What Ancestry are Vikings?

Do you think that you might have Viking ancestry? In this article, we explain who the Vikings were, and what the term "Viking ancestry" really means.

The Vikings were considered one of the fiercest and most feared groups in history with a huge amount of myth, lore and recorded fact associated with them. Portrayed in movies as formidable warriors in horned helmets, the modern-day legacy of the Vikings is extensive.

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This image of barbaric warriors isn’t really historically accurate as Vikings were more explorers, traders and settlers than they were invaders. Their spread throughout Europe and even into the Americas has meant that there are many alive today who likely have Viking ancestry. The question is, what does Viking ancestry really mean?

Who Were the Vikings?

It is commonly accepted historically that the Viking age was between 793 – 1066 AD. During this era ships full of Norsemen (Men from the North) traveled the seas and rivers of Europe. Their goals were to raid, develop trade and find new places to settle.

The Viking longships were state of the art for their time, being both light and fast with amazing ability to navigate any waterways. There were two main groups of Vikings: the Norwegians & Danes who traveled west by ocean and the Swedish who traveled eastward throughout mainland Europe using the rivers.

The Vikings were a polytheistic race worshipping numerous gods such as Odin, Thor and Freya. The word Viking itself would not be a moniker they used for themselves but likely derives from the Middle English word "wicing," essentially meaning pirate. In fact, the word Viking didn’t really become a popular term until the 19th century.

Who Are Vikings Descended From?

The Vikings came from the Scandinavian Peninsula, a region today that is home to the countries of Sweden and Norway. Additionally, the country of Denmark which is not part of the peninsula has a history of Vikings.

It was between 9,000 – 1800 BC (Stone Age) that stone-age hunter-gatherers travelled north onto the Scandinavian Peninsula following herds of game as the ice age glaciers receded. It was later in the Bronze Age that these hunter-gatherers began to form clans and develop farming techniques.

The clans who were in Sweden and Denmark quickly started to turn to farming as their main way of surviving. Further north in Norway where there were still some glaciers present they developed more slowly in terms of their farming and remained hunters for a longer period of time

During the Scandinavian Iron Age (500 BC – 800 AD) advances in boat building and weapon forging changed the society in Scandinavia. They became more mobile and with an impressive array of weaponry more feared by surrounding countries. These advances quickly led to what became the Viking Age.

Which Countries Have the Most Viking Descendants?

As mentioned, the Vikings spread far and wide throughout Europe which means there is a real chance of any European being descended from them. The obvious locations for the most modern-day Viking descendants are Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

It was from these Scandinavian countries that the Vikings originated and anyone today who has DNA from any of these regions is likely descended from Vikings.

I myself have 3% Sweden & Denmark and 2% Norway region DNA. I was born in England which during the Viking age saw great waves of raids and settlements from Scandinavia. It is highly likely that I have at least one distant Viking ancestor.

Other countries that might exhibit Viking DNA include:

  • Estonia
  • Faroe Islands
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Lithuania
  • Russia

Can You Trace Viking DNA?

People often want to know If they can trace their family tree back to a famous ancient ancestor such as a king or queen. These links can often be hard to prove but sometimes you can legitimately prove a link to Henry VIII or Robert the Bruce, but what about Vikings?

Well, the Viking Age did essentially end in 1066 when William the Conqueror took control of England at the battle of Hastings. Even then those Norman conquerors were descended from Norse settlers who came from Normandy in France.

Even though the Viking Age ended, descendants of those Scandinavians lived well into the realm of genealogical records. It is conceivable that an important figure of the Viking Age could be recorded in enough detail to make a familial connection with living descendants.

There are people today who claim descent from the Norwegian born Rollo Rognvaldsson (860 – 932 AD) This notable name of the Viking Age was the first Norse ruler of Normandy, France. His great-great grandson was William the Conqueror.

If you have a considerable amount of Scandinavian DNA you are most likely descended from Vikings although it may not always be possible to trace that exact ancestor. The further we go back in history the less likely it is that our ancestors are recorded unless they were people of importance.

Common Viking Surnames

Historically speaking people of the Viking Age did not have what we would understand as a surname today. They were known by their given name and as an additional identifier, they would be referred to as the son of their father. If for example their father was called Eric and they were named Sven, they would be called Sven Ericson.

This naming practice is referred to as patronymic and carried on for centuries in Scandinavia. Each generation might have a different name depending on the first name of the father. Eventually over time, however, this practice would stop at a generation and the same surname would be passed down unchanged.

Surnames that end with the suffix "son" are likely of Scandinavian origin. This coupled with evidence of Scandinavian DNA likely confirms descent from the Scandinavians who lived during the Viking period. Common Scandinavian names Include:

  • Peterson
  • Larsson
  • Anderson
  • Johnson
  • Christensen

Conclusion

The DNA of the Vikings is deeply rooted in the Scandinavian regions of the world. Descended from Stone Age hunter-gatherers who chased the glaciers north in pursuit of ancient herds, the Vikings developed in a harsh environment.

Shipbuilding and weapons of war gave rise to a people considered brutal and cruel although history has greatly misrepresented them. They were at their core farmers and explorers who spread throughout Europe.

This extensive spread has led to a great number of people alive today who are descended from those Stone Age first inhabitants of Scandinavia.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.

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