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DNA Study Explores Lineage of Declaration of Arbroath Signatories

Ross Kelly


Declaration of Arbroath

Could you be related to a signatory of the Declaration of Arbroath? A new study by genealogists at Strathclyde University could uncover your links to the historic document.

“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

The iconic words contained within the Declaration of Arbroath are woven deep into the fabric of Scotland’s national identity. Nearly 700 years on from the signing of the declaration, which asserted Scotland’s sovereignty, researchers are seeking to trace the lineage of its signatories.

The Declaration of Arbroath Family History Project, led by the University of Strathclyde, aims to identify the signatories’ descendants through DNA testing.

Potential descendants from the male line are being invited to take part in DNA tests that could confirm their links to the iconic Scottish nobles present at its signing. Documentary evidence discovered by the research team will also play a key role in uncovering those related.

Postgraduate students from the university will carry out biographical and genealogical studies of the Declaration’s signatories. Around 50 men signed the document – many of whom were prominent nobles including Walter Stewart, the 6th high steward of Scotland and father of King Robert II of Scotland.

Additionally, while the names of several more noblemen do not appear in the document’s text, their seals are present. The findings of the study will eventually form part of an exhibition celebrating the Declaration, which was signed in 1320 and sent to Pope John XXII.

Graham Holton, lead tutor in Strathclude’s Genealogy staff team, said: “The Declaration of Arbroath continues to influence our perspective on historical events and is still relevant today.

“It has a particular relevance to people who have a personal connection to it and we are aiming to establish the continuity of descent from several of the Declaration’s signatories. We can confirm direct ancestry by evaluating the Y chromosomes of male-line descendants, even if there is a lack of documentary evidence.

“The Y chromosome passes more or less unchanged from father to son. This is particularly useful in genealogy as it can be difficult, or even impossible, to find details such as births, marriages and deaths from the medieval period.”

According to the research team, several descendants have already agreed to take part in the project, which is gearing up to enter its second phase. This second phase will see analysis of the test results conducted. Researchers will also study the branches of the families involved and how descendants can accurately establish their links with the signatories.

A previous study following the same methods also shed light on the lineage of those who fought at the historic battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The Battle of Bannockburn Family History Project highlighted genetic connections between people living today and their ancestors 700 years ago.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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