Spirits of Willow Creek Farm

For about a year now, I’ve been working on an interesting and unusual project, the house history and resident genealogy of Willow Creek Farm–considered the third most haunted residence in Illinois.  I haven’t written of it before because I have submitted an ongoing series of articles in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly (which is how I wound up as its editor!) and there is an agreement that anything published in the ISGS Quarterly cannot be published elsewhere for six months.  It’s been six months since the first article was published, so I’ve now posted it here.  Subsequent articles will be published every three months until the fourth and final article.

Click here for the first of four articles on the Spirits of Willow Creek Farm.

Busy, Busy, Busy.

It has certainly been a while and I promise to never go this long without posting again.  But, much has been happening.

Picture2I finally put the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly journal for Summer 2017 to bed this past week.  My third as editor and—if I do say so myself, and I do—it is my best yet.  Looks good, excellent articles and (hopefully, with multiple reviews) error free.  This week I also wrapped up a program I facilitated for some veterans in Stephenson County on behalf of the county’s Veterans Assistance program.  Thursday, the Stephenson County Genealogical Society (of which I am the prez) sponsored a living history event with President Ulysses and First Lady Julia (Dent) Grant.  I wrapped up development (well, working with developers) on our Stephenson County Genealogical Society new website (https://stephcogenealogy.org).  And, I received nearly 50 sets of new DNA data last Tuesday and have been diligently putting them on GEDMatch and doing some genetic genealogy analysis.

And, finding a new family member.

Genetic genealogy seems to have taken over my life in the past year.  A half-sister discovered last February and within hours of beginning to post family DNA data on GEDMatch this past week, it was clear my already huge maternal family side was about to add yet another cousin.  A young man looking for his biological father.  It seems I’ve found him but, wouldn’t you know it?  His father is from the one line descended from my grandfather with whom no one seems to have continued contact.  But, since there are at least 400 other family members in this group (we have our own Facebook page) this gentlemen is no longer at a loss for family on his paternal side.

I marvel at the technology we have today.  My mind reels from the ability to find information—documents, mind you—of ancestors dead for centuries.  Did they ever even think that one- or two-hundred years from then that their ancestors could potentially track their entire lives?  If so, you’d have to wonder about some of the trails they left behind…..

So, on to the next things on my agenda.

  • Back to work on the Wayne Street house histories.
  • Back to work on the Willow Creek Farm book I’m ghostwriting (and it’s about a haunted house, so pun kinda intended).
  • Recruiting authors for the Fall 2017 issue of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly.
  • Analyzing family DNA kits.
  • Writing this blog on a return-to-regular basis.
  • Prepping for the three Lifelong Learning genealogy courses I’m teaching this fall at Highland College.

I think that ‘bout covers it!

Ties That Bind

Misc_0015The Stephenson County Genealogical Society meets this Thursday, May 4th at the Freeport Public Library (100 Douglas Street, Freeport, IL).

6:00pm to 6:30pm     Meeting
6:30pm to 8:00pm     Ties that Bind with Lenora Leucke.

Love. Health. Traditions. Memories. Genealogy.  Join SCGS this Thursday to learn how our past connects us and understand what our ancestors can tell us about our health and more.

Photo: Larson Collection. property of the Stephenson County Genealogical Society

Leta in my Home

I suppose most of the world wonders about us.  Why we do what we do with such passion that we’ll stay up all night, pepper family with questions for which no one could possibly know the answer (though, they would be surprised at what a single memory might provoke in terms of paths), stay bent over our computers for hours or similarly disposed in county offices surrounded by hundred-year-old stacks of books and documents.

It’s because of pearls like this: Leta Maude Best Mueller.

Who?

Turns out, Leta and her husband, Alfred Felix Mueller lived in my home from 1923 to 1939, perhaps longer.  Alfred, a grocery store shipping clerk at Guyer & Calkins Wholesale Groceries in Freeport, and Leta had two children, Max B (1916-2006) and Jean A (1920-2002) whom, one would expect, grew up in this house.

It’s odd.  Now that I know about this family, I can imagine these four people living here.  I don’t know a lot about them (yet) but I can imagine that the parents shared the room that is now my office—at the end of the hall, the biggest in size with a rather large sitting room.  I suspect Max, the oldest and the only male child, probably slept in the second largest room—also with its own large sitting room—and, the stairs to the full walk-through attic within which he likely played, perhaps hung out one of the dormer windows yelling to friends on the street or contemplating the stars.  And, he might well have seen the sky from the attic or his sitting room, as the giant weeping pine tree wouldn’t have been blocking his view (if it was even there at the time).

Jean was probably relegated to the smallest bedroom—9 by 13 wouldn’t have been all that small for a bedroom—with no  sitting room.  And, though I will likely find out by the time I get to the tax records portion of this house history search, next to the bathroom I’ve always wondered was original to the house or if it once might have served as her sitting room.

Okay, it’s not like I didn’t know people lived in my 100-plus year old house, so why am I seemingly so enthusiastic?

Leta Maude Best Mueller went to college.

In an era where few women attended college–and even fewer colleges were co-ed–it seems Leta attended Wesleyan in Bloomington, Illinois (majoring and serving as undergraduate assistant in English) for her first two years then transferred to Northwestern University where she studied English and “the science curriculum.”  I haven’t yet learned if she graduated but I hope to even though I suspect she did not.

I’ve begun to trace Leta and Albert’s family trees but it appears Leta’s grandfather was a physician, which might account for her interest in and ability to attend college.

What really made today’s search most special was finding this.  I present Leta Maude Best, junior at Northwestern University.

Leta

Slave Ancestors Webinar

Tracing Slave and Slaveowner Ancestors with DNA and Genealogy

Illinois State Genealogical Society webinars are an excellent educational resource and, when viewed live, are free!  Archived webinars are available only to members (ISGS membership is $35 per year *hint*hint*grin*).

As a genealogist with an interest in African-American genealogy (spurred on by having been a foster parent to three great daughters), I’m very excited by this upcoming (April 11. 2017) webinar.  Registration should still be open; check it out!

The history of slavery in America has made our DNA a complex cultural stew. In this session, learn how to combine traditional genealogy and DNA research to confirm or deny slave, slaveholder, and ancestral ties to one of history’s most peculiar institutions.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER: Nicka Smith is a professional photographer, speaker, and documentarian with more than 18 years of experience as a genealogist. She has extensive experience in African ancestored genealogy and reverse genealogy. She is also an expert in genealogical research in the Northeastern Louisiana area, sharing genealogy with youth, and employing the use of new technology in genealogy and family history research.

Nicka has diverse and varied experience in communications, with a background in publications, editing, graphic design, radio, and video production. She has edited and designed several volumes of family history that include narratives, photos, and genealogical information and has also transferred them to the online environment.

UPCOMING WEBINARS: For a listing of upcoming webinars, visit the ISGS website.

ISGS webinars are held on the second Tuesday of each month and begin at 8 PM Central. Each webinar is about an hour long.

A Genealogist’s Spectacles

glasses

Yes, I use four different pairs of glasses.

I’ll start with the sunglasses because I rarely get to wear them.  Not much opportunity to do so when much of my life is spent indoors sitting before my computer, in libraries or dusty basements flipping through sooty books and legal documents.

Then there are my regular glasses, the purple ones without the old-lady neck strap, something like which I’ve worn since I was a child of seven.  I don’t really need them so much (cataract surgery took care of that a few years ago) but after a lifetime of wearing something on my face, it’s habit.  And, it’s helpful when I need to read on the run (i.e., no time to take off regular glasses for one of my other pairs).

The rather smart purple-with-neck-strap glasses are my reading glasses.  Books, documents (lots of documents), newspapers and more are considerably clearer with these accessories.  And, as a genealogist, often are in constant exchange with my BC glasses.

My BC glasses got its designation during my days in the US Army when we were issued similar pairs in Basic Training. The idea was that no man would be even remotely interested in one of us who wore them; hence, automatic birth control.  I received these BC glasses from the VA a few months ago and, while they are only mildly different than the dreaded BC glasses of our Basic Training days (once out of Basic, we were allowed to revert back to more fashionable ones), in the 21st century this same style is considered trendy!  Why is this pair important?  It seems that there are sunglasses, regular-seeing glasses, reading glasses (with or without neck cord) and computer glasses; who knew?

Utilizing all four pairs when necessary has saved considerable eye strain these past few years.

Why bring this up, now?

Because I spent the day reading city directories.  Ever read a city directory?  If you’re at all into genealogy and you haven’t, you should.  Thirty years (that’s just today’s work—there were 105 years’ worth, in all) and the names of owners/occupiers of ten homes.  And, tracking each and every one in Excel.  Reading glasses/computer glasses/reading/computer/reading/computer….

House FrontIt all started because I wanted to do a house history of my 105-year-old home as a sample for the CPGen website but the city of Freeport renumbered the houses on my one-block street and I can’t (yet) locate which of the early ones were mine.  So, since it’s a limited pool of ten houses on the street, I decided to do them all.  Good thing I love house histories.

So, I am officially done with the city directories.  Still haven’t identified which of the originally-numbered homes is mine but I have narrowed it down to three.  The problem is that each of the original homeowners left between the use of the old house numbers and the renumbering of the street.  At least, that’s the best available information given one missing city directory in our local library for the year the house numbers changed.  And, my county (Stephenson, Illinois) lists deeds by Grantor/Grantee and not by property address so the only way to track the original owner is to start with the last (that’d be me).  Finally, there are no plat maps available (that I’ve been able to yet locate) showing the placement of the original five properties on the street, of which my house is one.

Next stop?  County Recorder’s Office and deed books.  Lots and lots of deed books…..

Gloryland

A little promotion for Freeport Public Library (100 Douglas Street, Freeport, Illinois): One Book, One Freeport 2017; another excellent program from my local library.  Click on image for more information.

Gloryland crop