The Center will be closed, at least officially, from Oct. 6 until Nov. 8 - but we will still be collecting our mail and working on various ongoing projects (such as answering some of the family information requests received this past summer, when extra time was a bit scarce). Also, since September, we are pleased to have the good help of Hrund Snorradóttir for a few hours each week.
What a wonderful - and busy - summer! We had many visitors: five groups under the auspices of ThorTravels, plus plenty of guests traveling on their own and just "dropping by".
A glance at the guestbook reports visitors from Italy, Belgium, Scotland, a documentary film crew from Germany wanting to know more about Iceland during the emigration years - and, of course, many native Icelanders and many of Icelandic background on a visit to their ancestral homeland.
As part of our welcome for our tour guests from North America, and as a change from dry facts about volcanic ash, hard economic times, crowded living conditions, we decided to "wake up" Friðrika Helgadóttir, born in 1867 at Vindbelgur in Mývatnssveit.
Friðrika's family was one of many whose lives were not directly changed by the eruption of Askja - but who nevertheless decided that emigration to Canada was their best hope. Her husband, Árni Sigfússon, was born at Rjúpnafell in Vesturárdalur. Árni's family, for many generations, were natives of East Iceland - specifically in and around Vopnafirði, and his mother from Borgarfjörður-eystri. Friðrika had one sister who remained in Iceland; Árni and his father's youngest brother were the last members of his family to leave. This was in 1893 - the year when the largest number of residents of Vopnafirði left: 163.
Their story was familiar to many of our guests this summer - much the same story as in their own families. The telling of this short history was made more personal by the "elf woman" walking along the roadside, who entered the bus to speak of visiting friends and neighbors for the last time before the ship came - and finding that some of them had also decided to leave; talking about her family, most having left already, and of her husband who had no close relatives left in Iceland - and of their two young sons whom she hoped would have many opportunities in a new land.
A month seeming to be full of research, organizing new information, answering questions, etc. Our advertisement in the Lögberg-Heimskringla and the updated web site have increased both mail and phone calls. - And our thanks to those who have been so kind in increasing our work load!! You can sample some of our new additions via the new links below.
Our "Vesturfara" members here have an unfading interest in history, whether the history of Vopnafjörður as a whole or of those years when so many boarded ships in the harbor here and left for the West (- and South, not forgetting those sailing for Brazil). One of our members recently presented us with the result of his thumbing through various old books in his spare time - several hundred pages of farms and families in East Iceland.
After a September holiday, the Emigration Center opened again in October, and with some changes. Our summer exhibit has been carefully stored, and our office and workroom is now upstairs in the Kaupvangur. Some of our old photographs are still on display, but the ladies - and their lovely dresses - have "retired" for the winter season.
We have made some valuable additions to our available resources, both printed and digital, and have also entered into an important agreement with ORG ættfræðiþjónustan ehf. (ORG Genealogical Services, Inc.) which enables us to provide more families with more - and better - information. If you wish to know more about ORG, check them out at: www.simnet.is/org
The "Vesturfarastofa", or "Emigrants Room", opened Saturday, August 9, 2008 - thereby doubling the size of our space in the old cooperative store, the Kaupvangur in the village center.
On display are items that might typically be found in a "sitting room": family photographs of several generations, letters sent from Iceland to friends and relatives in the West (Canada, United States, Brazil), treasured books in Icelandic, perhaps even mortgage papers kept in a small desk, handwork put aside by once-nimble fingers, now long at rest.
In our office space directly below this room, we do the work of looking for ancestors, looking for descendents, looking for relatives on both sides of the ocean. Much of our information is in digital form in these modern times, though we also have a collection of books in both Icelandic and English to help in our work. This has not allowed much room for displaying more personal mementos.
So, with much pinning, stuffing, padding, straightening, ironing and other creative endeavors, three "women" are dressed in quite beautifully made - and just as carefully preserved - clothing nearly 100 years old. We think they are nearly as lovely as those young ladies who first wore them.