One of the datasets we’re so excited about with our new version of the Keweenaw Time Traveler is the School Records. These records were hand-recorded between 1904 and 1926 by teachers from the 24 public schools open to students from Calumet, Laurium, and the surrounding area and represent an incredibly unique dataset among historical geospatial scholarship. Hot off the digital press is a paper by Timothy Stone, Don Lafreniere, and Rose Hildebrandt in Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History. In this paper we argue for the importance of including children’s experiences in historical studies, outline the process by which we processed these records, and hint and some of the work we can do with these records. (*Spoiler Alert: two of the projects that use this data are already published – Mapping Historical Archaeology and Industrial Heritage: The Historical Spatial Data Infrastructure by Trepal et. al, and Schools as Vectors of Infectious Disease Transmission during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic by Lafreniere et. al.) If you’re interested in these records you can read a StoryMap we made using the records, explore on the Time Traveler itself, or read our paper!
This week the Keweenaw Time Traveler was honored to help one of our users Dennis Pellerin. Dennis had some wonderful stories that he wanted to contribute to the new Explore App that came to him from his father. Here is a great quote from Dennis on how these stories came to him:
"One day back in 1987, Dad handed me a sealed manila envelope and asked me not to mention it to the rest of the family, and not to open it until after he died. Well, Dad led a pretty long life and and lived some 22 years after he gave me the envelope. It was about a month after Dad died that I remembered the envelope. It was a little difficult to find since we moved twice since he gave it to me. When I open the envelope, I found a cassette tape. That was it, no note, no description on it, just the tape. Well, technology had advanced, and cassettes were no longer sold. They went to the wayside along with 8 track tapes and cd’s. It took me about a week to find a cassette player which I hooked up to my PC. What a surprise when I first listened to it. What a great present to leave the family! I edited it into individual stories, burnt them to disc, and shared them with all of the family members. To this day, a number of us will occasionally listen to a few of his stories. "
"I belong to a group on Facebook called ‘You know you’re from the Copper Country when…’. About a year ago, I posted one of the stories and received many ‘likes’ and comments. Over the course of a couple weeks, I posted one story a day. During those two weeks, I was surprised the number of people who had made comments that were family members of those named in the different stories. I met a number of people whose names I remembered Dad talking about when I was a kid. What a great experience it was. "
Dennis wanted to share the memories and stories his father left him on the Keweenaw Time Traveler for others to enjoy, but he noticed our Stories can't play audio files (yet!) and he wondered if there was anything we could do to help.
Over the last few days, the Keweenaw Time Traveler team has been hard at work to make these great memories and stories available to everyone. Below are links to the Memories and Stories of Armand Pellerin, we hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we did!
About My Dad
by: Dennis Pellerin
Let me give you a little background on my dad. He was born in Lake Linden in August, 1912. He quit school in the 8th grade to help support the family. Somewhere along the line, the family built a camp out at Rice Lake, a log cabin, where he would spend as much time as possible. He loved the outdoors and, like many men, joined the CCC. Unfortunately, I have not researched when he was in, nor do I have any info on which location he was at. Sometime between 1930 and 1935 he moved to Detroit for work. I do know by 1940, he and his cousin Raoul Pellerin, had opened the Roxy Riding Academy in Warren, outside of Detroit. It was there that he met my mother. Mom was a transplant from New York City, who did not like horses. Soon after meeting mom, dad sold his stake in the stables, and got a job in one of the factories in Detroit. With the horses out of the picture, they married in July 1941 at St. Joseph Church in Lake Linden. They resided in Detroit, until he went into the Army in March 1942. He was in the 101st Airborne where he was awarded the bronze star among other citations. After getting out of the military, mom and him raised us 4 kids in the suburbs of Detroit. Mom passed away in 1982, and dad passed away in 2009 at 97 years old. Anyways, hope this helps paint a picture of him for you.
**Please note that currently links are not click-able in our Stories, please copy the link provided into a new browser tab to listen to these remarkable stories**
As a team we deeply appreciate all of these amazing stories Dennis has shared with us. We love learning from the memories and stories our fellow Time Travelers share with us. If you have memories and stories, you would like to share, just click the ‘Share a Story’ button in the lower right-hand corner of the Explore app! If you have stories that best told in a way that doesn't quite work well in our current App (like the great oral histories above), contact us! We are always happy to help make your stories a part of the Time Traveler.
The memories and stories that fellow Time Travelers share are amazing. These stories connect us in a very personal way to our shared Copper Country history. Our new ‘Story of the Week’ column will celebrate some of the special stories shared on the Explore App.
This week’s story comes from an anonymous Time Traveler who found an interesting clipping from the Detroit Free Press from the 29th of June 1934. The clipping relays the story of a young woman by the name of Jane Elliott who, while spending the day on Lake Medora, noticed a small rowboat had capsized in the high winds on the lake. Twenty two year old Jane jumped in a boat with her two teen aged friends Bert Strucel and Louis Semanski and rowed half a mile out into the lake to rescue the men clinging to the boat. Thanks to her actions Harold Bastian, and Edward Warth were both saved. Unfortunately, Nicholas Gresnick, who was also on the boat, drowned while attempting to swim to shore.
This story is something special and by posting it on the Explore App we can now learn so much more about everyone involved in this heroic rescue. The explore app holds records for every single person that appears in this story.
A simple search for our hero, Jane Elliot, reveals that in 1930 she was living in a small apartment on the corner of Portland and 5th Street in Calumet with her father (a janitor at a local office), mother and brother. The apartment also housed 24 other renters! The Time Traveler also has Jane’s school records. We can see that in 1918 Jane at the age of seven attended Webster school and had Edna M. Cormick as her teacher.
We also know quite a bit about the unfortunate Nicholas Gresnick. In 1920 at the age of 10 Nicholas was living with his father, mother and five brothers and sisters in a small house about a block away from the Hancock & Pewabic boiler house, the ruins of which can still be seen today. His dad supported his family working at the mine as a timberman, a dangerous job that involved supporting the hanging walls of the mine with large timbers harvested from the surrounding forests keeping the mine from collapsing on the men working within it. In 1930 the family still lived on Calumet Street, but his father is not recorded in this census. Did he pass away doing his dangerous work leaving Nicolas’ mother the widowed head of the family? With his father gone, Nicolas was now working in the mine as an electrician, supporting his mother and his five other siblings along with his sister who was working as a waitress. His death in 1934 must have been a devastating blow to his family after recently losing their father.
The Time Traveler also gives us insight into the life of one of the men Jane Eliot saved that day. In 1940 we can see Harold Bastian is alive and well, renting in Laurium and working as a WPA painter. Harold is happily married to a young woman named Bertha and they have two young children.
This story, a simple story about a windy day on a lake, is special in so many ways. It connects us to the heroism of a janitor’s daughter on a windy day on Lake Medora and how that act of bravery shaped the lives of so many. It also reveals the devastating impact of Nicholas’ tragic death on a family already struggling under the grief of losing their father. Without the contribution of this story to the Time Traveler we would never know how that fateful day on Lake Medora shaped the lives of so many.
You too can help bring Copper Country history to life by sharing your story! Learn how in this blog post from last week, or just click on the ‘Share a Story’ button in the lower right-hand corner of the Explore app to contribute your memories!
By: James Juip
There are now two ways to share your own story on the new Explore app. You can click on the ‘Share a Story’ button in the lower right corner of the app and then click on the map to locate your story, or you can connect your story to people, places and stories already in the app! When you pull up the records of a person, place, or story on the left side of your screen you should notice a gold ‘Share Related Story’ button. By clicking on this button your story will be directly connected to the Time Traveler Records of this particular person, place or story. On Friday of last week a Citizen Historian used this feature to share a powerful story about the fire that devastated the Lamdba Chi Alpha fraternity house early that morning.
We hope to see your Copper Country memories and stories soon! From all of us on the Time Traveler team, happy exploring!
The new Keweenaw Time Traveler Explore App is finally here!! The re-launched Explore App features a new interface, developed by Houghton company Monte Consulting, that provides access to over 631,000 historical records including the census, city directories, and Calumet school records. You can search for people and places by name to find them on hundreds of historical maps. You can also add your own local knowledge by sharing your own stories and memories of Keweenaw places using the "Share a Story" button. You can start exploring now!
We would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who attended the Re-Launch celebrations over the past week. It has been extremely special to hear such enthusiasm from colleagues and fellow citizen historians. Our hosts, the Carnegie Museum of Houghton, for Thursday's Re-Launch celebration provided a wonderful space for us to showcase the new App. It was wonderful to see so many people exploring the new maps and data, and sharing their own stories and memories of the Keweenaw with us on the new Explore App.
If you missed us, don't worry! We will be out and about at a number of community events this summer and look forward to sharing the new Explore App with you! You can discover more information about the new Explore App in the About the Project section of our website, as well as watching the Re-Launch presentation below.
Thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities and the Advisory Commission of the Keweenaw National Historical Park as well as all of our other contributors for your generous support of this project.
Fellow Time Travelers, we hope you enjoy exploring Copper Country history with the new Explore App and we look forward to seeing all of the stories and memories you have to share!
Author: Daniel J. Lizzadro-McPherson, Geospatial Research Scientist
You have asked for it and we have delivered! The Keweenaw Time Traveler Team is proud to announce the arrival of new maps on the latest version of the Explore App. Take an even deeper dive into Copper Country history with over a dozen new maps digitized from a variety of archived sources! Check out these new map sets that will be made available during and soon after the launch of our new Explore App:
While all of the new maps enhance the Explore App in unique ways, I am particularly excited about the addition of the 1975 USGS Topographic Maps. These maps closely resemble their predecessors (the 1940 topo series), but highlight the structures, roads, and various other features that were developed or constructed after the 1950s. The new features on these maps are indicated by pink-purple symbols.
For me it was really impressive to see how my West Hancock neighborhood changed so dramatically between these two time slices. New roads, houses, schools, and hospitals seem to pop-up everywhere – even our tiny airport!
Another interesting feature on these maps is the sediment transport of stamp sands in Torch Lake. Take a look and see how the lobes of stamp sand migrate between these two time slices.
These are just a few examples of the hidden treasures scattered throughout the new maps on the Explore App and more maps are in development. We invite you to discover them for yourself. Happy time traveling!
Author: Gary Spikeberg
Once we had run all of the directories through OCR we had a text file of all of the entries from each directory. However, in order to actually put this data into the Time Traveler, we needed to do a little more work. We needed to find a way to break up each person’s entry into its component parts, and isolate just their address. Now we could have done this by hand, but we found that most people across all of the directories had 3 basic parts to their entry: Their name, their profession, and where they lived. With all of these components separated by a comma, this pattern made it very easy to write a program that would recognize those different parts of each entry and “parse” them into their component parts. This program had to be tweaked as we went, because the directories were slightly different each year, and this program also cleaned up all of those extra “specks” we had cluttering up our data. When all was said and done we had parsed over 86,000 entries for people living and working in the Keweenaw between 1888 and 1939!
The last step was to take all of those parsed entries and run them through a process called geocoding. Fellow Time Traveler Daniel Trepal has written an informative blog post about Geocoding. To give a brief explanation though, geocoding is the process of assigning a place on the map for everyone we could possibly find. We were able to match the addresses from the city directories to the address we recorded on our collection of historical maps, and directly link that person to that same building in the Time Traveler. This process wasn’t perfect, and of our roughly 86,000 directory entries we were able to map about 74,500 of them (or a little under 87%). However, when looking at similar projects these are actually really good results. It really speaks to the care those historical map makers had when creating the maps we use every day here at the Keweenaw Time Traveler.
Thank you for reading this brief look at how we created one of our longstanding datasets for the Time Traveler, I can’t wait for you all to see what’s coming next!
The new Explore App will eventually have access to thousands of Calumet & Hecla company records! In this week's Lunchtime Chat Zach Dill and James Juip discuss the challenges of digitizing these amazing records as well as sharing some of the cool things we found in the process!
A big thank you to our partners Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Michigan Tech Archives for making this possible!
In this week's lunch time chat Dr. Dan Trepal sits down with James Juip to discuss how the Time Traveler Team uses the process of geocoding to populate the Time Traveler’s digital representation of the historical landscape with the people who lived and worked there.
Author: Dan Trepal
In a previous blog post, we discussed the US decennial census, which is a key part of the upcoming version of our Keweenaw Time Traveler web interface. This huge, detailed record set gives us an intimate view of the lives of almost 380,000 historical residents of the Copper Country. But how did we transform this huge set of census records into an interactive digital atlas? A crucial step in that transformation is the process of geocoding. In today’s blog post I will give a quick overview of the process of geocoding and how we used geographic information systems (GIS) software - plus a lot of elbow grease – to populate the Time Traveler’s digital representation of the historical landscape with the people who lived and worked there.
What is Geocoding?
As I explained in my blog post on the census, census records can now be obtained in a digital database format that is ‘machine readable’, or in other words easily stored and manipulated on a computer. Geocoding is the process of taking each record in the census (or any piece of digital information) and assigning real-world spatial coordinates to it – a spot on the earth. This spot could be any kind of ‘place’ - a country, a state, a county, a town, a street, a home address – even a tree or other specific landmark. Anything with a known location can serve as the ‘target’ for geocoding and have digital information attached to it.
Geocoding historical data like the census can be a challenging task, for several reasons. One important problem we face is common to all historical research: historical records are usually incomplete and contain uncertainties and inaccuracies. Beginning in 1880 the census was collected by an army of enumerators – temporary employees from each community who were given basic instructions before going door-to-door filling out the census form for hundreds of households, which were later gathered together to form the census record. Overall, these enumerators did a very good job, but in many cases addresses are vague or missing, names are misspelled (how often would you spell another person’s last name correctly after hearing it just once?), or the handwriting is illegible, among other things. On top of all that, the digital version of the census we are working with was transcribed from microfilm photos of those original copies by volunteers with no local knowledge – how easy is it to read a digital scan of a microfilm copy of a smudged cursive handwritten rendering of ‘Amygdaloid Street’? A local to the Keweenaw might recognize this geological term, because it is part of our mining heritage, but others might never guess it!
Cleaning Up Historical Data
The first step in geocoding the census, then, is to ‘clean up’ the digital data, focusing on correcting errors or gaps in place names – street numbers, street names, or references to mining locations or even buildings in some cases. We do this manually, going through each record and correcting the address information to a standard set of terms. This is long, hard work. But we have learned, though extensive experience, that computers still struggle to interpret this sort of information automatically. The path between a person living in Houghton in 1880 – for example - and our current record of their existence relies on a sort of 140- year game of telephone, with information being recorded, stored, copied, and converted into different forms and for different purposes over time. During this process information can be lost, altered, or simply garbled.
Once we have cleaned up the data so that everyone’s address information is as legible as we can make it, we can move on to the actual process of geocoding. Geocoding requires two pieces of information – the location of the record you want to map, as described in the record itself, and the place in the real world where you want to map the record to. In the Keweenaw Time traveler, that second piece of information exists as a series of points on our digital map of the historical landscape.
Building a Historical Digital Landscape for the Census Records
Here is where we run into another challenge – more gaps in the historical record. The only way we can put a point down on our digital map to represent a historical home is to have a historical record of that place’s location - usually a historical map that shows where that home was and lists the address of the home. Luckily, we have historical Sanborn fire insurance maps that provide both of those pieces of information. But even these present us with a problem. They only cover part of our landscape, and only for certain years. So how do we map people if we can’t find their house on a historical map? Alternately, what if their census record is missing key address information, like the house number or street name?
To deal with this challenge, we have created four levels or scales of digital historical geography that serve as destinations for our census records on our digital historical map of the Keweenaw: Buildings, Streets, Settlements, and Enumeration Districts. Building these digital places is the next major step in the geocoding process.
Buildings: Where our historical maps show the locations and addresses of buildings, we can create a digital copy of them in our GIS software that contains the building’s real-world coordinates. This is the ‘gold standard’ for our geocoding work, the most accurate scale we can capture when the historical address data in the census is complete and the address falls within our Sanborn map coverage area.
Streets: We also created a map of the centroid of historical streets (the middle point along the street’s length) in the KeTT. Records with incomplete addresses, but with an identifiable street name, can be mapped to this point. This represents an approximate location where we are reasonably certain which street a person lived on, but unsure exactly where on the street they lived.
Settlements: This scale of geographies represents ‘places’ in the Keweenaw – this could be a village, or a mining location, or a fishing camp, or any other small place, usually in the rural parts of the Keweenaw, where street addresses are vague, don’t exists, or only existed for a short time. We can also create a Settlement point for larger towns, so that if the census record is clear that a person lived in, say, Calumet, but their home and street address information is missing or illegible, we can still map them to the town they lived in.
Enumeration Districts: The Census Bureau has created special districts for collecting the census, called Enumeration Districts. This is a way to divide up the landscape into specific ‘districts.’ Each census enumerator is responsible for collecting records on all the people within their district. Every census record is labeled with the district it was collected within. This means that 100% of the census is mappable to enumeration district. Even if the home address, street name, and any other location information is missing or garbled, we can still map people to the enumeration district – in our case to the centroid of the district boundary (the middle point, as with the streets). But in order to do that we had to reconstruct the district boundaries from old maps and descriptions – these records were often sketchy or incomplete, making their reconstruction a difficult process. But the Enumeration Districts serve as an important ‘catch-all’ geography, so the effort is very much worth it.
Time to (Finally) Map it!
Now that we have cleaned up our census records, and created a digital historical map of the geographical destinations for all our people, the hardest work is done (whew!). Next comes the key step of actually doing the geocoding. We start by building address locators – these are a kind of digital geographic key that tells the computer where to put records based on their cleaned up location information. We convert our four scales of geographical destinations into a digital table that the computer can compare to the addresses in our census records. When the computer found a match between a census record and one of our destinations, it maps that record to that place. Voila! - this process of comparing and matching is the actual geocoding step.
The product of that process is a new digital file in the GIS software where each person is represented as a point in space, with all their census information attached in a database. Depending on how compete their address information was, each person is mapped once, to the most detailed geography we can match them to – Buildings if possible, then Streets, then Settlements, and finally Enumeration Districts if there is not enough information to map them to any of the previous three scales.
So how did it go? You’ll soon find out! When the newest version of the Keweenaw Time Traveler launches this summer, you will be able to search and explore this new database of mapped historical Copper Country residents using our upgraded, map-based interface. As you can see, a lot of hard work and historical sleuthing happens behind the scenes in order to turn an enormous, but valuable, historical record into something that is fun and easy to explore. It also gives us a chance to see historical people within a visual picture of their historical landscape. Seeing people mapped this way allows us to start seeing things like streetscapes, neighborhoods, and the pathways of daily life. In doing this, we are re-using the census for a purpose that its original enumerators and tabulators never dreamed of - detailed peek back into the past that can now be preserved and explored by future generations.