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Importance of Place

Updated: Dec 28, 2019

What is a place? In the most simple terms, a place is a geographic location. In genealogy records, a place could be a street address, a farm, a parish or a larger area such as a valley, county, state or province. Along with dates, names, and relationships, these geographic elements are crucial to tracing genealogical linkages to the past.

Places, however, are far more than just locations associated with births, deaths, marriages or other events. Places are where we live our lives! Whether a rural town, a city block, a suburban street or a small turf hut on an Icelandic farm, these places are meaningful because they are where we work and play and experience life! The same was true for our ancestors.

Abandoned farm in Iceland, Másstaðir, Vatnsdalur, Austur Húnavatnssýsla by Doug Hanson, August 2018

At Icelandic Roots, we go beyond simple dates and times and strive to tell stories. The photos, community histories, maps and more in our genealogy database are how we tell these stories. Among these resources, our interactive mapping capability is a feature of which we are particularly proud.

Our maps work by digitally plotting key places using Google maps. With our system, users can see a satellite image of locations for the key events in a person’s life. For each plotted farm or town, one can view the geographic coordinates and use them to travel to the site and see it in person. Many of our members utilize this feature to visit ancestral farms during trips to Iceland, where place names can be particularly difficult for western Icelanders to understand. We often include farm and church photos, too, so that members can get a real sense of the places where their ancestors lived without the expense of international travel.

Maps also give us the unique ability to visualize historic migration patterns as our ancestors moved from place to place due to changing climate and economic conditions. In Iceland, these factors often contributed toward decisions to emigrate. In North America, we can also see patterns as people moved westward. Seeing the farms and parishes plotted on a single map makes these patterns much easier for us to see and appreciate.

Places are vital to our study of genealogy. In addition to giving us clues to finding historic records, locations can also help define the conditions under which our ancestors lived. We hope you'll take advantage of geographic information, such as the maps feature in the Icelandic Roots database, to explore, to visit, and to reflect upon the sense of place that is such a vital component of our shared Icelandic heritage.

This article was first published in the Lögberg-Heimskringla newspaper. Reprinted with permission of the author and the L-H. To purchase a subscription to the only Icelandic newspaper in North America,

The team at Icelandic Roots has your story, interactive maps, photos, emigration information, plus much more. Help preserve our Icelandic story for the generations to come. Complete the 'Cousins Across the Ocean' form. Find Your Story.

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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