Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Copper Miner's Son

The Keweeenaw peninsula of northern Michigan , jutting up into the greatest fresh-water lake in the world, held a treasure of copper in the form of pure metal, conglomerates and other deposits. Early in the 19th century the investors and prospectors began exploitation of these riches, leaving most of them poorer, a relatively few lucky investors, and a legacy of stories and history that will keep researchers busy for a generation. My father was born there, in Red Jacket, (Calumet) , Michigan in 1889. I found the record of his baptism safe in the files of St. Paul's church , typed on a 3x5 card which the Catholic fathers had salvaged from St. Anthony's when it had been "desanctified".

Grandfather Peter Himanek had immigrated from Eastern Europe in 1881 in answer to the ads telling about the great opportunities to work in the mines, met a 16 year old Josephine Tomalka and raised a family of nine in a company house, working for Calumet & Hecla copper mine. When the miners struck in 1913 our entire family packed up and took a train to Detroit, most of the men finding work in the salt mines under the city. My sister and I were born there at the end of World War I.

This powerful story of Polish copper miners held no interest for me as a young man- I actually turned away from most of my father's accounts; snow up to the second floor windows; working 3000 feet under the earth,; going to work in the mines as a 16 year old lad; giving the paycheck to the family; company paternalism; etc. One day, fighting to think of a birthday gift for my wife, an ad for Family Tree maker came my way, changing everything. Starting my own file was easy and an amazing picture started to take shape. In the library at Sarasota there was actually a book that had a list of boats with passengers and there was my grandmother, only 7, her parents, and her four siblings. Finding this piece of information recorded in 1881 by the captain of the ship named Utopia with the correct names of two grandparents and aunts and uncles that I remembered from childhood times in Detroit, Michigan was strong stuff for a neophyte genealogist. I was hooked.

My career interest centered upon Archaeology and pre-history of Man. Genealogy is a part of the historical research which seems so important to me. Our personal life-span on earth is a small part of our biological evolution and cultural development this everything we learn about our origins helps to explain and enrich the time we are given. Genealogical research also gives credit and honor to those who worked and died caring for us, perhaps it atones a little for the disrespect we should to our old folks as they tried to tell us that they too had once "been there, done that".

I am always seeking information about the following named relatives: Himanek, Tomalka, Wilde, Latus, Manthei, Mauritho, and Hegemeister.

John E. Heimnich
Punta Gorda, Florida