DNA - our unique fingerprint

It is now well known that we all have a chemical "fingerprint" in the pattern of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that is present in every cell of our bodies. The pattern is unique to every individual except for identical twins. The method of genetic fingerprinting was developed in the 1980s by Professor Sir Alec Jeffries at Leicester University, England. DNA testing is now well established method of determining paternity in the field of family law and for identifying criminals and victims of crimes and other accidents from small quantities of body material.

Of the 23 chromosomes in every human cell one, the Y chromosome, is unique to males. While each person's DNA pattern is inherited randomly, in equal proportions from their mother and father, most of the Y chromosome are passed on unchanged, from father to son, for generation after generation. The Y-chromosome has about 60 million DNA base pairs. Changes in those base pairs happen infrequently but they occur often enough to establish patterns that can be used to determine whether indivdual males are descended from a common male ancestor, and if so to provide an estimate of how long ago that ancestor lived. (Further information on this subject is available on the Wikipedia web site in the article on Genetic genealogy.)

The Cree Surname Y-DNA Project

Gary Maher, who has been active in Cree surname research for many years, has initiated and is the Administrator of this project in conjunction with the organisation Family Tree DNA. The aim is to determine whether there is a relationship between the various Cree lines. All males bearing the surname Cree are urged to consider taking part*.

*Females cannot be tested as they do not carry the DNA from the Y chromosome which is used in this analysis. They can obtain equally valid data by encouraging their close Cree male relatives to take part. For obvious reasons, males taking part should not have a known adoption, surname change or "non-paternal event" in their Cree ancestry.


To take part in the Cree Surname DNA Project you need to purchase a kit through the Cree Surname Y-DNA Project or (for UK residents) direct from me, Mike Spathaky. The kit contains a scraper that enables you to submit a sample from the inside of your cheek. It also includes full instructions on how to do this. You send the sample to the Project in the envelope provided for the purpose. The DNA in your sample is then analysed for a number of DNA markers. These are then compared with those of other participant to determine a possible relationship. It is recommended that you purchase the 37-marker kit although cheaper versions are available (using 12 or 25 markers) which give a less precise result. You can join the project and buy the kit online at the Cree Surname Y-DNA Project Website. You can also buy the same 37-marker kit direct from me, at which is cheaper for UK residents.

Research questions

I am increasingly excited by the possibilities of Y-DNA testing to answer a number of long-standing questions relating to Cree ancestry. There is a need for more Cree male line descendants to volunteer for testing. The price of a test is probably the main barrier to achieving this, although as the price reduces under pressures of increased competition and developing technology this should be less so in future.

To alleviate some of the uncertainties in interpreting test results, it is important that we establish a baseline or genetic fingerprint for each known Cree line. Two test results that give a close match are enough to establish this baseline data, provided the two individuals concerned are not closley related (not brothers or first cousins, say). This would enable Other individuals to be assigned to a relevant line if their Y-DNA profile matches the two baseline profiles.


Anyone wishing to take part in the project should contact Gary Maher through the Home page of the Cree Surname Y-DNA Project Website or myself through the Contacts page of this web site.

In November 2006 I outlined four key questions about Cree genealogy which I siad might be answered through YDNA testing. Now, in April 2013 it is indeed possible to give answers to these questions, three definite and one partial, as a result of several volunteers having come forward to take the YDNA tests.

The questions and answers

1. Are the various Scottish Cree lines, most of which can be traced back to Perthshire, Scotland, really related as we suspect? And if so, how far back are their various common ancestors?

Answer: Yes. All the test results so far are consistent with the Scottish Cree lines being related. Two major Scottish lines match each other very closely.

2. Is the Cree line of Yorkshire, England, (from Sprotbrough) related to a Scottish Cree line as seems likely from hsitorical and genealogical evidence?

Answer: Yes. Test results from a member of this Sprotbrough line (Line 14) and two members of the line of Alexander and Thomas Crie of Aberdalgie (Line 10) match each other perfectly (37/37 markers). A member of the Fife branch of that line (Line 10c) has a match of 36 out of 37 markers - a very close match indicating definite relationship.

3. Is the Cree line of Derbyshire truly separate from Scottish Cree lines?

Answer: Yes. The YDNA profiles of two test subjects of the Derbyshire line are totally different to those of any other Cree line. However there is a surprise relating to this line. See this article for details.


4. Are the various County Down Cree lines descended from a single ancestor and at what date did he live?

Answer: Most of those tested so far are closely related to each other. Two of the three Pennsylvania lines and the New Jersey line are close matches to each other. Since the evidence is strong for most of these lines that they originated in County Down, this shows that all of them are. For the NJ/NY line in particular the evidence was hitherto not clear on this issue. A further surprise match with a non-Cree clinches the matter. One exception is Line 20, that of brothers Robert and William Cree of PA. Their test result shows no relationship to any other Cree line. This may be due to a non-paternal event in the ancestry of this line. Another exception is a branch of the Ballycastle, County Down, Cree line which matches with the Scotland group of lines but not with the Pennsylvania ones. See this article which discusses this surprise result in more detail.

5. If so, was he (the single ancestor) a migrant from Scotland, and which Scottish Cree line did he come from?

Answer: We can't really tell with any degree of accuracy when the split into different lines occurred. There's a 50-50 probability that the most recent common ancestor of the PA/NJ/NY groups was between 1600 and 1660. This is the period in which the first Ulster Planatation started. There were only a few perople of the Cree surname in Ulster at 1660 and they are quite likely to have been born in Scotland.

Detailed review

An in-depth review of our knowledge of Cree genealogy as at April 2013 follows here