Joni Mitchell Family History


Roberta Joan Anderson, better known as the singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, was born on November 7th, 1943 to William and Myrtle Anderson in Fort Mcleod, Alberta.

Joni was an only child.  Her family moved around a lot, to small prairie towns in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  She contracted polio when she was nine and was hospitalized for weeks. Two years later her family settled down in Saskatoon. She struggled at school there, her main interest being painting.  However, she dropped out of art college at the age of twenty, much to her parents’ displeasure.

She then told her mother that she intended to be a folk singer in Toronto. She left western Canada for the first time in her life, heading east for Ontario with her boyfriend.  There she resorted to busking and working in the women’s wear section of a downtown department store in order to pay the rent.

Her low point came in late 1964 when she discovered she was pregnant by her then ex-boyfriend.  She later wrote, “He left me three months pregnant in an attic room with no money and winter coming on and only a fireplace for heat. The spindles of the banister were gap-toothed – fuel for last winter’s occupants.”

But things did get better.  After giving up the baby for adoption, she began to sing more and more in clubs in Toronto and Detroit (during her brief marriage to Chuck Mitchell), using her own material this time.  Probably her best-loved song Both Sides Now was composed at this time.

In 1967 she made the move to New York to further her career.  She soon became well known for her songwriting and her innovative guitar style.  And over time her range widened to include jazz and pop elements. 

Later, settling in Southern California, Joni would help define an era and a generation with popular songs such as Big Yellow Taxi and Woodstock. Her 1971 album Blue is often cited as one of the best albums of all time.

Has she been forgotten?  No way.  She stepped down from the spotlight in 2015 after suffering a brain aneurysm rupture.  But she returned to live performance in 2022 to rapturous applause.  

Norwegian Antecedants

Joni Mitchell’s last name was first Anderson and Anderson only came about after her great grandfather Hans had arrived in Minnesota from Norway in 1869.

Before that time Anderson was Arntsen and the Norwegian interplay between first name and last name is evident from the ancestors that preceded Hans – from Jon Arntsen, born in 1615, to Arnt Johannesen, born in 1800.

This line went as follows:

  • Jon Arntsen Dale (1615-1682)
  • Arnt Jonsen Dale (1645-1701)
  • Jon Arntsen Kleiven (1695-1768)
  • Arnt Jonsen Kleiven (1745-1800)
  • Johannes Arntsen Kleiven (1770-1831)
  • Arnt Johannesen Kleiven (1800-1888), to Minnesota with his son Hans in 1869.

In Norway the years 1866-1868 had been bad for farmers, famine years in fact.  These were the years that Norwegian emigration to America began to take off.  The means was possible as steam was replacing sail in passenger vessels.  And America had reopened its doors after the ending of the Civil War.

Arnt was a widower after his wife had died in 1862.  His son Hans had gotten married by that time (a first son Martin being born in 1862).  In 1869 this family departed from Trondheim for New York.

Where had they come from in Norway?  One story that went the rounds was that they had Sami (Lapland) blood in them and that they were from the Lofoten islands off the north coast of Norway.

They were not in fact from Lofoten, although they did go there in winter for fishing purposes.  Their home instead was at Sømna on the mainland of northern Norway.  Sømna offered some of the better farming prospects in this region of Nordland.  Arnt’s son Hans and Hans’ wife Nettie had been born on the Store Reinfjord and Arnes farms in the Sømna kommune.

Their ancestor names suggest that this family had been in Nordland a long time (Dale and Kleiven are Nordland place-names).  But they don’t give a hint of any Sami connection.

In America

On arrival at Ellis Island, Hans changed his last name to the more American Anderson and the family then proceeded to Minnesota, as many other Norwegians had done.  Not much is known about their time in Minnesota.  Hans and Nettie’s family expanded in 1873 with the birth of Henry and again in 1883 with the birth of the twins Ole and Fred.

Starting in 1878 and encouraged by the railroad expansion west, a flood of settlers moved to homestead in what was then Dakota Territory.  The Andersons came to South Dakota in 1890, possibly earlier.

Henry met his wife-to-be Emma there.  She had arrived in Minnesota as a baby with her family from the Bergen area of Norway in 1882.  They too moved to South Dakota around 1890.  She and Henry were recorded as married and living in Day county, South Dakota in 1905.

In Canada

The closing of the American frontier around 1890 led settlers to pursue homestead opportunities further north in the Canadian West.  Land was still available there.  Norwegians first settled in the Wetaskiwin area of Alberta, seventy miles south of Edmonton, in 1892.  By 1906 the place had several churches and a town hall, but conditions were still somewhat primitive.

Henry and Emma Anderson arrived in Wetaskiwin “in that terrible year of 1906 when there was so much snow and cold.”  They survived and raised kids there – first two daughters Alma and Hilda, then William (Joni’s father) who was born in 1911, and others followed.  Too many kids!.

William met and married his Scottish Canadian wife Myrtle McGee in 1942 at Fort Mcleod in Alberta.  At that time he was a flight lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Air Force instructing new pilots.  He moved with his family to various air force bases in western Canada.  Later he involved himself in grocery merchandising, moving to Saskatoon in 1952.  His pastimes there were golf and playing the trumpet.  He lived to be 100.

Joni Mitchell’s Family Tree

  • Arnt Johannesen Kleiven (1800-1888) from Nordland in Norway m. Marit Pedersdatter (1798-1862) and arrived in Minnesota in 1869 after his wife’s death
  • Hans Benjamin Kristian Arntsen aka Hans Anderson (1831-1923) m. Jonette (Nettie) Pedersdatter (1840-1934) in Nordland in Norway and arrived in Minnesota in 1869
  • – Martin Hansen (1862-1951, born in Norway)
  • – Henry Anderson (1873-1952, born in Minnesota)
  • – twin Ole Anderson (1883-1959, born in Minnesota)
  • – twin Alfred (Fred) Anderson (1883-1969, born in Minnesota)
  • Henry Anderson from Minnesota m. Ingebjorg (Emma) Farristvedt (1882-1965) from Norway in South Dakota
  • – William Anderson (1911-2012)
  • – sisters Alma and Hilda Anderson plus other siblings
  • William Anderson from Alberta m. Myrtle McKee (1912-2007) in Alberta in 1942
  • – Joni Mitchell nee Anderson (b. 1943)
  • Joni Mitchell nee Anderson m. Chuck Mitchell in 1965, divorced in 1967; rem. Larry Klein in 1982, divorced in 1994
  • – Kilauren (Kelly) Gibb (b. 1965) with Brad MacMath, given up for adoption (they met again in 1997)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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