Understanding Icelandic Places - Part I

Updated: Jan 23

Written by Doug Hanson, Icelandic Roots Map Expert


Genealogy is fun because it gives us insight into the past lives of our ancestors. One of the unique aspects of the Icelandic Roots approach to genealogy is to go beyond the chronology and include photos, histories and places information, including map information for ancestral farms and parishes. Knowing WHERE our ancestors came from adds perspective about how they lived and why many chose to emigrate from Iceland.

One of the challenges in studying our Icelandic heritage is understanding the unique geographic place names of Iceland. Most online resources such as Google maps and most genealogy software have difficulty finding locations in Iceland due to historical name and boundary changes and the tradition of farm-based locations rather than towns and cities.

Let’s try to clarify our understanding of Icelandic places a bit. We’ll start with counties, or sýsla. Although currently divided into numerous municipalities, most Iceland locations in the IR database are annotated by historical farm, sókn (parish), hreppur (district), and sýsla (county), from smallest to largest area. Location information comes primarily from church and census records and these entries often lack one or more of the geographic divisions. Because farm names are often not unique, knowing the sýsla and the sókn are the best starting points to identify which part of Iceland a farm is located.


The map above shows sýsla locations within Iceland. A little understanding of them really helps take the confusion out of Icelandic place names! If you have not already joined, we hope you will consider becoming a member and can then enjoy exploring your family’s Icelandic places in the IR database. The Icelandic Roots volunteer team has geo-tagged many Icelandic places and we add many more each week.

In a future post, we will continue our exploration of Icelandic places and will introduce some useful resources for learning more.

Doug Hanson is our map expert and is making amazing contributions to the IR Database. New word for the day ..... kortasérfræðingur (map expert). In the database, you can see your family farms and locations at the bottom of their personal page. You can zoom in and out on the page, see the roads, the satellite view, and much more. The abandoned farms are also being geo-tagged - so this is exciting work being done by the IR Volunteers.

To join the database as a supporting member, click here.

#Genealogy #IcelandFarms #PlacesinIceland #Sýsla #Sókn

Icelandic Roots is a non-profit, educational, heritage organization specializing in genealogy, history & traditions of our Icelandic ancestors.

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