Who knew that a small town up north could be so much fun? When I applied for the internship position at the Finnish American Heritage Center archive through CIMO a year ago, little did I know what I was signing up for. The thing that most attracted me here was the opportunity to get acquainted with museum and archival work since it went well with my past studies in English and American history.
I had heard of the Upper Peninsula a couple of times before, perhaps most significantly through a guest lecture during my studies in the University of Vaasa. Therefore, I wasn’t completely oblivious to Heikinpäivä and the Finnish heritage of the area. Still, after having been chosen to be the next archives intern, my friends were puzzled as for why I was coming here: that tiny place in the middle of nowhere. Why not, I said. The past six months have been some of the most fun in my life thus far!
So what have I been doing here? What does it mean to work at an archive? These are questions I faced for the first few weeks before and after arriving in the Copper Country.
Work in the archive is much more diverse than people might think. Indeed, we don’t just sit in the office sipping coffee while browsing through old photographs. (Incidentally, we are not even allowed to have coffee down here because if you spilled it, that would not be good news!) I don’t deny having browsed through hundreds and hundreds of photographs from the olden days, however. This has actually been one of my favorite things to do. Basically, whatever items have been donated in the archive, we must accession or, in other words, go through and assess whether we keep them. After that, we catalog the materials into our system so that we know where to find them and that we have these materials in the first place. Then finally we store them. This is an intricate and time-consuming process.
Of course, the archive also receives a number of research requests on a regular basis - most of which, but not all, deal with genealogy. Therefore, I have helped out in solving some family mysteries. As a native Finn, I have also been given the task to translate documents, usually from Finnish into English. Many a fall day did I spend reading through old letters with stories of people’s every-day lives from fortunes to misfortunes. I have been trying my best to pass them on to the later generations now unable to read Finnish. Sometimes I felt as if I was getting uncomfortably well-informed about their family lives. This is a burden of being the translator.
As for the Keweenaw region itself, the area is much more full of life than many think. I do realize that both Finlandia University and Michigan Tech University have a big impact on the social life of the double-H (Houghton-Hancock), but I have been positively surprised by the number of activities available in the area in general. Some of the novelties I had the pleasure of trying here have included: sailing, curling, snowmobiling, going on a color and waterfall tour and, of course, Heikinpäivä and parades. Even the sheer number of Finnish flags everywhere has been quite overwhelming! I do not think I have seen as many of them ever in my entire life before I arrived in the U.P.! I am glad you appreciate your heritage, and it makes me humble to be able to learn so much even if so far away from the actual Mother Land. With that note, I thank you Copper Country for my wonderful time here! I may be back some day.
Archives Intern, The Finnish American Heritage Center