Photo: Fred E. Woods Kári Bjarnason at Brigham Young University
Kári Bjarnason from Vestmannaeyjar Iceland visited Utah August 5-19, 2012 as part of an ongoing unique project. Dr. Fred E. Woods, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah and Kári Bjarnason, Director of Library in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland, are working on the history of Icelanders who immigrated to Utah from 1854 to 1914. Fred and Kári have a project of gathering Icelandic images and documents funded by the Charles Redd Center, BYU, the Utah Humanities Council and the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation. They are gathering documents in Utah and Iceland that pertain to the early Icelandic immigrants to Utah. They are also working on a book, Icelanders Gather to Utah; it will be co-authored by Fred Woods, Kári Bjarnason, and David A. Ashby. This book will be published in Icelandic and English.
The goal of the project is to, first, understand why so many Icelanders left their homeland to go to Utah and secondly to bridge the gap between those who are living and their ancestors. People want to know more about their own people. They may have different reasons for it, perhaps religion, family ties or just curiosity. Another goal of this large project is to bring those nearly 400 Icelandic emigrants to Utah back to life, to tell their stories with their own words, so their descendants can come to know them better. Icelanders have always been interested in their own history.
Between 1854 and 1914, nearly four hundred Icelanders immigrated to Utah. Many were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of these emigrants settled in or near Spanish Fork, Utah, making Spanish Fork, Utah the first permanent Icelandic settlement in North America.
Fred and Kári are visiting the descendants of early Icelandic emigrants to Utah to collect photos, letters, diaries and other historic documents. Some of these descendants have old family letters they have not been able to read because they are in Icelandic. During their visit, Kári has been translating many letters and other documents from Icelandic to English. This has turned out to be a very emotional experience for all involved. The important records of our ancestors are disappearing fast, so we must preserve them now. It’s important to know about our heritage, to get to know about our ancestors and their lives.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity to go into the homes of these people. They get tears in their eyes, and we can see the knitting of their hearts back to their ancestors in Iceland. They are learning about relatives they knew nothing about and it is very rewarding to reunite these families.” Fred Woods, Brigham Young University.
“The people who went to Utah are our brothers and sisters. They may be of another faith, but we want to understand and come closer to these people.” Kári Bjarnason, Vestmannaeyjar Folk Museum.
These pioneers are now remembered in a permanent museum exhibit at the Vestmannaeyjar Folk Museum on the island of Heimay in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. The exhibit, Icelandic Heritage Among the Mormons, tells the story of early Icelandic Mormons, and includes pictures of many of the emigrants. A result of the work of Fred and Kári, the exhibit opened July 16, 2011. The exhibit celebrates the experience of a group of LDS converts who preserved their native identity and did so in a new homeland that was far away from and quite different than the land of their birth.
For an exhibit that was in Hofsós and then in Reykjavík, the Icelandic Association of Utah had found many pictures of the early Icelandic emigrants to Utah. There were only images of about half of the emigrants and some of these are poor quality. One of the purposes of visiting and interviewing the descendants of Icelandic pioneers to Utah is to find more and better quality images. Kári brings addition skills and knowledge to this research. He has been searching through records in Iceland where there has been very little in-depth research in Iceland about these people before they left for Utah. Kári has been able to find information that is not in the Utah records.
This is a unique combination of scholars, Dr. Fred E. Woods, Professor of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, a Mormon, with no Icelandic ancestors and Kári Bjarnason, director of the library in Vestmannaeyjar, and a Catholic, are studying and researching the Mormon emigrants from Iceland to Utah. Fred and Kári met when Fred was visiting the library in Vestmannaeyjar.
The next opportunity for these two to get together will be in February of 2013 when Kári returns to Utah. Kári chose February so he could attend þorrablót in Utah. After that the two have planed a conference in Vestmannaeyjar in early June of 2013 to celebrate the organization of the first Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Fred E. Woods was born and raised in Southern California. He is married to JoAnna Merrill and they are the parents of five children and two granddaughters. Fred graduated from Brigham Young University (BYU) with his B.S. degree in Psychology and his M.A. degree in International Relations. In 1991 he completed his PhD at the University of Utah in the field of Middle East Studies with an emphasis in Biblical Hebrew. Since the completion of his dissertation, Fred expanded his scholarly interests to include a serious study of Mormon History in the context of American Studies. He has authored several works in the areas of ancient studies and Latter-day Saint history and is the compiler and editor of the “Mormon Immigration Index” CD released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2000. His primary area of research is Mormon migration. Professor Woods is also very active in promoting interfaith collaboration. Dr. Woods has been a visiting professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, University of Iceland, several times at BYU-Hawaii and a research professor at Durham University and Australia Catholic University (Melbourne, Australia). Professor Woods has also lectured extensively in America and internationally.
Fred has no known Icelandic ancestors; his only claim to any Icelandic connection would be his birthday, June 17. He became interested in the Icelandic Mormon migration in 1999. The Icelandic Association of Utah was raising funds for the exhibit at Hofsós and a monument to be placed in Vestmannaeyjar in the year 2000, when a local newspaper article caught the attention of his wife, JoAnna. She told Fred this was something that he should be interested in. Fred made contact with the Icelandic Association of Utah and has been doing research and writing about the Icelandic pioneers that came to Utah since that time. Some of his Icelandic works include: a paper on The Conversion and Life of Guðmundur Guðmundsson published by BYU Studies in 2000; the book Fire on Ice published in 2005 in English and 2007 in Icelandic; a paper on Halldór Laxness and the Latter-day Saints, published by BYU studies in 2010; and Jon Jonsson: Icelandic Mormon Poet and Translator by Dr. Woods and Kári Bjarnason, published in Mormon Historical Studies Fall 2011.
Kári Bjarnason, born in Reykjavík, Iceland, received a BA in philosophy, a BA in Icelandic literature, and an MA in old Icelandic literature all from the University of Iceland. From 1989–2006 he was a manuscript specialist at Iceland’s National and University Library. Since 2007 he has been the director of the library in Vestmannaeyjar. In 2011–2012, he was a visiting scholar at BYU, where he was sponsored by the Charles Redd Center. Kári is married to Ágústína Gunnarsdóttir and they have two daughters, six and fourteen.
Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson,
Icelandic Ambassador to the United States
Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson, Icelandic Ambassador to the United States, is surrounded by cousins during his visit to Mountain for The Deuce of August
From the Ambassador’s keynote talk during The Deuce of August in Mountain, ND
Family and friends matter in Iceland as they do around Icelanders in North Dakota. It has been like that through centuries and will continue to be so.
It is therefore an extra treat for me to get to know some of my cousins here in North Dakota, people who are related to me and my family, most of them originated from northeast of Iceland, in Þingeyjarsýsla. It is said that blood is thicker than water, which means of course that family members stick together, no matter what. And that, of course, is the main reason we are here today to celebrate our heritage, our common values and love and respect to our ancestors, and to thank them for continuing, for their hardship and courage, for their love for their country and people. We are one big family.
Younger generations in Iceland think sometimes that they know little about their families and their ancestors. But in reality they know much more then they think they know or admit. Hverra manna ertu? is a common saying in Iceland, and means: Who are your father and mother, your grandpa, grandma, where are you from, and so on. My kids hated when I dumped all these questions on their friends when visiting. But this is natural in Iceland. And it’s not pure curiosity. It is more the will to connect and stay connected with friends and locals.
In former times, families had to stick together. There was no other choice. In remote areas, in tough surroundings, you had to rely on yourself – and your nearest family – as well as your friends if they were anywhere near. In sickness and in health, family members were your insurance, your helping hand, your life if and when the going got tough. Which was not that rare in Iceland in the past – as it was for your ancestors the West Icelanders, here in the New World in North Dakota, and across the border, in Canada. So strong family ties are not only there because of love and affection, it had and has its practical purpose as well. Which is also a good thing.
Dear friends. I got a complete list of my ancestors, a family history book, some very much alive and well while, understandably, many have passed away. Most of them are from the Mountain area. Here in the neighborhood.
Thanks to George Freeman, Pam Fursteneu, Leonard Bernhof, Halfdán Helgason, and everyone connected with the Genealogy Center here in Mountain for their work which I highly value. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of my relatives here in the area, as well as giving my respect to some of my deceased ancestors buried here in the cemeteries in Mountain. Many of them came from Þingeyjarsýsla. One of those family members, a brother to my great-grandmother, was the poet Jóhann Sigurjónsson, who moved to Copenhagen just after 1900 and wrote most of his work there. One of his best known poems in Iceland is a lullaby, which most fathers and mothers in Iceland and possibly also here in North Dakota have sung for their children getting them ready for sleep. This we have done over 100 years and future parents will continue to do so.
Sofðu unga ástin mín./Úti regnið grætur./amma geymir gullin þín,
gamla leggi og völuskrín..Við skulum ekki vaka um dimmar nætur.
Sleep, my young love./Outside the rain is weeping./Mummy is watching over your treasure,/
an old bone and a round case./We should not stay awake through dim nights.
I’m not trying to get you sleepy, but this lullaby underlines the fact that words are stronger than anything else and they travel through time and places. Good poems survive everything. When they hit the heart of people, they connect.
Kristin Olson, a very special aunt, remembered
Photo: Seventeen of nineteen nieces and nephews attended the celebration of life of Kristin Olson Three generations of nieces and nephews gathered in Vancouver on July 1 to celebrate the life of Kristin Olson, the aunt who had a car, a career and fascinating friends. Kristin, who was born on February 2, 1917 at the family farm in Churchbridge, died in Victoria on December 5, 2011. A teacher, a member of the Women’s Division of the R.C.A.F., and the founder of CKOS TV in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Kristin was also the aunt who, without children of her own, took great interest and joy in her nieces and nephews.
The memorial to Kristin began by honouring her grandparents, Kristin and Magnus Hinrikson, who had the courage to leave their families in Iceland in 1887 and to move to the new settlement of Thingvalla in the North West Territory. They lived with friends and Magnus worked as a labourer building the Canadian railroad until filing for a homestead.
They moved into their first home in January 1891 with their two-year-old daughter Ingebjorg (Imba), Aunt Kristin’s mother. In 1905 they built another home in a better farming area, selling it in 1918 to their daughter Imba and her husband Alexander Oscar Olson who met at the University of Manitoba, where they both graduated in Agriculture.
Magnus Hinrikson greatly regretted his lack of formal education, but pursued self-education with fervour. Judge Walter Lindal, his son-in-law, wrote, “He was not limited in his reliance upon himself to achieve the ability to understand the Old Norse language, the Icelandic culture, the sagas and the Eddas and also could express himself flawlessly in both English and Icelandic.” He loved and collected books, owning an extensive library, including all seven volumes of Stephan G. Stephanson’s poems. It was not surprising that he wanted all three of his daughters to be well educated: Ingebjorg in Agriculture, Jorunn in Law and Elin in Education, a remarkable achievement for a family, let alone women, in the early 1900s.
Judge Lindal also wrote that a sign of Magnus Hinrikson’s good judgment was in choosing Kristin to be his wife. She was proficient in carding, spinning and knitting with the wool from their sheep. She provided clothing for the family but also supplemented the farm income by selling her woollen goods and butter and cream from the farm. Kristin was also a gracious hostess to their many visitors.
The Hinriksons celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 1937 and Magnus died later that year. In 1939, Kristin was named Dame of the Order of the Falcon by King Christian of Denmark and Iceland in recognition of the contribution she and Magnus made to the perpetuation of the Icelandic language and culture in Canada. She died in 1943 in Churchbridge. Both Hinriksons are laid to rest at Thingvalla, which they helped establish and which is the oldest Icelandic cemetery west of Manitoba.
Their daughter Imba and son-in-law Oscar Olson had five children, Baldur Magnus, Margaret, Harold, Kristin and Magnus (Max). The Olsons were self-sufficient, with a large herd of cattle and other livestock, mixed grains, hay fields and a huge garden. In a letter, Ruth Hilland, daughter of Jo and Judge Walter Lindal, recalled the summers she spent with her cousins on the Olson farm: “I can recall every room of the old house – the huge kitchen table which seated the whole family, five children and hired hands, two or three and more at thrashing time. Meals were huge and the men ate like horses. In addition coffee and cakes and pies were sent out every morning and afternoon to the field. The girls, Margaret, Kristin, Imba and a hired girl, spent all their time in the kitchen. A basement below the kitchen was lined with hundreds of preserves, fruit, vegetables, jam, pickles and meat. It was accessed by a trap door in the kitchen, and of course despite many warnings I came racing in one day and fell through, to the horror of everyone. And I shall never forget the ice cream. Every Sunday the ice cream maker came out, the boys took turns turning the handle and the ice cream was fantastic!” There was a lot of work but also lots of fun. Ruth remembers concerts and dances, many held in the Olson barn.
Tragedy struck the family when Oscar contracted a terrible infection, which only a decade later likely would have responded to antibiotics. He died on February 4, 1939, at age 54. In 1954, Imba moved to Nanaimo where she lived with Kristin until her death in 1956.
Seventeen of the 19 sur-viving grandchildren of Imba and Oscar attended the celebration and each one had an opportunity to recall the extraordinary relationship they shared with their Aunt Kristin. At the celebration, the highlights of Kristin’s life were covered. As well, those present offered charming anecdotes from many different perspectives.
Born on the family farm in Churchbridge, Saskatchewan, Kristin attended the University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan, qualifying as a high school teacher. While attending U of M she boarded with her Aunt Jorunn (Jo) and Uncle Walter Lindal in Winnipeg. Room and board was paid by the delivery of a five gallon can of cream shipped from the farm. After teaching for six years in Saskatchewan, she spent three years in the Women’s Division of the R.C.A.F. and then returned to teach in Nanaimo, BC.
In 1958 she left teaching and entered a whole new career, partnering with her brother Harold in establishing CKOS Television in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. She was Program Director and also had her own interview show which dealt with topics of current interest. A 1959 newspaper article, which delighted her no end, said, “In the comparatively new industry of television it is somewhat a departure from the orthodox to find a female program director. As one observes this alert young woman purposely going about her duties at CKOS-TV, either at her desk or in the studio where, as an interviewer on “Of Interest to You” she ties loose ends of information into a thoroughly interesting and delightful program, it is obvious she has found her niche. CKOS has a dedicated program director and she is every bit as capable as her male counterparts.”
After selling CKOS in 1963, Kristin moved to Winnipeg where she and Harold established two more businesses. In 1970, she took a job in the University of Manitoba Registrar’s office and remained there until her retirement in 1983. She was active in the Soroptomist Club and the Canadian Federation of University Women.
She travelled frequently to Iceland and felt very at home there. After Margaret’s husband Terry died, Kristin and Margaret lived together in New Westminster. One of their great joys were winter trips to Hemet, California. When Margaret died, Kristin moved to a retirement home in Burnaby and in her final year to the Parkwood Retirement Home in Victoria.
In her later years, Kristin, the last surviving member of Oscar and Imba’s family, would greet visitors with a list of questions that she wanted to be sure would cover them and their families. The last niece to visit her the day before her stroke recalled how sharp her mind was, displaying as always her keen interest in every family member. She had taken up cribbage to add to her love of bridge, scrabble, politics and the Blue Jays. She could whip most people at all of her favourite games and never tired of a good political discussion.
Kristin was tall, elegant and eloquent and wore wonderful clothes and jewellry. She was the aunt who had a car, a career, and fascinating friends and who took a special interest in each of her nieces and nephews. Kristin is greatly missed by all who knew her but all agreed that she left a wonderful legacy for the succeeding generations.
Nancy Marie Brown
E Burke, VT
Snorri Sturluson (1178- 1241) may be the most influential writer of the Middle Ages: His books inspired such writers as the Brothers Grimm, Longfellow, Ibsen, William Morris, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jorge Luis Borges, Günter Grass, A.S. Byatt, Jane Smiley, and Neil Gaiman. His Edda, according to one translator, is “the deep and ancient wellspring of Western culture.”
The Deuce of August
On August 2nd, 1874, a new constitution was introduced for Iceland’s Independence and was known as “The Day of the Icelanders.” Icelanders from all over the United States, Canada and Iceland gather in Mountain N.D. to celebrate the Annual Icelandic Celebration.