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Quarantine in the Emigration Period

Written by Dave Jonasson and Natalie Guttormsson


Dear Cousin and Friends,

Covid-19 is certainly not the first pandemic to shake our world. In recent memory we had SARS and H1N1, but for some of us this is the first one to have such a direct impact on our daily lives. When all we are hearing about is coronavirus, social-distancing, quarantines, and even lockdowns around the world, it is interesting to look back to our ancestors and read the accounts of what they endured in similar circumstances.

Let us draw strength from our brave and persistent ancestors during this uncertain time. If we connect with our communities and listen to the advice of the experts, we will get through this with such tales to tell our descendants, much like Þórður Árelíus Ólafsson.

a black and white image of the ship Laura docked in Seyðisfjörður
The Ship Laura docked in Seyðisfjörður

Just over a year ago we published the first-hand account (translated to English) of Þórður Árelíus Ólafsson (I574371) and his sister Christina (I574373) and their emigration journey from Iceland to North America in the summer of 1901. Þórður chronicled their journey from Reykjavik to Edinburgh on the SS Laura, the train ride to Glasgow, another train ride to Liverpool, a second ocean passage on the SS Australasian to Quebec, and finally the train ride to Winnipeg. And within a month, they joined their two brothers in Duluth, Minnesota. Near the end of their journey they were placed in an uncomfortable quarantine due to a false diagnosis of smallpox in one of the children. Here is an excerpt describing the conditions of their quarantine camp:

The place we were at now was similar to descriptions of hell. The heat was terrible, around one hundred degrees (37.7C) and the mosquitoes were driving us crazy and eating us alive. Our hands and faces were bleeding. There were particularly many mosquitoes this year (lucky for us). When fires were made near the tents, the situation got a little better for a while. - Þórður
You can read the entire story here: “Journey to America

Þórður's great niece, Christal Oliver Speer, suggested that we connect the blog post to a few others in the database who were also mentioned in his story so that their relatives could enjoy reading it too. We went a step further and added a link to this story for each passenger manifest page and then linked those pages to the more than 80 Icelanders listed on them!

If you remember our previous blog post about diving down the genealogy rabbit hole… well, here comes another one.

While connecting the passengers, we found Jon Freðleifsson (I400686), his wife and 5 children traveling with his father and step-mother. They were listed on the Australasian's UK Outbound passenger list, but his wife and 5 children had been scratched off. On the Canadian Incoming passenger list all 9 people were missing. We think it likely that some of the family became sick after the outgoing list was finished but before the ship left Liverpool.

We were able to find Jon's parents on another ship, the SS Corinthian, which left Liverpool 4 days later. Jon and his family had to stay in England for three weeks but we found them on the SS Tunisian, which departed on August 15th.

Before the Tunisian could dock at Quebec City, it was inspected for disease at Grosse Île, a quarantine station on an island in the St. Lawrence River. On this voyage, Jon and his family were removed from the ship. We were able to find records on the Library and Archives Canada website that showed all 5 children had measles. Högni, the youngest of the children, died 3 weeks later at an age of only 10 months and 11 days. The remainder of the family were released from the hospital on October 1st. This poor family was quarantined twice during their journey to America, in search of a better life.


A big thank-you to Christal for sharing this document with us and the Icelandic Roots Community. It is truly invaluable to have these stories saved in the database for descendants to discover and be inspired by.

If you have any documents from your ancestors that you would like added to our shared database, please send them to and we will do our best to include the material so that they can be seen by your extended relatives and preserved for future generations.

Wishing you all good health and positivity.

The Icelandic Roots Team


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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