Though I have to admit my background in the hard sciences is very limited, the use of DNA to unravel the mysteries of the past — especially human evolution and genealogy — is something I find absolutely fascinating. A couple of years ago, I finally gave in to the urge and paid a genetic testing company to test my Y chromosome line. That’s the line of your paternal ancestry that’s passed down from one father to another.
Since traditional documentary sources on my father’s family peter out in the late 18th century, I’d hoped this would help me tie in with another more distant line of Coles.
DNA testing didn’t really help much with my Cole genealogy, but I still haven’t given up on what it might tell me about my past. Just recently I tried autosomal testing, which examines the 22 pairs of chromosomes we have in addition to our X and Y sex chromosomes.
One of the things autosomal testing will give you is a pretty good idea of your national and ethnic ancestry. Since Cole is an English surname, I wasn’t surprised to see an autosomal finding of 49 percent UK ancestry, but I was a bit surprised that I was 32 percent Scandinavian (though my prior Y chromosome test had indeed also revealed some Scandinavian matches). The rest of my other autosomal origins (Celtiberian, Sephardic Jew and other European) came in at 5-9 percent each.
When I received the autosomal findings, I remembered Bryan Sykes’ “Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland” (2006) and thought it might shed some light on the Scandinavian result — or at least, suggest a theory to explain it. Sykes, who is a professor of human genetics at Oxford, also is author of the popular “The Seven Daughters of Eve” (2001), which explores how virtually everyone of European descent can trace his or her ancestry back to one of seven women.
As most everyone knows who is familiar with U.K. history, between the eighth and 11th centuries AD Vikings, mainly from modern-day Norway and Denmark, raided and invaded the coasts of the British Isles. In 866 AD, they even captured York, one of the largest cities in England at the time.
Though Sykes was working with Y and X chromosome matches rather than autosomal DNA, his research identified especially high concentrations of Viking DNA (37 to 42 percent) in the Northern Isles…