Scottish Genealogy and DNA

There are some 50 million people world-wide who claim Scottish ancestry, from Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, through Europe to the USA and Canada and, yes, even England. Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier for Scots to trace their roots back to the town, city, county, glen or village where their ancestors lived and worked.

Scotland has the world’s best records

Scotland is a world leader in providing family history information on the internet, partly because we have possibly the most complete, best-kept set of records and other documents in the world, which are constantly being digitised and made more accessible. Before the 1560s, family histories can become murky, although names are recorded in charters, parliamentary papers, land records and more. Many of these are available in national or local archives.

Tracing back your Scottish Ancestry

Dr Bruce Durie, Genealogist, Author, Broadcaster, Lecturer and Time Traveller

Dr Bruce Durie, Genealogist, Author, Broadcaster, Lecturer… and Time Traveller

From your first step back into the past, you will be on a continuous journey of discovery, learning more and more about your family and its history through the generations that lived before. Discovering your Scottish ancestors is not just about who they were, but also the social, political and economic context – where they lived, what they did, and if they chose to leave, the reasons why.

There is a great and understandable desire within the Scottish diaspora to trace lineages, and to feel connected to the ancestral heartlands. Many then visit Scotland to research further and visit the places relevant to their ancestors, filling in the missing pieces of the jigsaw about their family histories.

Dr Bruce Durie has put together some advice on tracing your Scottish roots, please read:
Dr Bruce Durie’s guide to exploring your family history >>




DNA – See whats hidden in your genes.

What is your DNA made up of?

Where is your DNA from?

DNA testing gives us the ability to trace your genetic inheritance beyond the written record to go back hundreds of years.   It can also identify where potentially  your research was incorrect.  It’s an incredibly powerful tool that is accessible to everyone and the more it’s used the more is learnt.

Scotland is a tremendously 
diverse nation, it’s been inhabited by Celts, Picts, Vikings, Irish,…. even shipwrecked sailors from the Spanish Armada. Like the first pioneers who came after the ice, every Scot is an immigrant.  DNA testing identifies what your ancestral mix is and in what proportions.

DNA also allows us to compare against selected markers to pin point specific people and times in history.  DNA together with traditional genealogical research gives you a more complete picture of your ancestry.

However, it is important to do the right tests with the right providers, who have a large database to match against.

To find out more read our DNA Demystified Section >>

Some Famous People with Scottish Ancestry

We thought it would be interesting to list a few of the many well-known people who have surprising Scottish ancestry:

The 44th president’s case, the Scottish link is said to come from maternal ancestor Edward Fitzrandolph, who emigrated to America in the 17th century. This may link back to William the Lion, who ruled Scotland between 1165 and 1214.

The controversial rapper’s great-great grandmother came from Scotland. The Detroit-born hip-hop star’s grandmother, Betty, said the family can trace their roots back to Edinburgh woman Ailsa Macalister who went to New York with her family in 1870,moving on to Kentucky two years later.

The star of Walk The Line can trace her roots to Edinburgh-born Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon, who emigrated to America in 1768. He was instrumental in the development of Princeton University, and was one of only two Scottish signatories to the American Declaration of Independence.

Four years ago, a Scottish author claimed to have traced Elvis’s family tree to blacksmith Andrew Presley, who moved to America from Paisley in 1745. His parents married in the Aberdeenshire village of Lonmay in 1713. Most of the Presleys in Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries came from Aberdeenshire.

The 40th US president had ancestors who came from Paisley. Claud Wilson and his bride, Peggy Downie, were married in the town’s Castlehead Church in 1807. In 1991, President Reagan attended a service in the church with his wife, Nancy, wearing a tartan jacket and singing Amazing Grace with other worshippers.

The US talk show king was born James Douglas Muir Leno. His mother, film-maker Catherine Muir, emigrated to America with her family from Greenock when she was 11. She married Jay’s Italian father, Angelo Leno, and the couple settled in Massachusetts.

The 72-year-old actor and director says his father was an Edinburgh milkman who emigrated to California, where he later switched careers and became an accountant for an oil company. It was there he met his wife, Redford’s mother, Martha.

There can be few Americans who are prouder of their Scottish roots than the country music legend. When he was young, his father would tell him of his Scottish ancestry and the whole family would sing Scottish songs. he can trace his family back seven generations to the Argyll Campbells, and he took up playing the bagpipes after first visiting Scotland in 1974.

The man in black once described Scotland as his “ancestral home” on TV. Indeed, he is descended from a Scottish seaman named William Cash, who settled in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1612. Cash’s singer song writer daughter Roseanne says she feels a strong connection to Fife, where the family originated . They trace their roots back to 12th century king of Scotland, Malcolm IV.

Since announcing plans to build a massive £300 million golf and leisure resort in Aberdeenshire, Trump has been keen to point out that his mother, Mary MacLeod, came from Stornoway. Born in 1912, she grew up on a croft on the Isle of Lewis with parents William and Catherine, before moving to New York in her 20s. It was there she met Donald’s father, Frederick Trump, who would himself soon become a millionaire.

Clinton might not sound like a Scottish name, but the former president was actually born William Jefferson Blythe. His father, of the same name, died in a car crash before he was born, and the young Bill later took his stepfather’s surname, Clinton. Another line of Clinton’s family tree has the surname Ayers, and both give him Scottish-Irish ancestry. Along with Obama and Reagan, Clinton is one of 15 US presidents to have Scottish roots.