My great grandparents, Gisli and Halldora Bjarnason, in front of their home in Spanish Fork, Utah, about 1910

A. K. Christensen


My great grandfather, Gisli Bjarnason, is shown here in front of his home in Spanish Fork, Utah County, Utah, about 1910. The three women seated in front of him are, from left to right, Margret Gisladottir Bjarnason (the first Icelandic woman to come to Utah), my great grandmother Halldora Arnadottir Bjarnason (Gisli's wife), and Gudrun Jonsdottir Jonsson (stepdaughter of Halldora's previous husband). The address of the home was 314 East 4th North, Spanish Fork, Utah. For further details, look below the picture.

Gisli Bjarnason home

Further information about the individuals in this picture, and how they came from Iceland to Utah (names of people in the picture are in bold):

In 1853, Loftur Jonsson (1814-1874) was one of the first Icelanders to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in Iceland. He married a widow, Gudrun Halldorsdottir, and became the stepfather of her daughter, Gudrun Jonsdottir. In 1857 Loftur, with his wife and stepdaughter, emigrated to the state of Utah in the United States, settling in Spanish Fork, Utah. The house seen in this picture was built by Loftur for his family. His wife Gudrun died about 1869. Loftur returned to Iceland in 1873 on a mission for the LDS (Mormon) Church. There he converted his sister, Gudrun Jonsdottir (1816-1878, my great great grandmother), who was married to my great great grandfather, Einar Bjarnason (1809-1890, of Hrifunesi, Skaftartunga, Vestur Skaftafells, Iceland). On his mission, Loftur Jonsson also converted Halldora Arnadottir to the LDS (Mormon) Church, married her, and took her with him back to Utah in 1874. Unfortunately, Loftur was killed in a farm accident in Utah later that same year. In the meantime, in Iceland, Loftur's sister Gudrun Jonsdottir (my great great grandmother), whom Loftur had converted to the church, had breast cancer and wanted to go to Utah for for possible medical treatment (but also for the LDS church). Her husband Einar Bjarnason (my great great grandfather) finally agreed to let her go, with the understanding that she would return. So she emigrated to Spanish Fork, Utah, in 1874, along with her two daughters (Helga and Thorgerdur) and a foster daughter, leaving Einar and the three sons in Iceland. When she had not returned to Iceland after a year, Einar send his son Gisli Einarson to Utah in 1875 to bring Gudrun and the daughters back to Iceland. However, Gisli decided to stay in Spanish Fork, where he was called Gisli Bjarnason (1849-1934, my great grandfather, standing in the picture). Gisli married his uncle Loftur's widow, Halldora Arnadottir Bjarnason (1844-1929, my great grandmother, in the center of the picture), and they lived in the house that Loftur had built (shown in the picture). Gisli built another house for his mother and sisters. Loftur's stepdaughter Gudrun Jonsdottir Jonsson (1826-1916, at right in the picture) never married, and lived for the rest of her life with Gisli and Halldora.

In 1854, Samuel Bjarnason (1823-1890) and his wife Margret Gisladottir Bjarnason (1822-1914, at left in the picture) joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in Iceland. The next year, 1855, they left for the state of Utah in the United States, the first Icelanders to emigrate there. They settled in Spanish Fork, Utah. Samuel Bjarnason was not related to Gisli Bjarnason. In the picture, Margret is about 88 years old, and had been a widow for about 20 years.

Most of this information comes from two sources: (1) "The Icelanders of Utah," by LaNora Allred, 1988. (2) "The Life and Times of my Icelandic Grandfather," by Lois Bowen Christensen (my mother, Gisli's granddaughter), 1992.

Note: Although I grew up in Provo, Utah, I spent many summers during my youth working on my grandfather Bowen's farm in Spanish Fork, Utah. At the age of about 12 (approximately 1940), I was part of a crew that tore down the house shown in this picture, as well as the barn behind it and Gisli's bee house alongside it. They were replaced by two houses: One (at 324 East 4th North) was for my grandparents, William Jones Bowen and Gudrun Dena Bjarnason Bowen. The other (at 328 East 4th North) was for one of their daughters, "Dora" (Halldora), and her family. --A. Kent Christensen