When my kids were in middle school and learned about the Vikings, the educational movie came with pictures of their grandparents' house. Although this location has resulted in many visits to the Viking Ships' Museum in Roskilde over the years, this summer was the first time I took a guided tour.
Historians count the Viking Age from the plunder of Lindisfarne in 793 to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. From Norway to Normandy, societies had developed from disorganized local bands into organized sea-faring nations.
By the end of the Viking Age, the Danes were Christians, the first Cathedral in Roskilde was almost 100 years old, and they had had a Cathedral School for 46 years.
The visit was instructive. Not just for the obvious new(old) tidbits I learned about Viking ships but even more for the reflections the guide shared:
"We have many Americans visiting who have learned they have Scandinavian ancestry from doing a genetic test. They are very proud of their Viking blood."
He contrasted this with the attitude of many Swedes who express almost regret that their ancestors might be counted among the marauding hordes of yore.
Erik the Red is among the more famous Vikings. As much as one can respect his sea-faring abilities, he was still a murderer and an outlaw. Would you have wanted him for your 30xgreat grandfather?
If you don't live in the land of your ancients, why did your ancestors leave? Were they outlaws, too? Did they run away from debt? Had they made some girls pregnant?
The world is full of colorful ancestors one can be more or less proud of.
It felt personal to me. I have just read my great-great-grandfather's memoir and have discovered that I don't think I would have liked him one bit. He was a government official wielding the law in the Danish colonies before he returned to live out his life in Denmark.
Still, I feel kinship with him in that we have both lived many years away from our birth country and our closest relatives. His life story made it normal to live away from Denmark and because of that, his descendants have given me cousins all over the world. I am not odd to my family for living outside the country.
(At least, that is what I tell myself. It may be wrong.)
My trip to Denmark this year included a high school reunion. I learned that in 2020 my school will celebrate its 1000 years' birthday.
Take that, Harvard.
For ancestral achievements, I do think building a society with free education for all is something to be proud of.