Category Archives: Genealogy

A Calumet & Hecla Rosetta Stone: Reading a C&H Employment Card, Part 1

The following post is part one of a two-part series, which was researched and authored by Emily Riippa, Assistant Archivist. 

Fall semester is always busy for our department, but October was an especially busy month of outreach for the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. Everyone on our staff had a part to play. It was my honor and privilege to speak at the monthly meeting of the Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society on some of our most popular documents: the employment records from the Calumet & Hecla Mining Companies Collection (MS-002).

The Michigan Tech Archives holds more than 54,000 of these records for workers–primarily male but, in some instances, female–hired by the company between 1865 and 1957. Astonishing though that number is, it still does not quite capture the vastness of the workforce under the Calumet & Hecla (C&H) umbrella. Records for an unknown number of employees who left the mines before the mid-1890s or stayed on with C&H until its bitter end in 1969 were lost or destroyed before the collection arrived at Michigan Tech. C&H’s habits when it acquired competitors also weighed negatively on documents from those companies: if a worker was employed by Tamarack Mining Company, for example, only before it ceased to be an independent organization in 1917, C&H apparently disposed of his employment information. If he stayed on when Tamarack officially came into the Calumet & Hecla family, the corporation’s clerks transferred his information to a new, C&H-specific document.

Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.
Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.

 

Rich with information about such topics as family backgrounds, occupations, rates of pay, and on-the-job injuries, the many cards that have survived are perennially in demand with genealogists, labor historians, and many other researchers. Yet the very wealth of information available often renders the cards challenging to read and decipher. Even more than its biggest competitors–Copper Range and Quincy–C&H created employment cards with a complex structure and devised a collection of information-storing abbreviations as expansive as the workforce it described. For researchers a hundred years later, understanding the C&H language and card structure can be a challenging proposition. In my presentation last October, I provided what I called a Cliffs Notes guide to what a person needs to know to read a C&H employment card, and I am pleased to be able to share a version of that with you. It would be a disservice to the records to abbreviate that discussion too dramatically, so this Cliffs Notes guide will be divided into two posts. The first entry will focus on the information that the cards provide on an employee’s background and personal traits.

When we speak of C&H employment cards at the Michigan Tech Archives, we are, in fact, referring to two distinct styles of record. A small, dense document that resembles a modern index card came into use for documenting C&H employees in the 1890s. A larger, yellow sheet with a more complex structure replaced it beginning in 1915. While the format might have changed, many of the company’s questions and abbreviations remained constant over the years. Understand the newer C&H employment record, and interpreting its predecessor will be simple. For that reason, both posts will examine the yellow document.

It’s easiest to understand yellow cards by looking at a sample record, so I selected the employment card for a relative of my own, Peter Gasperich. Peter was born in Slovenia and came to the United States in the late 1880s, settling near Calumet. He worked in the copper mines for more than thirty years and concluded his career at C&H, where he was employed at the time of his death.

On the front page of the yellow card, C&H employment clerks recorded the aforementioned information about Peter as an individual. The left side of the page began by asking for a substantial number of details of interest to genealogists; name, date and place of birth, current residence, and status with regard to marriage, citizenship, and parenthood lead the list. A genealogist may find that, if the individual’s name was unusual to American eyes or if the worker was an immigrant looking to blend in with his peers, the name given on the employment card varies from what is given elsewhere. Employees may also have misremembered or been motivated to obscure their years of birth, either to inflate or reduce their ages; this information is worth verifying with other sources whenever possible. It is worth noting, as well, that contemporary names were used for places of birth. Peter was born in Črnomelj, Slovenia, a town then part of the Austrian empire. He provided his hometown using its official German name (Tschernembl), which the C&H clerk attempted to transcribe phonetically–with little success. It took quite a bit of additional research to tie “Chernemble” back to Peter’s actual birthplace.

As they moved down the page, the clerks inquired about the name of Peter’s spouse and where she resided. Employees whose parents were still alive also provided information about them to C&H. Unfortunately, the company was not motivated to collect details about deceased relatives and simply recorded them as no longer living, rendering this section a–no pun intended–genealogical dead end. Names and dates of birth were noted for children, albeit with the same caveats as Peter’s name and age. The questions about Peter’s family also requested details about any relatives of his who were also working in Michigan’s copper mines. If the family member were employed at a different mine, both the person’s name and the name of their employer were listed, along with a succinct abbreviation of their relationship; if the person worked somewhere within the C&H empire, the employer’s name was replaced by the individual’s identification number. This portion of the front page concluded with information about Peter’s most recent employer prior to C&H and his reason for leaving that company.

The left side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which features a range of basic biographical data.
The left side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which features a range of basic biographical data.

Although the structure of the employment cards varied over the years, the right side of this front page here provided a space for C&H to expand on Peter’s work history. In this more detailed inquiry, the company asked about Peter’s employers in the twelve months prior to his hiring at C&H: the name and location of the firm, the dates that Peter worked there, and the position he held were all noted. At times, an employment card might show a smattering of jobs spread across multiple years: when workers returned to C&H after an absence, the company would simply update existing records rather than creating new ones. The genealogist who sees this apparent disarray on an employment card should see it as a clue that their ancestor moved from job to job with some frequency.

Perhaps more interesting to family history researchers, however, is the description of the employee’s appearance also provided. For genealogists who have only black-and-white photographs of their ancestors–or, in the case of Peter, no pictures at all–these details about hair and eye color, height, and weight are a particular treasure. Rest assured that C&H company physicians, who examined all prospective hires, spared no detail. I know more now about the scars and bodily oddities of long-dead family members than I ever desired to know. On the employment records produced in the years immediately following the 1913-1914 Western Federation of Miners copper strike, a paragraph authorizing a rudimentary background check and vowing no affiliation with the union was also included. By the time Peter’s card was created in 1921, this section had fallen by the wayside; its commitment was now implicit.

The new hire signed the card–or made his X mark–on this page, and a representative of the company added his own signature and the date. Updates here were made in much the same way as the employment history section. At the very bottom of the page, clerks wrote Peter’s name again and added one of the two numbers he was assigned within the C&H system.

The right side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which discusses his work history and physical appearance.
The right side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which discusses his work history and physical appearance.

The Calumet & Hecla employment cards offer extraordinary insight into the company’s workforce for a bevy of research interests. Hopefully, this primer will prove a useful orientation to the basic history and purpose of the cards, as well as the information available on their front side. A future blog post will turn to the back page, which shifts its attention away from personal details to focus more on a worker’s relationship to C&H. Watch this space for the second part of the guide. In the meantime, if your interest in learning more about your ancestors’ potential ties to C&H has been piqued, if you would like assistance in deciphering a record already located, or if you have any other research questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives. We may be reached via e-mail at copper@mtu.edu or by telephone at (906) 487-2505, and we are always very happy to help.


Michigan Tech Archives and HKCGS to Present a Family Papers Workshop

Documents from a family papers collection being rehumidified at the Michigan Tech Archives, 2015.
Documents from a family papers collection being rehumidified at the Michigan Tech Archives, 2015.

 

The Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society is teaming up with the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections to present a home archiving workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the Portage Lake District Library.

Lindsay Hiltunen, university archivist at the Michigan Tech Archives will discuss tips and tricks for taking care of family papers and photographs. Topics will include proper handling techniques, storage solutions, digitization and preservation concerns.

The meeting is free and open to the public. For further information, contact the HKCGS at 369-4083 or email. You can also contact Michigan Tech Archives at 7-2505 or email.


HeritageQuest is Now Powered by Ancestry.com

One of our favorite and most used databases, HeritageQuest (Proquest) underwent an interface makeover and is now powered by Ancestry.com. Along with the enhanced functionality that comes with the site’s redesign, there is a considerable amount of new content, not least of which are the available listings of U.S.Federal Census Records from 1790 to 1940, including the image and every-name indexes for each of these years.

Additional new content includes: city directories, 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules, U.S. Indian Census Rolls, Mortality Schedules, Agricultural and Industrial Schedules, and the 1890 Veterans Schedule.

If you have any questions about using HeritageQuest, please call the the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections at (906) 487-2505 or email us at copper@mtu.edu to learn more.

Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff can access HeritageQuest by following this link. Additionally, all Michigan residents may access HeritageQuest through the Michigan eLibrary (MeL) at mel.org/Databases. Another genealogy related database available through MeL is the Biography and Genealogy Master Index, a readily searchable reference sources index.

 

 


Historical Collections Now Searchable

A group of new online search tools has enhanced the search and discovery of historical records in the collections of the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections in Houghton, Michigan. The improved access is the result of a two-year project to improve description of the Archives’ extensive holdings of regional manuscript material. The initiative was funded through a $167,600 grant from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission, a division of the National Archives and Records Administration.

During the project, Archives’ staff conducted a box-by-box survey of its entire collection, totaling more than 7,000 cubic feet and including personal papers, diaries, organizational records, business materials, mining company records, maps, newspapers, and other historical documents. The project identified more than 700 discrete collections and created standardized descriptions providing information about the size, content, and dates of coverage for each collection.

These descriptions have been revealed to potential researchers throughout the world via a number of online tools.  A full listing of the collections, including collection number, title, and brief description, is now available on the Michigan Tech Archives blog: http://blogs.mtu.edu/archives/nhprc-cataloging-project/collection-registers/.

Catalog records for each collection are also available on the Voyager catalog at Michigan Tech’s Van Pelt and Opie Library: http://ils.lib.mtu.edu/vwebv/searchAdvanced. Visitors may limit their searches by the location “Archives Manuscript Collection.” These records allow searches of collection names, keywords in their brief descriptions and histories, and also using standardized subject headings.

Versions of these catalog records are also searchable through WorldCat, an international bibliographic database maintained by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), a global cooperative of libraries, archives, and museums. The general public can search the main WorldCat catalog: http://www.worldcat.org/. Participating OCLC member institutions may also search these records through the FirstSearch version of WorldCat which allows researchers to limit type to “Archival Materials” and limit availability to library code “EZT” for Michigan Tech archival collection records.

For further information, contact the Michigan Tech Archives at 906-487-2505 or at copper@mtu.edu


Archives Moves Toward New Technologies

Working on mark-up of an EAD file during Michael Fox's recent archival description workshop.

The Archives was closed Thursday-Friday, September 8-9, 2011, so that staff could be  trained in several new software tools.

Michael Fox, recently retired from the Minnesota Historical Society, spent three days with staff of the Michigan Tech Archives (as well as some other friends). Fox reviewed some basic elements of how manuscript collections differ from museum and library collections. It is important to realize that unlike other item-level collections, archives have complex inter-relations within their manuscript collections. Very few archives catalog material to the item level. Instead, they gather descriptive data at the collection level, as well as information about groupings of documents in folders or within collections as records series. The hierarchical relationship between individual documents, the folders they reside in, the series of which they were created, as well as the overall collections which hold them require complex systems of description.

Encoded archival description (EAD) is a standard which has emerged in recent years to help archivists create and hold this type of hierarchical descriptive information. It uses extensible mark-up language (xml)  to take previous types of written inventories and finding aids and turn them into a standardized data format (it also relies on a descriptive standard called “describing archives: a content standard,” or DACS, to ensure that the contents of individual fields is consistent across the board). With information about our collections held in EAD format, the Michigan Tech Archives will be able to export information to web sites and other places where potential researchers might discover our collections.

This work is not for the faint of heart, however, and will involve many changes in the way that we do our work at the Michigan Tech Archives. One of these changes will be the migration of collections information to a new open source archival collections management software tool called Archivists’ Toolkit. AT will allow us to gather a variety of information about our collections, including both descriptive information and internal administrative notes about preservation and processing. From AT, we’ll be able to output descriptive information compliant to the EAD standard. We’ll also be able to export catalog records compliant to the library world’s MARC standard.  In these formats, we’ll be able to update and share information through sites like OCLC’s Worldcat and ArchiveGrid.

Although this may sound like technical mumbo-jumbo to some of our non-archivist researchers, it will mean a dramatic improvement to the variety and level of information that researchers may discover about our holdings.

We were pleased to have Fox’s training workshop supported through grant monies from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission. Over the course of the last two years, NHPRC’s funding of our current ‘basic archives’ grant has provided the first steps in this move toward better and more standardized description. During this period, we have already created collection-level records for each of the manuscript collections held at the Michigan Tech Archives (you can read some of these on our blog over here). With NHPRC funding for Michael Fox’s visit, we made the first steps toward implementation of Archivists’ Toolkit, EAD, and the next steps in our program.

Look for additional updates here.


Workshop: Introduction to Archival Research

Ever wonder how to start a historical research project? Not sure where to find the right documents to answer your question? Unclear how a research archives operates?  Join Michigan Tech archivists Julie Blair and Erik Nordberg at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 1, for an introduction to archival research. The workshop will take place in Room 244 of the Van Pelt and Opie Library.

This session will provide a general overview of research using historical records. The workshop will include an introduction to historical research methods and attendees will learn how to locate, integrate, and cite archival material in their research. Presenters will discuss what is meant by phrases like “manuscript collection” and “primary source,” how to describe different types of archival sources, and learn about the similarities and important differences between archives, libraries, and museums.

Attendees will also learn how to use the Keweenaw Digital Archives to easily find historic images online, how to create an account, make a digital album, and add their own comments and observations to the photos. The session will draw upon numerous examples from the holdings of the Michigan Tech Archives, which collects historical material about Michigan Tech and the people, communities, and industries of the surrounding Copper Country.

This workshop will also be repeated at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 7, and is part of a weekly series of programs offered by the Van Pelt and Opie Library. For more information on the Library’s workshop series, visit their blog.


Archives’ Genealogy Collections

Genealogical holdings of the Michigan Tech Archives were highlighted in a feature article in the November 7, 2009 issue of Houghton’s Daily Mining Gazette.  Here is the article:

Genealogy resources abound in Copper Country
By Garrett Neese, DMG Writer

HOUGHTON – Every year, thousands of people come to the Copper Country to research their heritage.

Fortunately for them, there are many resources available locally to help them with their quest.

Many of the records for which people are looking may be found in county courthouses. Houghton County’s clerk’s office has vital records dating back more than 150 years: births and deaths since 1867 (indexes starting 1893 and 1911, respectively), marriages since 1855 and naturalization records starting in 1848.

Some records are restricted, said Mary Sivonen, senior accounts processor with the county clerk’s office: Only family members may see birth records, while military discharge records may be seen by that person and a spouse.

Because of space and staffing constraints, Sivonen said people should call ahead and set aside a time to come.

“We limit it to just a couple at a time,” she said. “We don’t allow groups to come up because we only have a limited amount of space. The books are very large.”

Coming in to look at open records is free. There are small fees for services beyond that, including $2 for copies and $10 for any records that need to be typed.

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections has a wealth of sources, including Upper Peninsula census reports, local newspapers, tax and immigration records, and tract books showing purchases of land from the government.

Assistant archivist Julia Blair didn’t have total visitor numbers, but said hundreds of people come per month to do research.

There are microfilm archives from about 70 local papers, which can include pertinent information such as obituaries. Copies of the Daily Mining Gazette and its predecessor, the Portage Lake Mining Gazette, date back to 1862. There are other papers both major and minor, including three months of 1908 copies of the Hancock newspaper Wage Slave.

Other information includes census records, mine inspector reports of mining accidents, and Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. records, “probably the resource that is most valuable to people who come from outside the area,” Blair said.

The archives have telephone directories from Houghton and Keweenaw counties and Chassell, as well as their forerunner, the Polk directories, which included a list of residents with their job and address (for example, the 1898 Houghton County edition includes Dagenain Frederick, a laborer who lived at 129 Hecla St. in Laurium).

Many people also use Sanborn insurance maps, which shows the layout of streets in the town, as well as the businesses there at that point in time.

“It’s possible to trace a particular family dwelling and see if that home is still there,” she said.

Recently, Blair had a woman call who was interested in what business used to be in a particular building in South Range.

But as with any kind of historical research, Blair said, people should be prepared to put a little time into it.

“We can’t just type in a name, and say ‘Oh, we have this,'” she said.

In the event there’s nothing at the archives, they will also connect them to other resources, Blair said.

“It’s rare that we can’t connect somebody to some records in the past, but it has happened,” she said.

http://www.mininggazette.com/page/content.detail/id/507342.html?nav=5003