Monthly Archives: April 2016

Collection Spotlight: Commencement Records and Other Helpful Genealogical Records at the Archives

As everyone at NMU knows, this Saturday is commencement. Did you know that you can find all of Northern’s commencement records at the Archives?

commencement 1901

One of Northern’s first commencement records (1900)

You might think that a simple list of names wouldn’t be too helpful for genealogists, but finding an ancestor’s name on a commencement list can open up a doorway to many other records of their time at NMU. With a certain graduation date, yearbooks (up to 1980), newspapers, student organizational records, and more all become far easier to search!

For most of its history, Northern was a small teacher’s college, so the student newspaper recorded many details about the lives of students and faculty. Spending time with our collections from the time period that your ancestor was at Northern can yield many personal, interesting, and funny stories about them.

Here are some examples of what can be found in the yearbooks:

1924 yearbook

A list of what students in 1924 wanted to remember about the school year.

Some of our yearbooks, especially the earliest years, came from the families of deceased students. Just like today’s high school students, many Northern students wrote notes to each other in these yearbooks. If you get particularly lucky, your ancestor may have written something in the copy of the yearbook at the archives.

1924 yearbook voelker

An example of a yearbook page with a note written to the owner. As you can see, this particular note was written by John Voelker, who went on to become the famous author of Anatomy of a Murder and other books.

Sometimes we also have information about students post-graduation. In the early years of the university newspaper, alumni often wrote in with news updates about their lives. A lot of these articles were helpfully copied, put onto index cards, and alphabetized by the Olson Library sometime in the 1960s.

sample index card

A sample index card.

Northern’s Registrar’s office also maintains the transcripts of all past students. Although these records are closed for recent years, you can view a relative’s transcript if it is sufficiently old. Transcripts can be a treasure trove of information for the genealogist. They list the classes that the person took, the grades that they received, and information about where the student was from and who their parents were. Please contact the Registrar’s Office for more information if you think that there might be a transcript for your ancestor. (Keep in mind that you will have to prove that you are related to the person in order to see it.)

Are you a genealogist who has heard rumors that a relative attended or graduated from Northern in its early years? Please let us know—with a name and an approximate year range we can easily check the commencement records for you. For more on our genealogical records for the central Upper Peninsula, please check out the Genealogical Research page on our website.

Written by Annika Peterson


Flash-Back Friday: An Old Tradition at Northern

In 1925, the Color Day Parade wanted to encourage student to have more school sprit by wearing the school colors. The freshmen were expected to embrace this new idea by appearing in a green and gold cap called a pot. Keeping this tradition alive, the freshmen fell in line and participated in the school spirit. By 1931, the use of the frosh class pot had become a well-established tradition. The cap became a way for students to be identified as freshmen during the first few weeks of school. At one point there was a question of whether the pot would be a continuous tradition at Northern.

In 1954, freshmen were required to wear their beanies for initiation during homecoming week. The freshmen would have to wear their beanies until the end of the football season if they lost the games against the upperclassmen during homecoming week. One of the traditions was that if the freshman-constructed bonfire that did not exceed the 31-foot mark, they would have to wear the beanies for an additional week. If freshmen did not wear their beanies, it was implied that they could have their heads shaved.

The beanie tradition was attacked by Professor William Cooper of the Economic Department in the fall of 1968. Soon after, students began to complain about the tradition and the fact that the wearing of beanies was not closely monitored. In October of 1970, the Northern News carried an editorial, “Beanie Boloney” and soon after, the Northern tradition had come to an end.


To learn more about Northern traditions, please check out the finding aids for our collections or stop in at the Archives! Starting next week, we will be back to our summer schedule of Monday-Friday 8 AM-5 PM.

Written by Prince Parker

Collection Spotlight: City of Ishpeming Records Letterhead

Correspondence coming into Ishpeming’s Department of Public Works during the 1890s was boring! The city was in the middle of putting in their sewer system and most of the letters were debating or extolling the merits of various types of sewer pipes, catch basins, and more.
If what was written is rather mundane and pedestrian, what the letters were written on is not. Many of the letterheads (and often invoices) used are, quite simply, gorgeous.


Frederick Braastad was a local merchant. His department store was one of the biggest and best in Ishpeming. Today known as the Gossard building, it is located at 308 Cleveland Street.

It should be noted that in the 1890s, printing was done on platen presses with hand set type. The letterhead was done as a metal engraving mounted on a block of wood.


Here’s another one for a foundry in Pittsburgh, PA. The letterhead itself bears witness to being stored in damp conditions.


In those days, two color letterheads were rare, and much more expensive than single color letterheads, since each sheet of paper required two trips through the printing press. Still, some companies felt it was worth the expense.


Almost every letterhead served a dual purpose, advertising the company’s services and products.


Invoices and other business stationery also got
“fancy” headings, such as this one for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. It’s in purple, probably to make it stand out from all the black and white pieces of paper.


This letterhead is also interesting, as it uses a photograph rather than an engraving.


Here’s one last letterhead. Some of the details, especially the Art Deco flourishes, are nice.

The letterheads shown in this blog post are but a few examples of what’s in our archives. Many of the letterheads were typical for the period when they were designed. For more information on the history of letterheads, check out these blog posts from the Duke University Library and the University of Virginia!

Written by Karen Kasper.

Glam Glorious Graduates: Peter

photo 1

As we move ever closer to the end of this semester, we are reminded of what lies to come in the time away from school. For some, perhaps, it is not so much different after all. Perhaps it’s summer classes in Marquette. For others, perhaps it’s summer work to make some money before returning to school in the fall. For others, perhaps this summer means going abroad or traveling and volunteering. And yet for many this summer leads to change: a whole new chapter, life after college. This week’s post finishes our series on graduating student assistants with Outreach Specialist Peter Dewan.

photo 2

Peter (left) with his friend Kyle

Peter ended up choosing to attend NMU after graduating East Lansing High School in the spring of 2012. Peter knew that he wanted something different for his college experience. He says, “I chose NMU because I wanted a unique college experience. Most of my high school classmates attended Michigan State or the University of Michigan. I was one of three classmates that picked Northern Michigan University. The first time I visited Marquette I knew it was the right place for me. I was amazed by the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding geographical features within Marquette County.” Peter is a pretty smooth and logical guy. He enjoys brackets, basketball, and even taxes! So naturally it makes sense that he would go into accounting. Peter relates how he came to choose his major: “I am currently graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. At first I was a Marketing major with no intention of becoming an accountant. After I took the required accounting classes for the college of business, I realized that I enjoyed the work and I could see myself pursuing a future career within the field”.

photo 3

Backpacking trip at the Porcupine Mountains (Right, Jon Michael)

Whenever he’s around, Peter gives off good vibes. He always seems to stay positive and energetic. Of course, all of this energy needs to be let out somehow. Peter does this by staying active–going to the PEIF or on a run every day and going hiking, camping, and walking. He says, “One of my favorite moments at NMU was when I went backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains. During my sophomore year I lived in Magers Hall, on the third floor. A group of friends and I decided to plan a backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend. Prior to this trip I had very minimal backpacking experience. After the first day of hiking we found a campsite right along Lake of the Clouds. The campsite was unreal and it was hard to imagine that we were still in Michigan. On the second day we visited various waterfalls and also went swimming in Lake of the Clouds. By the end of the trip we hiked roughly 32-40 miles around the Porcupine Mountains. This trip has become a tradition for my roommate Rob and I. For the past three years we have gone backpacking together over Labor Day weekend in the Porcupine Mountains. I’ve cherished the time spent on the trails and I look forward to many more fun adventures in the Porkies!”

photo 4

Holding down the front desk at the NMU Archives.

At the Archives, Peter maintains a constructive presence. As the Marketing and Public Outreach Specialist, Peter helps to set up outreach events and runs the Archives social media. He says, “Working at the Archives for the past two years has been a great experience. I have been able to learn about planning events and using effective communication. The ability to communicate with others is the biggest component of my job that I will take away. I have also had the opportunity to work with some amazing people, and I really appreciate everything that I have learned from my co-workers”. You are probably asking, what’s the future plan for Peter? Wait no further. Peter says, “After graduating from NMU I plan on looking for an internship within the public accounting sector. After interning for a year, I plan on applying to Michigan State University for their law program. My goal is to apply my knowledge of accounting towards tax law. The few tax classes I have taken at Northern have inspired me to pursue a future career in tax law and planning. I also hope to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam within the next two years.”

photo 5

Written by Stefan Nelson

NMU to Rebuild Dorm Saunas!

April Fools! Unfortunately NMU will not be rebuilding the dorm saunas, hopefully the administration considers bringing back this feature someday. Back in the 70’s NMU had saunas within a few of the dorms. Nowadays there are saunas located within the men and women locker-rooms at the PEIF. Saunas have a unique following in the Upper Peninsula.

When I first came to the NMU in 2012 I was unaware of the massive Finnish culture within the Upper Peninsula. During 1867-1888 Finns started migrating to the Upper Peninsula. In the 1900’s there were roughly 18,000 Finns living within the copper country. Today Michigan is home to 68,203 Finnish Americans, this is the largest population within the United States.

During my past four years at Northern I have thoroughly enjoyed using the sauna at the Physical Instructional Educational Facility (PEIF). Little did I know that Marquette, Michigan has attempted setting the record for the “world’s largest sauna.” In 1996 at FinnFest a blue and white tent was setup at the north end of Memorial Field. Then tent was heated to 121 degrees by two 400,000 British thermal unit diesel-powered heaters. Over 650 people packed into the tent and the records were sent to the Guinness Book of World Records. Although the previous record consisted of 300 participants, Guinness officials did not recognize the FinnFest attempt because the event took place in a tent, not a real sauna.


Pictured is Sue Oja, a sophomore from Ishpeming, enjoying the newly built Hunt/VA sauna in 1973

Unfortunately the Guinness officials failed to recognize what the sauna means to the Finns. For the Finns the purpose of the sauna was not to improve their complexion, lose weight or to fall asleep. To the Finn it was an essential and complementary addition to the farm house without indoor plumbing. The primary function of the sauna was to provide a place to bathe.

Most saunas are separate from the house. People will build their sauna in the basement, attic or within the garage. The heat within the sauna ranges between 120 and 140 degrees, but with the dry air the sauna can become 170 degrees and sometimes upwards of 220 degrees.  When water is thrown on the stones the temperature does not rise to much, it only causes the individual to sweat more due to the increase in humidity. At the end of the day the sauna is a place where gossip and news can be shared amongst friends.