Saturday, 18 May 2013

Caithness and Sutherland DNA Project

A new project has been launched covering the counties of Caithness and Sutherland hosted by Family Tree DNA.

The project is open to both males and females who have a direct lineage back to the above areas on their paternal or maternal side.  The project also takes results for individuals who have taken the Family Finder test and who have ancestors from Caithness or Sutherland.

The name Caithness is derived primarily from a tribal rather than a place name and appears to have been given to the indigenous people in question, 'the Cats' by their Celtic-speaking neighbours.   (Ref: Professor Bill Nicoliasen in, Baldwin, John. R. ed. (1982) Caithness - A Cultural Crossroads. Edinburgh: Scottish Society for Northern Studies).

Caithness was originally named Katanes by the Norsemen, meaning 'headland of the cats'.  The lands south of the Ord of Caithness were later designated Sudrland by the Norse (the southern part of Katanes) whilst the area west of lowland Caithness was referred to in the Norse sagas as the 'Dales' of Caithness (Dalir).

It has been argued that the 'province' of Strathnaver likely equates to these 'dales' and should be seen as part of the earldom lands of Caithness.  (See: Baldwin, John. R. ed. (2000) The Province of Strathnaver. Edinburgh: Scottish Society for Northern Studies).

The project will cover that part of north-eastern Scotland inhabited by 'the Cats', namely present day Caithness (Katanes), Sutherland (Sudrland) and the 'Dales' (Dalir) which equates with the Diocese of Caithness in the Middle Ages.

If your lineage in the direct line comes from these counties please participate via the join link at the top of the project page


  1. My mother's maiden name was McKay or spelled MacKay. I believe that is a surname common to the area from which you are working...? Her progenitor in America was supposedly Elkenny McKay who emigrated from Edinburgh, Scotland about 1725 according to a book published in 1896. We have not been able to prove this.

    I have just received my DNA results this year from (National Geographic). Are you interested...?

    Nancy Cluff Siders

  2. I am thus far the only project member that is DF19+ (FTDNA kit #161828). It is thought (not yet proven) that this marker indicates Saxon (German) ancestry. My family tree paper trail takes me back to the mid-1700's in the North of Scotland, namely Wick, Caithness, where my paternal family lineages remains to this day (except for my direct line of Sutherland's that left Scotland around C.E. 1900). The Clan Sutherland Society in Scotland has as part of it's history a tale about a German tribe called the "Catti" tribe. Members of this tribe killed a Roman General about 2,000 years ago in the first century C.E. and as a result had to flee the region that is now called Germany and came to Pictland/Caledonia/Alba/Scotland. In fact, Caithness, Scotland gets it's name from those of the Catti tribe who fled there back in the first century C.E. As the story unfolds the German Catti leader ended up marrying the daughter of the Pictish King Brude, and thus the members of the tribe blended in with the local Pictish population, becoming Picts themselves after only a few generations. Doing some research I discovered that the Catti tribe was indeed a German tribe located in and around Saxonry. This being the case I find it fascinating that the possibility exists that my Sutherland lineage may very well descend from this small group of Catti tribesmen who fled Germany after they killed a Roman Officer and who settled down in the area now named Caithness. Thank you Alasdair for starting this DNA project as I look forward to hearing stories from other project members regarding their ancestry and possibly even discovering if there are any other DF19+ folks out there.