Declaration of Arbroath descendants traced to Strathclyde

Arbroath Abbey

Genealogy researchers at the University of Strathclyde have found descendants of the Declaration of Arbroath’s signatories on their doorstep.

A student and a lecturer at the University are among the descendants traced by the Declaration of Arbroath Family History Project. The project has so far identified a considerable number of people whose ancestors put their names to the 1320 document which asserted Scottish sovereignty.

Among them is Dr Julie McFarlane, Director of Learning at Strathclyde’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship who has discovered that she is descended, through her mother, from Walter Stewart, a signatory who served as the sixth High Steward of Scotland and whose son went on to become King Robert II.

The descendants also include Philip Stead, a postgraduate student at Strathclyde whose ancestor, Alexander Seton, was steward of the King’s household and placed his seal on the declaration.

These and other findings have been made possible by recent developments in genealogy, including advancements in the sequencing and analysis of Y-chromosome data. The Declaration of Arbroath’s project has been using improved Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) tests, which allow 40% more coverage than previous tests,

The project’s latest findings are outlined in an article in History Scotland co-written by Graham Holton, Principal Tutor on Strathclyde’s Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme, based in the Centre for Lifelong Learning, and Alasdair Macdonald, a Teaching Fellow and Lead Tutor on the programme.

Dr Julie McFarlane

Dr McFarlane knew little about her family history but decided to take a DNA test through genealogy website Ancestry. It led to her being contacted by a distant relative who had been identified as a descendant of the Stewart clan in Strathclyde’s previous Bannockburn Family History project.

Dr McFarlane’s more recent ancestry also includes a miner who was one of 207 killed in the Blantyre disaster of 1877, the worst mining accident in Scottish history.

Philip Stead

Philip found that he is descended from a child of George Seton, the Fifth Earl of Winton, a Jacobite supporter who was imprisoned in the Tower of London before escaping to Europe. The Earl, in turn, can be traced back to Alexander Seton.

The article states: “The linkage of documented descents such as (these) with genetic data inherited down multiple generations is an exciting area of research for genealogists and historians.

“It is now possible to identify branch markers within a recent genealogical time frame. When such data is combined with another type of testing that analyses autosomal DNA - DNA inherited from both parents - many genealogical puzzles and previously unanswerable questions can be addressed.”

The previous Battle of Bannockburn Family History Project identified genetic connections between people living today and their ancestors who fought in the 1314 battle.

The Centre for Lifelong Learning offers a range of postgraduate courses in genealogy. The courses, intended for people with an interest in and experience of the subject, have been developed by academics and genealogy professionals to provide a thorough grounding in the theory and practice of genealogical research, family history, records, archives and heraldry. More information can be seen at