Clan Carruthers, DNA Project

Clan Carruthers: Can all Carruthers share the same DNA?

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DNA as a tool, can be helpful but it can also be open to abuse. As DNA is passed from either the maternal or paternal link, one would assume that all bearing the Carruthers name, would share the same DNA, however this cannot be true. This piece however, is not denouncing DNA testing but is drawing the attention to the readers the emphasise placed upon it to fulfil agendas e.g. all Carruthers carry the same ‘specific’ gene and we are one of only a few families who can trace their genetics going back 75,000 years?  The question therefore has also to be ‘who” or “who isn’t’ eligible to be a member of a Scottish Clan or family’.

DNA tests, as I understand them, will tell you what areas of the world your ancestors came from. It’s therefore extremely improbable anyone is 100% of anything, because throughout history, different ethnic groups and native groups have intermarried. It seems that each individual inherits about 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent and approximately half the previous amount for each subsequent generation. The particular combination we each inherit from a set of parents makes each one of us a unique being.

However according to Ker Than of, more than a dozen scientists from various backgrounds say such “recreational genetics” or “vanity tests” have significant scientific limitations and rely on misconceptions about race and genetics. A common misconception about genetic ancestry testing, Bolnick said, is that it can reveal information about an individual’s ancestry, it cannot.

“If a test-taker is just interested in finding out where there are some people in the world that share the same DNA as them, then these tests can certainly tell them that,” said Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas in Austin. “But they’re not going to tell you every place or every group in the world where people share your DNA. Nor will they necessarily be able to tell you exactly where your ancestors lived or [what race or social group] they identified with.

“One problem with this approach, scientists say, is that because such tests analyze less than 1 percent of a person’s genome, they will miss most of a person’s relatives. “If you take a mitochondrial DNA test, you learn something about your mother’s, mother’s, mother’s lineage,” Bolnick said. “If you go back 10 generations, that’s telling you something about only one out of more than a thousand ancestors.”

Such tests also cannot account for recent migrations of peoples from their ancient homelands. “Present-day patterns of residence are rarely identical to what existed in the past, and social groups have changed over time, in name and composition,” the scientists write.

Accepting the information above, there will of course be a general sharing of genetic material by all Carruthers but not necessarily ‘specificity’ of a particular Carruthers gene, if it exists. If it did, one could argue it would have to be traced to those of the chiefly line through their genetic overlap and descendancy and thus sharing of the same base line material. Does that mean that a ‘Carruthers gene’ specific to the family can be traced back 75.000 years or so, or does that mean we as a species all share certain ancient genetic material? For me the latter is far more likely.  It is therefore obvious that although we all share the same DNA there are subtle variations allowing individuality.

Carruthers Origins and the Surname

Carruthers can trace its origins back as far as Brythonic tribes living in and around what is now Annandale in Dumfriesshire. They were linked with others of the day through a common language with the current Welsh, Cornish and Breton regions. Brittonic was one of the two languages belonging to the Insular Celtic language group. It was spoken south of the Firth of Forth and River Clyde and thus differenced from the Picts in both language and region. Our name comes from the Brythonic word Caer (meaning fort) and the name of the king whose fort it was: Rydderch or Rythyr. 

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Therefore our history and that of the Scottish Borders are so closely entwined that we cannot pretend to be that special and suggest that we are all genetically linked or originating from one Carruthers source. The reason is simple, the earliest surnames, a concept only introduced to Britain after the Norman Conquest in 1066, came from various sources. A simple example is the use of Patronymics and describes being the ‘son’ of the father. Now we can say that is hereditary but in fact it isn’t. Two people in the same village may have had unrelated fathers called Thomas, which would have led to them both being called Thomson or son of Thomas but not necessarily from the same familial root, therefore no shared familial specific DNA.

In the case of Carruthers, we are named after the area we lived in as described above, and progressively took out name from the same. Our own chiefly line followed that example and our last Chief of Mouswald, Simon de Carruthers was killed in 1548 in a border raid would we assume, passed those ‘Carruthers’ genes to his direct descendants. The chiefly blood line continued through to this verty day, through the House of Holmains, wityh the last Chief dying in 1807. This scenario would of course continue from the first Carruthers of Mouswald, Thomas in the early 1300’s who was descended from William a 100 years earlier. From this root came Holmains, Dormont, Macmaw, Rammerscales, Denbie and a few others, all of whom will have the DNA transcript from the chiefly line.

However outwith the chiefly line, many other people were living in the area and more importantly working as tenants on Carruthers lands. It was therefore not unusual as surnames became more common, that they would have taken the name of their Lairds. In those cases, although all will be in the historic sense of the word Carruthers, they would not have the same genetic or genealogical association with the ‘main Carruthers’ line. Yet were and remain part of the Carruthers family. By the 1600’s, at least in the lowlands and borders of Scotland, surnames had stabilised and were beginning to slowly be the established norm.

Wikipedia states: It is a common misconception that every person who bears a clan’s name is a lineal descendant of the chiefs. Many clansmen although not related to the chief took the chief’s surname as their own to either show solidarity, or to obtain basic protection or for much needed sustenance. Most of the followers of the clan were tenants, who supplied labour to the clan leaders. 

Contrary to popular belief, the ordinary clansmen rarely had any blood tie of kinship with the clan chiefs, but they took the chief’s surname as their own when surnames came into common use in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thus by the eighteenth century the myth had arisen that the whole clan was descended from one ancestor, with the Scottish Gaelic of “clan” meaning “children” or “offspring”.

Other scenarios must also be thrown into the mix e.g. marriages where the husband has passed or left and the women retains the man’s name, while potentially having more children carrying that name. There is also adoptions into the family and their family lines going forwards all bearing the name Carruthers. Surely this would again further negate the concept that all of the name Carruthers will have the same DNA.

John Carruthers Stanly


Of course, this didn’t happen just in Scotland but was extrapolated world wide and further included one of the largest slave owners, a freed slave by the name of John Carruthers Stanly born 1774 and died 1846 from North Carolina. The reason he has been brought into the mix is because after the emancipation of slaves in the very early 1800’s, many simply took the names of the plantation owners themselves. We therefore have former slaves and their descendants who for over 200 years  have carried the Carruthers name or a derivation of it. It obvious, like many other Carruthers, the do not share the DNA of the chiefly line but in the tradition of a Scottish clan, they are still all Carruthers.

The normal definition of a Scottish Clan is along the lines of: a Celtic group especially in the Scottish Highlands, comprising a number of households whose heads claim descent from a common ancestor. Now this would fit with most clan genetics and that of our own Clan and is totally inclusive in its approach.

The simple question has to be: does the clan and family Carruthers simply accept only those with the DNA from the chiefly line. This would be to the exclusion of all others carrying the family name or derivations of the same. Or do we maintain inclusivity of all those with our name as well as those who wish to carry our name, as all Scottish Clans have done historically before us?

It may be totally wrong, but I know where my opinion sits.

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