How to Find out If You Have Viking Ancestry

DNACan we know if our ancestors were Vikings? The short answer is yes, we can. DNA testing may trace Viking background in our genetic makeup. However, Nordic ancestry cannot be proven or disproven in all cases. A few years ago, when I first got interested in genetic genealogy, I thought that there might be some sort of Norse gene that all Vikings transmitted to all their descendants as a heritage. So you are either positive or negative for it. However, it’s not that simple. This tutorial will explain it all about genes and genetic testing for those who’d like to find out if they have Viking roots.

First of all, different nations do not have different genes. To be sure, there are groups of people with specific genetic traits but the borders between these groups do not coincide with borders of what we now define as nations. Moreover, Vikings were not a nation. Vikings were people who a) took part in raids directed from Scandinavia and Scandinavian colonies; b) spoke Old Norse; c) shared Norse values and culture; d) all this between AD 793—1066.

Ethnically, Vikings were not only ancestors of people whom we now call Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes. For instance, Iceland, perhaps the most important Norse colony, has a strong Celtic element, and not only because Vikings often took wives with different ethnic background. Research shows that the genetic makeup of about a quarter of males in Iceland (inherited through the direct male line) may be defined as British/Irish (in terms of geography). It means that many Viking males might have been Celts.

Before we proceed any further, I have to expressly state that no nation is better than any other nation and no genetic traits are better than any other genetic traits, including those that may indicate the presence of Viking background. Matriarchal lineages are as unique as male forefathers. We are all equal in gods’ eyes.

Nordic Ancestry DNA Basic Theory and Terminology

So having Viking ancestry, among other things, means a person is a descendant of someone who was born in Scandinavia. However, with respect to our genes, there is no such thing as “stemming from Scandinavia”. We all stem from Africa. But some of us have ancestor lines that passed through Denmark, Norway or Sweden at some point in time. We’re interested in those who did so during the Viking Age (AD 793—1066). In order to understand what genetic markers may help us find out if one has Viking ancestry, we are to delve into some theory and terminology.

Genetic information is carried by DNA. DNA is the main component of chromosomes.

Males have one Y chromosome and one X chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes.

Y chromosome contains information about all the changes that occurred to it in a given direct male line up to the very first human male. These changes are called mutations. In genetic genealogy two types of mutations are relevant: STR and SNP (pronounced snip).

STRs (short tandem repeats) occur rather often (in terms of generations). STR profiling uniquely identifies a person (except for identical twins). STRs define your haplotype.

SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) occur not so often as STRs. The set of SNP mutations define your haplogroup. Subsets within haplogroups are called subclades.

There are 20 major Y chromosome haplogroups designated by letters from A through T.

Viking Background Haplogroups

The most important haplogroup that may be a strong predictor of Viking genetic background is I1. But also R1a, R1b, G2, N, and a few others may well point to your Viking roots.

SNP that defines I1 haplogroup is M253.

It is critical to understand that not all Vikings were I1 and not all I1 were Vikings. I1 was a modification of I that emerged about 27,000 years ago. To be sure, no Vikings were anywhere to be seen at that time. How come it is now believed to predict your Nordic ancestry?

Modern Scandinavians essentially belong to I1, R1a and R1b. Haplogroup R1a is found in a lot of other places like Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and so on. R1b is also prominent in Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, western Wales, the Atlantic coast of France, the Basque country and Catalonia. I1 is so peculiar because it is thought to be concentrated for a very long time almost exclusively in Scandinavia. Chances are the present-day bearers of I1 outside Scandinavia got it from Norsemen that resettled from their homeland. The only place where I1 massively appeared before the Viking Age outside prdent-day Norway, Sweden and Denmark, was Finland.

The best place to hunt for Viking genetics is UK. Indeed, we know that several waves of Viking settlers colonised large portions of Britain during the Viking Age. Since British Isles are not the place where I1 appeared initially, modern people with I1 from localities with names of Norse origin in UK have good chances to be the posterity of the Viking Age Scandinavians who came to live in Danelaw. Many of them might have been Vikings (but some of them might well have been thralls, too).

You may ask how we can tell if modern I1 don’t have ancestors who came to Britain with earlier waves of migration? After all, Angles and Jutes who invaded Britain in the 5th century were also from Scandinavia. And how to tell both groups from I1 who peacefully lived in Finland for the last 5,000 years or so? The answer is: subclades.

Subclades That Point to Viking Genetics

Haplogroups have subgroups called subclades. Subclades are branches within haplogroups defined by consecutive new mutations. For a regularly updated complete I1 haplogroup tree with all subclades check this page. Mutations occur once in a certain number of generations. Comparing various genetic profiles, the emergence of some mutations could be located in time and space. This allows to associate certain subclades with Viking activities in various parts of Europe. Here are some subclades that may be pointing to Norse roots outside Scandinavia:

I-Y17395 — Scotland.
I-M227 — Baltic countries, Russia, Poland, France and southern England.
I-Y18103 — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Russia.
I-S10891 — Normandy and Britain.
I-Y4045 — England and Ireland.
I-Y3664 — Schleswig-Holstein, Normandy and Guernsey.
I-Y5621 — Normandy and Britain.
I-L813 — Britain.
R1a-Z284 — Scotland, England and Ireland.

Among others, Tom Hanks was found to belong to R1a-Z284.

How to Order DNA Test for Viking Ancestry

A good place to start would be learning your haplogroup. This can be done through testing for Y-DNA STR markers. STRs do not directly define haplogroups (SNPs do) but STRs can be used to predict your haplogroup with a high degree of certainty. The more markers are tested, the higher is test quality. Standard sets are 37, 67 and 111 markers. In certain genetic projects also sets of 12 and 25 markers may be tested. The more markers are tested, the higher the price. For the comparison chart, see this page. You may also be eligible for free testing. For the list of projects that offer free tests see this page. I did the testing for 111 markers with Family Tree DNA. My experience with them was very positive.

If you order tests from FTDNA, be sure to join their Viking & Invader YDNA project and make your results available to the project administrators. They may be of help as for understanding your results and choosing what to do next.

To learn your exact location on the haplogroup tree, you should test for SNPs, which is a lot more expensive. This will define your exact subclade. The results of SNP testing are extremely complex to interpret for non specialists, so many people were disappointed after ordering it as for what they actually got. Based on my own experience (I did Big Y testing with FTDNA, which is now marketed as Big Y-500), the most effective use of SNP testing results is uploading them to YFull. To do that, you will need BAM file. They also receive VCF files but you’ll get only limited functionality. The service costs $49. What they do is comparing your genetic profile (both STRs and SNPs) with lots of other people. Looking at how distant in time your common ancestors are and what places these people are from, chances are you will get a much clearer idea about your roots than you ever have had.

Feel free to ask questions and share your own experience about DNA testing for Viking ancestry in the Comments section below.

51 comments… add one
  • Doris manues

    My surname is McManus my great-grandfather’s family is James Dudley Manus he was born in Dublin Ireland

  • jessika bohn

    I am 58% Welsh which breaks down into Irish and Scottish and Scandinavian. The rest of me is native American Spanish excetera my last name is Bohn. I have had my ancestry done by ancestry, and my heritage.

  • Timothy Schneider

    Hello all! I’m 28, male.
    Ironically I’m adopted at birth but it’s been an open adoption my whole life. I’m technically a bastard as I didnt know my bio father… I had always wondered where my genetic origins were. My ex wife and I had gotten our DNA taken and tested for medical

    • Timothy Schneider

      Oops! Medical reasons as she had auto immune issues and seizures and I simply didnt know about half of my background…

      I’m 48% Celtic, 48% Scandinavian and 4% neanderthal. I also happen to have B+ blood and a rare form of genetic mutation in my R1b that causes being a “ginger”
      My adoptive parents are German Scandinavian and Scottish. But when looking into it further I literally got adopted back into the same original biological family several generations removed as the same neanderthal and specific celt clan(lombarde) cross bred with Vikings and moved north to proto Germany and tha Baltic region… so here I am 700 years give or take finding out I’m part of the SAME lineage and family as well as genetically a rarity and the first member(male) to reconvert back to heathenism as I still have the Scheider family bible that has blood on it from when we were force converted to christianity…

      So all in all I’ve learned that blood and names came full circle and that my ancestors from my biological and adoptive family are one in the same and that I’m literally half Celtic have Nordic and they intermingled repeatedly over history and my Celtic ancestors actually moved and lived with my nordic ancestors and they have a unique bloodtype(b+ or – only), r1b, and r1a traits as well as one of the highest known neanderthal concentrations genetically then any other group… I found it fascinating that it literally came full circle to make me almost a millennia later…

  • Irene Gendron

    My DNA results said I was 70 Great Britain 20% Irish and 10% Scandinavian
    I would like to know if I am part Viking

  • Debra Hamilton

    I had a recent DNA test with the following results:
    34% England/Wales/NW Europe
    26% Norway
    20% Ireland/Scotland
    9% Sweden
    6% Germanic
    5% Finland

    I’d always heard my dad was Swedish/ Scottish and that my mother was Polish/German.

  • Valerie vidaurri

    I read on the internet that my last name ( Vidaurri) originated with the vikings, this was a few years ago, but now I can’t seem to find that info any more. Can you help? Thank you

  • Gilbert Sheppard

    My DNA test results are all Northern European. How can someone validate in the scientific world that all humans came from Africa? It’s called a theory not a fact and theories are at times disproven by modern technology. Sorry evolutionists I am not kin to your half ape/half human Lucy which was discovered in Africa.

  • Sheila Stanton

    My DNA ancestry revealed I am 94% Briton Viking and 1% each from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
    However, I have not had any success tracking down Viking settlements in the US or when they arrived.

    • Peter Michael Vink

      Hi my Grandfather worked for a Dutch Shipping Co Im 52 % english 25% Scandinavian incl Norway Sweden 23% North Western Europe – Russian Finnish

    • Debra Hamilton

      Sheila,
      I visited a Viking rune in Oklahoma, which was very interesting. The current theory is that the Vikings came through the Great Lakes and then made smaller ships to navigate the Mississippi River and further.

    • Dawn

      Hi Sheila
      Ever thought, maybe, you’re ancestry/DNA for Briton Vikings may have come from BEFORE brits found and took over America? Would make more sense if you thought about it that way.

    • Kali Prescott

      Norseman visited the Americas but as far as we know never established a permanent settlements that lasted through to modern day though they may have lasted for a several decades (Vikings occupied Greenland for hundreds of years). Most Norse settlements were along the North eastern coast of Canada in the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia but these settlements did not last through to European colonization. Norsemen “Vikings” made a living off raiding (Viking literally means “to pillage” and is actually a verb not a noun) and Europe was richer than the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Most likely your ancestry came from later Scandinavian immigrants that arrived in the Americas post colonization likely sometime in the late 1800s after the civil war. This is when the majority of Scandinavian immigrants arrived in the US (and is the case for my family as well). The Oklahoma rune stones are suspected to have been carved in the 1800s by a swedish immigrant and are not actually of ancient Norse origin since they weathering patterns and inscriptions don’t match the ancient Norse and are often just random letters from alphabets of different Norse eras.

  • Kim

    I just had my DNA done by ancestry.com my results were 65% England, Wales, Northwestern Europe 33% Ireland& Scotland 2% Sweden

  • Holly Cameron

    I am a 46 year old female who has heard all her life of being Scottish. I have recently been diagnosed with dupruyten’s disease… in the beginning stages. I keep seeing the reference to Viking…. and I am aware that Cameron means ‘crooked nose’. Is there any way I can find out with a dna test if I have Viking blood?

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