Last year when we were sorting through piles of paper in Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s attic, I found this: just one leaf from a tablet my Grandma Longenecker began as a diary. She may have intended to add more.
Grandma’s Diary: the unedited transcription:
Wed., Apr 1, 1931. Today is a day long to be remembered. It blowed and rained all night. All the chickens were stolen out of the chicken house, and hens and two roosters were in the barn and that’s what left. Also 9 of Rays rabbits are gone. Two State Troopers were here to investigate.
After recovering from this shock, H. R. [my Grandpa Henry] accompanied E. F. Groff [Elmer Groff, a neighbor] and wife to E-town and this property was transferred to us. To sooth our sorrows we [Anna G. and I] made Easter eggs, our success was fine. In the evening Clayton Nolt was here from Bird-in-Hand, and on top of all our luck (hard and otherwise), sold H. R. and Son 12 Cloverhill Brand Rabbits. I am quilting Ruthie [my aunt] a little pink quilt.
Apr. 2, Ironed and mended this a.m. also quilted a little, after dinner H. R. and I plant 6 cherry trees, 3 sour & 3 black. Norman Rutt gave us the trees, Hope this one and many generations can enjoy them.
My thoughts: Theft of any kind was rare in those days in rural Lancaster County. Imagine: State troopers responding to a stolen chicken/rabbit call! Also, I remember Grandma referring to Grandpa as “H. R,” who died when I was five. I wonder if such a formal reference reflected her esteem of him, or the age difference, her husband fifteen years her senior.
Ruthie’s Diaries and More . . .
We found Aunt Ruthie’s diaries near the bottom of her painted chest in the bedroom. They present a quandary, however. Most of them are written in pencil, the script fading over the years. How to retrieve, restore? That is the question.
Nevertheless, I discovered some intriguing “finds” paging through the diaries: two 4-leaf clovers, some corny cartoons, and drawings in the article “Make Your Own Bird Houses” from Ladies Home Journal, March, 1932.
Mennonite Women Write
Joanne Hess Siegrist, in her book Mennonite Women of Lancaster County: a Story in Photographs from 1855 – 1935, remarks that “Journaling, diaries, and intimate conversation were far removed from their thinking or practice.” (7, 8)
A lot of women did talk freely with each other, but they were insistently private about “in house” subjects. “In house” usually meant husband/wife or parent/child conflicts. In their social circles and family gatherings, women covered a wide range of issues and feelings, yet they usually upheld the “in house” standards. Some burned family diaries when their relatives died, believing that they were too private even to share with extended family and close friends.
Some women were depressed, despondent, and dysfunctional, and they carried their anxieties privately. There were saintly, healthy women who took their Christian faith so seriously that they shied away from church sewing circles for fear of gossiping as they sewed their relief projects. They visited homebound sick and elderly persons and read the Bible to them.
A Rule from author Abigail Thomas I’ve Broken
Thomas’ Thinking About Memoir
Rules of diary keeping Don’t read anyone else’s. Don’t leave yours lying around. There should be stuff in your diary that is nobody’s business but your own. (14)
What I Read Last week . . . You are invited to read my review here with an explanation for the odd title . . .
Do you keep a diary or journal?
Is it locked?
Can you add to Thomas’ rules about diaries?
Are you holding on to family diaries? Do you have suggestions for restoring faded pages?
I’ve given strict instructions to my sister to burn all journals on my death. They are intensely private! Oooh I shudder to think of anyone else peeking into them! Thanks Marian, enjoyed this slice of life from so long ago.
We’re starting off with a bang here, Susan. I have to think with such intimate details recorded you must have felt immense relief by simplying venting your feelings in your journals. Another thought just occurred to me: You have great motivation to stay on very good terms with your sister, Susan. 😀
Thank you for beginning the conversation today.
Ah, you come from a line of journal keepers. What treasures these simple pages from your grandma and your aunt’s journals are. I have a five-year diary written by my aunt when she was a teenager. These things are priceless. I hope you’re able to find a way to recover the faded pages.
I have journals of my own tucked away and occasionally think about what I should do with them as they were written during the darkest days of my life These days I journal electronically using the password protected Day One app. My words there will be lost when I’m gone unless I choose to do something with them.
You too are passing the impulse for journal-keeping onto the next – and the next – generation. I enjoyed seeing your grand-daughter writing in a journal at your house last week.
What are journals for except to give vent to thoughts that may otherwise turn into negative actions? I have not heard of the Day One app but here’s the link: http://dayoneapp.com It can be downloaded through your computer’s App store.
As I’d give a lot to have a diary from an ancestor, my plan is to leave them all (I’ve journaled daily since 1991) with a note to let a few generations pass. You never know. Btw, Woody has a diary from his great great grandfather (may be a few more greats in there; I’m not sure). It begins the day before he left England for America and it ends a few years later, the day after he met his future bride. Must have been a way to ward off the loneliness.
Kudos to you for non-stop journaling. You go to the head of the class, journaling daily for 27 years. Wow!
Woody’s journals sound archival, with great historical significance. Although they are probably not of Mayflower vintage, they must be very old. Just curious. Thanks for all of this; maybe other readers will have some suggestions about preserving your own journals, treasures indeed. They must have been a great help when you wrote At Home on the Kazakh Steppe. Thanks, Janet!
Good morning, Marian!
I’ve read diaries and private letters of others that were saved and ended up in archives, and many of us have read some now famous published diaries (or portions)–Anne Frank, for example. I’ve never kept a diary. Referring to others by initials seems to be something that is often done in diaries. I think people sometimes do it now as shorthand or sometimes in order not to identify the person, if the diary is found. Elizabeth Drinker, who kept diaries for decades (published in a 3-volume set), referred to her husband and others by their initials.
That was something about the chicken and rabbit theft! Have you consulted an expert about a way to conserve the diaries?
As an historian, you must have read many primary scources. Yes, initials seem to be one way to attempt privacy. Even though Dani Shapiro’s recent marriage memoir is not a diary, she refers to her husband as M. even though a quick Google search would reveal his real name as a writer/journalist.
I checked on manuscript restoration. One website listed its fee per page as $ 250.00, way too steep for the hundreds of pages I must sift through: http://www.acapaperrestoration.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItMP-hPCg2gIVjouzCh0DHwB4EAAYASAAEgJm-PD_BwE
They could be scanned at a higher resolution, I suppose. Thanks for your suggestion, Merril.
Beyond weather and working list for the day, Grandma L’s diary holds exceptional feeling phrases and I love getting a peek into her world. ie: “recovering from the shock… to sooth our sorrows.”
Joanne, thanks for your contribution to the content of my post today ~ and to all the research that helped you reveal the feminine side of Mennonite history. You are right about showing feelings: Although my grandmother was not an effusive person, she was surely frank and sincere, a role model in any era. I never felt I had to squelch my emotions around her.
I really enjoyed this post, Marian. As you know, I keep several journals. All of mine are unlocked so anyone could read them…not that they’re very exciting. I do hope you’re able to restore Aunt Ruthie’s diaries.
Like yours, mine do not reveal much. Even in the journal reserved for rants, I often go back and put dates when the problem was resolved. I wonder if you’ve ever found that the date you wrote with the event helped solve a problem/question later. “Now when did that happen . . . ?” for instance.
Thanks for the comment and for your good wishes for restoring my aunt’s diaries, Jill.
I used to be more faithful in recording life in a journal. But I’m sporadic now. I’d like all of my journal to be burned someday. But how lovely that you have your grandmother’s journals. So sorry about the theft of her chickens!
Thank you for reading and chiming in here, Marie. Even if your journals end up destroyed, at least you had the pleasure (or relief) of writing in the first place.
I wish my grandma had written more than one page, but that’s all I found. A traumatic event started her off and she probably intended to write more but didn’t. Just a guess: She was a very busy woman and cared more about helping others than expressing herself.
How interesting, if sad, all those robberies, but I am glad Grandma found some comfort keeping busy and making Easter eggs: that’s what I try to do when overwhelmed by things, keeping busy.
As you know, I keep a travel log, which is the basis for my blog and which I find very satisfying. Thanks for sharing your family secrets yet again: always fascinating!
Fatima, you leave tracks of your journeying on Facebook, your blog, and in written journals. I think you have all the bases covered. I admire you for that ~ and for posting here too. Thanks!
Marian, it’s amazing how much you can learn about a person from one journal entry, a step back in time and a glimpse into the day-to-day life of your grandma. I have a series of journals from my paternal grandfather during three months of WWII America. They are treasures.
I journaled for years but at one point I threw out my journals. Yikes!! I needed to move on and I continued to journal so all was not lost. Enjoyed your review of Sedaris’ book!
You are amassing a lot of journal-like material with memoir writing. Like me, leaving a legacy of another time, a different place, and [almost] a different person.
I’m so glad you have preserved your grandfather’s journals. He may have thought he may not make it through the war and wanted his relatives to have a keepsake of sorts. What a treasure! Thanks for reading the Sedaris review. We keep our writing chops sharp reading other people’s work. 🙂
My dad kept a journal from high school on to his death in 2012, including his time on the USS Enterprise in WWII [he was at Pearl Harbor], and chronicled my mother’s slide into dementia resulting in death in 1996. The journals, never shared with family, were destroyed on his death. I have written poetry and essays since junior high, and journaled sporadically since then. Recently I have found writings stuffed everywhere! I have asked they be destroyed upon my death, as they are intensely personal.
Hi, Ginger! I wonder how you feel about your dad’s journals being destroyed. Your own journals point to the fact that writing (even if not preserved) is one avenue of creative expression . . . at least emotions are vented, creating a possibility for healing. Thanks for your contribution today. 🙂
Marian, I asked my dad to be given his journals, even before his death, promising they would be sealed until he passed. But my older sister took them, saying she had the right. Not surprising, she also took my mother’s treadle sewing machine even though she doesn’t sew [I am a quilter]. Yep, all this was journaled out.
I hear the hurt and disappointment in your voice as you write here. So sorry! Fortunately, your journals are a constructive way to vent your feelings of betrayal. In an odd twist of events, it’s still possible that your dad’s diaries may end up in your hands. Maybe even the treadle sewing machine. One can only hope!
Marian — I journaled on a regular basis in the past, but then realized that I was writing for other people’s eyes (in the event someone might pick it up and read it) and that completely defeats the purpose. I destroyed them and stopped journaling. My secrets (bwahaha) will go with me to the grave 🙂
Well, Laurie, your journals may have morphed into your published work. Even though you haven’t written memoir (yet), you imprint the stamp of your personality and values on your books. I’m thoroughly enjoying the intertwining of the personal & the practical in your “blue tangerine” book. Love it!
I have used a journal for a long time now. Recently I’ve begun adding additional journals for different reasons. One is just for day to day (although I don’t really write every day) and the others are more like the “feelings and dreams” types. All are fun and how wonderful that you have these treasures!
How interesting, Janet, to have several journals running. Like you, I have more than one journal: a gratitude journal, one for rants, and another for my writing life. I ran out of pages recording my writing progress and don’t feel like starting a new one because I’m busy getting a manuscript shaped up for publishing.Thanks for adding your point of view, writer friend.
I especially enjoy your posts when you share family memories. 1931 was in the midst of the Great Depression. I could understand a hungry person stealing one or two chickens for his family, but the entire flock? And from reading your blog, I know Grandma Longenecker would have fed them had they just knocked on the door and asked.
Very clever of you to notice how the diary date coincided with the Depression, Lynn. And you are right, Grndma would have fed them and probably would have given them some laying hens had they just asked.
I’ve been journaling for years and almost burned them all a while back, but glad I kept them as they helped me while I was writing my memoir. I always wished that my parents had kept journals. Maybe I would have known them better and appreciated them more. But who knows. I’ll keep mine boxed up and see what my kids say.
Wonderful post Marian. You had such a wonderful family!
Your journals were a gold mine for Scattering Ashes, I know. I keep the memoirs of authors I know all in one spot. Yours is among them, of course. Maybe they will sprinkle some fairy dust on my work in progress. 🙂
Yes, I have had a wonderful family, but my memoir will reveal a few warts and wrinkles. Thanks, Joan.
My mother would write in her diary every night before bed, usually after everyone was a sleep. It was just a record of the days events more than anything else but it is a great history of their life on the farm. Some of the earlier ones were destroyed in a move but we still have quite a few.
My son has them and enjoys reading them from time to time. I keep a journal as well. A habit really. If future generations want to read them, I don’t mind. I think they are probably pretty boring. Good luck with restoring Aunt Ruthie’s diaries. I enjoyed your grandmother’s entry.
You know, Darlene, what seems ordinary in day-to-day life becomes more pronounced as history with the passing years. Your mother obviously imprinted on you the value of writing, keeping records. I hope she has lived long enough to appreciate your acclaim as an author.
And you are very wise in passing your own diaries to your son. Mine are on a shelf in my coffee table; I haven’t thought about passing them on yet.
My mom is my biggest fan. She always tells me that Dad would be proud of me and my writing. At 89, she can no longer read but we have people come in and read to her. She always asks them to read from one of my books. I have a picture of her great-great-granddaughter reading to her from my latest book. She certainly instilled the idea of recording things. I am not ready to pass my journals on quite yet.
I’ve been told that great achievers usually have at least one mentor. And it appears that your mother is both mentor and most enthusiastic voice in your cheering section.
Words are the easiest artifact to pass on to posterity. Light in weight, compared to, say, a grandfather clock, they hold the gravity of years of living.
I don’t think either of us need to part with our journals just yet. Thanks, for following this thread of conversation, Darlene.
Grandma Longenecker and David Sedaris together in one post. Makes me smile, Marian.
As for diaries, yes, I keep them, sporadically. And I have a tub of my mother’s diaries which will probably join my “box in the basement” leftovers. Not sure what will happen to any of them. I’m enough of an historian to know that diaries can be useful artifacts of a time, a culture, as well as a life. So I won’t trash them easily.
Yes, an odd juxtaposition: my plain grandmother and a gay man in the same post. I didn’t realize that until you noticed.
Diaries of our forebears do present a quandary. Maybe you will have time to curate them when you are a very, very old woman. Or perhaps Owen, Julia, or Lydia will give the writings a new “life.” You remind me that I couldn’t easily trash Ruthie’s diaries either, even though many pages are practically illegible. Ach!
I have a whole shelf on my bookcase filled with diaries I have kept over the years. I am wondering what to do with them. I always journal when we go on trips and those diaries have come in handy for checking which restaurants and hotels we liked. Many times I wrote when I was emotionally upset, because it always helped me to regain my perspective. That would not be something I would want others to see, but it is part of my story.
My sister gave me a notebook for Christmas that is made out of recycled elephant dung.Even though the paper is made out of shit I am recording positive moments in it, one for every day!
You must have heard me chuckle as I read your last paragraph. I would say this is a perfect example of a “sow’s ear becoming a silk purse.” Ha!
As you know, I keep diaries too and have one for every trip we’ve taken in Europe and Canada, except for the last trip when I used Instagram. Snippets from my journals have become sources for at least two blog posts about our travels.
I’m glad your journals have served as “vents” for strong emotions. I can certainly relate to that too!
This comment Susan Weidener, unable to post here, left on Facebook. Susan Weidener at http://www.susanweidener.com/2018/03/when-family-says-dont-write-my-story.html#gpluscomments
Susan is writing in response to the page from author Siegrist’s book about the repression of Mennonite women diarists in 19th and 20th centuries.
Marian, This is an apt commentary on the power of the modern women’s memoir movement and why it has exploded. Women often had to forgo female friendships in service to husband, children and “church”, thereby internalizing their anxieties and remaining silenced. Now we write our stories … although too often women are still silenced and shamed, something I wrote about on my blog, “when family says, ‘Don’t write my story.'” As for the diary, I stopped keeping one when I was around twelve. It was then I realized I wanted to be a published writer. Heaven help me!
Heaven has definitely helped you express yourself and encourage others to do the same as originator of the group The Women’s Writing Circle. I say Brava, Susan!
None of the diaries or journals I still have, have any locks on them. I had one or two back in the day. I’m not sure why I got rid of them. I did read the unlocked diary of my sister once upon a time. The guilt I felt for that was heavy for many years. I justified it in my mind by saying to myself that it would help me know how to pray for her better. Weak justification.
I have a journal on my open shelf at home that I should probably either burn or hide, now that you mention it. There, now you have my true confessions. The diaries my grandmother on my mother’s side kept were of the type to talk about work accomplished, weather, food consumed. Not my style of diary. :-).
This is a safe place for true confessions, Melodie, here among like-minded people. 🙂
Every family has that wayward one, and I can understand your wavery (?) logic in being tempted to read your sister’s diary, even if she wasn’t wayward.
Burn or hide? Well, you do have a quandary. An accomplished writer, your diaries would have historical value, but their fate lies in your hands only. Thanks for our input here! 🙂
This diary entry is a joy to read. So basic, but [odd to say] entertaining. My mother’s family always referred to grandpa by his initials. It might have been done out of respect, but I think it also had to do with how many family members had same or similar names. Initials made life easier.
Good point about the initials. That makes sense, Ally. Thanks for the return visit here.
I read one stranger’s diary a few years ago, and felt like I was invading her privacy, but I was so entranced I couldn’t stop.The stranger? Myself, from the ages of about 10 to 15. The pages were written in pencil, still readable, and brought me into that child/woman-child’s mind so sharply it made me gasp. But yes, she did seem like a stranger to middle-aged me. So, I guess diaries are good for re-visiting ourselves, seeing how our mind and thought and life has changed over the years.
But I don’t write in a formal diary now. I feel that my own blog and novel writing is diary enough, even though it’s in code for most of my family members. :–) P.S. I felt so sorry, to read about how the Mennonite women didn’t share with each other, didn’t feel that they could talk about their life in their homes. How depressed we all would be, if we couldn’t commiserate and giggle and cry with our friends.
I see it now – “A Stranger’s Diary” blog post on your life in a flash site!
Of course, I can relate. The girl with the cap and plain dress whose life I am recalling in memoir seems like a stranger to me. I once read this quote by Phyllis Tickle: “I know now, of course, where the girl was going because I have become the woman she made, but I still shake my head sometimes at the strange way of our arrive.” Isn’t that something!
Until you mentioned it, I have not thought of my blog and memoir-in-the-making as diary forms, but so they are. I always feel smarted “talking” to you. Now I wonder, why is that? 😀
I’ve said it before and I repeat it again, Marian, such a treasure to stumble upon those diaries. I think it is fine reading them (and even turning them into a book of sorts – another memoir?) after the author has passed away. Unless strictly forbidden by that person, of course. It is so interesting to have a peek into family members’ lives, especially of an era one is not familiar with.
Yes, I have kept a diary since I was 14 or so. And, I never locked it. Very personal stuff and, as a teenager, a lot that would upset my mom. My thinking: if she dares to read them (they were lying on my bed stand), she will be shocked and upset. But, she is not supposed to read them, so… 🙂 I actually remember her bringing up stuff back then that she could have only known if browsing through my pages!
I’m writing diaries to read again in the future. I think it will be fun and revealing. And, I don’t really mind others reading them as well, at some point. Funny thing is that, as I write my current memoir, I do not have access to them (they “live” in Belgium with my parents, ironically enough). Plus, I already have enough material to cover without seeking out more.
Thank you, Liesbet, about curating Aunt Ruthie’s diaries. Right now, I can’t think past my diary memoir, but I they have some merit as both historical and family documents.
I like that you pointed out your own experience with diary keeping. If I were a psychologist, I could make something about the teen who perhaps engaging in risky behavior, “dares” her mom to take a peek.
Diaries are such good sources for verifying stuff that happened in real time, I’ve found, and the details also can easily be adapted to spice up other writing. Thank you for sharing insights into diaries and journals. I wonder if you have the time and wherewithal to visit your parents in Belgium; maybe they can visit you during one of your house-sitting gigs.
I have a feeling you’ll never run out of material . . .! Thanks, Liesbet. 🙂
It’s been a while since they visited, Marian. In 2011 in St. Martin, I believe. I actually suggested they’d visit us here in Santa Fe, but my mom doesn’t like flying far and – like me and because of me – they’ve had bad experiences at the US border in the past. And, to be honest, now is not a good time for anyone to visit us for a vacation. I’ll have to go back to Belgium somehow…
Oh, I get it ~ fraught with obstacles. You will get together when the time is right. Thanks for the explanation, Liesbet.
It’s quite an invasion when someone breaks into your house or your chicken coop. And so sweet to image the quilting of the hat for an Aunt Ruthie of an earlier generation.
I have years of journals. I haven’t looked at them for many years. What to do with them? I don’t think anyone would want to read them, but who knows? Thanks for sharing your book review. Looks like a book I can skip. Good to skip a few when I look at the “to-read” piles around here.
I am pleased that after the assault, Grandma L. recognized she needed to do something to offset the loss. In that, she has taught me to have outlets for coping. Quilting and planting fruit trees did the trick for her!
What to do with your journals? Well, don’t destroy them if you ask me. When the time is right, you’ll know what to do, but fortunately you don’t have to address this any time soon. Thanks for all of this, Elaine! Now enjoy your birds, the woods, and the silence of open spaces. 🙂
Loved this Marian! I’m back! So interesting how back in those times you had to be bold to keep a diary. I don’t have a diary. I journal everything – everywhere, lol. I say what I think on my blog and in my books, so I couldn’t keep track of how many notebooks I always have lying around in different rooms. I hope someone would be interested enough to read some of my writing journals. 🙂
Welcome back into the blog world again. How sweet it must have been to unplug for a while. LOL!
I wonder how you make the distinction between diary keeping and journaling. One may explore ideas and feelings more than the other. Right? My gratitude “journal” may actually be more diary-like because I include mostly factual stuff, not my emotional reaction to people and my own interior life, reserved for my other notebook. What do you think?
Yes, if you keep them long enough, a David Sedaris-type may get hold of them and “make some hay.” HA!
Thanks for visitng here after your much-needed hiatus. It’s swell to have you back. 🙂
HI Marian. Thanks for the lovely welcome back. So lovely to be back in our cozy community. 🙂
And I see where you’re coming from on writing differently in your journal and diary. Of course a diary is more intimate. Just that I sometimes don’t distinguish between the two LOL 🙂
Whatever the title, it’s creative writing, a record of our thoughts and feelings on a particular date and time in our lives. 😀
Another very interesting post, Marian! I have a five year diary of my grandma’s. My sister and I each got one. I don’t know if there were more. I took the one that has my birth written in, although she only wrote my name of the date, no details. She loved to go to the show! Movies, as we call them. But, she never gave the name of the movie or if she liked it. She only wrote that she and a friend went to the show sometimes on Saturday evening! I want to know what show! You have a wonderful way of stirring my memories! Thank you!
If I’m a “memory stirrer, that’s a good thing,” Anita. Thanks for the compliment. As Mennonites, we were never allowed to “go to the show.” Movies were forbidden. But my husband enjoyed Saturdays watching Cowboys and Indians & cops and robbers shows, usually with a newsreel before the show. I wonder if you can recall movies you saw as a girl.
Writing is in your genes ~ and appreciating family heritage, a very good thing!
Writing down my emotions has always been therapy to me , so yes Marian I have always wrote journals/diaries in some form , that go back to when I was eleven .
I was reading my most earliest not long ago 🤭 how we change . I keep them in a drawer in my guest room but when we have guests I move them . Why I move them , I really don’t know because I have nothing to hide apart from my inner most emotions and they , I guess, are for my eyes only until I depart the world and then who knows .
Hey Cam ( our son ) will have a huge laugh I can tell you .
A quick one here…I have in my library ( hey Marian don’t think Downtown) my modest library , a journal of Dorothy Wordsworth ( William Wordsworth ‘s sister ) well worth a read …everyday stuff of the time …fascinating .
Oh, my word, Cherry, when you read your diary at age eleven, did that wee girl seem like a stranger to you ~ or just a younger version of yourself. I’ve kept diaries off and on but didn’t start until I was in late teen years. You’re precocious, my friend!
I predict Cam will savor his mother’s wittiness and humor. You can’t help revealing your true self as you write. Your postings always make me smile.
We visited Wordsworth’s Dove cottage in Grasmere. Did you know Dorothy was born on Christmas Day and William “borrowed” shamelessly from her diaries for this nature poems? That is, if Wikipedia is to be believed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Wordsworth
We too have visited dove cottage…I didn’t know Dorothy was born on Christmas Day but am not surprised that William ‘borrowed ‘ from her diaries in the least .
Tsk! Tsk! And William gets all the glory. Well, Dorothy did get a smidge. He loved his sister, that Will.
I found Dove Cottage to be a peaceful place. It was warm and welcoming ~ quiet too except for the birds. Thanks for the follow up.
I love this, Marian. For historians, old journals are treasures. And sometimes for families wanting to preserve their stories and genealogy. I think your idea of scanning could work — increase the contrast, scan in high resolution to PDF, and then you can zoom in on words or sentences. I think some historians in North Dakota did this when they were attempting to translate old record written in pencil.
As for journals/diaries — I’ve kept them since I was thirteen, when I read The Diary of Anne Frank. For a decade or longer I poured out my heart. Then, in my thirties, I burned a grocery bag full of my old journals — they were never meant for anyone else’s eyes and as they were unlocked, I didn’t want anyone to find them. But now, I wouldn’t care who read them. I didn’t have any big secrets but I’ve always felt vulnerable exposing my true feelings.
Since then, I’ve stockpiled another bunch of journals — often in such poor handwriting that even I can’t read them, and such a collection of disjointed and meandering thoughts that I would be amazed if anyone would persevere in reading through them. They don’t tell a story or paint a picture. But I do, occasionally, return to them to help me remember details when I am writing a memoir piece or a poem. A lot of them include thoughts on books I’ve read, as if I’m having a conversation with the author. Those are probably the most interesting bits.
I imagine I would write entirely differently in journals if I believed they were safe from prying eyes. Sometimes, if I don’t want to work out my feelings in a way that I don’t want anyone to know, I write in German. That way, after I’m gone and they really want to know what I was thinking and feeling, they would have to pay someone to translate it. And if it’s that important to them, okay, they’ve earned the right to know. 🙂
Yes, we thought of scanning and then “upping” the resolution, but there are SO many pages. Maybe I can use a squinty-eyed read-through to determine if I should restore certain pages. Someday . . .
I latched on to this: “I didn’t have any big secrets but I’ve always felt vulnerable exposing my true feelings.” I think that encapsulates the feelings of many of the writers who don’t want to be betrayed by prying eyes.
And you write in German occasionally! I have always wanted to speak and write in another language, so I envy you that ability. I suppose I could try writing a few lines in French. You must have heard me chuckle at your last two sentences ~ choice! Thanks, for all of this, Tracy.
What a different world she lived in – where state troopers had time to investigate stolen poultry.
Yes, indeed! It’s almost laughable … except when we think how far this country has strayed from law and order. Thanks, Fiona!
I do morning pages which I never let anyone read, and which I destroy promptly! I also keep journals that I write with my children in mind – memories of things that happen that they will want to recall one day. Those are more “records of events” than diaries, and they are meant to be read by others.
I have letters from my grandmother that I pull out to read from time to time. It always strikes me how much of her time and thought was taken up with food. In her time, the preparation and maintenance of food was much more time-consuming. It’s a reminder to me to both appreciate the conveniences I have and to take the time to dwell on food thoughtfully.
You are so methodical in record keeping, private pages for venting and journals for posterity, a wise thing to do.
I can relate to the preoccupation with food. My family from way back were farmers, and we had gardens and fields all over the township. I realized this when I started writing my memoir. The women in the family enjoyed planting and harvesting. I remember feeling the pride they exuded putting fresh beans on the table or preserving peaches and cherries in Ball jars. Thanks for reviving old memoires, Arlene.
It’s interesting to get a look into how life was back in the day and how they thought. I used to keep a diary but I never felt like I had anything significant to share just in case someone stumbled upon it in later years so I eventually stopped. I would have loved to have found any left behind by my late grandmother. Great post!
Welcome, Lise. I’m sure you have something significant to write, but maybe it’s not the right time for you yet. You are right, my Grandma let out her true feelings, apparently, unlike me in that buttoned-up age. She followed up the upset of stolen chickens with planting cherry trees. How cool is that!
You may have this post on the SIPB group. Now to check out your website.
Again, thanks for reading and posting a comment. I’m glad we have this connection now!
I am blessed to have my paternal grandmother’s personal diary which she kept for 4 years, 1902 to 1906. She was 14 and living with her family in rural Indiana when she began it. Like many such diaries it is filled with the routines of daily life… washing, ironing, supper for the working men-folk, along with sewing and gardening. She speaks early on of her betrothal to a man some 9 years older. It eventually turns into a very personal and bittersweet love story and how she agonizes over it. In the end she gives birth to my father when she is 18, but she dies the next day! I would love to turn her story into a book, but want to give it the justice she deserves. I am exploring how I might do that. I’ve written my own memoirs of my 20-year military career as well as other short essays of my life. My wife insists I have writing ability, but this is at a whole different level, I fear. Advice is much appreciated. My initial thought is to develop the story around interspersed actual diary entries.
Bill, thanks for the reply and “welcome”! It sounds as though you have the motivation to dig deep into family history, make discoveries and turn them into a book, perhaps a memoir.
My background is in education, teaching English for many decades. However, writing family history requires a different set of skills. I began blogging in 2013, publishing posts about my own heritage, sometimes with diary entries as you see here. Then, I took a course in memoir writing, which I’d highly recommend: https://writeyourmemoirinsixmonths.com/program-details/ with Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner. They helped me turn a muddle of ideas into something more coherent. Eventually, a book of the first 24 years of my life emerged: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07XL5FPW6
Let me know how it goes for you. I like to support writers who are willing to explore family history.
Again, thanks for your inquiry. Very soon, I will be posting a few more pieces about family history: our family’s acreage in Lancaster County and my father and grandfather’s draft cards. If you would like to receive notifications of my blog posts, you can subscribe on my home page.
Again, thanks for your reading and commenting here, Bill.