The Emigration from Iceland to North America
2 December 2006   Newsletter - Nr 55
Keeping in touch as often as possible!
 The "Silent Flashes" Project
Dating, Identifying, and Utilizing Old Photos

Do you have old photographs that have been passed down in the family? The sepia brown kind, mounted on hard cards with the photographer's name at the bottom? Maybe they are in a thick velvet-covered album or loose in a cardboard box tucked away in your basement or attic. Here is an opportunity to learn more about them.
Björn Illugason
Björn Illugason from Kollafoss in
Húnavatnssýsla County. He
emigrated in 1876 with his family and
eventually made his home in N.-Dakota.
If you are the family "packrat" and have hung on to these old heirlooms despite the fact that most of the images are unknown to you, you may be interested in the "Silent Flashes" project, which explores the "photographic heritage" of the early Icelandic pioneers who settled across Canada and the United States.
For the past 30 years, Nelson Gerrard of Manitoba has been preserving, studying, and identifying early photographs of Icelandic immigrants and their families. This began with an interest in family history, but quickly broadened through research for Icelandic River Saga (1985). In 1990, as a result of several large donations of old photos no longer known or wanted by their owners, Nelson started the Eyrarbakki Icelandic Photographic Archive, and in 2004 this resulted in the creation of a museum-style exhibit called Silent Flashes: Photography Among Icelandic Immigrants in North America - 1870-1910, on long-term display at the Icelandic Emigration Centre at Hofsos in Iceland. This exhibit includes some 400 images and celebrates our photographic heritage in a new and unique way. Now - to explore this subject further - Nelson is compiling a book, also called Silent Flashes, and long-term plans include a video documentary on the same subject.
During the course of this work with old photographs, something remarkable became apparent. Each old image represents a fragment of the collective history of our Icelandic pioneers, and when these photographic fragments are brought together and reassembled, they form a fascinating historical overview of the Icelandic immigrant experience in North America. This visual history reveals many things that history books do not - a fact readily evident to those who visit the Silent Flashes exhibit in Iceland.
Over the 40 year period from 1870 to 1910, an incredible wealth of images of Icelandic immigrants was created in photographic studios across Canada and the United States - from Halifax to Victoria and from New York to Seattle.
The little girl in the center is the well known
Canadian writer Laura Goodman Salverson.
As the pioneers and their descendants dispersed, however, these images became scattered across the continent, and the task of locating them and gathering them back together is therefore a formidable challenge. Natural disasters such as floods, fires, and the ravages of time have all taken a heavy toll, as has the tendency to discard old things that no longer seem relevant. There are many stories of boxes of photographs being relegated to a leaky shed, the burning barrel, or the trash.
Now, the surviving remnants of our photographic heritage face yet another serious threat - the flea market craze. When an album or box of old photographs with an Icelandic connection is sold to a "collector", a piece of our history is lost forever. The potential for identifying these old images as part of our history once they have entered the "world of antiques" is gone, and they become mere "collectibles" - undistinguishable from thousands of other unidentified photos that have little if any actual value.
What use are pictures if no-one knows the names of the people? In actual fact, many of these unknown pictures can be identified through various techniques and long-term research within the context of a photographic archive - but even as unidentified images they can be historically valuable as long as their connection with the Icelandic community is preserved.
Locating, dating, identifying, and archiving these photographic fragments of our history - that is the challenge of the "Silent Flashes Project". Whether you know the faces on your treasured photos and merely wish to share this information, whether you have unidentified pictures you just don't want to throw away, or whether you are curious about dates and names, please take advantage of this opportunity to share your treasures. Most photos can be dated, many can be identified, and some could find their way into the pages of the upcoming book or documentary entitled Silent Flashes.
If you have old photos or albums pre-dating 1910 and would like to share or learn more about them, please contact Nelson Gerrard by
phone: 1-204-378-2758
or mail: Box 925, Arborg, Manitoba R0C 0A0 Canada.

Please print out this number of the Newsletter and nail it to your memory board so you will always be reminded to be alert regarding old photographs!

 Katrín Árnadóttir Lessard
The respond to my question of Katrín Árnadóttir Lessard in my last Newsletter was really far beond what I had expected. Actually, I really didn't know what to expect, but when I ran the Outlook Express, my email program, and saw all the emails regarding Edward Lessard and his mother Katrín, I felt like I had a large group of reseachers working for me. And I'm sure I can rely on this group - even enlarged - when it comes to another search. So many had taken their time in my behalf to search for the lady and her family through different Canadian census records and other sourches and sent me the result. For that I'm really greatful. Now I know that Katrín did marry Alphonse Lessard and together they had four children beside Edward, the soldier. I even know that Edward's girth of chest expanded was 36" - rather slim - and he had a large scar from burn inside his right forearm. All this knowledge - except for the 36 inches and the scar - is already in my Genealogy Database where you can see the result of your work. Thanks to you all. And I was right about Katrín's Icelandic family so I could give myself a tap on my shoulder.

 The Genealogy Search
When searching for long gone individuals, the Census records are of vital importance. Regarding our Icelandic ancestors the possibilities to find what we search for are rather good. We have the 1703 census which we claim to be the first census taken on a whole nation. I really don't know about that, but the next census taken in Iceland was in 1801, then 1835, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1910 and 1930. There are also very uncomplete census records of 1729 and 1785. Additionally we have the census of 1816, which is not a real census, rather a compilation of ministerial records from 1816 and even up to 1822, something we have to bear in mind regarding the age of the persons registered. Unfortunately only the census of 1703, 1801, 1816 and 1845 have been published in whole so far. The Icelandic Genealogy Society has been working on the 1910 census for years but only five counties of 18 have been published up to now. The first one in 1994. Heaven knows when the project will be finished, if ever. It's a question of big money.
About 10 to 12 years ago I wrote up the 1816 census and made it accessible on the Web (click here!). Since then, the Icelandic National Archives has made the census of 1703 and 1835 accessible (click here!) also on the Web. The next one will be the 1880 census, a very vital one when searching for emigrants.
If you are able to read or understand the Icelandic language you might want to look up and read online the Icelandic newspapers, Heimskringla (click!) and Lögberg, (click!) published in Winnipeg in the 19th and 20th century. You can even search by words. And then, of course, is my online database!

 From my window
2 December 2006

 My online database
Just click the GenWeb-logo below and check on your Icelandic ancestors. The database is locked, so you need a password for your search. Right now the database holds 519.800 names and is constantly growing. Get a password and check your family tree. Also I'm sure you can help me with some additions to the database!
Remember: When you apply for passwords, you must inform me of your Icelandic ties with names of your ancestors, when they were born (at least approximately), when they emigrated, where from, their children and whatever you may know about them. That will help me to prepare for your visit if necessary.

 Pictures from Iceland - Great Christmas gifts
Mats Wibe
Click on Mats Íslandsmyndasafn and browse through what is just a tiny bit of Mats Wibe Lund's huge picture gallery of places all over in Iceland. If you really want a fine picture of where your ancestors lived, just contact him.