British-Irish ancestry and DNA test
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British-Irish ancestry and DNA test

With last night’s Oscars 2023 where several Irish movies were competing for the Oscars, including one where Irish is spoken, and talking to a British friend yesterday who recently did a DNA test with surprising results (he was not the viking he hoped to be), I can share my experience with DNA testing & results. It gave me a bottle of whisky for free! 🙂

First of all, our Irish connection in the Stockmann family comes through my Dutch cousin Ynte Stockmann who is married to Irish Siún O’Keeffe. Erik and I have had the pleasure of having their oldest son, Cathal’s company all fall 2022 while he took courses at Chalmers University here in Gothenburg. That meant several visits by Ynte and Siún, and two of Siún’s sisters from Ireland, and siblings of Cathal. Really cosy! We are so happy to have this house in Gothenburg, where we can accommodate people. With our family spread out over several countries, it’s nice to have meals and time together while family are visiting. Since Siún knows the keltic language Irish, it gave me a chance to compare some of the unusual words used in the Icelandic language that are supposed to originate from Irish. The background being all the Irish-Scottish women abducted by the Norse vikings on their way to Iceland. Thus, looking at the genetic profile of Icelanders today, 80% of Icelandic women are descending from Irish ancestors. That probably explains the high proportion of red hair colour in Iceland – and all the skilled musicians and authors, too. The theory is that these Irish women (of course) used their own language when talking to their children, and thus non-Nordic words entered the Icelandic language.

Photo: Gabrielle. Cosy pub life in Scotland.

Coming back to my own DNA results, my DNA testing some 10 years ago was mainly motivated by the shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, the surgery and treatment went well and I’m still alive 10 years later, but I was curious to know whether or not I had the genes for breast cancer. Both my Danish grandmother and her sister were diagnosed with breast cancer at more or less the same age as me around 40. Hence, for the younger women in my family, I wanted to know if there were reasons for worries based on genes inherited from my grandmother. The company 23andMe offered a combined Ancestry & Health DNA test. As it happens, I was visiting the Laphroaig distillery on Islay in Scotland with colleagues from Stockholm University when the DNA results came in. No detection of the known breast cancer genes, that was a relief. However, to my utter surprise, 23andMe assigned me with 18% British-Irish ancestry. Thus, my colleague, Krister shouted out loud, ‘Oh my god, Gabrielle is 18% Scottish’! A few minutes later, the bartender / distillery manager plants a (small) bottle of Laphroaig in front of me and utters with perfect Scottish accent ‘Welcome home Lassie’! This was one of the happiest moments in my life 🙂

Photo: Gabrielle. From Islay whisky distillery….

I love the idea of being Scottish, but I’ve learned since then that these ancestry calculations and estimates are dubious at times. Different companies will assign you with very dissimilar results of ancestries. My DNA is now uploaded at three different companies – and none of them are the other alike. Nevertheless, some surprising results came out of this DNA testing, and 23andMe still has the most trustworthy results in my opinion. My mother is Dutch with her parents families Kloppenburg and Stockmann descending from Rotterdam and Friesland, respectively. Late 18th century, we know that members of the German merchant family Stockmann left the town Mettingen in Nordrhein-Westphalen in Germany and moved to Sneek in Friesland and started a trading company there. Going further back, the Stockmann family can be traced back to 1500+ in Nordrhein-Westphalen. The family background of my Dutch grandmother Cornelia Kloppenburg is partly from Germany, too. Thus, this fits well with 23andMe assigning me around 36% French-German ancestry. My father is Danish, but rumours always had it that my Danish grandmother had a Swedish father. This turned out to be true and my uncle was able to find the court case with the name of her unknown father. In fact, he was half Danish and half Swedish. He ended up working as ‘hovmästare’ at the posh Grand Hotel in Stockholm, where the Nobel prize laureates are staying. There are several Swedish relatives in our family and it would be fun to meet up with them to learn more about this new Swedish branch of our family tree. The last part concerns my Danish grandmother, too. On her mother’s side, the family descends from the Danish island Bornholm. We thought them to be poor farmers and fishermen, where many drowned at sea, but this was not entirely true. Some of them were mayors of towns and free farmers, and further back in time, they were wealthy land owners in Skåne, until Denmark lost Skåne, Halland, and Blekinge to Sweden in 1658. Going further back, it looks like some of them could have taken part in the raids and settling in England during the Viking Age. And finally coming back to 23andMe, they have recalculated my ancestry composition making me more Scandinavian (61%) and less British-Irish (only 0.7%!!), because as they write on their home page, it is impossible to distinguish between Danish Viking DNA and the DNA of the people of England, who were already settled there. Funny enough, my middle name Jarvik is a transcription of the old Norse name Jórvik, which is the city of York – a well known old viking center in Yorkshire, England. PS! Another company still claims me to be 80% British-Irish and only 8% Scandinavian, so be careful when you interpret your ancestry results! Maybe I’ll go for being 80% Irish and claim to be a kindred spirit of all the famous Irish authors and actors 🙂

Photo: Karin Jonsell. Gabrielle, happy on Islay in Scotland when I still thought I was Scottish! Sitting together with former Bolin Centre director Len Barrie. We were on Islay for the Bolin Centre for Climate Research Summer School 2015.