By Christal Oliver Speer (I637679)
What makes a lady living in Bolungarvík, the West Fjords, gain world-wide fame? Is it because she turned 103 years old on 17 May 2020?
Not exactly, but a month before her 103rd birthday, Helga Guðmundsdóttir (I325569) contracted COVID-19 and was able to fully recover from it! Certainly a reason for her children, grandchildren, and the dedicated staff at the Berg nursing home where she lives to celebrate.
At a time when health officials the world over caution us that the virus is particularly devastating to those over the age of 65, Helga was equal to the challenge and came out victorious.
When her recovery made the national news on TV here in the United States, it caught my attention and piqued my interest. I wanted to know more about someone who has lived through two pandemics and two world wars.
First, I read several articles about Helga from various news sources and learned some amazing facts. She was not quite one year old when the Spanish influenza pandemic came to Iceland in 1918. An uncle living at the same farm contracted the flu and was put into quarantine. Then, at the age of 102 years and 11 months, Helga found out what quarantine was like when she came down with COVID-19. She calls the experience “very boring.”
Helga married Gunnar Hjörtur Halldórsson, a fisherman, after World War II and moved to Bolungarvík. She has three children and six grandchildren.
Helga is a survivor, having twice in her life contracted Tuberculosis and overcoming it—once as a young girl and then again in 1952 when a relapse caused her to leave her two-week-old son and go to a sanatorium near Reykjavík for several months to recuperate. Her family believes that her ever cheerful, uncomplaining attitude has contributed to her longevity and the ability to overcome serious illnesses.
Vala Hafstað in the “Iceland Monitor” on 11 May 2020 wrote: “When the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Iceland, her granddaughter Agnes Veronika Hauksdóttir signed up for work at the nursing home where her grandmother was staying. Several cases of the disease at the home had forced health care workers and residents into quarantine, creating a need for extra workers. ‘She is a very positive person, always laughing,’ Agnes states, describing her grandmother. ‘I am sure that this has contributed to her good health and surviving COVID-19.’”
“I have survived it all, haven’t I?” stated Helga to reporters.
Naturally, I wondered if I might be related to this special lady. Oh, I should correct that to say I wondered HOW we are related as most people of Icelandic descent share one or more common ancestors. So, I logged on to my IcelandicRoots.com membership, used the wonderful Relationship Calculator and learned exactly how we are connected. She is a distant cousin to me and there are seven distinct paths back to our common ancestors! On Helga’s personal page, I could see that living into their 80s and 90s is not uncommon for her many siblings and their parents.
If you have not already become a member of Icelandic Roots, hurry and join so you, too, can enjoy the many benefits the website has to offer. After I joined a year ago, some wonderful volunteers helped me fill in a few blanks when I was writing my Icelandic grandfather’s story. I was pleased to contribute several photos, documents, and stories (as other people have done) to help make this the BEST Icelandic database ever.
You will also want to keep checking back from time-to-time to see what is new to the website. There are so many areas to explore. Are you looking for a photo of your ancestral farm? the church they attended? or maps? It’s all there and much more! Each month, the volunteers are busy adding about 2,300 people who live all over the world. You just might find a wonderful story or photo or that “missing” documentation as you search out your own Icelandic roots.