Centre for Lifelong LearningBannockburn Genetic Genealogy Project

Genetic genealogy is becoming more and more important as a tool for genealogical research.

The genetic genealogy strand of the Battle of Bannockburn Family History Project aimed to show the power of genetic genealogy by revealing living descendants of combatants in the Battle.

Having identified several male line descendants of combatants using documentary sources, we invited them to take a DNA test and then attempted to find another individual who closely matched each test taker. When successful, this showed that the second individual was descended from the same combatant, despite having no supporting documentary evidence.

How can you get involved?

Any male can take a Y-DNA test to investigate their paternal ancestry.

We would initially recommend taking either a 37 or 67 marker test and to join your relevant clan, family or surname project hosted at Family Tree DNA or other provider.

If you are female, you need to get a male relative such as a father, brother, uncle or nephew who bears the surname to take a Y-DNA test on your behalf, though other DNA tests are available to women.

What is genetic genealogy? 

Genetic genealogy uses traditional documentary evidence and DNA results from individuals who are alive today. As our DNA preserves a record of some of our ancestors, the degree of relatedness between different individuals can be established through testing.

Why use genetic genealogy?

Genetic genealogy can help individuals answer questions which cannot otherwise be answered due to a lack of documentary evidence. It also enables each of us to potentially connect to individuals who have a verified documentary descent from historic individuals such as the men who fought at Bannockburn.

Y-chromosome testing

Only men carry a Y-chromosome and as surnames typically follow the paternal line, Y-DNA can be used to establish whether men share a common male ancestor.

How does it work?

Cells are collected from the mouth using a swab. DNA is extracted, and ready for processing and analysis. The results of the analysis are then compared to those from other individuals. The degree of relatedness can be calculated to predict how long ago two individuals shared their most recent common ancestor.

STR markers and SNP markers

We use two different types of DNA markers in genetic genealogy research. STRs (short tandem repeats) measure the number of times a sequence of genetic code is repeated at a specific location on the Y-chromosome. Common tests available are on 37, 67 or 111 markers.

As the values for these markers change over time they are useful for establishing the time frame when two men shared a common paternal ancestor. This is the type of test recommended for establishing connections in the last 400 to 500 years. SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) are markers that have a slow mutation rate and tests on these can therefore be used to identify different branches of male-line descendants and to confirm links from more than 500 years ago.


Genetic genealogy research carried out by researchers at the University of Strathclyde has revealed exciting new information about the origins of one of the longest-established noble English families. They may have been here longer than anyone had imagined.

The Berkeley family, which has held the titles of Marquess of Berkeley, Earl of Berkeley and Baron Berkeley and still own Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, have been established in that County since before the Norman Conquest of 1066. They are generally recognised as one of only a handful of families who can reliably trace their ancestry back through the male line to before 1066.

Their earliest known ancestor was Eadnoth, who served as a Royal official to King Edward the Confessor and King Harold in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings. Eadnoth’s grandson, Robert Fitzharding, was granted the Barony of Berkeley. His son, Maurice, married one of the Berkeley family, whose surname he took on.

Eadnoth was an Anglo-Saxon noble. However, DNA testing of male line descendants of the family shows that their origins may date back even further to an ancestor belonging to a genetic group that arrived in England before the Anglo-Saxons, who only began to settle from the middle of the 5th century.

The male line ancestor of Eadnoth belonged to a people who appear to have travelled over time from southern to northern Spain, with some eventually arriving in Britain either before or during the Roman period. Perhaps the ancestor from this same genetic group might have been a Roman soldier, recruited in Spain, who settled in Britain during the Roman occupation (1st-5th century).

Either scenario would suggest that Eadnoth’s ancestor had settled in Britain before the Anglo-Saxon era. With the subsequent dominance of Anglo-Saxon culture, it would be inevitable that over time the family would adopt Anglo-Saxon names and become assimilated into the Anglo-Saxon culture. The family maintained its status from the end of the Anglo-Saxon period into the Norman period, a very unusual occurrence, but may also have held this position from an even earlier Roman or pre-Roman period. Is this perhaps an example of the longest period of noble status maintained in the male line by one family?

Members of the Berkeley family at Berkeley Castle were delighted to hear of the results of this research. Mr Charles Berkeley, eldest son of the present owner John Berkeley, commented, “It is very interesting to hear that, through recent DNA tests done on members of the Berkeley family, the origins of the male line of the family have been established as dating from pre-Anglo-Saxon times. Although regarded as Anglo-Saxon, this research suggests that our ancestors were in England at an even earlier period.”

The genetic genealogy research was carried out by researchers from the Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, originally in connection with their Battle of Bannockburn Family History Project. A number of the Berkeley family took part in the Battle in 1314.

25 August 2015

We have now verified the descent of one of those who has tested positive for Y14197, a distinct marker for the Bute line of Stewarts.

This descent goes back to William Stewart in Kildavanan, Bute, who was married before 1692, when a daughter was baptised. He was likely born around 1665 and therefore his father was probably born around 1640. From this evidence, we can now conclude that Y14197 occurred between around 1360, the approximate date of birth of Sir John Stewart, Sheriff of Bute, and 1640.

19 February 2016

Funding has now been received for the Big Y test on the sample from the male line descendant of Sir John Stewart of Blackhall and Ardgowan.

17 February 2016

We have now received test results for a documented male line descendant of Sir John Stewart of Blackhall and Ardgowan, d ca1412, an illegitimate son of King Robert III. This means we now have results for a descendant of each of three sons of King Robert II (1316-1390) – Robert III; Robert, Duke of Albany; and Sir John Stewart, Sheriff of Bute.

Advanced testing (Big Y test from Family Tree DNA) has been done on two of these, which has helped to identify distinct SNP markers for the Bute line, but it is now important to carry out this test on the new sample. This could potentially lead to the discovery of distinct SNPs for the line of Robert III. In practice, that could, in the future, allow individuals to take an SNP test, to show that they are descended in the male line from Robert III.

At present, we do not have funding for this test to be done, so would very much welcome donations, small or large which would allow this work to progress. The current cost of the Big Y test is $575 (around £400).
28 January 2016

The results of the Big Y test for a documented male line descendant of Sir John Stewart of Blackhall & Ardgowan, d. c.1412, an illegitimate son of King Robert III, have now been received and analysed.

Alex Williamson, author of The Big Tree http://www.ytree.net/ has identified a new SNP carried by this individual, which has been given the name ZZ52.

Our two other Big Y test results, that is one for Earl Castle Stewart, a descendant of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, and the other for a documented descendant of Sir John Stewart, Sheriff of Bute, do not carry this SNP.

Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, and Sir John Stewart, Sheriff of Bute are both brothers of King Robert III. This means that ZZ52 must have occurred in Robert III or one of his male line descendants. In other words, ZZ52 is a distinct marker identifying descendants of Robert III. He may also have descendants who do not carry this, since the generation in which the mutation took place is not yet known.

1 April 2016

Stewart 700 Conference, Paisley Abbey, 10 September 2016

A small display providing information on our recent research on the male line descendants of King Robert II (1316-1390) was available to view at the recent and very successful Conference held at Paisley Abbey on 10 Sept 2016. Material featured can be viewed by clicking on the links below

Following the Conference a gathering of Robert II descendants was held, at which seven descendants met up. The descent of six of these had been established as a result of DNA testing associated with our research.

The strand of genetic genealogy research which formed part of the Battle of Bannockburn Family History Project (2013-), has been followed up by further research by researchers from the Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme at the University of Strathclyde and has focussed on identifying male line descendants of King Robert II (1316-1390). Only four of his sons have likely left male line descendants still living today, King Robert III (1337-1406), Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (ca 1340-1420), Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, ‘The Wolf of Badenoch’ (1343-1405) and one of Robert II’s illegitimate sons, Sir John Stewart, Sheriff of Bute (d ca 1445).

So far, DNA tests have been carried out on documented descendants of three of these sons – on Archie Shaw-Stewart, from Robert III’s line; Patrick, 8th Earl Castle Stewart, from Robert, Duke of Albany’s line and a confirmed descendant of Sir John Stewart. Advanced testing has revealed distinct genetic markers for the first and third of these lines. These two SNPs have been named ZZ52 and Y14197. ZZ52 is carried by male line descendants of Robert III and Y14197 by male line descendants of Sir John Stewart. Already, several other individuals have been found to carry ZZ52 and several others to carry Y14197. It is not yet known whether these SNPs occurred in the originators of these lines, or in one of their descendants, but they are likely to have arisen in a fairly early generation. Because the occurrence of these SNPs has not been dated, it is possible that some descendants may exist who do not carry them.

The four charts displayed here show the descent of Robert II from Walter FitzAlan, 1st High Steward of Scotland (d 1177); the descent of the three documented testees from Robert II as well as that of one other individual who carries ZZ52 (Donald Stewart) and one other carrying Y14197 (Thomas Philip Stewart); and, two phylogenetic trees showing genetic groupings which are identified by a specific SNP. Phylogenetic trees illustrate the evolution of a genetic grouping in terms of changes in DNA, where SNPs mark out the branches of the group.

It is hoped that eventually, it will be possible to identify and test a descendant of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, ‘The Wolf of Badenoch’ and also to discover more recent SNPs which would mark branches of the Stewarts in more recent times.

The early High Stewards of Scotland
DF41 phylogenetic tree
Z38845 phylogenetic tree
Selected descendants of King Robert II


Acknowledgements (Bannockburn Genetic Genealogy Project)

  • Arthur Patrick Avondale Stuart, 8th Earl of Castle Stewart
  • Paul John Thompson
  • Ranald Alexander Macdonald of Clanranald, 24th Captain and Chief of Clanranald
  • Lee Weldon MacDonald
  • Belinda Dettmann and Kathi Bobb, Stewart Stuart DNA Project
  • Dr Doug McDonald, Clan Donald DNA Project
  • Max Blankfeld, Family Tree DNA

Click to download a genealogical chart of DNA matches.