At genealogy conferences I’ve spoken about AncestryDNA genetic ethnicity estimates. When the topic of Scandinavian ethnicity comes up, there tends to be an elephant in the room, or more accurately a Viking. At some point I invariably get asked by someone if having Scandinavian genetic ethnicity in their estimate means they are descended from Vikings. With this in mind, it seems like a good time to have a closer look at Scandinavian Ethnicity across the UK & Ireland.
Scandinavian Genetic Ethnicity across Great Britain & Ireland
The map above shows average Scandinavian ethnicity estimates across Great Britain and Ireland. It is based on the AncestryDNA test alone and does not use any historical migration data.
Across Great Britain there is a clear pattern with higher Scandinavian genetic ethnicity in the north east of England decreasing as you get further from that region. From a high of 11.1% in the Northeast of England the average drops to a low of 6.5% in Southern Scotland.
In Ireland we see even lower average Scandinavian ethnicity ranging from 5.3% in Ulster to 2.0% in Munster. At this point, we do not have averages calculated at county level in Ireland. A county level average ethnicity may possibly reveal more subtle variations in the averages.
Average Scandinavian genetic ethnicity estimate across UK & Ireland
A Matter of Interpretation
Knowing the average amounts of a given genetic ethnicity across Britain can be useful. For example, if you have a high amount of Scandinavian in your estimate, then perhaps you might look towards the north east for your roots. But what about the original question we started with – if you have Scandinavian ethnicity can you say you are descended from Vikings?
The answer I normally give people is to consider it like any other genealogical research. Start with what you know. Any interpretation beyond this should at a minimum be consistent with the facts. In relation to Scandinavian genetic ethnicity estimate we can say the following.
- If you have Scandinavian ethnicity as part of your estimate, then your DNA is similar to a group of modern day people in our AncestryDNA Reference Panel with deep roots in Scandinavia. That modern distinction is important, the test does not compare your DNA to any ancient group of people. In other words, the test does not compare your DNA to any “Viking DNA” (if this even could be defined).
- Across the AncestryDNA database, higher amounts of average Scandinavian genetic ethnicity estimates are found in the north east of England than in other parts of Britain or Ireland.
Those are the only facts here. Anything beyond that is interpretation and storytelling. As with any interpretation ask yourself; is this consistent with what I know? Is this a plausible explanation of the facts? Am I pushing the facts to fit an explanation I want to believe?
There is a strong desire in all of us to find simple explanations, simple histories. But it is good to remember that the peopling of Europe is a complicated web of historical events, migrations and stories along many different timelines. The migration of Norse Vikings to Britain and their control of the Danelaw is one such event. But there are others. For example, from the 5th century there was also the Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain. The Anglo-Saxon migration is relevant because some of the Germanic tribes involved in that migration (such as the Jutes and Angles) have their origins in what we refer to today as Denmark, a part of Scandinavia.
How you choose to interpret the facts is ultimately up to you. At the end of the day, this is your DNA, this is your story. There is no one better placed to tell it. Tell it wisely, tell it well.
Danish Vikings began to invade northern and eastern England in 876 and eventually came to control a third of the country, defeating several smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The rulers of the Danelaw, as the Viking area became known, struggled for nearly 80 years with the remaining English kings over the region.
As the Romans left Britain from 400 A.D., tribes from northern Germany and Denmark seized the opportunity to step in. The Angles (green) and Saxons (purple) soon controlled much of the territory that had been under Roman rule, while the Jutes (orange) occupied some smaller areas in the south.