THEY were soldiers of fortune, seafarers and traders who travelled from their native Scotland to do business with czarist Russia.
Many of them settled in their adopted home, took wives, had families and started dynasties which exist to this day.
Now one of the world's leading genetic historians is to trace the legacy of the Scots who made new lives in Russia during the 17th and 18th century. Bryan Sykes, the professor of genetics at Oxford University, believes up to 250,000 Russians may have Scottish blood.
He is now looking for people with the surname Learmonth in Scotland and Lermontov in Russia to come forward for genetic testing to prove the historic link.
Sykes, whose earlier work found that most Scots were descended from nomadic tribesmen who moved north from Iberia, said: "Like most British people, I was completely unaware of this migration of people to Russia, until an academic colleague made reference to Russian families who claimed a British progenitor.
"And even though they could not speak a word of conversational English, they were able to recite fragments of British nursery rhymes and Scottish songs, apparently passed down the generations by oral transmission.
"A good outcome to this experiment would be to introduce a man from Moscow to a man from Motherwell. Both would probably have no notion of how their family diverged and developed in different parts of the world, but they would now have an undeniable genetic proof of their relationship that supersedes lost or unreliable records."
Russia now has thousands of Lermontovs. The Lermontov Society, founded 15 years ago, believes they are descended from George Learmonth, a Scottish adventurer who fought for the Poles but was captured by Russian forces in the late 17th century. As a mercenary soldier, he swapped sides and decided to stay on in Russia, where he married and started a family.
The Learmonth heraldic crest, first registered in Scotland in 1672, has very similar characteristics to the Lermontov crest, which first appeared in 1782. George's descendants are likely to have changed their name to fit in with Russian society.
Sykes, who has launched an online genetic analysis company, will extract DNA material from both Scottish Learmonths and Russian Lermontovs by means of a simple cheek swab. He will then analyse the male chromosome material in each sample to determine whether it stems from the same source.
Sykes said: "
Hopefully, we will prove there is a clear link. DNA will give us an answer which cannot be gleaned from historical records, which can often be misleading.
"From there I hope to go on analyse the Scottish families, such as the Reids, Crichtons and Greigs and their Russian equivalents, to establish the connections. It may well be that one in 1,000 Russians have Scottish ancestry, which is quite a substantial number."
The Greig and Crichton families are particularly strong in the Moscow area, whereas many Reids or Reads can be found in St Petersburg.
Alistair Learmonth, a civil servant from Linlithgow, who can trace his family tree in the area to around 1700, said he would be volunteering for the DNA analysis.
"It will be absolutely fascinating," he said.
"My belief is that we all came from two Learmonth brothers who came up from England around the 11th century."
By the 16th century, the Learmonths were a powerful seafaring and trading clan in east Scotland, particularly in the East Neuk of Fife, Learmonth said.
"What you have to remember is that at that time the eldest son inherited everything, so younger sons had to find another way of making their fortune. Many of them became soldiers and went overseas to fight with the Prussian and Polish armies. Some of them obviously made it to Russia."
The Lermontovs in Russia have already formed an association to explore their historical links. Andrei Tsuguliev, who is descended from a Lermontov on the female side and organised a gathering this year, said the family were very keen to foster their Scottish links.
"There is a huge interest in Scottish traditions and some of us are attending courses in Scottish history. I believe that it will finally prove the existence of a common ancestor between the Lermontov and Learmonth families."
Long lineage that stemmed from seer to Scottish king
Russia's most famous Lermontov is Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (1814-1841) who became one of Russia's foremost poets and literature's most tragic characters, popularly termed by biographers as the "Byron of Russia".
He was born in Moscow to a respectable family descended from the Scottish Learmonths, one of whom, recorded in Russian records as Peter Lermontoff, settled in Russia in the early 17th century after being captured by the Russian army.
Following his exile for penning a controversial poem alluding to high-level complicity in the death of his friend Pushkin, Lermontov became famous for his semi-biographical novel A Hero Of Our Time. He was killed in a duel.
The Learmonth surname (and the variants Learmont, Learmond, Learmouth) ranks as being the earliest recorded name in Scotland, first appearing in the late 13th century. The believed progenitor of the family was a 13th-century prophet and seer, Thomas Learmonth of Ercildoune, (now the Borders village of Earlston). He was supposedly psychic in residence to King Alexander III and rose to posthumous prominence after Sir Walter Scott's version of the ballad of his life, 'Thomas The Rhymer'.
Edinburgh has a number of streets named after John Learmonth of Dean, who became Lord Provost for two years in 1831. His son, Colonel Andrew Learmonth, acquired 140 acres of land in the area to build terraces.
Learmonth's wanting to give DNA please visit - www.oxfordancestors.com