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

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…..