The stories are as old as time. Seeking new lands and new opportunities, adventurers did incredible things. Their explorations are recorded in books, movies, and the traces that they left behind. Many of us love to tell the stories of pioneer ancestors: the family that crossed the Plains in a wagon, the turn-of-the-century bachelor who explored the country on foot. The immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island or helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, the slave who escaped North. Imagine the risk involved as our relatives left the only home they had ever known. Heading for a destination they had heard about, but weren’t sure it even existed. When your research shows you what they did, aren’t you proud?
Why Take the Risk
We know something about these relatives, but we want to know more. For example, why did they decide to move? For some, it was a decision based on political situations or religious prejudice. For others, it was a new job, the promise of land, or the sheer beauty of their new surroundings. Maybe it was the enticement of gold. Whatever the reason, we benefit. We benefit when we read their writings and journals. We benefit as genealogists when we can relive the days when the West was truly a wild unknown territory. We benefit from new found pride in a family “can-do” spirit.
Enter the Vikings
Vikings were the first Europeans to arrive in North America. This may come as a surprise since many American history books skim over this fact. And, for many years, we didn’t even know it. But it’s well established now: Vikings arrived in North America—500 years before Christopher Columbus. Talk about pride. Americans of Nordic descent are thrilled, and the saga of Leif Erickson has had a profound effect on their identity and self-perception. Today, Nordic Americans researching their family history often seek links to Erickson’s early journey or to relatives who arrived as part of the first organized Nordic immigration to America in 1825. These two stories are commemorated on October 9th.
Born in Iceland around 960 AD, Leif was the son of Eric the Red, the Viking explorer credited with settling Greenland. Using methods now available to genealogists and archaeologists, we now know that Leif’s expedition to North America is a saga of daring in the Viking tradition. It began in 1001 AD when Leif sailed from Greenland. His first landfall was on Baffin Island, located in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. From there, he sailed to Markland (now Woodland) on the eastern coast of Canada. Following that, he sailed southeast to a rich fertile land where he decided to spend the winter. When he initially sent his crew out to explore, one man didn’t return. The rescue party found him the next day—all excited and blabbering about some grapes he had discovered. As a result, Leif named the island Vinland (Wineland). Today, it’s known as Newfoundland.
Putting the Puzzle Together
As genealogists, we work to find these links and family ties. We take on mountains of data, and we research every aspect of our family’s life. We deal with the frustration of dead ends and wrong turns. And we revel in the excitement of each new confirmation and discovery.
Our research is a journey with no end. We embrace the challenge with the spirit of an adventurer, the imagination of a pioneer, and the open heart of a proud descendant. Where will your quest take you? Only your ancestors know. I hope that it is a bumpy, snarled, and twisted road indeed. The more corners we turn, the more fun we will have.
Genealogist Jen Baldwin is the owner of Ancestral Journeys, specializing in the Rocky Mountain Corridor. She writes for a variety of publications, speaks regionally on genealogy related topics, is the creator and co-host of #genchat on Twitter, and owns Conference Keeper. She also is co-creator and Co-Chair of the NextGen Genealogy Network and is the Director of Operations for The In-Depth Genealogist. You can connect with Jen on her website or on social media.