Sunday, October 24, 2021

A slice of Finland in my genetic pie

| October 10, 2021 12:00 AM

I have long been intrigued by ancestral heritage, the DNA melting pot that has made us who we are. When genealogy documentary series such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots” became popular a few years ago, I watched those shows with great interest.

It should come as no surprise, then, when Ancestry was having a half-price sale on its DNA kits a couple of months ago, I took the bait and ordered one. A few of my friends had done the DNA testing and found odd bits of heritage in their mix — a dab of Czechoslovakian for one, a touch of Estonian for another.

After spitting into a tube and mailing it off, I got the results just last week.

The analysis revealed I’m 72% Norwegian — no shocker there. I’ve always told people I’m about three-quarters Norwegian, and rest is Swedish heritage. Ancestry says I’m 19% Swedish. But the real surprise for me was that I’m 9% Finnish.

My theory — or the story playing over in my mind — is that a Swedish relative from long, long ago sashayed across the border, perhaps looking for love or a good sauna, and one thing led to another. One can speculate forever how this Finnish connection came to be.

There’s less intrigue with my Norwegian roots, which extend back up to 1,000 years in southern and southwestern Norway. More specifically, the results said I had ancestors in places like Hordaland, a county in Norway that includes the beautiful coastal city of Bergen, where my maternal grandfather lived before he emigrated to America. And interestingly, I was so hauntingly drawn to Bergen when I visited the city two years ago.

I also have Norwegian roots in the Hedmark, Akershus and Kongsvinger areas, the DNA results showed. What I know is that one of my great-grandfathers came to America from Hedmark; my grandfather came to Minnesota from Kongsvinger.

My Swedish lineage is traced to Amanda Nilsson, one of four daughters of Gustaf and Charlotta Nilsson, who came to America from the small town of Hova in southern Sweden. I compiled an entire family history book on the Nilsson descendants in 1988, a monumental task I’m so glad I was able to complete for my family.

NOW, GETTING back to that tiny slice of Finnish heritage. Apparently Finland isn’t considered part of Scandinavia, so I can no longer claim to be a Scandinavian purist. The country is, however, part of the Nordic region, so I can say I’m fully Nordic, as if my blond hair and greenish-blue eyes weren’t a dead giveaway.

What are Finnish attributes, I wondered, so I googled “What are Finns like?”

The best information came from I learned that “Finns have a reputation for reticence, thoughtfulness and unemotional behavior. They are quiet, reflective, somber and, for some, seemingly stubborn and standoffish. They are unwilling to speak unless they have something of importance to say.” All of this seems very much like Scandinavians in general.

Another finding from the DNA test is that, so far, I’m genetically related to 14,236 other Ancestry DNA members. I recognized a couple of distant relatives’ names on the roster. I’m not expanding my Christmas card list any time soon, though I do wonder if some of my closest relatives on that list have the same smidge of Finnish heritage.

The moral of the story: genealogy is endlessly fascinating.

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 406-758-4421 or