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Ancient Roots - The Power of DNA

In looking for the ancient roots of the Sproul family we ask the question - Where did Walter Spruell and his family originate? They are listed as and "old Dumbartonshire family" In the Surnames of Scotland (1946). At first blush people might assume that all Scots are Celtic in origin. It is likely that the original Earls of Lennox, whom Walter Spruell served, represented such a Scots Celtic family.  However, the assumption that Scots are Celts is not true even in the Highlands and Western Islands where Gaelic speaking Celtic Scots are most common. In those places there is much historical, linguistic and genetic evidence of heavy Norse influence dating from the time of Vikings. The Medieval Period of the late 1200's and early 1300's when the first historical records of Walter Spreull appear was a time when people from many different origins could be found in the area that we today think of as Lowland Scotland. There were Gaelic speaking Scots of Celtic origins. There were also Welsh Gaels reflecting the ancient Britons who lived in southwestern Scotland in Roman and early post-Roman times. There were some later arriving people of Norse or Norse-Gael backgrounds.  There also developed an appreciable Flemish presence in Lowland Scotland, in many cases these were merchants and traders. Following William the Conqueror's defeat of the Anglo-Saxon English King, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 there was an influx of French speaking Normans.  However, it should be remembered that the Norman nobles had Norse ancestry. A number of famous Scottish heroes such as Robert the Bruce (Robert de Brus or Robert de Bruys in Norman French) and the ancestors of the Scottish Stewart kings had Norman or Breton ancestors and came to Scotland as a result of the Norman times. Then, as now, Lowland Scotland had a genetically diverse population.

 

At this time there was also an influx of Saxons fleeing from the new Norman administration of England. However, Anglo-Saxon presence in Lowland Scotland is more ancient that the Conquest. It is speculated that Saxon mercenaries in the pay of Imperial Rome may have been present in England and southern Scotland in late Roman times. Following the collapse of the Empire the Angles and Saxon came to dominate much of England. Here in the early Medieval period arose a number of small kingdoms that were often at war with each other. The most important for our purposes is the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia (~ 500 - 800 AD) and its various mergers and evolution into the Kingdom of Northumbria which overlapped the Scottish-English border region. The Anglo Saxons of Bernicia may have represented a mixture of descendants of former Roman mercenary troops and newly Anglo Saxon arrived invaders. The Bernicians battled the ancient Britons who were centered on Dunbarton itself and defeated them starting in 603 and taking Edinburgh in 638.  This kingdom, along with a relatively fluid Scottish-English border in general, promoted a strong presence of Saxons in Lowland Scotland.

So from which of these various groups might Walter Spreull and the resulting Sproul family have arisen? The historical documents do not at this time provide any firm evidence. Genetics, however, do provide powerful insights.  DNA testing of the Y chromosome from many males with various surnames related which likely originated with Water Spruell (Spreull, Sprule, Sprewl, Spreule, Spreuile, Spreall, Spruyile, Sprwl, Sproull, Sproul, Sproule, Sprool, Sproole, Sprowl, Sprowle, Sprall, Sprawl and Sproule etc.) allows us to draw some pretty firm conclusions.  The common Y haplotype found amongst the various modern Sprouls is R1b-U106 (S21) and its down-stream haplotypes such as L48.  The first conclusion we can draw from this is that the Sproul family are not Celtic in descent. The common British and Irish Celtic Y haplotype is R1b-L21.  It is possible, but  not likely, that  the Sproul ancient ancestry is Viking Norse or Norman Norse for that matter.  A common Norse Y haplotype in Scotland is R1a-Z284 and the downstream L448 branch is carried by Highland and Island Scots who descend from  Somerled of Argyll (1100-1164),  who is the paternal ancestor of Clan MacDougall and Clan Donald members. The incidence of R1b-U106 (S21) in the Highlands and Islands where Norse genetic influence is greatest in Scotland is very low.

 

Who then are the common carriers of the R1b-U106 (S21) haplotype?  It should come as no surprise that this is a Germanic haplotype that is common amongst Anglo Saxons. In fact, it is estimated that  Germanic haplotypes, including R1b-U106, are found in over half of all male lineages in Lowland Scotland and England.  Perhaps Walter Spreull's name also offers some clues.  One of the suggested origins of the surname is the Middle English (Anglo Saxon - Norman Period) word sproul - which is said to mean energetic or quick. The name Walter is a Middle English (post-Norman)  form of a Germanic name Waldhar or Walther, which in Old English takes the form  Wealdhere. The name means ruler of the army.  At this time a possible surmise is that Walter Spruell and all his male descendants can trace their origins to Anglo Saxons.  Perhaps Roman mercenaries on Hadrian's Wall in the third century. Perhaps soldiers in the army of the King of Bernicia. Perhaps people who came to Lowland Scotland following the Norman Invasion. This is only an hypothesis - work remains to clarify this. In any case, by the 13th century they were firmly part of the Scots fabric.

 

 

 

This history is an ongoing project. We will leave the story here for now. Hopefully you will be able to help build it with your own historical and genealogical research. If you are a male you might consider joining the Sproul DNA Project at FTDNA and helping us to unravel this mystery using DNA!  Feel free to email for more information glen@sprouls.org