Heritage in Iceland | Roots in Iceland

Ideal Gateway To Your Icelandic Roots With Hey Iceland

Most people who emigrated from Iceland to North America in the 19th century lived and workedIcelanders leaving for N-Amercia, photo from Sigfús Eymundsson collection in the Icelandic countryside. Hey Iceland is rooted here too, in the farming community of Iceland's countryside.

The buildings may have changed over time and the people living on the farms today may not be your relatives but the valleys, mountains, rivers and creeks are just the same as when your ancestors left for the New World. Now imagine spending a night or two in the same valley, or even at the same farm where your forefathers lived before deciding to emigrate!

Why Hey Iceland? 

Hey Iceland has been a leading expert in travel in the Icelandic countryside for more than 30 years and is still majority-owned by farmers. We offer accommodation in our large network of over 160 bed and breakfasts, country hotels, cottages and working farms in every corner of Iceland, in addition selection of activities, self-drive and guided tours.

We specialize in heritage tours in Iceland. Whether you choose to focus on one or two areas of your ancestors or do a full tour of the island with only a short stay in those areas, we can help plan your visit from start to finish. 

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Explore Iceland on your own

Opt for an exciting and stress-free trip with our tailor-made tours. Share with us your vision for this trip, what you would like to do and places you want to visit, and we will design the itinerary that best suits your needs and wishes. We craft your trip based on your preferences regarding accommodation standards, travel duration, and transportation. You can decide to explore a certain area in more depth or travel around the varied landscapes of Iceland. You can choose an adventure-packed tour including a variety of excursions, or focus on relaxation and slow travel to explore Iceland at your own pace, leaving room for improvisation while fully exploiting the country’s diversity.

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Finding your roots in Iceland

We recommend starting your preparation early. Look for the names of your ancestors, where they left from, which year and the name of their farm or district. We will then assist you by forwarding the information to genealogy experts who specialize in emigration from Iceland. The information that follows can then be used to plan your dream visit to the sites of your ancestors in Iceland.    

Please do not hesitate to contact our Icelandic heritage travel specialist Sandra Gunnarsdóttir for more information.

Turf church at Hof

Photo: Ira Goldstein

Helpful links related to Icelandic heritage, in Iceland and North America:

Heritage photos 

Icelandic Horses carrying hay at Laufás museum in EyjafjörðurIcelandic Horses carrying hay at Laufás Museum in Eyjafjörður, North Iceland.

Icelandic Folk dance at Laufás museum in Eyjafjörður
Icelandic folk dance at Laufás Museum in Eyjafjörður, North Iceland.

Annual Cultural Night consert in Reykjavík city center @Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson

Reykjavík Culture Night concert @Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson 

Klúka house, Witchcraft and Sorcery Museum in Strandir area

Klúka house, Witchcraft and Sorcery Museum in the Strandir area, Westfjords. 

About the emigration from Iceland to North America

Was overpopulation the reason?

Article by Jónas Thor, historian

The emigration period in Iceland began in 1870 and ended in 1914. Every year during that period someone left Iceland for the New World, sometimes in small or large groups. On other occasions just a few individuals, perhaps a family - husband, wife and children - or single people.

Obviously there always was a reason for such a significant move. We know that the elements in Iceland have often made life very difficult; brutally cold winters, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes often forced people to abandon their homes and start over somewhere else. Normally people chose to remain in the same part of the country. This often resulted in families being split and placed on different farms in the same rural community. The husband was hired as a farmhand at one farm while his wife became a maid on another. If they had children the mother was normally allowed to keep the youngest child with her while the other children were placed on different farms. Many such families were united in the end, managed to start over, perhaps on the old farm or somewhere else. But there are also many occasions when such a reunion never happened. Boys were more often moved from one farm to another. It was quite common for a a young boy in his early teens to have spent his childhood and early adolesence on 5-8 different farms.

Young boy playing with sheep bone, common toys in 19th century Iceland (photo from Laufás museum)

It is often said that only about 10% of Iceland is arable and 3-4% can be cultivated. History shows that the land could sustain a population of 50,000 but when the population grew gradually in the second half of the 19th century available land for farming did not exist. Anyone traveling in Iceland's countryside in present times sees remains of abandoned farms in the most unbelievable places. The modern person wonders who on earth was foolish enough to make such an attempt?

The answer is overpopulation. Young men decided to try their luck, built a sod house, had a cow or two and few sheep. In normal years they managed to make enough hay to last their animals for the winter. But cold, long winters which resulted in cold springs and summers brought such plans to an end, forcing the young family off their land. As the average household grew from 5 to 7 people per farm in the mid 19th century people began to contemplate emigration from Iceland. 

Book of hymns, sheepskin shoes and spindles were items found in every Icelandic home (photo from Laufás museum) 

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