Islendingabok.is is Iceland’s version of Ancestry.com. Writing my childhood memoir, i am from iceland, my research revealed a plethora of famous and infamous characters, including kinship to Ragnar Lothbrok (wool-pants), from the Vikings television series. Tim often comments it would have been good to know more about my family before he consented to my marriage proposal.
One noteworthy tale dangling from the family tree is my Norwegian grandfather (x29 generations), Björn Brynjólfsson (b. 890), asked for grandmother Þóra “hlaðhönd” Hróaldsdóttir’s hand in marriage. Hlaðhönd means “with bracelets” and implied a high social standing. Her father, Hróald, turned him down. But grandpa Björn’s lust overwhelmed any reason he possessed, so he kidnapped her and brought her to Iceland. Not sure how grandma (x29) felt about this. A big smelly guy shows up at a family party, ogles you all night, then at parting, instead of nice to meet you grabs you like left-over dessert in a doggy bag and puts you on a boat with equally foul-smelling guys. In the next six years, grandma delivers five children— no time to grieve the loss of bracelets.
Around 1932, my father left his homeland (Denmark) to work in Iceland. I knew that. What I didn’t know was he’d been tossed into jail for bootlegging. When I told my sisters, they were not impressed with me interfering with their memory of a good man. Their ire made the discovery sweeter.
But the most remarkable discovery was finding out that Iceland’s most infamous murderers were my grandparents (x4), Bjarni Bjarnason and Steinunn Sveinsdóttir. Here is what happened:
Steinunn and Bjarni were farmers on Redsand in one of Iceland’s Westfjörds. Steinunn was about five feet tall with a fair complexion and long brown hair. Bjarni was a large, hard-working man with blue eyes, blond hair, and a beard. They were very much in love. They were also married, but not to each other. Therein lay the problem.
Their respective spouses stood in the way of their love. My grandparents refused to let others deny them their happiness. Bjarni killed Steinunn’s husband by throwing him off a high cliff. Bjarni’s wife, Solveig, hinted to nearby farmers that Bjarni meant her harm. Outraged at her gossiping about personal matters, he decided to end it. Returning from the barn with a bucket of milk, Bjarni pushed her to the ground (not sure if Sólveig spilled the milk) and choked her to death.
My grandparents (x4) confessed. Grandmother Steinunn died in jail, waiting to be shipped to Norway, where the trial was to take place. Grandfather Bjarni was found guilty of godless acts. On October 4, 1805, the punishment was carried out in Kristianssan, Norway. Bjarni was pinched with red-hot tongs, his right hand severed from his body while he was alive, then his head was off with an ax. A dark day in the family.
Present History Budding
My youngest child, Gréta, was the first in my immediate family to send a spit sample to Ancestry.com. Jens, the younger son, sent his shortly after, then me, and soon after daughter Rakel.
Ancestry sent me an email stating that with “99% accuracy,” I was Gréta’s biological mother. Since Gréta had hinted I might not be her “real” mom, I forwarded her the email to reassure her she was my baby girl. She wrote back; “I still have some questions.”
Turning my attention to tall, brawny, good smelling son, Jens, “what did you learn about yourself and kin?” “Mom, it says that I’m a very-very-very white male. That’s not a flag I want to wave or a boat I want to sail.” (paraphrased)
When daughter Rakel got an email stating she was a first cousin to Gréta her lawyer brain concluded that, while Gréta was my birth daughter, she was my sister Stella’s love child that I’d agreed to raise. Rakel said she deserved to know if her birth father was alive and, more importantly, if he was rich.
I texted Stella about this nonsense, explaining how Rakel insisted we tell her if the sperm donor was alive and, more importantly, rich. Stella wrote back: “No, he died poor, and you did a great job raising Rakel. Thank you.”
Informing Stella’s two daughters, Disa and Stina, I texted, “Ancenstry.com informed Rakel she was Gréta’s first cousin. Now she thinks she is your mom’s love child, and I raised her. I am not saying it’s not true. And I’m not saying it is true. Thought you should be in the know loop.” Stina texted back, “That is fantastic. Mom always said she had me just in case something happened to Disa. Now she has two ‘backups.’
But still, I remember with 98.9% confidence that I gave birth to Rakel. I recall cursing and pushing.
I’m now thinking I’m not related to any of them, except perhaps Viking Ragnar the wool-pants.
i am from iceland, a childhood memoir, Edith Andersen (about living, laughing, hurting, and growing up)