Fewer than a million people have ever been born on Iceland. When you ask an Icelander how long their family has been here, most will say, “We came with the early settlers” — those mostly Norwegian adventurers who fled the old country for various reasons for this bleak and remote alternative. Consequently, the island has a unique genetic homogeneity that presents fascinating opportunities for science and medical experimentation.
Nearly the entire society (90 percent) has opted in to a genetic experiment giving a research company access to all medical records. In the name of medical progress, genes are isolated and everything is organized into a giant Icelandic database. There’s even an app for that. It lets Icelanders check into the national family tree and see how closely related they are to the person they’re buying a drink in the bar. My guide said, “Nearly everyone is related, and it’s nice to know just who you’re sleeping with. My wife and I have a common grandmother in the ninth generation.”
For me, with my Norwegian heritage, I felt surrounded by cousins: