All posts by Emily Riippa

Rooting Around for Your Roots: A Little Genealogy Advice

Five middle-aged relatives on a sofa

Genealogy brings the family together.

The arrival of summer in the Copper Country brings with it many travelers who come to the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections in search of their ancestors. Although we serve all kinds of patrons year-round, our staff affectionately dub the summer “genealogy season” in light of how many family historians arrive between Memorial Day and Labor Day. With that in mind, it seems that the summer is an ideal time for our blog to highlight some of the genealogy resources that the Michigan Tech Archives can offer and recommend a few online tools that have proven particularly useful to our staff.

Picture me, resident genealogist, rubbing my hands together in delighted anticipation.

With that, let’s begin our exploration.

Michigan Tech Archives

We’re fortunate at the Michigan Tech Archives to have a substantial number of collections of use to genealogists. In addition to a few resources that address the history of a particular family–such as MS-916: Baril Family Genealogy or MS-506: Bartle Family Genealogy Research–the holdings include several key collections with broad appeal.

If your ancestor(s) worked for Calumet & Hecla (C&H) or Quincy mining companies, you will find the information available in those companies’ employment records immensely valuable. Although the collections do not include every worker, their coverage is remarkable: in the case of C&H, employment cards number well over 50,000. Injury reports and employment cards from Quincy total some 20,000 records. The cards are full of gems, and researchers will find them immensely valuable to “mine” for such details as places of birth, physical descriptions, addresses, occupations, and names of family members. While some inaccuracies can appear in such records, they are often a tremendous starting point for further research and a wonderful snapshot of an individual’s working life. For more information about how to interpret a Calumet & Hecla employment card once you’ve found one, you may wish to read part 1 and part 2 of our posts on that topic from last year.

Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.

Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card for a Slovenian miner, Peter Gasperic.

Should you be searching for an ancestor who didn’t work in the mines, or if you want to go beyond what the employment card offers, you’ll find numerous opportunities to do so at the Michigan Tech Archives. City directories published by the R.L. Polk Company–colloquially called “Polks” by our staff–offer information about individuals’ residences and occupations, mining and otherwise. The collection of Polks at Michigan Tech begins in 1895 and is generally complete through 1917. From there, the materials skip thirteen years to 1930 and then another nine years to 1939 before making one final leap to the 1970s. Each major town in the Copper Country (including Calumet, Houghton, Hancock, and Laurium) is included in the Polks; coverage of other areas, such as Lake Linden, Chassell, or South Range, can be more sporadic. Nevertheless, the Polks are a wonderful way to follow a family between census years, especially given the tragic loss of the 1890 federal census.

Once you’ve sketched in the basic outline of your family, you may wish to add some color and humanity to it. Perhaps you want to know a little more about your great-grandparents’ wedding, or you suspect that a great-uncle may have had an encounter with the law. For the former question, consider perusing our extensive collection of newspapers on microfilm. Michigan Tech holds titles from virtually every county in the Upper Peninsula, with a special focus on newspapers published in the Copper Country. This includes the Daily Mining Gazette and its predecessors, back to 1862, as well as several major titles that have since gone out of business: the Calumet News, the Copper Country Evening News, and the Evening Copper Journal, to name a few. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers from the Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society, staff at the Michigan Tech Archives can search for names in indices of several area newspapers through 1914 and provide the exact date and page on which an article about each person was published.

While most articles that appeared about individuals, aside from those especially prominent in the community, focused on major life events like marriage or death, at times your exploration of the newspapers may lead you to something more scandalous. For the details of criminal conduct or the dirty laundry surrounding a messy divorce, turn to the files of the Houghton County Circuit Court. A prior piece on this blog sheds greater light on that collection.

Online Sources

What if you’re not able to come to visit us here at Michigan Tech? You still have plenty of options for conducting your genealogical research! Our staff are always happy to assist with remote reference requests, such as copying obituaries, employment cards, or pages from Polks. Please feel free to contact us at copper@mtu.edu or (906) 487-2505 if you would like to put in a remote request.

Other resources can also help you to go further in your research. As a genealogist with deep roots in the Copper Country, I’ve found that several key websites have been crucial in helping me to dig into my family background, both here and abroad. All of these sites are free for basic use, though registration for no cost may be required to view some materials.

FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org/search): FamilySearch is a product of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a group known for dedication to genealogy. Along with innumerable other collections, it includes an index of Michigan deaths from 1867 to 1897, marriage records to 1925, and birth records to 1902. FamilySearch does require users to sign up for a free account before they can view search results in detail.

For British research, Cornwall OPC Database (www.cornwall-opc-database.org): Cornwall Online Parish Clerks (OPC) Database transcribes parish records of key events–like baptisms, marriages, and burials–from the various Church of England parishes and non-conformist groups in Cornwall. The collections are extensive, continually growing, and all available for free access. In addition to these vital records, Cornwall OPC Database includes some bonus materials, such as select lists of institution inmates and prisoners. Now I know that one of my ancestors, sentenced in 1822 for having two children out of wedlock, was a little over five feet tall with “grey eyes, full face, pale [complexion], [and] dark hair.” She behaved “very well.”

Table showing Cornwall OPC Database baptism record

Sample baptism record from Chacewater parish on Cornwall OPC Database.

For Finnish research, HisKi (hiski.genealogia.fi/hiski): HisKi is something like the Finnish version of Cornwall OPC Database. Almost all historic Finnish parishes are represented, to some degree or another, in various types of events: christenings, marriages, burials, and migrations. Some parishes on HisKi include records as recent as the early 1900s, while others begin as early as 1700 and continue through 1850. The search is extremely flexible, checking for variations on names (remember that Finland recorded all such records in Swedish through the late 1800s) and allowing for wide ranges of years to be perused. HisKi was the difference between my knowing virtually nothing about my Finnish ancestors and being able to add hundreds to my tree.

Table showing HisKi marriage record

Sample HisKi marriage record for Herman Salonen and Lisa Haapala.

For Michigan research, Seeking Michigan (www.seekingmichigan.org): We have the fine folks at the Archives of Michigan to thank for Seeking Michigan. While it features a wide range of materials related to Michigan’s history, genealogists will probably find its collections of death certificates and state censuses to be most useful. Images of the certificates are available from 1897 (the year that Michigan implemented these documents) through the early 1940s, and more join the site as certificates enter the public record under state law. Additionally, Michigan conducted state censuses in the 19th century, generally in years ending in 4. Sadly, for reasons about which archivists can only speculate, most state census records have since been destroyed. Records from Houghton County in 1864 and 1874 and Keweenaw County in 1884 and 1894 survive and can be searched on Seeking Michigan.

And there you have it–a little advice for genealogy season, courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives. Hopefully, these resources and tips will be useful to you in moving your research forward. If there is ever any way in which our staff may be of assistance, or if you have further questions about family history research, please do not hesitate to contact us. Once again, our e-mail address is copper@mtu.edu, and our phone number is (906) 487-2505.

Happy sleuthing!


The Remarkable Brockway Women

View of Copper Harbor from Brockway Mountain

View of Copper Harbor from Brockway Mountain, May 2015. Photograph by the author.

Almost everyone who has visited the Keweenaw Peninsula has heard the name Brockway. Brockway Mountain, just west of Copper Harbor, offers a stunning panorama of Lake Superior, a smattering of nearby lakes, and the thickly-forested rolling hills among which Michigan’s northernmost town is nestled. In addition to its scenic roadway–a project that put local men to work during the Great Depression–the mountain enjoys another notable tie to history, having been named after early settler Daniel Brockway. After a sojourn in L’Anse as a government-employed blacksmith and mechanic, Brockway had come to the Copper Harbor area in the mid-1840s. There, and in later years at the Cliff Mine, Brockway was a prominent merchant, hotelier, and mine agent.

Yet Daniel Brockway’s laudable success in the Copper Country is only one part of the story. From the Brockway family tree sprouted a number of remarkable people, both in terms of careers and of character. Although Women’s History Month is just behind us, it is well worth keeping our eyes on women’s history; let us take a moment to “remember the ladies,” as Abigail Adams once said. While a single blog post could never do justice to their stories, we are privileged to be able to share a glimpse of what we see of the Brockway women through our collections at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections.

Lucena Harris Brockway, the matriarch, left the greatest archival trail. Diaries she kept meticulously for some thirty years now reside in the Michigan Tech Archives, recording her life in her own words and shedding light on the interesting experiences of others in her family. What we see from Lucena’s writing are women who confronted the challenges of ordinary days, the heartbreaking difficulty of tragedies, and the world at large with courage, humor, strength, and flair. We’ll start with Lucena herself, then look down her familial line to see her spirit carried on.

Young Lucena ms 12 b1f2

Lucena Harris Brockway in middle age. From MS-019: Brockway Photograph Collection.

Lucena, born in New York in 1816, moved to southwest Michigan in her youth and there married Daniel Brockway in 1836. She became the mother of four daughters and two sons, one of whom died in infancy and whose birthday was remembered with mournful devotion in her diaries. With her husband, Lucena made the aforementioned transition to the various locales of the Upper Peninsula and there dedicated herself to carving out a new life from the rugged locale. Though her husband’s growing financial assets meant that Lucena was insulated from some of life’s difficulties, living in a frontier community nevertheless required her to confront thorny dilemmas with tenacious resolution. At times, those problems bordered on the absurd. In August 1880, for example, Lucena awoke to an empty house and headed to her kitchen in hopes of having “a quiet day, the first in a long time.” When she glanced out the window, however, she found that her dreams of relaxation had quite literally gone up in smoke. The wooden fence near the Brockway home had spontaneously combusted and was now engulfed in flames. “So I fought fire for sometime [sic],” Lucena wrote, recalling the event later in the day, “then ate my breakfast and the fire had broken out again.” Eventually, her persistence in firefighting paid off, and the blaze came under control. Little time remained for resting by this point, however. There were chickens to be fed and beans to be picked for dinner. Life went on.

Life also had its lighthearted moments for Lucena. Removed as we are from the past, and accustomed to seeing the staid faces that early photography–with the long exposure times required to capture an image–produced, it is only too tempting to think of the 1800s as a stuffy, humorless age. Lucena Brockway was quite the opposite. In the cash account pages of her 1880 diary, she jotted a few puns that must have especially tickled her funny bone. “Why are hot rolls like caterpillars?” one read. “Because they make the butter fly.” Other jokes poked fun in a way that seems very modern. “Why is a lawyer like a restless sleeper?” Lucena asked. “He lies first on one side and then on the other.” There’s a certain humor not only in the joke but in realizing that attorneys have been the subject of light-hearted derision for centuries.  

Charlotte Brockway, Lucena’s oldest daughter, left fewer clues to her life, but what can be pieced together from the archival record indicates that she was a woman fashioned in her mother’s mold. By the time she was five, she had moved with her parents from New York to the western Lower Peninsula, north to L’Anse, and from L’Anse to Copper Harbor. The realization that the last relocation included Charlotte’s two younger sisters–a toddler and an infant–speaks once again to her mother’s fortitude. At the tender age of fifteen, according to one source, Charlotte was bright and mature enough to teach the Copper Harbor school. In October 1863, the twenty-two-year-old married Oliver Atkins Farwell, the superintendent of the Phoenix Mine. Mr. Farwell, as Lucena always called him in her diaries, was in his early fifties. Despite the considerable difference in their ages, the marriage seems to have been affectionate, if not passionate: eleven children were born to Charlotte and her husband, including a set of twins.

Portrait of an older Charlotte Brockway

Charlotte Brockway Farwell in her later years. From MS-019: Brockway Photograph Collection.

June 1881, as revealed in Lucena’s diaries, demonstrated the determination of the Brockway women to carry on in the face of great tragedy, and Charlotte was at the very heart of it. First, Sarah (“Sallie” or “Sally”) Brockway Scott lost her husband to illness; he was only 43. “Poor Scott breathed his last a quarter to three o’clock this morning,” wrote Lucena sadly on June 7. “…He knew he was going and bade us all good by [sic]. It was hard to see him go[;] he wanted to live longer if it had been so he could.” Sallie, who had already seen a daughter die in infancy, was now the widowed mother of a young son. Yet Charlotte would face an even more turbulent month. On June 18, Lucena noted that Oliver Farwell, who had begun feeling ill around the same time as Sally’s husband, was not improving. Three days later, the same note: “Mr. Farwell was worse and probably dying.” On June 22, Lucena said, “I stayed all day at Mr. Farwell’s with Charlotte. Mr. Oliver A. Farwell died 20 minutes past 3 o’clock P.M.” And, on June 25: “In the afternoon…Charlotte Farwell had a daughter born the day after her husband was buried.”

Portrait of Olive Farwell in middle age

A photograph of Olive Farwell published in the Daily Mining Gazette in January 1997. From the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections Farwell biographical file.

This daughter, named Olive Lucena in honor of her father and grandmother, would experience a life of great length and variety, testifying to the fortitude and courage of the Brockway women. She might not have achieved the fame of her brother, a notable librarian and botanist, but Olive carved her own niche. Her mother moved the family many times in Olive’s childhood, attempting to give her children the best life possible. From Keweenaw County, they headed south to Ypsilanti for educational reasons, then west to New Mexico in pursuit of a healthful climate. After a brief return to Lake Linden with her mother to spend time with Lucena and Daniel in their last days, Olive departed for Chicago to study interior design. Unsurprisingly, she made a success of it and established a studio in Spokane with another artist. Later, her obituary recalled, she returned to Chicago, first to work for a chain of department stores and then to establish her own prosperous candy kitchen. When World War II broke out, Olive again left Lake Linden–where she had moved in 1935–to become a Rosie the Riveter on a Lockheed production line in Burbank.

Lucena and Charlotte each lived to be 82. Olive surpassed them both, suffering a fatal stroke in the Brockway house in Lake Linden at the age of 98. Though these Brockway lives can hardly be compressed with any justice into an essay of such brevity, Lucena’s wide range of diaries–together with two other Brockway collections and articles clipped from the Daily Mining Gazette on Olive’s long life–show their shared character, spunk, and persistence. If you’d like to investigate the Brockway women further, or if you’re interested in discovering some remarkable women from your own family tree, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives at copper@mtu.edu or (906) 487-2505.

And Anna Medora Brockway Gray, Lucena’s youngest daughter, who struck out on her own as  a physician in 1883? Well, that’s another story for another day.