I’ve always wanted to have my DNA tested and short of getting myself arrested, it seemed the best way to do this was to pay for one of those home-delivery kits.
It must be said that I know quite a lot about my likely heritage and have written before about being related to various Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian royal and warrior figures going back to 200BC and without going back through the records, about 85 generations if I remember. You can see my post about it here.
In amongst all of this, there didn’t appear to be any real foreign element at all which these days we are led to believe is almost unheard of. It’s ok for BBC or National Geographic documentaries to feature remote tribes who have farmed the same patch of land for hundreds or thousands of years but as we are often told, there is no such thing as a real British or indeed real English, Scots, Welsh, Irish and that we are a mongrel race. I’m sure it is the same in which ever country you might be reading this.
Obviously, this is to a large extent true of most people in almost every country and the recent emphasis has been placed on this by the discussions of immigration during the whole Brexit situation. Whilst this might be more true for the London area and other places prone to invasions, international trade or migrations, I honestly didn’t think it would be the case for me.
Both branches of my family come from some of the most remote places in the UK, far away from any city, let alone London and Europe. The opportunities for travelling and meeting with anyone outside the next valley was unlikely and to put it frankly those beautiful and wild looking places I and millions of others sometimes visit on holiday for pleasure now were until the 19th century forboding, dangerous and distant places. Why would anyone travel from Europe and the Middle East for months by foot and then get to the beautiful richly agricultural lands of southern England or the big city of London and then think to themselves “This place is just too good for me, I’m going to walk another month and become a coal-miner or a shepherd on the snowy moors, be generally freezing cold, probably be poorer and more uncomfortable too”.
It just doesn’t make logical sense but still, being interested in history and travel, I assumed my family tree must have missed something. I must have some geographically exotic element in my DNA. I crossed my fingers that I might have a bit of Mongol in me or maybe Greek, Iraqi, Iranian, native American or at a huge stretch, Zulu.
I didn’t expect anything but hoped that maybe someone had come to the middle of nowhere as a refugee or maybe a love-child of a Roman legionnaire or had been up to mischief on some distant shore in the old Empire days.
Apparently not though, for my DNA is 100% British and Scandinavian. The Scandinavian no doubt being the pesky Danes and Vikings who possibly came from the one place more colder and remote than where my forebears came from… which makes total sense.
I was a bit deflated by the news, I am a genetic bore albeit it one with a long heritage and as they would say in the old movies, of good lineage. Interestingly, I have no English DNA in me whatsoever according to the test which may not be wholly accurate. However, this can be explained away in their small print and by the real-life history in that my family come from the Scottish-English borderlands and despite living pretty much within a stone-throw of each other in England for centuries, it is very close to English-Scottish border and whilst the border moved many times, the people tended not to and I’d imagine that most of the people who lived there came from very similar Scandinavian forebears in the 5th century or so and few people from warmer parts of England would go there to inter-marry.
In reverse, until the last century or so, it was equally impossible for my ancestors to travel anyway more connected with the world. They’d likely never have heard of London and even if they had, they would have neither the money, means or inclination to go there and meet some exotic continental.
Besides which, before the unification of Scotland and England, the Liddell clan were feared warlords who claimed parts of the area with their territories shown on maps of the time with castles and areas of land still bearing the name.
The other section of the DNA result is Irish, Scottish and Welsh which are sometimes said to be the Celtic nations and they came to Britain from 3,500-4,000 years ago. Originally they lived in much of the islands but were later pushed back by later invasions including a relation from my Scandinavian line, Erik Blood-Axe.
The next time I hear someone on the news say is no such thing as really British or English or Scottish etc, I will put my hand up or remind them it is another example of London-centric media. True 1,500 – 4,000 years ago isn’t originally from Britain but it seems I really am from here just as much as some isolated Ethiopian or Tibetan farmer is from their lands.
Of course, no-one can take much pride, credit or indeed blame for the country or heritage that they invoke, the most important thing is your own character and achievements and not whether you are descended from kings, warriors, social workers or tyrants but I’m still very glad to have done my DNA test to know where I come from.
Family Trees don’t always tell the whole story but it seems in my case it is pretty accurate. So there you go, I await National Geographic to come and do a slightly condescending documentary on me. A third of me is going to make some ancient temples and stone carvings and wait for the other 66% of me to come along in horned helmets and smash everything to smithereens!