Britains DNA discovers genetic marker which originates in Royal Scot 800 years ago
A DNA testing program by Britains DNA – a genetic ancestry provider – has managed to identify the development of a genetic marker in a historical figure for the first time. This has led to the discovery that half of all men with the surname Stewart or Stuart are directly descended from Alexander the fourth, High Steward of Scotland.
Alexander lived from 1214 to 1283 and had three sons and two daughters. ‘Britains DNA’ ran DNA testing on the male descendants of two of Alexander’s sons; Sir John Stewart of Bonkyll, who died in 1298 at the Battle of Falkirk at William Wallace’s side, and James the fifth, High Steward of Scotland, who lived until 1309.
It was found that Sir John’s male line of descendants had a particular Y chromosome marker named ‘S781’, where James the fifth’s did not. It can therefore be inferred that S781 developed in Sir John because if it had developed in his father, Alexander; James the fifth’s male line of descendants would carry the marker too.
This is the first time that the origin of a genetic marker – otherwise known as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) – can be traced exactly to a historical figure such as Sir John. For genealogy enthusiasts this is another example of how genetic ancestry can yield a powerful insight into their lineage, where a ‘records based’ approach may have faltered.
For male Stewarts and Stuarts alive today; discovering there’s a 50% chance they’re directly descended from Scotland’s royal line is an intriguing revelation. It’s estimated that more than 17,500 Stewarts and Stuarts are of royal descent.
‘Britains DNA’ are based just outside Edinburgh in Scotland and have been undertaking genetic ancestry testing since April 2012. By discovering and testing for markers such as S781; they can say that 20% of Stewarts and Stuarts share Sir John as an ancestor, and 30% share James the fifth.
The 10th Duke of Buccleuch, also known as ‘Duke Richard’ and who resides at Drumlanrig Castle in Scotland, consented to a DNA test from ‘Britains DNA’ as he’s descended from Sir John. He said “My family’s history has always been closely involved with the history of Scotland and Britain, but the fact that the rise of a DNA marker has been identified in an individual brings the past even closer, and makes it more personal.”
There are currently 21 genetic ancestry providers offering tests in the UK today, and prices range from £65 to £969. There are Y-DNA tests which, if you’re male and carry this chromosome, can help you trace your lineage for your male line, and mtDNA tests to help you trace your lineage for your female line.
There are ‘autosomal’ tests which analyse 44 of your 46 chromosomes (X & Y chromosomes are excluded), and can match parts of your DNA with population groups from around the world; to help you identify the countries where your ancestors lived.
There are even ‘family finder’ tests which once taken, allow you to access to a database to find and contact your living relatives.
In April 2012, Frost & Sullivan released research showing this type of testing is growing by 8.6% every year, and Google Trends reveals that there’s been a 718% increase in online searches for ‘Ancestry DNA’ since March 2005. It’s clear that genetic ancestry testing continues to capture the nation’s imagination.
For reviews and price comparisons of the best genetic ancestry tests on the market, see our genetic ancestry listings.