In genetic genealogy, Dr. Ken Nordtvedt is one of the icons of early Y-DNA Haplogroup origins research. His earliest work was in sub-grouping Y-DNA Haplogroup I using STR marker based clusters. A resident of Montana, Ken lives with his wife.
Rebekah: Please tell me about yourself. Are you currently working or retired? What are your other hobbies or interests outside of genealogy?
Ken: I am a mathematical physicist doing research in gravity, space, and time; we folks never seem to retire from our investigations, whether employed or on pension. I am also interested in most all of the hard sciences and in history. Politics has, since 1950, been one of my other interests and passions. I used to travel a lot, ski and sail, and backpack into the mountains until arthritis got in the way.
Rebekah: How long have you been actively involved in genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?
Ken: About 40 years ago, my great aunt sent me some genealogical work she had done on her branch of the family, and I remember feeling it was sort of cool. I never met three of my grandparents, and my fourth one spoke only minimally of her background. My parents also were quite silent about their childhoods and family histories. So I had a stored up desire to learn more of my roots, which I began to satisfy as I acquired more leisure time in middle life. A trip to Norway in 1970s, which included a visit to a genealogical library in Trondheim, got me started expanding my genealogical information on that branch of my ancestry. I especially have enjoyed finding ancestors in time and place with interesting historical events transpiring. So discovering I had many ancestral roots in colonial America starting as early as the 1620s certainly spurred me on, given the historical connections with my nation’s beginnings. Advent of the internet in late 1990s opened up a new era in my research. And relative proximity to the LDS genealogical library in Salt Lake City was helpful in keeping the hobby alive.
Rebekah: At what point did you decide to become involved in genetic genealogy?
Ken: I have been an enthusiastic student of Darwin’s theory of evolution since college days, and I came across Cavalli-Sforza’s work on using proteins to trace human dispersions in the world slightly before DBA testing came on the scene. I took my first Y-DNA test in early 2004 and soon learned of a distant genealogical cousin’s test, which revealed my maternal grandfather also was of Haplogroup I. An estimate of their common ancestor came up with a time to most recent common ancestor of 3000 years ago, and I was thereafter hooked on the new hobby, especially with regard to Y Haplogroup I.
Rebekah: What genetic ancestry tests have you taken?
Ken: Y Haplotype to 111 markers, select individual SNP tests, FF, full MTDNA, 23andMe, Chromo2, and Big Y.
Rebekah: Have you tested family members?
Ken: I found a sixth cousin with the same surname and paper genealogy leading back to my earliest surname ancestor via different sons. I purchased a Y haplotype for him and confirmed our genetic closeness as well as the faithfulness of the ladies along both our lines (we are 11 generational transitions apart). I found a male line descendant of a different great-great-grandfather whose origins brings me to a brick wall in 1796 NJ. I purchased a test for this distant relative and found he firmly fits a cluster in his surname project at FTDNA. Founder of this project cluster was from Bristol England and migrating to NJ 1725. Unfortunately, the gap between the two ends, 1725 and 1796, has not been closed yet. Finding male line descendants from two other great-grandfathers, I sponsored Y haplotype tests for them. Both turn out to be in northern Europe’s ubiquitous R1b Haplogroup but different branches. One great-grandfather’s Y-DNA does not match another male member of the same extended family, which came to Pennsylvania in 1748.
Rebekah: Have you ever been surprised by your or your family’s test results?
Ken: My Y-DNA Haplotype fits into a 2000 year old clade of I1, which otherwise consists mainly of males of Scot descent. My Y-DNA was definitely in Norway in 1771. So working out how and when some male line ancestor moved from Norway to Scotland or vice versa is an obvious challenge.
Rebekah: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Ken: Not yet.
Rebekah: Are you involved as a group project administrator? If so, what made you decide to become involved? What projects do you administer or co-administer?
Ken: I am co-administrator for several projects that cover different sectors of Haplogroup I. Since my research hobby has been broadened to cover the whole range of Haplogroup I and how it spread to refill Europe after the last glacial maximum, these co-administrator positions help me to more efficiently gather the DNA data needed to carry out my study.
Rebekah: Have you witnessed success stories in your projects?
Ken: Sure; many. As a researcher and data organizer for the entire Y Haplogroup I, I exchange messages with many individuals, some of who have discovered genealogical era connections they only suspected or of which they were previously not aware.
Rebekah: What advice would you give someone starting out in genealogy or personal ancestry DNA testing?
Ken: Be primarily dedicated to uncovering the truth of history including your family’s history; don’t let preconceived beliefs or family stories stand in the way of making discoveries, although it is amazing how often there are nuggets of truth, however vague, in those stories. It is very difficult to better the drama of real history.
Rebekah: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
Ken: We are not far off from any male being able to know his full and unique route through the ancestral tree back to genetic Adam. Those with a genius with words will even be able to construct oral presentations of their full ancestry, as the typical male today will need to remember only about 40 or 50 nodes in the specification of his ancestry going back many tens of thousands of years to the Y tree founder.
As the Y-DNA from more and more ancient bones, thousands of years old, is reassembled by clever folks working with the ever-improving technologies of their labs, we will acquire much more hard evidence of how and when our ancestors moved to fill the globe in the deep prehistoric eras. And our connection with them will be made more stronger, as their Y-DNA will be placed on ancient branch lines or extinct side branches of the same tree for which we sit today as branch terminals.