Scandinavia is not a nation but a set of nations that have deep, common heritage. Denmark, Norway and Sweden are, thanks to the Vikings, nations that have influenced the world.
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The Vikings are famous for pillaging nations across the world and for being the first Europeans to come across America.
However, Scandinavia has not only changed the world thanks to the popularisation of the Vikings. The people of Scandinavia have also contributed greatly to the genetic makeup of the world and of the United States in particular.
This article will explain what it means to have Scandinavian DNA ethnicity, how you can use it to trace your ancestors and what secrets you might find through it.
What Do We Mean By Scandinavian DNA?
First, let’s start by breaking down exactly what we mean by Scandinavian DNA. How does Scandinavian DNA differ from people from other Northern European countries? What makes it particularly distinctive?
Scandinavian DNA is designated as being DNA that originates from five particular countries, three of which we traditionally think of as part of Scandinavia – Sweden, Norway, Denmark (for the most part – there is a distinction however which we will come back to later), Iceland and Greenland.
These are all nations associated with the expansion of the Vikings and the Viking Empire – part of the reason these particular genes spread, as with other genealogical DNA spreads is thanks to empires and conquest because individuals from particular nations that conquer others have a tendency to not only settle in those countries but to have children with other individuals from those conquered nations and thus leave a genetic mark on the genes of the nation, even long after their empire has crumbled into dust.
However, you might be wondering why there is a specific distinction with Denmark, that mostly Danish equates to Scandinavian DNA but it doesn’t always equate to it.
The answer is simple. The reason that Scandinavian DNA and Danish don’t always mean that same thing is because of Denmark’s strong links with Germany.
You see, a lot of families, particularly those of noble origin, migrated from Germany to Scandinavia during the thirteen and fourteenth centuries meaning that whilst Scandinavian DNA is the most prominent genetic cluster in Denmark it does not automatically mean that every Danish person has Scandinavian DNA – there is a small but substantial minority whose genes originate in Germany and their DNA would be classified as being of Germanic or North Western European Origin, depending on the DNA test that you use.
Similarly, it is also important to note that despite sharing borders with Sweden and Norway, Finland is not considered to be part of the group of countries which are classified as having been responsible for Scandinavian DNA.
This is due to Finland and the Finish people not intermarrying with those from Sweden or Norway too much and their distinctive ethnic and cultural origins which is different from that of the core Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
As such, if you are of Finnish origin, you are unlikely to have Scandinavian DNA.
Now that we have defined what exactly we mean by Scandinavian DNA, let’s explain how it differs from the DNA of other European countries.
How Scandinavian DNA Differs From Other European DNA
Now that we have explained what Scandinavian DNA is, let’s help to define it from the DNA of other European nations.
What, you might be wondering, makes Scandinavian DNA so special? The reason is that Scandinavians are considered to be descended from the earliest settlers in Europe.
Whilst many others groups such as the Angles and Saxons who would contribute to the British genetic population arrived much later from the Central Middle East and others such as the ancestors of the Romans similarly arrived hundreds of years after the first Germanic tribes, the Scandinavian population is one of the oldest and most continuous in Europe.
They also differ because of how remote Scandinavian countries were to conquering empires like the Romans or the Huns. Indeed, the Roman Empire never managed to invade and capture the people of Scandinavian meaning that their genetic line wasn’t mixed in with others from across Europe.
The Roman Empire was responsible for a great deal of genetic mixing because the Roman Army was made up of people from across the Empire who travelled and settled in all different outposts. This meant that their genes travelled with them and thus influenced the native population.
This wasn’t the case with Scandinavia and indeed it would be those who possessed Scandinavian DNA who would eventually go on to have a sizeable if not greater influence on the genetic makeup of Europe than their Roman imperial predecessors.
Let’s now look at what it means to have Scandinavian DNA.
What Does It Mean To Have Scandinavian DNA?
The Vikings were not conquerors in the same way as the Romans – at their height their Empire covered a fraction of the area of space that the Romans did.
However, their genetic imprint was large and, in many ways, dwarfed the Romans because it occurred over a time that is more recent than our own and the Vikings were much more interested in settling and having children than the Romans were.
Indeed, the reason that the Vikings left their Scandinavian homes wasn’t as some rather lurid account might have it, to pillage across Europe but rather to find a better life for themselves and their relatives.
Massive geological change occurred in Norway, Sweden and Denmark during the 8th and 9th centuries which meant that farming, for that is what the Vikings had originally been occupied with, became far more precarious.
This forced the Vikings to go out on raiding parties in England and Northern France in order to steal goods they could then sell. After a while it soon became apparent to them that it would be easier to simply take land and settle in the areas that they had raided.
This would eventually evolve into a dramatic split in the middle of England with some of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms becoming absorbed into what was known as the Danelaw, an area that at one point covered most of England.
This meant that the Viking’s genetic imprint heavily features throughout England, particularly in the North of that country thanks to it being the heart of their Danelaw kingdom. As such this has had a genetic impact on the rest of the world, thanks to the sheer size and scale of the British Empire.
In particular, this is how many Americans find that they have Scandinavian DNA, thanks to English ancestors migrating, both during America’s time as a colony and afterwards. It is not of course the only way with significant migration from Sweden and Norway occurring in the mid to late 19th century.
However, it is worth remembering that whilst Scandinavian DNA has had an impact on England it isn’t as if it is solely directly responsible for the genetic makeup of that country.
Indeed, for most people who have Scandinavian DNA through their Viking forebears, the actual amount of DNA will be a relatively small amount due to the passage of time.
This is why understanding the percentages related to DNA is so important because it can help you to understand how recent your Scandinavian DNA is and how likely you are to have gained it from recent or distant ancestors.
By turning to breaking down how exact percentages match up with your family tree, this will help you be able to understand the relevance of your Scandinavian DNA.
What Do Genetic Percentages Mean For Your DNA?
When you take a DNA test, the DNA test provider – companies like Ancestry and 23 and Me – will usually break up your DNA into a percentage, unless your entire ancestry comes from one specific nation in which case they will simply say you are a hundred percent from that country.
How this works is based on the amount of DNA that you get from each of your parents. You get, in round figures, 50% from each of your parents. This then goes about another generation meaning you get 25% from each of your biological grandparents.
This then goes back a further step with your great grandparents – of your 8 great grandparents you usually get is about 12.5% and so it goes on.
It is worth pointing out that these genetic breakdowns are just a broad guide – because your DNA is a unique cocktail of genetics that relates only specifically to you, then the amount that you specifically get from each of your parents and or your other relatives won’t be precise. You can inherit more than 12.5% from one great grandparent for example.
This is combined with the fact that the way your genetic percentages are divided up isn’t precisely based on how much you get from each individual but how much DNA you get from a particular nation overall.
So, for example, if two of you great grandparents from your father’s side and a grandparent from the opposite side, your mother’s side, both had ancestors from a particular nation then your DNA from that nation won’t be divided between the great grandparents from your father’s side and that of the grandparent from your mother’s side, it will rather be collectively listed as one percentage.
This means that not all your DNA from one country can necessarily come from the exact same family line – it can in fact come from multiple different family lines.
This can of course impacts how much Scandinavian DNA you have, and you have to be careful that you don’t take a collective amount to mean more than it does.
So, for example, if everyone in your immediate genetic line has ancestry from Scandinavian countries then you could end up with 10% of your DNA coming from Scandinavia, as an example.
This doesn’t mean that one of your great grandfathers was nearly a hundred percent Scandinavian nor does it mean that you have immediate ancestors who were wholly Scandinavian – it could easily mean you simply have a collective amount from that particular area.
However, if you have say 20% and above Scandinavian then this could mean that you have a much more recent ancestor who was from Scandinavia. This is where family history records come in.
Because for the most effective use of your DNA results to find out where you Scandinavian ancestry originates from then you need to be able to combine that with the incredible records that exist throughout the world for tracing your ancestry.
Combining Your DNA Results With Family History Documents
DNA results are great in themselves, but they don’t tell the whole picture. They can give you a snapshot and an insight into what your DNA ethnicity is but they don’t tell you exactly who your family is and how they connect to one another.
To do this you need to use the online archives that are available for the country or countries that your ancestors have lived in. It is always best to figure out where your more distant ancestors lie on your family tree by working your way backwards, starting with your parents, grandparents and then great grandparents.
Even if you don’t know the names of your great grandparents, just having information on your grandparents can easily help you get your tree back to them by simply finding your grandparents birth and marriage records and working from then onwards.
Once you have gotten your family tree back a few generations you should be able to easily match it up to your DNA and be able to narrow down where your Scandinavian DNA specifically comes from.
Whilst this can be harder if you don’t know who your parents are or who one parent is, this shouldn’t put you off because you can easily divide your paternal and maternal sides based on the amount of great grandfathers that you have and how they connect with one another.
If you are in this situation you can also easily ask for advice from a variety of different genealogists and genealogical site members who will be more than happy to help.
However, if you are able to use family documents then they will help in identifying not only where your Scandinavian DNA came from but also of the person who carried it into your family. This of course depends, as was mentioned above, on the amount of Scandinavian DNA you have.
If the amount you have is relatively small then it is likely that you will never know the precise ancestor because they will have likely lived thousands of years ago, long before precise family history documents existed.
Why It Is Important To Know About Your Scandinavian DNA
Our family history and our DNA are important parts of us. They help to define us and are crucial to who we are today. Genetics can contribute to many different things including eyes and hair color, your height and even it is believed your taste for certain foods.
Yet DNA and genetics is much more than that. It is a core part of how we understand where we and our family fit into the world.
Our lives often seem complicated and filled with stress that we forget that everything is passing; everything is only momentary for we are all part of the great tapestry of history and discovering where your Scandinavian DNA comes from is an important part of understanding that tapestry and that history.
So if you have ever wondered what your DNA story is like or are curious to find out more about your Scandinavian DNA then do not hold back – get started on your genetic journey today because you will certainly not regret it.
It will truly open your eyes as to how you and your family fit into the greatest story of them all – the story of the human race.