The Armstrongs were the most notorious reiver clan who once dominated much of Dumfriesshire and Roxburghshire. The clan reached its zenith in the early 16th century when its power was unrivalled. This project has two main objectives: the first is to unite as many Armstrong families as possible by breaking down genealogical 'brick walls'. The second is to unravel a plethora of myths and legends that surround our surname by using science to uncover the truth about our ancestors' origins.
The Armstrong surname's progenitor has been the cause of great controversy for decades. Perhaps the most enduring origin-legend concerns Siward, an 11th century Anglo-Danish earl of Northumbria. Numerous hours of research have been spent by Armstrong researchers trying to locate a link between Siward and the first recorded Armstrong, who lived in Ousby, Cumberland in 1223. All to no avail. Various books and articles have mentioned the Siward theory, but never produced references to support their work - a practice that serious researchers would never tolerate.
Some writers 'borrowed' tales from ancient Norse mythology and wove them into the Armstrong story. Others took Charles Kingsley's 1866 novel 'Hereward the Wake' literally, not realising that it contained a mixture of facts and fiction. The author suggested that Hereward's sister wed a son of Siward - a union which produced two boys. However, Kingsley admitted that the Siward pedigree was 'little more than conjecture'. Over the years, a number of historians have been consulted in a bid to find the truth, and they all stated that Siward's offspring left no surviving issue. The general consensus was that, following Waltheof's execution for perceived treachery, the Norman overlords would never have allowed any of Siward's line to live in case they became figureheads for an 'English' uprising.
Another tradition, frequently mentioned in Scottish clan surname guides, concerns Fairbairn, an armour bearer to a king of Scotland. He is claimed to have rescued his master when he had his horse killed under him in battle. Fairbairn allegedly lifted the unseated king onto another horse using just one arm. However, the weight of medieval armour makes such a feat appear highly unlikely! Conjecture also suggests that Fortenbras was yet another potential founder, but no reference material is ever supplied.
Thankfully we live in an age when DNA research is being used in conjunction with more stringent paper trail research to produce a more accurate picture of our history. Y-DNA results show that the Armstrong mainstream descent cluster belong to the R1b S389/L624 haplogroup and subtypes. The group has a strong Scottish bias. Samples of ancient human remains were found in the Covesea Caves, Moray, Scotland in 2018. Expert analyst Alex Williamson was able to show that one was a male who lived around 890 BC - nearly 3,000 years ago. He was found to belong to a sub-group of haplogroup L624, namely Z30597, as do our Armstrong mainstream descent cluster. This proves L624 was present in the British Isles nearly 2,000 years before Siward arrived on these shores.
Another ancient skeleton was unearthed at an Iron Age hillfort at Broxmouth, near Dunbar. It was recently found to belong to haplogroup Z30598, which is in the same block as the Covesea sample. The Broxmouth male lived around 350 BC, during the Scottish Iron Age, which ran from 800BC- 400AD.