The Emigration from Iceland to North America

11 May 2010   Newsletter - Nr 72

 From the desk of yours truly
Did you know that liquid oxygen is blue? No, the blue color of the sky isn't related. The blue color of the sky is caused by the scattering of sunlight off the molecules of the atmosphere. This scattering is called Rayleigh scattering after some English physicist who must have been pretty much taken by this phenomenon. To be more precise: The scattering of electromagnetic radiation by particles with dimensions much smaller than the wavelength of the radiation. The frequency of the radiation is not altered by this form of scattering, though the phase of the light is usually changed. Because the amount of Rayleigh scattering is greater at shorter frequencies, more scattering of the sun's rays by the Earth's atmosphere occurs on the blue end of the spectrum than at the red end, thus more blue light reaches the Earth, and the sky generally appears blue.
Well, I didn't know this. I don't even understand this. Do you? I incidentally found this wisdom on the Internet. It's amazing what you can find on the internet. Almost anything.

Well, finding pictures of ships that brought the Icelandic emigrants either half way or all the way to North America is not as easy as one can imagine. Not even on the Internet. When I say half the way, I mean that some ships ran only between Iceland and Scotland or England while others took their passenger all the way to North America, usually to Quebec or New York.
Just recently I came across a postcard depicting Ss Vesta in Seyðisfjörður harbour. It doesn't look big and I'm sure the accomondation onboard didn't earn any compliment. Anyway, this was probably the best you could get at that time for those who didn't have much money.

According to Vesturfaraskrá (Records of emigration), Ss Vesta sailed only in the years 1904 and 1905, i.e. almost in the end of the real emigration period.
Those years a great majority of the emigrants came from the East of Iceland, as indeed was the fact throughout the whole registered emigration period 1870 to 1914. In the year 1904 more than 300 people emigrated from Iceland, thereof 141 from the Múlasýslur counties and 1905 282 were registered as emigrants thereof 104 from the East of Iceland. Yes, the Múlasýslur counties (North- and South) are actually the eastern part of Iceland. And Seyðisfjörður was the biggest town in that part of the country.
From the many families who emigrated in those years I mention only one. In 1904 Jónas Stephensen (1849-1929) emigrated from Seyðisfjörður with his wife Margrét and their three children, Anna, Stefán and Sigurður. They settled in Winnipeg. I may have mentioned this family sometime in the past, but do it again since Jónas was my great grandmother's brother. I find it rather strange that in all the years I have been doing "Emigration genealogy" (since 1995), I have never got any contact with descendants of the family and in fact, that goes also for the family of Þorvaldur (Thorvald) Stephensen, brother to Jónas and my great grandmother Sigríður. He emigrated already in 1872 with family to Chicago. Well, I can surely live with that, but it would indeed be fun to have a small chat with some of the only "close" relatives I have in North America.
By the way. Did your Icelandic ancestors emigrate in the years 1904 or 1905? If so, this not so good picture of Ss Vesta could be an interesting addition in the family album.

 Trips to Iceland
This summer you have all the chances to visit Iceland and get the most out of it. And don't let the volcanic eruption scare you.
As I have mentioned previously, Jónas Þór (or Jonas Thor if you prefer) who runs the company Thortravels, arranges travels from North America to Iceland. Take a look at his website to see the program for the summer.
For further information - contact Jónas Þór.

 Genealogy project

I'm sure you know about the annual Icelandic celebration held in Mountain, North Dakota the last days of July and the first days in August, called The Deuce of August. This coordinates with the Icelandic Celebration (Islendingadagurinn) in Gimli, Manitoba. What I want to tell you is that during the celebration George Freeman and Pam Furstenau both devoted genealogists, offer to assist visitors in their search for their Icelandic roots. My name on the card above, is merely because I was invited to be a part of this COUSINS ACROSS THE OCEAN project, which is entirely in the hands of George and Pam. I am of course both proud and happy if and when I can be of some assistance.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that Pam Furstenau was recently elected to the board of INL of North America. INL stands for Icelandic National League and "is a non-political, cultural organization that strives to contribute to North American culture through the preservation and promotion of the positive aspects of our Icelandic heritage which was brought to this continent by our Icelandic pioneer forefathers and their descendants, through the strengthening of cultural bonds and kinship ties with the people of Iceland and through the promotion of cooperation among Icelandic cultural groups here in North America."
Is there a chapter or a club member organization which you can join? Doing that, your membership will strengthen the ties amongst the descendants of the Icelanders who had for various reasons to leave their country in search for a better life in a new country. Maybe the life didn't get much better for them, but their hard work helped in making your life as good as it gets :-)

 Freyjuginning/Tricking of Freya
Last year the book Tricking of Freyja (English) or Freyjuginning (Icelandic), was published in US and in Iceland. This is a very interesting, charming and exiting novel which I would - if I could in English - praise in some well chosen words :-)
Anyway, since I'm not able to do that I'll quote Donna Seaman, Booklist:
A young woman obsessed with uncovering a family secret is drawn into the strange and magical landscape, language, and history of Iceland.
Freya Morris
(the main caracter in the book) is living in New York, far removed from her family and her past, when she is summoned back to the formative place of her youth, a remote Canadian village called Gimli, where her Icelandic ancestors settled long ago. Her ancient grandmother, a woman who knows all the family stories, now clings to life. In Gimli, Freya picks up the thread of a secret--one that leads her through her history and ultimately back to Iceland. Along the way, we learn the story of her early visits to Gimli, the truth about her exuberant, mercurial aunt, and the full scope of a tragedy that shattered her childhood in an instant.
A vivid, moving story of an immigrant family and the culture of a little-known nation, The Tricking of Freya is "astonishingly accomplished . . . a bewitching tale of volcanic emotions, cultural inheritance, family sorrows, mental illness, and life-altering discoveries"

As you see by this, Freya Morris is of Icelandic descent and so is Christina Sunley, the author of the book.
Christina Sunley was asked: "What inspired you to write The Tricking of Freya"? Read her reply and notice the similarity with the reality which is happening these days.
Yes, Christina is of Icelandic origin on her mother's side. Her mother, Winnifred Edith Ólafsdóttir Sunley, is the daughter of Ólafur Björnsson (1869-1937), MD in Winnipeg, and his wife Sigríður Elínborg Jónsdóttir (1889-1932).
Ólafur Björnsson, who emigrated in 1876, was the youngest of 8 siblings.
1) Anna emigrated also in 1876, her husband was Jakob Júlíus Jónsson b. 1848.
2) Páll, b. 1853, emigrated in 1873.
3) Þórunn, b. 1854, d. 1927 in Los Angeles. Her husband was Stígur Þorvaldsson. Their son: Björn Thorvaldson d. 1954 in Cavalier, N-Dakota.
4) Sveinn, b. 1856, d. 1941 in Seattle. His wife: Kristrún Ólafsdóttir.
5) Sigrún, b. 1860. Emigrated in 1876. Her husband was Lars Hogan from Norway.
6) Bergljót (1862-1862)
7) Halldóra(1865-1943), her husband Páll Sigurgeirsson Bardal. Their son Paul married Anna Jónsdóttir Vopni (1896-1920).

Any additional information regarding the families mentioned is greatly appreciated.

 The rough Iceland

The volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull, southern Iceland, has had videspread effect not only in Iceland but also throughout the world. A similar incident, the eruption in Askja, north east Iceland, in 1870 drove eventually thousands of Icelanders - many of them were your ancestors - to emigrate to North America in the 19th century.
The picture above was nicked off the Web. A fantastic series of pictures from the worst affected region can be seen here.

 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 524.655 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 - Your ancestors home place!
Mats Wibe
Click on Mats Islandsmyndasafn 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.