Monday, October 11, 2010

The Icelanders of Emery County

Vestmanneyjar, (Westman Island) Iceland, the small island  where most of the Icelandic immigrants came from. --Larue Lofley Collection


This week we collected histories, photographs and journals of Icelanders who helped settle Emery County!

Fred Woods, a professor at B.Y.U. came to Emery County Archives on Tuesday, bringing with him Kari Bjarnason who is a Special Collections Librarian from the National Library of Iceland. These two men are working (from both sides of the ocean) on research about these first Icelanders to settle in the United States. The Archives had very little information in our collections, but Fred Woods had sent us some names of the early settlers, and we were able to contact some Icelandic descendants still living in Cleveland to aid in this research.  
John and Freida Thorderson
Holldor Johnson
    We contacted Freida Filmore, descendant of John Thorderson and Freida Olafsson; Larue Lofley who's great grandfather was Einar Erickson and Gudrun Magnusdottir; and Kit Anderson, descendant of Halldor Jonsson (later spelled Johnson) and his wife, Jonina. 
Einar Erickson
Each of those contacted donated and/or loaned photographs, histories and journals to the Archives to be scanned. Frieda and Kit met with us and our researchers to share stories of their ancestors as well as documents and photographs. As our new friend from Iceland looked through the items, he would say, "This is fantastic!"
  Here is some of what we learned on Tuesday: Mormon missionaries visited Iceland in the 1850s and many people joined the LDS Church. (Missionary worked stopped there in 1914 because of World War I.) Icelander converts came to the United States and settled in Spanish Fork, Utah where today you can see a monument erected to honor them as the first permanent settlement of Icelanders in the United States! Later some of them were guided on to Emery County where they settled in Cleveland, and a few in other towns in the county.

Kit Anderson, Larue Lofley and Frieda Filmore all have documents written in Icelandic.  Kari Bjarnasson translated into English for us, as he read them. Kit then asked if he would read something in Icelandic since he heard his mother and grandmother speak in that language to each other all of his life. Kari then read a poem in Icelandic. It brought authenticity to our discussion of these early immigrants as we heard their beautiful language spoken, and especially touched Kit as he heard the familiar language of his youth. 

Icelanders seemed to have a stronger connection to their homeland than any other nationality. They believed that if they read, spoke, and wrote in Icelandic, they would preserve their heritage, and it has lasted through generations. Frieda and 14 other members of that family visited Iceland, feeling a tug of their homeland.

It is interesting to note that each of these Icelandic pioneer men were called back to Iceland on missions for the LDS church. It sounds a little difficult to be settling a new land and town and taking time to travel across the ocean and spend some years there as well, but these men did it! Einar Erickson went on three missions and we have a list of names of the Icelandic converts to the LDS church in those early years through Larue Lofley's Collection. Come see it at the Archives!

If any of you have ancestors from Iceland, please contact me so we can pass the information along to Fred Woods and Kari Bjarnason and (even more importantly) keep copies for us in the Archives too!

We understand that sometimes you don't want to part with your historic pictures, so we are glad to digitize them and return them. We can give the family as many disks of the scanned photographs as you want for no charge.

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