Background: Bambara groundnut [Vigna subterranea (L) Verdc.] is an indigenous legume crop grown mainly in subsistence and small-scale agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa for its nutritious seeds and its tolerance to drought and poor soils. Given that the lack of ex ante sequence is often a bottleneck in marker-assisted crop breeding for minor and underutilised crops, we demonstrate the use of limited genetic information and resources developed within species, but linked to the well characterised common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) genome sequence and the partially annotated closely related species; adzuki bean (Vigna angularis) and mung bean (Vigna radiata). From these comparisons we identify conserved synteny blocks corresponding to the Linkage Groups (LGs) in bambara groundnut genetic maps and evaluate the potential to identify genes in conserved syntenic locations in a sequenced genome that underlie a QTL position in the underutilised crop genome. Results: Two individual intraspecific linkage maps consisting of DArTseq markers were constructed in two bambara groundnut (2n = 2x = 22) segregating populations: 1) The genetic map of Population IA was derived from F2 lines (n = 263; IITA686 x Ankpa4) and covered 1,395.2 cM across 11 linkage groups; 2) The genetic map of Population TD was derived from F3 lines (n = 71; Tiga Nicuru x DipC) and covered 1,376.7 cM across 11 linkage groups. A total of 96 DArTseq markers from an initial pool of 142 pre-selected common markers were used. These were not only polymorphic in both populations but also each marker could be located using the unique sequence tag (at selected stringency) onto the common bean, adzuki bean and mung bean genomes, thus allowing the sequenced genomes to be used as an initial 'pseudo' physical map for bambara groundnut. A good correspondence was observed at the macro synteny level, particularly to the common bean genome. A test using the QTL location of an agronomic trait in one of the bambara groundnut maps allowed the corresponding flanking positions to be identified in common bean, mung bean and adzuki bean, demonstrating the possibility of identifying potential candidate genes underlying traits of interest through the conserved syntenic physical location of QTL in the well annotated genomes of closely related species. Conclusions: The approach of adding pre-selected common markers in both populations before genetic map construction has provided a translational framework for potential identification of candidate genes underlying a QTL of trait of interest in bambara groundnut by linking the positions of known genetic effects within the underutilised species to the physical maps of other well-annotated legume species, without the need for an existing whole genome sequence of the study species. Identifying the conserved synteny between underutilised species without complete genome sequences and the genomes of major crops and model species with genetic and trait data is an important step in the translation of resources and information from major crop and model species into the minor crop species. Such minor crops will be required to play an important role in future agriculture under the effects of climate change.