Tag: Genealogy help

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.