North Dakota, USA
Sunna Furstenau has been working to promote cultural exchange between Icelanders and North Americans of Icelandic descent for decades. Sunna grew up in an Icelandic pioneer settlement area called Eyford in Thingvalla Township, North Dakota. Her immediate and extended Icelandic family all lived on two connecting farms, which were homesteaded by her great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.
The local Icelanders were proud of their heritage and passed traditions along through the generations, so Sunna grew up knowing she was Icelandic and always had an interest in family history. In 2003, she published two books, one about her mother’s family (Roots to Trees: Norway and Scotland) and the other about her mother-in-law’s family (Roots to Trees: Hungary and France). While researching for a book about her own Icelandic heritage, she connected with Icelandic genealogist Hálfdan Helgason, who at the time managed a large genealogy database – the foundation of what would eventually become Icelandic Roots. Sunna found another outlet for sharing her interest in genealogy when she began helping George Freeman with the genealogy center at the Deuce of August celebration in 2003. She hasn’t missed a year since.
In 2010, Sunna was elected to the board of directors of both the Icelandic National League of North America (INLNA) and the Icelandic National League of Iceland. In May 2012, she traveled around Iceland as the INLNA International Visits Program guest speaker and started a blog to document the journey, calling it Icelandic Roots. The following year, Sunna and her husband founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Icelandic Roots, centered around the genealogy database that Hálfdan Helgason had started. Since then, the organization has grown tremendously, with a team of talented, dedicated volunteers from around the world.
Alongside her work with Icelandic Roots, Sunna continued to serve on the INLNA board of directors and was president from 2016-2018. In 2017, under her leadership, North Dakota hosted the INLNA convention for the first time ever.
In August 2017, Sunna was honored to receive the Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon for her work with Icelandic Roots, the Icelandic National Leagues, and more. In April 2018, Sunna was elected to the Honorary Advisory Council in Iceland. She remains deeply involved in a multitude of projects, always with the goal of preserving our shared Icelandic heritage and promoting cultural exchange, language learning, and other educational endeavors. She is also involved in forming the new 501 (c)(3) Icelandic National League of the United States.
Over the years, Sunna has dedicated thousands of hours to volunteering with organizations that bring genealogy to the public, including Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, USGENWEB Pembina County, and the Heritage Education Commission. She created the storyboard panels and website and raised funds for the Thingvalla Memorial Site, has served as webmaster and a director for the annual Deuce of August celebration, has represented Icelandic genealogy at all sorts of Scandinavian festivals, and has given many presentations and educational seminars about Icelandic heritage and genealogy. She has written hundreds of news articles and blog posts, been interviewed for radio and television in both North America and Iceland, and even been involved with several documentary projects. She contributes regularly to the Icelandic Roots blog, posting photos, stories, and information about interesting people and places she encounters through her travels and genealogy research.
Sunna considers Icelandic Roots and the “Cousins Across the Ocean” project to be her life’s work, and after all these years, she remains just as passionate as ever about preserving and promoting our shared Icelandic heritage. She still lives in North Dakota, splitting her time between Fargo and a farm near Gardar, just up the hill from where she grew up. With her high school sweetheart husband Jeff by her side, she lives a busy and full life. Sunna and Jeff have two children, eight grandchildren, and a dog, Óðinn.