Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book - Icelanders Gather to Utah 1854-1914

Icelanders Gather to Utah 1854-1914
from Iceland to Spanish Fork, Utah
by David Alan Ashby
Icelandic converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were encouraged to gather to Utah as were other converts from the other countries in Europe, the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. Life in Iceland at this time was very difficult: there was wide spread poverty due to poor economic conditions, the continued struggle for independence from Denmark, volcanic eruptions that greatly damaged the land in part of the country, and unusually cold winters. The majority of Icelanders that emigrated to Utah did so for reasons different from the Icelanders that emigrated to other places in North America. The Utah Icelanders emigrated so they could be apart of their new found faith.
The Icelanders that immigrated to many parts of North America dreamed of all Icelandic communities, where Icelandic was the language of choice and the majority of the immigrants were Icelanders. The Icelanders that came to Utah did so for religious purpose. They did find a need to have their own congregation, where Icelandic was the language used for instruction. This was only necessary until they could learn English and attend Church with other English speaking emigrants from Wales, England and Denmark.
The Icelanders that gathered to Utah were for the most part members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although they were Icelanders they were part of a larger group of immigrants that had the same purpose for immigrating to Utah, to worship together as Mormons. They soon found themselves involved not only in there religion but in finding away to improve their new community and their own state of affairs.
Although they did not intend to establish an Icelandic community in Utah, the Icelandic emigrants to Utah, like Icelandic emigrants in other places in North America worked to retain their identity as Icelanders. The Utah Icelanders created the Icelandic Association of Utah in 1897, an association that provides a time to gather annually and celebrate their Icelandic heritage. The association continues to provide the instrument for descendants of the Icelandic immigrants to Utah to maintain a cultural sense of Iceland. Our ancestors left us a legacy: belonging to the Icelandic Association of Utah means belonging to something that has a history of over one hundred years and has accomplished a few great things.
Each emigrant has his or her own story demonstrating faith in their new adventure, their beliefs, their character, their will power and the independence of these pioneers. They were fishermen and farmers in Iceland. On coming to America, many did not having the means to survive in this foreign land. They spoke a language unfamiliar to those in the community where they intended to build their future home. Their clothing was not suitable for the climate in Utah. There was farming in Utah, but it was much different than in Iceland. There was no fishing industry in Utah. This left these early pioneers to Utah needing to learn a new language, finding a new occupation and finding a place for their families.
It is remarkable that 150 years after the first Icelanders arrived in Utah, and there remains a strong cultural sense of Iceland among the descendants of the Icelandic pioneers. We who have descended from great and faithful forebears, have the right to say “I’m proud of my Icelandic heritage”. We too have a need to continue to honor our Icelandic ancestors and the land of our forebears, as we have been shown to do by those that have gone before. The Icelandic emigrants to Utah and other places in North America have left us a rich heritage that we all can be proud of.
The significance of our connection to a place is affected by two things: our heritage from that place, and our cultural awareness of that place. A basic need common to humanity is a sense of a connection to a place or country. Our Icelandic heritage furnishes that connection to Iceland, and it runs as deep as the connection to Zion was for the Icelandic emigrants to Utah. Iceland being a small place, our connection is perhaps more pronounced, and also easier for people to find their identity and a role that they are satisfied with.
Through genealogy, descendants of the immigrants from Icelanders can make that connection of place, Iceland. It is not difficult to find Icelanders in the homeland whom we are related to. My experience has given me several acquaintances who live in Iceland and who have became my dearest friends. Once we make that connection we have a different sense of place.
This is just a little from the book. The majority of the book is biographical sketches of the nearly 400 emigrants that came from Iceland to Utah.
The book is now available from the Icelandic Association of Utah.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How do I purchase a copy of the book, "Icelanders Gather to Utah 1854-1914"? I am the great great granddaughter of the first Icelandic couple baptized in The LDS Church in Iceland. Ranghildur Steffansdottir and Benedict Hansen. I would love to read this book and learn more about the Icelandic immigrants. Thanks so much, Jean Mouser