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Facts and memories by Carol Forrest

Great-grandfather, Stefán Arnason, and Great-grandmother, Ragnhildur Sveinsdöttir, were considered wealthy, by the standards of the time. As my mother, Thora, told it, they were one of the “monied” families in Iceland and each child received a sizeable inheritance upon reaching their eighteenth birthday. Stefan and Ragnhildur had an estate with limited amounts of livestock and farming land, but with a sizeable fleet of fishing boats. My Grandma (Amma in Icelandic) Elisabet, used to go out in a little boat, on calm days, with her mother, to catch small fish for the men to use as bait. She told us of how she, her mother and 2 cooks, would prepare large meals for all the men that worked and lived on the family estate. They would eat together in a large, commonly-shared kitchen/dining area. Stefán and Ragnhildur had four daughters: Jóhanna Sveinborg, Osk, Gudny (also called Jenny) and Elisabet (also called ´Beta´), and one son: Sveinn ( also called Swan ). Four additional children died while still very young.

A bit about the children: Sveinn (Swan) fell deeply in love with his first cousin, Ranka. Knowing that marriage could be disasterous, they tried to establish separate lives. For many years they were successfully, but unhappily apart, eventually they married and had one daughter, Johanna, who was quite frail. Swan home-schooled her until she was 12, when she entered public school at the head of her class. She started college, but died when she was 18 years old. They were broken-hearted, but maintained their deep and loving relationship until the last days of their lives. Elisabet married Jón Thorbergsson and had 3 daughters: Helen Iđunn Thorbergsson (Helen Andersen / Borbour), Ragnhildur Bergthora Thorbergsson (Thora Evans) and Olief Jonina Elisabet Thorbergsson (Olive Spencer). Gudny (Jenny) married Tom Maher and had 4 children: Kathryn Mahr O” Rourke, Irene Mahr Peterson, Violet Maher Buckner and Allan Lanphere Maher. Jenny died in Winnipeg when the children were still young. Osk married Robert (Bob) Smith and lived in Seattle, I don’t believe that they had any children of their own, however, when Jenny (Gudny) died, the children all went to live with Osk and Bob Smith. Jóhanna, stayed behind in Iceland with her fiancé, more about her two paragraphs down.

On 8 Jun 1895, Stefán took his own life. At the time, it was said that the farm had been in financial and management trouble, however, this proved to be un-true. I remember, as a young girl, hearing that Stefán was found in the barn hanging from a rafter. In a letter written by his son, Sveinn, there seems to be a thought that he was not a well man. It’s sad to think of the despair he must have felt. Life seems to have been difficult and unhappy for him, but that was an extreme solution to the problems he must have faced. However, I cannot judge him or his life. Records show that Ragnhildur was “with child” at the time of Stefán’s death. On August 31, 1895, Ragnhildur gave birth to a son and named him Stefán. The infant died at one month old on September 26, 1895.

Gunnlaugur Johannsson, born 31 Dec 1873, was a common laborer, who came to work on the family estate the year before Stefán´s death. He became farm manager after Stefán´s death. About a year later, on 19 Mar 1896, he and Ragnhildur were married at Hofdabrekku. In the next few years, the business went down-hill and ended in insolvency. The family emigrated to America in 1903, except for two children; Sveinn who was away at sea working on a tramp steamer, trying to forget his great love for Ranka; and one daughter, Jóhanna Stefánsdóttir, who stayed behind in Iceland with her fiancé, Hermann Thorsteinsson. She and Hermann married and had 7 children: Hulda Hermannsdottir (never married and had no children), Stefan Hermannsson, Hermann Hermannsson, Unnur Hermansdottir, Haraldur Hermannsson (who drowned when just 7 years old), Rosa Hermannsdottir and Ragnhildur Hermannsson . Jóhanna died when the children were still young. In the year 1998, their (Johanna and Hermanns) descendents numbered more than 77, with 69 still alive…58 live in Iceland, 3 in Denmark, 3 in Luxemburg and 5 in the USA.

Gunnlaugur and Ragnhildur had four children together, three boys and one girl, Jóhann Ólafur, Lára Hildur, Benedikt Sveinn (Benny) and Eđvard Jóhannsson (after adoption, he was named: Edward George Peterson), who was born shortly after their arrival in America. Johann Olafur died when 17 years old, in November 1915, while hunting at Point Roberts, Washington, from an accidental, self-inflected, gun shot wound. Benny died at 28, in Los Angeles, Ca, on 16 Jul 1929, from a lung illness that was going around. He had not married or had any children. Lara Hildur married Gudmundur Goodman (possibly called Barney or Jim?) and they lived in Seattle. They had one son named Barney Goodman. Edward was their only child to be born in America, on 21 Mar 1903, in Winnipeg, Canada,. At that time, Ragnhildur was extremely ill and not expected to live, so Edward was given up for adoption to a childless couple, Magnus and Gudrun Peterson, who lived in the Norwood district of Winnipeg. He apparently never established himself in a career, but when war broke out he enlisted in September 1939 with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. After going overseas, he took part in the raid at Dieppe, on August 19, 1942, where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was interned in Germany in a prisoner-of-war camp until the war’s end. He returned to Canada in broken health and about 5 years later, ended his days in the Deer Lodge Hospital for veterans, circa 1950. He never married or had children.