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787,642 People Later...

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

By Rob Olason

Icelandic Roots Celebrates its tenth anniversary on November 12, 2023. The organization received its non-profit organization status on the same day in 2013.

At the ten-year mark, Icelandic Roots is charging ahead with an ever-expanding genealogy database. A recent check on August 5, 2023 at 6:21 pm PDST, showed 787,642 individuals in the database, and nearly 45,000 photos and other media to enhance those records. You can check the latest stats yourself by going to the homepage ( where a counter that updates every fifteen minutes is prominently featured. When you check, you will notice this article needs to be updated!

All the database maintenance is managed by a growing team of volunteers who take great pride in the accuracy of their work.

But as Icelandic Roots founder and “chief genealogist,” Sunna Furstenau is always quick to point out, “Icelandic Roots is sooo much more than just a database!”

How much more you may ask?

One only needs to take a peek at the origin story of the organization to realize that from the very beginning, even before Icelandic Roots was called “Icelandic Roots,” this vision Furstenau had always contained the seeds of community, conversation, and creativity that powers the present day at Icelandic Roots.

For example, so far in 2023, Icelandic Roots produced webinars, held online conversation hours, hosted book club gatherings, and offered live “pop-up” genealogy centers at the Icelandic National League of North America convention in Alberta, and again this month at the Icelandic festivals in North Dakota and Alberta. Plus conceived and produced the staging of a photo exhibit titled “The Icelandic Emigration Journey” at the Roarke Museum in conjunction with the Scandinavian Festival in Moorhead, Minnesota. The companion e-book for this presentation is currently in production.

In addition to these activities, like clockwork, the organization produces a free bi-weekly newsletter titled “Rætur Fréttir-Roots News” filled with original research on Icelandic topics and announcements of upcoming public events. On alternating weeks Icelandic Roots produces another newsletter for its paid membership titled “Samkoma News” that features stories and events developed for the Samkoma and database members.

Samkoma membership is another new initiative launched in mid-2023, which offers anyone interested in the membership activities of Icelandic Roots, but not interested in exploring the vast database, to join in on those other member activities.

Looking ahead, in September of 2023 a contingent of Icelandic Roots volunteers based in North America are making a pilgrimage to Iceland to honor five Icelandic emigration ports for their significant historic role in the history of Iceland and the North American Icelandic descendent community. These North American Icelandic Roots volunteers will also meet with their Icelandic peers who perform essential roles in maintaining the accuracy of the Icelandic Roots database.

Also in September, Icelandic Roots launches another wave of programming filled with the first fall book club discussion featuring “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent on October 5th. Next up is a webinar on “The Fascinating Medieval Eddas and Sagas” featuring Gísli Sigurðsson, Research Professor and Head of the Folklore Department at the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland. September also sees the resumption of the bi-weekly conversation hour, Samtal, hosted by Judy Dickson.

Icelandic Roots has been on a remarkable journey in reaching this milestone anniversary. With over seventy volunteers managing the entire gambit of the organization's tasks, “many hands do make light work.” More astonishing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, one in five new businesses fail within the first year, and by the tenth year 65% of businesses have closed their doors for good.

What is so special about Icelandic Roots that it was in the 35% of organizations still in existence at the ten-year mark?

Dave Jonasson, a volunteer since 2014, offers a simple but profound analysis of this passion project: “Icelandic Roots is a living organization.” He adds, “We know it will continue to grow and offer new services, but how that happens is unclear.”

Like any living thing, Icelandic Roots will continue to evolve, as Dave pointed out. And maybe in unexpected ways.

This present-day description of a project forging ahead into an uncertain future also applied to the increasingly difficult situation a group of Icelandic-focused genealogists faced beginning in the 1980s. They had a simple goal: Use their genealogical skills to help people solve their family tree questions. But how to do so led to confusion.

While the goal stayed simple, the path forward became increasingly difficult and frustrating. Trying to find a solution to these problems started a thirty-year evolution that was launched on the humble five-and-a-quarter-inch black-sleeved "floppy drives" that proliferated at the beginning of the personal computer revolution. Their quest progressed through the “new” smaller floppies of the 1990s, navigated the explosion of the “world wide web” and on to the present day of the always-connected always-on smartphone, where Icelandic Roots can now be accessed 24/7-no floppy needed.

As the digital world kept evolving around those genealogists who still clung to their simple goal of helping Icelandic descendants with their family trees, it was apparent that something was still missing. Their working methods needed to evolve in order to keep up with “the times” and also with the growing volume of genealogy assistance being requested.

While some of the evolution was digital, an even more critical aspect was the need to redesign their entire work process. If these genealogists were ever going to fulfill their quest to help people find family tree answers they needed to develop a way to marry this digital revolution with their passion for genealogy research into a winning combination that removed most of the obstacles that made their jobs frustrating and challenging.

The solution took years to find and the journey was filled with many stops and starts.

But in the end, the journey arrived at the answer with the beginning of Icelandic Roots on Nov 12, 2013. A system was born, refined, and put to great use on that day as it still is, a decade later.

In the next installment of this story, we have a quick visit with Sunna Furstenau, where we learn the age-old wisdom that “many cooks spoil the broth” but also if those many cooks find common ground they can join their many hands to lighten the work and make a hearty Icelandic súpur (soup).

And we also learn about “Espolin” and how it started this genealogical journey.

And meet George. And Halfdan. And Cathy, Kristy, and Rus.

The Icelandic Roots Saga continues next time when we explore: The Roots of Icelandic Roots.

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

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