By Julie Summers
This is the second post in a series about people who have discovered their Icelandic roots – or connected to them more deeply – later in life. Last time, I shared with you the story of Lee and Rhea Marcellus, siblings who uncovered the truth about their grandfather’s Icelandic birth mother through determined detective work and the help of Icelandic Roots’ extensive database and dedicated volunteers. Today’s story is about Andrew Bendin, who learned first-hand the power of social media in bringing people together – even members of one’s own family.
For Andrew Bendin, a photo album casually posted to Facebook turned out to be the key to unlocking his family history. Growing up in New Jersey, Andrew believed he was primarily of Spanish and Italian ancestry. Over the years, he learned that he also had Cuban, Portuguese, and British-Canadian heritage. But the branch of the family belonging to Andrew’s paternal grandmother remained something of a mystery.
Then, while on a landscape photography tour in Iceland, Andrew posted several pictures on Facebook. A second cousin commented, encouraging him to “say hi to [their] ancestors.” Utterly confused, Andrew contacted the cousin, who informed him that his great-great grandmother had emigrated from Iceland in the late 19th century. Through his own research, Andrew concluded that it was Jennie Emma Isman who originally came from Iceland. After a friend told him about Icelandic Roots, Andrew connected with volunteer genealogists and received a “treasure trove of information” about his ancestors, dating back hundreds of years. Ultimately, Jennie Isman was revealed to have been born near Egilsstaðir in 1870 as Kristjana Ingibjörg Bergvinsdóttir. Emigrating to Canada as a child, she eventually settled in Minnesota.
Andrew says knowing the truth about his heritage has affected him more than he thought it would. While on the photo tour that sparked this discovery, Andrew says he fell deeply in love with the country and really felt at home. When Andrew told his tour guide, Þórarinn Jónsson, that he was part Icelandic, Þórarinn offered to help Andrew with some genealogy research. Soon, Andrew found out he had spent the last week camping, mountain climbing, and being drenched by the Icelandic rain with his long-lost 10th cousin, and the woman who runs the travel company that organized the trip turned out to be his 7th cousin. It’s those sorts of connections that made Andrew feel like visiting Iceland was more like going home than visiting a foreign country. Andrew says discovering his heritage has made him want to “dive in deeper” to learn about Icelandic history and culture. He’s been reading the sagas and is making an effort to learn the language: “I can correctly pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, so I think that’s half the battle,” he jokes. He plans to return to Iceland this summer – “and likely many more times after that.”
Thanks to Andrew for sharing his story with us. Keep your eyes out for the next post in this series, where we’ll share another Icelandic Roots success story. And if you need help unraveling a genealogy mystery, or have your own story to tell, contact us here.
Julie Summers is a translator, Snorri Program alum, and Icelandic Roots volunteer who has been living in Iceland since 2014. Last year, she received an Icelandic Roots scholarship in support of her studies at the University of Iceland. She is currently working toward a master’s in translation studies.