I can’t even begin to tell you the thrill that I get when I find someone in our family that has a diary or a journal. I have read a few journals of family members, and honestly…once I start reading the journal, I can’t stop. Usually, before I have been handed a journal or diary there is a preface of “there are lots of misspelled words or something to that effect”. I am not reading about a slice of their life without knowing that this person that wrote these words was doing so with little light, some education, and who knows how tired they were. Let’s not kid ourselves reading and writing before 1930 was done at leisure time. Some people had very little, if any leisure time.
If they had a farm, they had to think about their crop. Their crop was their livelily hood, without it they could not sustain themselves. The work was grueling, they were up with the light, and sometimes worked until they had no light. Children had to be taken care of, and the water had to be brought in the house. Animals had to be taken care of, and sometimes there was a crop grown just for the animals.
It is remarkable to me when I stumble on to a person that has something that has been treasured from one generation to another, even with misspellings and bad grammar. In the end that doesn’t matter, its the time they took from their day to give us a glimpse of their life. People they mention, sometimes there are recipes. I have a blueberry lemon cake in one journal that is so wonderful. They took the time to measure all the ingredients for the recipe to hand over to a daughter in law. It was a favorite of her son.
There is one heart wrenching journal that tells of a mom that lost her son. He didn’t die, he went on to disguise himself as an Italian. He was mixed with Black, Native American, and White. He found a job with some Italians that excepted him as he was, but he was infatuated with a girl. He told her he was Italian, and he moved up north to work in construction. His mom got the letter that he would never come back to see her because he didn’t see himself as the mix he was, but as an Italian. He wanted her to know how much he loved her, but hoped that she would understand. Her journal told of her heartbreak, and how she felt betrayed by her son. She would also write how much she loved him, and how her retreat was going down to the river to cry for the son she lost.
Another relative wrote about her family building a town, and having a saw mill. They also had an inn, and one day they found a pregnant run away slave. It was just before the civil war, and they brought her into their home. She would have a little girl and her name was Hazel. Mary and Hazel lived in the house with the family, and my great aunt was named after Hazel. This same family had arguments at the table about how to help the slaves and not helping the slaves. One of the older sons wanted to buy slaves from the market, and then free them once they have worked off what he had paid for the slave. His thought was, if they purchased the slaves and educated them they could have a good life. The father did not agree with the son. He said if they purchased slaves they would be contributing to more slaves being sold. Mary would often tell the family of her days in bondage, and how she was treated before she ran away. If the family were caught harboring a slave, the family would have had to relinquish Mary, as well as pay a $500 fine. During the civil war Mary and Hazel were sent up north, so they would not have to endure the war.
When you are lucky enough to come upon a diary or journal, treasure it! It will transport you to a place that you’ve never dreamed.