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Finding Micah Northman

By David Johnson (Volunteer IR Genealogist on the Emigration Research Team)

In 2015, an emigrant Icelander caught my attention. He was intriguing for several reasons. First, he had a unique Americanized name -- Micah Northman. Second, he joined the US Army in 1878 and may be one of the earliest Icelandic veterans to serve in either Canada or the US. Third, he owned land on the San Juan Islands in Washington State, bought a boat in Victoria, was a mail carrier among the islands up there. Finally, the story of his tragic death in 1908 falling into a hot spring in Alaska came to light with the help of a local historian in Ketchikan. When he died in 1908, an all-out assault to find any living relatives by the Danish Consul in San Francisco seemed to hit nothing but dead-ends.

In 2019, I created him into the database as an “orphan” – not attached to anyone else. Then my blog post covered discoveries about his life in an Icelandic Roots Veteran’s Day blog in 2019 ( He was added to our “Most Wanted List” in case others wanted to dive in to help find his Icelandic name and ancestry.

It’s amazing what teamwork, tracking systems, and creative analysis can do. A crisper picture started emerging when an unidentified 19-year-old “Magnús” on one of Dave Jonasson’s 1873 arriving passenger lists popped to my attention. Since the family he was traveling with in 1873 went to Minnesota and because Micah Northman enlisted in the US Army at Fort Snelling in Minnesota in 1878, a few more pieces seemed to be aligning.

Fort Snelling view from the Round Tower in 1878. Photo by the US Signal Corps. NARA RG 111.

We rarely have 100% proof positive answers on our work, but maintaining high levels of data integrity and solid documentation is our priority. Within the Emigration Team, we try to rule out other possibilities as a strategy of increasing confidence levels.

Ultimately, we want to feel 90+% confident and have strong documentation that we have the right individuals identified before updating the database.

Lo and behold, we can now also see Magnús’ older sister Sigríður Ingibjörg was on that same 1873 voyage to North America. Her whereabouts in North America are still a mystery but solving who Micah Northman really is worthy of today’s celebration. I encourage members of Icelandic Roots to look up Micah in the database (I# 215838) to see the many sources, detailed information, and the geo-coded map showing the wide array of places he lived over the years.

According to Micah's "My Cousins" feature in the database, he has very close relatives living all over Iceland as well as in California, Manitoba, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Saskatchewan, and Washington.

What’s next? I’d love to find out what family lore might exist about Magnús through the descendants of his siblings. Certainly, any proceeds from the sale of Micah’s land, boat, or other assets he owned when he died have been escheated to the government since no heirs were apparently found, but imagine what wonderful value we can add to the lives of his living family in Iceland with the stories and documentation we’ve built around his life?

(Micah Northman = Magnús Valdimar Jósefsson: I# I215838)

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