Do I Have Viking Ancestry?
I had intended to make my next post about my English roots, but after watching a TV programme last night about the Vikings, I’m keen to share my Viking ancestry with you. Do I actually have Viking ancestry in my blood? Who knows for sure, but I’m determined I do. After all, anyone whose family originates from the Shetland Islands is likely to have some Scandinavian blood flowing through them.
I didn’t feel a true affinity with my Shetland family until I wished the Islands in 1999. We had allocated only 3 days during a very busy trip to the UK which included a family wedding in Devon and visits to Cornwall, Kent and Caithness as well. But three days were enough to blow my mother’s mind and capture the hearts of myself and my sister forever.
My mother never meet her grandmother and only saw her grandfather once when she was about 8. They lived some distance away from her. But she had heard many stories about them and the hardship of living on the Shetlands prior to their emigration. Her grandmother Jemima Jamieson had travelled from Sandness to New Zealand with her two sisters and their families. Grandfather Thomas Moffatt hailed from Walls and accompanied his sister and nephew months earlier. One of the many questions I had was had they known each other prior to leaving the Shetlands?
Our first day on the Islands we had arranged to do a bus tour so we could see as much as possible of this amazing place. The second day was allocated to a contact my sister had arranged we would meet. The third day we spent at the family history centre learning so much I still can hardly believe it. It was on the second day our lives ‘changed forever’. Jimmy Jamieson (no relation) met us and thoughtfully looked over the pages of detail I’d hoped he would help me with. I had the names of houses and grave sites etc I’d found in the records. I expected we’d spend the day “touring” the area finding these. Wrong!
When Jimmy closed my book and handed it back to me, with the words, “no, I don’t think we’ll do that” I was devastated. But within thirty minutes we were sitting in the lounge of ‘cousins’ who were as thrilled to see us as we were to meet them. The day took on such a surreal feeling its impossible to explain. In the village near where my g.grandmother had grown up, we were taken from house to house to house, meeting my mother’s second cousins. The most poignant story they told was how their grandmother (the younger sister of those who’d emigrated to NZ) used to cry whenever she talked about “the twelve who’d disappeared over the hill, never to be seen again”. Apparently the whole extended family had congregated together for a few days before the three sisters, two husbands and seven kids walked away to meet the ship in Lerwick. They’d been watched for hours until they disappeared over a hill in the distance. Numerous stories and questions, cups of tea and beautiful food later, we also visited the sites I’d so desperately wanted to find, but their importance had faded into insignificance by comparison.
On a later trip with my sister (my mother then aged 89 refused to accompany us feeling she could never repeat such an amazing experience), the cousin we stayed with arranged an evening with “the family”. Forty two people attended. It was mind boggling to realise all these people were our relatives. I can’t wait to visit again and continue to build our relationship. I can’t wait to revisit my ancestors birthplace and just sit and imagine what they all might have been like.
Do I have Viking ancestry? I must have, otherwise why would the sight of the annual Up Helly Aa stir my blood so much? Why would I long to return to these islands only hours after leaving them? Something draws me, I’m sticking with the idea – its in my blood!