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1887 Icelandic Emigrants

by Willie Engelson

As Willie is researching an 1887 travel journal that tells of his great grandparents and their journey to Washington Island, he uncovers family ties that bound many of those whose first settlement was also Washington Island. These ties bind many of us still today. Are you related to the Washington Island emigrants? Read on.....

There are a little over one hundred original Icelandic emigrants from 1870 to 1914 who have an association with Washington Island. I had one of the Icelandic Roots volunteers put a program together so that I could run each of those names against all the others in the database to discern the relationships between each of them. In researching this, I found some very interesting relationships that were not otherwise apparent. A group of emigrants heading to the Island in 1887 illustrates for us how many of our Island Icelandic families are interrelated.

My great grandparents, Kristofer Einarson and Ingibjorg Jonsdottir, were an unmarried couple leaving from two separate farms in Vestur Skaftafellssýsla (or V. Skaft.) on the south coast of Iceland. A sýsla is a geographical designation similar to our counties in the USA.

This couple, Kristofer and Ingibjorg, is mentioned as an engaged couple in a travel journal written by a fellow traveler from V. Skaft. Yet on the trip across the Atlantic from Scotland, they are listed in the ship’s manifest as a married couple. That no doubt afforded them better berthing arrangements in the steerage area compared with single persons. Kristofer is the 2nd cousin of Kari Bjarnarson and Ingibjorg is the 1st cousin of Kari’s wife Sigurline, firmly tying the Einarson and Bjarnarson families together. Ingibjorg is a 2nd half-cousin once removed with Jon Thorhallason and his wife Thorunn Gisladottir, shown below.

Kristofer Einarson family in Washington Island
Kristofer Einarson family: Inga (Hansen/Hanson), Kristofer, Josie (Hansen), Thorunn (Clavey), Gremur on Ingibjorg's lap and Dora (Engelson)

This travel journal describes the trip on horseback from V. Skaft. to Reykjavik, a distance of 50 miles which involved fording many rivers, using ferries across some of the larger rivers, and identifying some of the other stops along the way. Once in Reykjavik, they boarded SS Camoens, a 250’ steamship with two masts for setting sails under the right conditions.

The SS Camoens was built in 1871 to carry Icelandic horses and sheep from Iceland to Scotland. The horses were used in the coal mines in the UK. A Camoens ship could carry up to 72 passengers as well as the livestock, and made round trips every two weeks given good weather conditions. You should understand that it could be the case that passengers and livestock might be aboard at the same time. The bilges would be in a horrific state and it is unlikely that they were adequately sluiced out on a regular basis. Bad weather and rough seas produced many cases of seasickness and the primitive ventilation further contributed to the nastiness below decks.

After a week at sea, they arrived in Scotland, debarked and transferred to a train to Glasgow. They next boarded SS Buenos Aryean, an 1879 built 325’ steam vessel with two masts for auxiliary sailing. They departed Scotland on July 17th and arrived in Canada ten days later. The emigrants went their separate ways, but for three families who went to Washington Island.

Bardur Nichol family: Washington Island
Bardur Nichol family: Bardur, Oscar and Hallfridur.

Bardur Nikulasson emigrated from V. Skaft. heading to Washington Island with his wife Hallfridur Oddsdottir and two foster children: Ingibjorg Jonasdottir and Asgrimur “Oscar Nichol” Adolfsson. This family went by the name Nichol while on the Island and lived in the white house just to the west of the Albatross restaurant. Sigurd Sigurdsson who married the widow Margret Jonsdottir, the mother of the two Gunnerson children who had all emigrated in 1884. Bardur is a 2nd cousin of Sigrurd. Groa Jonsdottir and her daughter Juliana emigrated together in 1883. Hallfridur and Groa are 2nd cousins. Juliana later married C. H. Thordarson, the 1873 emigrant who owned Rock Island.

Hallfridur is also a 2nd cousin with Gudrun Gunnlaugsdottir who emigrated in 1876. She is Petur Gunnluagsson’s half-sister and married Oddur Magnusson. Asgrimur is not related to either Bardur or Hallfridur but is a first cousin twice removed of Arndis Eyolfsdottir, Kristofer Einarsson’s mother. He is the grandson of Arndis’s maternal cousin, Asgrimur Eyolfsson. This ties the Nichol family with the Einarson family. Asgrimur is the 2nd cousin once removed of Gudmundur Gudmundsson, one of the original 1870 emigrants, the pater familias of the Gudmunder/Goodman family. Asgrimur, now Oscar Nichol, married the youngest daughter of John and Thorunn Johnson, further joining the blood relations between those two families.

Jon Thorhallason also travels from V. Skaft with his family. This family goes by the name Johnson on Washington Island. Jon’s wife, Thorunn Gisladottir, is also his first cousin. They bring along four of their children and a granddaughter. Agusta Gudrun Jonsdottir and her daughter, Stefania Ingvarsdottir; Thorlakar “Tommy” Jonsson; Benedikt “Hotel Ben” Jonsson, and Thuridur “Dora” Jonsdottir.

Bardur is the son of Jon’s sister, so they are 1st cousins once removed; he is therefore, 2nd cousins with each of Jon and Thorunn’s children. John and Thorunn’s son, Magnus Jonsson, immigrated to the Island in 1886 and married Johanna “Josie” Ingibjorg Hannesdottir, the sister of Olafur Hannesson, who emigrated in 1872. This ties the Hannesson’s to the Johnson family. Hotel Ben Johnson married Evelyn Gisladottir, the daughter of John Gislason, an original 1870 emigrant tying those two large Icelandic families together.

Understanding and tracking genealogy can be a mind-numbing process somewhat akin to 3D chess and, at the same time, is fascinating. There is no easy way to describe these family connections.

These three families are inter-related and later marriages bring in several other original Icelandic emigrant families: Sigurdson/Gunnerson, Peter Gunnlaugsson, Oddur Magnusson, John Gislason, Olafur Hannesson, Gudmundur Gudmundsson/Goodmander/Goodman, Kari Bjarnarson, and C. H. Thordarson.

Were we to step down another generation or two, we would certainly find other families joining in. It is a sure thing that a very large number of Islanders and people connected to the Island have Icelandic blood coursing through their veins.

Johnson siblings: Ben, Tommy and Dora (Nichol).
Johnson siblings: Ben, Tommy and Dora (Nichol).

If you are a member of Icelandic Roots, you’ll be able to read the 1887 travel journal and see more info on the ships, as well as the long line of ancestors for each of the people mentioned in this story. I urge you to support Icelandic Roots so its work may continue.

For IR members: this is the Icelandic Roots number tied to each entry and allows one to quickly locate them in the database. Note that the first character of the IR number is a capital “I”.

Kristofer Einarsson I250624 Asgrimur Eyolfsson I32469

Ingibjorg Jonsdottir I553160 Gudmundur Gudmundsson I85090

Kari Bjarnarson I249842 Jon Thorhallason I327186

Bardur Nikulasson I387841 Thorunn Gisladottir I211058

Hallfridur Oddsdottir I397840 Agusta Gudrun Jonsdottir I327188

Ingibjorg Jonasdottir I621522 Stefania Ingvarsdottir I674193

Asgrimur “Oscar Nichol” Adolfsson I397828 Magnus Jonsson I268397

Sigurd Sigurdsson I396665 Thorlakar “Tommy” Jonsson I327189

Margret Jonsdottir I613713 Benedickt “Hotel Ben” Jonsson I327190 Groa Jonsdottir I312825 Olafur Hannesson I266933

C. H. Thordarson I481526 Thuridur “Dora” Jonsdottir I327191

Gudrun Gunnlaugsdottir I520092 Evelyn Gisladottir I27489466

Arndis Eyolfsdottir I209044 Oddur Magnusson I244908

Johanna “Josie” Ingibjorg Hannesdottir I266939

Editors note: For additional information, members are welcome to watch Willie Engelson's YouTube video called “Icelanders on Washington Island”


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