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An Emigrant Woman: Sigriður Bjarnadottir (1862-1946)

Updated: Sep 5, 2022



Sigriður Bjarnadóttir (I334690) entered this world on the 7th of March 1862. A daughter to Bjarni Jónsson (1828–1887) and Bóthildur Sveinsdóttir (1834 – 1896) born on the farm of Heykollsstaðir in the parish of Kirkjubæjarsókn, in Flótsdalshérað, N-Múlasýsla.



She married Jón Jónsson / Eiriksson (I334689) on the 29th June 1889 in the same church she was baptized in the parish of Kirkjubæjarsókn.


Church at Kirkjubæjarsókn
Church at Kirkjubæjarsókn

Emigration became a priority for the young couple in 1893. They lived in a turf house on a farm called Galtarstaðir in the same parish where they married. By this time, they had two living children, Bjarni (1888-1924), Guðjon (1889-1889), and Margrét (1892-? She was still alive in 1946 when Sigriður passed away). Along with these two little ones, they embarked on the ship Lake Huron; their final destination was Winnipeg. (Photos of church and Galtastadir source: Icelandic Roots)


Turf house at Galtarstaðir farm
Turf house at Galtarstaðir farm

Due to the lack of usable native wood and the expense of imported timber, housing throughout most of Iceland was poor during the 19th century as it had been for hundreds of years. The main building materials, turf, and stone, produced dark, dank, and squalid dwellings, often worsened by overcrowding and lack of sanitation. Fuel was also in short supply. As body heat from livestock and household members was frequently the only source of warmth, ventilation was practically non-existent during the winter months.” (Source: Icelandic River Saga by Nelson Gerrard, p. 8)


Sigriður and Jon Eiriksson family
Sigriður and Jon Eiriksson family

They boarded the ship in Seyðisfjörður; although 30 years old, they looked much younger and vulnerable to embark on such a long journey knowing they would, in all likelihood, never see their families in Iceland again.


Lake Huron (Vesturfaraskrá - 1893)


The Lake Huron
The Lake Huron

The Lake Huron passage in 1893 was unusual. Most immigrants left Iceland in two stages. First on a Danish trading ship that stopped in Scotland and then on a second ship from Scotland bound for Canada. The Lake Huron was chartered from Iceland to Quebec via Liverpool. It served as a "feeder ship" that picked up passengers from smaller ports and delivered them to the Lake Huron. (Source: Icelandic Roots)


Why emigrate? In the years before Jon and Sigriður left in 1893, Iceland had experienced many disasters. Sheep epidemics, severe climatic changes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, to name a few, disasters that caused starvation, disease, and numerous farms to fail. Many families were just on the point of recuperating from one disaster and held hope for the future, only for another to arrive and strike them down. People were forced to share an abode resulting in unsanitary conditions, causing disease and deaths. In the last three decades of the 19th century, nearly 15,000 of the population of only 75,000 had emigrated to North America, with only 2000 returning to their homeland.


Sigriður and Jon arrived in Winnipeg in August of 1893. Her cousin Jon Sigfusson Olson (I527306) met them and took them in. Eventually, they built a shanty on his property, where four more children were born, three of whom survived. Einar (1894-1894); Dr. Einar (1896-1978); Gudjon (1898-1987); Bergsveinn (1899-1990).


Jon took what jobs he could in Winnipeg as a day laborer. He also did some carpentry work, and they saved their money and built up their herd. They started with one cow, a gift from Jon Sigfusson, eventually adding seven more. They also had chickens.


Traveling with their young family, they moved in 1899 to Maryhill, a farming district about 7 miles south of Lundar, in an Icelandic settlement called Alftavatn Bygd. They had bought a farm with a dwelling and a dilapidated barn for $200.00. They held much hope for the future. Sigriður and the children sat on boards laid across their belongings and the crates of chickens on the wagon driven by Jon’s cousin Grimur Scheving. (I524863) Bergsveinn (Beggi) was only three weeks old.


It was summer with typical Manitoba weather, hot and humid, with horrendous clouds of mosquitoes and blackflies feasting on any exposed skin. Jon and his son Bjarni, now eleven, herded the cows on foot. With the conditions they were facing and non-existent trails, the land they had to travel through was covered in shrubs, which made it slow going.


After three days, a storm blew in, drenching everyone and flooding their belongings. Fortunately, they were close to a homestead owned by a non-Icelander. They were welcomed to stay with them; the only space available was the kitchen floor, where they all slept. It must have felt like luxury after what they had endured.


Jon’s cousin Eirikur Gudmundsson (I584031) arrived in the morning. He transported Sigriður and the children taking her to her cousin Jon Sigurdsson where they remained until Jon arrived with their belongings and the livestock.


Their farmstead had a dwelling which was a large one-room log house; there, they set up a home for themselves and their five children. A well existed with a board covering it for protection. A barn was necessary; the one on their property was falling apart, so that was a priority. Crowded already, it became even more when Bothilda (1901-1994), the last child, was born two years later.


Bjarni Jónsson / Erickson
Bjarni Jónsson / Erickson

Bjarni (I334691), a young boy still, took up hunting and fishing to provide food for the family. With hard work and good management, ten years later, they were able to build the house that stands today. A beautiful two-story house with a basement, a stone fireplace, and a new well dug for $200.00 was proof of their success. Over the years, a new barn and other buildings were built to house their increasing livestock and chickens. Bjarni did much of the carpentry work himself. In Sigriður’s eulogy, Rev. Marteinsson claims Bjarni was an excellent carpenter but had no formal training. In January 1916, his father got pneumonia and died. That same year Bjarni came down with pneumonia and almost died. He spent seven weeks in the hospital in Winnipeg under the care of Dr. Brandson. (I334316) By this time, Gudjon and Bergsveinn were old enough to take on all the farm work while Bjarni recuperated. Well-read himself; while he was alive, Bjarni ensured his siblings were well educated. Sadly, he was killed 24th April 1924 by a freak lightning storm while hunting and trapping.



Margret (I334692) was sent to Winnipeg to a secretarial school and later worked in a bank. She eventually moved to Vancouver, where she contracted the Spanish flu, developed a brain fever and lost all her hair. She never recovered and lived out her life in a home. I have not found her death certificate, but she was still alive in 1946 when she was mentioned in the eulogy at her mother's funeral as living in Vancouver.



Einar Hillman Eirikson
Einar Hillman Eirikson

Einar (I92548), an athletic young man, won many competitions when it was discovered that he was also a good student. He was sent to the Jon Bjarnasson School in Winnipeg to complete his high school education. In the spring of 1918, he enlisted in WW1 and joined the Royal British Airforce. After the war, he entered the University of Manitoba, then the medical school in Winnipeg. He graduated as an MD in 1928, eventually moving to Vancouver, where he worked in the Army Hospital. There he met and married Edna Langland. They later set up a home in Mission, BC.



Gudjon Eriksson and Gudridur Runolfsson marriage photo
Gudjon Eriksson and Gudridur Runolfsson marriage photo

Gudjon, a.k.a. GJ or John (I84671), my grandfather, married Gudridur Runolfsson on 26 April 1918. They started off on a dairy farm they had purchased from William Eccles and farmed for nine years. Then they bought the farm that remains in the family today from Rev. Hjartur Leo. (I549173) Here they switched from dairy farming to raising cattle. Grandpa raised a large herd of registered Herefords and became instrumental in organizing the Bull Sale in Lundar. He received many honours for his part in developing this sale which exists to this day. He was also a school trustee for Swan Creek School for many years and a councilor for his district. Swan Creek School, a one-room schoolhouse, was located on his property. You could almost see it from his kitchen window. Many teachers boarded with them over the years. One such teacher was Alla Byrnolfsson, who married Bergsveinn, Gudjon’s younger brother. GJ and Gudriður were one of the first to have electricity. One story I remember hearing was that GJ was considered the local veterinarian and helped many of his neighbors deal with problems in their livestock. He was self-taught.

Photo of Hilda and Beggi
Photo of Hilda and Beggi

Bergsveinn, a.k.a. Beggi (I92534), was a brilliant athlete who won many events in track and field. He moved to Chicago, where he worked as a carpenter for several years until the death of his brother Bjarni in1924. Bergsveinn returned home to take over management of the farm and met Alla when visiting with his brother. They married in 1927.

(Photo of Beggi and Hilda was taken at my grandpa’s wedding in 1918)


Bothildur, a.k.a. Hilda (I528763), became a teacher. Her first teaching job was in the school she attended as a child, Maryhill School. Her first marriage was to a French Canadian with some Metis blood, Edwin Nault, in 1922. He could trace his ancestry to Louis Riel. They had one child Marguerite. She later married William Leckie in 1940, moved to Vancouver, and finally to Nelson, BC, after he died.


Sigridur’s eulogy, written by Rev. Marteinsson (I102575), looks back on her life, personality, values, and accomplishments. In 1946 it would not be uncommon to have had a funeral in Icelandic. It was later translated by Agnar Rea Magnusson (I550460), an uncle to my sister-in-law Carol Magnusson. (I92113) Originally, Sigriður wrote her own story entitled The Emigrant Family, written in Icelandic and then sent to a cousin in Iceland in 1932, and was then published by the Icelandic magazine Ódinn. I was given a photocopy of this by Aunty Gudny (I593517), and it traveled around with us for many years. Fortunately, it did not get lost in our many moves. In 2014 I had this translated by Icelandic Roots and received the translation on my birthday that year. What a wonderful day that was.


The eulogy was an accidental find; I realized it was essential to share it with others so that it did not disappear again. Today I am thankful for my obsession with hoarding old papers and a belated interest in family history. My passions in my later years became all about my granddaughters, introducing them to stories of family. Also, since 2014, Icelandic Roots.


Sigriður and Jon‘s legacy is safely stored in their database and all my other ancestors' legacies, including family photos, stories, genealogy, and so much more. Icelandic Roots, hands down, is the most valuable database for anyone with any Icelandic ancestry. Enrich this database even further with your stories – come join us!


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