Clan Baird of Scotland
(Baard, Baird, Bard, Beard)
For sources of information about history and genealogy we probably think of traditional things like historic documents, public records, history books, old buildings and grave marker inscriptions. However, nowadays there is another important source of information regarding our ancestors and human history and it is found inside of every cell in our body. It's our DNA.
DNA testing can provide information about our Baird ancestors and family histories that is available nowhere else. There are two basic types of genealogical information that DNA testing can reveal. The first is the origin of our family and ancestors based on the migration of populations over thousands of years and the unique genetic characteristics (mutations) that occurred within those isolated populations that make them recognizable from other groups. The major genetic groupings of individuals based on shared genetic characteristics are called "haplogroups". The second type of information that testing can provide is the comparison of the genetic characteristics, called markers, of one individual with those of another individual. This is called matching and is how you can find out if someone else is related and how close that relationship is. This is usually determined by a statistical calculation that estimates the probability of sharing a common ancestor within a certain number of generations and is referred to as genetic distance.
The blueprints for all living things are the genes contained in the cells of each organism, including humans. These genes are encoded in a molecule called deoxyribonucleic acid, or “DNA” for short. Chromosomes within the nucleus of every cell are bundles of DNA that are replicated and passed on from parent to offspring. Sometimes there are random changes in the DNA molecule when it is replicated. These random changes are called mutations. The mutations that occur in a particular individual are then passed on to the descendants of all subsequent generations in that family. However, over time, additional mutations occur so that the more successive generations, the greater the number of differences in the descendant’s DNA. It is these similarities and differences that tell us how closely different individuals are related. The more similar two individuals’ DNA, the closer they are related and the more differences, the less related they are.
As is the case with individuals, the same principles apply to populations. Throughout human history, populations, or groups within larger populations, have migrated from one area to another. During the time that separate populations lived in these various locations, mutations continued to occur in the DNA of individuals within each population. Over hundreds or thousands of years, the frequency of unique mutations increased within each population. It is the frequency of these unique genetic characteristics within populations that are used to define haplogroups and make it possible to identify the living descendants of these genetically unique groups.
For genealogical purposes there are two types of DNA that can be tested, Y chromosome and mitochondrial:
Y Chromosome DNA - Humans have 46 chromosomes that are formed into 23 pairs. In women, each of the pairs are matched, including the XX pair that defines a female. Males however, only have one X chromosome and it is paired with one Y chromosome, XY. Females inherit one of the X chromosomes from the mother and one from the father. Males inherit their X chromosome from the mother and the Y chromosome from the father. Because there is only one Y chromosome to replicated and passed on, not either of a matched pair like all the other chromosomes, male offspring always receive an almost identical copy of the fathers Y-DNA. The reason that it is “almost” identical is because of the fairly rare mutations that can occur. So the genes on the Y chromosome are passed from father to son in an almost unchanged form, generation after generation. Obviously, only males can be tested for Y-DNA since females. For Bairds, Y-DNA testing is of more interest because, like the Baird surname, the Baird Y chromosome is passed along the paternal line. On the Y chromosome, the sequence of nucleotides along section of the molecule, or coding, is often repeated a number of times (called short tandem repeats, STR). The standard type of Y-DNA testing, looks at specific locations on the Y chromosome, called markers, and counts the number of times a sequence is repeated. That number is the value for that marker. DNA tests can be ordered for a varied number of markers. The cost increases with the number but the results are more specific with more markers. This type of test is very useful for matching with other individuals. Another type of test that is available looks for the presence of specific mutations (called single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNP) on the chromosome. These mutations are associated with ancestral populations that lived at specific geographic locations within an estimated time period. There are many SNP tests available and more are developed all the time.
Mitochondrial DNA - Unlike chromosomal DNA which is in the cell nucleus, this type of DNA is found in the mitochondria, which are minute structures with each cell. Unlike Y-DNA, this mtDNA is passed along the maternal line from mother to child, both male and female. So while a male child will inherit the mother’s mtDNA and can be tested for it, he will not pass it on to his offspring. It is important to keep in mind that mtDNA is inherited from the mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, and so on.
While Bairds the world over share a common surname, DNA test results tell us that we are actually comprised of many unrelated families and those families descended from ancestral populations that lived in many different areas of the world. For present day Bairds we are generally looking at people whose families either live in, or came from the British Isles and primarily from Scotland. However, if you go back far enough, say to the last ice age, there were no humans in living in Scotland because it was covered by ice and snow. But ever since the ice melted, people, including our Baird ancestors, have been immigrating there and where they came from can often be determined from our DNA. The consensus has been that the surname of Baird came to Scotland by way of the Norman Conquest but based on the test results of members in the Baird DNA Project it is evident that many Baird families came there from other places and at different times and somehow they all eventually acquired the same surname. There are a number of possible scenarios but some Bairds are surely descended from Celtic people that after the last ice age, came to Ireland, Wales and western Scotland to become the Gaelic speaking people of those areas. Other Bairds could have ancestors that were Saxon invaders to England from what is now part of Germany and some probably are from Danish Vikings that raided along the east coast of England and Scotland. Or, as is the case of my family, descended from early Norse settlers or Viking era raiders from Norway to the western Isles and coast of Scotland. Whatever your Baird ancestry, DNA testing can help you figure it out.
In order to enhance our understanding of all Baird ancestry, BairdHeritage.com encourages Baird males to participate in DNA testing through Family Tree DNA and to have their test results included in each of the DNA projects associated with the links below.
BairdHeritage.com DNA Coordinator
Co-Administrator, FTDNA Baird DNA Project