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Border Reivers DNA Research

A study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Human Genetics at the Center for Life in Newcastle, England discovered that only 50% of males with the last name Robson can be traced back to a recent single ancestor. The research, commissioned to create a new exhibit called “The Robson Encyclopedia,” compared 12 markers from the Y-chromosomes of 100 male volunteer Robsons.

Apparently the Border Reiver clan of the Robsons in the Tyne Valley was notorious in the 1600’s and was made famous in a book called “The Steel Bonnets” by George MacDonald Fraser. According to one site:

“The term Border Reivers describes a number of English and Scottish families who fought a seemingly endless series of bloody confrontations from the 13th Century to the mid 17th Century. Sheep stealing and burning each other’s homes were part of everyday Border Reiver life – they were rugged, tough people who lived by their own laws.”

The researchers theorize that males may have adopted the Robson surname in an act of subservience to this powerful family. As always, however, there could have been non-parental events such as adoption and illegitimacy. For more information on this topic than you could ever need, see the Border Reivers DNA Project Website.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

2 Comments

  1. Ah, a genetics question close to my heart :-)

    Another, probably more modern phenomenon, is the mutation of surnames. There was a Robinson family where I grew up who had apparently once sported a much finer surname, but somewhere along the line grew tired of evicting the extra n and simply allowed the mutated form to go to fixation.

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