Duvall woman's link to a Norse past is set in stone
Carrie Heiser's fascination with family history began with a dusty, dilapidated trunk. To the Duvall resident, the worn-out wooden box that...
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Carrie Heiser's fascination with family history began with a dusty, dilapidated trunk.
To the Duvall resident, the worn-out wooden box that family members say her great-great-grandmother brought from Iceland symbolized the last bridge between her father's family and their native land.
The heirloom led her on a 15-year journey that resulted in discovering a family link to Norse explorer Leif Erikson, who is believed to be the first European explorer to land in North America.
And that, in turn, led to the striking 6-foot-tall, 800-pound bust of Olafur the White that now stands guard at the edge of Heiser's driveway.
The sculpture of Olafur, Leif Erikson's grandfather, is a proud declaration of heritage for the 48-year-old Heiser.
Created by Carnation artist Josh Coté, the concrete bust shows a stern-faced, bearded warrior armed with a battle-ax and wearing a studded helmet.
The $800 piece was completed in March, inspired by historic photographs given to the artist by Heiser.
Heiser's great-grandfather, Olafur Einarson, made the family's genealogical connection back to Olafur the White during a trip back to Iceland in 1899, she said. He searched through historical records in his hometown of Hafursa, and Heiser's uncle made copies of his research for the rest of the family.
Heiser's oldest son, Jason, 26, has since traced their family history back to nearly the year A.D. 300 with the help of the genealogy site FamilySearch.org, she said.
Records in Iceland are well-maintained, according to Canadian genealogist Nelson Gerrard. Historians and saga writers of the 1300s wrote about Icelandic lineages even before Iceland's settlement in A.D. 874.
Gerrard, who studied at the University of Iceland for several years, specializes in the migration of Icelanders to North America and in dating historic photographs of Icelandic migrant families. He helped Heiser identify relatives in old photographs and confirmed the value of her beloved trunk.
That Heiser was able to trace her lineage so far back with little help is not uncommon, and those of Icelandic descent often share common ancestors, Gerrard said in an e-mail.
"The population of the entire island dropped as low as 35,000 more than once in the country's 1,100-year history," Gerrard said. "So the gene pool blended again and again over the centuries."
Heiser credits her great-great-grandmother's trunk as the catalyst for her historical curiosity.
It was 1992 and she was attending her late uncle's estate sale in Milton, N.D., a town with fewer than 100 residents and the birthplace of both her father and grandfather.
After a bidding war with an antiques dealer, Heiser happily parted with $200 for a trunk largely ignored by relatives for the last century.
"Up until then, I had never been really interested in my family history," said Heiser. "I was in my early 30s then ... I didn't have a daughter yet, but I knew that I wanted to have something in my family to have and pass along to my daughter."
The trunk now sits in the corner of Heiser's living room and houses a collection of Barbie dolls for her 13-year-old daughter, Anna.
Heiser's three children, ages 13, 17 and 26, didn't initially share her zeal for family history.
"They make fun of my Viking things," the Seattle-born Heiser said. "But now, with Olafur out there, they're intrigued. It put a face to this story I've been telling them."
Aside from her historical interests, Heiser collects many things, from Victorian button hooks to British royal family tea sets. She worries her children won't hold on to many of these knickknacks after she's gone.
But she has no concerns about Olafur's staying in the family.
"I collect a lot of things, and I think after I die they will put it all on eBay — but not Olafur," she said.
Tiffany Wan: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.