The Isle of Man: Historically a more closely-knit community than we think!

The Isle of Man is only small in physical size (221 square miles) and its population relative to its neighbours has always been small also. Until the 19th century the majority of the population worked on the land or sea and lived in, or close to, the countryside.

Any movement of the population was largely limited to farmers seeking new farmland to rent or people marrying someone from another parish. In this rural community it was common for marriages to take place between neighbouring families and, over the centuries, many of them ended up related to each other in some way or another, within a parish or surrounds. The result of this is that the community of the Isle of Man has always been closely-knit and everyone tended to know or know of their near family relatives. Anyone researching their own Manx family history today will find that fact out quickly and see the same range of other Manx surnames marrying into their own ancestral family.

Those people living on the Isle of Man, whose families have lived there since the last 500-1000 years or so, are identified by their range of unique family names. In early times individuals were originally only known by their single or personal names. Such personal names were often nicknames or descriptive (e.g. Duggan = “little dark man”) but around 1000 years ago the Celtic patronymic system of names started to be adopted.

The patronymic system meant that individuals could be identified by using the name of their father as well as their personal name e.g. Cormac MacNeill (or Cormac son of Neill). Other family names might be also adopted which perhaps described some other attribute of the individual, their appearance, their trade for example or the name of the place they lived, but the Celtic patronymic surname based on Mac = “the son of” was the most common. Over a period of time these family names, most of them unique to the island and formed there, started to be adopted permanently and passed down from father to son unchanged. This occurred from around 1100AD onwards.

Today there are about 125 hereditary surnames still surviving in use on the island that are the present day forms of the original Gaelic names originally used 8-900 years ago.

Originally, the early range of different Manx family names must have amounted to more than twice that number, but a large proportion of those names have not survived over time to the present day, as the male line has “daughtered out” and the surname has no longer been passed down to the succeeding generations. We can see from the records that a number of these early unique Manx surnames are no longer carried and have fallen out of use.

The Manx Y-DNA study (www.manxdna.co.uk) however is now shedding new light on the early history of the Manx people through the DNA testing of the indigenous Manx families. This study has been in progress since 2010 and over 200 men possessing some 80 Manx family names have been tested so far.

For these 80 surnames, testing  has identified and classified the ancestral male Y-DNA signature for each family. Evidence from the study indicates that the majority of the indigenous Manx families represented are all each descended each from one single male patriarch for that family. Thus they can be described as possessing a single genetic origin and this is the picture that would be expected to be seen for such small families possessing surnames which occur with a low frequency overall. Testing and analysis has indicated that there are just a small handful of families who show multiple genetic origins at the moment.

So, for 80 individual families with different surnames we would normally expect to have a broadly equal number of different male Y-DNA genetic signatures, representing 80 patriarchs. Surprisingly this has not turned out to be totally true!

For 350 years the Isle of Man was under the rule of a number of Scandinavian or Norse-Gael invaders and the study reveals that approximately 25% of men of Manx origin today are descended from these Scandinavian visitors. What is being learned for the first time, unexpectedly, is that a smaller number of Scandinavian male genetic lines have persisted to the present-day than might otherwise have been predicted.

 We are seeing that groups of apparently different Manx families are actually all descended from one individual Scandinavian male settler. What must have happened is that individual Viking men, usually with local Manx wives, had sons, who survived and who themselves reproduced to create separate lines of new generations of male descendants. These family lines lived separately from each other, but at the period of time when family names started to become hereditary, each family adopted a different name from each other, depending on where they lived, the occupation or appearance of the father etc. So genetically all the men were related, but they adopted different family names.

We can now say that:-

  • The Keigs and Oates families of the Isle of Man, together with some Cains living on the south of the island, are all descended from one Scandinavian man who lived there around 1000 AD
  • The Kneales, the Leeces and probably the Karran/Carrans also appear to have one common Scandinavian male ancestor
  • The Cretney, Cormode and possibly Curphey families all share a common ancestor and are possibly also connected to the Keigs and Oates Scandinavian family.

So here we can see 9 Manx families who are descended from just three (possibly two) Scandinavian settlers.

A similar, but more diffuse, picture is seen in those early settlers of Celtic origin who arrived on the isle from both Ireland and Scotland.

  • The Cain family who are found living on the north of the island share a common ancestor with the Clucases and possibly the Quines, probably from Scotland.
  • The Quirks, Kennaughs and Faraghers share a common ancestry in a man who lived around 850AD, probably also in Scotland
  • The Wattersons and the Killeys share a common Celtic ancestor.
  • The Morrisons and the Kewleys are connected
  • The Christians, Cowells and the Moores are all related.
  • The Kinleys and Corkill families similarly are also descended from another early arrival on the Island.
  • and so on!

So again we can see that certain families are descended from a much smaller group of male patriarchs who arrived on the Island in early times, than might be expected. This means that many of the present-day descendants of the families, bearing our unique Manx names, are in fact even more closely related to each other than they knew!

More research and analysis is still needed to complete the picture and confirm all of these findings, but it is clear that the new data from the Manx Y-DNA study is shedding totally new and unexpected light on the early origins of the indigenous people of the Isle of Man.

Another two years of work are still required to complete the study and more men of Manx origin are still required to take part. The project has no funding of its own and donations are solicited from anyone with an interest in furthering this fundamental research, either by sponsoring testing on a Manx name that is meaningful to them or just by a general contribution to indicate support for the work that is being done.

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 For more information please visit www.manxdna.co.uk or email the study organiser, John Creer, at creer@one-name.org

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71 thoughts on “The Isle of Man: Historically a more closely-knit community than we think!

  1. Very interesting. Are the Kermodes and Cormodes linked in these genetic groupings, likewise the Qualtroughs and Watterson? I understood that these pairs of surnames actually belong to the same families (ie Cormode and Kermode are different versions of the same name, with the same being true for Watterson and Qualtrough).

    • Surprisingly the Kermodes and Cormodes, so far, do not appear to be the same genetic family. The Wattersons have been tested and we are still waiting for the results, any day now, for the Qualtroughs. So I can’t answer that question yet.

  2. Pingback: Call for contributions | Manx Research

  3. I was wondering if any test had been carried out on the Sayle name?
    As my ancestry is from Bride, Andreas, IOM.

    Regards…… Don

      • Hello John, thanx for your reply.
        I might add that if the Sayle man from Canada has been tested & proven to be strongly Celtic, I might assume then that so am I.
        I have a guess it may be a distant cousin of mine, Ralph, living in Langley BC Canada, who we both are descended from the same line in & around Bride.

        Regards…… Don

  4. John, Thanks for this information. I’ve been conducting family research on the Teare and Cottier surnames. I know the former is included in this study, but was unsure about the latter. I read A.W. Moore’s book on Manx surnames, in which he states that “Teare” is Celtic from Northern Ireland, but “Cottier” is of Scandinavian origin. Wondering if your research has found the same thing. Thanks!
    Shannon

    • Hi Shannon,

      There appear to be two different Teare genetic lines (both Celtic) on the Isle of Man and we are currently trying to work out what the picture is. Two Cottier men have been tested, but one is Scandinavian and the other not – so we will need more Cottiers to be tested to sort things out. If you can offer a Cottier man to be tested?
      Regards. John

      • I suspect Shannon’s grandfather John Teare is not of the same line as you Mike – as his ancestry goes back to Jurby. But we will find out when his results come in! Cheers John

      • Thanks so much, Mike! What a wonderful resource you have created for us Teares. I’ll be sure to share this with the family. I’m slowly starting to get our information online, and what I have about my Manx heritage can be found here: http://genealogytravels.blogspot.com/search/label/Isle%20of%20Man

        I’ve only gotten a couple of posts about the Teares thus far, towards the bottom. We had a wonderful time researching at the Manx Museum a couple of summers ago, and it looks as though you and I found similar sources for the history of the surname.

        We are looking forward to the results from the DNA project!
        Best,
        Shannon

  5. Hello, I am descended from the Coopers of Castletown who I believe descended from an English soldier, but also from the Kneen’s from Bride. Do you know who the Kneen’s descended from? I believe there was a strong ‘Christian’ connection from the North of the Island as well.
    Many thanks, Susie

    • We know from the genealogy and the DNA analysis of the Kneen men tested that their male common ancestor lived on the IOM around 6-700 years ago. They are classified as haplogroup R-Z381 which means that sometime (probably a very long time) before surnames they shared a common ancestor with an ancestor of the bourbon family and any other male whose Y-DNA classification is also Z381. More research is needed.

  6. Would you consider “Holmes” to be a Manx name (it is my father’s name and goes back to at least the 1600’s on the island)

    • None of the Manx family name textbooks, JJ Kneen, AW Moore et al, included Holmes as an early Manx name. JJ Kneen cites the first record of the name on the Island in 1713. The study has selected names that were in the manorial rolls of 1511 as we can be certain that they must have been on the Island in at least 1300-1400 – and by testing men with these names we can get a picture of this very early Manx population at this time, and at the time that these unique Manx family names were being formed and adopted. I hope that this helps. cheers

  7. My father researched his family trees of Cowin and Clague back to the 16th Century. What have you found out about these family names?

    • The Clagues have been tested and are of strong Celtic origin. Haplogroup R-L21 They and their forebears appear to have been on the island for over 1000 years. The Cowins have been similarly tested and are also Celtic R-L21. More research and analysis is needed in time to ascertain more precisely where thy both came from before they arrived on the IOM

  8. Extremely interesting. Has there been any tests done on the Callow bloodlines. I am a direct descendent of this blood line, and would be interested to hear more
    thank you

    • Two Callow men have been tested and are proven to be related to each other and also descended from a single Scandinavian man (Viking or Norse-Gael) who arrived on the IOM ca 1000-1200AD. So the male Callow line can probably be identified as belonging to Haplogroup I and showing the unique genetic marker known as I-L126. Regards

      • I’m descended from Callow of Rentray, researched by George Callow of Canada. My line females out with my grandparents. I wonder if the two Callows to which you refer are mine?

  9. I would be grateful to learn anything about the Caley line particularly from Lezayre/Ballaugh/Peel/Lezayre. My father and uncle are the last of one of the John Caley lines of Lezayre.

    • Two Caley men have been tested but the results are ambiguous, ie they do not match each other as we would expect. Another Caley man hopefully is going to be tested, but if either your father or uncle were prepared to take part you might learn more. cheers

  10. We have the results for several Manx Kneale men – and whilst they are all of Viking origin it appears that there may possibly be two different Kneale genetic lines on the Isle of Man. More testing is required

  11. I took part in the bbc’s blood of the Vikings dan tests about 10/15 years ago and had it confirmed that I had Viking DNA in my genes.

    • Hi, sorry no Fayles of proven Manx origin have offered themselves for testing so far. So no results! It would be appreciated if you could find and encourage a Manx Fayle man to take part. Cheers

  12. My great paternal great- Grandfather was born on the Isle to Thomas Caine. My great grandfather came to Iowa, US to farm w/ relatives..Quirks. Still learning. Nicole

    • Nicole, I have been researching my Caine family lineage as well and was hoping some of the DNA testing available would help. My 3 times great grandfather was John Thomas Caine, born in Kirk Patrick and his father was Thomas Caine who immigrated to the US when John was 6 yrs. old. I have Thomas’s dob around 1806. I have not been able to find much about what happened to Thomas after he came to the US. I believe his wife was Elinor Quirk who had died prior to his immigration. I would be interested in anything you may have worth sharing!

  13. I am so excited to see this project! My 2nd great grandfather, Hugh (aka Ewan) Cowley, his wife Jane Killey and most of his siblings, all from Andreas, emigrated in the 1840’s and 50’s and ended up in Brown County, Kansas, USA. I will look forward to seeing more results as I know nearly nothing about that part of my family and as a female cannot participate in the testing.

  14. I’m researching the Kennaughs and have got as far back as Phillip Kennaugh in 1645. I’m intrigued by your observation that the Quirks, Kennaughs and Faraghers share a common ancestry. Can you tell me anything about the man you mentioned who lived in about 850 AD and the possible connection with Scotland ?
    Thanks,
    Diana

  15. I am a female Collister with 3 brothers. I am trying to have at least one of them apply since I am vastly interested. My grandfather came from Jurby and my grandmother, from Peel. She was a Shimmin. I wish my father was still here to take part. He always remained a member of the Mona Relief Siciety here in Cleveland, OH USA and was a very proud Manxman. Thank you for this most interesting project.
    Elizabeth Collister

    • Hi Iam a Fayle family member my father’s family migrated to Liverpool in the early 20th century William Henry fayle from Peel was my grandfather Lydia his wife was a Stephen from Marown her mother was Shimmin
      Hope this is of interest

  16. Thank you John.Very Interesting! I am researching the Gawne surname of Rushen .Peter William Gawne b. 1807 IOM, landing in US then onward to Canada in the early 1800’s. His maternal side were Kennish of Santon. Do you have anything on those names?

    • A couple of Gawnes have been tested and we are currently working on the analysis, but the male line is Celtic. One Kinnish man has been tested, but we do not know if he is representative of the whole Kennish/Kinnish male line or not. The one tested is R-M222+ which is strongly Irish. If you have a male Kennish/Kinnish relative we could use him to be tested! Thanks

  17. My family namevis Kissick (originally Kissack) intermarried with Christians. Noticed some of my family name have been tested. Any indicators of origin?

    • Hi Philip, thanks for your comment. We have a genetic puzzle to solve with the Kissacks and so we need more Kissacks to be tested. I will contact you separately by email.

  18. Hi Phillip
    my surname is also Kissick (kissack). My line intermarried with Corteens Kermode, Corkhill, Kennish. I noticed that you have a genetic puzzle to solve – any idea what it is.? Thanks in anticipation

    • Not really any clearer on that. Sent John my family details and he said they had lots of information on those of our name. I gather the puzzle is that there are other parts of the family whose genetic makeup is still a puzzle.

    • The puzzle is that we have found a close connection with another Manx family, and so far we cannot explain the nature of that connection and how it happened. We still have no answer. Cheers

  19. Hi, I am a decendant of Jo ( Quartin or Cortin ) later Corteen.. My gggrandmother was Eunice Frances Crellin . Daughter of Phillip Crellin and Eunice Corteen. I plan to take the 23 and me test and will share my results. I believe they were Quakers from Maughold and married there 1853.

    • Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your comment. Within the Manx Y-DNA project we are testing the Y-chromosome uniquely possessed by men and which tracks the paternal, name-bearing line. As you are female your 23andMe DNA results will not immediately enrich our knowledge of your Corteen male line unfortunately. If you have any male Corteen relatives around then it would be really helpful if you could persuade one of them to be tested as we still need more Corteen candidates in the study. However, as and when you get your autosomal DNA results from 23andMe you might wish to transfer them across to FTDNA (which can be done for a small fee) and they can be compared with the growing body of autosomal results there from people of Manx ancestry, both male and female.

      • Hi Carol and John;

        I am a male “Quartin, possible relative in ancient times of Corteen Family.
        I can submit myself to DNA test, to reach who knows, a DNA link with the Isle of Man.
        Please John, how can I do it?
        Best regards.

      • Marcelo,

        The name Quartin was last, and rarely, recorded on the Isle of Man in the early 1500’s. Do you have any other reasons for suspecting you might have a Manx connection?

        Cheers,

        John

  20. Hi John
    Are you able to give meveryone any info on the Gale surname? That was my dad’s name and I have 3 brothers one of whom is in London. I belive my fraternal grandfather was from the IBM but moved to liverpool where my dad was born.

    • Hi Sally. I quote from the latest report on the project about Gell/Gale:-
      Gale/Gell
      Hg R1b: Celtic origin: Defining Y-SNP: R-U152>L2
      The earliest surviving documentary record of this name on the Island was from 1511. Early forms of the name were ‘Mac Gell/Geyll/Gale’ and it was believed to mean ‘Son of the foreigner.’ Y-DNA testing up to 67 markers has been such that the ancestral haplotype has been identified and it is established that the two variants of the name, Gell and Gale, are equivalent to each other. This name is sometimes found and formed elsewhere, but the Manx version of the name was uniquely formed on the Island. Y-DNA testing and analysis shows that this male line belongs to Haplogroup R1b and the lowest level Y-SNP identifiable is R-U152>L2. The early origins of this male line are still undetermined but R-L2 is indicative of an early Italian-Celtic origin.

      You can read the full latest report on progress overall here: http://www.manxdna.co.uk/results.htm
      regards John

  21. Hi I live in Australia and my Father was Manx Harold Gorden Caley !!!!!!!! was his surname,he has passed away does his ashes tell you his DNA ?????? As we still have them ????? I notice you mention that some Caleys don’t match DNA how would that be ????? I have two brothers who are Caleys does that mean ????? Caley is not a true Manx name ????? I am about to have my DNA done as I am facinated by it. Also I am female I visit Isle of Man to see family I may have been born in England but feel Manx.

    Regards Maggie

    • Hi Margaret,

      You ask a number of questions:-
      a) The ashes of your father will not contain any surviving Y-DNA to be tested. However your two living Caley brothers will possess the same Y-DNA as your father, so testing either of them will produce the same result as if your father were tested – if they are his biological sons.
      b) The study has shown that some men tested do not show the Y-DNA signature of the family whose name they bear. This is as a result of a break in the ancestral genetic male line, know as a non-paternal event, see http://www.manxdna.co.uk/MYDNA5%20doc8.pdf – So one Caley man tested does not match the others for this reason.
      c) There are some Caley families also in the UK who do not originate from the Isle of Man – and so testing them will give a different Y-DNA result. Testing one of your brothers will confirm whether your Caley family line comes from the Isle of Man or not.
      d) In this study we are only testing the DNA of men, as only the Y-chromosome is passed down intact from father to son, and tracks the family name-bearing line. Testing the DNA of females does not provide the level of accurate analysis we need I am afraid.
      Please let me know if I can be of any further help

      John

  22. Hello John

    I am descended from the Corteen/Corlett line on my father’s side. My grt grt grandfather Hugh Corteen left the IOM about 1894 to live in Liverpool. All his family lived in or around Castletown, but there seems to have been a split in the family at sometime as the rest of the Corteens lived in Maughold and I have not found the link between them yet. Can you help? Are you still in need of Corteen/Corlett DNA. On the other side of my tree is Corteen/Keruish/Cottier/Kewn line.

    • Hi Hazel,

      Thanks for your comments. We do not have clear results for the Corteen family so far – but a Corteen man from Maughold is currently being tested. If you have a male Corteen relative from your Castletown line who is willing to take part in the study – then we can see if the two lines are the same. We do still need another Corteen man to take part. The Corletts are well tested already.

      cheers John

      • Hello John

        My Uncle Tommy has agreed to do the test. What is the process and how do we get started.

        Hazel

  23. Hi I am also a Corteen from the same family, Tom is my older brother. I am currently living in Ireland, and would happily have my DNA tested if it would help with the research. All the best.
    John Corteen
    Upper Inchees
    Kilgarvan County Kerry.
    Ireland
    Tel 064 6689578.
    Email freespiritceol@live.co.uk

    • I am still waiting to hear back from Hazel that she has arranged the test for Tommy. If that goes ahead OK there will be no need for you to be tested, as being brothers your Y-DNA results would be identical. Thanks nevertheless.

  24. Hi there!
    My mother’s great grandmother was Eleanor Jane CALEY, (1837-1928), parents Thomas Caley and Eleanor CLEATOR, other family names going back include LACE and KELLY and QUAYLE. They came from around Lezayre parish, with Ballaugh, Sulby Glen, Andreas and Ramsey all appearing in family circles.

    Eleanor Caley came to Australia to stay with her uncle, William Kelly at Sulby Glen near Adelaide, and married Sidney Smith of the notable “Yalumba” winery at Angaston.
    A booklet I have refers to her Aunt, Jane Kelly (nee Caley) coming from the well-known family of Caley of Ballacalay, Sulby Glen, 5 miles from Ramsey. It states Caley was never a common name, but goes back over 500 years on the Isle of Man, almost entirely in the Parish of Lezayre.

    Thomas Caley, brother of Jane (Kelly), son of Daniel Caley migrated to New Zealand in 1859.
    William and Jane Kelly left their home on July 11th, 1838, making their way to South Australia, (where I live now), a state that had only commenced white setllement 2 years prior.

    I find all this a fascinating story, with added romance of the Manx connection! If anyone can share family stories to fit in with these, my Mum (who’s 90) and I would be very gratefull! We’ve had our DNA tested, with Family TreeDNA and found a few distant relations…. but there must be more??

    regards,
    Nick

    • Hi, I have ancestors in New Zealand from my ancestor Jon Cortin 1603. I have tested with 23 and me. My great grandmother was Eunice Frances Crellin Taylor 1864. Father was Phillip Crellin and mother was Eunice Corteen1833. The family lived around Maughold. Robert Corteen was her fatherand Thomas Corteen her grandfather. I live in Florida. It’s a small world.Carol

  25. Hi

    Just found your blog. Very interesting. My direct male line is Kelly. As Kelly is also the commonest surname on the island do you know how this came about and which other surnames it is related to. I am presuming it is Celtic origin.

    Regards
    Steve Kelly

  26. Hi my grandmother was Mona Lillian Quirk and I am very interested in the origination of this name .. You mentioned the man from Scotland around 850 .. Does that mean we are Celtic and not Scandinavian as we originally thought .. Thank you x
    From New Zealand.

    • Hi Maria – it means that your Quirk male line ancestry is Celtic. You may well have Scandinavian ancestry through other ancestors but your Quirk male line is Celtic.

      cheers

      John

  27. Hi John

    I posted a comment about my Kelly ancestry but unfortunately you didn’t reply. May I ask if the Kellys who I believe were MacKelly and not O’Kelly oddly are connected with the Kelly’s in Ireland?

    Also, I would like to participate in this study. What do I need to do?

    Thanks
    Steve Kelly

    • Hi Steve,

      Sorry I must have missed your earlier posting. The Manx Kelly line, which originally was MacHelly, are not in any way connected with any Kelly’s from Ireland. The study has show that Kelly from the Isle of Man is indeed only from the Isle of Man – see http://www.manxdna.co.uk/MYDNA5%20doc1.pdf

      You would be very welcome to take part and I will contact you separately to give you details of what is involved.

      cheers John

  28. The Old Manx Christian blood line is alive and well in Alabama, United States of America. My mother is surname Christian descended from the Christians who held Deemster positions over 500 years from the Isle of Man. One married royalty. We have a cost of arms and family crest.

  29. Hi John. What is the genetic make up of the Kellys. I know they are Celtic but it is the hallo group I’m interested in. Also are the Killeys related or are they a distinct family not that I am. I’m purely a Kelly.

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