Family oral tradition can tell you a lot about your roots. I haven’t done any genealogy work on my family but have heard stories from my parents and grand-parents. It’s certain my ancestors on my dad’s side came to the US from Ireland during the great migration. My grandfather on my mother’s side stated the ancestry was English and German and maybe some Dutch too. My grandmother on the maternal side stated she was a descendant of Governor Bradford of England who came to the US on the Mayflower in 1620. So it was very clear the family roots were in the United Kingdom.
But over the years, I’ve had many people ask me if I was Scandinavian! The obvious signs were blond hair, blue eyes and very fair skin. While I didn’t have any proof the family came from Scandinavia, it always seemed like a real possibility to me. It’s a question I’ve pondered for years. Did I have Nordic ancestors?
Last year, while doing research for a blog post, I read Dr. Bryan Sykes excellent book ‘Saxons, Vikings and Celts’. Dr. Sykes has an ongoing DNA analysis program at Oxford in the UK that has been testing people from all over the world to determine their ancestry for many years. He has a theory he calls ‘the Seven Daughters of Eve’. He has confirmed from DNA analysis there are seven principal clan women from the past who are the direct maternal ancestors of the majority of Europeans. He has named all these women and pinpointed where they originated from and where their descendants have migrated. He also explains the patrilineal DNA of our ancestors. It’s really a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.
Dr. Sykes gives a link to his website offering DNA analysis to anyone who wants to explore their ancestry. So I checked it out and ordered the kit. If I did the DNA analysis on myself, it would only give me information on the matrilineal line. However, if a male relative did the test, I could get the matrilineal and patrilineal information. So I recruited my brother to swab his cheek which he graciously did and sent off the test.
Well, I received the certificates this week and have found the results to be astounding. On the matrilineal side, the results show I’m a descendant of the Daughter of Eve named Helena by Dr. Sykes. Helena was born about 25,000 years ago on the strip of land that joins France and Spain near the city now called Perpignan in France. The clan of Helena has become the most widespread and successful of the Seven Daughters of Eve. Her descendants to this day are all over the world. Her clan arrived in Europe from the Middle East. As the Ice Age glaciers retreated, some of Helena’s clan moved south of the mountains to the lands of the Basques. These descendants are still there today. Others from her clan ventured north and reached England about 12,000 years ago. We know this because of the DNA of a young male skeleton discovered in Gough’s Cave in Somerset called ‘Cheddar Man’. Dr. Sykes tested the skeleton’s DNA and it confirmed this male belonged to the clan of Helena.
This information was amazing in and of itself. But then I looked at the patrilineal certificate’s results. It indicated with the highest certainty my ancestors were from the Y-chromosome clan of Wodan. This clan is thought to have originated about 25,000 years ago in the Ukraine. Most of the modern day members of the Wodan clan are found in Northern and Western Europe although evidence of the clan appears in Armenia and Georgia. Within Europe, most of the clan is found among the Saami of northern Norway and Finland, in Norway other than the Saami, Iceland, western Russia, Germany and Iberia. Within Britain the clan is more common in Eastern England (33%) than in Scotland (15%) and Wales (11%). This is an indicator of Saxon and Danish immigration in England and Norse Viking colonization in Scotland. The Wodan clan is rare in Ireland (7%) and is probably due to the arrival of Vikings in Ireland in the ninth century.
Now for the most interesting DNA find. The packet I received included a graph interpreting the DNA results compared to the Tribes of Britain. Because my family tradition suggested England was the home country, I looked at the line on the graph for the clan of Helena. The graph indicated the greater part of the DNA was of Celtic origin with a small mix of Danish Viking and a little bigger dose of Anglo-Saxon blood. I suspect the Danish Viking DNA comes from my maternal grandmother.
Now, when I looked at the line in the graph for clan Wodan in Ireland where my father’s family is from, there was about a 10% amount of Celtic DNA. But the other 90% was Norse Viking! So there is Viking blood in the veins. My suspicions are confirmed. It’s been a really fun journey.
New research (2021): DNA sequencing shows Vikings weren’t all Scandinvian
Resources: “Saxons, Viking and Celts” by Bryan Sykes