I WAS intrigued, and somewhat surprised, by the assertion in the obituary to Elizabeth Burns (The Herald, August 29) that Elizabeth Burns was a”‘direct descendant of our national Bard, Robert Burns”. As a genealogist this sort of contention is of particular interest.

Closer scrutiny reveals Elizabeth Burns’s father “was directly descended from Rabbie’s uncle James”. Robert Burns had 12 children by four women - nine by his wife Jean Armour. Seven of his children were illegitimate, including the first four by Jean Armour, legitimised by their parent’s marriage in 1788. Of Jean's children, six died young and another, William, had no children. The last descendant of their eldest son Robert (1786-1857) was Jean Armour Burns Brown, who died in 1937.

All living descendants of Robert Burns and Jean Armour descend from their granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth Maitland Tombs Burns (1821-1909), daughter of their fourth son James Glencairn Burns (1794-1865). At best Elizabeth Burns is something like a fourth cousin twice removed.

By which logic, I would contend that about five per cent of the Scottish population could claim to be “a direct descendant of our national bard”. Actually most of us are descended from Ghengis Khan … but that is a rant for another day.

Sheila Duffy,

3 Hamilton Drive, Glasgow.