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TEACHING GUIDES


Nordic Sagas: Iceland Genes


Imagine being able to trace your ancestors back more than 1,000 years. Many people who live in Iceland can do just that. Besides having extensive genealogy records, Iceland has an unusually isolated and homogeneous population, making it valuable for genetic research. Frontiers steps into the lab of a biotech company studying this unique population. Iceland's genetic heritage may one day contribute to the future health of the world.

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Related Frontiers Shows and Activities
Activity: Go Back in Time
Iceland Fun Facts



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ACTIVITY: GO BACK IN TIME

As you see on Frontiers, much of the current population of Iceland can trace its ancestry back to the founders, who first landed there in about A.D. 874. Icelanders kept written records from very early on. You may not be able to trace your heritage back as far as Icelanders do, but you can certainly capture two, three or four generations without extensive research. You can set up a simple family tree on paper or use one of the many genealogy software programs available. As you will find out, genealogy can become complicated. If you want to go back further in time, you'll have to do more digging. Many resources are available, including books, periodicals and Web sites on family history and genealogical research.

GETTING STARTED
Talking with relatives is the best way to begin. Take notes and use a tape recorder (with permission). Always write down who gives you information (the source) and the date. Genealogy is like doing detective work; stories will conflict. Write everything down, so you can verify information later on.

CHARTING YOUR FAMILY TREE
Genealogists use standard forms called pedigree charts. You are number 1, your father is number 2 and your mother 3. Your father's father is 4; his mother is 5. After you list yourself, all women will be listed with odd numbers and men with even numbers.

FINDING OUT MORE
Good sources for more information are local libraries, census records, bureaus of vital statistics, church and cemetery records, and historical and genealogical societies. Tracing immigrants' records is difficult, but it can be done using ships' passenger lists, found in some libraries and the National Archives. Family History Centers (established by the Mormon Church) are excellent sources of genealogy records. Other organizations now exist to locate the histories of African Americans and others.

MEDICAL HISTORY
You can't do genetic studies, but you can track patterns of health and disease. This information can be valuable.

QUESTIONS
  1. Why is a homogeneous population like Iceland's ideal for genetic research?
  2. What other homogeneous populations are subjects of genetic research and what are scientists learning?




ICELAND FUN FACTS

  • Icelanders do not use family names. They have a first name (like John or Inga) and a second name that combines the father's first name and son for a male or dottir for a female. Women do not change their names in marriage. These customs mean many Icelanders have the same names, so phone book listings also include people's occupations.

  • The island lies over a fault line (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) in the Earth's crust. Some of the volcanoes are still active, including Hekla, which last erupted in 1991. In 1973, a volcano that had been dormant for more than 5,000 years erupted on the nearby island of Heimaey. It poured volcanic ash over the island's only town, Vestmannaeyjar, forcing evacuation of all the residents.

  • Iceland is often called the "Land of Ice and Fire" because glaciers lie next to steaming hot springs and geysers. Iceland uses geothermal energy for heat and power.





 

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