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.