The elusive origins of Clan McCulloch and the mysterious origins of surnames like McCulloch, McCullough and their variants have presented a number of riddles for genealogical researchers and history buffs. DNA testing sites like Ancestry.com or 23andMe can be helpful in genealogical research, can provide recent autosomal DNA matches to close relatives, but are limited in providing clues to family origins going back more than a few generations. Such sites are a good place to start building a family tree, glean from compiled historic documents, and get a sense of one’s ethnic background.
In the case of McCullochs and McCulloughs of several spelling variations, it is known that the surname is of Celtic origin, originating in the British Isles. However, it is not clear if the surnames had a common origin that subsequently was “localized” in Galloway, Ulster, and beyond, or if some of the names had distinct origins, but blended into somewhat standard spellings. However, we can say with confidence that not all McCullochs and McCulloughs shared a modern common ancestor. According to the McCollough Project at FamilyTreeDNA, there are currently eight known Haplogroups among “McCollough” males who submitted results of Y chromosome DNA tests.
Wheras autosomal DNA results provide an “ethnicity estimate” which is very open to interpretation, Y DNA results allow a male test-taker to trace his paternal line for many generations. By comparing the Y DNA results of McCollough males and comparing paternal line family trees, project participants can get a clearer picture of which line of McColloughs they are genetically related to.
By taking a Y DNA test and joining the McCollough Project, a participant can determine if they are a genetic descendant of the Clan McCulloch chieftains. But, even if one is not a member of the same Y DNA haplogroup, this doesn’t settle the issue of identity, affinity, and what might quite loosely be called kinship. Traditionally, not all clan members were related by blood. So, it seems that other “Scots-Irish” McCullochs, McCulloughs, McCullohs, et al who identify with the clan should be accepted by the clan regardless of today’s Y DNA test results.
To go even further in ancient origins, it is intriguing that the apparent haplogroup of the Clan McCulloch chieftains arose in the Central Eurasian steppes. This is interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, Clan McCulloch was a prominent family in Galloway for hundreds of years. The name “Galloway” is commonly believed to mean “Gaels among the foreigners” of “foreignor Gaels.” If this is this case, the foreigners would have been the Norse Vikings who dominated Galloway, the Hebrides, and even founded the city of Dublin. Yet, the Clan McCulloch line does not seem to be Norse, unlike other so-called “Norse-Gaelic” clans. (It should be noted that there are alternative theories that the name of Galloway predates the arrival of the Gaels, deriving from the Cymric name “Galwyddel” ).
Second, in 1320, a supporter of Robert the Bruce (murderer of John Comyn) penned the Declaration of Arbroath declaring Scottish independence. A curious line in this historic propaganda was a statement that the Scots originated from ancient Scythia Major. This ancient civilization arose in southern Siberia and the Central Eurasian Steppes. If this is true, perhaps Clan McCulloch were among these earliest ancient Scot settlers in the British Isles. This is yet another riddle that more Y DNA testing may help resolve.