Updated: Jan 16, 2020
By George Freeman, Grand Forks, North Dakota
I've enjoyed genealogy for 25 years. I've thought at times, “I've seen it all.” Recently, I have been reading biographies from "Prairie Trails to the Yellowhead." This two-volume set is about families that settled at Foam Lake, Elfros, and Leslie, Saskatchewan from 1904 to 1913. I find that almost all the Icelandic families lived in North Dakota. They left because all the good land was gone and they learned of land available in Saskatchewan. I am familiar with the surnames and have found a gold mine of information.
As a genealogist for Icelandic Roots, I enjoy adding more stories, photos, headstones, and cemetery maps to our ever-growing database. We strive to include notes and stories on all people in the database. If you have stories about your Icelandic ancestors, please send them to us and we will add them to their page at Icelandic Roots Database. A huge thanks to those who write these books and work to preserve these local stories.
Below is an example of a well written and informative biography:
From Prairie Trails to the Yellowhead A History of Elfros, Leslie, and Mozart, Saskatchewan
by Elfros History Book Committee
Elfros Historical Society Saskatchewan Page 386-388
HORGDAL, JON (JONSSON) AND KRISTRUN (HOLM) submitted by Begga Bjornson
Jon (Jonsson) Horgdal was born November 8, 1854 at Horgardal, Iceland, where he grew up and lived with his parents until 1876, when he immigrated to America. He spent some time in Winnipeg, and in the fall of 1876 he left for New Iceland, (north of Winnipeg). The Canadian Government was hiring men to clear land for a road through the community and he, with several others worked at that. In the group of workers there were six Jon Jonsson's, on pay day there was some confusion, so they each took on another surname, and he took on the name Horgdal, after the place he was born.
He was at Gimli, Manitoba during the smallpox epidemic, however he escaped the disease. In the winter of 1877, he went to work for a Scottish minister by the name of John Black, who had seven children by his first wife, an Indian. His second wife was Scottish, and had been a teacher in Scotland. Every evening she gave her stepchildren lessons in English. After Jon had been there for a while, she offered to have him join the class, which he gladly accepted. He learned to speak, read, and write the English language. This helped him immensely.
In the spring of 1877, he, with some friends went to North Dakota, to seek land and work. There they met a man named Butler Olsen, and made their headquarters at his home, while they were looking the country over. After travelling in different directions, they decided to settle along the Tongue River, west of what later became Hallson post office. They were impressed with the beautiful trees that grew along the river, oak ash, bass, elm, as well as poplars and willows. Being new to the country they did not realize how difficult it would be to clear the land, before it could produce anything.
In 1878, Jon took up a homestead, one mile west of Hallson, P.O.; On June 19, 1880 he married Kristrun Holm. She was born December 1, 1861 at Skagafjardarsyslu Iceland. She came to America in 1876 on the same ship as Jon. They had a family of ten, who were all born and raised on the farm.
Jon took an active part in all community affairs, he was a very good neighbor, always ready to help when help was needed. He also took part in entertainment, was a born actor so always took part in plays that were put on in the community. At that time people had to make their own entertainment and they did very well.
In 1918, Jon and Kristrun sold their farm to Sigurdur Anderson from Pine Valley, Manitoba, and moved to Elfros, Saskatchewan. By that time Jon's health was failing, so they made their home with daughter, Emily and son-in-law, Oscar Skaro, where they were given loving care until their passing. Jon died on June 3, 1930, and Kristrun died April 18, 1932. Both are at rest in the Elfros Cemetery.
Following are the names of their children.
Alfred Horgdal born Oct. 21, 1883-died Jan. 1949
Wilhelm Horgdal born Jan. 19, 1885-died Jan. 7, 1962
Holmfridur (Freda) born Oct. 9, 1886-died April 27, 1938-married Edward Crowston, May 1909
Emily born Aug. 13, 1888-died July 9, 1972-married Oscar Skaro, Nov. 16, 1915
Elinborg (Bogga) born July 8, 1890-died Feb. 27, 1966-married Halldor Bjarnason June, 1913-See Bjarnason H.
Hallgrimur (Jim) born May 3, 1892-died April 8, 1919
John born May 31, 1894-died July 12, 1971
Arni born July 4, 1896-died June 19, 1982-See Horgdal A.
Valdimar born July 23, 1898
Gudbjorg (Begga) born Nov. 30, 1900-married Henry Bjornson Oct. 19, 1935-See Bjornson J.H.
Alfred Horgdal was born October 21, 1883 at Hallson North Dakota. He grew up in that community, mostly working on the farm. About 1912 he went to Saskatchewan and worked as a clerk in the Capital Store in Elfros, owned and operated by Oli Johannson and John Gudmundson. In 1915 he returned to North Dakota and farmed for a few years, then returned to Saskatchewan. In 1941 he left for Blaine, Washington and lived there until his passing in 1949.
Wilhelm Horgdal was born January 19, 1885 at Hallson, North Dakota where he grew up and worked on his father's farm. On December 10, 1915 he married Olaf Olafson. They farmed in North Dakota until 1919, when they moved to Elfros, rented land and farmed there until 1927, when they moved to the Kristnes community, where they lived until 1930. They then returned to North Dakota and settled at Gardar. They had a family of eight. Wilhelm died January 7, 1962 and Olaf died November 8, 1964.
Hallgrimur (Jim) Horgdal was born May 3, 1892 at Hallson, North Dakota where he grew up. On December 9, 1915, he married Gudrun Olason, from Hensel, North Dakota. They farmed in North Dakota until April 1918, when they moved to Elfros and farmed there about one year. They had two children, Ralph and Gudrun Maria. On April 8, 1919, Hallgrimur died from the Spanish Flu. His widow returned to North Dakota.
Valdimar Horgdal was born July 23, 1898 at Hallson North Dakota, and lived there until 1917, when he went to Saskatchewan. He worked on farms until the 20's, then worked for Fred Johann-son who was an Implement Dealer in Elfros. In 1926 he, in partnership with his brother Arni, bought a threshing outfit, and for three falls did custom threshing for farmers in the Elfros area. On June 11, 1928, he married Hroney Einarson, daughter of Harald and Elin Einarson. They lived in Elfros until the fall of 1929 when they moved to Spruce Lake, Sask. where he and his cousin Jack Holm had a garage. They lived there for thirteen years, their three children were all born there; Harald born Aug. 25, 1930, Betty born July 12, 1933, and Verna born July 18, 1937.
In 1942 they went to Seattle, Washington and lived there two years, then moved to Blaine, Washington, where they had bought an acreage. He worked at Boeings in Bellingham in the Service Dept. Workshop for five years. He stayed in Bellingham during the week and came home on the weekends. Later they sold the property and moved to Blaine. He sold real estate for a while and Hroney worked as a cook in Stafholt, the Senior Citizens Home, for several years. On September 26, 1966, Hroney died from a heart attack. After that Walter sold the house and moved into a suite at Blaine Manor, where he stayed until his health failed. He is now a resident of Stafholt.