Author: Emily Riippa

Discovering Cousin Jacks and Cousin Jennies

Group of well-dressed men in a line
A meeting of the Sons of St. George, an English fraternal organization to which many Copper Country Cornishmen belonged.

They crossed the ocean, and with them, they brought years of mining experience, spirited hymns, and pasties. 

Countless Copper Country residents and descendants of former residents trace their heritage to one of the innumerable Cousin Jacks and Cousin Jennies–allegedly so named because the miners always spoke of myriad relatives by these names–who came to the region beginning in the mid-1800s. Copper and tin mining in the United Kingdom dated back to prehistoric times, and production soared to new heights following the Renaissance. By the time the 19th century dawned, generations of Cornish children had grown up in families whose subsistence depended on the mines. They watched their fathers take up lunch tins and walk down to jobs swinging hammers or holding drills underground, to occupations as carpenters or blacksmiths supporting mining operations. When they grew enough to be helpful, often at very young ages, boys and girls alike joined their family members in mining work. As men deftly removed rock from the ground, women skillfully processed it. No wonder, then, that when the newborn mines of Michigan sought capable workers, they looked to Cornwall. An exodus from that region began in earnest in the 1860s and continued for decades thereafter: every ten years from 1861 to 1901, according to the BBC, some 20 percent of men in Cornwall sailed away to seek opportunities elsewhere. Many of them chose the Copper Country as their next home, inviting other relatives to join them in the difficult but rewarding task of carving out life in a strange land. In its mines, in its communities, and in its kitchens, the new arrivals would leave a lasting impression. 

Materials at the Michigan Tech Archives–including newspapers on microfilm, employment cards from major mines, naturalization records for certain counties, and other documents–can help to fill in the details of what happened to Cornish ancestors after they arrived in Michigan. What if you’re looking to go further back, however, and learn about your forebears’ lives before they crossed the Atlantic? A few resources can assist you in making significant strides forward in researching family members from Cornwall.

Fresh hot pasties on a cookie sheet
Pasties. Need we say more?

United Kingdom Census Records
Like the United States, the government of the United Kingdom compiled data about the sovereign’s subjects on a regular basis. Census taking in England began in 1801 and continued every ten years through 1931; the schedule for enumeration shifted somewhat in the face of World War II. For the first four censuses, data collected consisted primarily of the number of inhabitants in a given parish or place, their breakdown by gender, the number of dwellings, the types of industries or occupations the residents were engaged in, and other general demographic information. 

Fortunately for genealogists, in 1841, the decennial census expanded to incorporate more personal details, such as the name of each resident, his age (rounded down to the nearest multiple of five if he were older than 15), the occupations of those working, and whether each inhabitant was residing in his native county. The 1851 census added more details, like marital status, specific places of birth, and relationships among household members. Subsequent censuses varied in the questions posed and may have expanded information about the size of a dwelling, length of a marriage, self-employment, etc.  

Many future Cornish immigrants to the Copper Country will have been captured in at least one of the census records, and these documents can be tremendous assets in establishing family relationships and potential home parishes for further investigation. Likewise, in observing when an individual appears to vanish from British censuses, the astute researcher can sometimes narrow down when that person emigrated. 

The valuable UK census, however, is also the expensive UK census. Access to its contents without charge requires a visit to either the National Archives in Britain or a LDS Family History Center, neither of which is particularly feasible under current conditions. Subscription services, including Ancestry and FindMyPast, can offer remote access for a membership fee. If you anticipate spending a great deal of time researching in England, FindMyPast also provides a number of digitized British newspapers available for keyword searches.

UK General Records Office (GRO)

The census constitutes just one portion of the government-produced records available for Cornish genealogy. In 1837, England established a system to register births, marriages, divorces, and deaths civilly–that is, not strictly within ecclesial records. Civil registration gained traction somewhat slowly, especially in the case of births; some parents failed to appear before the appropriate governmental authority to report a child’s birth, instead preferring the traditional practice of presenting the newborn for baptism. Laws imposing a fee for late registration of births took effect in 1874, boosting compliance. If your ancestors were born before 1874, it is still extremely worthwhile to check the civil records!

As with modern American birth records, the typical civil registration of an English birth gave the child’s name, gender, date and place of birth, and parents’ names, including the mother’s maiden name. It noted which parent had provided the information to the registrar, as well as the date of registration and which official took down the data. Death records likewise captured the essential information about the deceased–name, age, gender, occupation–along with his place of death, cause of death, and particulars of the person making the registration with the government. 

Sample birth record that can be ordered from the UK GRO.

By creating an account with the UK General Records Office (GRO), genealogists can peruse indices of birth and death registrations; these, along with similar resources for marriage records, can also be found at FreeBMD, an open transcription project. The information available through the indices includes only the essentials–the mother’s maiden surname only, for example, rather than the full names of both parents–but researchers interested can place orders through the GRO for scans of the original documents in exchange for a modest service fee.

Cornwall OPC Database
For those specifically researching in Cornwall, the Cornwall OPC Database represents arguably the most powerful resource available–and it is entirely free. 

Before the introduction of the civil registration system, the Church of England constituted the primary means of capturing the major events of life, including births (via baptism records), marriages, and deaths (via burial records). The state church continued to be an important producer of these records after 1837, as well; it was joined by an increasing number of Methodist and other “non-conformist” Christian faiths as revivals pulled Cornish laborers away from the established denomination. Through the dedicated efforts of parish volunteers, the Cornwall OPC Database presents transcribed, searchable versions of ecclesial records stretching from the 1500s into the early 20th century. Beyond vital records, the website also incorporates some special indices, such as the names of certain institution inmates, agreements between supervisors and apprentices, and a selection of paternity suits. 

Although chronological coverage fluctuates by parish, the database truly unlocks decades, if not centuries, of family histories throughout the county of Cornwall. In general, it is reasonable to expect some sort of parish records from the 1800s (when most Cornish emigrants to the United States departed) to be available. Copper Country genealogists can then thoughtfully work backward from their known immigrant ancestors to their mysterious predecessors. 

Keep in mind that, when searching this or other British databases, the spelling of both given names and surnames can vary dramatically over the years. Avail yourself of the “Include similar surnames” feature on the Cornwall OPC Database to check for records that may have been filed under a variation of the family name. Also remember the important of broadening your search: if you’re looking for “Rosemergy,” try searching with just “Rosem” to capture potential misspellings; if you seek “Johanna,” try just “Jo” in the event that someone spelled her name as “Joanna” instead. 

And there you have it: a few resources, both free and paid, that can help make your genealogical journey across the pond easier. Do you have any tips or websites of your own to recommend? Please feel free to leave a comment here or on our social media! If the Michigan Tech Archives can at all be of service, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at copper@mtu.edu

Group of people standing in front of a crenellated church
The Methodist church at Central Mine offered just one iconic example of Cornish culture in the Copper Country.


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.


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.


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. 


Flashback Friday: The Man Behind the Camera

Underground in a Calumet & Hecla drift with two miners. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

The Michigan Tech Archives has been blessed with photographic good fortune. Ever since Joseph Nicéphore Niépce set a rudimentary camera up to his window at Le Gras, France, in the late 1820s and captured his first successful still image, people have been drawn to photographing their families, their homes, their neighbors, their pets, events of their communities–anything that catches the eye and seems to cry out for seeming immortality on film. As the Copper Country industrialized and grew in the late 1800s, and as cameras became available to more than just scientists and inventors, the Keweenaw Peninsula came into focus through the lens. Many of the images that resulted, whether taken by trained photographers or hobbyists, have made their way into our archives. They capture scenes of simple family life, booming industry, and bustling towns that have faded away.

Plowing snow with a Mineral Range Railroad train at Lake Linden. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

Among the prolific photographers of the Copper Country–including peers like J.W. Nara and J.T. Reeder–Adolph (or Adolf) F. Isler made his mark in a particularly profound way. At the time of his death, the Daily Mining Gazette wrote that he “probably had a wider acquaintance among the pioneers of the whole Lake Superior region than any other man in northern Michigan.” A true Renaissance man, Isler devoted himself intensely to a wide range of interests, each of which came to mark and shape his character and career. 

Isler was born on December 20, 1848, according to his death certificate. Most sources indicate that he was a native of Switzerland; the Isler family moved from Adolph’s birthplace in the mid-1850s and came to North America. Around 1860, the family settled in Hancock, where Adolph’s father, Henry, set up practice as a physician. There, Adolph grew up alongside the burgeoning mining community. No wonder “the building up of the great mining industry of the Lake Superior copper region,” as his obituary described it, fascinated him for the rest of his life.

A view of Eagle River on a breezy day, circa 1890. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

The Islers led a traveling life. In his youth, Adolph apparently carried the mail extensively throughout the Copper Country, bearing sacks by foot, by dog sled, and by horse cart from Hancock north to Eagle Harbor. By 1870, he and his father had relocated to Marquette, where the younger Isler labored as a store clerk. Subsequently, he established his own apothecary at L’Anse. Someone who has fallen in love with the heart of the Copper Country cannot stay away for long, however, and the Islers moved back to Red Jacket. Romance blossomed there between Adolph and a young English widow, Anna Rowe Retallack; the two married on March 7, 1878. Isler’s fatherly love–a trait reflected in his frequent choice of children as photographic subjects–knew no end, and Anna’s little girl Winifred (“Winnie”) from her first union became his daughter, too. Ten months after the wedding, Lena Isler was born. The happy young family settled down on First Street in Red Jacket, where the census taker found them in 1880. 

Although Isler seemed poised to embark on a medical career, following in the footsteps of his father, his vast range of interests soon led him elsewhere. By day, he worked as a pharmacist at Calumet & Hecla; outside of work, he increasingly focused on photography and journalism. In part, his decision seems to have been driven by a natural inclination to the news: he sought and received roles as correspondent for a number of publications, including the Mining Journal out of Marquette. Collections of Isler’s photographers now in the Michigan Tech Archives also show a dramatic uptick in production in the late 1880s into the 1890s, coinciding with Isler’s decision to invest himself more completely in the art. One cannot help but wonder, too, if there was a sentimental side to his increased interest. The years between 1880 and 1900 proved to be times of great personal loss for Adolph and Anna Isler, despite the birth of son Harry Fred in 1886. In 1883, little Winnie, described as “bright beyond her years” and endowed with “gentle manners [that] endeared herself to teachers and playmates,” died following a brief illness in 1883. She was a little shy of ten years old. By 1900, the Islers had welcomed–and buried–four more children. In 1888, Dr. Henry Isler passed away at the home of his son and daughter-in-law. Adolph’s brother, Arnold, died young, and the Islers took in his daughter, Marialotte. Perhaps, with such painful evidence of how tenuous one’s hold on life could be, Isler felt drawn to do something that would offer an enduring reminder of people and places slipping away. 

Lena and Harry Isler at home. Photograph by their father, Adolph Isler.

Isler’s photographic style soon developed a distinct flair. Children scampering down the sidewalk or playing in the family home often came into focus. In streetscapes captured during the height of a Copper Country winter, Isler propped a pair of snowshoes somewhere in the scene. Whenever he could, he scaled a tower, a smokestack, a building to take in the most expansive view possible of the town or mine unfolding beneath him. Keweenaw characters who enjoy panoramic photos owe much to Isler’s intrepid character–and fearlessness where heights were concerned. 

Panoramic view of Red Jacket (Calumet), Isler’s home of many years, taken by Isler.

Although Isler had left his job at C&H in favor of the Calumet News, the Hancock Evening Journal, and amassing one of the most impressive mineral collections to be found in the region, the company nevertheless relied on his expertise when it decided to assemble a certain exhibit of its own. As C&H opened its own library, it called upon Isler to select “a very complete collection of photographs of the region” that should become part of the new holdings. The vivacious Isler complied with great enthusiasm and even continued to add to the project until shortly before his death.

Workers and spectators at the deadly Osceola No. 3 mine fire on September 7, 1895. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

In about 1911, Isler’s health took a downturn. Physicians diagnosed bladder cancer. In January 1912, on the recommendation of his doctors, Adolph and Anna went south to Ann Arbor, there to seek treatment from the medical staff associated with the University of Michigan. The operation itself was a success, removing the malignancy, but Isler’s weakened body could not endure the infection that followed. He contracted pneumonia and rapidly took a turn for the worse. Early in the morning of January 23, Adolph Isler died in the hospital. “Mr. Isler’s figure, with its flowing, iron gray whiskers, his camera or fold of magazines and papers, and his little brown dog” would tramp the streets of Calumet, climb a smokestack at the mill in Lake Linden, or wander the shores near Eagle River no more. 

Hancock’s Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church after being struck by lightning in 1896. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

Surviving Isler were his wife Anna, his daughter Lena, and his son Harry. His body was laid to rest in Calumet’s Lakeview Cemetery. His photographs found new homes around the Copper Country before many arrived in the Michigan Tech Archives, where generations continue to discover scenes of Keweenaw past. 


Flashback Friday: “There Have Been No Perfect Days Without You”

Envelope and exterior of the above card, sent from Tom to Lily on her own stationery, Box 3, Folder 1
Envelope and exterior of the above card, sent from Tom to Lily on her own stationery, Box 3, Folder 1

“Ten o’clock on Tuesday night, back in the Soo. And in case you can’t imagine what I am wanting at this hour, it is the sight of a golden haired lady with an unfailing smile. Believe it or not–I do, I always have, and I always must–love you.”  –December 30, 1941

Thomas Rowe Ford and Lily Orvokki Siren probably met in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was working as a registered nurse at the University of Michigan Hospital and he was studying for his bachelor’s degree in education. Lily was the daughter of Finnish immigrants who had settled near Mass City; “Tom” was born in Illinois. Lily found herself besotted with the tall, serious man in his mid-twenties. Tom considered Lily the sweetest and most remarkable woman he had ever met. The two married in Ann Arbor on October 6, 1934.

Image #MTU Neg 00141--Mass City from Depot.
Image #MTU Neg 00141–Mass City from Depot.

For several years, the newlyweds resided together in Ann Arbor. Lily’s nursing career thrived. Although Tom earned a master’s degree in 1935, the Great Depression stymied his attempts to succeed as a teacher and writer. In late 1940 or early 1941, faced with the grim reality of bills, Tom took a job with Michigan’s State Tax Commission and was assigned to the Upper Peninsula. Lily remained at work in Ann Arbor, far from her road-weary husband, through the following summer. The two kept in contact by writing each other nearly daily.

“I stayed awake until four o’clock this morning, thinking and worrying about your pleurisy and your cough. Do you know what I thought about most? It was about a room at 204 Forest, with a magic door without a lock, which by tacit house-consent shut the place into a firm retreat.” –February 20, 1942

The letters the couple exchanged during their time apart are the heart of MS-427, Thomas R. and Lily S. Ford Correspondence, at the Michigan Tech Archives. Some handwritten on hotel stationery, others typed on State Tax Commission letterhead, Tom’s letters–the bulk of the collection–document the difficulties created by their separation, their ongoing struggles to have a child, their desire to relocate to a wooded retreat, dubbed Metsala, near Mass City. Through the countless obstacles endured Tom and Lily’s deep love and respect for each other, emotions that played out intensely and sometimes teasingly in their correspondence.

World War II tested the Fords further. In June 1943, the United States Army discovered a need for Tom; his service, which included fighting in Germany, concluded in October 1945. Any letters he and Lily–who returned to the University of Michigan to further her knowledge of public health in 1944–exchanged during this war have not come down to us.

“One thing about the time in Ann Arbor I shall always I appreciate. It may not have given us–or me–very much of a push toward fame, but whatever else it did or didn’t do, it kept me within five minutes walk of the dearest lady in the world. And I made that walk several hundred times, always with the deepest satisfaction any man can know–the satisfaction of going home to the one he loves.” –March 12, 1941

After demobilization, Tom and Lily Ford found the world suddenly full of possibilities. Tom received a job offer from what would become Michigan State University and joined its faculty as a teacher of English. He also became deeply involved in improving the curricula of junior colleges, particularly what is now Gogebic Community College. Lily took a position as a public health nurse in Lansing that found her offering continuing education to fellow professionals. Finally, the couple that had longed to be together for so long resided under the same roof, bringing a touch of the “firm retreat” of their Ann Arbor youth to the maturity of their marriage. The sweet reunion would be sadly brief.

On May 22, 1953, Lily stood at the front of a room in Grand Rapids, preparing to deliver a lecture to a gathering of doctors and nurses. Suddenly, she collapsed. While those present hurried to her aid and rushed her to the nearest hospital, it was too late. Lily Siren Ford was only forty-five years old.

There have been no perfect days without you, and the end of every day is dull and savourless. I love you, dear lady. I need you.” –February 6, 1942

Eventually, Tom Ford remarried. His new wife was Mabel Cosby, a teacher and native of Kentucky. Tom’s last years, however, were consumed by poor health, which forced him to leave his long-sought teaching position in Lansing. Illness eventually claimed his life on October 15, 1961. He, like Lily, was cremated and buried in Ontonagon County. But both Fords–and their hopes, sorrows, and dreams–remain forever alive in their letters, freely open for research at the Michigan Tech Archives.

“And always–whatever–my dear, you will be respected, and loved, and–my God–wanted.” –June 12, 1941

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our blog in February 2017.