A Baby Survives – A Story of an Amma


The following is from Elva Simundsson. She lives in Gimli, Manitoba. Thank you, Elva. What an amazing story!

In 1893, a child was born to Sigríður Jónsdóttir, a sixteen year old hired girl at the farm in Þverárdalur in Húnavatssýsla. The wife of the farmer at Þverárdalur who was in charge of domestic affairs in the household declared this servant girl had no business having a child. Furthermore there was insufficient reason to for this hired hand to waste time dealing with this child and for the household to waste food to raise it. She ordered her ‘put out’. The baby was taken from her mother at birth and she never saw her again. The baby girl was put out to die on the rocks in the hill above the farm.

A young man, Baldvin, also a hired hand at the same farm couldn’t bear to know of this otherwise healthy, crying baby slowly dying of exposure and starvation. He grabbed up the new-born infant and took her to an older lady who lived by herself in a lean-to sheepherder’s hovel and the old lady agreed to take the child in. She called her Stefanía. Stefanía lived in the shepherd’s hovel for sixteen months.

Baldvin’s parents had gone to Canada as part of the large group of 1876 from Skagafjörður and had homesteaded in New Iceland along the banks of the Icelandic River. They had left with six of their youngest children, leaving the older ones to fend for themselves and make their way to Canada as soon as they had raised the means to do so. In 1895, Baldvin had finally accumulated a bit of money in order to be able to emigrate to Canada to join his family. As the story goes, Baldvin rode up to the summer pasture and grabbed the little girl Stefanía. He rode to Akureyri, sold his horse for the bulk of fare and got on board the ship, hiding the little girl in his knapsack because he didn’t have fare for both of them. Stefanía came to Canada as a stowaway. (No ship’s record exists for this child)

When he arrived in Canada, he took the child to his parents in New Iceland for them to raise her. She was called Stefanía Baldvinsdóttir although there was never direct acknowledgement of the girl’s paternity.

This is my Amma Stefanía’s story. People talk about what a moving experience it was for them to visit the farms and homes where their ancestors lived in Iceland before moving to North America. I just don’t have any such sentiments. Perhaps I should go to Þverárdalur and ask to see the rocks on which my grandmother was left to die.

Another friend, Colleen Baldwinson, says that a story about them is on page 529 – 531of the Icelandic River Saga by Nelson Gerrard. She says, “My Afi lived & worked in North Dakota first for 4 years, then he homesteaded at Baldurshagi near Geysir & Fagriskogur, Riverton, Manitoba. Afi died September 18, 1934 at the age of 71. He married in 1900. My Lang Amma’s name was Johanna Maria Olafsdottir, daughter of Olafur Oddsson & Kristibjorg Antoniusardottir who emigrated from East Iceland. Afi Baldvin Halldorsson was a well known poet in New Iceland, & was nick named THE TONGUE HARP as he could recite poetry in an instant.”

She sent this photo of a page from Riverton Memories book.


Kolla also sent this poem written by Baldvin Halldorsson:

If you never stop to smell the roses Life can seem an endless chore To toil and slave your life away Can be an endless bore

To feel unwanted and unloved Is a devastating pain And the irony of it all Is the desire to born again

To start life fresh and new again Full of hope and breathe clean air But to have these dreams fade away Would surely bring despair

But to wait for the coming spring Full of life revitalized Is enough to keep me going


Icelandic Roots is a non-profit, educational, heritage organization specializing in genealogy, history & traditions of our Icelandic ancestors.

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