About the Author

Bruce Henderson is a computer engineer living in Southern California. With the help of his cousins he is researching the history of the Henderson family of southern Caithness. You can contact him at bruce@sigalarm.com

Vikings in the Woodshed


One of the tools the team has employed to look into the past is DNA profiling and typing through the folks at Family Tree DNA, starting with a 67 marker test of my Y chromosome. Unlike most DNA which is a mix of the mother’s and father’s genes, the Y chromosome happens to get passed pretty much verbatim with a mutation every few thousand years. As such it gives us a good idea of where the Henderson name came from as it was passed from father to son.

There is a notion of something they call a Haplogroup, which is a way of categorizing people’s ancestry by the DNA. Most of Europe falls into types called R and R1. In fact Somerled who was the progenitor of the MacDonald clan was type R1a, which was done by testing his direct male ancestors, as they have an exact copy of his Y chromosome.

When we run the Henderson Y chromosome through the same test we get the broad Haplogroup I1. This points to a fairly certain Scandinavian origin of the Henderson male chromosome, which is actually somewhat unexpected. It is true that Caithness was a thriving Nordic colony for many centuries, but even so, the I1 type is less than 20% (on average) of northern European men.

But then that broad classification only uses the first few markers or so of the 67 that I had tested on the Y chromosome, and going further is where the fun starts. Full 67 Chromosome results are linked here.

Seems that because of specific mutations, the Henderson male DNA can be further categorized into sub-group 5. As I metioned before this group was actually fairly limited, and were concentrated in Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. Furthermore, adding a few more of the elements we narrow it down into a sub-sub group (called a Subclade) that spits out a cryptic name of “I-L22-uN1”. Now if you google that you will get nothing fun, but it seems if you use “UN1” or “Ultra Norse” there is quite a bit more to be found.

So now we can classify ourselves on the Henderson ancient side as “Ultra Norse”, which is a much smaller group (but we are not done yet!). One citation from DNA researchers is that “I1-uN is very close to totally absent south of the Baltic and North Seas”. The Henderson Y chromosome shows distinct variations that are not common with Orkney, Shetland or most other “Ultra Norse” Y chromosomes. What that all means I am still looking into. Using some of the Y chromosome databases show almost no match with anyone once you get past 12 of the 67 or so factors.

Given that history states we are and offshoot of the Gunn clan, having Norse DNA makes a degree of sense, but interestingly enough, none of the Gunns that have done Y chromosome testing seem to match.

So what does this all mean? Henderson DNA is from an Ultra-Norse strain that can possibly be assigned to Henry Gunn or his band, son of George “Crowner of Caithness” Gunn who died at the Battle of St. Tears in 1478. After Henry claimed the Chiefship of the Gunns, he was talked out of it by his surviving brothers, and left to form his out outfit that became the Hendersons of Caithness and northern Sutherland. Right now I have not been able to find any Gunn Y chromosomes in the databases, but it should match if what I suspect is correct. The DNA patterns also rule out Danes, Normans, Saxons, indigenous Britons (Welsh), Picts, Romans and for the most part the Celts. In fact the Henderson Y chromosome is distinct from typical viking Y to some extent, with the genetic “pool” being from a fairly specific and limited part of Norway / Finland.

As DNA genealogy is still and emerging science, there is quite a bit left to be discovered. But as my Y chromosome has taught me, over 1,000 years ago, some norse family who were our ancestors traveled to Scotland. We have Vikings in the Woodshed.

28 comments to Vikings in the Woodshed

  • Rebecca Henderson

    I’ve been wondering if Henderson was a norse viking name, but all I could find mainly was of Scottish orgin. But with son on the end I thought it must have been of norse descent. Records don’t go back that far nowadays. Finally someone with the same last name that looks into the real history.

  • Bruce

    The -son suffix seems to not have been exclusive to the viking families, but was widespread in Scotland when surnames came into fashion. But in the case of the Hendersons of Caithness, the Viking heritage was definitely present.

  • Laurie

    Very interesting.

    I’m part Russian, so naturally my mom’s side was full of Vikings.

    My Father is an English and Scottish mix. The clan of Donald included.

    My fathers side took part in a DNA project. We were very surprised as well to find my father’s English branch came from the subpopulation group called Ultra-Norse.

    The Vikings got around.

    And Rebecca, perhaps by digging a bit deeper and in other languages you will pick up more clues.

    My Mom’s Russian name, “???????”…crazy looking but translates to “son of Peter” aka “Peterson”. Looks nothing like the original.

    It may be the same for your “Henderson”.

    I feel for all the researchers who lived before the internet. LOL


  • Laurie

    Rebecca, I forgot to add…..

    The Normans are credited with bringing the name Henry/Henri to England after their conquest.

    The name also has Germanic roots, in the first name Heinrich. The 1st syllable having roots in the word “home”, the 2nd syllable in the word “power”.

    Son of Henry “Henderson” a very cool name.

    So Viking roots for the name is not so far fetched.

  • gordon

    i am a y chromisome henderson, with strong family roots in the borders of scotland. i know that there was a strong viking influence in the are with place names like torthorwald, and valleys called dales, from the norse dahl. however it is very interesting to me as there on my paterenal side of the family there has been a multitude of cases of dupuytren’s contracture
    and there are other traits like being ginger (my father is, neither i nor my brother are), tall with very thick fingers and blue eyed. it would be interesting to find out.

  • Rebecca Henderson

    I know it has been awhile but I thought I should mention that on the link clan Henderson society I found my grandfater was a member of that society. He passed away in late 2002, I found his death records there. Unfortunally, I’ve asked my family of our heratage and it’s rather vauge. Basically Scottish and Irish on my fathers side. I have a very promentent brow like the vikings had. So it makes me wonder, but I do have an 8th dutch on my mothers side so that might have a factor.

  • K. I. Farthegn

    Here’s an easy way to tell if you have Scandinavian origins if your name ends with: -son (meaning: son-of) your origin is Swedish or Icelandic, if your surname ends with: -sen your origin is Danish (sometimes Norwegian) Norwegian name traditions are a little more archaic and not that straight forward, but if you know your of Scandinavian origin but your name does not end on either -son or -sen chances are you forefathers were Norwegian.

  • Aaron Henderson

    i have been trying to create a family tree from online sources.my Henderson family comes from Rochester,New Hampshire.i have yet to find any Hendersons from Rochester related to MY Henderson family.

  • Aaron Henderson

    i researched the name Hender online and it seems to be a surname itself from Cornwall. but how did Hender come from Henri or Henry.could Henderson be Son of Hender? but who was Hender? interestly the word Hender in spanish means “to rip apart”

  • Aaron Henderson

    what is the definition of the german/norse name Heimriech which means “Home Ruler”? does this mean Chief or Elder of a family?

  • Aaron Henderson

    if Heimreich is german,does this mean after the Saxon invasions that some Saxons stayed in Scotland afterwards and melted into Scotlad and eventually took on the scottish dialect and culture?


    There are dozens of variants of Hend(e)red, Heinrich, Hendrik, Heimreich, Heimrick etc..
    It was the name that PRUSSIAN-area tribes gave to their homeland, literally the home-kingdom or home-reich. It was used as a patriotic male name. Hendrik, Hendred etc.. are Scandinavian or Saxonised variants of the same name.

  • James D. Gray

    great web page, My oral family history was Scot-Irish The Name GRAY Scottish.. Looking for my roots I finally took the the Family tree DNA Y 37marker test..
    The results surprized me ULTRA NORSE!!!

    Now I search for a Highland Clan that my DNA Matches.
    I am The Viking Project Family Tree DNA Project.

    I also live in So Calif.

  • Aaron Henderson

    the word HENDER is (Hands) plural in Norweigen,.i discovered this through the BING search engine translator, Hend itself comes up as a different meaning, so therefor the ER at the end may be a pluralization. interestly Olaf”The Black” King of the Isle of Mann a Norweigen is said to be a Gunn forefather whom Henry Gunn proginator of Clan Henderson-Gunn is Descended. it is MY conclusion that either Henry Gunn took on the Norweigen translation of Homer Ruler(Henry)as to completely seperate himself from the Gunn clan OR the Hender were on the Isle of Mann and Cornwall BEFORE Henry Gunn styled himself Henderson.i have been told that the Hender were of clan Ragnar and present at the first sacking of Paris by the Vikings.also, in the Glencoe Henderson history its said the MacIan MacDonalds create the Henderson honoring them and making them honorary Body Guards to the Chief. possibly “HAND” hender is a translation of BodyGuard,Protector,overseer,or a knick-name signifying large prominant hands.non the less. HENDER translates to HANDS from Norse to English

  • Aaron Henderson

    what this may mean as far as the surname Henderson is the name survived through the saxxon and norse invasion even after the norse and saxxon peoples left and or remained in the british isles.it’s a name that perhaps was absorbed and distibuted throughout Scotland in this way and adopted by the natives and kept by the remaining germanic and norse.

  • CJ Henderson

    have you ever put “Hender” into a norwegian / English translator? it translates literally to “hands”. Many years ago I ran across a book that suggested, Henderson was a norweigen blacksmith.

  • Aaron Henderson

    very insightful CJ in my mind it would make sense that the word Henderson may be a word for a Norwiegen Blacksmith. in the Scottish account of the Hendersons they were body guards to clan macdonald.the word ApreHEND may have a hint about the name origin.. as George Gunn was a “Coroner” or a law man in Caithness Scotland. do you remember the name of the book that suggested the name Henderson was a norweigen Blacksmith?

  • martin henderson

    my surname is henderson, my grandfather was henry henderson,but by a strange quirk of fate , i married into the gunn family,i would love to trase back my dna, would sure be a little interesting, looks like its going round in circles

  • Ruby Henderson

    i have noticed that there are many surnames in scandinavia called “endersen”, could this be the true origin of Henderson? in some languages the first letter of a word is not even pronounced or even written down as such and vice versa….some folks down thru the ages must have added an “H” to it. could this be with the surname Henderson? and of course folks in them old days didn’t know how to spell correctly etc etc.
    I am a Henderson born in Thurso and on my grandmothers side i come from a long line of Wallaces.

  • Jim Webster

    Hi there! Traced my ancestry back to Caithness to a chap called Asketil or Haeste. I’m speculating, but he may be a relation of Sweyn Asliefsson, even a possible son, either legitimate or illegitimate, and not mentioned in the Orkney Saga. He could be his son Andreas, lets face it. Sweyn was known as John “The Furious”, “Mad”, “Vehement” in other sources. I think a Hender could also be a descendant, perhaps through Gunni. My Asketil, I think chronologically there were two, may have been a governor or similar in Dublin. The sources say he sought help from his ‘kinfolk’ when the Normans invaded. Leading this avenging force was Sweyn.

    This asides, I have the same DNA signature as you. It is really rare. A small amount of Hendersons, Hastys, Moodys, Ross and McLeods have a similar DNA signature. Three of these clans claim a link to Sweyn Asliefsson. Most of the Gunns and the aforementioned are of the R1b type. Could are ancestors have once been the Norse chieftans of a predominately traditional Pictish peoples?

  • Anthony(Tony) Whitley

    Emmaline Henderson is my grandmother. She married Paul Whitley of Atlanta Georgia, my grandfather.
    She had red hair, and 4 of her 8 children had red hair my father being one.
    Also,I and 3 of my 4 siblings have/had red hair. I have no family information about my grandmother.
    If you know of Emmalline Ruth Henderson’s family please contact me.

    Tony Whitley

  • Anthony L Whitley

    Regarding Emmaline Ruth Henderson, I have found a 26, June 1900 census which list my grandmother as the daughter of George W. and Sara A. Henderson of Ellenwood, Clayton County. Georgia. I have reason to believe that they were of Norwegian descent as my uncle Fred, son of Paul N.and Emma Henderson Whitley, was a member of the WWII First Special Service Force/99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and the 474th Infantry Regiment (Separate). They were known as’The Devil’s Brigade’. They were a group of select men of Norwegian descent from Canada, the USA, and Norwegian nationals who were stranded in America when he German Army invaded Norway.

  • Barry Brown

    Finnish church records are very accessible online, and provide a good history of who lived where, from whence they came, and to where they moved.
    In my wife’s family there was a chap, a shoemaker, from a Swedish-speaking community in Finland named Jonas Skogberg born about 1736, who in 1786 married Helena ”Lena” Mattsdotter in the parish of Sipoo.
    In the church records for 1768-1775 for ‘Hinsby-Pigby’ said Jonas is named as Jonas Hendersson, to which has been added his newly adopted surname ‘Skogberg’, under which he was later known.he was living with his sister (Maria Hendersdotter),and her husband, Anders Boström
    In the preceding church record book, for the years 1759-1775, Jonas Hendersson, with the same aformentioned Boströms, here: http://digi.narc.fi/digi/view.ka?kuid=6341625
    In the book preceding that one, for the years 1745-1756, he’s Jonas Hendersson at Hinsbyn Spuitsund Martis (last line), in the image here: http://digi.narc.fi/digi/view.ka?kuid=6341480

    Surnames were not common in Scandinavia in the 1700’s, only people in the military had adopted surnames, and the adoption of surnames only became widespread in the mid 1800’s.
    Sons were “sons of” – ie.Andersson -son of Anders, Gustafsson -son of Gustaf, etc. – and daughters were daughter-of (as still used in Iceland today) – ie.Nilsdotter, or Mattsdotter – daughter of Nils/Matt in the Swedish-speaking communities, but in Finnish communities that would have been Nilsintyttär and Matintyttär.

    So, those Finnish church records of the 1700’s from that Swedish speaking area show that there were innumerable Anderssons, Gustafssons, and Nilssons,etc., but Hendersson is a conundrum – because there wasn’t a given name “Hender”.
    It would seem, that whereas today someone named Henrik or Hendrik here is often called “Henkka” (a nick-name), at that time someone named Henrik, Hendrik, Hindrich or Heindrich would perhaps have been called by the nickname “Hender”.


  • peter henderson

    ha my dna done and i was told it relates back to norse dna i dont know whete to go from this the henderson on my side came from crawfordjohn lin the late 1700s then around linlithgowshire aa but how can one know just being told it is norse viking line

  • Jim Webster

    Hi! Me again. My ancestor John Henryson of Wesbister (Wester in Caithness) dates to the 14th Century in Aldborough North Yorskhire. This predates any references made to Hendersons mentioned in the shaky mythologised Gunn ancestry. I think my lot moved around the time of the early 1300s around the time of the Battles of Boroughbridge and Myton Upon Swale. Its at this time that a number of Scots start to appear as inhabitants of this area in the Manor Court Rolls. A Richard of West Lith is also linked with my ancestor in land transactions. This maybe West Lith hamlet and farmstead in Caithness, once owned by the Mansons, another sept of Clan Gunn. Interestingly the Mann family also occur at the same time in the Aldborough Court Rolls….coincidence? One branch of this line became baronets.

  • Theresa Henderson

    We are a family of Henderson’s with generations of red heads, the Nordic blue eyes, tall, large hands, heavy boned, and long fingers. We have a deep love of the sea, and a few blacksmiths thrown in for good measure. It was told to me that our name was translated as “Son of Hendron” from the Norse, then was found in Scotland many generations later with the variations we see today. We also have many relatives from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Seems to be a common thread with many of us. My DNA testing showed 38% of my DNA as coming from Scandinavia, and 50% from the British Isles, with the rest from areas where the Vikings have been known to travel.

  • Dai Mitchell

    Hendersons certainly spread themselves around. Signing in from New Zealand in South Pacific, My family has a Henderson approx 4-5 generations back, would explain the beserker rage haha. Have looked into it a little, Do the Hendersons have any claim to title?

  • Susan (Forward) Winch

    Hello,my brother, Philip FORWARD, had his DNA tested, and our father’s haplogroup is also I1. Yes, relatively rare. The FORWARD family, I have traced back to 1500 in MERE, Wiltshire. Now, either that means we are Saxon incomers, from northern Europe, or a viking settler found his way (or his descendants) into leafy Wiltshire…
    Oddly, my Forward clan has a very distinctive physical feature – a lot of the males in our family have very prominent chins. On the off-chance, I looked into other pictures of male FORWARDs on Ancestry – several had the very same chin!

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