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“Scandinavian” in the autosomal DNA ethnicity reports! Should we be excited?

A number of years back, when I first saw my Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) Family Finder report on my myOrigins report and saw “Scandinavian”, I was excited… because, well… VIKINGS!

As we are in the TV-induced era of excitement about Vikings (consider The Vikings and The Last Kingdom), it’s easy to get swept up in that when it boils down to ethnicity identification. Yet, let’s think about this. When the majority of your ancestry hails from the British Isles, it can mean the Viking autosomal DNA was introduced by some rather brutal means (hence my “Should we be excited?” in the title of this post)… or by the assimilation of peoples, in one way or another. We just don’t know.

What I do know are stories of how some Y traceable lines clashed with the Vikings and proved to have the upper hand. Specifically (so far), I think about my Muir line of Ayrshire, Scotland and my Nolan line of County Clare, Ireland.

Sir Gilchrist Muir (ca. 1200 – ca. 1280… a likely candidate as the progenitor of my BY3368 Y DNA line… if not his father, Sir David Mure/Muir, of Polkelly) participated in the Battle of the Largs (2 Oct 1263) and helped to foil Haakon Haakonsson’s plans for Scotland. For Sir Gilchrist’s part in the Largs, story goes that King Alexander III gave his blessing for him to marry the daughter and sole heir of Sir Walter Comyn, thereby securing the family seat at Rowallan Castle. While a victory for the Scots (and Britons who had been assimilated with the Scots), the battle was the result of a weather event in which several of Haakonsson’s vessels were driven aground on the Ayrshire coast. Ultimately, the main Scot army arrived on the scene while the Norwegians were salvaging their vessels… and the clash erupted. One of the cool legends (true or not) to come out of the battle is the story of the thistle, and how it came to be a symbol of the Scots.

Detail from William Hole‘s mural of the Battle of Largs, in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, from Wikipedia

The second identified instance of Viking-related interest is in my maternal father’s line. Though Hillyard/Hilliard in name, it is a matter of a NPE event, and the Y DNA is actually Nolan/Noland. With a clear trace to a Pierce Noland (born ca. 1628), from that point on back, I rely on the Y DNA (I’m happy to say I’ve had two male Hilliards volunteer for Y DNA tests, and have the results I do). The current terminal haplogroup reading for this line (I say “current”, but there are some private variants… bottom line, those variants don’t impact the ancient tracing) is DC55, which is Type III Irish (L226), specifically identified to those descended from the Dalcassians/Dál gCais. Though there is another Nolan/Noland line from County Carlow, this Nolan/Noland line is traceable to the Dál gCais and is rooted in County Clare. It may have originally been known as O’Neilan/O’Neylon, or something similar. By way of Y DNA, I do know that, out of all the Dál gCais names, they are closest related to the Lynch, or, in ancient names, the Ó Loingsigh family, of Thomond. Both the Nolan and Lynch lines of County Clare are rooted in DC50 (which, going back further is, yes… under L21 “Pretani”. It just happens that this is one of the L21 lines that ends up in Ireland. I’ll talk more about the Dál gCais in a future post). Using the aging method developed by Iain McDonald, the median age of DC50 is 1798.39 YBP (152 AD). The 95% confidence interval is 196 BC to 477 AD.

In the late 10th and early 11th centuries, the Dál gCais were led by King Brian Boru… aka Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig. Fortunately, via his biographies, we have glimpses at the first Dál gCais encounters with the Vikings, on until his death, in 1014.

One of the earliest depictions of Brian on the 1723 publication of Dermot O’Connor’s translation of Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, from Wikipedia

According to one biography (I’m taking a clip from Wikipedia on this one), in AD 951…

Brian… witnessed a raid on a Dal gCáis fort by the Vikings of Limerick. The fort was located on the banks of the River Shannon, allowing the Vikings to sail up the river from Limerick to attack it. According to the story, Brian, Mathgamain, and another older brother were on a hill or high ground near the fort tending to a herd of cattle. While they were there, they saw the raid from the mountainside after hearing screams and seeing smoke in the sky. They rushed down to the town, only to find the Vikings had already left. The settlement was burnt and looted. Brian’s mother was killed, as were several of Brian’s brothers who were defending the town, along with many of the townspeople. This event horrified Brian and had a lasting impact on him.

I’d like to get a clearer source on that information, if anyone who reads actually knows of it.

Fortunately, over the course of his life, Brian was exposed to a number of dealings with the Vikings (and clashes with other kingdoms who were often united with the Vikings)… and, because of this, those descended from the Dál gCais have a pretty good record of the story of their people. Two particularly significant battles are worth mentioning… Sulcoit (AD 968… during the reign of Brian’s brother, Mathgamain), in which Ivar of Limerick was defeated, and, many years into the reign of Brian (who became king when his brother was killed in 976), at Clontarf (AD 1014). Both proved to be great accomplishments by the comparatively small kingdom of the Dál gCais. First, Sulcoit ended Norse expansion in Ireland, and lastly, Clontarf proved to free the Irish from foreign domination. In between these two battles, the Dál gCais enjoyed quite the run.

Battle of Clontarf, oil on canvas painting by Hugh Frazer, 1826, from Wikipedia

Now, I’ve significantly abbreviated the history of the Dál gCais in relation to their role against Vikings (because there’s so much more), but between their story and that of Sir Gilchrist Muir at the Largs, I think I made my point. When we look back at different lines of descent from haplogroup L21, there is quite a story about struggles against the Vikings, and… even unions between the two. So, when “Scandinavian” pops up in your autosomal DNA ethnicity reports, give a thought as to how the complexities of that DNA may have found its way into your lines.


Published by Robert Moore

Historian, writer, hypertext & Web literacy theorist

2 thoughts on ““Scandinavian” in the autosomal DNA ethnicity reports! Should we be excited?

  1. My Family Tree BigY DNA haplogroup is R-PH4542 below DF19. Based on the surname Yelton and history of the name in Mercia and Northumbria I am reasonably sure my ancestor was an Angle. I have a single great grandmother who was Swedish so by tree I should be about 1/8 Swedish. I was puzzled to see my autosomal DNA has 23% Sweden and 8% Norway??? I have many other ancestors in my tree that I would consider Scots-Irish here in the US.


    1. I’ve tested with five different companies, and when it comes to ethnicity reports, based on Autosomal DNA, inconsistency is the constant. I put far more faith in the interpretation of Y DNA for ethnicity.


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