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Back to School

It's that time of year.  Nothing is more inspiration or exciting to me as fresh highlighters and G2s in pretty colors all on sale for back to school prices.  Is it bad that I still get giddy to get a five star notebook?  I don't think so.  Hey, it's the little things, right? (C'mon, just agree with me so we can move on...). 

Being as things are always a little hectic this time of year, I'm going to post an article from the archives of my Zimmerman Today column for your reading pleasure:


 My first year as a “Zimmerman Zebra” was as a fourth grader in Mrs. Blattner’s class. The halls seemed dauntingly large, and the sixth graders appeared to tower above me. What I remember most is the most amazing playground I had ever seen. From the jungle gym to the spring-loaded balance beam, that place was enough to erase all the fear in a nine-year-old’s heart.

Zimmerman Elementary has been in operation since 1957. For over fifty years it has been an epicenter for educating the city’s youth, imagine in that time, the number of residents current and former who have walked those halls, the multitude of lessons taught, and the echoes of childhood laughter that must still swell in the space between the walls. But have you ever wondered what was there if you were to go back another 50 years? Back to 1903, where did the children go to school? What was where Zimmerman Elementary stands now?

The site of Zimmerman Elementary was farmland belonging to Hans Mickelson and his wife Sarah. Hans was born in Norway in 1850 and Sarah in Wisconsin in 1863. The couple was wed in 1879 in Beaver Creek, Minnesota. Together they had nine children: Mabel, George, Luella, May, Harry, Clifford, Theodore and Mary. Hans worked as a farmer through much of his residency in Lake Fremont, acquiring a sizeable chunk of land.

In the early 20th century, there were several schools throughout the area, small one room school houses where classes were held. One was located on the land of Mary Tildon, it is possible that she may have been a school teacher, or she may have provided boarding to the woman who was. The school would have been near what is now 269th Avenue and 5th Street West. The Mickelson children would have walked from where Zimmerman Elementary School is now to sit in a one room school house heated by a wood stove to listen to their lessons.

While the story of Hans and his children may be different, it is still very much the same as the story of my childhood and the story of your children’s first day of school. Even a hundred years ago, children still squirmed in their desks waiting to be excused, teachers were still overworked and under paid. For all the differences, so many things remain the same.   


Where did you go to elementary school? What are your first day of school memories? Share them below in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Why We Love History (And You Should, Too!)

It seems like almost a daily occurrence in adult life- running into someone you knew a while ago, or meeting someone new- the first question that they ask is: “What do you do?”

 Of course, my answer is what you’d expect.  “I’m a historical research consultant.”  Usually this is where it gets uncomfortable. 

There is a pause, a scratching the back of the neck and then, “I HATED history class in high school.”  Then they realize what they said and get awkward.  “I mean, but… how interesting!  Good for you!”

Usually, I smile politely and nod.  But here is what I would like to tell them, and what I’d like to tell you:

I am not surprised you hated high school history.  High school has to adhere to standards and so it teaches basic events like they are equations – cause and effect.  Real people become heroes, so high up on a pedestal that they are unapproachable and unrelateable.  More emphasis is placed on memorizing dates than understanding why things unfolded the way they did. 

It’s such a shame.  I wish that your teachers would have been able to put aside all of these national standardize requirements and figure out what part of history would resonate with you and make you passionate.  The truth is I know there is a subject somewhere in there that would evoke passion. 

Sure, maybe you thought the text book’s description about the invention of the steam engine was dull, but what if you found out that the only reason the town you live in exists at all was because of the people who moved there to build the track for it?  What if you knew that your great grandfather rode the rails from city to city taking pictures of people who were living in squalor during the Great Depression?  Would that change how you thought about history?

          All that said, here are five of the many things I love about history:

  1. I love the feeling I get when I realize that people who lived 100 years before me, were really not all that different. 
  2.  I love the idea that one little thing could have changed everything about the world we live in today. 
  3. I love that history touches everyone.  History shows that we are all tied together into this incredible context of the human experience that spans geographic bounds and time. 
  4. At its heart, history tells us a story.  Who doesn't love a good story?
  5. I love that history allows me to understand innumerable topics, I will never run out of subjects to research or places I know little or nothing about.  Even the greatest history “expert” cannot know everything, I find that humbling and challenging and it makes me rise to the occasion.

So, you don’t have to get awkward when you tell me you hated history in high school.  It’s okay! You have every right not to love the things I love.  But I wish for you the joy and the passion of knowing and loving something as complex and universal as history.  

Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Top 5 Best Museums in Minnesota

It seems pretty obvious if you know anything about me at all that I love spending my free time in museums.  It works out pretty well for me because my husband is a restless man who loves exploring new cities anytime we have a free day.  Usually this means we are in lots of new areas, and a museum is a good way to find out some general information about points of interest.

Here are 5 of my favorite museums we've visited:

  1. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
    his museum focuses less on local art and historical artifacts and more on art.  I have many wonderful memories of coming here as a child and teenager.  I fell in love with art inside this building.  I saw my first mummy here.  Decided I wanted to be an Egyptologist for a time.  Became obsessed with Frank Lloyd Wright in their furniture gallery... the memories are endless.  Yes, this museum may have had an unfair advantage.
  2. Minnesota Historical Society
    I have done hours and hours of research for clients and personal projects here.  What I love about MNHS is the staff is helpful, courteous and kind.  The library is well organized and the building itself is gorgeous.  The exhibits are always engaging and interesting.  I also love that they have so many events including concerts, plays and speakers that bring the community in. 
  3. Crow Wing County Historical Society
    This one is a little on the smaller side compared to the others, but compared to many of the other small county museums I've been to I found it most memorable.  Located in the historic sheriff's home and old jail they have traditional exhibits that wind through the front half of the house and jail cells and regularly scheduled tours of the other rooms in the back all staged with period-specific items.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the house and the families who lived there as well as the origination of many of the artifacts on display.  
  4. The James J. Hill House
    As part of the MNHS, I was hesitant to put this on the list separately, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it deserved its own line.  The number of interesting and unique activities they run here are so varied that it gives a person reason to come back again and again, not to mention they run different tours so you can see different parts of the mansion at different times.  James J. Hill is such a prolific part of Minnesota history that  every Minnesotan should see this house at least once. 
  5. Northfield Historical Society
    Northfield has such a fun quirky vibe to begin with, as a college town with a young hip populous. Add to that the incredibly rich history of Jesse James attempted robbery of the Northfield Bank and defeat by the townspeople and you have a fun and interesting museum accompanied by the annual Defeat of Jesse James celebration.  


Compiling this list was fun, but challenging, so many other great museums were contenders, and I enjoyed all of them! Some of the front runners include:

Winona County Historical Society, Carver County Historical Society, Mcleod County Historical Society, Dakota County Historical Society, Oliver Kelley Farm, Stearns County Museum, The Pioneer Village in Nisswa, LeDuc Historic Estate, Fort Snelling, Sherburne County History Center, The Folsom House

Are you going to visit any museums on National Museum Day this Sunday?  Would any of these have made your list?  Which would you add?

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Celebrate National Senior Citizens Day with a New Friend

I have been blessed to have had some amazing clients, but some of my favorite experiences in my life have been sitting down with people from generations before mine and talking about their experiences. 

It is amazing to learn how similar certain things are, how they transcend time: the smell of cookies baking in the oven; how pets can be a kids best friend; the freedom of the first days of summer.  But also how different they can be:  the trials of women in the workforce; traveling before airplanes;  how much safer big cities were. 

I never pass up the opportunity to chat with someone about their life experiences.  I once spoke to a woman who grew up alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald on Grand Avenue, who told me that if she could go back and change one thing about her life, she would play with her dog more often.  Moments like that warm your heart and make you realize that you aren’t so different from anyone who came before you, but also help you realize the kinds of things that will affect you most as time goes on. 

So, tomorrow is National Senior Citizens Day and I challenge you to go out and make a new friend.  Befriend someone who grew up in a different time than you, a time when things were different but people weren’t discover how much you have in common and what parts of life were different. 

What lessons have you learned from talking to an elder?  Share your stories in the comments!

Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Red Cross 1942

Propaganda poster to promote knitting for the troops during WWI. Circa 1914-1918.

Propaganda poster to promote knitting for the troops during WWI. Circa 1914-1918.

For all of you history buffs who are knitting fanatics, too.  (C'mon, I know I'm not the only one!) I thought you'd find this as fantastic as I did! It is a collection of patterns from the Red Cross for soldiers at war during World War II. 

I love propaganda posters.  I love how they become timeless emblems of a nation united for a cause.  The idea of knitting for soldiers during times of war is far from a new one obviously.  But the thought of being so generous during times of great poverty, when everything from clothing to food was being rationed.   Did you know during WWII that women's clothing was limited to no more than three buttons? (A good thing to know when you are shopping for vintage buttons!) 

Yet the willingness to fill the need, ripping apart old clothing to make clothing for the men fighting overseas, phenomenal. 

One of my favorite little details about these patterns is that they aren't simply retyped... they are actual scanned images of the original patterns, yellowed, tattered edges and all!


I hope you all enjoy, to see the patterns Click Here!

Getting Started With Organization

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.
— Marcus Aurelius

We have talked about how setting goals can help propel your family history research, but there is another hurdle that can interfere with your trajectory: disorganization.  Yes, I said it.  And I already know that when you read that word you let out a groan of frustration.  We're researchers, not organizers! 

In the heat of the moment, the excitement of the hunt for details, facts and information about our ancestors, it can be all to easy to just hit print thirty times and leave the stack of papers sitting in a stack on our desk (...or the floor, or the dining room table).  Then, weeks later, you know you printed it... somewhere? In this stack? In that? In the closet? Maybe you ought to check the accordian binder your significant other bought you out of frustration with the stacks of paper in every corner of the counter, the table (and even, you are embarrassed to admit, under your bed)! But, let's be real, when was the last time you used that accordian binder? Would you even be able to fit half of your papers in there? Probably not. 

January is National Organization Month, and a great time to use that New Year Resolution motivation your feeling help you get your genealogy information organized.  

For the month of January we're going to start a weekly series called The Organized Genealogist, we're going to cover some simple measures you can take to get and keep your genealogy information organized. 

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