Icelandic Roots & Genealogy

Genealogy is a national pastime in Iceland. Visitors to Iceland have often come back with stories about how they were approached on the street and asked about their families and how they were related (particularly in the more remote areas of Iceland). The infamous Icelandic genealogy database contains an amazing number of the inhabitants of Iceland from the date it was originally settled back in the 9th century, as well as a very high connectivity rate. Chances are very good that if you can trace your genealogy back to original settlers from Iceland, you will be able to find them in this database and make connections.

The First Europeans to Settle in North America & Leifur Eiriksson

In the year 2000, the Governments of Iceland, Canada and the USA recognized that a millennium had passed since the first settlement from Iceland was established in North America with Leifur Eiriksson. Celebrations were held in Iceland and across North America.

  • Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga
    This exhibit was presented at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Examining the arts, culture, technology and mythology of a highly complex people, “Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga”, it sheds new light on a people who have been stereotyped as violent invaders. The exhibition reveals a rich legacy, demonstrating that the Vikings were not only intrepid explorers but also skilled farmers, fine artisans and enterprising traders. The exhibit’s permanent home is at the Smithsonian Institution, and quite a bit of information is available online.
  • Snorri Statue commemorating the First European Woman to give Birth on North American Soil
    Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir, wife of Þorfinnur Karlsefni, gave birth to a son in about 1004, during their stay in Vinland. This son, Snorri Þorfinnsson is the first child of European descent to be born in North America. The statue, of mother and son, was unveiled in Ottawa during the millennium and is on exhibit at National Archives of Canada. There is an identical copy of the statue in Iceland.
  • Vinland – L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
    In 1960, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad were able to find the location of “Vinland” by following the Viking sagas recorded in medieval Icelandic manuscripts. The site at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland was excavated, and the remains of eight buildings and hundreds of Viking artifacts were unearthed. It is recognized as one of the world’s major archaeological properties and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Icelandic Emigration in the Late 19th Century

There were a number of factors that caused the wave of emigration out of Iceland in the latter half of the 19th century, including natural and economic hardships. By 1914, around one fifth of all Icelanders had left for the New World.

Of particular interest to most Icelandic Canadians, is the migration of settlers who came to Canada and settled in the interlake area of Manitoba. The Republic of New Iceland was established by the Canadian Government for exclusive settlement of Icelanders in 1875. Today, Gimli, Manitoba has largest number of Icelandic-speaking residents outside of Iceland.

In 1874, the first large group of Icelanders to arrived in Canada. These 352 people settled briefly in Kinmount, Ontario before moving on to found New Iceland at Gimli; and this forgotten piece of history has now been recaptured. An INL initiative, carried out by the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto, this took the form of a statue representing the spirit of the settlers and carved in limestone. The statue was unveiled as part of the millennium celebrations. Because the ICCT took on the leadership of this project, you will find quite a bit of information on this website about the Kinmount settlement, including the passenger list.