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After three years of the Cullen DNA project, we have made some great discoveries. We have found that there are many independent Cullen families throughout Ireland, so DNA can be a powerful tool to help people who don't know what county their Cullen ancestors are from. Our most exciting finding has been identifying the main DNA signature of the best known Cullen family in Ireland and the world: the descendants of the O'Cullen family of County Wicklow, now numerous also in the Dublin area. They were early chiefs in Wicklow, and are genetically related to other ruling families of the area, like the Byrnes and Kavanaghs. It turns out that most other Cullen families in Ireland are not related to the Wicklow Cullens. See below for more on the Wicklow findings.

This is the first major revision of the Discussion page in more than a year (June 2009). Click here to skip down to a discussion of all of our members' family history and DNA results, in the same order that they appear in our Results table. In addition to the Wicklow discoveries, you can read about connections between Cullens in other parts of Ireland, and also England and Scotland, and Cullen descendants throughout the world.


Here are 3 common goals for DNA testing and genetic genealogy:

(1) Check genetics against a "paper trail" of birth, death, civil, church records etc. and confirm/refute a family tree going back to the 1600s or 1700s, and place new people into these established family lines.

(2) Determine the genetic pattern for different lineages (families) of Cullens in Ireland and beyond, and figure out which lineages are related to each other, on a time scale of hundreds of years.

(3) Trace the history and migration of your male line ancestors for hundreds or even thousands of years: when did your male ancestor likely come to Ireland (for example)? Was it with the Celts or earlier (before 100 AD), or with the Normans (post 1100) or later? Are you descended from a ruling/dominant/prolific family, or is your male line restricted to a small area?

Because most of us come from ordinary Irish people, and records in Ireland are scarce before 1864, we don't have a long paper trail or large family tree to fit people into. So goal (1) is not realistic for most of us. This may change--for example, if a new member matches member C-9, he will know he comes from an English family, with records for this Cullen family going back into the 1500s. We also hope to get DNA samples from landowning Irish Cullen families and early Cullen immigrants to the US, both which will have more extensive paper trails.

Goal (2) is really the major goal of this Cullen Family DNA Project.  As expected, many independent Cullen lineages are showing up, which agrees with what we know about multiple Irish Gaelic surnames being anglicized to Cullen, and other origins in England, Scotland and Europe. See below for more on these connections.

Goal (3): There are genetic differences between Irish, Scottish and English people, but although on average the populations may differ, it is difficult to draw a firm boundary and state definitively what any one person’s patrilineal ancestry is. A few of our members can say their DNA shows very strong ties to a specific region. For example, several members are predicted as R-M222, which is extremely common in the north of Ireland and in Scotland. So members C-25 and C-27, whose common ancestor Luke Cullen was born in London in 18XX, know that their line very likely goes back to somewhere to the north. But DNA alone cannot say how and when their line left Scotland or Ireland and came to southern England—it could have been happened in ancient times, or in the 1700s as London was rapidly growing.

Accepting these limitations, it is fascinating to contemplate your ancestral line's place in history and in prehistoric movements of peoples. So far, all of our members belong to Y-chromosome haplogroups I and R1b, which the great majority of men in Great Britain and Ireland belong to (R1b alone is over 80% in Ireland, well over 50% in Britain). But your DNA results can tell even more if you look closer, just read below.

Comments on each member's results, in the order that they appear on our results page. (This is a lengthy list, and you can use the search function (control-F) to skip to the code number of the project member you are interested in (for example, C-5, these numbers appear on our patriarchs and results pages).

Like 80% of Irish men, six of our members are members of DNA haplogroup R1b. But several of our members show interesting/uncommon patterns within this large group:

  • Member C-7 matches the "Niall of the Nine Hostages" signature, which is found in up to 21% of men in northwest Ireland. He is descended from a line of Irish kings, or at least one of the most dominant and prolific families in Ireland. Obviously this is a common pattern, with over 350 matches in the FamilyTreeDNA database, but so far C-7 is the only Cullen.
  • Member C-2 has fewer matches, but is very close to the genetic signature of the "Colla Uais", the founding rulers of the old Ulster Irish - Scot kingdom of Dalriada, which evolved into the Scottish royal house. Member C-2 comes from Co. Cavan in Ulster, Ireland, and is trying to determine if his Cullen ancestors came from Scotland to Ireland in the last few hundred years, or if they had been in Ireland for a long, long time.
  • Members C-1 and C-8, although probably not related in the last 2000 years, show some very distinctive marker values, which place them in a well-defined "Southern Irish/Continental" group. For a more detailed explanation, and an analysis of results for our other R1b members, click here to visit the DNA page of our member JT Cullen.

The other three members of the project are in Haplogroup I, which only about 10% of Irish and Scottish men belong to (the percentage is about 18% in England and around 40% in Scandinavia and northern Germany).

  • Member C-5 and C-18 have no other exact matches in the FT-DNA database, and belong to the unusual I1b2 haplogroup (I'm using the traditional names for the haplogroups), which occurs in 40% of men in Sardinia (an Italian island), and at low levels throughout western Europe. Despite this, their closest matches are from Ireland, so their ancestors probably have been in Ireland for thousands of years, like most of the R1b Cullens
  • Member C-3 has an even more unusual haplotype, with no matches or close matches--it looks like he belongs to Haplogroup I1c.  Testing of more markers could reveal a possible Scottish or Germanic origin for this Irish Cullen family
  • Member C-9 also has a very rare pattern, with no close matches. He belongs to Haplogroup I1b2*, formerly called I1(x). This groups is thinly and widely distributed across continental Europe, and given this Cullen family's Nottinghamshire, England origins, points to an Anglo-Saxon, Danish or Viking origin for the family (instead coming from British/Celtic people who were already on the island of Great Britain).

For more information on how to translate all the numbers on our results page to Haplogroups, click here to visit the DNA page of our member JT Cullen. Or if you want to join our project, or have questions about these results, please email me---Bernie (member C-5)

English Origins

There are three places in England where English Cullen families existed before the arrival of Irish emigrants: a large number in Kent, which is a county southeast of London, a smaller number in Somerset in the southwest, and another cluster in the East Midlands: in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Cambridgeshire.

The Cullen name in Kent is said to be a locational name—but it is not clear if it was the name of a village or farm/estate, or whether it refers to Cologne, Germany or somewhere else on the Continent. Because many different men could have been given the name “from Cullen”, it is likely that there are multiple genetic lineages of Cullens from Kent, and so far the two member with roots in Kent are not Y-DNA matches. Member C-23 is descended from a Cullen family that traditionally worked as coachmen. Although there is a family tradition that their Cullen ancestor was from Ireland and came to England in the service of his employer, so far traditional genealogy has found only English Cullens living in Deal on the eastern coast of Kent. C-23 belongs to Haplogroup I1 which is more common in eastern England than western, and is often considered to indicate some form of Germanic ancestry, but I1 is also found in native Irish and Scots too. Member C-46 is descended from Rev. Joseph Cullen who was born in Greenstreet, Teynham near the Thames estuary in northern Kent. C-46 has only tested 12 markers, and is an exact match to the Western Atlantic Modal Haplotype, which found in up to 5% of men in western Europe, making it the most common 12 marker DNA pattern in the region.

Member C-38 comes from an Irish Cullen family which emigrated in the 1800s to Longbenton, Walker, near Newcastle in northeast England, and later generations to the U.S. So far records have not revealed his Irish homeland. C-38’s results are placed in the English Origin section for easier comparison with C-23 from Kent—although both are in Haplogroup I1, there isn’t yet evidence of a genetic relationship in the past 1000 years, this could change if they do more testing.

As mentioned above, the East Midlands has an historic Cullen population, and the two members with roots in the area are genetic matches, both belonging to the rare Haplogroup I2b2 (formerly known as I(x) among other names), which is especially common in Germany. Member C-9 has traced his pedigree back to XXXX and C-20 back to XXXX and the lines do not meet, so this connection is an old one, and there has been time for two mutations to occur in the 25 markers that both have tested. This is great confirmation of their common East Midlands Cullen ancestry –the two members did not know of each other until recently, and had no guarantee of matching.

There are several surnames that could possibly be alternative spellings of Cullen and which are included in this project for that reason. The name Culling is most common in East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk), where Cullen was historically very rare. Member C-17’s Culling ancestors emigrated to Canada and Australia in the 1900s. C-17 belongs to the common Haplogroup R1b but a few uncommon marker values means he has no close matches with any surname. In particular, he doesn’t match any of our Cullens, nor any of the other Cullings who have done DNA tests (results not shown because they did not request to join our project).

Early American

A major goal of this project is to sort out the origins of Cullen families who were in the US and Canada before the 1840s, when large-scale emigration from Ireland began. These early American families could have Irish, English, or Scottish roots, and the spelling of the name may not have always been Cullen. In the 1800s, there were several Cullen families in Delaware and nearby areas in Maryland, east of the Chesapeake Bay. Members C-22 and C-30 are descended from a James Cullen of XXXXX and their DNA results show them to be related. The relationship of James Cullen to Charles Cullen, the ancestor of C-33, has always been unclear—there were strong ties between the two families. It was disappointing to learn that C-33 is not genetically related on the Cullen side to James’ descendants, but now we have evidence that there was an adoption or name change in one of these lines, and there is a possibility that James’ ancestor was actually a man named Townsend.

Another early ancestor from Delaware is the Johannes van Culin, who was a member of the New Sweden colony on Delaware Bay. Despite the name, the colony had settlers from Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands among other countries, and traditional genealogy points to the Netherlands/Belgium as the most likely origin for Johannes. The DNA supports this, his descendant C-35 is very close to the common Western European WAMH, which is almost absent in Finland and much commoner in the Netherlands than Sweden. C-35, who comes from a branch of the family that moved to Pennsylvania and spelled the name Culin (the beginning pronounced like the letter Q), does not match any of our early American Cullens. C-35 is fairly close to some of our Irish Cullens, but there is no reason to suspect this means a genetic connection—a common DNA type like the WAMH will match many, many people closely.

C-31 and C-34 are named Cullum, did not know each other before testing, and are perfect DNA matches. Although they have only tested 12 markers, they share a value of 11 for DYS 392, which is a very rare value within Haplogroup R1b. They can be certain share a common ancestor who lived within the last 800 or so years, since the time surnames began to be used. C-31 and C-34 both can trace back to families from Maryland, USA, although they cannot find where their lines meet.


Our new member C-36 with known roots in Blessington, Wicklow, Ireland, matches C-21 with family from Bray, Wicklow and Irish-American C-4. These three men have an uncommon DNA pattern also found in some other men from southeastern Ireland. This pattern is called the "Leinster Modal" and its distinctive marker values are underlined in C-4, C-21, and C-36's listings in our results grid. The Leinster Modal is found especially in men from families that were once rulers of the area, like Byrne, Kavanagh and Cullen (and also in some families in Scotland). You can compare the Cullen results to these other families, click here (The link will take you to the DYS464x project, which is using advanced testing to show that these families are related).

Notice that all three of these Cullens share the very rare value of 18,23 for YCA IIa,b. They have other distinctive values which are not common in other Leinster Modal families (these are in bold in our results grid). Still the three Cullens differ from each other at several markers, which indicates that their common ancestor lived a long time ago.

Now we can say that we have identified the main lineage of O'Cullen of Wicklow. Most Cullens from other parts of Ireland are _not_ related to this family. More Cullens from Leinster and other parts of Ireland are urged to take a test so we can learn more about the spread of this important family.

Here's more on some of other matches:

Member C-18 who was born and raised in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, matches member C-5, an Irish-American from Chicago, USA. They match exactly on all 25 markers that both have tested. This match was by no means guaranteed: although the two suspected their families were connected, they have each traced their ancestry back to the 1820s and found they descend from two different Cullen men living in the same parish. So the connection between C-5 and C-18 is probably more than 200 years ago.


The other good news is that the most of the remaining 16 lineages identified so far are very distinct from each other, and most are very distinctive when compared to Irish, English and Europeans in general. All this means that when new people join the Cullen project, and we get more matches between our members, we will have an easier time determining which of the matches reflect a shared Cullen ancestry, and are not merely chance matches based on very common marker values.



· Feel free to discuss this project on the Cullen Family Forum

· Click here to place an order for a DNA test at Family Tree DNA


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