Ian Watson’s Web Site

Greetings from Bavaria!

I work as the editor of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, the second-oldest scholarly genealogical journal in the United States. Visit the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society web site to learn more about the journal and the society.

My publications list shows all of my scholarly publications, selected unpublished papers, travel writing, and journalism, most of which is available on-line. The sidebar at right has the latest links.

My academic training is in linguistics (B.A., Harvard) and in the study of standardization and convention (Ph.D., Rutgers, under Eviatar Zerubavel). Feel free to download my Ph.D. dissertation, called Cognitive Design, which focuses on the standardization of things that are organized into sets. Or you can read a summary of the dissertation.

In 2021, I completed the first book in the third series of early New England settler sketches published by the Great Migration Study Project, sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The project’s aim is to create biographies of the roughly five and a half thousand heads of households who immigrated to New England between 1620 and 1640. My work profiles those with arrival years from 1636 to 1638 and surnames beginning with A through Be. Writing the book was a three-year, full-time adventure, which left me with deep experience and understanding of seventeenth-century New England. The work was full of satisfying technical challenges. I wrote Python and Lua code and designed a LaTeX workflow that generated a 750-page book with 12,000 citations. Here, on my own website, I have also posted some resources on early New England settlers that I created myself and am sharing openly.

From 2014 to 2019, I was an associate professor in the department of design at NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and taught in the graphic design and interaction design programs at NTNU's Gjøvik campus. Before coming to teach at NTNU, I worked for ten years at Bifröst University, in the countryside outside Reykjavík, Iceland. I was also part of the Reykjavík Academy, an independent association of Icelandic scholars, and I taught regularly in the bachelor's program in graphic design at Iceland's art university.

I've been involved in genealogy for thirty-five years both professionally and as a hobbyist. My genealogy page makes available some of the material (some for hire, some grant-supported, some for fun) that I have created over the years, including my writing on the Pasco family and the Catawba Indians. Most of my personal genealogy activity these days is on the collaborative website familysearch.org, where I've uploaded several hundred family photographs and documents, and made thousands of links between person records and source documents. You can also look at a newspaper article based on some work I did tracing the American relatives of Icelanders whose fathers were members of the U.S. military forces stationed in Iceland.

From 1989 to 2022 I worked almost every summer in the travel industry as a travel guidebook author, tour manager and guide, tour planner, cruise lecturer, and in a travel bookstore. (Check out my list of all the projects I've worked on.) Starting in 1993 I worked regularly for Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door of Edmonds, Washington. I still like how Rick explained his travel philosophy at the beginning of his career. My last big project for the company, Rick Steves' Iceland, received first place in the travel guidebook category of the 2018 Lowell Thomas Awards, given by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. I've also worked for Let's Go, Frommer's, Holland America Lines, Heimsferðir, and with Elderhostel tours of Iceland.

For some years, I did a limited amount of Icelandic-to-English translation and proofreading work on a freelance basis. In 2014 I passed the demanding state-administered test to be licensed as an official Icelandic-English translator. Clients included publishers, universities, local and national government offices, graphic designers, hotels, banks, museums, and individuals all over Iceland. Take a look at a list of my most notable translations.

While in Iceland I played several roles at Bókasafn Dagsbrúnar (the Dagsbrún Library), which was originally a library for Iceland's trade union members and has been housed at the Reykjavík Academy since 2003. Through both my library and editing work I became involved in promoting open access to scholarly publications in Iceland, along with a small group of other academics and librarians. One highlight was running a program that assisted Icelandic authors of in-copyright books who wished to open access to them, usually under a Creative Commons license, and linked publicly accessible scans of out-of-copyright works to the Icelandic library catalogue. (Read an article I wrote about the project, or an interview with me about it.) These projects were funded by the Efling labor union and the Reykjavík Academy. Another interesting part of my work was an article which measured the degree of open access among Icelandic scholarly journals.

For a number of years I was active in consumer affairs in Iceland. I was on the board of directors of the Consumers Association of Iceland from 2008 to 2014, and from 2010 to 2013 I was in charge of product review articles in their magazine Neytendablaðið. I also worked on a number of projects for Iceland's Consumer Spokesman, including the Leiðakerfi neytenda (a website offering Icelandic consumers advice on dispute resolution) and a report (in English) on the problem of small claims resolution in Iceland. Together with both the Consumer Spokesman and the Consumers' Association I spent many volunteer hours lobbying for modernization of the legislation surrounding mail-order purchases in Iceland. In 2013 I served on a committee established by a parliamentary resolution whose report recommended a number of changes to the law, which unfortunately haven't been implemented. The proposals had overwhelming support from the public and most of Iceland's business community, but were opposed by a few influential retailers and, after the 2013 elections, by the Ministry of Finance.

I'm a past board member, vice chair and chair of the now-defunct Icelandic-American Business Forum. There I spent much time lobbying for negotiations towards a social security totalization agreement between Iceland and the U.S. I'm happy to report that these got underway in September 2011, and that the agreement was signed in 2016 and came into force in 2019.

Here are some links to resources from the time I spent in eastern Europe between 1992 and 1994.

Recent Publications

Volume 1 of The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1636-1638, covering surnames beginning with A through Be. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2024.

George Freeman Sanborn Jr., Ipswich Deeds: Volumes 1 and 2 (Charlottetown, P.E.I., 2023). I wrote the introduction to this book, compiled the index, and prepared the main text for publication.

"The Dating of the Providence Civil Compact." The American Genealogist 92 (2020): 165-189, 261-283.

Rick Steves' Iceland, second edition (2020). (With Cameron Hewitt.)

Kyle Hurst and Ian Watson, Selected Ancestors of Nelson McMahon and Louise Rathbun (Boston: Newbury Street Press, 2020).

"Abigail Safford, the First Wife of John² Abbey of Wenham, Massachusetts, and Windham, Connecticut." The American Genealogist 91 (2019): 123-124.

"Sell it or give it away? Open access or closed? Content distribution skills for professional genealogists in the open access publishing era." Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly 33, no. 2 (June 2018): 15-20.

"The origin of Daniel¹ Salmon of Lynn, Massachusetts, and John¹ Francis alias Deacon of Penobscot, Maine." The American Genealogist 90 (2018): 215-216.

Rick Steves' Iceland, first edition (2018). (With contributions by Cameron Hewitt.)

"John Ramsdell, John Ravensdale, Isaac Johnson, and Nathaniel Turner." New England Historical and Genealogical Register 171 (2017): 189-198.

"Assisting living authors in opening access to their in-copyright works: a report from Iceland." Bókasafnið (the journal of the Icelandic librarians' association) 41 (2017): 34-41.

"The origins of Aquila Ramsdell's given name: Investigating the 17th century with mitochondrial DNA," American Ancestors 18, no. 2 (summer 2017): 54–56.

"Contrast set labelling in information design: Theoretical essentials and suggestions for good practice." Pages 417-423 in Alison Black, Paul Luna, Ole Lund, and Sue Walker (eds.), Information Design: Research and Practice (Routledge, 2017).

Rick Steves' Rome 2017 (I updated the whole book); Rick Steves' Italy 2017 (I updated the Rome and Campania sections).

"Citing web addresses that last: How to recognize and use persistent identifiers." Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly 31, no. 4 (December 2016): 169-173.

"Við viljum kjósa." (About Iceland's requirement that Icelanders abroad must visit an embassy or consulate in person in order to vote in elections.) Fréttablaðið, 22 June 2016, p. 14.

"The parentage of Abel Pasko, Sarah Ferguson, and Ichabod Smith of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York." Connecticut Nutmegger 47 (2015): 194-206.

"Small claims resolution in Iceland: status and prospects." A preliminary report written for Iceland’s Consumer Spokesman, December 2013.

Ian Watson and Guðmundur Árni Þórisson, "The Icelandic Open Access Barometer 2013," Samtíð 1 (2013), 6.

"An unusually open identification number system: The Icelandic kennitala." Pages 132-144 in Gayle Lonergan, Ilsen About, and James Brown (eds.), Identification and Registration Practices in Transnational Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

My translation of Draumaland by Arna Skúladóttir, under the name Sweet Dreams (Carroll & Brown, 2012).

"Open Minds: An interview with Ian Watson, Bifröst University in Iceland", by Sólveig Þorsteinsdóttir in ScieCom Info 7, 3 (2011).

"A short history of national identification numbering in Iceland." Bifröst Journal of Social Science 4 (2010): 51-89.