The competition

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the online genealogy database Íslandingabók (Book of Icelanders), deCODE genetics decided to hold a competition among university students to create an APP so that the database would be accessible on mobile devises. The competition was held in cooperation with the University of Iceland and was open to all university students in Iceland as well as Icelandic university students abroad. Twelve teams entered the competition and six solutions were returned before deadline. The solutions were graded by four factors – The look and design, the novelty of the app, the quality of the code and the team’s ability to present and endorse their product. Results were decided by a panel of judges, including a computer science professor from University of Iceland and a professor in graphics design from Iceland Academy of the Arts. The public’s opinion was also taken into account via a poll on Facebook.

The database

The database Íslandingabók contains genealogical information about the inhabitants of Iceland, dating more than 1,200 years back. Íslandingabók is a collaboration project between deCODE genetics, a research company in the field of medical genetics, and Friðrik Skúlason, an anti-virus software entrepreneur. The project’s goal is to trace all known family connections between Icelanders from the time of the settlement of Iceland to present times and register the genealogical information in a database.

In the creation of the Íslandingabók database they have used various sources and both unpublished and published documents. Most of the genealogical information comes from sources such as church records, national censuses, inhabitants registers and other public documents, but in addition to these sources there are chronicles, books of convictions, various publications on genealogy, books about individuals within specific occupations, lists of descendants and ancestral records as well as memorial articles to name but a few.

Íslandingabók is available, free of charge, to all Icelanders and since the launch of the website 10 years ago, two thirds of the population have applied for access to the database.

Scientific use

The main reason for deCODE genetics to invest in the creation of Íslandingabók was to use it to aid its research in the field of medical genetics. The company is a leading institution in this field and one of the factors to its success is the ability to trace the ancestry and relation of all participants in the company‘s studies.

When Íslandingabók is used in the scientific research, full anonymity of the participants is secured via elaborate encryption system overseen by Icelandic Data Protection Authority. Scientists never see the real identities of the participants, only a seven digit code.

The database has proven to be very accurate. A study on mitochondria mutation, using the Book of Icelanders suggested the maternal lineages to be 99.3% accurate (Sigurðardóttir et al., 2000 (Am. J. Hum. Genet. 66:1599-1609, 2000)) and in a study on distribution of descendants, rate of false paternities is claimed to be 1.49% per generation, including laboratory handling errors (Helgason et al. 2003 (Am. J. Hum. Genet. 72:1370-1388, 2003)).

Icelanders and genealogy

Genealogy has been a pastime of the Icelandic nation since the settlement of the island in the 9th century. Scripts dated back to the 10th century tell tales of the heroes of the Sagas and register the settlement in detail. Each of those old scripts contains information on the genealogy of the persons mentioned. Throughout the centuries, genealogies of the most influential individuals and many inferior members of the Icelandic population have been registered by genealogy enthusiasts.

Systematic registration of the Icelandic population began in 1703 with a nationwide census, the world’s oldest census covering a whole nation, where the original datasheets have been preserved. Some censuses where taken in the 18th century and in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th they were compiled every 5-10 years. From the 1960’s, computerized National Registry has replaced the censuses.

Priests started keeping systematic parish records in the last decades of the 18th century, registering every birth, christening, confirmation, marriage and burial in their parish. Even though some of those records have been lost to fires and neglect, most of them are still preserved in the National Archives.

In the 20th century, publication of books on genealogy has bloomed. Large volumes of descendant listings, local community genealogy and family histories of guild members of all kinds, have been sold in thousands of copies.

Since the Icelandic legislation is especially favorable towards genealogy and the access they have had to the mentioned sources, they have been able to compile a database with the genealogy of the Icelandic nation, the “Book of Icelanders”.