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Lost in Paisley: A Genographic Story


In anticipation of The Human Family Tree, a new special premiering on the National Geographic Channel August 30th, the Genographic Project has invited participants to share their family migration stories. If you’ve taken part in the Genographic Project and have a story to tell about your family’s past, by all means tell it! Here’s mine:

A Genographic test reveals that my male ancestors followed the path of the R1b haplogroup: Out of Africa perhaps 50,000 years ago, through the Middle East and into Central Asia, where they hunted big game on the Eurasian steppes, then migrated west into Europe. (The ability to unravel this history is new to our era, grounded in the science of genetic variation and markers, but nevertheless nearly miraculous to me.)

After this deep ancestry, my family name–Cochran–suggests my grandfathers’ great great (many-times-over) grandfather pushed on to Scotland, ultimately settling in the lowland town of Paisley, near Glasgow.

Yes: Though the design motif originated in ancient India and Persia, Paisley popularized the amoebas that decorate Vera Bradley bags and garish neckties everywhere. THAT Paisley!

On a trip to Edinburgh, knowing little about what I might find apart from loud ties, I visited my clan’s ancestral seat. I drove east, past Glasgow, to Paisley. Seeing a large old church on a high hill near the center of town, I decided to scout for a graveyard and see if I could find some namesakes.

I parked my car, climbed the hill through narrow alleys, and discovered the church grounds under renovation, with headstones strewn about, apparently at random. There were indeed a few bearing the name “Cochran.” Rest in Peace? Eerie!

Just then, I was startled by the groundskeeper, who informed me that Paisley was more recently famous for its high crime rate, and that I should take extra care while returning to my car if I didn’t want to join my relatives in the churchyard. I ran, not walked, back down those alleys to the waiting vehicle.

Despite the adrenaline rush, it felt good to have kin in distant corners of the world, and to know we’re all cousins in the end, bound back to Africa and to one another by our forebears. If you don’t already know where you sit on the human family tree, get a Genographic Project public participation kit and find out! And don’t forget to watch The Human Family Tree on the National Geographic Channel.

Photograph of my own genographic legacy, Cole Cochran, on the first day of kindergarten by Ford Cochran


  1. Anonymous
    January 15, 2014, 12:48 pm

    I’ve heard alternatively that Cochran is a Celtic and Viking lineage. Did you get definitive results for this?

  2. Shea
    January 14, 2014, 9:40 pm

    Have you any Viking ancestry