This is a story about Norway. In a way. Well, it is actually a story about my DNA. Which is Norwegian. Like all DNA, it has an extensive travel history. (This was part of a longer paper for one of my writing classes. It’s nice. Enjoy!)
Thanks to AncestryDNA I could verify my Norwegian bona fides by sending my spit away with the mailman. The results are in and I am almost fully (93%) Scandinavian. I wanted to be that—but also to have a few DNA strands of something a little different.
And, it turns out; I do have a modicum of more exotic blood, probably Saami (formerly known as Laplander). That makes sense because, according to family legend, one of mom’s grandfathers was a reindeer herder in the Arctic north that encompasses Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. This territory is home to the Saami, a people that have occupied that land since before the last great ice age, and whom I will now claim as very distant relatives. My ethnicity chart just says I’m 3% Finnish/Northwestern Russian but you can see why that, juxtaposed with Great Grandpa, the reindeer herder, spells Saami family ties to me. The fact that I find this very exciting is probably some indication that I was destined from birth to become Marjorie the Far-Traveler.
Then there’s the 2% Irish which is quite natural since the Vikings were the primary settlers of Ireland for some time and brought their possibly reluctant Irish brides back to Norway.
And finally 1% British (you do remember the Vikings overran, ruled and populated that lovely British region called Yorkshire don’t you—and surely some nice English girls wound up in Scandinavia) and 1% general northern European, which could be (AncestryDNA says) from Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg or Liechtenstein. I’m claiming France, both because I love Paris and because Normandy, like Yorkshire, is a creation of the Vikings and vouches for our long and complicated relationship with the Frankish people. Going for a slightly more unusual heritage story though is appealing. Suppose great-to-the-nth-degree grandpa kidnapped a Liechtensteinian princess and brought her back to Byglandsfiord. Surely the Alpine royal would have loved Norway and stayed to raise a long line of little Liechtensteinian Norwegians. Come to think of it, Grandma, on dad’s side had an arrogance about her that could have signified grander origins than being a northwoods homesteader implied!
On my first big trip to the old country in 1985 DNA obviously guided my spiritual and other interesting paths. For example, there was the night in Narvik, Norway, far above the Arctic Circle, where I dined on reindeer stew and searched the faces of the local inhabitants for a telltale Floren signifier—slightly darker skin than your average Norwegian, unusually deep set eyes, blue or green. Unfortunately no one in the whole of Narvik rushed up to me shouting, cousin you’ve finally returned.
Continuing on I met a Brit on a boat and we became lovers for a year or so. And the few days in Ireland turned into a Galway memory thanks to a pleasant one-night stand with an Irishman who explained what peat was and how friendly the Irish found Americans. I was a loyal Clancy Brothers fan for years after. Retracing ancestral journeys is not a bad hobby.