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The 1816 Iceland Census

The 1816 Census is a wonderful resource that includes names, household positions, the farm they are living on, their marital status, age, the Parish (Sókn), and the County (Sýsla). A very important and unique feature is the listing of their birth location. You must click on the person´s name to get their place of birth. While the information is occasionally false, it is often one of the best resources for information at that time. The genealogists from Icelandic Roots can then go to the Parish Birth/Baptism records to gain further information.

Pages from an 1874 Icelandic Parish Record
Pages from an 1874 Icelandic Parish Record

A comprehensive census was taken in 1801. The Icelandic Roots Library has a copy in book form. Then in 1816, each parish was to conduct a census and the work continued until 1819. The National Archives of Iceland preserve the records and have made many available online including 1703, 1816, 1835, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1910, and 1920.

To find the Census Records:

To find Parish Records:

Text on the National Archives website regarding the 1816 Census follows.

On 23 March 1815, Bishop Geir Vídalín wrote a letter to all regional deans in Iceland. As representative of the Bishop, a dean was responsible for a number of benefices, each with at least one parish. The letter accompanied a directive from the Chancellery in Copenhagen dated 11 December 1812, containing regulations pertaining to entries in church registers, and their format. Bishop Vídalín instructed the deans to obtain books that complied with the directive. Church registers should be folio (single-fold), and entries were to be made in two books at the same time. One book was to be for the whole benefice and kept in the custody of the pastor, and the other should be in a church in each parish or kept by the parish treasurer (deacon’s book/djáknabók). A census of parishioners made on the first Sunday in Advent, 1816 was to be entered at the front of that book. The census was to include information about name, position in society, age and birthplace, which was a new requirement.
Most pastors complied with the bishop’s request, but others ignored it. And despite the bishop’s instructions about the date, some pastors recorded the census in 1816, a few in 1817 and several later. So execution of the census did not quite go according to the bishop’s plan. Over time some of the parish registers have been lost for various reasons.
In the 1940s, the Icelandic Genealogy Society, Ættfræðifélagið, became interested in publishing this census collection because, among other things, it included information about birthplace which the Society deemed important. Marta Valgerður Jónsdóttir (1889–­1969) had already made copies of the censuses that had been preserved and had reconstructed others, using available sources, in place of the ones that had been lost. Other genealogists contributed to the transcription and reconstruction of the censuses. This collection was printed in six parts in 1947–74 as Manntalið 1816 (1816 Census). In the final two parts, no attempt was made to reconstruct missing censuses; instead the regular household examination records were included, where available. In order to fill as many gaps as possible, it was necessary, for instance, to go back as far as 1802 to find household examination records for Sauðanes, and forwards to 1829 for Knappstaðir parish. A few parishes are missing because their household examination records were unavailable (Vatnsfjörður and Kirkjuból in the county of Ísafjörður, and Flugumýri and Fell in Skagafjörður). Nevertheless, over three-quarters of the Genealogical Society of Iceland’s 1816 Census derives from data relating to 1816, and over 96% from the period 1815–1820, so referring to the collection as the 1816 Census is regarded as acceptably accurate.
This online publication of the 1816 Census is based on the printed version. Under the heading Notes are, where appropriate, the corrections and additions from Part 6 of the printed version, in addition to footnotes and postscripts derived from the printed publication. Other informative comments are included. Each comment is preceded by a number in square brackets [n] indicating the source of each comment as shown in the following table:
1. Corrections and additions, p. 1065 in the printed version. 2. Corrections by Eyjólfur Jónsson of Flateyri, pp. 1065–67 in the printed version. 3. Corrections made by ex-teacher Þórarinn Einarsson to Barðaströnd county censuses, pp. 1067–69 in the printed version. 4. Footnotes in the printed version. 5. Endnotes in the printed version. 7. Other comments in the printed version. 8. Handwritten corrections/comments in the National Archives copy of the printed version. 9. Comments from transcribers: most relate to publication of data in the online census. 10. Additions by Marta Valgerður Jónsdóttir. More detailed information regarding the 1816 census is available (in Icelandic) in Guðni Jónsson’s foreword to Part 1 of the census, pp. I–III, and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson’s afterword to Part 6, pp. 1071–76. These sources were consulted in preparation of this text.

If you have a screen shot or download of an Icelandic Parish Record that you would like connected to your ancestor, please send it to our SUPPORT inbox and one of the genealogists will get it connected into the IR Database. Enjoy your search!


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