Category Archives: Collections

This category will include posts about the holdings of the Michigan Tech Archives: manuscript materials, photographs, maps, books, and other physical items held by the department.

New Donation – White Pine Mine Slides

Roger Hewlett delivers the White Pine Copper Company slide collection to university archivist, Lindsay Hiltunen in May 2018.
Roger Hewlett delivers the White Pine Copper Company slide collection to university archivist, Lindsay Hiltunen in May 2018.

We are happy to announce a recent donation to the Michigan Tech Archives! The new acquisition consists of slides related to the history of the White Pine Copper Company. The materials were delivered to the archives by Roger Hewlett on behalf of George Haynes. The slides originally belonged to the late J. Roland Ackroyd, a former Secretary and Director of the Copper Range Consolidated, the Copper Range Railroad, and the White Pine Copper Company. The slides will be inventoried this summer and available for researchers this fall. Subjects represented include above and below ground images of industrial activities at White Pine. The slides are believed to be Copper Range’s official corporate collection of photos on the building of the White Pine Mine and surrounding area.

Roland Ackroyd (1912-1979) was born in Needham, Massachusetts and was the son of James A. (1872-1957) and Emily P. Ackroyd. He was educated in Needham schools and went on to graduate with an accounting degree from Northeastern University and Bentley University School in 1936. His professional career began at the Copper Range Company in 1933 on a temporary basis as a bookkeeper. During this first appointment his father was the secretary of the company. Over the years, Ackroyd would go on to hold many prominent positions in several firms with business related to White Pine, including the Copper Range Consolidated, the subsidiary railroad, and the White Pine Copper Company.

Positions held included:

Copper Range Consolidated 

J. Roland Ackroyd's official Copper Range Consolidated photograph.
J. Roland Ackroyd’s official Copper Range Consolidated photograph.

1944-46        Asst. Secretary

1947-62        Secretary

1962-70        Secretary/Treasurer

1968-70        Director

Copper Range Railroad

1954-62        Secretary

1962-71        Secretary/Treasurer

White Pine Copper Co.

1950-51        Director

1950-62        Secretary

1962-70        Secretary/Treasurer

Ackroyd lived in Needham and Stamford, Connecticut throughout his career and summered at Ocean Point, Maine. He retired in 1970. After retirement, he and his wife Natalie moved permanently to Ocean Point. Ackroyd was a key adviser in the development of the White Pine Mine and the local community. He was known to visit the area regularly throughout his career. Beyond his professional commitments, Ackroyd was also very active in his community. He was very dedicated to community service, serving with the Needham Board of Selectmen, Masons, Boy Scouts, Lions Club, Power Squadrons, the Boothbay Conservation Commission and various regional clubs in Maine.

The Michigan Tech Archives is very pleased to receive this important donation. We look forward to sharing the history of White Pine for generations to come! For more information about this collection, please contact university archivist, Lindsay Hiltunen, at (906) 487-2505 or e-mail copper@mtu.edu.  


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.


Ellen Carlson: Copper Country Woman

Ellen Carlson, undated
Ellen Carlson, undated

For many women, the early 20th century ushered in a new period of possibilities for life and work outside the home and changes to the traditional roles of wife and mother. While employment opportunities were still limited to a few fields such as school teacher, secretary, and nurse, many women fought to make their lives outside domestic life rich and fulfilling. Archival collections are full of stories of such women and the Copper Country is no different. To honor the many unique and fascinating women of the Copper Country during Women’s History Month, our blog post today highlights one amazing woman from Rockland, Michigan: Ellen Carlson.

Ellen Carlson with cat, undated.
Ellen Carlson with cat, undated.

Ellen Carlson was born in Rockland, Michigan around 1901 to Swedish parents, Gustave and Anna, who immigrated to the Upper Peninsula in 1899. Her father worked for the copper mine in Rockland until his death in 1915 following a mining accident. Ellen’s mother, Anna, was left to raise her daughter and son, Hugo, by herself. She ensured that her children received a good education and the children attended school in Rockland, with Ellen graduating in 1918. However, Ellen’s early aspirations for higher learning at the Marquette Normal School were cut short due to the outbreak of the Spanish Influenza. Though she never received a formal degree, Carlson attended classes at Wayne State, University of Michigan’s Rackham School, and the Milwaukee State Teachers College and became a school teacher, initially teaching in a four-room school in Victoria. She moved back to Rockland for a period of time before moving to Marquette in 1922 to finish her teaching studies, but continued to move back and forth between the U.P. and downstate, teaching again in Rockland, Montrose, Flint, Ferndale and Taylor. In 1965, after 46 years of teaching, Carlson retired and returned to her family’s home in Rockland where she lived until her passing in 1988.

Love letters from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.
Love letters from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.

For many, there is a certain stereotype associated with the concept of an unmarried, rural school teacher in the early 20th century. However, a glimpse into the the personal correspondence of a woman like Ellen reveals a vibrant personal and social life, as well as a woman who was undeterred in her quest in fulfilling her lifelong aspirations. The Ellen Carlson Correspondence (MS-416) collection held at the Michigan Tech Archives is a rich resource for anyone interested in the personal lives of women in the Copper Country. The collection primarily contains correspondence Carlson kept with friends, students, and family members throughout her life and provides a unique perspective on the life of women in the Copper Country.

Some of the earliest correspondence in the collection dates from around 1918 when Ellen was just a young woman starting her teaching education. Nearly a decade worth of letters from a likely high school beau then living in Chicago shows a young woman in love, but one torn between that love and a dedication to her studies. Sadly, the romance fizzled out during May and June of 1926 based on the letters from Chicago. We can only speculate that the relationship had a deep impact on her as she never did marry.

From the correspondence you get a sense of the importance family and social ties had to Ellen. She maintained lengthy correspondence with close friends throughout her life, in some cases receiving multiple letters per week, which implies the amount of outgoing correspondence and connections she must have maintained were extensive. Though the collection only contains correspondence she received, a researcher gets an impression of the topics that were important to women during this time period, notably between women as she maintained correspondence with several other women from her Rockland community and elsewhere throughout her life. It’s also clear that Ellen maintained a strong relationship with her mother, Anna, particularly during the latter half of her mother’s life up until her unexpected death in 1954. This section of correspondence is a fascinating view of mother-daughter relationships and a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.
Ellen Carlson with friends, undated.
Ellen Carlson with friends, undated.

Ellen clearly maintained a wide social circle of friends, especially with those within the Rockland area. An article printed in the local paper sometime between 1976 and her passing in Rockland in 1988 attests to her vibrant social life and the importance that women played within the community. Noted within the article, fellow community members described her as having “a host of friends, young and old” and that she was “very sociable — has a houseful of company all summer long.” One comment from a friend regarding the amount of birthday cards she routinely received is apparent in her correspondence collection. Among the regular correspondence and photographs, Ellen maintained several scrapbooks worth of birthday and holiday cards that she received or collected overtime, presenting a very interesting and delightful resource for people interested in period greeting cards.

Sample of greeting cards from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.
Sample of greeting cards from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.

According to the article, Ellen was a lifelong and active member of the Methodist church and an accomplished pianist, serving as the district organist for the Order of the Eastern Star since 1920, which is evident from the correspondence and ephemera tucked into her collection.  Among her other passions was regional history. She and fellow local, Mary Jeffs Regan, co-founded the Rockland Museum and donated material to the collection over the years. Ellen, according to the article printed later in her life, was also a reader, crossword puzzle enthusiast, and enjoyed playing cards.

While the collection is primarily composed of correspondence, Ellen maintained journals, especially later in life, which can be found in the collection. Also included are scrapbooks, postcard albums, and photographs, many of them documenting the lives of her friends and family members that were dear to her.

The Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection reveals a woman many can relate to; one driven to follow their passions and affinity for one’s roots. It provides a glimpse into the impact a singular person can have within a community and a rich resource for those looking into the lives of everyday women in the Copper Country. This extensive collection is just waiting for further exploration and insight from researchers. If you are interested in viewing this collection, visit the Michigan Tech Archives! The department is open for regular research hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, no appointment necessary. You may also contact us directly at (906) 487-2505 or by email at copper@mtu.edu.


A Calumet & Hecla Rosetta Stone: Reading a C&H Employment Card Part 2

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

Welcome to the second part of a discussion on deciphering Calumet & Hecla Mining Company (C&H) employment records held by the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. This post will concentrate on the back page of a C&H yellow employment card, which emphasized a worker’s job history and relationship to the company. If you missed the initial part of the series or would like to refresh your memory of the card’s front page–where the employee’s personal traits and family connections were in focus–you may find it valuable to reread the prior post before perusing this one.

We’ll continue our exploration of the yellow C&H employment cards, which the company used from about 1915 through at least 1957, by once again examining the sample record of Peter Gasperich, my great-great-grandfather. As a reminder, Peter was a Slovenian immigrant and resident of Osceola who worked for C&H at the time of his death. From the front page of his card, we learned that he was married and the father of seven children, that he had previously been employed by the Osceola and Champion copper companies, and that he was a literate man of modest height and solid build. On the reverse of the card, we will find the bulk of the information related to job titles, the divisions of C&H in which the employee worked, and rates of pay. Parsing this data is often the most complicated part of interpreting an employment card, both due to its density and the number of abbreviated, specialized terms used–enough, it seems, to fill a small book rather than a blog post. Still, with the space we have, let us try to unravel the mystery of the back page, piece by piece.

The back page of Peter Gasperich’s Calumet & Hecla employment card, which looks at his relationship to the company and the finer points of his job history.
The back page of Peter Gasperich’s Calumet & Hecla employment card, which looks at his relationship to the company and the finer points of his job history.

 

In the upper left corner of this page, C&H set aside a section that can best be described as a General Notes field. Here, the company documented matters like the date and cause of a worker’s death or information about his pension if he received one; here, too, were any explanations for why he left the company–willingly or involuntarily–including times when he and his boss had butted heads. As with the results of the worker’s physical exam on the front page, these remarks were consistently blunt, if not outright brusque: “losing time,” “lazy,” “no good,” to name a few. For Peter, the card’s most prominent note was that he had left the company’s employ permanently with his death on June 14, 1923 from bronchitis. Keep in mind that C&H did not always accurately record causes of death, either deliberately or from lack of knowledge, so it is wise to cross-reference this information with official death certificates whenever possible. In Peter’s case, the state’s explanation–stomach cancer–seems far more likely in light of clues given in other areas of his employment card.

We see those clues as we move clockwise around this part of the card to look at Peter’s financial relationship with Calumet & Hecla. Next to General Notes, the company recorded a list of dates and amounts of cash. These figures indicate money that Peter withdrew from the C&H Aid Fund, a benefit society of sorts operated by the company. A set deduction was taken from each paycheck of employees who agreed to participate, and C&H matched their contributions. Later, if, like Peter, the worker were laid low by illness or injury, he could draw on the aid fund to keep his family housed, clothed, and fed until he could be back on the job. Though generous by contemporary standards, C&H also kept a sharp eye on its aid fund and monitored the frequency and duration of use by each employee. Distrust fell on men who seemed overly dependent on charitable moneys. The company’s observation, however, and its recordkeeping can provide interesting insight to genealogists in particular. From Peter’s employee aid record, I was able to see that he had called upon the aid fund on several occasions, including one string of withdrawals that began in February 1923. It seemed likely that the fatal illness must have begun around this time, and picturing those last few months in the Gasperich house as Peter declined added a new dimension to my understanding of my ancestors.

Below the General Notes and accounts of Peter’s aid fund use came several additional fields whose meaning is more familiar to modern readers: a tally for dates that he had received workmen’s compensation funds for any injuries received on the job, a list of addresses he had occupied and changes he made to his residence, and the dates that he had been examined by a C&H physician. Individuals joining the company had to pass physicals, which were seemingly required at irregular intervals thereafter; any extraordinary results–described in General Notes–could mean the rescindment of an offer of employment, lest the worker become a threat to his colleagues or a financial drain on the company’s hospital.

The left side of the back page of Peter’s C&H employment card, concerning his death, his use of various company funds, his examination by a C&H physician, and his address history.
The left side of the back page of Peter’s C&H employment card, concerning his death, his use of various company funds, his examination by a C&H physician, and his address history.

Although interesting, these components are not the meat of the employment card’s back page. That honor belongs to the right side, where Peter’s work history was recorded in meticulous detail. This section began with Peter’s typed name and, below it, two identification numbers: an enrollment card number and a pay roll number (which also appeared on the front page). It is not uncommon for the latter of these numbers to be crossed off if the employee had passed away or replaced with digits in the form P-### if the worker had been pensioned. Further information on any such pensions were recorded, as we have already seen, in the General Notes field. Beneath these numbers came several columns designed to capture the nuances of Peter’s time at C&H. Two of them–the first and the next-to-last–simply listed the dates that Peter began his work, whether at the company or in a new position, and the dates that he ceased to hold that job.

Next was given the title of the occupation itself, often in abbreviated form. To most modern researchers, Peter’s having worked as a “tram” or a “pipe” seems nonsensical, but these terms indicate that Peter worked as a trammer–moving heavy cars of mine rock along a shaft level to be raised to the surface of the shaft–and a pipeman, someone who laid and repaired pipe for compressed air, steam, or water. Similarly, as a timberman (or “timb,” as C&H put it), Peter would have placed and maintained wooden mine structures, like ladders and hanging wall supports. Occupational shorthand abounded through the cards, but two other common terms of note were “dry” for “dry man”–often an older or partially disabled man who kept the workers’ change house clean and supplied–or “sfc,” for surface, preceding a job to distinguish employees who did the work on one side of the ground or the other. Keep in mind, as well, that sometimes words that seem straightforward today had nuances at the time the cards were created. It’s easy to think that every underground man at C&H was a miner, but the term was specific in its meaning and referred only to workers who drilled and blasted rock in search for copper.

Under the Rate column, C&H provided the wage paid for each occupation that an employee held. Notice on Peter’s card the word “cont” in several places, indicating that he was paid wages specified in a contract he had negotiated with the company. For other jobs, the amount of pay was given in numeric form: a monthly wage, generally speaking, until about 1918, when a daily rate began to be used. In the 1940s, C&H switched again, transitioning to listing pay in hourly terms. If you see an ancestor’s income listed as cents and fractional cents, that is a good indicator that this pay was hourly. If the card bears a number like $55.00, the rate was monthly.

The Company and Department (Dept) headings can also be a source of confusion. Although it is useful shorthand to think of C&H as a single entity, in many respects it was more of a corporate umbrella containing component companies, including some former competitors. A little history may help to explain this. Calumet & Hecla began life as two related organizations–the Calumet Mining Company and the Hecla Mining Company–that were combined into C&H in 1871. To ensure the company’s continued success, in the early 1900s C&H began to acquire large amounts of stock in some of its local competitors, placing them under C&H’s control. This method brought Osceola into the C&H “family” in 1909 and Tamarack in 1917. Ahmeek, Allouez, and Centennial were purchased outright in 1923, leading to the creation of the Calumet & Hecla Consolidated Copper Company. Other mines and facilities also came under the umbrella over the years, creating a C&H that employed workers in places far beyond the little village once called Red Jacket.

Given this history, the Company and Department columns seem more logical. “Company” allowed C&H’s clerks to specify which part of the organization an employee belonged to: Osceola, Kearsarge, South Hecla, C&H proper, etc. “Department” permitted greater specificity: a Hecla miner could be said to work in the #9 shaft, for example, or a C&H general laborer could be designated as a smelter employee. For companies that already had subsidiaries at the time of their incorporation into C&H–like Osceola’s operations at Kearsarge–the Department field could also be used to further distinguish among the company hierarchy. At other times, however, the two sections simply repeated each other. On Peter’s card, for example, we can see Company listed as in one place as “Osc. Cons,” referring to Osceola Consolidated Mining Company, and the Department simply listed as “Osc,” not shedding much light on his particular place within the organization. Where greater details than these were provided, these fields in conjunction with the Occupation column offer the genealogist significant insight into the nature of an ancestor’s work.

As with Occupation, abbreviations for Company and Department abound. Decoding the meaning of the more obscure shorthand is an ongoing project at the Michigan Tech Archives. A few basic words of advice are worth sharing at this point, however. Common entries in the Company column–in addition to the ones mentioned above–include LMS & R[ef] Co for Lake Milling, Smelting, and Refining Company; Tam for Tamarack, west of Calumet; I.R.C. and I. Royale for Isle Royale Copper Company, near Houghton; and a dizzying array of options for the Tamarack, Osceola, and Ahmeek mills on Torch Lake. Department abbreviations featured likewise ran the gamut. Rkhs, rchs, and r. hse indicated an employee assigned to the rock house; sm, smelt, and smelts, the smelter; mill or st. m, the stamp mill; or sfc, the surface. Where a number or single letter were given in the Department column, it referred to a particular designated mine shaft at the company in question.

The right side of the back page of Peter Gasperich’s employment card, showing the details of his positions and pay at C&H.
The right side of the back page of Peter Gasperich’s employment card, showing the details of his positions and pay at C&H.

Moving past the Date Left column that was mentioned earlier, we look at last to the Reason column, which provided a rationale for Peter’s departure from each position. Peter’s card included three of the most common explanations: Q for quit (he chose to find work elsewhere), L.O. for laid off (economic factors led C&H to cut his job), and Sett for settled up (he died, and C&H concluded its business with him). This last term also was used to address workers who resigned, possibly in lieu of termination, and sometimes men who had been drafted into the armed forces. If an employee’s reason for departure was given as “Dis.,” he certainly was dismissed or discharged–fired. “Ret” workers had simply retired. Peter’s card also used the word “Strike” in the explanation column. This does not necessarily mean that he was an active part of the 1913-1914 Western Federation of Miners (WFM) copper strike; rather, C&H used it to indicate that the mine at which he had worked shut down during that time. Occasionally, recordkeepers placed numbers in parentheses next to one of these reasons, indicating a more detailed explanation was available next to the corresponding number in the General Notes section. Look to that section, as well, to distinguish men who had joined the union from men whose note of “Strike” simply meant that they were bystanders: if the note indicates that a man burned or gave up his WFM book, he was a union member.

What more can be said about the Calumet & Hecla employment cards? Quite a lot. These documents mirror the organization that created them: they are as broad as the workforce and as deep as the company’s copper mines. The Michigan Tech Archives earnestly hopes that this overview of the C&H records has been useful, limited by necessity as it may have been. If your interest in learning more about your ancestors’ potential ties to C&H has been piqued, if you would like assistance in deciphering a record already located, or if you have any other research questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives. We may be reached via e-mail at copper@mtu.edu or by telephone at (906) 487-2505, and, as always, we are very happy to help.


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A Visit to the Copper Country Sanatorium: Images from the Brenda Papke Photograph Collection

Women residing at the Copper Country Sanatorium pose with the reminder that “You can beat TB!”
Women residing at the Copper Country Sanatorium pose with the reminder that “You can beat TB!”

The following post was researched and authored by Emily Riippa, Assistant Archivist.

For most Americans of today, the word “tuberculosis” carries little weight. It might mean a needle prick to the forearm before being approved for a hospital volunteer position or a warning offered to vacationers bound for China, Brazil, or Kenya, three of the countries where the disease maintains a foothold. Those living in the United States now might forget a time in this country when tuberculosis (TB) was a dreaded scourge called the “white death.”

In those days, the Copper Country was at the epicenter of Michigan’s tuberculosis problem. By 1930, the death rate among those suffering from the disease was higher in Houghton and Keweenaw counties than anywhere else in the state and nearly double the statewide average: 117 deaths per 100,000 people in these two counties, according to data collected by contemporary public health officials, compared to 60 deaths per 100,000 statewide. Dr. James Acocks, a physician who spent most of his career treating TB patients in the Upper Peninsula, recalled that public health officials advanced many potential explanations for the apparent epidemic in mining country but never definitively determined its cause.

Even if the origin of the plague remained a mystery, the need for tuberculosis care in the Keweenaw was plainly apparent. In 1910, Houghton County voters approved a bond measure to construct a sanatorium on a plot of civic land near Houghton Canal Road, not far from the county’s residential facility for the indigent. In keeping with the prevailing treatment philosophies of the time, which called for ample fresh air and natural light, the wood-frame building of the Houghton County Sanatorium featured a large screen porch to which patients were escorted on days when the weather was nice. The sanatorium was intended to house just twelve people at first, but the large local TB population quickly overwhelmed this small capacity, even with assistance from outpatient clinics. In 1915, the sanatorium was enlarged to house thirty-six patients; a second expansion two decades later added another twenty-nine beds–removing the much-heralded screen porch–and a 1940 WPA grant allowed for various other upgrades to the facility, now called the Copper Country Sanatorium. Just a few years after the WPA improvements, however, a state inspection found the tuberculosis hospital to be “an obvious fire trap” and unfit for continued use. Construction began soon after on a modern brick building in Hancock, not far from what was then St. Joseph’s Hospital; the new facility would open in 1950.

A view of the new Copper Country Sanatorium, built in 1950 and pictured here in 1955.
A view of the new Copper Country Sanatorium, built in 1950 and pictured here in 1955.

These twilight years of tuberculosis treatment at the Houghton Canal Road building, however, yielded a truly rare gem, one recently donated to the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. In 1950–the last year the original sanatorium operated–a resident patient apparently smuggled a camera into the hospital and captured snapshots of experiences there. Thirty-three of those photographs are now part of MS-963: Brenda Papke Photograph Collection, a newly-processed collection just made available for research. The images are a look behind the scenes, so to speak: a unique and sometimes furtive glimpse into the lives of people whose fight against a devastating, deadly illness had taken them away from home and family.

Although no information about the individual who took the sanatorium pictures has come down to us, it seems likely that the photographer was a woman. Many of the images depict women lounging in what appears to be a female ward of the sanatorium. Seemingly relaxed and content, for one photograph the ladies propped their legs on the bedside tables, rolled up their pajamas or bathrobes, and flashed views of their ankles and thighs that vaguely remind the viewer of 1940s pinups. For another picture, two women hopped into bed beside an open window and threw their arms around each other, beaming out at the camera in a manner that seems almost carefree. One of the women had decorated the area above her bed with a calendar, an image of a puppy and a kitten, an advertisement with a child’s picture, and two wishbones–presumably for good luck in the face of tuberculosis. In several other images, a large contingent of female patients assembled for a group shot, all dressed in their best bathrobes or house dresses and with hair neatly curled. Tall women, short women, women whose wrinkled faces testified to many years already lived, women whose youthful appearance bespoke a hope that their whole lives still lay ahead of them–vastly different women all, part of a sisterhood forged by the scourge of tuberculosis.

A group of women being treated for tuberculosis at the Copper Country Sanatorium in 1950 pose for the camera in bathrobes and house dresses.
A group of women being treated for tuberculosis at the Copper Country Sanatorium in 1950 pose for the camera in bathrobes and house dresses.

While many of the pictures show female camaraderie in the sanatorium wards, other images show the mingling and mixing that took place across the hospital. The photographer captured two men hard at work at some sort of machine, perhaps a kitchen tool or a shop instrument. Another young man was apparently a favorite model, repeatedly striking dramatic poses inside and outside the building while wearing his monogrammed pajamas. The women who had been pictured relaxing in bed crowded onto a bench with their male counterparts, squinting against the light of the sun as the photographer captured a group shot. In other cases, sanatorium staff got in on the action: the collection includes two pictures of nurses, both candid and posed. Then there were moments of pure absurdity, with one individual donning an outrageous mask and pushing a bookshelf in a wheelchair through the hallway. Despite the serious threat of tuberculosis hanging over their heads, fellowship and fun obviously persisted among the sanatorium’s residents.

A masked person at the Copper Country Sanatorium takes the bookshelf for a spin.
A masked person at the Copper Country Sanatorium takes the bookshelf for a spin.

The Brenda Papke Photograph Collection is a trove of visual treasures, of which the photographs presented in this piece are only a part. The thirty-three sanatorium pictures truly take the researcher into the heart of the hospital, helping one to glimpse what life was like for those who found themselves on the front lines of the fight against tuberculosis. Interested in investigating the collection for yourself or finding out more about the treatment of TB in the Copper Country? Feel free to stop by the Michigan Tech Archives during our normal business hours, give us a call at (906) 487-2505, or e-mail us at copper@mtu.edu.

 

 


Secret Societies of the Copper Country

“First regular communication of Quincy Lodge U.D. [under dispensation] F. & A. M. [Free and Accepted Masons] held at Lodge room in Village of Hancock, June 6th A.D. 1861 A.L. [Anno Lucis: ‘In the Year of Light’] 586. Present, Charles L. Wheeler W.M. [Worshipful Master], Jacob Hougton Jr. S.W. [Senior Warden], Alexander Pope Jr. J.W. [Junior Warden], J.A. Close S.D. [Senior Deacon] pro tem, J.P.M. Butler J.D. [Junior Deacon] pro tem, J.A. Hubbell Secty pro tem, S.S. Robinson Treasr pro tem, A.F. Leopold Tyler pro tem, & Brethern Lodge opened in due form in 3rd degree of Masonry The worshipful Master then read the dispensation granted by the G.M. [Grand Master] of the State of Michigan On Motion a committee of Three consisting of the W.M., S.W., & J.W. was appointed to draft the By Laws for the government of the lodge and report at next regular communication. On Motion Bro. Berd was allowed to occupy the preparation room till first of Sept. 1861. The W.M. appointed Tuesdays & Friday Evenings of each week as stated communications for instruction. On Motion the Lodge closed in harmony. Jay A. Hubbell Secty -pro tem-”
“First regular communication of Quincy Lodge U.D. [under dispensation] F. & A. M. [Free and Accepted Masons] held at Lodge room in Village of Hancock, June 6th A.D. 1861 A.L. [Anno Lucis: ‘In the Year of Light’] 586. Present, Charles L. Wheeler W.M. [Worshipful Master], Jacob Hougton Jr. S.W. [Senior Warden], Alexander Pope Jr. J.W. [Junior Warden], J.A. Close S.D. [Senior Deacon] pro tem, J.P.M. Butler J.D. [Junior Deacon] pro tem, J.A. Hubbell Secty pro tem, S.S. Robinson Treasr pro tem, A.F. Leopold Tyler pro tem, & Brethern Lodge opened in due form in 3rd degree of Masonry. The worshipful Master then read the dispensation granted by the G.M. [Grand Master] of the State of Michigan On Motion a committee of Three consisting of the W.M., S.W., & J.W. was appointed to draft the By Laws for the government of the lodge and report at next regular communication. On Motion Bro. Berd was allowed to occupy the preparation room till first of Sept. 1861. The W.M. appointed Tuesdays & Friday Evenings of each week as stated communications for instruction. On Motion the Lodge closed in harmony.
Jay A. Hubbell Secty
-pro tem-”
Please read on for a blog post from our summer inter, Steve Moray, on fraternal organizations in the Copper Country. ______________________________________________________________________

The Freemasons, the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias…secret societies. Many people find them fascinating, but many may also have a misunderstanding of exactly what these secret societies are or what they do. Most “secret societies” are more mundanely referred to as fraternal organizations. Organizations such as these may have a variety of purposes, including social or charitable goals, or insuring the financial well being of members or their families in case of accidents or hard times or any combination of these or related goals.

 

List of Signatures of the first Masonic Lodge in the Copper Country, including Jay A. Hubbell (about halfway down).
List of Signatures of the first Masonic Lodge in the Copper Country, including Jay A. Hubbell (about halfway down).

Since very early on in the history of the Copper Country these organizations have had a presence. Thanks in large part to their portrayal in popular culture, the most well known fraternal organization is likely the Freemasons. And, indeed, they were one of the first secret societies in the Keweenaw. The first chapter of Free and Accepted Masons, the Quincy Lodge No. 135, was established here in the summer of 1861, just after the beginning of the Civil War. That’s less than 20 years after the Treaty of La Pointe ceded the land in the Keweenaw Peninsula to the United States, 15 years after the Quincy Mining Company was established, and just 2 years after the city of Hancock was founded.

 

Some of the Quincy Lodge’s founding members included some names that may sound familiar. The first “Senior Warden” (second in command) of the Lodge was Jacob Houghton Jr., brother to State Geologist Douglass Houghton (Douglass had passed away in 1845). Jacob accompanied his brother on his famous geological survey, and contributed to the report that was responsible for the copper rush in the Keweenaw. The first Secretary (pro tem) was Jay A. Hubbell. Both the town of Hubbell, and Michigan Tech’s now demolished Hubbell Hall were named for the Mason. At the time Hubbell was a Houghton County attorney, and would later be a U.S. Congressman, State Senator, and district court judge. He was instrumental in helping to establish the Michigan School of Mines, which later became Michigan Technological University.

Hubbell Hall - From Copper Country Historical Images
Hubbell Hall – From Copper Country Historical Images

Members of the Freemasons were very often pillars of the community, and membership in such fraternal organizations could be used to make useful political and social connections, as well as to increase one’s social standing. The Michigan Tech Archives has an extensive collection on the Masons in the Copper Country. MS-035, The Copper Country Masonic Lodge Collection consists of 66 boxes related to the Quincy (later Copper Country) Lodge No. 135, Houghton Lodge No. 218, Keweenaw Lodge No. 242, Calumet Lodge No. 271, John Duncan Lodge No. 373 in addition to various other associated groups such as the Order of Molay, the Michigan Grand Lodge, the Royal Arch Masons, and material related to Masonic buildings such as the Houghton Masonic Temple and the Union Building in Calumet (now the headquarters of Keweenaw National Historical Park).

This certifies that the named sister was a member of a Rebekah Lodge that closed, and can be admitted into any new lodge as a member in good standing.
This certifies that the named sister was a member of a Rebekah Lodge that closed, and can be admitted into any new lodge as a member in good standing.

While most people are familiar with the Freemasons, some of the other fraternal organizations operating in the Copper Country may be a little more unfamiliar. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), for example, were very popular, and in fact, a larger organization than the Masons for much of their existence.The Independent Order of Odd Fellows were formed in Baltimore in 1842, an offshoot of the British Oddfellows organization. The IOOF dedicates itself to charity, it’s purpose to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan”. Of course, the Odd Fellows also used the organization, much like the Freemasons, for fellowship and socialization.

Portrait of an unnamed “Daughter of Rebekah”.
Portrait of an unnamed “Daughter of Rebekah”.

Despite the name, however, “fraternal” organizations weren’t just limited to men. The Odd Fellows became the first of its kind in the United States to admit women in 1851 when the Daughters of Rebekah were created as the Odd Fellows women’s auxiliary organization (both groups would eventually admit both men and women). The archives has a wide variety of records related to the Odd Fellows, including from the Hecla Lodge 90, the Mystic Lodge 109, the Holly Rebekah Lodge, and the Ivy Rebekah Lodge, and many items such as photographs spread throughout our collections. 

By 1890 the Knights of Pythias also had a presence in the Copper Country, despite the organization not even existing until the end of the Civil War, a quarter century earlier. The Knights were similar in organization and purpose to the Masons and Odd Fellows, but while those groups were brought over from Europe, the Knights were originally founded in the U.S. The “F.C.B.” initials you can see in the emblem on the cover of the by-laws stands for the Pythian motto: Friendship, Charity, Benevolence.

A pocket copy of the by-laws of the Lake Superior Lodge, No. 109 of the Knights of Pythias, printed in 1890. From the Wilbert Salmi Collection, MS-601.
A pocket copy of the by-laws of the Lake Superior Lodge, No. 109 of the Knights of Pythias, printed in 1890. From the Wilbert Salmi Collection, MS-601.

The Daughters of the Eternal City were an Italian/Italian American women’s mutual benefit society located in Calumet, but in addition to providing aid to members in need, the Daughters partook in their own share of secret society traditions. While I don’t speak Italian, I am an avid Google Translator. With a little help from Google, my colleague Allison, and a bit of judicious interpretation, part of the ritual described in their rulebook includes this tidbit regarding latecomers: “The sisters who are late, when the meeting is already open, will knock at the door with one distinct stroke and three consecutive strokes. The doorkeeper opens the door saying ‘Rome’. The sister outside will answer ‘Eternal’.” You can’t have a secret society meeting without a secret password.

As you can see, the Copper Country has a long and rich relationship with fraternal organizations, and the Michigan Tech Archives contains a variety of records related to those organizations. Unfortunately this blog post has barely scratched the surface of the wealth of information that could be mined from our various collections. Who knows, maybe this blog post may inspire some current or future historian to enlighten about what the records of these “secret” societies can tell us.


“Go across the ocean with me”: Student Essays on Family History from 1917

Douglass Houghton School, which sat to the west of the intersection of Douglass and 6th streets in Houghton, as it looked in 1906.
Douglass Houghton School, which sat to the west of the intersection of Douglass and 6th streets in Houghton, as it looked in 1906.

At the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, summer means genealogy! Taking advantage of our warmer weather and the local attractions open for the season, visitors arrive from all around the country–and even the globe–to research their family history. In turn, our staff members learn more about the people who called this place home years ago and their family connections.

The love of genealogy that these visitors display is part of a long tradition in the United States. From America’s earliest days, tracing family ties or handing down family stories has been a hobby for some and a calling for others–and Houghton County was no exception. In 1917, students from Houghton High School and the upper grades of nearby primary schools were asked to write short essays about their families, with an emphasis on ancestors, their origins, and any particularly intriguing anecdotes. What the students produced ranged from terse, straightforward accounts to colorful stories apparently penned by budding novelists. Compiled by the Keweenaw Historical Society and presently part of that organization’s collection (MS-043), the essays recount ancestors with origins in places as diverse as Germany, Finland, Ukraine, and Syria.

High school student Marguerite Morrow set the stage for telling her family history by inviting the reader to travel back in time.
High school student Marguerite Morrow set the stage for telling her family history by inviting the reader to travel back in time.

 

Despite differences in origin, the stories demonstrate many common themes. Students boasted, wherever possible, of illustrious ancestors and connections to fame.   Strobel claimed that one of her relatives had traveled to America with his close friend, a brother of Charles Dickens. Claribel Wright took pride in her “pure English stock”; she asserted that she was descended from a Mayflower passenger and had cousins in famous businesswoman Hetty Green and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony. Ruth Standish MacDonald did Claribel’s Mayflower ancestor one better: her middle name came from Miles Standish, one of the most famous of these Pilgrims and Ruth’s earliest known family member. Other pupils described forefathers who had made good in their home countries: Joseph Strobel bragged of one who had received “the Sword of Honor” from a German emperor, for example, while Mary Piipponen had no small admiration for her grandfather, who had personally petitioned the Tsar of Russia to restore the Finnish constitution.

But even more typical to the students’ essays were stories of challenges and tragedies, ones that prompted emigration to the United States or that continued to stalk families after their arrival. Fred Caspary’s family, after immigrating from Germany, took a homestead near Puget Sound. “Then,” he said, “the railroad came… and my parents had to sell after living on it 9 years 9 months.”  Embarrassed, Harold Gross admitted that his father’s family had neglected to snuff out all the candles after a night of partying and caused a fire that killed eleven people. James Finley recalled that his twenty-year-old grandfather left Ireland after his mother starved to death during the Irish Potato Famine; he traveled only with a younger brother, just twelve years of age. Myrtle Brassaw, writing of her mother’s journey from England to America in the 1860s, described “a terrible disease”–cholera–that “arose among the people, taking the lives of two hundred ten.” Another Myrtle, Myrtle Warrington, had lost a grandfather to the Osceola Mine fire of 1895.

In hindsight, perhaps the most distressing paper was that written by high school student Sadie Kremen, documenting the lives of the Kremen and Futran families. These ancestors came from the Odessa region of Ukraine, wrote Sadie, who noted proudly that all of her mother’s male relatives “were learned men or teachers.” Her uncles, as young men, were so dedicated to learning that they “wanted to have a more modern education but the government would not allow them to attend any of the universities within the country.” The Futran family, like the Kremen family, were Jewish, and the Russian Empire, which ruled Ukraine, had closed many doors to Jews. Sadie’s uncle found opportunity in Vienna and Berlin; he trained as a physician in both cities before returning home and offering his services to Russia during World War I. “Although the government through its admirable educational system,” Sadie said incisively, ”had not permitted him to study within the country, they were very glad to have the services of a trained doctor.” Sadie’s paternal aunts and uncles had encountered similar prejudice from the government in the later years of the 19th century. “Finding the persecution and tyranny of the government unbearable,” they decamped to America, and her parents soon followed. A little over twenty years after Sadie wrote her essay, Ukraine would be caught up in the Holocaust; over 800,000 Ukrainian Jews were killed, a number that undoubtedly included members of Sadie’s extended family.

Snippet from Sadie Kremen’s essay discussing the oppression her family faced under the Russian Empire.
Snippet from Sadie Kremen’s essay discussing the oppression her family faced under the Russian Empire.

I cannot let this blog post go by without mentioning a personal discovery in the collection: an essay penned by Ethel Moyle, my great-grandmother. She wrote this piece in eighth grade, the last year of school she attended. I never had the chance to know Ethel, but her paper tells me that she might have been an imaginative young lady–or raised by parents determined to pull the wool over her eyes. “My father’s father was a sailor in a boat for a good many years,” she said. “One day they had a wreck and he was drowned.” In reality, her paternal grandfather had suffered a fatal injury while working as a miner. On the other hand, Ethel explained that her maternal grandfather “died a long time ago, when my mother was a baby. After, my grandmother and mother decided to come to America.” Ethel’s mother had more motivation to misremember her family history: she had been illegitimate, possibly the result of an assault on her mother. Then, as now, it seems that descendants were motivated to remember their predecessors in the best–and most interesting–light.

Perhaps, as I did, you will discover an ancestor’s essay tucked away in the Keweenaw Historical Society Collection. Maybe you will discover a compelling or tragic story that needs to be shared; you might enjoy a memory passed down through the generations. If nothing else, the prose of these young student-authors stands firm on its own merits, more than a century after it was put to paper.

By Emily Riippa, Assistant Archivist