By Alicia Bertrand, M.A.
Over the years that I have worked on my genealogy, I have spent hours, sometimes days, to confirm a document, a person, or detail as fact before I add it to my research notes. On the other hand, there are days when I find that facts were thrown out the window centuries ago. My, and many other individuals’, ancestors wrote of their descendance from the mythical in order to have a “pedigree” of importance. One such instance, is the connection to my 54th great-grandfather, Fornjótr, a mythical Norse giant. In this article, you will learn about who Fornjótr was (supposedly), why he and the founding of Kvenland is interesting, the issue of cyclical footnoting, and the real people that my DNA sequence has matched me to from Viking archeological sites.
In the Orkneyinga saga Fornjótr is portrayed as a king ruling over Gotland and Jutland (aka Finland and Kvenland, northern Norway). He is noted as the father of the elements, an origin story for ancient Scandinavian peoples. His sons: Logi (‘fire’), Kári (‘wind’), and Hlér (aka Ægir) (‘sea’) represented the important aspects of the world, and their children also represented important aspects of nature: Kári’s son Frosti (frost), grandson Snær (snow) and great-grand-daughter Drífa (snow drift). Ægir’s nine daughters represent the different types of waves. One of Fornjótr’s descendants, Nórr, gave his name to Norway when he conquered the country.
In the historical narrative, Fundinn Noregr, Fornjótr is the king of Finland and Kvenland, but in the historical narrative Hversu Noregr byggðist (How Norway Was Settled), he is described as a man and it is Kári who is the king of Gotland, Kvenland, and Finland. Elizabeth Ashman Rowe explores how “Hversu Noregr byggðist seizes on the various implications of this linkage [between Fornjótr, Kári, and Nórr] and builds on it to provide two interlocking origin legends: a “horizontal,” onomastic one to explain how the districts of Norway got their names, and a “vertical,” social one to explain the creation of the various ranks of Norwegian nobility.”
Why it’s Interesting
Oral and written traditions continue to be an important source of information for ethnic groups around the world. Lars Elenius describes how “the territory of Kvenland w[as] used by the Norwegians to maintain an ethnic boundary with the Finnish speakers in the upper Bothnian area. The names Kven and Kvenland were never used in Sweden. The investigation shows that the Kvens constituted a group of Finnish speaking people existing in continuity from the Viking Age. Their core territory was situated in the upper Gulf of Bothnia area.” In the early 1970s, the concept of Kvenland was used to create a historical northerly Finnic identity in the county of Oulu and Lapland. There are also socio-cultural and indigenous issues that come about based on such loosely recorded history. In Norway and Sweden, debate over the interpretation of the history and ethnic background of the Kvens has created arguments regarding indigenous rights. The ethnopolitical, transnational Kvenland Association has called into question the accepted view that the Sámi are the only indigenous people in Sweden and Norway. The Association claims that the Kvens have an equal right to use the territory. That claim has been resisted by researchers both in Norway and Sweden.
European Elitism and the Importance of Pedigree
Across the internet, one can find numerous sites that contain “pedigrees” and family trees that falsely attribute their history to royalty. Medieval writers were guilty of pedigree boasting as well. In more than a decade of research, I have come across these documents and websites numerous times and had to disregard them. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber summed it up nicely when she said, “…it is actually the emergence of lineage as the fundamental structural mechanism of power and social reproduction which explains the interest shown by feudal aristocracy for its own history.” Modern amateur genealogists are not the first, nor will they be the last, to include false or boastful pedigree in their family tree.
There are Germanic peoples who attribute their kings’ ancestry to a lineage that goes back to the god Odin. In 1898, the Pennsylvania-German Society also wrote about the German immigrant families’ lineages from Odin.Under this belief, Queen Elizabeth II would be a descendant of Odin/Woden (an actual man later divinized by the Germans), in the 3rd century CE through the Kings of Wessex. For more information about European royal family ancestry, you can view comprehensive research by Burke’s Peerage.
One blog attributes Fornjótr as the ancestor to famous Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok and Harald I ‘Bluetooth’ Gormsson, and Vikings who farmed or raided England and their descendants rose into power and became kings. Around 1140 CE, Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Cambridge, composed a history of the people of England, and started with the Vikings.
For further reading on society’s obsession with ancestry and how people identify themselves through their ancestry, please read Eviatar Zerubavel’s Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community. Zerubavel’s no-nonsense look into how people see themselves, how genealogy has mattered and continues to matter to people, etc., is an interesting read.
The history, even mythical history of, Kvenland, the land of Fornjótr or his son Kári, continued to have more than just cultural implications. The borders between the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Sweden, and Norway have changed numerous times. In the 1730s, Sweden and Norway agreed to set the boundaries of the northern border between the two countries, starting in the middle of Norway. It soon became clear that further investigations had to be made before an agreement could be reached. The Scandinavian Mountains or the “Scandes” mountain range between the two countries had been regarded as the border since ancient times, but when it came to delineating the border line it was not as easy to decide. Therefore, field investigations between 1738-1751 resulted in a treaty in 1751 a treaty was signed in Strömstad to define the borders. Peter Schnitler, Norwegian border inspector, based his report on where the border should be drawn, from written out interviews with Sámi, Kvens, and Norwegians living in northern Norway.
The mythical history of the first few kings of Kvenland make it difficult to confirm the status of the people socially, culturally, and geographically. One of the main issues in historical research, is the loss or non-existence of primary source documents, incorrect aspects of later documentation (such as writers from the 12th century writing about centuries earlier), and the lack of proper citation, research documentation, or the cycle of repeating incorrect sources, something I call cyclical footnoting.
The Problem with Cyclical Footnoting
Other than two ancient poems and a number of Sagas, there are not many sources to collect factual information about Fornjótr or his sons. The problem with the lack of documentation is that the proliferation of the internet has ignored the factual in order to boost the false or mythical storytelling sources. When hundreds of individuals create websites, family tree sites, and blog posts with the mythical or false information, it allows other individuals without historical research ethics to use the same footnotes or sources without understanding their error. This creates a cycle of footnoting the sources that are historically inaccurate, and when sources are searched, these inaccurate ones that are cycled over and over are now the main information or sources one will find. When stories are interesting, fun, whimsical, or exciting, individuals like to reproduce those stories and take the sources that back up that story, regardless of factuality.
When you Google “Fornjótr” there are pages upon pages of Wikipedia, family tree, and blog websites that state Fornjótr is their ancestor, and gives details such as his: birth date, status as a King, status as a giant, etc. The Orkneyinga saga and Hversu Noregr byggdisk saga do not call him a giant. The sagas describe him as a king ruling over Gotland and Jutland, but other sources note Kári as the first king in this lineage. It is noted that it was medieval writers that began to associate him with jötunn (Old Norse: jǫtunn). Snorri Sturluson’s The Prose Edda, originally written circa 1220 CE, describes Fornjótr’s sons, and in future editions is the note that he is a giant added in. One of Fornjótr’s alleged descendants, Rognvald Eysteinsson, has scholars doubting his life stories from the Norse Sagas (Heimskringla, Historia Norvegiae, Fragmentary Annals of Ireland). The stories of his life have numerous inconsistencies.
Somehow, researchers of their family trees attributed a birth year to Fornjótr even though none of the 12th century sagas or poems mention it. The birth years of his sons are also usually given without evidence. In my opinion, the main culprit of this repetitive copying of their birth years is the use of the internet for research, and unproven sources that people believe at face value.
One website even goes as far as to claim that chromosome mapping has allowed a researcher to determine a link between Rollo of Normandy, Henry I, King of England, and other royals to Fornjótr through Chromosome 11. But how? Fornjótr did not leave us any DNA evidence to test.
Have you ever watched the History Channel’s TV series Vikings? It contains a character named Rollo who marries Gisla, princess of the Kingdom of West Francia. Although the show has numerous historical inaccuracies, Rollo was real, and also married Poppa of Bayeux after Gisla’s death. Rollo was a Viking who became the founder and first ruler of the region of Normandy, a region in northern France. Rollo is the great-great-great grandfather of William the Conqueror (first Norman King of England). Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family are thus direct descendants of Rollo. For a look into the lineage and story of Rollo, check out Joshua J. Mark’s “Rollo of Normandy” on the World History Encyclopedia site.
My (supposed) 35th great-grandfather Hrolf Turstain, followed Rollo to France. Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen goes as far as connecting him to Rollo as Rollo’s nephew. He and his Francia wife Gerlotte, daughter of Theobald, duke of Blois and Chartres, had three sons who would create English and French lineages. However, the legitimacy of these stories is all questionable. Certainly, just because families in the 17-18th centuries created sources for themselves to descend from such noble families, does not mean they are correct. There is every possibility that I am not in fact related to Rollo or other famous Scandinavians who settled in England and Normandy. However, my DNA does include regular, non-famous Scandinavian Vikings. The next section of this article includes such DNA evidence.
To confirm the branch of my paternal genealogy did in fact have Scandinavian lineage, I took a DNA test. There are numerous sites in which you can order a DNA test. Plus, other numerous sites which will analyze your data in greater detail. Ancestry.ca confirmed that I did in fact have DNA from Sweden. I was surprised to find that both my mitochondrial DNA (“mtDNA”) and Y DNA (maternal and paternal) matched to Scandinavian peoples, not just my paternal side.
MyTrueAncestry.com (“MyTrueAncestry”) took the data even further, to compare my DNA to archeological evidence found around the world. MyTrueAncestry’s data shows that my DNA contains Haplogroups that match ancient Visogoth, Danish Vikings, Franks, and Saxon populations. Next, I will explore the DNA matches by country and by archaeological sample.
I matched with an archeological sample from Viking boat burial evidence in Iceland from Hrafna-Flóki’s Vilgerðarson’s expedition. Sample VDP-A6, was a 25-35-year-old male, who was carbon dated to between 850-1050 CE. His DNA showed that he was Norse and Gaelic genetically. The site was discovered in 1964. It included a boat grave with seven previously disturbed human skeletal remains (three females and four males) within. Buried alongside the humans was also a dog. Goods buried with the human remains included a knife, thirty beads, a silver Thor’s hammer, and a fragmented Cufic coin. I match with this individual through mtDNA: H1c3a, and Y-DNA: R1a1a1b1a3a (FGC11883/Y2397) Haplogroups.
A burial was found during field leveling on an old farmstead in Ormsstaðir. ORE-A1 was a 45+-year-old male who was found with an axe, knife, and three lead weights in his grave site. He lived between 900-1000 CE. His genetic background was Norse, Gaelic, and Icelandic. I match with this individual through mtDNA: K1a3a, and Y-DNA: R1b1a1b1a1 (P310/PF6546/S129) Haplogroups.
In 1947, in Silastadir, four graves were found. SSG-A2 was a 45+-year-old male who lived between 850-1000 CE. He was buried beside three men, and one woman of the same age range as himself. His genetic background was Norse, Gaelic, and Icelandic. I match with this individual through mtDNA: J1c3g, and Y-DNA: R1b1a1b1a1a2c1 (A228).
In 1869 and 1982, the archeological site of Hesselbjerg Marken in Magleby Parish, Svendborg, Denmark, was excavated. Two bodies were found in 1982. According to MyTrueAncestry I am a 94% closer match to one of these skeletons than the sites’ other users. The site indicates that the DNA sample from the archeological site that matches partially with my DNA was male. The man from Denmark matched me through my mtDNA which is inherited through your maternal DNA. The site also dates the sample to 875 CE however, I am unsure how they obtained this date. The era or age of the “economic goods” found at the archeology site may have led to the determination of this date.
A 16-19-year-old female, buried at the St. Jørgen leprosarium in Odense, Denmark had her DNA utilized by lab scientists studying ancient leprosy among 69 other samples from St. Jørgen. She is listed as grave G507 in the study. Her skeletal remains were carbon dated to between 1058-1253 CE. She was one of the samples that tested positive on two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) fragments for Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes leprosy. I match this individual through mtDNA J1c3g Haplogroup.
One of my DNA matches is to a sample from a male at the Varnhem archaeological site in Skara, Sweden. The excavation of the site began in 2005. A rune engraved tombstone housing one of the skeletons, along with other items in the gravesites, were carbon dated to about 1040 CE. The site consists of foundations of the Viking Age stone church, the 12th century Cistercian monastery foundation, and the excavated graves at the early Cistercian cemetery. The site is a perfect archaeological example for researchers who want to understand the Christianization of Sweden and building techniques from the Iron Age to Middle Age. One study of this Vikings’ DNA concluded that he has the “alleles associated with brown eyes and darker hair coloration.”
Have you ever watched the History Channel series Vikings, Netflix’s series The Last Kingdom, or played the Ubisoft game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla? The plotline of this entertainment media is the historical story of Vikings and other Norse peoples who invaded England for riches, as well as to settle into farming. This is also the history of some of the branches of my family tree. There are two versions of this story that I can attribute to my family tree.
St. Brice’s Day Massacre
On Friday, November 13, 1002 CE, King Æthelred “the Unready” ordered that all Danes (Scandinavian/Viking/etc.) living in England be executed in response to frequent Viking raids on England. In 2008, in Oxford, the skeletons of 34 to 38 men aged 16 to 25 were found during an excavation at St John’s College and believed to be victims of the massacre. I matched two of the remains found on this site, V2P (1002 AD) via mtDNA Haplogroup: H2c1; and V4P (1002 AD) via mtDNA Haplogroup: H17c.
Dorset Viking Massacre
In 2009, during roadway construction on Ridgeway Hill, Dorset, a mass burial was found with the remains of 54 males. The men were brutally killed. Their decapitated heads were buried in a heap in a large pit. Radiocarbon dating showed the remains were from 890-1030 CE. Strontium isotopes found in the bones show that these individuals were originally from Scandinavia. I matched this individual through mtDNA Haplogroup – N1a1a1a2, and Y-DNA Haplogroup – R1a1a1b1a3a (FGC11883/Y2397).
The amazing innovations in technology, DNA sequencing, and access to DNA mapping by consumers, has made it easier for some people to understand where they come from. As a person of European decent, I understand that I have the privilege of historical documents from countries that were colonizers, not the colonized, organized and not destroyed or lost to the past. For people of oral-story telling cultures, or cultures destroyed by colonization, DNA sequencing may help them learn more about their genetic family. If you do not trust the capitalist background of the DNA kits available online, I understand. They are still very expensive and a corporation owns your DNA sequence.
When you think about how many generations have come and gone on this Earth, and how many drops of blood run through all of our veins making us all distant cousins, I hope you feel a sense of togetherness. Although history is filled with violence, disease, and other horrible events, we’re all family. We are all humans. Although Fornjótr may be mythical, I understand why amateur genealogists of past and present wanted to connect their family to someone so interesting and in high regards. It is common to find false narratives throughout the internet, and even Medieval sources, that connect us to royalty and fantastic peoples of the past. This is not always the truth. I hope you learned that cyclical footnotes have to be found, stopped, and you and other internet genealogists can stop the cycle! Lastly, I hope that that you have enjoyed learning about real Vikings and the archeological evidence they left behind. Whether it was a dog, a knife, or a sword, these men and women went to their graves with the things they thought mattered. They are not just characters from History Channel’s Vikings or Netflix’s The Last Kingdom. Although my family certainly does not show we descend from a giant (we are shorter than average Caucasians), it will always be interesting to read about the mythical and factual genealogical ties that I, and others, have in our blood.
If you enjoy learning about history, please feel free to contact me about a free consultation regarding your family tree or any research help you require. Pricing and further information can be found here.
Disclaimer: I do not intend to offend anyone of any culture or background by discussing the history of Europeans and colonizers. I have based the stories within this article on DNA sequencing, historical research, and Norse myths. I do not intend for this article to exhibit pride for any certain DNA or culture over another. I value everyone and their history. I write about my genealogy because I love history and family stories. This article is for entertainment purposes only. This article and the research conducted are current as of April 30, 2021.
 Fornjót, Old Norse: Fornjótr.
 The original text of this Norse saga was written in the late 12th century, but was lost to history. A new version was written in the early 13th century by an unknown Icelandic author.
 Kvenland is located east of the mountain range separating Norway and Sweden. Eds., Gro Steinsland, Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Jan Erik Rekdal, and Ian Beuermann, Ideology and Power in the Viking and Middle Ages, (Leiden: Brill, 2011), p, 115.
 John Lindow, Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 48, 119.
 Lindow, p. 49.
 Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, “Origin Legends and Foundation Myths in
Flateyjarbók,” 11th International Saga Conference, p. 442-444. <https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.462.3583&rep=rep1&type=pdf>
 Rowe, p. 445.
 Rowe, p. 446.
 Lars Elenius (2019): “The dissolution of ancient Kvenland and the transformation of the Kvens as an ethnic group of people. On changing ethnic categorizations incommunicative and collective memories”, Acta Borealia (Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group, 2019) <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336806732_The_dissolution_of_ancient_Kvenland_and_the_transformation_of_the_Kvens_as_an_ethnic_group_of_people_On_changing_ethnic_categorizations_in_communicative_and_collective_memories>
 Ibid, p. 3.
 Ibid, p. 4.
 Gabrielle M. Spiegel, “Genealogy: Form and Function in Medieval Historical Narrative,” History and Theory, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 43-53; Gabrielle M. Spiegel, “Foucault and the Problem of Genealogy,” Johns Hopkins University, (2020), pp. 1-16; Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, “The Genesis of the Family Tree,” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, Vol. 4 (1991), pp. 105-129.
 Klapisch-Zuber, P. 107.
 David Wunderlich Nead, “Index to Proper Names Mentioned in the Proceedings and Addresses of the Pennsylvania-German Society,” Vol. 1-VI, (Lancaster: Pennsylvania-German Society, 1898), pp. 23-25.
 Alex Woolf, From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070, (Edinburgh: University Press, 2007), p. 1-67.
 Eviatar Zerubavel, Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
 Stephen Robert Kuta, The Lives of our Ancestors, <https://thelivesofmyancestors.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/kari-wind-king-of-kvenland-fornjotsson-189-240-2/>; MyHeritage.com <https://www.myheritage.com/names/fornjot_in%20kvenland>; Geni.com <https://www.geni.com/people/Fornjot-King-of-Kvenland/6000000001233379149>; Wikitree, <https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Kvenland-6>; Geneanet.org, <https://gw.geneanet.org/skyosti?lang=en&n=of+kvenland&oc=0&p=father+to+fornjot>; “Descendants of Fornjotur Kvenland King” <http://www.davidkfaux.org/files/deBeaufouFullReport.pdf>; Reddit, “How are Fornjot “Ancient Giant”, King of Kvenland and Queen Elizabeth II related?”, https://www.reddit.com/r/history/comments/b71gdr/how_are_fornjot_ancient_giant_king_of_kvenland/; John Anderson, “From John to the Other Side of the Icelandic Sagas, in 55 Generations,” <http://www.cs.umanitoba.ca/~andersj/sagas.html>
 Rob Hansen, Old Breivoll Farm – An historical account 1567- 1945. Volume 1, (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform: Rob Hansen, 2013), p. 17; Lindow, p. 119; Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla: Volume I The Beginnings to Óláfr Tryggvason, translated by Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes, (Oxford: University College London, 2011), pg. 42; John McKinnell, Scripta Islandica, (Sweden: Författarna och Scripta Islandica, 2010), p. 24.
 Snorri Sturluson, “The Prose Edda”, Saga Six Pack, (Los Angeles: Enhanced Media, 2016), p. 148; Fridtjof Nansen, In Northern Mists (Volume 1 of 2), Arctic Exploration in Early Times, (London: William Heinemann, 1911), p. 298.
 Woolf, p. 242.
 Finding Ancient Ancestors with Chromosome Mapping, “Chromosome Mapping by End Location Numbers has found the number of King Henry I Beauclerc King of England, Rollo, de Clifford, Bourchier and the entire line of Lord Dutton’s,” <http://chromosomemappingofancientbloodlines.blogspot.com/>
 Dudo de Saint Quentin’s Historia Normannorum pedigree chart, John Ward, The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent, (London: W. Lewis & Son, 1843), pg. 598.
 Guillermo Carvajal, “The true history of Rollo, the Viking from whom all current European monarchs descend,” LBV, (2019), <https://www.labrujulaverde.com/en/2019/09/the-true-history-of-rollo-the-viking-from-whom-all-current-european-monarchs-descend/>
 J. Mark’s “Rollo of Normandy,” World History Encyclopedia, (2018),<https://www.worldhistory.org/Rollo_of_Normandy/>
 Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen, Historical Memoirs of the First Race of Ancestry: Whence the House of Russell, (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1833), p. 55-56.
 Wiffen, p. 55.
 For security reasons, I will not link to my DNA results in this article.
 S. Sunna Ebenesersdóttir et al., “Supplementary Materials: Ancient genomes from Iceland reveal the making of a human population,” Science, 360, 1028 (2018), p. 28.
 Ibid, p. 47.
 Ibid, p. 6.
 MyTrueAncestry.com, “Viking Celtic Boat Burial Iceland – VDP-A6.”
 Ibid, p. 28.
 Ibid, p. 50.
 MyTrueAncestry.com, “Gaelic Settler Viking Iceland – ORE-A1.”
 Ibid, p. 5, 50.
 MyTrueAncestry.com, “Danish Gaelic Viking Iceland – SSG-A2.”.
 Chelsi Slotten, “Daughters of Freya, Sons of Odin: Gendered Lives During the Viking Age”, Doctorial Dissertation, (Washington: American University, 2020), p. 192.
 MyTrueAncestry.com, “Viking Hesselbjergmarken Denmark – VK87”
 Slotten, p.126.
 Krause-Kyora, B., Nutsua, M., Boehme, L. et al. Ancient DNA study reveals HLA susceptibility locus for leprosy in medieval Europeans. Nat Communications 9, 1569 (2018), Supplement 1, <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03857-x>
 Matched via mtDNA: T2b11; and Y-DNA: J2a1a1b2a1b1 (L70/PF5434/S287) through MyTrueAncestry.com study of DNA samples.
 Maria Vretemark and Tony Axelsson, “The Varnhem Archaeological Research Project: A New Insight into the Christianization of Västergötland,” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, Vol. 4 (2008), p. 214.
 Ibid, p. 214.
 Ashot Margaryan et al., “Population genomics of the Viking world,” Nature (2019), p. 14. <do10.1038/s41586-020-2688-8>
 MyTrueAncestry, “St. Brice’s Day Massacre.”
Copyright 2021 Alicia Bertrand.