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

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