Tracing the Declaration of Arbroath’s family lines

Arbroath Abbey

Genealogists at the University of Strathclyde are seeking descendants of the Declaration of Arbroath’s signatories, ahead of the historic document’s 700th anniversary next year.

Researchers are exploring the lineage of the people who are named in or placed their seals on the 1320 Declaration, which asserted Scottish sovereignty.

Identified male-line descendants are being invited to take DNA tests to confirm their heritage, alongside documentary evidence discovered by the researchers.

The outcomes of the study, titled the Declaration of Arbroath Family History Project, are to form part of an exhibition to be held at Arbroath Abbey to coincide with the anniversary.

Graham Holton, a Lead Tutor in Strathclyde’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.”


Several descendants have already agreed to take part in the study, which will shortly be entering its second phase. This will focus on analysis of test results and will study the branches of the families and how descendants living today can establish previously unknown medieval origins.

Postgraduate Genealogical Studies students at Strathclyde are carrying out biographical and genealogical studies of the Declaration’s signatories, who numbered around 50 and were largely barons and noblemen.

The Project research is significant as it relates to concepts of individual identity, making links between people today and historical figures and also concepts of national identity.

Further information on the Declaration of Arbroath Family History Project can be seen at

A previous study, the 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

Alasdair Macdonald, also a Lead Tutor in Genealogy at Strathclyde, is among the contributors to Tracing Your Ancestors Using DNA: A Guide for Family Historians, published by Pen & Sword Books Limited, which is edited by Graham Holton.