of Africa about 100,000 years ago, wandered through India and Asia and finally arrived in Northern Europe about 5,000 years ago.
Joining Forces with Other Frasers
One of the cool things about FamilyTreeDNA is that they offer the ability for people with various DNA connections to form “projects”, where you can share details about your DNA and compare it to others who have similar surnames or geographic origins.
Bruce met the criteria to enroll his test results in the “FRASER and Septs” project (“sept” is another word for “clan”). The project currently includes 1,591 individuals who have submitted Y-DNA test results and who either have a Fraser surname or can trace their ancestry to a member of a Fraser-related clan.
Researchers working with this pool of testers have come up with some really interesting findings related to our Fraser ancestry. They have published two very dense and technical reports. (Email me if you would like copies.) Here are the take-aways:
From “Fraser Surname Y Chromosome Insights From FamilyTreeDNA Data”:
- This report covers the whole group of Y-DNA testers in the project.
- We probably descend from Udard Fraser who lived around 1200 CE in East Lothian (a region of Scotland just east of Edinburgh).
- There is a plausible scenario suggesting that Udard was descended from a Viking ancestor who settled in France, and whose descendants traveled to Scotland during a period coinciding with the Norman invasion. Note that the Fraser Clan has always been associated with France, the word “Fraser” is itself of French origin. The report shows that we have Y-DNA relatives in France but who are themselves descended from Viking ancestors.
From “Haplogroup R-FT85382, A Review of the SNP, STR and Family Tree Data”
- This report zeroes in on a select group of about 17 individuals, including Bruce, who are part of Haplogroup R-FT85382.
- Many of these individuals can trace their ancestry to Hugh Fraser 1st Lord of Lovat , and it’s likely that we too are descended on this line.
I think it’s safe to say that our Fraser ancestors were part of Clan Fraser of Lovat. We are descended from the group of men who formed the original Fraser clan – we are the real deal!
Here is a chart showing the whole Fraser Clan lineage. These are our people! We are descended from the guy at the top – Udard Fraser. It’s possible that we can follow the line down to Hugh Fraser 1st Lord Lovat. The chart shows mostly the lines of inheritance, from father to oldest son. Somewhere along the line, we are descended from a younger brother outside the lines of inheritance.
1 The match had a genetic distance of zero at 67 markers.
2 The match had a genetic distance of four at 700 markers.
3 All of these matches are in Haplogroup R-U106