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The DNA Results tab shows the test results received to date in two charts: Classic and Colorized. Although both place all test kits in the same groups, the Colorized Chart also includes the Mode (most common) value for each marker, and highlights in color any differences from the Mode value. The Mode value is also the most likely value for the most recent common male ancestor of each group, based on results so far, and the differences highlighted in color show the genetic mutations that have occurred at some point between the common ancestor and the person tested.

Before the project started, it was thought that almost all Burness families most likely descended from a common ancestor living in Kincardineshire in the 1500’s. This was based on the earliest surviving records which indicate a dozen or so Burness families living in several adjoining parishes of central Kincardineshire in the early 1600’s, but no where else.

However, DNA results have now shown that there are two distinct large family groups who are not related in the direct male line:

Family Group 1 is the largest and includes Walter Burness (c1615-1670) and all his descendants in the male line, including the poet Robert Burns. DNA testing has also proven that three other branches of the Burness family are related in the male line to Walter Burness, although the exact connection is unknown. They could be direct descendants of Walter Burness, but they could also be descended from a paternal ancestor of Walter such as his father or paternal grandfather.

Family Group 2 includes six other branches of the Burness family so far. DNA shows they share a common male ancestor but the exact connections between these branches is unknown.

Since both family groups originated in the same area of Kincardineshire it seems likely there may be some connection, even if not in the direct male line. Some possibilities include:

  1. A genetic relationship through the female line: If a female Burness had an illegitimate son he would use the Burness surname if his biological father was unknown or did not acknowledge his son. However, the Y-DNA of the son and all his descendants in the male line would reflect the Y-DNA of his biological father, and would not match that of his maternal Burness grandfather. Since illegitimate births were quite common, this is perhaps the most likely explanation for why Family Groups 1 and 2 do not have matching Y-DNA.


  2. A family relationship, but no genetic relationship, such as:


    1. Burness male marrying a woman with a son from a previous relationship, and the son taking the Burness surname of his step-father


    2. Burness widow having an illegitimate son who might use her Burness surname if his biological father was unknown or did not acknowledge his son.


    3. Adoption


    4. Marital infidelity


  3. No relationship, with both families independently taking Burness as a surname.

Family Group 1 and Family Group 2 may well descend from a common Burness ancestor, but the non-matching Y-DNA means that, if they do share a common ancestor, then one group must descend from a female Burness from the other group. It is not possible to determine which group is the “original” Burness family from Kincardineshire. Both can be traced back to the early 1600’s based on surviving records. The DNA results do suggest that Family Group 2 may be older since members of that group have on average 4 differences from the Mode value (out of the 111 markers tested), while members of Family Group 1 have on average only 3 differences.

In addition to the two large groups, DNA results indicate there are a number of smaller branches of the Burness family which don’t match any other branch, and thus are unrelated in the direct male line. The largest of these, with 3 members tested, has been labeled Family Group 3, while the others have been grouped under Unconnected Burness Families. A couple of these small branches have been traced back to Scotland, so may be connected to either Family Group 1 or 2 through a female ancestor. The other branches have only been traced back to ancestors in England or the United States. They may be connected to one of the Scottish branches through a female line, but it is not possible to tell from the Y-DNA results.

Finally, several other men with surname Burns or Burnes but no documented Burness ancestors have joined the project, generally because of a family legend of a connection to the poet Robert Burns. However, their Y-DNA does not match any branch of the Burness family, except for one man, descended from Eleazer Burns of Pennsylvania, whose Y-DNA proved a connection to Family Group 2.

There are still about a dozen small branches of the Burness family that have not been tested yet. Hopefully a male member from each will agree to be tested sometime in the future.