About the Author

Bruce Henderson is a computer engineer living in Southern California. With the help of his cousins he is researching the history of the Henderson family of southern Caithness. You can contact him at bruce@sigalarm.com

Henderson - Gunn Genetic Connections: The Missing Link


The heather covered hills of Kildonan

Part of our research into family history has been to use DNA to look beyond where the stories stop and into the deeper ancestry of the Hendersons of Caithness. The human Y chromosome is passed unaltered from father to son, with a few mutations creeping in ever several generations or so. An emerging field of research has been to connect families based on similarities in their Y chromosomes – if the DNA matches closely, they are related.

For my Henderson family, this has presented a historical puzzle. The history of Caithness describes the sundering of the Gunn clan following the battle of St. Tears, and how Henry Gunn and his family decided to part ways with their kin and took the surname Henderson. If history is correct, my DNA should match the DNA of someone in the Gunn family. However, that has not been the case, even when we were able to test the DNA of a Gunn with confirmed Ramscraigs heritage.

Several weeks ago, as a result of this web site, a fellow in Canada by the name of Henderson contacted me via email. A very pleasant gentleman, we carried on an good conversation over email, and eventually it came to light that his family emigrated to Canada, living in Nova Scotia and Manitoba. To me, this was an immediate attention grabber. Many displaced families from Caithness and Sutherland had joined the Selkirk settlement in Manitoba and the Red River valley.

His roots to Scotland included an ancestor from Kildonan who lived in Helmsdale before shipping over to Canada. This is the same path that many Hendersons and Gunns had taken during the period of the clearances, and his family line would hold many possible points of history.

Fortunately, he had his DNA tested some time ago, though it was not even remotely close to mine. Instead, an interesting thing arose. The Gunn who helped us out so much by offering his DNA for testing was a very close match, close enough in fact that the most recent common ancestor was likely in the 500-700 year time frame.

At long last, here was DNA science proving the connection between the Gunns and the Hendersons. This man, whose family was forced from Kildonan (the last stronghold of the Gunn clan), carried with him the Gunn DNA fingerprint. He had realized this himself some time ago, but had met with rejection and confusion from the Gunn clan association. For many of Clan Henderson USA, his genetics are a breakthrough in history. Many members of their genetics project have lost their connection to Scotland through the decay of time. But with this new DNA sample, many of these are clearly Kildonan Gunn Hendersons who arrived in the colonies either seeking a better life, or after being cleared from the Strath of Kildonan.

For my genetic line, the work to solve the puzzle of a I1d-Norse ancestory goes on.

8 comments to Henderson – Gunn Genetic Connections: The Missing Link

  • morgan

    i am a henderson

  • Hello
    My sister Joanna and myself are researching our Henderson-Gunn ancestry and my sister came across your website. We are very excited to discover a brqnch of the Clan that we did not know about. Our common ancestor would probably be interesting to trace. We have members who emigrated to Canada from Caithness, and we have lost track of them. We did manage to contact a direct cousin 40 years ago but upon his death we lost all contact with that branch of the family again. I add below here some names taken from what we know of our history:

    Sir Thomas Henderson was killed at the battle of of Flodden, fighting for his King & Country, that is 15th Century history.

    We have been supplied with some interesting family notes from the diary of Mr Alexander Henderson, Ramlah, Blairgowrie.
    We are descended from the third son of the Princess of Norway who’s Father was then King of Norway. We descended from the third son. Gunn is the name for Henderson. The Princess married the Ruler & Magistrate of Caithness, and was unfortunately drowned on returning from a visit to her Father, the King of Norway, she left her three sons in Caithness. For generations the eldest son in direct line from the third son of the Princess of Norway has been named Patrick, counting back 300 years. My Great Grandparents on the paternal side were in succession the heads of the Inland Revenue or Custom House office. Colonel Henderson, my ancestor, fought in the battle of Culloden, he was Colonel in the Hungarian Hussars. My Great Grandfather resided at Beech House, Coupar Angus, he married Catherine Walker from Aberdeen, she rode all the way from Aberdeen, accompanied by her groom, to be married. My Grandfather had 13 of a family, 7 sons and 6 daughters. My Father, Dr Patrick Henderson, also had 13 children, 7 sond and 6 daughters. My Grandfather of Beech House, Coupar Angus, had a nephew the Honerable William Walker, who was 15 years Lieutenant-Governor of four parts of the West Indies, namely British Guaina, Trinidad, Barbados, and Antigua. My Uncle before retiring from the Governership had a magnificent presentation from the inhabitants of British Guaina. The Honorable William Walker, my Uncle, married his full cousin Anne Henderson. My Grandfather married Miss Todd who was one of the Todd’s of Dirleton, near Edinburg. My Mothers grandfather was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar, he was one of the First Officers in the Royal Navy, under Admiral Nelson, who was killed at the same time. This same Officer Built Burntisland House, which after the death of his wife was rented by my Father Dr Patrick Henderson, who married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James Livingston, shipbuilder, Burntisland, who after his wife’s death went to St petersburg and had the honour of building for the Emporer of Russia, Nicholas 1st, all his vessels, and also for the Grand Dukes.
    (except from 1911 letter to my great great grandfather)

    Please contact me if you are interested in seeing all the information I have so far managed to type out

    Kind regards
    Maria Knott (nee Varga)
    Originally of New Zealand now living in the UK

  • Thomas Bruce Henderson

    My later father believed a Henderson-Gunn link, and has a tree map that tends to corroborate things. I can send you a large PDF or photograph (it’s large, as in really LARGE) to the address or ftp site of your choice. Tom

  • David Young

    Thank you

  • Ron Richardson

    In Georgia USA I have been digging up Gunn ancestors for the past fourty years – way before the Internet. I am currently BRICKWALLED with my Major James W. Gunn (1802-1874?) This web site you have created gives one of the best overviews of these ancestors of Norway – Scotland. Gratefully, Ronald Richardson – Son of a Gunn

  • Lianne Milobar

    My father was Howard Henry Henderson, born in Saskatchewan, his father was Howard Henderson, born in La Rivière Manitoba, his father was Kenneth Henderson, born in Ontario, and his father was George Alexander Henderson, who came to Canada from the area of Helmsdale Scotland. George married Christina MacKay. My father always said that he was descended from Clann Gunn.
    Thank you for sharing your extensive research!

  • My DNA testing was done by FTDNA.com. It threw up a lot of contacts but very few Hendersons, lots of Lyles and many others. Can we compare? A guy called Richard Beckwith Was 3 markers different from me. He had a tree linking him back to a Lady Beckwith-Bruce who married Hercules De Malebisse in about 1225. She insisted on keeping the Beckwith name,or no marriage would happen. So in theory I am descended from the Gunn/Hendersons.
    Gerald Henderson.

  • Rosemary Cole

    My Gr Grandmother was Catherine Henderson born in Dunbeath Caithness Scotland in 1857 and her mother was Janet Gunn born 1833 and lived in Latheron Caithness her father was John Gunn born 1786 in Latheron so I seem to have a lot of Hendersons and Gunns in my family history. I have just returned from a holiday in Scotland and whist I was there I visited the Gunn museum in Latheron. all very interesting as a lot of my ancestors are buried there.

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