Y-DNA: Clues to Our Paternal Family Origins

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In the absence of historical records, genealogists can develop their own information via the science of genetics. We seek our paternal lineage by decoding our Y-chromosome. Technology available over the last two decades leads us to the surprising possibility that our millennia deep Germanic paternal ancestry is German-Finnish-American, not German-English-American.


Finding Fatherland

After asking one’s father who his grandfathers were and where they were from, then researching other intersecting family trees to find out what others have learned about the lineage, then researching public records to fill in details and extend further back to earlier unknown grandfathers, one’s progress will necessarily stop at a brick wall. This is true for every genealogist. Nothing more can be told with documented specificity. All else will be speculation, and those honest ones among us will note clearly when this non-evidenced phase of one’s research is entered. Speculation can be useful so long as it is labeled such.

Now we have scientific tools to further evidence our well-researched claims. But even more spectacularly, we can hop over our brick wall and provide real limits to our speculations. Such refinement can focus our speculation to create believable scenarios for what might have been.

The author’s paternal line seems an example of this added value. Although the following derived hypotheses have some DNA basis and perhaps some historical basis, the who, where, and why of our paternal tribe is very much speculative, and by an armchair genealogist at that.

In our culture, paternity is linked to surname; ours has remained unchanged for the last six generations, and likely three or four generations before that. Our first identified paternal ancestor, James Smith born 1803 in VA, told the census takers his parents were also born in VA. We have been unable to find any record of our specific family there; the Smith name is in the hard pile, records are sketchy, and early Virginia was a large area.

While staring at this brick wall from the cheap seats, waiting for others to provide a new tool or new evidence to bash it down, crowd-sourced Y-DNA analysis was evolving into such a tool.

Inferring SNPs from Short Tandem Repeats (STR)

Early tests on the Y-chromosome were via STRs, short tandem repeats. These STRs possessed a pseudo-uniqueness sufficient to locally predict an associated unique haplogroup and its founding SNP. It was the cheap way to get to the answer, mimicking the author's own cheap seat instincts. One didn't need to do expensive SNP tests; just infer your SNP from the cheap tests.

For many years, conservative (slow to update) FTDNA associated us with the inferred I-M223 SNP category, unequivocally placing our forefathers in northern Europe ~15kya. Narrowing this range, an independent online researcher observed that within clade I-M223, STR H4=9 is associated with Frisia, based on current population DNA analysis. H4=9 infers SNP S2361, so we acquired another SNP and a geolocation for our I2-S2361 tribe somewhere on the North Sea coast between current day Netherlands and Denmark.

FTDNA, based on 25 tested STRs, finally advanced their inference beyond I-M223, assigning us the haplogroup marked by SNPs I-L1198/Z166. These SNPs first appeared in the early Northern Europe iron age,~3kya, a leap forward of twelve millennia. As expected, L1198 includes the upstream S2361 predicted earlier, and in the same geolocation. These were peoples of the Anglo-Saxon urheimat, Tacitus' Ingvaeones (cognate Yngvi), although what language they spoke is likely lost forever.

Finding Others Who Match Us

FTDNA stores their customers' testing results in a match-searchable database. For two decades, we were matched at 25/25 STR markers by two lineages, Smith and Marshall, and by another Smith at 24/25. That was it, stasis that still tries one's patience. These potential ancestors were all in VA pre-1800, but no connection materialized between them; not many tested people matched us, an indication of rarity in these parts.

YSEQ: One Shot SNP Tests

It was time for the impatient one to get out the wallet and the shotgun, testing specific SNPs downstream of I-L1198 at the YSEQ, who offer specific SNP tests (on the cheap, of course). Two negatives were purchased before a hit on FT73935+. While shotgun SNP testing was the opposite of cheap, it and luck had gotten us around the longstanding FTDNA stasis for around 50USD.

FTDNA: Full SNP Coverage via BigY Test

The next advancement from FTDNA was BigY analysis of the entire Y chromosome, the only way to advance the state of art, but initially pricey for price-value sensitive types; it seemed prudent for us to wait for one of our Smith close matches to step up. It was a great plan that produced cheapskate nirvana. Both matching Smiths stepped up; lo and behold, they both tested positive for the same terminal SNP, I-BY66988+.

So, no surprise, after testing my own DNA for that SNP at YSEQ, I likewise am proved BY66988+. There are now three Smith lineages from 1700s VA having this rare paternal marker, real progress toward our goal. This information has added four SNPs to our paternal I-haplogroup cladistics, per Astrid at YSEQ: L1198>FT73935>FT36359>FT36987>BY66988, another leap forward in time from 1000BCE to the Middle Ages. The I-M223 haplogroup project at FTDNA names the parent clade (I-FT36987) as Continental CZ-2b2, apparently entirely found within Finland, except for a lone progenitor who found his way to our American shore.

YFULL: Putting It All Together

The YFULL organization does final analysis of BigY tests, via BAM files forwarded by BigY testers. BY66988 isn't listed yet at YFULL; likely, the two testers haven't submitted their BAM files for analysis. But the BY66988 parent and sibling clades are on the latest YFULL chart (Tree v9.05.00); they list the few known carriers of these SNPs as inhabitants of Finland, from the south and west.

Finland, You Say? Really, Finland??

As of Nov. 2021, YFull shows FT36359 and FT36987 equivalent to FT39168. It shows two downstream subclades of FT39168, BY187373/Y160449 and Y40511. Six samples from SW Finland populate these two subclades. Update December 2022: YFull has further resolved their database (trailing FTDNA by well over a year). YFull now correctly shows FT36359->FT36987, keeping the same inheritance in the subclades, and not yet resolvable to the FTDNA subclades: BY66988 and Y172437.

Meanwhile, at FTDNA's I-M223 user haplogroup project, clade CZ-2b2 is shared by six Finnish samples, complete with names and locations (which are approximate, one in the middle of a lake, another in the middle of a remote forest).


  • Mäki (Pajala, Pahtajärvi, Sweden)
  • Seppälä (Rantsila, Suomi)
  • Merilainen (Ilomantsi)


  • Karlstrom (Pulkkinen)
  • Karlstrom (Röringe, Vetil)
  • Tuira (Kokemäki)

Finland thus looks promising as host for all currently geo-located descendants of FT36987. In confirmation, the PhyloGeographer online tool, in conjunction with the YFull database, shows that SNP FT73535 arose in German Bight territory in an Anglo-Saxon group, then migrated to western Finland before bifurcating into FT36987 and equivalents. Where our most recent subclade, marked by BY66988, fits in this picture is not yet resolved at YFull. This most recent genetic marker for our tribe dates to the Middle Ages, likely in Finland. The jury is still out on proof of direct DNA association of BY66988+ with native Finns.

Walking In Our Paternal Steps For 10,000 Years

Here's the chronology of the journey of our paternal forebears, read from the DNA.

10kya: The most recent genetic marker for our Germanic ancestral tribe was I2-Z161, based on genetic evolutionary clocks. These foraging peoples resided in Doggerland, a resource-rich land of rolling hills, forests, and rivers. They likely shared space with the I1 peoples who were perhaps in inland Norway and Sweden.

8kya: The most recent genetic marker for our Germanic ancestral tribe was I2-L801, based on genetic evolutionary clocks. These were peoples of the Kongemose-Ertebølle-Ellerbek Cultures, the Kitchen Midden peoples. Doggerland once more resided on the bottom of the North Sea. As the glaciation of northern Europe receded, the sea renewed a continuous incursion into low areas. These peoples became accustomed to losing land to the sea, becoming well-acquainted with navigating inland waterways by boat as their hilly areas turned to islands. They farmed aquatic life and maintained semi-permanent settlements around their aquatic farm investments, to protect their wealth from invading peoples, and from the ravages of the sea.

6kya: The most recent genetic marker for our Germanic ancestral tribe remained I2-L801. They extended across the north coast of Europe, from the lower Rhine on the west, to the lower Oder on the east. A challenge arrived from the R1a peoples from the eastern forest steppes of northern Europe, who enjoyed the advantages of domesticated horses and wheeled vehicles. They were boat peoples also, establishing colonies in the eastern Baltic and along the lower Oder River. Since their horses and wheels were no great advantage in forests and fens of north Germany, their westward migration was halted at the Oder by autochthonous Germanic peoples.

4kya: The most recent genetic marker for our Germanic ancestral tribe was I2-CTS6433, based on genetic evolutionary clocks. A challenge arrived from the R1b peoples from the steppes of Central Asia. They brought copper metallurgy, and again the horse and the wheel. They became established in great numbers, becoming the dominant genetic clade in Western Europe. Some autochthonous peoples may been have forced off the continent and into NE England and perhaps Fennoscandia; they currently exist as a sub-population sharing space with the new R1b peoples across the area of current Netherlands, northern Germany, and Fennoscandia.

3kya: The most recent genetic marker for our Germanic ancestral tribe was I2-FT73935, based on genetic evolutionary clocks. Their culture had transitioned to the Nordic Bronze Age as their horizon spread to the north. They were forest farmers, skilled metal workers, and experienced seafarers and fishermen. During the next millennium, these peoples spread around the coastal Norway, Sweden, and likely into Finland.

2.5kya: I2-FT36359 places some I2-FT73935 peoples somewhere within the Nordic Bronze Age Baltic coast. We have as yet no specific geolocation for the first peoples with this genetic signature. The YULL-affiliated PhyloGeographer tool associates FT39168 with SW Finland by 1550CE. The V9 YFULL database shows FT39168 and FT36359 to be phylo-equivalent; it requires more tested people to disambiguate them.

2kya: I2-FT36987 places some I2-FT73935 peoples in Iron-Age Fennoscandia, likely in Västerbotten and/or Österbotten, based on genetic evolutionary clocks. Most identified subclades are known to have current Finnish members exclusively. We speculate the location from current DNA density of M223 people in Västerbotten (mentioned in Eupedia, but without noting evidence).

1.1kya: I2-BY66988 places a small group of I2-FT73935 peoples somewhere in Finland based on genetic evolutionary clocks. A male in this group found his way to America, likely before 1700. Three Smith families from Virginia in the 1700s exhibit BY66988.

History Of Germanic Peoples in Fennoscandia

In the big picture, Yngvi tribes (the Ingvaeones mentioned by Tacitus, Pliny's Ingaevones) were indigenous to Frisia, Jutland and Scania (Southern-most Sweden) back through the Mesolithic, where they were identified with the kitchen midden cultures of the continental North Sea coast. These peoples were of the I2a2a (M223) clade.

Here we have interest in the more northern migrations of the Yngvi, where they would have mingled with a contemporaneous group migrating from Siberia, the original Saami of Haplogroup N1. Subsequent migrations of R1a, R1b, and I1 peoples from the East and South were then overlays on the autochthonous I2/N1 population.

We can picture these overlays as they were recorded by medieval map makers. Since the Migration Period, the Geats (Goths) lived just above Scania, likely a migration of Slavic peoples (R1a) from the continent to the south, Above the Geats lived the Suiones (Swedes). They may have been a combination of Haplogroups I1 and R1a invaders from the east from the Iron Age or before, possibly still including some Yngvi. This current Stockholm area was the Scandinavian melting pot, the center of a trade route between Frisia (Hedeby), Sweden (Birka and the Mälaren Valley), Finland, Lake Ladoga, Russia, and points east.

Above the Suiones lived the Kven (aka Sitones). These are the most likely continuation of the Yngvi to the north, the indigenous inhabitants of Kvenland (aka Queenland), who appear to have circled the Bay of Bothnia, around its northern most reach. It was a sparsely-populated forest land off the main trade-migration routes. Current population density confirms a hotspot for I2-M223 subclades in Västerbotten, the heart of Kvenland, and possibly also in Österbotten on the opposite Gulf shore, in Finland. This is scientific evidence possibly supporting an earlier Yngvi presence in northern Sweden and Finland.

Who were the Kvens? Were they the autochthonous Yingvi, the M223 peoples of mesolithic Scania? If not, how did M223 DNA get to northern Sweden? Paleogenomics is late to the game, and there is yet little specific information, except that all known Mesolithic Y-DNA samples from Sweden are I* or I2. These appear to confirm our indigenous M223 paternal clade is basal at least as far north as Östergötland. In the South, they had yielded to the Suiones and the Goth migration of the Dark Ages.

We can look to the mythology, archaeology, and Roman historians to flesh out the tale of the Kvens. Three mythologic pantheons appear to be involved: Vanir (I2, venerated females, early Scania), Jotun (I1), and Aesir (R1a, male-dominated). The R1a peoples apparently subjugated the I1 peoples early on, as their pantheons were merged and the Jotun giant Gods were pushed to a hazy distant past, leaving Aesir Odin in the forefront, and leaving Jotun's believers with only animalistic spirits, trolls and sprites inhabiting their forests.

The Aesir were a more modern pantheon, emphasizing virtues of valor and loyalty in the quest for power and victories. The Aesir and Vanir collided in a conquest war, reflected in a war between their pantheons, the Vanir winning when the Yngvi stopped the R1a westward conquest at the Oder. The Yngvi were less war-like and had inferior weaponry, but the Yngvi forests, rivers, and fens rendered the opponents horses and wheeled chariots a disadvantage. Since then, the two pantheons have been merged, an uneasy coexistence.

The Vanir embraced Nerthus (Mother Earth). Njörör, the main Vanir god, may have been Nerthus' sibling and father of her children, Freyr and Freyja. The Yngvi were peoples of the sea; the bounty of their sea and the prowess of their boats were ensured by Vanir priestesses attending to Njörör/Nerthus.

The Vanir Yngvi were a matrilocal and matrilineal society. Women were valued quite above the R1a patrilineal culture of Odin worship. Yngvi women went to war with their warrior kin, to tend to their needs and wounds, and to remind them of what would be lost if they did not win the day. This remarkable difference supports our conceit regarding the naming of Kvenland (Queenland) as Woman Land, referring to its Yngvi inhabitants.

Medieval Kvenland information is provided by the Norwegian adventurer and traveler Ohthere, and from Nordic sources, primarily Icelandic. All the known Nordic sources date to the 12th and 13th centuries.

[Ohthere] said that the Norwegians' (Norðmanna) land was very long and very narrow ... and to the east are wild mountains, parallel to the cultivated land. Finnas inhabit these mountains ... Then along this land southwards, on the other side of the mountain (sic), is Sweden ... and along that land northwards, Kvenland (Cwenaland). The Kvens (Cwenas) sometimes make depredations on the Northmen over the mountain, and sometimes the Northmen on them; there are very large [freshwater] meres amongst the mountains,[2] and the Kvens carry their ships over land into the meres, and thence make depredations on the Northmen; they have very little ships, and very light.

According to Finnish historian Kyösti Julku, the Germanic tribe Sitones mentioned in Tacitus' Germania in 98 CE lived in the area in northern Fennoscandia claimed to be Kvenland, observing there can be no confusion about their geographical location: "Upon the Suiones, border the people Sitones; and, agreeing with them in all other things, differ from them in one, that here the sovereignty is exercised by a woman.

The Finnish epic Kalevala also speaks to a sense of gender conflict in the epic past, involving a woman of supernatural powers called Louhi or Pohjan-akka, who was the ruler of Pohjola, a land to the north. The rulers of the south would keep sending their sons to Pohjola to attempt to find brides, to create an alliance between the two halves of their country.

Let's speculate. The first appearance of paternal marker FT36987 is estimated to be 2.2kya, placing it in an pre-CE population of Yngvi. Several Finnish residents have this marker, so let's claim it occurred in East Kvenland, in current Finnish territory. Let's specific, and place it near the Oulujoki.

A Finnish Connection to 17th Century America?

Wade and Wayne from the FTDNA M223 haplogroup project team helped sort this out. Wade pointed out that between 1638 and 1658 CE, while Finland was part of the Swedish Kingdom, many immigrant Finns came to New Sweden Colony on the lower Delaware River.

In the 1570s, Sweden had wanted to open up its internal wilderness for human occupation, but the good farmers, burghers, and nobles of Sweden would be no match for a wild forest. So the Swedish Crown invited a group of Finns, the kirvesmiehet (ax wielders), to do the job. Their presence was invited primarily to the 'Finnskogen' around the historical county of Värmland. This area spans the western Sweden and eastern Norway border at the same latitude as Stockholm and Oslo. Its rivers drain to the south into shallow Lake Vänern, the largest lake by surface area in the EU.

The axe-wielders were early minimalists. They sought only what they needed, valuing work and community. Avarice seemed not in their genetic code. They also, through self-teaching, were able to master several languages: Finnish, Swedish, Dutch, Russian. Saami, and later on and half the world away, English and Algonquin.

These Finns maintained a lifestyle as wilderness tamers and village constructors, with generations of experience. The Sitones among them had a near spiritual appreciation of trees inherited from their deep Germanic roots, akin to the native American tribes. Documented from the 14th century, they made their livelihoods from the north European forests, using their axes to clear cut a section of trees, saving the best timber to be used for log houses of unique design suitable for standing up to harsh sub-arctic winters, then burning the slash and undergrowth, whose ash would provide potash (KCl) nourishment for future plantings. In spring, they planted rye and barley between the stumps in the ash-covered ground, after a rain had wet the fresh ash. The grain was for making bread and distilling liquor.

The ash would provide as much as four years of good crop before the poor soil, of young glacial deposits, would be exhausted of nutrients; then, true to their hunter-gatherer heritage, they would move to a new section of forest and renew the cycle. After they abandoned a clearcut section of forest, secondary growth took advantage of the clearing, beginning with berries (raspberries), deciduous hardwoods, and other growth benefitting from open terrain. This further regenerated the soils, making these areas wildlife-friendly, particularly the furry mammals whose pelts augmented the value of forest products such as pine tar and timber for boat and swelling construction, enhancing the area's economic engine. Further, the wild berries and nuts added to their diets would have made their lives healthier.

As well as grains, they raised food animals, another aspect of their personal wealth. They would let their pigs run wild in the forest, then hunt them for food. They erected portable zig-zag 'worm' fencing to protect crops and control animals. They also had to control brown bears, timber wolves, and cougar, which also had economic value via their pelts.

These peoples were not conventionally religious, nor did they submit gladly to social law and custom, further showing not much interest in property rights. As they came into contact with tax-paying, law abiding, righteous Swedish settlements, there would be conflicts, and hence the axe men would ultimately become a nuisance to the Crown.

By the 1630s, Sweden had finally understood the power of the Dutch and their overseas colonies. Deciding they also needed a colony or two to compete, they copied the successful Dutch and English colonies in North America. The commercial interests of Sweden organized a New Sweden Colony, situated along the Delaware River, extending from above the current Philadelphia, down to the top of Delaware Bay. New Sweden was the final foreign colony established on what would become American soil. It was also short lived, being on contested lands already claimed by the English and Dutch, and before them the native tribes.

This new land was wild and forested, calling for a certain type of settler to be successful there. Sweden had just such a group that they were ready to be rid of, the axe-wielders of the Finnskog. So they 'persuaded' them to emigrate to New Sweden. The Colony was first run by the immigrant Swedes and Finns themselves, but then was forced to submit briefly to English and Dutch rule, until, by 1682, it came again under English rule as part of the William Penn Charter.

By 1660, at least half the inhabitants of New Sweden were Finnish by cultural heritage, apparently a few descendants of the Sitones amongst them. By the end of New Sweden's existence, perhaps over 700 Finns and their descendants were living permanently along the lower Delaware River. In following generations, there was a diaspora of the New Sweden descendants into neighboring areas under English rule. So we may have closed the information gap and arrived at a hypothesis regarding how this paternal lineage from the German Bight via way of Finland reached VA by 1700. Going forward, we will seek proof beyond our current conceit, that this is the most likely scenario.

Do Our Smiths Connect to New Sweden?

Our starting conceit, based on DNA, is that our Smith common paternal ancestor came from Finland to New Sweden Colony between 1640 and 1680, the only known concentration of Finns in 17th century America. He was a blacksmith and had a son who also had sons and so forth. As English colonial administration was asserted, he adopted an English surname Smith, as did his family. Any least one of his sons migrated southwest to VA/WV, perhaps the Shenandoah Valley.

We begin our search by examining the ships' well-documented passenger contingents. Assuming the Smith name refers to occupation, we might begin by looking for blacksmiths:

  • 1654 Örnen (Eagle): Jöns Andersson
  • 1654 Örnen: Hendrick Andersson
  • 1655 Mercurius: Joen Staffeson

Jöns lived in the Colony, but when he died, he left his entire fortune to his son-in-law. He likely had no male descendants. Joen has not been documented to have settled in the Colony. Hendrick lived in Crane Hook from 1663 until his death in ~1696, just above the Maryland border. Hendrick and wife Margareta had at least one son, Jacob. Jacob and mother Margaret are documented to have identified themselves as Smith when signing documents after 1700. So far, Jacob seems like a viable candidate for our ancestor; further investigation is warranted.

This may always be a work-in-progress. Working from the other end, we try to follow our historic ancestors from pre-Revolutionary Virginia to Finnish ancestry. I have found two other Smith lineages sharing this Finnish SNP, and living in VA in the 18th century. I have yet to discover any genealogical links between these three lineages. How did we get there?

Thanks to Wade, frequent contributor to the forum at the FTDNA I-M223 Y-DNA Project forum, for suggesting we look at the New Sweden Colony of the Delaware River, which grew to hundreds of Finns, beginning in 1638.

Now I search there for Finnish blacksmiths with names like Hendricksson, Andersson, and Pietersson, who had sons and adopted the Smith surname when the English took over. I'm still working on this; records are sketchy and these were a far backwoods lot. Give them an axe, canoe, a few food animals, rye and barley seed, turn them loose in the deep forest, and likely never lay eyes on them again. Through their simple lives and strength of families, they were able to find accommodation and mutual respect with nature and among the indigenous peoples, repeating on these shores their success formula in Scandinavia, masters of forest living.

We have three Smith families to follow back about four generations. One of the Smith lines has a tree going back to ancestors Joseph and Jacob Smith, before 1750 in Virginia. If verifiable, we have just a single generation gap to fill, in order to exclaim BINGO. Interestingly, the New Sweden blacksmith candidate, Hendrick Andersson above, had a son Jacob, who appears to have used surname Smith in public records.

Hopefully, these three lineages are enough people around which to organize some of the fragmented data we encounter. While facts unrelated to specific people are of historical value, they are of no present value to genealogists.

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