Posted by Mike Mulligan on June 23, 2015 in AncestryDNA, United Kingdom

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

 

1dmaps

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.

1dcounties

 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.

Background

The Danelaw

1danelaw
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.

Anglo-Saxon Migration

1danglosaxon
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.

Mike Mulligan

Mike is a Principal Product Manager at Ancestry, based in our Dublin office. Mike has been doing on family history since he was young growing up in Donegal surrounded by generations of cousins.

35 Comments

  1. John Delacruz

    Having taken Ancestry’s Y-DNA, Mtdna tests and now their ethnicity test I find this article very interesting as it gives a more in-depth view of a subject that a lot of people just skim over.

  2. Lynne Brython Edwards

    I’m really surprised that Ireland has such low percentages, though maybe they just stole the Irish for slavery. Though isn’t Dublin a Viking town?

  3. Margaret Greer

    Having a great grandfather named Brunskill, I think it’s a fair assumption I have Scandinavian ancestry. My husband says I wear my helmet with the horns on the inside. Very interesting to see the demographics, my family came from the Lake District and the Yorkshire dales

  4. Ellie Trautman

    This is really interesting data, but really only shows half the picture. Once Ancestry opens ethnicity testing to the Scandinavian countries, we should have a better view of travel patterns. I am Norwegian and had my test done along with my mother, an aunt, and an uncle. Though we are primarily Scandinavian, we range from 2% – 8 % Great Britain and 4% – 23% Irish.

  5. Oliver Pereira

    The tradition that the post-Roman colonisation of England consisted primarily of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes is itself “storytelling”, going back to the historical writings of St. Bede. Linguistic evidence shows that English is closer to Frisian than it is to any language spoken in the homelands of those three groups, hinting that in reality there was a significant contingent of Frisians, which for some reason Bede omitted to mention. Your warning against modern-day storytelling based on DNA is appreciated, but please be aware that storytelling by historians of the olden days must also be viewed with scepticism!

  6. LCRW1978

    My husbands family are believed to have Northern European links as he and his father both suffer from Dupuytren’s contracture, which is also known as Viking disease. Haven’t got them any further back than Cheshire/Lancashire though on the paternal line of his tree. Interesting reading!

  7. Doug Marker

    I tried to add post earlier saying thankyou for what is a careful and well worded topic but it got rejected as spam ?.

    Also I agree with the poster commenting about lack of mention of Frisians when in fact their appears to be stronger historical and linguistic evidence for a substantial Frisian influx that appears to precede the Romans, plus the period whilst the Romans were in UK and then post Romans.

    Some historians used the description Frisians years before they began using the names Angles & Saxons plus the map shown indicates the Saxons as being where the Frisians dominate (Netherlands).

    Roman historians called the confederation of Frisians, West Saxons, Angles & Jutes the Yinga or Inga (Ingaveones). The country became known as Inga-land (this conflicts with the belief it was Anga-land as some think). The Angles were only a small part of the total. But apart from these minor issues, the general thrust of the topic is well explained.

    Thanks

    DSM

  8. Deb Stock

    Very interesting, and the extra comments, especially regarding the Frisian influence and te name Ynga/Inga, are also helpful.
    Just a slight corrective to Doug’s post though – The Netherlands is actually the larger of the two greyed-out areas with the jagged coastline, to the left/west of the purple patch (fyi, the grey area below that is Belgium). The purple (Saxon) area is pretty much wholly within Germany.
    And although the Frisian Kingdom did extend along the northern coastal section of the area marked as Saxon (and indeed, up along the western coastal strip of the Angles’ area), the main focus for the Frisians was to the west of the Saxon area, and down into The Netherlands. Both Germany and The Netherlands have modern regions called Friesland, occupying the eastern and western extents of the historic core of the Frisian kingdom.

  9. Jas Haden

    I have deupretrens contracture which is inherited from the Vikings. This was diagnosed by a rheumatologist. I am unable to unclench my fists, even after undergoing three operations. This is extremely debilitating & painful. My dad had this too. There is a Viking museum inYork with a section devoted to this.

  10. And what happens when AncestryDNA says you’re 45% British, but not one of your known ancestors are from the British Isles. I am generally into 4-5 generations deep into all my continental European ancestors. Now I am a quarter northwest German (Saxon/Friesian) and about a quarter Belgian Waloon. I get the feeling that those two ethnicities which are also precursors of persons in England are the reason for my ethnic designation by AncestryDNA. I guess you could say I am of true New British ancestry, but that all came together in Indiana, USA. So since Britain is the amalgam of other cultures, why shouldn’t one’s DNA ethnicity bypass Britain and project back to continental European Celt and Germanic tribes?

  11. Les Batt

    Lincolnshire is not in the North East of England. Its the East Anglian region. Further more Vikings did vidit The proper North East of England but not according to your Danelaw map. Check your history books please.

  12. Jett Hanna

    Do you have a breakdown by Scottish regions more precise than the table included? The Orkneys and Shetlands should have very high Scandinavian percentages, and northwest, borders and Galloway should be higher than Midlothian, at least from my understanding of historical migrations. Obviously, the population numbers in Scotland are much smaller than in England.

  13. John Adam FARRIS

    Very interesting – including many of the comments above. However, there is no mention of the Vikings who became Normans in France before they invaded & conquered England.

  14. Kay Higginbotham

    Thank you for addressing this topic. I am a 7th generation Mississippian (USA) and was surprised to find 40% Scandinavian in my ancestry! I also have 13% British and 18% Irish. I’m curious about the definitions between the three. Thanks again for sharing the information.

  15. Heather

    My dna with ancestry came up 80% british isles – however i have two strong lines of scandanavian names which originate in the north east of england and east anglia. When I uploaded my raw dna data to another site it shows 37% scandanavian and 47% german/french. Knowledge of my ancestry which includes a direct norman line (made up of both those genes) would seem to show the second site is more accurate. I assume that ancestry gives the current dna areas – ie. british isles which would of course be widely made up of those two peoples.

  16. Catherine Christie

    I was born in Scotland, and my 4 grandparents, etc, and back, are from Scotland. I would like to see Scotland represented. Shows UK and Ireland. Yes, I know Scotland, and England, and Wales are connected by land, but Scotland is very different.
    Ireland and also Scotland never had more than 5 million population, so wonder why not a Scotland, and also and Ireland?

    Please advise.

  17. Louise

    My hubby’s DNA includes 12% Scandinavian. His paternal grandfather comes from Nottinghamshire, grandmother from London. His maternal grandparents from Belfast, N.I. This is very interesting !

  18. Louise

    Just rechecked that figure – Hubby has 82% British Isles, 16% Scandinavian, 3% Central Asia.

  19. Doug Marker

    Thought this link maybe helpful (offers an alt spelling for Ingaveones and some very interesting comments. One very useful map kin the link, shows the area considered to be their home. It covers Netherlands to Denmark (Jutland / Jylland). Frisian DNA (U106-L48) is very strong there even today, just as it is in old Northumbria esp Anglia and also the areas considered Saxon regions of England.

    It is a challenge to choose what SNPs are ‘Anglo/Saxon’ vs what are Frisian. Jutland was and remains strongly U106 and its sub-branches as well as being strongly I+ and even P312.

    Doug Marker.

  20. Cheryl Medina

    My daughter and I have been working on our tree for a few months after testing my DNA and we were amazed to find a hint of Scandinavian in there! What’s also more amazing than that is my daughter has gone back centuries upon centuries in our tree and has traced back to Rollo the Viking! Absolutely fascinating!

  21. Arjan van der Werff

    Untill the late 9th century the Frisians dominated trade in the North sea, they traded in between York and what these days is “Zuid Holland”, but used to be “West Frisia”.

    The Frisians took over in the rhine delta after the Romans left or were forced out.

    ( Rhine delta = Rotterdam / The Hague area )

    There were Frisian settlements in York area and Frankfurt.

    The Frisian settlements in York area started in the 8th century.

    So my guess would be that a shared trade language (Old Frisian) broke apart in Old English and Old Frisian after the Frisian kings were forced out of the Rhine delta. ( Because after that the Frisian language no longer was the trade language. )

    This happened in 896. In that year, the Holy Roman Empire took over in the Rhine delta, they were forced out in 1648.

    Source 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland#History

    Source 2: Vermaseren Atlas 1966

    It’s easy to assume that these Frisian settlements in York Area are the root of the Anglo American civilisation, it was the Frisians who reintroduced a money system and wide spread use of written text and so.

    ( Without a lot of trade there is no need for a lot of written text…. )

    The picture on the top of this article cleary points at York area and not at the area south of London ( where this 1966 atlas place the Anglo Saxon kingdoms in the centuries before the Frisian trade ) as the area with the highest concentration of Germanic DNA…

    So I assume the Frisian language, written text and trade had a lot more influence on the early English language than the Germanic settlements in the south of Great Brittain had.

    My wild guess is that the Anglo Saxon presence south of London was related to the Saxonian population of Flanders, which back than also included Calais and Duinkerken.

    ( The language border in between Germanic and Latin languages was south of Calais back than. )

    It’s very well possible that the story of the Anglo Saxon invasion from Jutland is just a ferry tale.

    Coast to coast migration seems to be a LOT more logical than a bunch of warriors moving all the way from Hamburg area to London area.

    The very old dialect of the western part of Flanders is very similar to old Saxon.

    A closer look at the oldest words in the dialects West Flanders and “‘Zeeland” will prove this point.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxons

    The term anglo saxons was not used before the 9th century..

    Maybe it’s about time to replace myths for more profound takes on history?

  22. Arjan van der Werff

    ( In the 6th century there was a lot of trade in between Jutland and York, this 1966 map is the source of this information, so this might explain some DNA from Jutland….. )

    The warrior invasion theory seems odd to me.

    The dialect of the Calais / Duinkerken area was French Flemish in the recent past, and this dialect was very similar to Frisian ( without being Frisian ) in the deep past.

    It seems logical that the first Germanic settlements south of London are coming from this area.

    The English Wiki is usefull => https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Flemish

    In this Ducth wiki the deepest roots of the Germanic language just across the sea from Dover gets mentioned.

    https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeeuws#Taalgeschiedenis

    Based on some words in West Flanders, the spoken language in this area in the deep past was Ingvaeonic ( North Sea Germanic ) and not Istvaeonic, which it is today.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingvaeonic_languages

    These people btw didnt talk saxon of Frisian, I don’t know of any name for this language because it has changed from Ingvaeonic to Istvaeonic…

    But Saxon dialects these days don’t get spoken anywhere west of the Dutch town Blaricum.

    The most southern part where it gets spoken more or less is Wageningen area.

    “South Ingvaeonic” might be a proper name for the first Germanic langauges on Great Brittain.

    In stead of “‘Anglo Saxon” or so.

    Maybe someone can take a closer look at all this, because I am just an amateur…

  23. I have Red Hair, Green Eyes and lots of freckles- 61% Scandinavian, 25% Western Europe, born and raised in Denmark. Irish 5%, Great Britain 4%. I Think there is a Viking in the room – or, i hope so.

  24. I have always known I was a Yorkshireman descended from Viking predators. I was born in Yorkshire and lived most of my life there. Broad Yorkshire Dialect is my first language. Ilearbned English when I joined the British Armed Forces at 17 so that I could be understood by non-Yorkies.

    However, when I had my DNA tested I found that althjough I was, by birth, quaklified to pleay cricket for Yorkshire’s County team, there was more in my background that I had ever dreamed of.

    I am 41% Bbritish – whatever that mean – but then I am also 24% Irish, bejabers! – 16% Scandinavian [unsurprisingly], then I have lumps of Finnish, Western Russian, Ashkenazi Jewish, Italian, and Greek.

    My question is, for whom do I cheer at the Olympic Games?

    BTW – there are still words used in the Yorkshire Dialect, a proper language in its own right, that are exactly the same in some Scandinavian languages.

    ‘Ey up, Sithee!

  25. Pam Wilcock

    It’s been most interesting read the comments that are now appearing on this site. I agree that clarification needs to be made on the Irish classification. I am a scotsman’ daughter with no obvious Irish, on going back over 300 years , so was very surprised at this. However, upon looking at the map more closely, the Irish zone does cover much of Scotland, and it is from where most of the original Scots come from anyway!
    However,mine didn’t… there are many Scandinavian names in my dad’s Fife line, his dna is 3R1bS21…Germanic..and I’m 39% scandinavian with your testing! I’m also a tall, fair Australian with a 2m blonde son who looks straight from Stockholm!
    Fascinating stuff!

  26. Dilys Trodd

    Through your DNA tests, I have had confirmed that my family have Viking heritage. I have the Viking traits in my hands, as does my brother and sons. I would like to find out where we actually came from in Scandinavia.

  27. Pam Wilcock

    Looking at the last few emails, it would be interesting to know the incidence of the scandinavian hand problem, also of the longer second toe, known as Morton’s toe.
    My maiden name was Morton, but no known relation to the American doctor who first described it, but we come from the Morton Lochs area on the Fife coast, where stone-age middens have been found, and where northern Europeans probably walked across the Doggerplain to, around 8000 yrs. ago..

    So, Dilys, any Scots in your lines?

  28. carol vella

    I cant understand my dna result it says 17percent irish, 75percent g.reat britain when when my mothers side is all irish pure back 7 generations into ireland my dads side is irish and english so how come my irish is only 17 percent

  29. Diane Jakubans

    Very interesting postings! My father’s family were from the Island of Skye and my husband’s family were from Latvia! Both my father and my husband had Dupuytren’s Contracture!!! Vikings?

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