Hereditary cystatin C amyloid angiopathy (HCCAA) is an autosomal dominant disease with high penetrance, manifest by brain hemorrhages in young normotensive adults. In Iceland, this condition is caused by the L68Q mutation in the cystatin C gene, with contemporary carriers reaching an average age of only 30 years. Here, we report, based both on linkage disequilibrium and genealogical evidence, that all known copies of this mutation derive from a common ancestor born roughly 18 generations ago. Intriguingly, the genealogies reveal that obligate L68Q carriers born 1825 to 1900 experienced a drastic reduction in life span, from 65 years to the present-day average. At the same time, a parent-of-origin effect emerged, whereby maternal inheritance of the mutation was associated with a 9 year reduction in life span relative to paternal inheritance. As these trends can be observed in several different extended families, many generations after the mutational event, it seems likely that some environmental factor is responsible, perhaps linked to radical changes in the life-style of Icelanders during this period. A mutation with such radically different phenotypic effects in reaction to normal variation in human life-style not only opens the possibility of preventive strategies for HCCAA, but it may also provide novel insights into the complex relationship between genotype and environment in human disease.