A project aimed at finding the descendants to signatories of an historic declaration has so far found information on 40 of the document’s 48 signatories, according to a recent article in The National.

The Declaration of Arbroath Family History Project refers to the letter dated 6 April 1320 written by Scottish barons and addressed to Pope John XXII, which was King Robert I’s responses to the pope’s excommunicating him for disobeying the papal command that he did not fight in the First War of Scottish Independence. The letter asserted the independence of Scotland and defended Scotland’s right to use military might when attacked.

Genealogy researchers at the University of Strathclyde have pulled together a progress report on their work to identify the descendants of the men who signed or attached their seals to the letter. The new report focusses on 15 of the signatories and Robert the Bruce.

Genealogical studies

The project has been undertaken by postgraduate diploma students and staff from Strathclyde University’s genealogical studies postgraduate programme.

Principal tutor Graham Holton said the project had been devised to provide a learning opportunity for postgraduate diploma students to carry out research in medieval genealogy, and to develop methodologies for using genetic genealogy to trace early descents.

The information the students had gathered so far, he added, formed a significant foundation for further research and covered some of the more lesser known signatories.

Longest British unbroken documented male line ancestries

Descents from families such as Dunbar reveal that they are likely to be one of the longest British unbroken documented male line ancestries. They descend from Crinan the Thane who was born in the late 10th century and whose male descendants are both documented and shown by DNA evidence.

Although signatory Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, left no male line descendants, descendants of his brother Alexander hold three baronetcies that still exist.

Research has identified DNA markers that indicate descent from Alexander Dunbar, and he has at least 10 descendants in the UK and North America, including three with documented unbroken descents.

Another signatory, Alexander Seton, had no sons but his daughter Margaret married an Alan de Wyntoun, very likely a Seton by descent, and many of their male line descendants are living today.

Mr Holton said the research was ongoing, and conclusions would be refined and clarified. The researchers hope to stage a public exhibition next year.

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