Written by Jonena Relth
Elin de Ruyter, a valued Icelandic Volunteer since 2017, is a genealogist specializing in the lives and stories of important Icelandic people, especially midwives. When asked how her experience has been volunteering for IR, Elin responded, “I love being a part of Icelandic Roots and feel honored to be part of such a fantastic group of people.” None of the volunteers question her commitment to Icelandic Roots as she lives in Australia and joins our weekly meetings at 5:00 am her time.
One thing most people don't know about Elin is that in addition to raising a family, working outside the home and serving as an IR Volunteer, she is an aspiring author and is currently writing a novel about an Icelandic Midwife in 19th century Iceland, inspired by her ancestor's life. She has definitely found a way to combine her love of genealogy and writing!
Elin was born in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1983 and at the age of three emigrated, with her parents and two sisters, to New Zealand and two years later to Australia. She is one of five girls. Maintaining their Icelandic culture and heritage has always been important to Elin and her parents, who spoke Icelandic to her as a child and upheld their Icelandic traditions
She grew up receiving Icelandic gifts from her grandparents and family over the years and loved it when her Amma would send them dried fish and licorice. Elin took some dried fish to school once for her teacher to try out and remembers how the class screwed up their noses and couldn’t stand the smell coming from her bag that day. Elin has tried to encourage her love of dried fish with her own children, but they haven’t found a liking to it. She resigns that it is their loss and all the more for her when family send some now.
Elin’s involvement with IR started when she got in touch with the volunteer genealogists. She had recently found out that her 3 x great grandfather, Sigurður Bjarnason IR# 3306302, had emigrated from south Iceland to North America in 1876, but she had hit a brick wall finding more information and needed assistance. The IR Volunteers were not only able to tell her where he ended up in North America and what happened to him there, but they also got her in touch with cousins she never knew she had in North America. She looks forward to meeting these cousins one day!
Elin’s interest in genealogy started in 2001 at the age of seventeen when she found out her maternal grandfather, Jóhannes Guðmundsson IR# 139039, was adopted out shortly after his birth. With some help from her grandfather and her parents she was able to contact her grandfather´s long lost siblings all the way from Australia. What a shock it must have been to receive a letter from lost relatives on the other side of the world, but thankfully it was a happy surprise. Her grandfather was one of seven children, five of whom had been fostered out as infants when the family hit hard times due to unemployment and ill health in the 1920s. In 2001, three of Jóhannes’ sisters were still alive and living in Iceland. Elin’s reaching out from Australia lead to a reunion with Jóhannes’ siblings after nearly 80 years apart!
It is from her paternal side of the family that Elin discovered where the twin gene came from in her own immediate family. Three out of four of her sisters have given birth to naturally conceived twins. Her grandfather had twin sisters and through more genealogy digging, Elin found out that her grandfather´s grandmother, Guðrún Þorkelsdóttir IR# 28496, was a fraternal twin herself. The twins gene also goes back further on this side, well back to the mid 18th Century!
Elin’s interest in Icelandic midwives was sparked when she found out her Icelandic 2 x great grandmother, Guðrún Þórðardóttir IR# I378655, was the first registered midwife for Súgandafjörður in the Westfjords in 1880 and attended births until 1906. The people who knew Guðrún considered her to be well respected, generous, and one who helped people less fortunate than herself. For those of us fortunate enough to work with Elin today, she has a lot of her 2 x great Grandmother’s traits!
To reconnect with family and friends, Elin has returned to Iceland three times since emigrating. Now her immediate family is making the trip of a lifetime as they are moving to Iceland for an entire year. What an amazing way for Elin to share her native home with her family. Her four children will get to know their relatives and gain firsthand knowledge just how important Iceland is in their lives!
Elín is excited to immerse her children into life in Iceland and hopes that they will pick up the Icelandic language easily. They will be attending public school in Iceland so they are able to fully experience Icelandic culture and language. This will be the first time for Elín’s children to experience travelling via airplane as well as a white Christmas. The children are especially excited about playing in snow! Living in Australia, they are used to their Christmases being hot, humid and spent cooling off in the swimming pool. They are excited about the hot springs and Elín, who has a love of horses, would love for her children to experience riding the unique Icelandic horse.
Don’t some of us wish we could be as bold as Elin’s family and leave our homes, schools and way of life for a time to live near our Icelandic cousins and learn just how it feels to live in Iceland? Actually, Icelandic Roots has another Volunteer, Natalie Guttormsson, who is currently living in Iceland with her small family while her husband is attending the University of Iceland. Both of these families are great role models for the rest of the Icelandic Roots Volunteers!
To follow Elin’s Icelandic adventures, you can do so either on Instagram (@follow_me_north) or on the Facebook page. Perhaps seeing Elin’s posts from Iceland will spark more of us to live in Iceland for a time or at least try to visit Iceland once in our lives, to get a glimpse of Icelandic life. You’ll be glad you did!