A Nation of Cousins

Imagine being able to trace your ancestors back 1,000 a years. For most people, knowing more than a few generations is a feat. Until recently, I vaguely knew the names of my great-grandparents and could speculate on my ancestry (it turns out quite wrongly) but nothing more.

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Oh to be Icelandic, where many people trace their lineage back to the country’s very beginning. When the country’s founders (Norse and Celts) first arrived around 874 CE, they were really the first people there – none of this “virgin land”  business thrown around by Europeans about the Americas in the face of millions of original inhabitants. The country is unusually homogenous and isolated, and even better for genealogists, the Icelanders kept written records from early on. Isolation also worked to keep the language virtually identical to that spoken by Iceland’s Nordic forefathers and mothers, unlike Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, which developed their own tongues in closer contact with mainland Europe. So Icelanders not only have the records from centuries ago, they can read them, too!

All this homogeneity  and a relatively small population (around 300,000) also means that Icelanders are related to each other. Which leads me to this – and a headline that I thought must have from the Onion before I clicked -

New App Lets Icelanders Bump Phones Before Sex to Make Sure They’re Not Cousins

But no, it’s real. And it’s apparently drawing rave reviews from users. It uses the records of the publicly available Book of the Icelanders, or Íslendingabók‘, to save you from incest.

2012-08-01 10.02.29

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