Editor’s Note: I’ve been piecing together the Icelandic Roots “story” through a series of articles celebrating the organization’s tenth anniversary. This installment turns to six Icelandic Roots volunteers who share their thoughts about the organization’s value to them now and in the future. -Rob Olason
“How do I know who I am if I don't know from whom and where I came from? It’s important to know about our ancestors because they all have shaped and influenced our lives. Talking about them keeps them alive and relevant. Since my grandparents were first generation in the United States, it makes it more relevant to me to know about their background. Icelandic Roots preserves that background and their history for me and my siblings, our children, and grandchildren. The Icelandic Roots database is a marvel. How cool it is to be able to trace ancestors back centuries ago? And, how fun it is to be able to search relationships? The recent Icelandic Roots Volunteer trip showed me that we are all related.”
“I wish Icelandic Roots had existed when I made my first trip to Iceland in 1976. It would have made identifying family members in Iceland so much easier, to say nothing of helping me to understand more about locations, history, customs and so much more. Nowadays I use the IR website as well as the database just about daily. I'm so excited about all the information I find there, both publicly available and privately for members only. Additionally, I am also very thankful for the instrumental and financial support Icelandic Roots has provided to so many Icelandic and Western Icelandic ventures; particularly the support and assistance it provides to all the various Snorri Programs and endeavors.
The community of volunteers and members is quite unique and extremely valuable. Congratulations to Icelandic Roots on its 10th anniversary and I can hardly wait to see what's next!”
Why is Icelandic Roots valuable to you?
Heather Lytwyn: As a volunteer, I feel welcomed, appreciated, and surrounded by positive people who are enthusiastic and fun to be with.
Becky Byerly-Adams: Besides the connection to the past and present, Icelandic Roots has given me an entire community of Icelandic friends. How else would I have been able to have interactions with people who live in Iceland, Canada, and the United States? People who I can see and talk to on Zoom, email, or text, sometimes about Icelandic-related issues and sometimes just as a friend.
Rus Magnusson: I find Icelandic Roots to be a thrilling, ever-evolving repository of information – an absolute gold mine containing answers to so many of my questions, insight into my ‘Roots”, how on earth I got here, where and who I am, all the way from the soil all my ancestors once trod upon over 140 years ago and far beyond then. In one word: fascinating! IR has helped me to find relatives I never knew existed and to learn of the hardships they endured along with their many wonderful achievements since coming to North America.
(In my volunteer role) I now enjoy helping others to find answers to their family genealogy working, with our amazing team of genealogists and to record more recent family histories by working with our Database Media team on the family photos, documents our members submit to us for inclusion in this one-of-a kind Icelandic heritage website. There is also the social aspect, making many new friends with the same ancestry, ideals, and goals in mind.
Dave Jonasson: I joined Icelandic Roots in 2014 shortly after retiring. I was trying to collect and document all my family's Icelandic genealogy information in one place when I stumbled upon Icelandic Roots. I had lots of different family information stored in many places but on the IR database, I was able to connect my information to everybody else's. One tree for an entire population! And so much other information. I did not know what I did not know. So personally, Icelandic Roots has helped me to understand more about Icelandic history and culture, the Icelandic language and my personal ancestry roots.
What would you say is the most important thing about Icelandic Roots?
Becky Byerly-Adams: The most important thing about IR is its ability to connect people to their past and their present. We can learn about our ancestors, we can find ancestors we didn’t even know existed, and we can find people who are alive today that we are related to, even if it is a distant relationship. We can also learn about the history of Iceland, its celebrations and what is happening there today.
Heather Lytwyn: I think it is the sense of belonging to a community. I feel like I have found an extended family with a shared interest in learning all we can about our ancestry. I think in these times, more than ever, we need to feel like we are connected. The Icelandic Roots Book Club does that for me.
Dave Jonasson: Years ago, when I joined Icelandic Roots as a member, I thought that the organization was all about genealogy. And in those days, it mostly was. But I have come to understand that it's also about the people. Now, as a volunteer, I get to work with an amazing group of individuals who are interested in all things Icelandic. What started as a very factual genealogical exercise has morphed into social interactions with people whom I would not have otherwise met. And yes --- working with the database and improving it for others is personally satisfying.
This ability to meet and work with others is especially true for a volunteer, but today Icelandic Roots offers many opportunities for members to have that same experience. The new Samkoma membership demonstrates the IR commitment to connecting people with Icelandic background that may not have an interest in genealogy.
Rus Magnusson: Having been involved in family genealogy for the last 30 or so years and as a full-blooded descendant of Icelandic ancestry, I have been a member of Icelandic Roots since January 1, 2020. My cousins and I didn’t get very far back in our quest to complete our family tree, we only got back as far as about 1835 or so. The most import thing about Icelandic Roots for me, is that it takes my family all the way back to the year 840, in Norway, before Iceland was beginning to be settled! This alone is a truly great contribution to the Icelandic Community!
What do you see as the future of Icelandic Roots?
Rus Magnusson: With a solid and large team of volunteers, constantly doing research and data entry, I’m confident Icelandic Roots will be around for a very long time. I believe we are now piquing the interest of more young volunteers who will be there to ensure continued growth of this invaluable entity.
Heather Lytwyn: I think we will continue to involve young people who, like me, know next to nothing about their heritage, but are suddenly very interested. I think the Snorri program is one excellent way to make that happen.
Dave Jonasson: Icelandic Roots is a living organization. We know it will continue to grow and offer new services, but how that happens is unclear. The organization responds to the changing needs of its members. The Database continues to offer new services, but in the future, I think it will be seen more as a living history that members can use to share THEIR information with THEIR children and children's children. Their database is much more likely to be around generations from now than any file on a personal computer.
With many more members there will be opportunities for sharing with other members who have similar interests. With a larger pool there can be interest groups on very specific topics, such as Icelandic baking or books on Icelandic trolls, or current geological events.
Where the organization goes is going to be determined by the interests of the members and those interests may change over time. Who would have predicted Facebook and other social media? In the future when our virtual avatars get together, who knows what will happen?
Becky Byerly-Adams: I see Icelandic Roots as continuing to connect people and educate people about Iceland and its heritage. How that plays out is the question as we continue to grow. Each year Icelandic Roots has added more - more information in the database, more public and member-only offerings such as our bi-weekly conversation hour, Samtal, book club, and webinars. Who knows what new services we will offer next?
Special thanks to the Icelandic Roots volunteer contributors to this article:
-Jody Arman-Jones, Icelandic Roots Volunteer and Snorri Program Liaison
-Beth Finnson, Icelandic Roots Volunteer Genealogist
-Rus Magnusson, Icelandic Roots Volunteer Team Leader, Database Media, and Translations Team
-Heather Lytwyn, Icelandic Roots Volunteer-Book Club Leader
-Dave Jonasson, Icelandic Roots Volunteer Team Leader, Emigration Team member and IT Director
-Becky Byerly-Adams, Icelandic Roots Volunteer Team Leader, Membership Outreach