Researching a Death in the Mines

Group of men in breathing masks carrying a man on a stretcher
A group of men trained in mine rescue techniques demonstrating the retrieval of an injured worker.

A job in the mines of the Copper Country could mean much to a man. It might have placed him working alongside his brother or his father; it might have been his first time employed as an adult. It might have offered him a toehold in a nation he hoped to claim as his own; it might have been merely a way to earn money and return to life in the old country as quickly as possible. Yet while working in the mines offered economic opportunity, it also carried a substantial cost. At the height of the industry, a man died every week while on the job, leaving a hole in the family that he was trying to support and better.

Genealogists often come to the Michigan Tech Archives in hopes of learning more about relatives who met tragedy in our local industry. In some cases, these men perished; in other instances, they were gravely injured and carried the scars of the accident for the remainder of their lives. If you have an ancestor whom you believe to have died in the mines, how can you go about verifying your hypothesis and learning more about his death?

Let’s consider an example from my own research. Samuel Henry Broad was born in Cornwall in 1856. By 1880, he worked as a miner at Central; in 1881, he married a fellow immigrant, Elizabeth Ann Hosking. From the 1894 state census, I saw that they remained in Keweenaw County for at least another decade. The 1900 census recorded Elizabeth Broad as a widow in Hancock, residing with her five children and her own father. What had caused Samuel’s death?

Since I knew from the 1880 census and from his marriage record that Samuel had spent at least part of his life working as a miner–and because it was obvious that he died young–I considered the possibility that he had died at work. To investigate this, I started to connect the dots with documents.

Looking for a death record. From the records I already had, I knew that Samuel’s death must have occurred sometime between 1894 and June 1900, when the census for that year was conducted. Although Michigan required deaths to be reported from 1867 on, consistency in documentation did not emerge until the introduction of death certificates in 1897. That meant that finding Samuel’s official death record could prove difficult, if not impossible, to locate.

In this case, I was fortunate. I found a scanned ledger of Houghton County deaths on Ancestry that stated that Samuel had lost his life on May 19, 1895; his cause of death was “killed in mine.” My suspicions were correct.

If you’re looking for someone who passed away after the introduction of death certificates in 1897 through 1952, you can also search for them for free on Michiganology, an online portal to the Archives of Michigan.

Death record of Samuel Henry Broad

If you can’t locate a death record. What if I hadn’t been able to retrieve Samuel’s death record? Other resources could help to fill in the gap. FamilySearch has a large number of probate files from Copper Country counties, especially Ontonagon and Keweenaw, that can provide an individual’s date of death. Although more common for individuals who had property to bequeath, these documents can help to supplement gaps in death records. In the absence of a probate file, try checking cemeteries or narrowing the possible years of death through other records. A man who appeared in the 1900 census and whose wife remarried in 1904 may well have died in the intervening years.

Finding the details of the accident. Some researchers may be satisfied just to know that their ancestor died in a mine accident. If that’s you, once you’ve verified the death through some means, you are all set! In my case, I wanted to go deeper. What had happened in the mine to kill Samuel? In which mine had he met his demise?

How you go about ascertaining the details of an accident will depend on the particular circumstances of your ancestor’s life.

If you know where your ancestor lived or what company he worked for already, try to find an employment record. Calumet & Hecla faithfully documented the deaths of its workers, and the employment card of an individual killed there will usually include a brief summary of the accident. C&H maintained an interest, as well, in laborers who had left its employ and occasionally would note on the appropriate men’s records if their deaths had occurred at rival companies. If you suspect that your ancestor worked at C&H at any point in his career, his record would be well worth locating, if possible. The Michigan Tech Archives can help with that.

Keep in mind, however, that collections of employment records are not always complete. In Samuel’s case, I saw that he died in Hancock, which made me suspect that he worked at the Quincy Mine. Unfortunately, employment cards from Quincy are largely nonexistent before 1900, and I didn’t have any luck finding Samuel among them. Records from other mines near Hancock–such as the Pewabic or Franklin–also have not come down to us.

Quincy No. 6 shafthouse in disrepair

If you have the date of death (exact or approximate), check the newspapers for an obituary or a news report of the accident. With a few gaps, newspapers held by the Michigan Tech Archives cover the period from 1868 to the present. A man’s death in the mines may have been documented in the local news, especially if his demise transpired in a particularly violent way. Although newspapers often presented the news with a bias toward the company, the details of where an accident occurred and what occurred are often accurate.

While the archives are currently closed to the public, newspaper articles can be retrieved by staff upon our return to the office. Through the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America project, some local titles can be browsed from home, including the Copper Country Evening News from 1896 to 1898 and the Calumet News from 1907 to 1914.

To my surprise, I found the report of Samuel’s death in the Quincy Mine in a place other than what I expected. The Copper Country Evening News picked up the story of his demise in its March 21, 1896 issue, explaining that the unfortunate man had died just two days earlier.

Justice Finn impaneled a jury yesterday morning and held an inquest into the death of Samuel H. Broad, killed in the Quincy Thursday afternoon. The jury was composed of Joseph Malberbe, Henry O’Leary, D. Lanctot, John Doyle, James Sullivan, and Joseph Wareham. William Gross, a partner of the deceased, told the story of the accident. They were working in a stope at the 38th level, north of No.6 shaft. A blast had been fired, and the two started to climb up about 10 feet to the face of the stope, one on each side. A piece of hanging fell, burying Broad and some of the flying pieces struck Gross. The latter got the fallen rock off his companion as quickly as possible, but the unfortunate man died a few moments after. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with these facts. Mr. Broad’s family consists of five young children, and they are left in not too comfortable circumstances.

This added detail and color to my understanding of Samuel’s passing, and it corrected the death record I had found previously.

If you know that your ancestor died in Houghton County, but you aren’t sure when. The Mine Inspector for the county prepared annual reports summarizing men who were killed or seriously injured on the job that year. Although these documents may have also been produced by other counties, the Michigan Tech Archives has not received any such publications for places outside of Houghton County. For those seeking information about accidents at the heart of the Copper Country, these bound volumes are easy to skim for information–though the information itself may be brutally difficult to digest.

May we help you to search for ancestors affected by mining accidents? Although staff have not yet returned to the Michigan Tech Archives, we would be happy to consult with you on your search options and to add your request to our queue. Feel free to e-mail copper@mtu.edu to move forward in your search.


Flashback Friday – Our Boy With The Deer

Archive Image

This Flashback Friday has me, on a deeply personal level, feeling a little wistful and missing the daily routine of welcoming the morning, my colleagues, and the collections at the Michigan Tech Archives. I’m a creature of habit and one of my morning rituals was to say a quiet good morning to David.

For those familiar with our public reading room and the reference desk, they will recognize the picture featured today as it hangs proudly, and has for many years, on the wall adjacent to the main archives doors. Each morning I turn the key in the lock, cross the threshold, and as the heavy wooden door closes itself, I glance up at David to wish him good-morrow before heading to my office.

David, the precocious subject of this beloved photograph from May 1958, is a favorite of many archives staff members past and present. David Roche Murphy, a Keweenaw native and brother of Terence Roche Murphy (longtime friend of the archives), passed away in March 2017 after a life rich with travel and a love of nature.

Born of two families prominent in Calumet, Laurium, and Eagle Harbor, as a very young boy David found a swift and sincere love of nature, as evidenced by the photograph of him and a young deer ankles-deep in Lake Superior at Eagle Harbor. Having spent many youthful hours at the shores of the Big Lake it is perhaps of little surprise that David, after earning multiple degrees from Michigan State University and stints as a reporter and intelligence officer in New York and Southeast Asia respectively, found his true calling at sea. He spent most of his active career as a Senior Logistics Officer (Chief Purser with Commander rank) in the Merchant Marine. He served on U.S. Naval Service vessels and elsewhere in close collaboration with U.S. intelligence services from Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, North Pacific waters during surveillance of North Korean nuclear weapons activity, and was an officer decorated by the U.S. Navy for at-sea support of the battle fleet in 1990-91 Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Upon coming ashore at last for his retirement years, David returned to the Copper Country where he found comfort in community, creative pursuits, and the great outdoors. He was a longtime volunteer with Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly, read voraciously, and was proud to be a lifetime “Eagle Harborite.” His initial home in retirement was in Eagle Harbor where Lake Superior remained within sight and sound.

One of the things they don’t teach professional archivists and librarians in graduate school are the lively friendships you’ll forge with patrons and partners, nor the myriad of losses you will experience over the course of your career. I was grateful to be a guest of the Roche Murphy family at David’s Celebration of Life in Summer 2017 at Saint Peter’s-by-the-Sea in Eagle Harbor. I also take comfort in knowing that the Michigan Nature Association has dedicated “Mariner’s Preserve at Silver River Falls” in Commander Murphy’s permanent honor.

The current situation and the stay at home order has kept me from some of the things I love most about being an archivist, but I find peace in being able to take this time to reflect on why I find such satisfaction in the act of remembering, preserving, and sharing about the past. The stories we find in the stacks enrich us and make us who we are. The lives and memories of others remind us what it is to be human. As a native of the Copper Country and an alum of Michigan Tech, I take great pride and care to serve as one of several stewards and keepers of memory of this most magical place. I will never forget what it means to be a part of this, nor what it means to be home. And I will forever say good morning to our “boy with the deer.”


Breaking Down Brick Walls When You’re Stuck Behind Walls

Image of brick wall emerging from a hillside

Another week has gone by, and you’re still stuck at home. If you’ve been working on your family history, it’s possible you might be getting stuck in a different way, too. Every genealogist will eventually encounter a relative who poses a problem of some sort or another: a great-grandparent whose origins are opaque, a cousin who disappears into thin air, a person named John Smith who seems indistinguishable from a thousand other men by that name. These brick walls can be extremely challenging to overcome, sometimes requiring years of research or special visits to make inroads. What can you do to break down a brick wall when you’re not able to visit archives or head off to the county clerk?

As a genealogist and an archivist, I’m happy to share a few tips that I’ve picked up in my personal efforts to knock down brick walls and in assisting patrons with doing the same. These are all tactics that you can use from your own home–no visits required!

1. Take the last name out of the equation. As someone with a Finnish surname, let me assure you: people can come up with an infinite number of ways to misspell a name. This problem isn’t unique to last names, but it appears more commonly there, in my experience. If you’re not finding someone by searching his or her full name, try removing it. Use other details, like dates or the names of immediate family, to help narrow down your quest instead. For example, I knew from walking through Lakeview Cemetery that a relative named Francis (Frank) Stanfel had died in 1925, most likely in Houghton County. I wanted to find his death certificate, but I had no luck when I searched for either Francis or Frank Stanfel. Given this dismal track record, I decided to try a different approach. I searched just for men named Francis who died in Houghton County in 1925, and that led me to the right death certificate–filed under Francis Stanfil.
2. Try variations on a given name. Francis Stanfel from tip #1 is a good example of someone who could be located under either his full first name or his nickname of Frank. One of his grandchildren, Alben Kovachich, was challenging to research under Alben–but I found him under Benny. If you have a relative who had a two-part name, like Mary Catherine, try looking for her under Mary, Catherine, Kate, Katie, etc. It may be that one moniker was used at a particular time in her life or on certain documents, while another appeared on materials prepared at a different period.
3. Searched there already? Give it another shot. I spent many years trying to find a birth or baptism record for a certain ancestor, Jane Broad. This information was available for siblings both older and younger than Jane, and I could find no obvious reason for her absence. I continued to search the same database on an intermittent basis, and one day Jane appeared. Volunteers added data from various sources to the website periodically, and one of the new sources contained Jane’s record. Persistence paid off.
4. On the other hand, try a new source. If you’ve been checking Ancestry fruitlessly, maybe it’s time to give FamilySearch a try. If you’ve been relying on censuses to piece together family relationships, see if you can find digitized probate files instead. Maybe you haven’t considered the value of religious records available on Ancestry and other sites. City directories on Google Books can be powerful tools. A change of scenery in sources, so to speak, can conquer a number of challenges.
5. Expand your geographical horizons. Maybe you know that the person you’re seeking came from a certain town, but you haven’t been able to find him in local records. Try searching nearby settlements, too, to capture relocations of people and adjustments in geographic boundaries. I couldn’t locate a certain family in Kaustinen, Finland, before a given date in parish records; they just seemed to vanish as I went back in time. When I expanded my search to Lestijarvi and Toholampi, parishes not far away, their tree filled in with incredible speed.
6. Consider the value of searching for friends, associates, and neighbors. Renowned genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills popularized the term “FAN Club” to describe a technique of researching ancestors by looking into those connected with them: friends, associates, and neighbors. Information about these persons can inform your knowledge of your ancestors. For example, a man immigrating through Ellis Island listed one of my relatives as the person he planned to join in America. Although I haven’t yet been able to piece together just how the two were connected, obtaining the name of the new arrival’s home village has helped me to target my search in the old country more effectively. You can also use names of FAN Club members to assess whether a certain document pertains to your relatives or others by the same name. Want to know whether the Mary Collins who married Michael Sullivan in 1857 was really your third cousin? If parents’ names aren’t listed, see who witnessed the marriage. You might find the same names listed in sources that you’ve already tied to your relatives, such as census documents.

Hopefully, these tips will help you make inroads as you continue your research! If you have any advice of your own to add–any insight that has let you overcome challenges–please feel free to leave a comment on this post or on our social media. We would love to learn from you, as well!


Flashback Friday: Anna Brockway Makes Her Own Way

Image of woman's portrait surrounded by men
Anna Medora Brockway, center, in her graduation photograph. Image courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Author’s note: In 2018, we published a piece on three remarkable women from the Brockway family. The tale concluded with an allusion to Anna, the youngest Brockway daughter, and the promise that her story would be told on another day. That day is today.

Anna Brockway Gray believed in living boldly and without a moment wasted.

This, at least, is the impression created by the documentation left of her life. She did, she thought, she moved with great enthusiasm. She made choices and mistakes with decisiveness. She forged a path of her own in education, in medicine, and in publishing.

Of course, for those acquainted with Copper Country women, Anna’s determination was hardly surprising.

We have no official record of what February 1, 1851 was like at the tip of the Keweenaw. Likely, the day dawned like most Upper Peninsula mornings: cold, with a thick blanket of snow and the great hush of winter surrounding the Brockway residence. Nestled in the snug warmth of their home, thirty-four-year-old Lucena Brockway brought her fifth child into the world. She and husband Daniel christened their newest daughter Anna Medora, a name shared by a picturesque lake not far from their home. By name and by inclination, the newest Brockway would enjoy a deep and lifelong connection to Michigan.

Image of ruined
Ruins at the Northwestern Mine, where Anna was born in 1851.

Although the Brockways were pillars of Michigan’s northernmost communities, they also wandered. In those days, the Copper Country had just begun to boom; mines broke ground, flourished, faltered, failed. The family went where opportunity beckoned. Anna claimed the Northwestern Mine, where her father acted as agent, as her birthplace; she spent portions of her early years in Copper Harbor, in Eagle River, at the Cliff Mine, and downstate in Kalamazoo County, where the census taker found her and her parents in 1870. Anna became intimately acquainted with the roadways and waterways of the state, and perhaps the constant relocation helped to inspire a fascination with her homeland. As a young woman, she moved yet again to enroll in Albion College, where her uncle William Hadley Brockway served as an administrator.

Opportunities for women’s education beyond the offerings of local public schools increased in the mid-19th century, but Albion was still something of an outlier. Both sexes could partake in the degree-granting collegiate program as of 1861, an option available at few other institutions in the United States; the school also offered a preparatory curriculum for those seeking to ready themselves for further studies. A catalog from the 1859-1860 academic year asserted Albion’s convictions about women in the classroom: “the question of the ability of the female mind to contend successfully with that of the more favored sex has been too long settled to require discussion.” To the students of advanced classes, Albion promised “a thorough and systematic course of study; equal at least to the scientific course pursued in many of our Colleges.” Anna more likely than not attended preparatory lectures, based on a list of degree recipients published in 1910. If, by the time she arrived in the late 1860s or early 1870s, the curriculum remained comparable to that offered in 1859, her studies might have included trigonometry, algebra, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, logic, grammar, rhetoric, and history. The time at Albion helped to form an Anna Brockway who was ready to take on her greatest challenge yet.

The first woman received a degree from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1871. Dr. Amanda Sanford collected her diploma while male classmates showered her with spitballs to show their disapproval. Seventeen other women joined the medical course in the first year it had been opened to pupils of their sex. Emma Call, one of the inaugural female students, recalled that her peers were “naturally the objects of much attention critical or otherwise (especially critical) so that in many ways it was quite an ordeal” to study there. Most instructors treated the women fairly and with reserve, despite insisting that their lectures be conducted separately from those offered to male students. In chemistry class, however, instruction was coeducational, and certain men shouted and stomped their feet when women walked into the room. The “antiquated professor” who taught the course told “coarse, ribald stories” to his pupils, as Adella Brindle Woods recalled from her 1873-1874 studies. He “looked upon us women students as monstrosities.” Another instructor “was just and often said we were good students, always adding he doubted if we would ever become successful practitioners.”

The women showed how wrong his doubts were.

Image of people in auditorium attending a medical demonstration
Students attend a Michigan Medical School anatomy demonstration, circa 1893. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Anna Brockway arrived at the University of Michigan in about 1880 to follow the trail that Amanda Sanford and her peers had blazed. The medical school itself was in flux at that time. When Michigan had first begun to educate doctors, the course of study consisted of a cycle of six to nine months of scientific and practical lectures that each pupil experienced twice. In 1877, the medical school expanded its curriculum to include a three-year option, which became mandatory in 1880. Clinical rotations in hospitals and laboratory work enjoyed new prominence in these studies. Anna’s training as a physician likely mirrored the late 1880s curriculum presented by Michigan historian Horace Davenport in his educational history of the medical school. In the company of a handful of other women, she spent the next three years doing dissections, conducting urinalysis, studying tissues under microscopes, and attending courses on physiology, obstetrics, pediatrics, medical jurisprudence, surgery, and physical diagnostic techniques, among others. The years of hard work and diligent study honed her mind and sharpened her practice, and Dr. Anna Medora Brockway joined the ranks of physicians upon her graduation in 1883.

Composite image of medical school graduates
Medical graduates of the University of Michigan Medical School, 1883. Anna Medora Brockway appears fourth from the right in the fifth row of students. Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

The new Dr. Brockway’s heart remained in Michigan, but her medical career took her to a different Lake Superior town. She hung out her shingle in Duluth, Minnesota, shortly after leaving Ann Arbor. Her pioneering place in Duluth soon attracted the attention of some of America’s most famous suffragists: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage noted her medical practice as groundbreaking in their 1886 publication History of Woman Suffrage, Volume III.

As her fledgling practice began to take flight, so did another new avenue in her life. She became acquainted with a local attorney, Willard Gray, and the two married in Superior, Wisconsin, on April 15, 1884. Five years later, they relocated to the Keweenaw to advance their professions closer to Anna’s home and her aging parents. A son, whom Anna and Willard named Perry Brockway Gray, was born in Lake Linden on November 17, 1889.

While Perry flourished, the Grays’ marriage rapidly disintegrated. Anna filed for divorce, citing cruelty on Willard’s part, in January 1900. Her parents had passed away the year before, and she and her son ventured south to Grand Rapids. By 1910, they had relocated again to Detroit, where the University of Michigan mailed Anna a copy of the University Bulletin bearing the name “Mrs. Willard Gray.” A letter back to the college, now maintained with Anna’s necrology file at the Bentley Historical Library, captured the doctor’s spirit and autonomy in her own words:

“I have just received the University Bulletin addressed to Mrs. Willard Gray. I wish to ask that the address be… as I wrote it, Mrs. Anna Brockway Gray. Another woman writes herself Mrs. Willard E. Gray. Moreover not even Mr. Gray ever wrote me in that way nor has any one ever done so. My friends would hardly know that I was meant.”

Perceiving in her own misaddressed letter a broader problem, and bespeaking her deeper opinions on how women ought to be known in the world, she continued:

“Moreover I would suggest that each lady alumnus be recorded by the name under which she graduated plus her married name. Mrs. Willard E. Gray would mean nothing to those who [were] with me at the University, but Mrs. Anna Brockway Gray would identify me at once.

Kindly make the correction.”

Anna lived another twenty years after sending that letter, and she filled them with the same sort of independence and keen intellect. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution on the basis of her descent from Ephraim Brockway, who had served in militias at Saratoga and West Point during the war. As her marriage broke down in the 1890s, she had begun to write prolifically and to collect historical documentation of Michigan. Naturally, the Copper Country proved to be her chief interest. By 1926, the personal diary where she stored her compositions spanned over sixty-one volumes, a remarkable output for any author or diarist. She contributed extensively to “Michigan History” magazine and compiled reminiscences of her early days as a pillar of Copper Harbor. In the moments when she wasn’t occupied with her historical work, poetry for young readers came tripping lightly off her pen.

If passion alone could sustain a life, the world would not be deprived of great minds and vivid souls so early. Anna’s heart began to trouble her as she turned eighty. No doubt she noticed the problem early; perhaps she suspected the diagnosis herself, her medical training having become second nature. No doubt, as well, that she recognized when there was no hope. When Dr. Anna Medora Brockway Gray died on March 29, 1931, a life of independence and distinction came to a quiet end. She returned to be buried to the only place that made sense: to the Keweenaw Peninsula, to Lakeview Cemetery in Calumet.

A remarkable Brockway woman could not be laid to rest anywhere but the Copper Country.


Getting Started on Genealogy While Stuck at Home

Image of family members gathered around a chair, reading a newspaper

While there’s been no shortage of ideas about how to spend the abundance of at-home time, permit the staff of the Michigan Tech Archives to offer one more. Many patrons come to us with genealogy questions, often as they’re just beginning their family history research. While our employees are not able to be in the office and retrieve documents at this moment, we’re still here to help as much as we possibly can! As an archivist and as an amateur genealogist for many years, I’ve found that these tips can make a big difference in getting family history work off the ground. This way, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when we reopen!

Tips for Beginning Your Family History Research (When You’re Stuck at Home)

  1. Write down what you know. For most people, this will generally include the names of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. If you can go as far as great-grandparents–or even further–that’s all the better. Next to each person’s name, try to list their dates of birth and death, where applicable. If you know where a person was born or where they lived, add that.
  2. Notice what you don’t know. Are you missing dates of birth or death for people in your list? If someone asked you where your maternal grandfather came from, would you be able to give an answer? Do you know your paternal grandmother’s maiden name?
  3. Figure out what you want to know first. Of course, it’s natural to want to fill in as many blanks as possible over time. Starting with such a broad goal, however, will probably overwhelm you pretty quickly. Give yourself something more particular to focus on first. For example, you might say, “I want to know when my great-grandmother Ethel was born.”
  4. Consider your resources at hand. You might not need to go straight to the internet or call your favorite archivist to get the search started. For example, Bibles often include pages where individuals wrote down the names of their immediate relatives. A family tree in my mother’s childhood Bible–with information provided by her own mother–gave me a starting point for my research when I was nine.
  5. But remember to be a little skeptical. One of the most difficult lessons in genealogy is that not all sources are accurate. My mother’s Bible misspelled a few names, which made my search a little harder at first. In time, you’ll develop a sense of what documents got the information correct and which ones missed the mark. For now, it’s good enough to remember that, over the course of your research, you will probably need to update the information you compiled in step #1. Be open to changing your assumptions!
  6. Take a little time to learn about documents. We’re in the midst of collecting data about our nation for the 2020 federal census, and you’ve probably heard about the community purposes for this year’s census. These documents have great value to genealogists, too! The federal census has been taken every ten years since 1790, and the names of all residents in a household were recorded beginning in 1850. Because of privacy restrictions, the most recent census open to the public is from 1940. Now would be a great time to learn about what you can find on a census form and what you won’t expect to find. What census year, for example, is considered to be lost? You can find helpful tips on various genealogical blogs, on the National Archives and Records Administration website, and many other online nooks and crannies. Knowing what you can expect on different types of documents and what’s available will make it easier for you to navigate documents.
  7. Get ready to search! I’m a big fan of Ancestry because of how easy it is for me to organize what I’ve found. For a beginning genealogist, however, it’s a significant financial investment, and you may be better served by free resources. FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org) is a great example. Although the service requires registration, accounts are free. Materials available on FamilySearch are comparable to those on Ancestry: federal censuses, birth records, and marriage records, among others.
  8. Keep track of what you search! Before you even start searching, figure out a way to keep track of what places you’ve already checked for documents and what you’ve found; that way, you can reduce your confusion down the road. For some people, this organization is all done online. For others, it might be best to print out materials and file them in a binder or banker box. It’s all about what works for you and your style of thinking!
  9. Hit the ground running. There’s no time like the present!

If you’re a little further along in your quest, we’ll have a post soon about tips for overcoming brick walls–those trouble spots where you just can’t seem to go further–and making genealogy searches more powerful. Whether you’re a beginner or an old hand, the staff of the Michigan Tech Archives would be happy to assist you in any way that we can while we’re also stuck at home. Please feel free to e-mail copper@mtu.edu or leave a voicemail at (906) 487-2505.


Flashback Friday: Exploring the Copper Country with J.T. Reeder

In the Copper Country, we know the four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and mosquitoes. All joking aside, Yoopers take our seasons seriously. We ski, snowshoe, and snowmobile in the winter–and in the spring. We turn our ski lifts into color tour rides for brilliant autumns and spend cold mornings in deer blinds. In the summers, we trek up Brockway Mountain on our mountain bikes, gather for evening concerts along the Portage, and listen to the waves lapping against golden-lit rocks as the sun plunges into a luminous Lake Superior at the end of the day.

Some of these activities are ones that our neighbors in Wisconsin or Minnesota might enjoy or hobbies enabled by new technologies, like snowmobiles or four wheelers. But there is one all-season pursuit very particular to the Copper Country, something that is timeless and cherished by residents, tourists, old, and young alike. This is, of course, the exploration of ghost towns and mine ruins.

As the ice begins to peel away from the frames of abandoned buildings and the snow reveals traces of workings that came to naught, Flashback Friday presents a selection of images by one local photographer who knew how to wander the Keweenaw’s ruins. J.T. Reeder had an eye for capturing family life, daily activities, celebrations–and, most of all, the wistful beauty of nature reclaiming the mining landscape.

Image of stone ruins with collapsed roof timbers and a placid lake beyond
Stamp mill foundation and ruins at Lac La Belle, undated.
A shaft house at the abandoned Cliff Mine toppled by wind, undated.
Smokestack and ruins at the Cliff Mine, November 1915.
Petherick Location near Copper Falls, October 1929
Shop at Central Mine in disrepair, June 1930.
Copper Country cruising to the housing location of Ontonagon County’s Nonesuch Mine, August 1921.
The old Huron boiler house with Isle Royale Copper Company operations in the background, undated.


From Our Kitchens to Yours

They say food brings people together. A shared meal between friends or family can knit us together in the best of times and the worst of times; it can tell us about where we came from and our current situations. Right now, many folks are feeling very disconnected, both physically and socially, which is why we couldn’t think of a better post for Flashback Friday than one that highlights something that always makes us feel connected: food.

Copper Country, what are you cookin’ up for yourself and loved ones right now? While we sadly can’t smell or taste your delicious cooking, we want to see what you’ve been making at home that makes you feel connected! Dish it up and share away! We’ll get started with a couple of bites from our Van Pelt and Opie Library staff.

Erin Matas (Faculty Engagement and Research Support Librarian) and Cécile Piret

As a Belgian, chocolate is my core comfort. Sharing chocolate with my family during the 4 pm goûter is the bright light of my day. – Cécile Piret


Lindsay Hiltunen (University Archivist)

In these times of uncertainty and isolation, some of us turn to classic comfort food to fuel the soul and calm the heart. This dish is so special to me because it is one that I always made for others. Each time I cook it I think of the long afternoons cooking this slow cook dish, drinking wine with friends and family, blasting records, chopping veggies and sharing stories. 

Season with salt and pepper, then lightly coat with flour of your choice, then sear 2-3 lbs of stew beef (usually in two batches) in a big pot or Dutch oven on the stovetop. I use a butter and olive oil combo to serve as the fat to sear the beef in. About 4 tablespoons butter and olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. You can add a little more to sear the second batch if needed.

Remove the meat, lower temp to medium high and add a bottle of red wine, deglaze the bottom of the pot to get all the good bits. Add meat back to the wine, add a quart of beef stock, 1 and a half teaspoons of ground cloves, 8-12 smashed garlic cloves (depends on how much you like garlic), 10 fresh thyme sprigs (or dry thyme is fine – not sure about conversion), two bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.  Then simmer the beef on medium or medium low (depends on your equipment) for three hours (first twenty minutes uncovered, the rest covered.) In the last hour I add a small bag of baby carrots (or chop up 6-8 regular carrots), 10-12 quartered yellow potatoes, and chopped mushrooms of your choosing. I like button or cremini mushrooms. In the last half hour I add a bag of pearl onions. Sprinkle with parsley or chives before serving. Enjoy with crusty bread and red wine, or all on its own!

Feeds a crowd or makes a lot of lefties for a couple and it tastes better the next day.

Allison Neely (Archivist)

Irish Potato Pie

While I would classify myself as an adventurous eater; I’ll always be a Midwestern girl at heart. The fact that I’m always that person scouting out the weirdest, wackiest food at the MN State Fair says a lot about my food preferences. That said, what could be more Midwestern than a dish containing meat and potatoes?! 


This Irish Potato Pie is a new recipe to my family and definitely a keeper. We pulled it out of the Internet ether to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year as a nice way to celebrate the day and enjoy some good old fashioned comfort food. Layers of golden potatoes, the saltiness of the bacon, and sweetness of the sauteed onion complemented the flaky puff pastry and the rich heavy cream drizzled above; making for a very hearty meal. Definitely one that will stick with you!

Chefs’ Notes

Times like this call for simplicity and creature comforts; for sharing knowledge and gifts with one another. We hope that these anecdotes from our kitchens and homes brighten up your day and give you some cooking inspiration. What are you cookin’ up this weekend?!

Stay tuned for our next installment of From Our Kitchens to Yours!


Flashback Friday: Reasons to Smile

This week has been a challenging one for many of us. It hardly seems necessary to remind our readers of the tumult, uncertainty, and anxiety that is even more common in the community as what we’re fighting against. With that in mind, Flashback Friday is going to take a different form this week. We’ve pulled some photographs from our Copper Country Historical Images (CCHI) database that give us a reason to smile–and a reason for hope.

Man in multicolored hat at graduation podiumIn time, we’ll be back to having Michigan Tech commencements featuring speakers in funny hats.

Group of boys playing hockey on a snowy residential street

In time, we’ll once again have pick-up hockey on the street with the neighbors.

Woman in white playing a piano with a dog resting his front paws on her bench

In time, our dogs will help us play the piano at real parties.

Group of people gathered around a long picnic table with a white cloth

In time, we’ll gather our extended families for picnics and bask in the sunshine.

Group of people of various ages, and their dog, on the porch of a house

In time, we’ll be out on the porch with our friends. Summer is coming.

Sun shining on the waves of Lake Superior

Lake Superior will still be breathtakingly beautiful on the other side of this.

Kittens and little kids are as adorable as ever, especially together.

The mines closed, Houghton County battled for years the state’s highest rate of tuberculosis, and a flood took a life, damaged our homes, and destroyed our roads. The Keweenaw is still standing because we’re Copper Country Strong. We’ll get through this.

While the reading room is closed at the Michigan Tech Archives and we’re assisting patrons only remotely, CCHI remains available for you to peruse from the comfort of your easy chair at any time of day. Photographs on that website may be used as you see fit and free of charge, so long as the watermark remains unaltered. If you have any questions, our staff can still be reached via e-mail at copper@mtu.edu or via voicemail at (906) 487-2505.


Flashback Friday: Splish Splash, I Was Taking a Bath

There’s nothing like a long soak in the tub at the end of a long day. Run the water hot, turn the lights down, and settle in among the bubbles with a good book to wash away stress and frustration. While this pleasure might seem a simple one today, for many Copper Country residents a hundred years ago, the luxury of a long bath at home was precisely that: a luxury. Mine managers, prosperous business owners, bankers, or other members of the upper crust might have a bathroom with hot running water for themselves and even their household servants. The family of the average trammer or surface laborer, on the other hand, hauled a washtub into the kitchen on Saturday nights, boiling water on the stove, and pouring it into the larger vessel for a scrub. 

Floorplan of large house
Floor plan of Calumet & Hecla General Manager James MacNaughton’s home, showing bathrooms with bathtubs.

The typical Calumet & Hecla company house in the early 1900s did not include a bath on initial construction. Upon written request, the company would be willing to install a flush toilet in the basement if the house were located on a street connected to the local sanitary sewer; if the homeowner had built his own house on land leased from the company, he had to purchase the fixture himself and pay for installation. By 1912, historian Alison K. Hoagland noted in her book Mine Towns, half of C&H company houses already featured this indoor convenience, and the company was responding to requests for more. The question of a full bath–and an installed bathtub–was another matter entirely. Large families and boarders who provided needed supplemental income strained the size of working-class company houses; residents needed all the square footage provided by bedrooms, kitchens, pantries, and common areas. Giving up sleeping spots for bathing room was simply impractical, and constructing an addition to make a space was beyond the financial means of a common laborer. 

Aerial view of workers’ houses in the Swedetown neighborhood of Calumet.

Yet while C&H was unwilling to provide the fixtures or the room necessary for its average employee to bathe conveniently at home, it did offer a compromise that represented, perhaps, one of its most enjoyable benefits. The company instead installed communal baths in a central location. At first, this was the basement of the C&H library building, a fine stone structure erected at the corner of Mine Street and Red Jacket Road. Bath patrons descended the western staircase of the building to a landing that separated them into male and female quarters. On the men’s side, showers proved more popular than baths. In the women’s facilities, tubs won out. While friends and family members browsed the vast selection of company-approved books a floor or two above, downstairs their bodies could be scrubbed clean of dirt, germs, and worry.

The new C&H bathhouse, opened in 1911.

The baths proved so popular–unsurprisingly–that C&H soon found a need to expand the facility, a move that also opened up more room at the library. Employees and family members looking to bathe didn’t have to go far to find the new place, however. In 1911, the redesigned and expanded bathhouse opened in a single-story structure just around the corner on Depot Street. Possibly to offset the $45,000 price tag and to subsidize operations, C&H imposed a small fee for male users: three cents for grown men with a half-cent discount for adolescents. Women, girls, and very young boys still enjoyed the bathhouse for free. Showers and tubs remained, but the improved building offered an extra treat: a swimming pool. Initially, swimming time, like the bath facilities, was strictly segregated by gender. Why? Unlike today, few people purchased special bathing suits. Swimming took place au naturel!

Bathers at the C&H swimming pool–thankfully after the introduction of swimsuits.

As the workforce shrank and C&H became increasingly disengaged from providing benefits like the bathhouse, homeowners found it more practical and more affordable than before to add bathrooms with bathtubs to the house. The former bathhouse still stands in Calumet, however, and scars of the original shower stalls in the basement of the company library can be seen today by visitors to the Keweenaw National Historical Park archives. One wonders if maybe a stray rubber duck from a miner’s bath long ago might one day be found tucked away in an office corner. 


Michigan Tech Archives Travel Grant Program 2020 – Call for Applicants

Archive Image

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, a department within the J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library, is currently accepting applications for its annual Travel Grant Program, which brings scholars and researchers to Michigan Technological University to work with the archives’ collections. Financial support for the Travel Grant Program is provided by the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library, a support organization for the Van Pelt and Opie Library. Grants are awarded for up to $1000 to defray the costs of travel to visit and conduct research in Houghton, Michigan. In addition, graduate students applying to the program may request up to an additional $200 to help defray any duplication costs incurred during a qualified research trip.

The Michigan Tech Archives houses a wide variety of historical print, graphic and manuscript resources related to the Copper Country and Michigan Technological University. Subject coverage is vast, some of which includes university and campus life, regional towns and cities, local industries and businesses, social organizations, events and personalities of the Copper Country and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Primary topical research areas include the western Upper Peninsula, industrial history, particularly copper mining and its ancillary industries, social history, community development along the Keweenaw Peninsula, transportation and the environment. Finding aids for some of the collections can be found here: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/collections/.

To apply for funding through the Travel Grant Program please visit the program website: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/programs-and-services/travel-grants/

Applications are due on March 27, 2020. Award recipients will be notified by late April. The successful candidate must complete their travel by December 4, 2020. Electronic submission of applications is required.

For further information, please contact:

Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Tech Archives
J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI  49931
Phone: (906) 487-3209
E-mail: copper@mtu.edu