The Emigration from Iceland to North America

12 December 2007   Newsletter - Nr 63

My good old Christmas decoration!
 From the desk of yours truly

The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), famous throughout the world for his wonderful fairy tales, wrote: "Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale." What may have followed these "words of wisdom" is not to my knowledge. So I'm not sure of what he really meant by writing these words. Is life really a wonderful fairy tale? Well, the creation of life itselfe may be like a fairy tale, but what about the life as we live it? It may be like a fairy tale to some of us - to many people, but far too many have to live a life which is certainly not like a fairy tale. A life in real misery.
In few days Christmas will be celebrated in many different ways. Many charitable societies strive to ease the life of the poor and lonesome. They depend on donations. Let's keep it in mind when we prepare our own Christmas celebration.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas
and Prosperous 2008!

 One Thing Leads To Another

Browsing the IGF web - the Iceland Genealogy Forum - is always of interest. Not long ago Nicole Janzen-Avery in Calgary, Alberta. informed that she had found the headstone of a PETER JOHNSON born in Iceland July 14, 1864 d April 10, 1914.
Curious as I am, I asked myselfe: Who was this man? Obviously the surname Johnson had been anglicized from Jónsson or Jóhannsson or some similar Icelandic surname. As the Emigration records or my own database are not searchable by dates I could not find there any Peter Johnson matching the information given.
I'm one of the many genealogy freaks who hate loose ends (there are so many!) and simply had to find out who this person was. And soon I had it. Pétur Jóhannsson, born 27 July 1863 (not 14th of July) in Skagafjordur county, died 10 April 1914 in Calgary, Alberta. Parents: Jóhann Arnór Gudmundsson (1824-1876) and Helga Pálsdóttir (1825-1893). Peter's wife was Jóhanna Jónsdóttir, b. 17 Dec 1869 in Skagafjordur county. Parents: Jón Jónsson (1835-??) and Guðrún Steinsdóttir (1834-??). Peter and Johanna had five children who also emigrated with their parents: Johann, b. 1891, Jon, b. 1893, Gudrun, b. 1895, Sigridur, b. 1896 and Helga, b. 1899. All took the name Johnson. Does anyone know this family? Please let me know if you do.

Emile Walters and Thorstina Jackson
Emile Walters and his wife
Thorstina Jackson.
And now back to the headline: One Thing Leads To Another.
While "researching" Peter Johnson and family, I found out that his wife Jóhanna Jónsdóttir, had a sister by name of Björg Jónsdóttir, b. 1866. She emigrated in 1887 and married in Canada (Winnipeg?) Páll Valdemar Eiríksson b. 28 Feb 1864 in Skagafjördur, Iceland. He had also emigrated in 1887. In Winnipeg he took the name Walters. One of their two sons was Emile Walters, probably the best known artist of Icelandic origin in North America. His paintings are in numerous art museums in North America and Europe, including Iceland of course.
Emile Walters married the author Thorstina Jackson (1887-1959) daughter of the Icelandic immigrants in N-Dakota, Thorleifur Joakimsson Jackson and Guðrún Jónsdóttir Jackson. She wrote the Story of the Icelanders in North Dakota. In 1926 she received the Icelandic Order of the Knights Cross of the Order of the Falcon from King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland for her lectures and studies in Iceland and Icelandic settlements in America. She died on February 2, 1959.
I find it strange how vague all information is regarding the childhood of the two sons of Björg Jónsdóttir and Páll Valdemar Eiríksson.
According to numerous sources, Emile Walters is said to be born in 1893, which must be wrong. His father died 4 June 1891, as may be seen in the Winnipeg newspaper Lögberg (June 10th), leaving a wife behind and two young children. In her book, Story of the Icelanders in North Dakota, Thorstina Jackson writes a chapter of her husband Emile Walters.
Bill Cody with babe
The Cowboy Bill Cody protecting
a sweet innocent babe.
She mention his parents but not when he was born. Another strange thing is that she calls Emile's father Páll Valtýr Eiríksson. Because she didn't know better? Anyway, Emile was only a kid when he was taken to foster by Gudlaugur Kristjansson and his wife Anna Thorleifsdóttir. They had emigrated in 1887, probably on the same boat - Camoens - as Emile's parents and settled in Gardar, N.-Dakota. So eventually Emile became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Emile Walters visited Iceland and many of his painting are said to be influenced by the Icelandic nature. He received the Icelandic Order and the Knight's Cross of the Order of the Falcon from King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland. He died in 1977.
Well, you mentioned two sons of Páll Valdemar and Björg Walters, might someone say. Yes, they were two, Emile and an older brother, named - as far as I know - Páll or Paul, as his father.
In 1927 the Icelandic Littereature Nobel price winner Halldor Laxness (1902-1998) was travelling in America. In his memoirs from that time he wrote: "Of all the notable people I have met the last weeks the most remarkable one is Bill Cody". When they met, Bill Cody was told that Laxness came from Iceland. Then a broad smile lit his face: "I'm from there too". And Laxness learned that Cody, who had become a noted movie star, was from poor Icelandic people in Canada and was Emile Walters' brother. Bill Cody told Laxness that he had been sent to Iceland as a child and stayed at Husabakki, near Sauðárkrókur in Skagafjördur for two years, where he, among other things, learned to ride a horse. "I don't remember the Icelandic language anymore, except one word: "harðfiskur" (dried fish)" Cody said.
Bill Cody played in many films, mainly Cowboy films, just to mention Riding of Mystery (1925) and Fighting Gringo (1939). He died 1948 in Santa Monica, California.

 Beautiful Iceland
Hraunfossar in Borgarfjördur.
The water is flowing beneath a large lava mass into the river Hvítá (the White river).
A popular tourist attraction in Western Iceland.
Photo courtesy: Mats Wibe Lund

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 Pictures from Iceland - Your ancestors homeplace - A great gift for Christmas!
Mats Wibe
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