Tag Archives: Family stories

Boston Roots in the Keweenaw Peninsula

Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Photo courtesy of novanumismatic.com

I am incredibly fortunate that I have my dream job, working remotely as a Genealogical Researcher with the Boston-based New England Historical Genealogical Society (NEHGS), while living in my dream location – the remote Keweenaw Peninsula of northern Michigan.

Last week I was sitting in Shute’s 1890 Saloon—an historic watering hole in the city of Calumet, Michigan—reflecting on my good fortune, when I looked up at the television flanking the old Brunswick-stained glass canopy and recognized a familiar ship on the screen. The film was a 1952 movie calledPlymouth Adventure, a rather questionable depiction of the Mayflower landing on Plymouth RockIt got me thinking about how I came to be in this spot: a Finn drawing a paycheck from a Boston organization in remote northern Michigan. Surely, I represent a strange confluence of events.

Kustaa and Hilda Sophia (Huhta) Mannisto

So what is my connection to northern Michigan? My ancestors traveled across the ocean in search of a better living, lured by the rich copper mines in the region. The industry would draw countless immigrants, including my great-grandfather Kustaa Mannisto, who emigrated from Ylivieska, Finland in 1896, and my great-grandfather Mikko Wanhala, who emigrated from Vaasa, Finland in 1887. My great-grandfathers would both meet their brides and live out the remainder of their days in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Over one hundred and twenty years later, my family still owns the Männistö maatila (farm) near the old site of the Phoenix Mine in Keweenaw County, and my father’s cousin still owns the Wanhala home on a narrow, windy country road just a few miles from where I sit. The road, coincidentally, is called Mayflower Road. Hmm…the Boston connection again.

Mikko and Sophia (Tormala) Wanhala

Ok, so my ancestors came here because they saw opportunity in the huge mining economy—but how did these great mines get here in the first place? That’s when the Boston brick hit me: my favorite northern Michigan town was literally built with Boston money.

Just down the street from Shute’s 1890 Saloon stood the old office of the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, whose first president was John Quincy Shaw—a Boston Brahmin, the son of Robert Gould Shaw and Elizabeth Willard Parkman.1 The building itself was built by Boston architects Shaw and Hunnewell.2 In fact, the town of Calumet, Michigan was known as a “Boston town.” There is a small ghost-town just 10 miles away that was once known as Boston Location.

The Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, now the Keweenaw National Historic Park Headquarters, Calumet, Houghton County, Michigan, photo courtesy of the National Park System

Well, I’m a genealogist, so I keep digging. What brought wealthy Bostonians like John Quincy Shaw and Alexander Agassiz (who is memorialized in a statue two blocks away) to this neck of the woods to start copper mines in the first place? For that answer, we need to go back one hundred and eighty years. On 4 October 1842, the Ojibwe Indian Tribe—also known as the Chippewa—signed a treaty ceding their rights to this land along the shoreline of Lake Superior.3 The treaty, known as the Treaty of La Pointe 1842, was signed by forty-one Ojibwe citizens. It would ultimately be the catalyst for my paternal ancestor’s arrival in America, and the ongoing connection I find myself having with the great city of Boston, Massachusetts.4

Aw-Ke-Wen-Zee (Old Man), 1854, one of forty-two Chippewa leaders who signed the Treaty of La Pointe 1842, photo courtesy of Martin’s Gallery, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The United States government certainly knew what they were gaining with the signing of the Treaty of La Pointe 1842. In 1841, the well-known Michigan geologist Douglass Houghton published the results of a geological survey he did on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the land’s rich copper deposits.5 In 1843, the United States Government would open a mineral land office in Copper Harbor, the Keweenaw’s most northern point, and Houghton’s geological findings would spread to east coast investors like Shaw and Agassiz.6 In 1844, the newly formed Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company would start America’s first mining expedition just outside Copper Harbor.7 The Boston Brahmins’ initial investments versus return would not be deemed profitable, but in time, the area which has been affectionally deemed “Copper County” would surpass investors’ hopes and flourish under the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company. 8

At some point in my ruminations, the questionable movie on the TV lost my attention, as the female passengers on the cinematic Mayflower sported low-cut dresses paired with white bonnets—a historical faux pas that woke me as quickly as smelling salts. Walking out of Shute’s into the cobblestone street, I felt an even deeper connection to my ancestors. I bet that I’m not the first Finn to sit on a bar stool in Shute’s Saloon paying for my drink with wages that originated in Boston. I was reminded of the Liam Callanan quote: “We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”



Kathryn Bishop Eckert, Society of Architectural Historians, Keweenaw History Center (Calumet and Hecla Public Library) and New England Historical Society, Stonington, Maine, A Brief History of the Boston Brahmin, updated 2022.

2 Eckert, Society of Architectural Historians,Keweenaw History Center (Calumet and Hecla Public Library).

The Indigenous Digital Archive sponsored by The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (IDA), Santa Fe, New Mexico, from the U.S. National Archives collection of 374 Ratified Indian Treaties, Treaty Between the United States and the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi and Lake Superior, Signed at La Pointe of Lake Superior, Wisconsin Territory, with Schedule of Claims, Ratified Treaty 242, created 4 October 1842.

The Indigenous Digital Archive, Treaty Between the United States and the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi and Lake Superior, Signed at La Pointe of Lake Superior, Wisconsin Territory, with Schedule of Claims, 4 October 1842.

Theodore J. Bornhorst and Lawrence J. Molloy, Douglass Houghton- Pioneer of Lake Superior Geology, Superior Geology, A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum Web Publication 4, 2017, Michigan’s First State Geologist, page 5.

National Park Service, Keweenaw Historical National Park, Michigan Timeline of Michigan Copper Mining Prehistory 1850, timeline year: 1843, Copper Harbor mineral land office opens and Bornhorst and Molloy, Douglass Houghton- Pioneer of Lake Superior Geology, Superior Geology, A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum Web Publication 4, 2017, Michigan’s First State Geologist, page 5.

National Park Service, Keweenaw Historical National Park, Michigan Timeline of Michigan Copper Mining Prehistory 1850, timeline year: 1844, Boston Cooper Harbor Mining Company starts mining outside of Copper Harbor.

Bornhorst and Molloy, Douglass Houghton- Pioneer of Lake Superior Geology, Superior Geology, A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum Web Publication 4, 2017, Michigan’s First State Geologist, page 5.

Dead Reckoning: How Genealogy Brings Memory Back to Life

Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lewiston, Maine. Photo via FindaGrave.com.

The dead charge us with the duty to remember.

I can trace my fascination with genealogy back to a moment in my early childhood, when I first heard the call of the dead. It was January 7 th, 1972, and I was about four and a half years old. We were at the funeral of my great-grandmother Beatrice Frances Callahan Carroll. I could remember her very clearly, sitting in her grand house in front of a roaring fire, playing with very old toys while the adults did dull things. I remember her smile. It was not frequent, but it was very moving when I looked up and saw it, often particularly directed to me as the newest member of the family. Now, there she was in a casket—her, but not her.

My Nanna, a tall and elegant New England woman, put an arm around me—a rare tender moment for her. She wore a fur coat with a leopard pattern, which I thought very wild, while the rest of the adults wore dark colors. She said then the words she would repeat to me a quarter-century later at her husband’s viewing: “I was born in the room above us, and one day will be here.” Continue reading Dead Reckoning: How Genealogy Brings Memory Back to Life

That Woman

Wallis Simpson in 1936, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The recent death of Queen Elizabeth brought many things to mind, including “That Woman”—the epithet chosen by Elizabeth’s mother for Bessie Wallis (Warfield) (Spencer) Simpson, whose marriage to King Edward VIII was the catalyst for Elizabeth’s eventual reign. Remembering the story of Wallis Simpson led me to investigate my own family’s version of “That Woman”: Lucille Forden, whose multiple divorces made her infamous and even thwarted her run for a seat in Congress.

“Those Women” shared some things in common. Wallis Warfield and Lucille Forden each had three husbands. Although neither was born in Baltimore, it was the city that both called home for most of their formative years and early adulthood. Continue reading That Woman

Family Ghosts: Bringing Back the Dead (Part II)

“Ghosts of St. Mark’s Place” by Eden, Janine and Jim (Wikimedia Commons).

In case you missed Part I of our readers’ family ghost stories: last week I talked about the history of ghost stories in the United States, and introduced you to some of the stranger spirits haunting the past. This week, I’m focusing on the ghosts of more recent memory—when and why we see them, and how our ghost stories can help us bring back the relatives and loved ones we have lost.

It must be acknowledged that not everyone believes in ghosts. Stories about ghost sightings say a lot about the people who tell them: some feel sure about the nature of what they’ve seen, while others may not be so confident. The more logical-minded among us will search actively for a rational explanation. For my part, I remain stubbornly agnostic. I’ve never seen a ghost myself, and I admit that I am skeptical by nature. But I can’t help but be fascinated by the possibility—and by the history and memories that ghost stories can unearth, whether or not they turn out to be entirely true.

One thing I noticed across your stories is that children, and especially very young children, are often the first to notice a ghost’s presence in a home:

“Alone in the house one day, I was dancing with my two-year-old daughter in my arms. She kept waving at something behind me and said, “Mommy, man.” I explained to her it was just the two of us here, and kept dancing. She continued to wave, then took her hands and turned my face to the doorway of the family room. Leaning against the doorway was a man, dressed in a suit with a fedora on his head. As soon as I saw him, he disappeared. My daughter saw a ghost that day, and she made sure her mom did, too.” Kate, Newburyport, MA

Continue reading Family Ghosts: Bringing Back the Dead (Part II)

Discovering the first life of my second-great-grandfather

Jacob Spuhler, his second wife Johanna Weigert, and their five children

As family historians, we often feel inexplicably drawn to certain ancestors in our family trees. Sometimes it’s clear why we are drawn to a particular individual—other times, it’s harder to say. One such ancestor for me is my second-great-grandfather, Jacob Spuhler. While I thought I knew quite a bit about him at the start, as I researched the details of his life, I soon discovered a hidden piece of family history I had not expected.

Jacob Spuhler was an immigrant from Germany who arrived in New York City in October 1884. Lucky for me, the name of his hometown—Alsenz—was passed down to me through the generations. Already having a crucial piece of the puzzle did not deter me from delving deeper, and as I researched Jacob’s life, I found plenty more to learn. Continue reading Discovering the first life of my second-great-grandfather

Tracing a tall tale: was Elvis really in the building?

Photo of Elvis Presley in 1970
Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own…

The myths and stories in any family history are tenuous things. Often self-serving, they mesmerize us—trapping us in visions of the past filtered through glossy hindsight and half-baked truths. The tales in my own family’s history are certainly no exception. However, even these spurious and specious tales may be lost and forgotten, ravaged by time, and become yet another casualty of Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, or memory loss. I believe that “true or not,” we as family historians are obligated to protect, explore, and secure these stories. It’s what makes our pursuit somehow different from more academic fields: the preservation of the personal.

My step-mother was the source of many family tales of dubious origin, particularly when she was suffering through the early pains of dementia. Her best story will always be the one about her evening with Elvis Presley, and how that famous crooner sang a song for her one night. In light of the cruelties of her dementia (and my skepticism of her other tall tales), I wondered—how I could ever possibly know if it was true? Was there any way to trace back her shadowy tale of Elvis to see if what she said might ever have happened? Continue reading Tracing a tall tale: was Elvis really in the building?

Finding the family historian in my own family history

Interviewing my grandfather about his life

Even before I earned my master’s degree in public history, I liked to fancy myself a bit of a family historian. I am lucky enough to still have three living grandparents: ages 86, 89, and 94. I have taken up the task of recording conversations with them about their early lives and families, so that their stories can be preserved for future generations.

I’ve gone through photo albums with my grandparents and seen some of the family heirlooms that have been passed down for generations. As a former journalist, I was interested in documenting stories, and that was my focus for years. I recently went back to school and received a master’s in public history. So last Christmas, when I was visiting my paternal grandparents down in Florida, I decided to use my new training as a historian to ask my grandmother more questions and document what I might have missed over the years. Continue reading Finding the family historian in my own family history

Uncovering Thomas Dalton’s Tragedy

Gravestone reading: In Memory of Thomas Dalton, MUS, U.S. Army, Civil War, May 31 1850, Jun 30 1864The story of Thomas Dalton is a tragic one, and one that had been forgotten for many years, until a DNA match brought the truth of his brief life to light. I stumbled across the Dalton family years ago when investigating the origins of my own 2nd great-grandmother Mary Ann Dalton, who was born in 1828 in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. I’d been having a difficult time finding Mary’s parents when I discovered a handful of DNA matches for descendants of two Dalton brothers, sons of Irish immigrants Peter Dalton and Ann McDonnell, who had also been born in Nova Scotia but moved away young: James Dalton, born 1826, who moved to Lowell, Massachusetts before 1849, and John Thomas Dalton, born 1830, who moved to Ballarat, Australia around 1852.

These Dalton descendants shared the right amount of DNA with my grandfather to indicate that my ancestor Mary Ann Dalton was a close relative of John Thomas and James (likely their sister or cousin). The subject of my story today, Thomas Dalton, was the first son of James and his wife Eliza McNally, born 31 May 1849 in Lowell. Continue reading Uncovering Thomas Dalton’s Tragedy

A Genealogical surprise in “store” in Newburyport, Massachusetts

The store of Knight & Poor in Newburyport, Mass.

We are fortunate to have so many newspapers available for researching our ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Early in my genealogy pursuits, finding obituaries was my main focus while cranking through endless reels of microfilm at the Boston Public Library. I would often see an article of interest, or occasionally by chance catch a surname as I slowly inched my way through the microfilm. This tedious process seemed endless until I struck genealogy pay dirt, making all the cranking of the microfilm reader worthwhile. One day while scrolling newspapers for ancestors in Newburyport, Essex, Massachusetts I caught the name of my third great grandfather Henry Poor (1769-1853).

Continue reading A Genealogical surprise in “store” in Newburyport, Massachusetts

An alter-ego’s tale

Groucho Marx:”Well, whaddya say girls? Are we all gonna get married?”

Woman: “All of us? But that’s bigamy!”

Groucho: “Yes, and it’s big-a-me, too.

Researching the collateral relatives of my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record has brought a host of complicated characters. From “liars, whores, and thieves”[1] and murdering wives,[2] to throat-slashing cousins[3] and snake oil salesmen[4] alongside lawyers for the KKK,[5] to the accompanying tragedies of kidnapping and allegations of rape,[6] it’s no wonder that some of them ran off to join a traveling theater,[7] or, oddly enough (and contrary to all other indications), the police force.[8] Yes, my folks from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Del Marva peninsula were a colorful bunch to say the least. Continue reading An alter-ego’s tale