Icelandic Migration to Salt Lake City

When I was at the INL convention in Seattle, I heard Prof. Fred E. Woods give a talk on the emigration of Icelanders to Utah in the 1800s. I was fascinated because I had read Laxness’s novel Paradise Reclaimed in which an Icelandic farmer starts out on a journey to Denmark but ends up in Utah. He then returns to his farm in Iceland only to find it in ruins.

In his talk for the Richard and Margret Beck Trust on September 21st, Prof. Woods said people know about Steinar of Hlidar and his journey but they don’t know about the people who went to Utah and remained.

It is Prof. Woods plan to collect all the information possible about the people who stayed and to that end he has been gathering letters, diaries, photographs, articles both in North America and in Iceland. In Utah, he has been borrowing material, copying it and returning it to the owners. His photographs showed what were family treasure troves. He emphasized that Mormon culture encouraged the keeping of diaries. Mormon beliefs included the idea that everyone in the human race was connected, that family was the primary building block of society and, so, the keeping of family histories has been encouraged.

In Iceland, he is working with Kári Bjarnason, director of the library in Vestmannaeyjar. The connection is important because more than half of the emigrants came from Vestmannaeyar. Dr. Woods became interested in the migration of Icelandic Mormons in 1999. Although he has no Icelandic background, he began to work with the Icelandic Association of Utah.

In emigration there are always push pull factors. For example, emigration from Iceland to North America was nearly impossible because there was no regular transport to England and Scotland which, in turn, would allow emigrants to board ships for North America. Sailing ships only came to Iceland from Denmark during the summer months. The difficulty of reaching North America was such that it was surprising that as many took a chance on emigrating as they did. At the same time, conditions in Iceland, always harsh, had been deteriorating with cold weather, volcanic eruptions and no opportunities since Iceland was still rural and the small amount of grazing land was owned by wealthier farmers or by the church. Prof. Woods, in his lecture, emphasized the pull factor in the appearance of Mormon converts who spread both knowledge of and belief in the Mormon faith.

As with all religious movements, this one had to start with someone who was converted and who returned to spread the word of both religion and opportunity. That one person, Gudmunder Gudmundsson had moved to Denmark to become a goldsmith. He and a childhood friend who was in Denmark, Þórarinn Hafliðason, became the first Mormon missionaries to proselytize in Iceland. Prof. Wood mentioned, a number of times, how through his research he’s been able to document the truth of the early missionary’s accounts of their experience in Iceland. They were met with a great deal of hostility which isn’t surprising. Iceland’s state religion was Lutheranism. Rooted in Catholicism and, before that, paganism, in which religious and secular power were inextricably linked, the preaching of a new religion with new loyalties and ideas—Luther wanted to graft new branches on the church tree; Mormonism thought the tree dead and wanted to grow a new one—threatened the age-old order. Also, Iceland was a homogeneous country with a tiny population so that new lines of authority were a threat in a way that they wouldn’t be in a country with a large population.

Part of Mormon tradition is the persecution of its proselytizers. Evidence of such persecution is dramatized in Paradise Reclaimed. The Mormon bishop is treated badly. Icelandic documents confirm officialdom was hostile. In spite of that hostility and the tremendous difficulty of travel, a few people emigrated anyway. From the material Prof. Woods presented, I would be inclined to believe that the small number of people who left for Utah in spite of local conditions in Iceland was the result of a variety of conditions. In the 1850s, little was known of America, the beliefs preached by the Mormons was very different from Icelandic Lutheranism, and Iceland’s small population shared a history and culture built on personal family ties. By the 1870s, when conditions had deteriorated even more, the migration of twenty percent of the population for economic reasons to North America also was met with tremendous hostility by those who stayed behind. That hostility didn’t stop people from emigrating. However, the push effect had become much greater as economic conditions had deteriorated and the pull factor had become greater with the possibility of taking ships to England and Scotland and from there to Quebec.

The Mormon migration, because it involved such small numbers (only 16 Icelanders emigrated to Utah between 1855-60), and because there had been such hostility toward those who left, was largely forgotten. Ultimately, slightly less than four hundred Icelanders converted and moved to Utah. Although the descendants of the Mormon emigrants kept up their Icelandic traditions and treasured their family histories, and in spite of the fact that a group moved to Alberta, I heard nothing of them in New Iceland. This part of the emigration story had been forgotten. It was only with the advent of the internet and, particularly, Facebook, that I began to hear from individuals wanting to know if we were related because we shared the same last name

I welcome and applaud Prof. Woods research and publications about these “lost” Icelanders. Because he is making his materials available on the internet, knowledge about this part of our history is now available. Prof. Woods material can be accessed at Or you can simply Google Icelandic immigration Utah.
Prof. Woods is an entertaining and informative lecturer. His talk was well attended.

The Joy of Minor Injuries

It is a relief to have something wrong that is not life-threatening. Something that one can resent, complain about but not lose any sleep over, no waking during the in terror because the line between life and death has become narrower and narrower.

While I was on Salt Spring Island cutting up old lumber and a tree for firewood for JO, I jammed my little finger into a piece of wood. It hurt but only momentarily and it wasn’t until the end of the day that I noticed I couldn’t straighten out my little finger. It looked like a hook. I could move it down but couldn’t straighten it out.

When I got back to Victoria, I went to see my doctor. He said “Mallet finger.” And filled out a form so I could go to Hamilton Orthotics. I would, he said, have to pay for the treatment. If I didn’t want to pay for the treatment, I could just settle for having a finger that looked like a claw.

Off I went to the orthotics people and a very nice therapist explained that when I jammed the wood into the finger, the tendons same loose. I needed a stent for six to eight weeks so the tendons could reattach themselves. Any time I took off the stent, I had to support the tip of my finger on a pencil or edge of a book so that the end didn’t drop. If the last digit dropped, the healing process had to start all over again.

I’ve been whining about my finger. My good friend Jim Anderson isn’t sympathetic. He pointed out that he’s just been through two years of chemo-therapy for prostate cancer and I’ve been through a prostate cancer operation and a triple bypass. I’ve also been through an exploratory on my abdomen before which the surgeon said that they had no idea what they were operating for but if they didn’t find out what was wrong and stop the pain, I was going to die.

These are things that are too scary to whine about. Life hangs in the balance and good as modern medicine is, the balance sometimes tips you into death. Here today, gone tomorrow, and saying that dying is okay because it’s someone else’s problem once your gone isn’t comforting. A lot of Facebook truisms don’t hold up all that well in the face of confrontations with the Grim Reaper.
That’s why I’m whining and complaining about my mallet finger deformity and having to wear an orthotic device.

Mind you, as trivial as it sounds, it is a pain in the ass. It doesn’t hurt. I can take a shower with it on. But trying to type resulted in a blister. So, I’m learning to type with nine fingers. I mustn’t clear the moss off roofs, clean gutters, saw wood, chop wood, move stone slabs, dig, etc., all the things I like to do because they can interfere with those tendons which are valiantly trying to reattach themselves.

I will put on weight. Or I fear I will put on weight. So I need to cut back on calories for the next six to eight weeks. That means no ice cream. Normally, I will work hours just so I can eat all the ice cream I want and I want lots. It is an addiction. No ice cream in the freezer is like life without hopes and dreams. I’ve cut back from two eggs for breakfast to one egg, from four strips of bacon to two, from two slices of toast to one. I don’t want to buy pants with a bigger waist.

The bunged up finger is a small problem but small like a mosquito in the bedroom after you’ve turned off the light. It buzzes around your head and you thrash around trying to chase it off and either end up sleeping under the sheet or turning on the light and hunting the little bugger and killing it. You don’t want to kill the finger or take off the stent.

I see the therapist for a follow up appointment tomorrow. I need advice on how to take care of my skin under the stent. It’s not like going for a follow up appointment with the cancer surgeon or with the cardiologist. I don’t need to hold my breath and screw my courage to the sticking place because they might say, you should start getting your affairs in order.