Leading branches of Clan Campbell ‘are not related’

River Lochy near Dalmally

Two leading branches of the Clan Campbell have been found to be unrelated to each other in research carried out by Alasdair Macdonald and Graham Holton at the University of Strathclyde.

The genealogists at the Strathclyde Institute for Genealogical Studies (SIGS) have identified the genetic profile of the Campbells of Glenorchy, a family descended from Sir Duncan Campbell, 2nd Lord of Glenorchy, who died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

The research used DNA evidence to conclude that the family dates back to the 13th century and is a separate line to the Campbells of Argyll, whose descent is from the first Lord Campbell, also Sir Duncan Campbell, who died in 1453.

The Campbells have one of the largest number of cadet families, descended from the sons of clan chiefs, of any clan in Scotland.

The study is ongoing, and is likely to take some time to develop solid conclusions on the earlier history of the Glenorchy lineage, but the researchers have proposed several possibilities.

The study used the Y chromosome, which can only be passed directly down the male line from father to son. Over the last 18 months, testing of several people with four distinct lineages, all descended from the second Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, has revealed that they are defined by a genetic marker called R-Y33315. This included two lineages that share Sir Duncan Campbell, 1st Baronet (c.1550 - 1631) as their common earliest ancestor and a further two with documented descents from Archibald Campbell, 1st of Glenlyon (c1490 - 1552), who was the younger brother of Sir Colin Campbell, 3rd of Glenorchy (d 1523).

Alasdair Macdonald said: “Dating of marker R-Y33315 suggests that the common ancestor of those who carry the marker was born around 1500. Another, smaller branch, defined by the marker R-Y130955, and also carrying the name Campbell, probably branched off a little earlier, with these two branches having a common ancestor defined by the marker R-BY23069 around 1150.

“The Campbells of Glenorchy and the Campbells of Argyll share a marker called R-L1065, but the common ancestor lived around the 3rd century. To all intents and purposes, these two major families named Campbell are not genealogically related but it is not yet certain why the Campbells of Glenorchy carry a different genetic marker, and so have a different male-line ancestry, from the Campbells of Argyll.

“An ancestor of the Campbells of Glenorchy may have adopted the name Campbell out of loyalty in the thirteenth century, but how did one or perhaps more members of this family come to be accepted as sons of Duncan Campbell, the first Lord Campbell?”

Graham Holton said: “It could be that this acceptance happened due to illegitimacy but this might be too simplistic, as the Campbell branch which carries the R-Y 130955 marker shared the same progenitor as the Glenorchys. This line traces back to Kenmore on Loch Fyne but may have moved there earlier from Perthshire. The common ancestor between this branch and the Glenorchys was a man who lived around 1150.

“This date may be firmed up by further testing of documented descendants, but it is clear that there was a major family named Campbell, genetically different to the Campbells of Argyll, in existence from the earliest days of fixed surnames.

“The maternal grandmother of the first Lord Campbell was Mariota, the heiress of John of Glenorchy. It’s also possible that he was a Glenorchy Campbell and that a male relative of John of Glenorchy was fostered.

“Many questions currently remain unanswered but further targeted testing of well-documented male line descendants may provide some answers.”

Anyone who may be able to assist the research project by having a documented descent, or by commenting on the current findings, is invited to contact Graham Holton or Alasdair Macdonald at SIGS.

Funding of test kits was provided by the University of Strathclyde, the Clan Campbell DNA Project hosted at and private individuals.

An article detailing the initial findings is to be published shortly in West Highland Notes & Queries.