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DNA links Armstrongs from Bedfordshire


The Armstrongs of Bedfordshire

Bob Armstrong has used archives for many years to trace his family connections. Here he explains how innovations in new technology have expanded and verified his research

Border origins

“The Armstrongs were a warlike and immensely powerful clan who held land along the Borders” the history book had stated. Heady stuff for a young lad to read. From that point on I needed to know more. As the years rolled by, I started on the usual genealogical path: asking family ‘elders’ what they knew, searching the IGI and compiling numerous family pedigrees.

The inevitable research ‘brick walls’ were encountered, but not before I had traced my direct line from my Bedford birthplace back through Blunham , and on to Cople in the 1780’s. I was fairly sure that a link could be made between my Cople family and the Armstrongs of Wilshamstead and Riseley, but I was struggling to make the connection.

In the 1970s I was contacted out of the blue by a Canadian by the name of Jim Armstrong. Jim had written to every Armstrong in the Bedford phone book asking if the pedigree he’d enclosed rang any bells. It certainly did with me! Many of my Blunham branch had settled in Goldington, and I noticed Jim’s tree featured one of his ancestors, George Armstrong, as being born in Goldington in 1832. Jim’s line featured families in Hunts and Cambs – all stretching back to Wilshamstead.

We collaborated constantly, initially via ‘snail mail’, then by the more instantly gratifying internet. We both agreed that we were almost certainly related as we had accumulated masses of circumstantial evidence to that effect, plus names and dates seemed to fit the jig-saw perfectly. The only fly in the ointment being that I couldn’t find the vital proof to link my William Armstrong, who established the Cople branch, to his probable Riseley roots.

It was here that fate lent a hand. I had seen a posting by a lady from British Columbia on one of the genealogy sites asking for information about her Armstrong ancestors in Thurleigh. Jim and I had both thought it likely that the Ravensden, Thurleigh and Wilden Armstrongs linked to us, but again, we hadn’t found definite proof. I contacted the lady concerned, and she mentioned an in-depth discussion about Bedfordshire Armstrongs on another site.  Incredibly, I joined the forum just as the subject of Cople Armstrongs, plus possible links to Huntingdonshire was being discussed. The next six weeks saw a lot of activity via forums, e-mails etc, until finally one of the forum members made a breakthrough showing how my William of Cople had arrived in the village. It appeared that he had been orphaned, and then indentured to a Cople cordwainer. His birthplace was Wilshamstead, and his paper trail was easily followed back to Riseley. In the process, the Ravensden and associated branches were also proved to link to the Riseley progenitor.

DNA testing

Just prior to our ‘eureka’ moment, I had signed up for Y-DNA testing with FTDNA, a Texas-based company. I’d joined the Armstrong DNA Surname Group, and was quickly immersing myself in the research, so much so that I was soon co-opted (or should I say, co-erced!) into becoming an administrator for the project.

Although I was fairly certain that the pedigree I’d compiled would stand up to close scrutiny, I wanted something more positive. I asked my Armstrong “cousin” in British Columbia if she had a male relative who would take a DNA test. Fortunately she did, and six weeks later his 37-marker results arrived. For a relationship to be proven, a match on at least 34/37 markers is required. He matched me 36/37 – case proven! The Thurleigh-Ravensden-Riseley link was sound.

Jim and I had established contact with some Bedfordshire-connected Armstrongs ‘Down Under’ many years ago. These families descended from an uncle of my William Armstrong of Wilshamstead. I had no current addresses for any of them, so just Googled some of their names and got lucky: one had a website, and I was able to re-establish contact. My request for a Y-DNA test was again answered, and another six week wait for results began. I crossed my fingers as I accessed the FTDNA results page. I urgently scanned the columns and saw his scores…36/37. Success!

Famous connections

Most of our 107 Armstrong DNA Surname Group members are in North America, and desperately trying to establish links back to the UK. One of my Pennsylvanian DNA close matches sent me his family pedigree recently, and I spent one morning checking through it, managing in the process to take it back a further generation to Kirkandrews Upon Esk in Cumberland in 1685.

Later that day I had to take a trip to town and got caught in a rain storm. I ducked into a nearby bookshop for shelter, and wandered over to the nearest shelves. Incredibly, the first book I noticed was ‘First Man’ the astronaut Neil Armstrong’s official biography. I opened the book up at the exact page that Neil’s family tree was listed, and I was astonished to see that many of the names I’d researched that very morning were cited! My close DNA match in America shared an ancestor with Neil in 1747. It dawned on me that I could also claim the astronaut as a relative, although the link may have been as long ago as the 1400’s!

My interest in genealogy was kick-started by my fascination with the Scottish Border clans, and I was delighted to get a close match with an Armstrong who had ancestors living a stone’s throw from the ancient clan stronghold of Gilnockie Tower, near Canonbie, Dumfriesshire. The FTDNA ‘Most Recent Common Ancestor’ prediction chart shows a 99.51% chance of a link between us some 26 generations ago (estimated at 25 years per generation), decreasing to 90.33% at 18 generations, with 65.07% predicted for the mid-1600’s.

I am currently trying to find out why we came south to Bedfordshire and have unearthed several theories…

I’m indebted to the following for their assistance in my research: Jim Armstrong –Brandon, Manitoba, Canada; Sue Edwards - Beds Archives & Records; Wendy Durham - Hampshire; Judi Plant – British Columbia; “John P” & “Bedfordshire Boy” on Rootschat. Bob Armstrong