Tips for Beginning Icelandic Research

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This article will provide tips for people who are beginning Icelandic research.

  • Organize the information you have gathered about your Icelandic ancestors on family tree chart (aka pedigree charts) and family group record forms.  This will allow you to see where gaps exist in terms of dates and places.  This is very important, since you will eventually need to find the name of a place where your Icelandic ancestor(s) was born, christened, married, or died to take the next step in your research.  That is because life events take place and are recorded within defined, legal jurisdictions.  In Iceland the lawful record keepers were the Lutheran ministers.   Their records will contain your ancestor's information.  However, you need to be aware of the following:    
  • In Iceland, as in all Scandinavian countries, the patronymic naming system is used.  That means, from the time records began to be kept, up through today if you are a native Icelander, your surname (family name) is formed by taking your natural father's first name and add adding "-sson" or "-dottir" to it.  If you are an American with Icelandic ancestry surnamed "Peterson," and you discover your great grandfather, "John Peterson" was the immigrant ancestor - that means his natural father's first name was "Petter/Peder/Peter."  If you have Icelandic ancestry and do not have a surname which ends in "-son/sen" it is possible the immigrant ancestor, or the next generation down might have taken the name of the farm or villge they came from in Iceland to be known by.  A search of an Icelandic gazetteer could help you find that name and the jurisdiction to which it belongs.   (Note:  Insert link to gazetteer when it is up) 
  • Because of the use of the patronymic system there could be many people by the same name living in the same place, who are totally unrelated.  Use available census records to try and find family groupings, relationships, ages. Then, use the church records to find actual birth/christening, marriage and death dates as you put together your Icelandic family tree.   
  • Iceland is somewhat unique among the countries of the world in that it is building a national family tree.  A native Icleander has the privilege of accessing this through a special program and code.  If you are an American with Icelandic ancestors, and still have ties to someone in Iceland, they might be able to access your common family tree.  If not, then research in original records may be needed to put together your family tree.
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