(The Root) — Sometimes DNA testing can yield results that will leave you scratching your head, as was the case with the reader below.
"I recently did a DNA test using Family Tree DNA's service, and the results are 10.53 percent European (specifically Finnish, French, Orcadian, Romanian, Russian, with a margin of error of +0.08 percent) and 89.47 percent West African Yoruba (also with a margin of error of +0.08 percent).
"My brother did the testing for our father's side. Our father was a Creole who died four years ago. We found no trace of African blood from that test and my brother was furious. I do not have the exact numbers but the findings were: Spanish, English, German, Finnish — Spanish and English being the highest.
"This result really surprised me. How did the Orcadian blood get into our background? I looked up Orcadians and they are Vikings. French ancestry, I would have no problem understanding, but Finnish, Romanian and Russian roots?
"I'm attending a family reunion of my mother's people in Missouri on July 5, 2013, and will be handing out the results of the testing. My grandmother was a 'Johnson' from Kentucky her family migrated to Missouri during the 1870s. In Missouri, grandmother married a 'Hardin,' so I'm getting DNA samples from my male cousin — we share the same grandfather (Hardin) looking for that Indian or Asian blood that the family is always taking about.
"Whatever information you can pass on will be greatly appreciated." —Gwendolyn Quezaire-Presutti
If your brother took Family Tree DNA's y-DNA test, which measures your father's father's father's ancestry through the male sex chromosome, then the results indicate that you could be descended from a white male ancestor who impregnated a black female ancestor, probably during slavery. The other results that you report are measures of your ancestry across your entire genome, dating back over the last 500 years.
The European portion of your DNA certainly reflects both how the Family Tree DNA Population Finder functions and the way in which interacting populations lead to interesting results in descendants.
Family Tree DNA's Population Finder compares each participant's DNA to reference populations from academic studies. The tool will then find the closest mix of represented populations that match the specific variations in that person's DNA. Some of the examples the company presents in explanation involve how mixing Orcadian and South Indian or mixing Finnish, French and Tuscan samples can "create the same genetic combination" as German ancestry. The combination of some of the populations returned with your results could indicate ancestry from another population entirely. Orcadian is not to be used as a definite indicator, but rather the current best option, says FTDNA's president Bennett Greenspan.
If you are truly descended from Orcadians, know that their population is from the Orkney Islands, which are off the coast of Scotland. As such, it includes a mix of the Scot, Pict and Norwegian Viking people. The Norsemen ruled the Orkney Islands from around 875 until 1468 (when the islands were given to Scotland). Norway and Finland neighbor each other and have also experienced natural population swapping. Orkney, being a set of islands, made the area a prime trading hub used as a base for raiding (by the Vikings), for fishing and by merchants. It would have been very easy for ancestors from this area to come in contact with people from other lands. In fact, Hudson's Bay Company in Canada was mostly employed by Orcadians once recruitment there began in 1702.
You can find out more information about this through Orcadian Genealogy. It could be that this line of your ancestors arrived in the New World as early as the 17th century.
It's worth noting that three of the populations from your results are closely related. Finland, Russia and Romania are not only in close proximity to each other, but Russia has occupied both Finland and Romania at various points in each location's history. From 1809 until the end of World War I, Finland was in the Russian Empire. As a result of the Winter War in 1939 and 1940, a portion of Finnish lands was ceded to Russia. As for Romania, it often served as a Russian ally but has also had portions (especially the Bessarabia region) occupied by the Russians off and on from at least 1812 through 1958.
This has naturally led to the mixing of the populations. To this day, there are large numbers of ethnic Finns and Romanians residing in Russia and vice versa. Your ancestry seems to include at least one line from Eastern Europe. Whether the more recent location was Finland, Russia or Romania, there was also likely some earlier influence from one or both of the other populations.
In the 17th century, some Finns and Russians immigrated to the colony of New Sweden, located on the Delaware River on the borders of what is today Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At the time, the Swedish Empire contained Finland and parts of what is now Russia. New Sweden was incorporated into New Netherland, the Dutch colony based around New York, and the proportion of Finns in the colony grew. The latter half of the 19th century saw an increase in emigrants from Finland who mostly settled in the U.S. along the Canadian border and in California (for the gold rush). The Institute of Migration has detailed articles about this topic that may be of interest.
Romanians were also attracted by the gold rush but did not arrive in significant numbers until the turn of the century. However, these workers did not usually plan to remain in the U.S. and more often returned to Europe. Russians, like most Eastern Europeans, came to the U.S. in large numbers at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. They tended to settle in New York. There was some earlier movement from Russia to Alaska, but this mostly ended in 1867 when Alaska was sold by Russia to the U.S.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.
This answer was provided in consultation with Kyle Hurst, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country's leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.