Go on a walk with Kathleen Kullberg around her Minneapolis neighborhood and she’ll tell you about nearly every house she passes with the familiarity of a family friend.
Between stories of parties, weddings, and even death, it’s easy to forget that the people she’s talking about have been gone for more than 100 years. Kullberg is a self-proclaimed house detective — a venture she started more than five years ago — studying Minnesota houses and the people who lived in them.
On Thursday, she’ll share her house research tips and personal anecdotes during a how-to workshop at the Scott County Historical Society.
“What [Kullberg] actually does is bring people the tools to research their own home,” said Bonnie Sue Rolstad, who attended one of Kullberg’s workshops last fall.
The 90-minute session, “If Your Walls Could Talk,” will cover all of the tools Kullberg uses when investigating a house, from digging up public records to which databases work best. Perhaps most important, she’ll discuss when it’s time to turn off the computer in order to find answers.
“I try to make the workshops humorous … because research in a library can be stuffy, but it is necessary,” Kullberg said. “Not everything is online. I find a lot online, but you actually have to go there and read things, too.”
The workshop’s location is fitting, said Stephanie Herrick, curator of education for the Scott County Historical Society. When it comes to that old-fashioned research, the Historical Society, which is housed at the Stans Museum in Shakopee, has carved out its place among local house researchers.
“People come in and research their houses or their land using the materials in our library a lot,” she said. “We have all of the Scott County newspapers dating back to the 1800s, copies of plat maps, books, census files, and cemetery indexes. … But the newspapers alone are just amazing to have on file.”
The workshop, which is free with regular museum admission, is meant to complement the current Stans exhibit, “X Marks the Spot: Mapping Scott County.” The exhibit outlines a history of Scott County through various types of maps dating from the mid-1800s to today.
“We sort of come up with an interpretive plan for exhibits and then we think about what ties in with them,” Herrick said. “All around Scott County there’s a lot of really cool, old houses. I’m interested to see what … [Kullberg] is going to dig up on those houses.”
While tracing the origins of a home, Kullberg said some of the more fascinating things that she finds include not just names and dates, but quirky coincidences and anecdotes.
“I do find that … when you are going to buy a house, there is something that pulls you in and makes you say ‘I’m going to take this house over that house,’ ” Kullberg said. “My research has found that a politician moves into the politician’s house, the lawyer moves into the lawyer’s house, the doctor moves into the doctor’s house … even though you don’t know it at the time.”
After enlisting Kullberg’s services, Rolstad recently found that her home fits that correlation. She’s a nurse with more than 40 years in the medical field; the first people to live in the house more than a century ago were a physician and his wife, a nurse.
Kullberg “brings history alive,” Rolstad said. “These were actual people who lived in our homes. They were not just historic figures you read about in a book, and that is something she knows.”
While Kullberg started her house investigation venture knowing she had a passion for learning about older homes and the people who lived in them, she said she didn’t expect the process to bring such varied knowledge — a bonus that’s likely to benefit nearly every house researcher.
“In the process of learning about a house, you just expand your horizons,” she said. “You learn about the medical profession, for instance, or you learn about the pharmacy profession. … So that’s something that I’m learning about, too. I’m expanding who I am through that research.”
Janice Bitters is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.