Iceland’s Entire Family Tree is Online

I’m jealous! One country has everyone’s family tree, complete with original source citations, online and available for all the country’s citizens to see. In fact, there is even an Android app available to show each Icelandic citizen his or her genealogy, in most cases back to 874 AD.

Everyone in Iceland is related. Every member of the 300,000 population derives from the same family tree, according to genealogy website islendingabok.is.

Íslendingabók

Íslendingabók

The islendingabok.is web site hosts the online registry Íslendingabók (“The Book of Icelanders”). In it one can find information about the families of about 720,000 individuals who were born in Iceland at some point in time. Anyone who is registered in the database has free access to it.

Íslendingabók is the product of a cooperation between Icelandic company, deCODE Genetics, and Fridrik Skúlason, who first began registering genealogy information in 1988 into a program called Espólín. In 1997 Skúlason and deCODE began cooperating on registrations for genealogy research, and Íslendigabók was born.

Íslendingabók claims to be the only genealogy database in the world that covers a whole nation. More than 95 percent of all Icelanders born since 1703, when the first national census was taken, are registered in the database, along with half of all Icelanders who have lived on the island from the settlement in 874 until 1703.

The registrations in Íslendingabók are based on a whole range of sources, such as censuses, church books, the national registry, ancient scripts, annals, obituaries, and more. These kinds of documents were more accurate and better preserved than comparable documents in other countries, according to islendingabok.is, probably because Icelanders have always been interested in genealogy.

In fact, genealogy can be considered a national sport in Iceland. When people introduce their partners to the elderly members of their family for the first time, they usually ask: “Hverra manna er hann (eða hún)?” which translates to: “Who are his (or her) people?” In the Icelandic sagas, each character is introduced by a long listing of his or her ancestors.

The database is in Icelandic and is unfortunately not available in other languages. Access to the genealogical database Íslendingabók is currently limited to Icelandic citizens and legal residents of Iceland who have been issued an Icelandic ID number (kennitala).

Genealogists in Iceland say all Icelanders are descendants of the bishop Jón Arason. Arason and his partner, Helga Sigurdardóttir, had at least nine children, and all of them also apparently had large families. It is believed that every person now alive in Iceland can find this one couple someplace in their family tree. In fact, most Icelanders can find the couple at multiple places in the family tree.

You can read more about this in the Iceland Review Online at http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_life/?cat_id=16539&ew_0_a_id=262375.

With a population of only 320,000, most every Icelander is related to everyone else to varying degrees. This can make dating a bit of a headache. You don’t want to find out that your current boyfriend or girlfriend is a not-so-distant cousin. Yes, it happens. Sometimes dating couples find they are dating their second cousin. Luckily, there is an Android dating app to solve the problem of dating someone who you didn’t realize is a close relative.

iceland-dating-appThe app is also called Íslendingabók. Both people need the app and all they have to do to activate it is bump their phones together. This plays right into the apps slogan which is “Bump the app before you bump in bed”. Once you have bumped phones the app they takes the users names and creates a family tree based on the database. With the family tree you can then see how closely you are related to the person.

The Íslendingabók app is only available in the Icelandic language. Account registration is restricted to those who have an Icelandic social security number. If that works for you, check out the Íslendingabók app at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=is.ses.apps.islendingaapp.

7 Comments

I remember having read about the app and that one of its purposes was to alert people to how closely related they were. I also have a vague memory of something similar in South Korea, another country with a closely intertwined population.

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Now, if everyone there could DNA test, we’d probably be able to figure out all the DNA of all their ancestors.

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One of the main reasons for the db IS to see how closely related people are … not just for dating, but eventual marriage too. It prevents too close a family connection amongst a fairly small population. An Islandic friend told me that at least a couple awkward relationships have been avoided in her family alone through this db.

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Reader in Reykjavík February 28, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Just a few corrections:

In the Íslendingabók database you can only see full details on your own ancestors, as well as anyone born before 1700. So everyone’s genealogy isn’t actually “available for all the country’s citizens to see.”

There are source citations, but they are cryptic and lead largely to secondary sources.

It’s probably a considerable overstatement to say that the database contains half of the Icelanders who lived between the settlement and 1703.

Icelandic genealogy was no better preserved than in other northern European countries. Rather worse. Parish registers in Iceland started quite late by European standards. Seventeenth-century Icelandic genealogy is very difficult and the eighteenth century is also hard.

The dating app is fun and it gets a lot of press, but it’s ultimately sort of gimmicky. Most Icelanders who are closely enough related to have it matter genetically know that already.

The Íslendingabók database isn’t being maintained or revised very much any more, although I understand that new births are added. There are several other similar databases, also in private hands with limited public access.

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One of my first cousins once removed married an Icelander. My relative and I were enthusiastically poring over a family tree another relative had created, trying to figure out who our ancestors were. I hadn’t met her husband before, and he was being very quiet. I asked him if he’d done his genealogy. He was very kind in how he told me about Iceland’s interest in genealogy, and that he knew multiple generations. I later learned the depth of Iceland’s database, and the dating app. He could have blasted our naive enthusiasm, but he didn’t, and I appreciated that. A nice man.

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As a descendant of Icelanders in the U.S., I sure would like to have a way to access this!

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While visiting in Iceland I leafed through the newspaper mostly looking at the pictures since I cannot read any Icelandic. The obituaries caught my eye. Many of them gave what appeared to me to be birthdates of grandparents, children and grandchildren. One even had a family tree attached going back three generations. An Icelander showed me the operation of the database. She could tell from that how she was related to Eric the Red, the Prime Minister, or just about any of the other Icelanders.

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