Viking Ancestry

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.


Some cottages in Melby, Sandness near where Jemima was born


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?



Walls Township mid 1800’s Thomas’ birthplace


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.

Up Helly Aa

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!


Viking Ancestry — 10 Comments

  1. Hi Mairi, I’m sure your visit next year will bring you heaps of satisfaction. My advice would be to have as much detail as possible before you go, so you don’t waste the visit. Check out my next post, I’m going to tell how I found my “cousins” in Kent. How cool to think you’re living in the same place as one of your ancestors. Like you say, a feeling of completing a circle.

  2. Thanks Ella, I guess there’s probably quite a few people around the world with Viking heritage, if all the talk about their ‘raping and pillaging’ is true, lol. I figure a lot of them settled in Shetland, Orkney and northern Scotland so I’m sure we managed to get some of the bloodlines from one of these areas. Appreciate you stopping by

  3. Hi MJ, Isn’t it funny how unexpected things can reach up and grab hold of us. To feel a kinship to an area that’s association with you is so far into the past. During our second visit to Shetland, my sister and I talked about how great it would be to buy a house there. Now how stupid is that? A “holiday home” on the other side of the world! Some ex-pat kiwis who live in Shetland reminded us that while we might enjoy visiting in summer, where I was delighted to sit outside at midnight reading a book, winter was a whole different ball game. Yeah, okay, they’re probably right.
    Finding family there made such a difference to me, especially discovering family traits which had survived the test of time, and distance. Lovely talking with you MJ

  4. Hi Sarah, hey, don’t be despondent, pirates are far more exciting than royalty. I think the only difference is that if you can connect with some aristocracy then your chances of tracing your roots back further are looking better. But no, I’d stick to being proud of pirates. Just think of all the stories you can wonder about, what did they do, how did they survive – very romantic lol. The bagpipes have a sound that definitely stirs my blood, too. I understand they’re not the easiest instrument to learn so my congratulations goes out to you. My nephew plays them, always brings them out at family gatherings etc. Of course, I think I’ve read somewhere (don’t take my word for it though) that New Zealand has more pipe bands than Scotland does. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment

  5. My dad made sure we knew our Irish/Scottish history. My sister and great neice just got back from their Eurpoean tour where they made certain to visit our homeland in Ireland and on the Isle of Barra. Our ancestors were pirates and were sent off to America when they sank an English ship in 1746. I wanted us to be related to kings and queens, but there ya go.
    It’s fun finding out about ancestors and makes me feel connected to my past and my present.
    When I was 23 I learned to play the bagpipes (with a whole lot of encouragement from Pop). I can’t play them as well as I used to, but it was quite an accomplishment for me all the same.
    All the best…

  6. My mom felt the same way when she first visited Ireland, the motherland for us. I’ll admit, something stirred in me, too, when I first laid eyes on the island from the plane window. My mom has met some of our family there, but I haven’t. Your trip sounds incredible! I’m so glad that you had that experience. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  7. Anne, your journey is similar to mine, only I don’t have as much information as you did. I’m really hoping to meet up and visit with some long lost distant relations in Coyngton, Norfolk, England next year. I’ve discovered a not too distant ancestor who immigrated from there in the 17th century to the very area where I live now. When I learned that he met and married his wife right ~here~, in the very place I live, I felt like somehow I’d come full circle in that branch of my genealogical search.
    Thanks for sharing your journey.