Over the Brick Wall to Bannockburn

Up until recently, the genealogical record of my Arthurs family in New Brunswick has been relatively sparse, and all my attempts to trace the family back more than four generations have bounced me off the traditional brick wall. From the 1851 Canadian census records for Kings County, NB we know that Joseph Arthurs “entered the colony” in 1833 from Ireland. The Canadian 1851 census is the earliest complete population survey undertaken in New Brunswick. Consequently, information that predates 1851 is sketchy and difficult to come by. A publication of “Passengers to New Brunswick, The Custom House Records 1833,” edited by Daniel F. Johnson and Ken Kanner (1987) lacks any reference to our Arthurs family. However, the passenger manifests of many ships are missing. Perhaps they may be found at ports of embarkation in England and Ireland and at destinations such as Halifax or Quebec City, or even in Boston and Philadelphia.

If the note in the 1851 census is correct, and Joseph Arthurs arrived in New Brunswick in 1833, he would have been 14 years of age. It would therefore seem likely that he would have been accompanied by parents, and perhaps siblings. Unless, of course, he was brought to Canada under conditions similar to that of the later “home children.” There also could be a connection with another Arthurs family, that of a Jacob Arthurs in the Parish of Simonds in nearby Saint John County, that goes back to the same era. According to Peter Murphy, author of Together in Exile (1990), Jacob and Sarah (Shillington) Arthurs of the Parish of Simonds line were natives of the Parish of Donaghmore, County Tyrone, Ireland.

Because Joseph was Protestant we have assumed that he came from Northern Ireland, rather than the Catholic south. However without a county, parish or townland to work with, and because of the destruction of Irish documents in 1922, no progress has been made in establishing earlier origins. It is mainly because of this “brick wall” that I have spent most of my years of research on my mother’s ancestors, the Titus family.

All of this has changed and my genealogical world has shifted since I decided to have my DNA tested this last December. It has resulted in my “great moment” in genealogy, the discovery that my DNA is a 64 out of 67 marker match with that of a close relative of the current Duke of Abercorn, one of the male heirs of the Hamilton line. I will expand upon this connection below, but the basic fact is that Walter fitz Gilbert de Hambledon (b. ca. 1250 – d. before 1336) was the heir of Gilbert de Hameldun, who is recorded as a witness to a charter of the gift of the church at Gragyn to the Abby of Paisley in 1271. According to the Wikipedia encylopedia, “Walter fitz Gilbert was governor of Bothwell Castle for the English crown but during Wars of Scottish Independence he sided with Robert the Bruce, fighting with him at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Sometime between 1315 and 1329, Robert the Bruce knighted him and granted him lands in Renfrewshire, the Lothians and the Barony of Cadzow (now called Hamilton in Lanarkshire).”

Of course, just how and when my Arthurs line became entangled with this particular Hamilton clan is a yet unanswered question. The fact remains that according to Family Tree DNA, the company that conducted my test, 35 of 37 identical DNA markers indicates a 95% degree of certainty that the “parental event” that created the relationship occurred within the past 14 generations.

The Hamilton Genealogical Line

The title of Duke of Hamilton was created in 1643 in the Peerage of Scotland. The holder of the title is considered to be one of the most enobled persons in the United Kingdom, holding nine subsidiary titles, including Marquess of Douglas, Earl of Angus, Earl of Arran, Lanark and Cambridge, Lord Abernathy, Lord Polmont, and Baron Dutton. However, the line stretches back even earlier in British history.

As mentioned above, from Walter fitz Gilbert, the first of the feudal Barons of Cadzow (ca. 1315), down to the present, the genealogical record is reasonably well documented. It extends through James Hamilton, the 6th Baron of Cadzow (d. 1479); James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran (d. 1575); James Hamilton, 4th Earl of Arran (d. 1625); James Hamilton, 3rd Marquess of Hamilton (d. 1649); James Douglas-Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton (d. 1712); and down to the current heir to the title, Alexander Douglas Douglas-Hamilton (b. 1978).

Of the above, James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, appears to have been especially generous with his DNA. He had five sons, three of whom settled in Ireland. From his third son, Claud (1546-1621), 1st Lord Paisley, descended the title of Earl of Abercorn. The family seat is Baronscourt, in County Tyrone, Ireland. Nothing is certain in all of this, but there is a strong possibility that the extra-parental event that created the Arthurs connection to the Hamiltons occurred in that area and timeframe.

Aside from the totally unexpected connection between my DNA test results and those of the present 5th Duke of Abercorn, I also discovered that the Hamilton family has been the focus of a comprehensive DNA surname study that allows a comparison of my test results with those of over 200 folks with the Hamilton name, plus thousands of others with different surnames. However, before I touch on that, I should outline, from my limited knowledge of the subject, the basics of the science behind genetic testing. Our past president, John Reid, has provided us with an excellent presentation of the genetic aspects of DNA testing in his recent article in Anglo Celtic Roots, titled Family Secrets Revealed by DNA Analysis. However, some aspects will bear some repetition and others outlined below will relate more closely to my experience with the testing process and results.

DNA Testing Process

DNA is the abbreviation for the chemical deoxyribonucleic acid, otherwise known as the chemical of life. Chromosomes with encoded genes along them are made up of pairs of these DNA molecules. They take the shape of a right-handed twisting double helix, the discovery of which earned Doctors James D. Watson and Francis Crick of Cambridge University the Nobel Prize in “Physiology or Medicine” in 1962. Dr. Watson’s book The Double Helix, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the United Kingdom in 1968, is a good introduction for those who are stepping forward to participate in this new and fascinating scientific contribution to the world of genealogy.

In 1990, a further advancement was made in the field of genetics when the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health initiated an comprehensive project called The Human Genome Project (HGP), a 13 year program with ambitious goals, including the identification of all the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA, and determination of the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA. Their goals also included the storage of the resulting data in databases, the improvement of tools for data analysis, and the transmitting of related technologies to the private sector. Happily, the project was completed on time, in 2003. And although it will take many years to analyse the data, it is already paying dividends in new medical applications. From all this pioneer work has also evolved the science involved in determining the markers for DNA testing and the art of comparing the results of the thousands who have already undergone the testing process.

Each cell in the human body contains DNA in the form of 22 pairs of autosomal (non-sex determining) chromosomes, plus two X chromosomes for females and an X and a Y chromosome for males, giving a total of 46. It is estimated that the length of all the DNA in a human body would reach to the moon and back 6000 times.

For males, the Y chromosome is used for testing. This is ideal for genealogical purposes because only the Y chromosome is passed down from father to son. Because of the patrilineal naming system used in our society, surnames and DNA evidence can be tracked back together in time. Thus, this genetic record can be brought forward from many generations in the distant past.

The portions of the Y DNA sequence used in testing is contained in the approximately 98% of DNA for which no function has yet been determined. It is called “junk” DNA, as opposed to the remaining 2% for which there are genetic consequences. The key to the use of junk DNA for testing is the fact that those particular strings of DNA contain stutters, or sequences called short tandem repeats (STR). Occasional mutations of these repeats over relatively long timelines alter the markers that are used to differentiate one human individual from another. These mutations are harmless to the individual because they occur in the relatively non-functional parts of the DNA sequence.

Bryan Sykes, in his Seven Daughters of Eve, provides an excellent explanation of the principles of human genetics and evolution and the links from modern humans to our prehistoric ancestors. In his words: “Our DNA does not fade like an ancient parchment; it does not rust in the ground like the sword of a warrior long dead. It is not eroded by wind or rain, nor reduced to ruin by fire and earthquake. It is the traveller from an unique land who lives within us all.”


From the relatively recent beginnings pioneered by Drs. Watson and Crick, and by the Human Genome Project, geneticists around the world have conducted DNA testing programs to determine the origins of modern man out of Africa and to map the migration of various groups of homo sapiens through the Middle East to India and eventually to New Guinea and Australia; and also to Siberia and eventually to the Americas. Among these groups is a branch known as Haplogroup I. It is closely associated with the Gravettian Culture, named after the type site of La Gravette in the Dordogne region of France. The diagnostic artefact of the period is a small pointed blade known as the Gravette Point. Also indicative of this Culture are some of the earliest examples of cave art and what are known as the “Venus figurines.”

Current theories indicate that Haplogroup I first arrived in Europe around 20,000 to 25,000 years ago from the Middle East. Some of this paleolithic population appears to have weathered the last glacial period in a refuge somewhere in the Iberian Peninsula or Southern France. When the ice began to retreat from Northern Europe, many of them moved gradually north. Included among them is a subgroup of Haplogroup I, known as Subclade I1a. My test results have fit me firmly into that subgroup. This may explain why I have not been as worried as some of my friends and acquaintances at the prospect of global warming.

Subclade I1a can now be found in Scandinavia, with moderate numbers throughout Northwest and Eastern Europe. According to Wikipedia, “Haplogroup I1a displays a very clear frequency gradient, with a peak frequency of approximately 35% among the populations of southern Norway, southwestern Sweden, and Denmark, and rapidly decreasing toward the edges of the historically Germanic-influenced world.” Bryan Sykes, in his Saxons, Vikings and Celts, gives a detailed analysis of I1a.

The Hamilton Surname DNA Study

I placed my order with Family Tree DNA on December, 30th, 2006. The kit arrived by mail on January 12th. I then completed the painless cheek swab procedure and returned the kit to the Company. I was notified by e-mail that they had received the kit on January 24th. The 67 marker test was then completed and I received the results by e-mail on Febuary 23rd, taking less than two months to complete the entire process. When I did a quick comparison with YSearch, an organization that coordinates Y DNA results online, I was surprised to find that, among a few others with different surnames, I had a 35 out of 37 match with several members of Hamilton families. I also learned that there is currently a substantial Hamilton DNA study underway.

According to Family Tree DNA, if a person has 35 out of 37 matching markers there is a 95% probability that the time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) is no longer than 14 generations. They state: “that for the purposes of scientific discussion, our population geneticist feels that 20 years best expresses a typical generation prior to the Dark Ages and 25 to 27 years per generation for the years thereafter.”

The basis of the Hamilton DNA study is an offshoot from the Hamilton National Genealogical Society, Inc. (HNGS) which initiated the study in 2002 due to the interest of several of its members. As of February of this year over 200 men had been tested and the results listed in five groups. Group B, the second largest section, contains 42 of the Hamilton participants, and includes the close relative of the present Duke of Abercorn mentioned earlier. We are both one marker out from the modal 37 marker standard for Group B. My difference is at locus DYS 449, a 29 repeat instead of a 28. He has a 21 repeat value on marker DYS 570 instead of the standard 20 which I have. Below are two charts, taken from an analysis made by Gordon Hamilton, giving the allele values (repeats), at the two sites, the number of persons tested for each allele value, and percentages for each of the two markers. It can be seen that the values where we differ are both in the high percentage range of the charts and are therefore by no means rare.

                                              DYS 449                                                                DYS 570
                                              N = 1230                                                               N = 802
                              Repeats       Count       Percent                              Repeats         Count          Percent
                                  24              1             0.1                                     16               3                 0.4
                                  25             11            0.9                                     17              15                 1.9
                                  26             67            5.4                                     18             134                17
                                  27             85            6.9                                     19             239                30
                                  28            525           43                                      20             223                28
                                  29            365           30                                      21             140                17
                                  30            128           10                                      22              35                 4.4
                                  31             43            3.5                                     23               8                  1
                                  32              3             0.2                                     24               5                 0.6
                                  33              2             0.2      

The Hamilton study only considered up to 37 markers. When my 67 marker test is compared with the Hamilton descendant’s 67 marker test there is only a four marker difference. The markers and allele values are illustrated in the chart below with the differences in red type. I have not yet determined just how a 2 out of 37 difference compares to a 4 out of 67. However, I would assume that the latter would indicate a closer relationship. It should also be noted that the first 20 markers are identical.

User ID    Last Name   393  390  19  391  385a 385b 426 388 439 389-1 392 389-2

9CYVQ     Hamilton       13    22    14   10     13     14      11   14   11    12       11    28

3YXH4      Arthurs        13    22    14   10     13     14      11   14   11    12       11    28

                                    458 459a 459b 455 454 447 437 448 449 464a 464b 464c 464d 

9CYVQ     Hamilton   15      7      9       8      11  23   16    20   28     12    14      15     16  

3YXH4      Arthurs    15      7      9       8      11  23   16    20   29     12    14      15     16  

                                    460 H4 YCAIIa YCAIIb  456   607  576  570  CDYa  CDYb  442 

9CYVQ     Hamilton   10   10    18         21           14     14     16    21      34       37      12 

3YXH4      Arthurs    10   10    18         21           14     14     16    20      34       37      12  

                                   438 425  444  446  531 578   395S1a  395S1b   590  537

9CYVQ     Hamilton   10   12   14    13     11    8          15        15            8     11

3YXH4      Arthurs     10  12   15    13     11    8          15        15            8     11 

                                      61  472  406S1 511 413a  413b 557  594  436  490  534

9CYVQ      Hamilton   19    8       9       9     23      23     15     10    12     12    14 

3YXH4      Arthurs     19    8       9       9     23      23     15     10    12     12    15 

                                  450   481 520   617   568    487     572    640    492    565

9CYVQ     Hamilton    8    27    21    13       11      12       11        12      12      11

3YXH4     Arthurs      8    27    21    13       11      12       11        12      12      11


On March 17, I received an e-mail from Gordon Hamilton, the Project Coordinator of the Hamilton DNA Study, in which he stated: “I recently noted that your DNA profile matches quite closely, even at 67 markers, the DNA profile of those in our Hamilton group. This profile has some quite unusual marker values which in combination are unique for the Group B Hamiltons and are diagnostic for them. These are an 18 at YCAIIa, a 7 at DYS459a, and a 12 at DYS640. He goes on to say that: “You will note that a couple of those listed in the Group B table do not have the Hamilton surname but, because their profiles were so similar to the Group B Hamiltons and like you, are presumably derived from a Group B Hamilton, they were invited to join our DNA project. I would like to invite you to do the same.” Needless to say, I was pleased to join their organization.

This story is still in a dynamic and encouraging state of evolution, and answers must be considered as inconclusive until more people are tested. For instance, a recent e-mail from Gordon commented that “A couple of days ago we received 12 marker results for Alex Hamilton who is a quite well documented descendant of the Hamiltons of Preston. This result … clarifies considerably the derivations of the early Hamilton lines, especially as it pertains to Groups A and B. What this analysis then strongly implies is that Walter Fitzgilbert was a Group A Hamilton and not a group B Hamilton that we had tentatively concluded previously. The Group B Hamiltons, however, can still take heart since it was their ancestor who married Princess Mary Stewart and brought the Hamiltons close to the throne of Scotland in the 16th century.”

This is becoming a real adventure for me, and has been truly a great moment in genealogy. For one thing, it has provided me an opportunity to try to get reasonably up to speed with the science behind this exciting and emerging genealogical field. It has also allowed me to perch atop my brick wall and imagine, far away in the misty distance of the year 1314, the figures of Robert the Bruce with Walter fitz Gilbert de Hambledon, together on the field of battle at Bannockburn. It may take me a little while longer to get my mind back to the figure of an ancestor 25,000 years ago painting a woolly mammoth on the wall of a cave somewhere in France.

By Bill Arthurs


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