Michael Cooley's Genetic Genealogy Blog
12 July 2021

Cochran Group 01: Private Variants Are Haplogroups Too!

My interest in Cochran Group 01 derives from the fact that we share the same haplogroup, R1a-YP4248, despite a distance — genetically and genealogically — of more than a thousand years. Indeed, the Cochrans are an important part of the R1a-YP4248 Subclade Project. They represent 43% of the project's membership and constitute the largest subclade, YP5244. Further, genetic testing confirms the presence of the name in the lineage back several hundred years, giving credence to the idea that this clan might have descended from the medieval Cochrans of Renfrewshire. The testing also affirms their Nordic origins, lending credibility to the traditional story, as told in this Wikipedia article,1

Traditionally the original ancestor of the Clan Cochrane in Scotland was a Scandinavian Viking who settled in what is now known as Renfrewshire, between the eighth and tenth centuries. It is evident that the name is of territorial origin, derived from the lands of Cochrane near Paisley. The origin of the name itself is believed to be derived from two Gaelic words which jointly mean "The Roar of the Battle" or "Battle Cry." ... The first record of the name occurs in 1262, when a certain Waldeve de Coueran witnessed a charter concerning a transfer of lands between Dubhghall Mac Suibhne and Walter Stewart, Earl of Menteith. Other early bearers of the name are William de Coughran in 1296, who signed submission to King Edward the First in the Ragman Roll; and Robert de Cochrane in about 1360.

There are presently eight Big Y testers (including a man named Tyrie) in the group and several who have tested for Y-111. The Big Y results have discovered four Cochran subclades to date. But even a glance at the tree quickly informs us that we have a long way to go. There are more genetic lineages to discover.

Cochran R1a-YP5244

It's first important to note that of the eight testers only two have identified (as far as I know) their mutual ancestor, or the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA), William Cochrane (1806-1889). This fact is useful for what follows.

Other than FT407442, which is our most detailed portion of the tree, the upstream haplogroups are reasonably well parsed. But the downstream "private" variants (in light blue) have hardly been touched. And I have something to say about that from the outset. I personally don't like the word private in this context. It infers secretiveness, items that have been cached for personal use, or even forbidden. Instead, these markers are merely un-researched and deserve at least as much attention as any other. In fact, all haplogroups are derived from once-"private" variants. And haplogroups are discovered only through genetic matching among the variants. For that reason, there's a treasure trove of information found those markers, a buried storehouse of genealogical information. We need to unlock it, and this is certainly true for the Cochrans.

Anchor SNPs

There are 34 SNP markers among the eight testers, two of which are still sitting on their Y-500 test results. That works out to about 3.5 markers per tester. When we consider that new markers come into a lineage about once every four generations (on average), the private variants represent a period of time anywhere going back 200 to 450 years. And, remember, each marker came into its lineage with the birth of a specific ancestor. In other words, they represent once living and breathing individuals, some known to the researcher and some probably not. This means that FTA26988 (kit #378638) might have first seen the proverbial light of day at the birth of his great-grandfather. There's exceptional benefit in knowing both name and genetic markers. Whenever we find that tie-in — a unique marker to a unique man — we have what I call an anchor SNP: a marker anchored at a specific place, a specific date, and with the birth of a specific individual. There are two examples of this in this cutting from the Strother SNP tree:

Strother R1b-BY23497

When viewing in context to this tree, any male Strother being positive for R1b-Y133702 is a descendant of Jeremiah Strother (1655-1741). And a tester who additionally has R1b-A20343 is descended from both Francis Strother (1700-1741) and his father, Jeremiah. As you see from the graphic, this has been proved through multiple branches. The advantage is obvious. A claimant to Francis can easily prove or verify the fact through simple single-SNP testing. Similarly, myths can be debunked in the same way, as I discuss in The Cult of the Bogus Dutch Cooleys. These proofs can be accomplished throughout the World-Wide Y-SNP Tree, at least where the branches are sufficiently developed.

Yet anchor SNPs are not easy to discover and are, so far, rare. But not only do we need testers who are positive, those who are negative are required in order to complete the picture, as shown among the two generations of Strother brothers. Here, it is the negative that proves the positive. It's the negative space, the white space, that creates the structure of anchor SNPs. I can't, of course, guarantee that any such SNPs will be found in our Cochran lineage. (And they're most likely to be found among the private SNP.) It depends, in part, on the thoroughness of lineage and genetics. However, I provide almost a surefire case below under "Specifics."

I include this sidebar on anchor SNPs as one illustration for the usefulness of further testing in determining genealogies. But quite simply, and even without the known presence of anchor SNPs, my own testing has confirmed my place on the tree and has provided several leads to the origins of my immigrant Cooley ancestor. And, frankly, the Cochrans have played a large role in that. After my side of the YP4248 tree first tested — a Hackett first then a couple of Cooleys — the Cochrans were next. They provided much needed context to our research, as will likely the Rankins for the Cochrans, as well as families not yet discovered.2

Anchor SNPs or not, the fact remains that as each variant moves upstream via the discovery of matching SNPs and MRCAs, a new genetic and genealogical branch is placed on the tree. A new collateral lineage has been found, and an ancestor has been better defined, at least genetically. The more branching, the more the SNP tree will resemble a traditional genealogy. Naturally, it will never match the complexity of a complete ancestral lineage. Y-DNA SNPs, after all, are not as numerous as ancestors. But a highly reliable skeletal structure will have been constructed, one vastly more fault proof than the steel and concrete pilings of a high rise. This skeleton becomes a scaffolded and labyrinthine trail that leads us directly into the history of human existence, specifically to the history of our lineage. The other possibilities of our genealogical research quickly fall aside as we pickup that bread crumbs that lead us back home. Indeed, each iteration of the tree triangulates to location and time, and if the ancestor is found in the record, we will have gained the perfect synonym to the SNP name, a human name, just as is the case with the Jeremiah and Francis SNPs noted in the Strother tree. Every Y lineage converges with mutual ancestors, names known or not. No names? Well, we still have the SNPs, a powerful hint of the ancestor's presence.


Look at the fourth subclade, YP5242, on the Cochran tree. It's a subclade of one marker. YP5242 was born in a man perhaps 400 years ago, plus or minus. It's entirely possible a record exists for him. He might even be listed on someone's genealogy tree. But to find him, we need to know better when and where he lived (likely Scotland). The frequency of SNP emergence isn't going to provide a perfect picture of the era, but as we start identifying the downstream SNPs with specific individuals, specific locations and dates, we'll start to home in on him.

The case is similar with the first listed subclade, which presently has only one constituent, kit #772584. (We can refer to him presently as belonging to YP5244*, the splat referencing the lack of matching markers below YP5244.) New testers in his lineage will change that. He has seven unmatched SNPs, which can ultimately be defined in the order in which they arrived in the lineage and, potentially, along with the names of the men responsible for their "lives." (Yes, human life is finite, but a Y-SNP can live for hundreds of thousands of years, just as long as we do its bidding: procreate! After all, the male sex gene, SRY, which lives on the Y, is quite single-minded and often difficult to resist!)

And look again at that somewhat detailed cluster in the middle haplogroup of the Cochrane tree, FT407422. There are fifteen SNPs in that branch waiting to be parsed, each representing and man named Cochrane. Even if they emerged over a period of 600 years, we're talking about one SNP birth roughly every three generations. Now, imagine that kind of definition across the entirety of the Cochran group, over the entirety of the R1a-YP4248 Project, for that matter. That's a lot of testing to be done, even if well targeted. This effort will certainly not be finished in our lifetimes. But we can contribute to the future success of those (our descendants) who will eventually crack this nut. In other words, if future generations stand on the shoulders of their predecessors, then our present Big Y testers are the giants of Cochran research!

Still, we need to look closer at our (so far) single MRCA, William Cochrane. Between the two testers, seven SNPs are shared, an average of about 3.5 per each tester. That's higher than expected among descendants of someone who was born in 1806. In fact, bother testers are removed by only four generations from William, and each from a different son. That's nearly one Y mutation per generation, which is very unusual especially when found in multiple lines of descent. If the lineage is correct, then each of those SNPs can be identified to the testers' immediate ancestors who are obviously recorded. The two men are third cousins. Testing second and first cousins would go a long way to sorting those SNPs out. And doing so would be an excellent "proof of principle," for a lack of a better phrase.

Finally, YP5242 is a special case in another way. No MRCA has yet arisen. The oldest ancestor for the group is Deacon John Cochran having been born in 1662. I don't know the genealogies well enough to make a guess as to whether he was the ancestor of the other three but I would suppose not. But should his tester upgrade to the Y-700, some matches might present themselves. Even so, as described with William Cochrane, the testing of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins will give granularity to the group.

Clearly, Cochran Y chromosomal genetics can be moved forward considerably. Like a team of archaeologists digging for artifacts, we can dig into our cells for the artifacts of our lineages. Like tree rings, sediment, ice cores, and the heavens, cells are both archive and time capsule — genetically, biologically — and, as I hope I've demonstrated, genealogically.

It's a wrap

So, what now? The best tool for this, at present, is FTDNA's Big Y. (I'm waiting for new results of YSEQ's WGS400, of which I'll report.) The test examines about 15 million markers on the Y chromosome; it's the very test by which all the Cochrane markers have been identified. Although future testing will turn up more markers, it will find new matches, which might be of greater importance to us, at least in context to the thesis of this article. From those matches, new haplogroups form and greater granularity emerges. And it's granularity we look for in our genealogies: the more detail, the more complete the picture.

The Big Y is not the only means for finding matches. SNPs can be tested individually at YSEQ.net for $18 each. If you're a Cochran and believe you're of this group, you can simply test for YP5244, and perhaps a couple of SNPs upstream from it. Single-SNP testing can also help define haplogroups. For example, the three SNPs listed under kit #943658 can be tested at YSEQ for under $60. Should a remote enough cousin test, a new haplogroup will be formed from the matches. If you're interested in receiving advice as to which test and/or markers to pursue, either I or Richard Cochran, the project co-administrator, can help you with that.

And, finally, back to Cochran history. Without doubt, the Cochran name had come into the lineage by the birth of either YP5244 or YP5245 (the top of the tree) and probably well before it. But the full YP4248 tree suggests possibly not by much. We see Cummings, Mann, Story, Coombs, and Rankin among the descendants of YP5244's parent, YP5007. Indeed, they might have all originated from the ancient Cochrans and happened to take different names. (The data presently suggests that might not be so.) And a collateral group of Cochrans might be waiting to be found and not of YP5242. It is within reason that we might one day determine Waldeve de Coueran's haplotype, if he was indeed an ancestor. He lived about 750 years ago and would likely be within the scope of the YP5007.

Offering up a few cells for archaeological excavation will only provide a fuller picture of the Cochrans, indeed, of Scotland itself, and perhaps more detail about the family's move to Ireland. We may be travelers in time heading into the future at the speed of 60 seconds per minute, but our DNA holds an important, if recently discovered, key to unlocking the thread of our lineages. Did the Cochrans descend from the Vikings or from Norman nobility, as some have suggested? Or is there another story to be ferreted out? We have the tools with which to find out.

1. "Clan Cochrane," Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clan_Cochrane. I've long been suspicious of the claim. The Cochrane estates passed from Lord William Cochrane (1548-1603) to his heir, Elizabeth. She married Alexander Blair and their son, a patrilineal Blair, assumed the name and titles becoming William Cochrane, 1st Earl Dundonald (-1685). The title is presently vested in Iain Cochrane, 15th Earl of Dundonald. This doesn't mean that the earlier Lord William didn't have a cousin of some degree, John, for example, who went to Ireland. However, the documentation appears to be lacking. I've roughly drawn out the lineages at http://ancestraldata.com/ahnentafel/256/articles/cochran.html.

2. My last article, Update for Cooley Group CF01 (R1a-YP4491), written for the benefit of the west side of the R1a-YP4248 project (the Cochrans are the east side), demonstrates this. Indeed, I would never have found these distant cousins without Y testing.