Surname researchers try to establish genetic links back to Viking settlers

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Men with old northern surnames are being sought for a project to determine whether Viking blood runs in their veins.

Researchers have come up with a list of surnames, which could have a connection with the Vikings who settled the North more than 1,000 years ago.

Men are being asked to give a sample of their saliva at sessions in York and Harrogate on January 21.

Project manager Dr Turi King said: “In Britain surnames have been passed down from father to son for 700 years. Part of our DNA, the Y chromosome, is, like the surname, passed down the paternal line.

“We know that the Vikings left a lasting legacy on our language, landscape and place-names. But did they leave any trace on today’s surnames?”

The results could throw a new light on the Norse migrations which came to the north of England in the late eighth century.

They could also help increase understanding surrounding differences in genetic make-up and its contribution to disease.

Common-place surnames such as Smith – which comes from the profession of blacksmith – are unlikely to have the same Y chromosome type because each village would have had a smith.

Men with rarer surnames are more likely to share a distinct Y chromosome type, notwithstanding illegitimacy and adoption, the researchers said.

It was the Normans who introduced hereditary surnames, so researchers have focused on old surnames in areas they knew the Vikings settled.

Dr King, from the University of Leicester, has travelled to Norway to study the DNA of men there. She said: “I am wondering if we look at the Y chromosome types of men who have very old surnames tied to the area whether or not I am going to find high frequencies of Y chromosome types that are also common in Norway.”

She added: “I’m always amazed by popular it is to claim Viking ancestry given their reputation for not being terribly nice.”

The only criteria for volunteers is that their father’s father came from the North, and their surname is on the research project’s list.

The sessions are at New Earswick Folk Hall Meeting Room, York, from 10am to 12 noon and from 3pm to 5pm at St Paul’s Church Hall, Belford Road, Harrogate. Volunteers need to register first at www.leicestersurnamesproject.org.uk.

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