'Islendingabok' - the Book of Icelanders Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Islendingabok' - the Book of Icelanders

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Iceland, being a rather small nation of literary-minded people, enjoys a rather unique position in the world. The inhabitants can not only tell you when the land was first settled, they can tell you by whom and also how that first settler is related to them1. It might involve copious use of the word 'great', but eventually, they will get there.

A millennium after the first settlers arrived, Icelanders still know where in Norway their family originated from2; from what village in Ireland one of their ancestresses was pillaged away from; and why on earth one of the great-great-greats was half-French.

Historically, Icelanders have always been very interested in genealogy, finding some sport in tracing their heritage back to people like Queen Aud in Ireland, King Harald the Fair-Hair and Grettir Ásmundsson, who wrestled a ghost. For the most part, this has been a verbal history, written down sporadically as some educated person took an interest and took it upon themselves to make sure Icelanders didn't lose their history.

Unlike the UK and other countries in Europe and Asia, there are few relics in Iceland, few monuments to the great old ones, Gods, armies, kings and queens - the Icelanders' history is their great treasure. This knowledge of self has given Icelanders a rather unique perspective and a certain haughtiness that is difficult to imitate; Icelanders know they come from great families of old, from kings and queens and that their lineage is as great as any royal family can boast3.

So how do they know this? Does every child in Iceland spend their days working to memorise entire lineages? The fact is that since these are highly modern times and Icelanders are quick to catch novel ideas and make them their own, all this information is available online. One man, realising that there was a market for a computer program that kept all this information and could be updated at will, with little computer programming gadgets, took his chance. He started a company, named it after himself4 and went into business.

By using National Statistics of Iceland, censuses for the past centuries and other sources, he got his program up and running. Then, selling it to the people, he and others realised what a treasure this was. They put everything together in one rather big database and then put it online. The end result is Íslendingabók5, to which anyone Icelandic can gain access, and look at the information gathered about themselves and their family. The name was borrowed from the original Íslendingabók by Ari 'Fróði' Þorgilsson, thought to have been written between 1122 and 1133; it told the history of Iceland from settlement to the time of writing.

This newer database is to span all Icelanders, living or dead, and although some information is sketchy at best, the database will be updated and kept alive with new generations. Access is restricted to your family and you must pre-apply for a username and password, but by inputting a name into a search box, you can find out just how you are related to the first settler, the Prime Minister or the latest pop star.

1Another advantage, perhaps, of living in a small country is that everyone is related to everyone else, in a broad sense.2But please, do not refer to Icelanders or Icelandic heroes of old as Norwegian, as there is a great custody battle going on as to who belongs to whom. Was Leifur Eiriksson Icelandic or Norwegian? Ask one person from each nation and you will get two completely different answers, usually involving long explanations and half their country's history.3In fact, in many cases, it will be the exact same lineage!4Friðrik Skúlason ehf.5Unfortunately, this resource is still not available in English.

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