IT IS one of the most famous documents in Scotland’s history, regarded as the nation’s claim to freedom. But now a new project at Strathclyde University aims to use Y-chromosome DNA testing to track down the living descendants of the Scottish barons who pledged their resistance to English rule in the Declaration of Arbroath.

The project, proposed by the university’s genealogical studies postgraduate programme, in association with the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, has recently received ethical consent and the team is now working with men known to be linked to Scotland’s most famous clans to trace previously unknown links.

One DNA test result from a descendant associated with the declaration has so far been secured and several men have been identified whom it is hoped will be willing to take the tests.

READ MORE: Genealogists mark rise in DNA testing as Scots investigate ancestry

Three years ago the university team worked on a similar project with those who took part in the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. They used similar DNA testing – which works differently to the autosomal DNA tests offered commercially – to confirm that businessman Archie Shaw Stewart was a descendant of King Robert III, who reigned from 1390 to 1406.

Alasdair Macdonald, of the university’s Genealogical Studies department, said: “The declaration is so historically important to Scotland, so following the success of the Battle of Bannockburn work we decided to continue working on medieval genealogies.”

As part of the project, which Historic Scotland has now confirmed will cumulate in an exhibition at Arbroath Abbey in July and August 2020, students are doing traditional research on individuals associated with the declaration, with findings complete on 25 individuals. Another eight relevant files from the Bannockburn research have been made available.

Macdonald added: “The second part is the DNA research that demonstrates the usefulness of modern technology to extend family trees way beyond the parish records.

“We are looking to identify unbroken male lines – a lot of these families will be landed gentry or clan chiefs. The profile then goes into a databases to see who matches them. For some it might corroborate what they expected. For others it may come out of the blue. Finding a historic connection like this can be really powerful. Suddenly the history books are personal and for a lot of people that is a big draw.”

The declaration was written by Bernard of Kilwinning, then chancellor of Scotland and Abbot of Arbroath, and was part of a broader diplomatic campaign to assert Scotland’s position as an independent kingdom.

It states: “As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

The Scottish Baron signatories also wanted Pope John XXII to lift the excommunication of Robert the Bruce, carried out after Bruce murdered his rival, John Comyn, in a church in Dumfries.