As I’ve written in previous posts, much of human history has involved the management of relationships, marriages, etc. to safeguard against incestuous relationships, and has resulted in an impressive genealogy obsession in Iceland.
Genealogy obsession in Iceland opens academic doors.
Iceland, with its population of only 320,000, is one small corner of the globe that still deals with the issues of living in the shallow end of the gene pool, manifesting in today’s Icelanders’ preoccupation with genealogy and family history.
In one instance, a group of students from the University of Iceland engineering department created a smart phone app, allowing users to simply bump phones to see if they have a common ancestor, as well as if there’s a relationship and just how close it is.
Prior to the smart phone app, the “Book of Icelanders” (Islendingabok), has been the receptacle of genealogy records. Kári Stefánsson, an Icelandic neurologist, created a web-based version of the “Book of Icelanders” to provide constant access to its users. Kári Stefánsson and Fridrik Skulason claim to have documented 95% of Icelanders of the past three hundred years.
A benefit of the impressive job Icelanders have done tracing their family genealogies, is the extensive collection of data available for studies and experiments in many disciplines including science, social studies, health and genetics.
Although the thoughts of the current and future benefits of genealogical study are pleasant ones, consider the negative – how would such caches of genealogical information have been used during WWII in Germany? The thought is truly frightening.
Previously, I wrote about the Incest Prevention App called ‘Sifjaspellsspillir’ or ‘Incest Spoiler’. It was created by University of Iceland students for a contest by the Íslendingabók database and its purpose is to alert two people of a possible familial connection when they tap their phones.
The database is available with a monthly or yearly subscription. Access is also available to organizations and researchers by contacting them.
While continuing to add names and other great features, the database also links you to events, dates, occupations, cemetery records and burials, photos and more.
They will assist with your genealogy research by helping you find your family tree, connecting you with family members, and providing ancestry charts and reports. All this is possible through their popular “Cousins Across the Ocean” project or you can complete their online request form for more information.
If you’re interested in finding out more, there are tips for using the database, and they also explain its history. If you have Icelandic research to do, this site and database are well worth checking out.
There will always be debate about numbers, percentages and odds in genealogy.
I am so lucky that we have such a wide range of ancestries and national origins in my husband’s and my family trees. Those who have read my posts before are already well aware that our ancestries branch off from four (or five) distinct groups, and marriage between these groups is rare.
The groups containing our ancestries are:
French Huguenots escaping religious persecution in France in the mid to late 17th century relocated to the Atlantic coast of Canada and the United States, giving birth to the Acadian and Cajun cultures.
You would think, since the origins of French Canadians are essentially the same as the Acadians, there would be more intermarriage between the two, but I have found very few connections between the two groups in our family tree – at least so far. Most French Canadians descended from French explorers and pioneers involved in the fur trade and colonizing what is now part of Ontario and Quebec, although Acadians did find their way up the St. Lawrence River after the great expulsion (grand dérangement) of the French settlers by the British colonists.
Although the majority of the ancestry of my husband on his mother’s side is Swedish, the other Scandinavian nations and cultures are represented as well.
Mark’s ancestry on his father’s side originates from Welsh immigrants who were also escaping religious persecution for their puritan beliefs at the hands of the Welsh and British nobility and clergy.
British Royalty and Nobility
The interesting point to make here is that Mark’s connections to British royalty and nobility occur through his Welsh Quaker ancestry.
Mathematically, Dick Eastman’s calculations of the numbers of ancestors and/or descendants in a family based upon an average number and length of generations, as well as an average number of children in families appear to make sense. However, there are so many variables affecting the numbers, that it is almost impossible to make accurate estimations, much less calculations.
These variables include:
Individuals who remained single and bore no children.
Individuals who died young and were never married, much less had children.
Mass deaths due to war, disease and poverty wiping out most or all of a generation or two.
Variations in sizes of families as influenced by tradition or custom, health and fertility, relationships, economics, etc.
One major point made by Dick is his belief that everyone can eventually trace their ancestries back to royalty, but by my experience, this appears to be flawed.
As illustrated in the diverse groups outlined above in our ancestries, we originate from several unique national, ethnic, and socio-economic groups. Examining our family tree makes it apparent that intermarriage between these groups was almost impossible due to geography, economics, politics and custom. Most people, no matter where they were from or how wealthy and socially prominent they were, usually married within their own group.
The interesting point illustrated by our ancestry is that although my husband’s and my ancestries are quite separate and rarely intermarried, the fact that he and I married and had our two children now combines our ancestries for all future generations. Therefore, it’s easy to assume that intermarriage occurred (and will occur) much more as the world became smaller through technology, multi-culturalism, etc., which are more modern phenomena of the last hundred years or so.
I have learned to pay close attention to the names of individuals in my research as knowledge of naming conventions can be key to investigating a family’s genealogy. Frequently, the names provide valuable clues to the answers to my questions.
Individuals from differing cultures, time periods, religions and families were known to follow specific naming conventions and traditions. These practices could also change over time according to the practices of the day.
Below are some examples of naming practices I encountered in my research.
Instead of surnames as we know them, the French in the 17th and 18th centuries routinely adopted nicknames or titles denoted by the word ‘dit’ or ‘dite’ before it. This title or nickname could have referred to any number of things including a descriptive term, location, family or property in France. This was the case for my ancestor, Pierre dit Laverdure, one of the Huguenots to settle in Acadia in the mid-17th century. I couldn’t find the translation for ‘Laverdure’, but I was able to find a modern translation for ‘verdure’ as follows:
a. The lush greenness of flourishing vegetation.
b. Vigorous greenery.
2. A fresh or flourishing condition: the verdure of childhood.
[Middle English, from Old French, from verd, green, from Latin viridis.]
My reasoning is that, based on this definition, there are several possibilities, including: he was from a lush, green, fertile area of France; he was involved in forest management or forestry; he was in a profession concerned with vegetation such as farming; the ‘fresh or flourishing condition’ referred to in the definition above could allude to his being ‘young’, ‘youthful’, ‘vigorous’, or ‘junior’ to someone.
Giving all children of the same gender the same middle name, usually in honor of a relative or ancestor.
Naming children after parents and grandparents (either given or middle name).
After the death of a child, they frequently used the name for a sibling born later.
Children were often given hyphenated first and middle names (i.e. Marie-Madeleine or Jean-Jacques), but they would frequently adopt one or the other for everyday use.
French-Canadians and Metis in early days often followed the original French convention of using the prefix of ‘dit’ or ‘ditte’ as above.
During and after the civil war, slaves frequently adopted the surname of their current or previous owner.
United Kingdom, United States and Canada
One or more children in a family, regardless of gender, were frequently given their mother’s maiden name as a middle name to carry that name on within the family. Infrequently, I have seen families where one or more of the children had the mother’s maiden name as a middle name.
In Wales, individuals carried their father’s given name as a surname, preceded by a term signifying whether they were male or female. The son of a man named Rhys would use the surname ‘ap (or ab) Rhys’ and a daughter would use ‘ferch (or verch) Rhys’.
In Scotland, children were usually given first names according to the following: first son is named after his father’s father; the second son is named after his mother’s father; the third son is named after his father; the first daughter is named after her mother’s mother; the second daughter is named after her father’s mother; and the third daughter is named after her mother.
The surname used depended on the region the family came from. For the most part, in the Scottish highlands, the child’s surname was a combination of the prefix ‘Mc’ or ‘Mac’ followed by the given name or variation of the father (i.e. Jonathan McKenzie – the son of Kenneth). In the lowlands, the suffix ‘son’ was added to the given name of the father, as in Johnson, Robertson, Jacobson, etc.
The Scottish were also known to take a surname from a location, occupation, and/or physical characteristic.
Chinese immigrants frequently took on entirely new names – both given and surnames – in the language of the their new country. Sometimes they would choose names that sounded phonetically similar to their original Chinese names.
Japanese names put surname first and given name last. However, names were frequently changed to follow the western convention of given name first and surname last when emigrating to the west.
Roman Catholics frequently named their children after saints or choose names from the bible, especially in French-Canadian and latin families.
Scandinavia and Iceland
The children adopted a modified version of the given name of the father as a surname, by adding ‘son’ at the end of the father’s given name. For example, in my husband’s family in Sweden, the name in America was Gummeson, originating with David Gummeson, who was the son of Gumme Svensson, who in turn was the son of Sven Hakansson. For female children, the same practice occurred, but the added suffix was either ‘dottir’ or ‘dotter’, as in Gummesdottir. This could frequently change upon immigration to the west to comply with western naming conventions.
Families often adopted naming traditions such as the first-born son and/or daughter being named in some way after either a parent, grandparent or other close relative.
Some changed their surname for personal or cultural reasons. In my own family on my father’s side, a male ancestor took exception to his surname of Turmel/Turmelle. In French tradition, the suffix ‘elle’ signifies the female gender. This gentleman had his surname legally changed to Turmaine and it’s carried on in this form to the present day. Other branches of the family retained the Turmel/Turmelle surname.
Others changed their surnames for religious reasons. As seen in a recent episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, actress Helen Hunt discovered that an ancestor of hers had changed her name from Rafenberg to Roberts – most likely to escape anti-semitism, especially as she was a widow trying to support her family.
My interest in this subject was piqued by my own Acadian ancestry and the Acadians’ practice of ‘managing’ biological relationships through the church in order to safeguard against close relatives marrying and having children. This has been a necessity through the centuries as a result of people living in small communities that were widespread. The modes of transportation were primitive and substantially increased the possibility of relationships and marriages within family lines. The Acadians recognized these relationships as existing within levels of ‘consanguinity’ or ‘closeness of biological relationship’.
The culture that shares the this Acadian practice to the greatest degree is that of Iceland. They have taken their management of these relationships to a different and greater level through consultation with the Íslendingabók database, a national database of ancestral lines and family trees reaching back several centuries, with their incest prevention app.
Students of the University of Iceland in Reykjavík won a contest for apps run by the Íslendingabók database. With their Android incest prevention app called ‘Sifjaspellsspillir’ or ‘Incest Spoiler’, two people with the app just tap their phones and if they share a grandparent, they will receive an alert. The creators are hoping to make it able to alert regarding common great grandparents in the future.