Emigration Ships and Passenger Lists

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

Approximately a quarter of the Iceland’s population, some 15 to 20,000 people, left Iceland during the emigration period which nominally ran from 1870 - 1914. Some people emigrated before and after those years, but they often went individually or in small family units. During the emigration period, many Icelanders traveled in larger groups. Often they started on cargo ships bound for Denmark. After disembarking in Leith (Port for Edinburgh, Scotland), they took an overland train to Glasgow. From there they departed on an Allen line ship leaving Greenock (Port for Glasgow) bound for Quebec City. And from there - a train into the interior of North America to destinations that they had only read about. (80% of the emigrants first settled in Canada.)

In our last Newsletter / Blog, David Johnson talked about one particular voyage of the S/S Copeland as well as an exhibit that Cathy Josephson has put together for the East Iceland Emigration Center in Vopnafjörður which describes the experiences of our emigrating ancestors. (Cathy will be speaking about this exhibit at the 100th Icelandic National League Convention in Winnipeg in May.) This newsletter will describe some of the activities that Icelandic Roots is doing to document each person’s journey as part of our effort to bring the people in our database to life.

In his book Vesturfaraskrá, Júníus H. Kristinsson compiled a list of 14,268 people who emigrated during the years 1870 to 1914. One of our volunteers, David Johnson, has just entered the first 10,000 of those people into our Icelandic Roots database. The information often includes the year of departure, the farm that they left from as well as the ship that they left on. From this you can infer groups of people that were traveling together.

We have collected information on many of the ships that carried our ancestors. In the database you can see their pictures along with information about length, beam, draught, displacement and propulsion. When David adds the people’s emigration entries, he includes the ship and the farm name. When you go to your emigrating ancestors page, you can click on the ship name to see its entry. For many of the farms, you can see pictures as they appear today.

The United Kingdom and Canadian governments have scanned old passenger list documents and made them available on the web. We have linked many of those to the Icelandic Roots ship entry, so you can sometimes see pages of Icelanders names as they leave Scotland and then arrive in Canada. The Icelandic National Archive is starting to scan and publish equivalent information for the first leg of the journey. On a personal note, finding the emigration page listing my great-grandparents journey to Canada was an emotional experience for me; one which help start my journey into genealogy.

Icelandic Roots also has some first-hand stories of our ancestors emigration experiences. While there are many more emigrants than stories, you can start to understand the pain that our ancestors experienced leaving their homeland, the trials they endured during the journey and the difficulties they encountered after arriving in North America. (If you click on Collections and Documents, you will see links to Emigration Information and Family Histories.)

Icelandic Roots database is more than just a genealogical listing of names, birth and death dates and links to parents, spouses and children. We try to bring each person to life. Adding information about ships and passenger lists is one way that we attempt to do that.

For information about how you can join the database, Click here.