Question of the Week: Have you found any diaries from your ancestors? [closed]

+16 votes

imageHave you found any diaries or journals written by your ancestors?

Tell us about it with an answer below! You could also use the question image to share your answer with friends and family on social media.

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.6m points)
closed by Eowyn Walker

30 Answers

+16 votes

Actually, I do have a few diaries.

1) my late father-in-law's diary covering a portion of his WW II experience in the Pacific Theatre.
2) My late sister-in-law's diary.
3) My late mom-in-law's, where she talks about being in love with her future husband from as far back as junior high school.
4) My maternal grandfather's from his stay in Texas from 1911-1916.

All of these are treasures as they show a side of life that is not transmitted by "official" documents. This is where people become real.

by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.8m points)
+14 votes
Nope, only letters, cards and address books.
by Tommy Buch G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
edited by Tommy Buch
Still important documents, Tommy. I have my grandmother's address book. I knew many of the people entered there, and not just relatives.
+16 votes

He's not technically my ancestor but I consider him, at the very least, an 'honourary ancestor' and that Ted Neal, my great-grandfather's best friend and my great-grandmother's second husband.

I found his tiny, tattered diary in a shoebox, the cover is made of blue leather and neatly impressioned into it is 'STALAG XX A'.

I presume that he bought the diary or was given it around Christmas 1941 as it's intended for 1942 (he used it for '42 and '43).

Looking inside, Ted used the diary for all kinds of things, from keeping his bills at home in order, noting important things and keeping the home addresses of his fellow prisoners.

As I said the diary is very small so he never wrote more than a few words for each day but here are the notable excerpts:

Jan 1 - Monday

Jan 2 - Sam's Birthday

Jan 10 - Photo of Room Group to Polly [his sister]; Photo of QVRs to Albert [his brother]

Feb 12 - Birthday Card from Polly + George

Feb 15 - [His Birthday] Accordion band plays tonight in own flat     65 Guests [he was an accordionist]

June 20 - Letter to Albert about who is paying rent and a stone for mother's grave

June 24 - Mother's Birthday; Letter from Polly; Letter from George

Aug 31 - Expecting to move on Wednesday

Sept 16 - Left Stalag XX A for new camp (Oflag IIIC)

Oct 10 - Start of reprisals (ie. tying of hands)

Oct 12 - Still tying hands

Oct 16 - Still tying hands

Dec 25 - Christmas Day

Dec 31 - Received photo of Maureen [his niece]

by David Smith G2G6 Mach 7 (78.4k points)
David, do you know what "tying hands" means?
Ah, yes. At one point Hitler ordered all POWs to have their hands shackled from dawn to dusk, 12 hours a day. In Stalag 383, this only happened for a week and when outside visitors came. In M.N. McKibbin's "Barbed Wire: Memories of Stalag 383" he put this down partly due to a lack of resources and mostly down to the Kommandant's sympathies for the POWs (or perhaps even a distaste for the NDSAP) which is shown throughout.

I can only presume that in higher security, better manned and more loyal camps this practice would have continued throughout the war.
Ahh… now it makes sense! Thanks!
+14 votes
No, unfortunately I did not find any diaries of my ancestors, but many letters, postcards and partly wills as well as a list of the ancestors of my paternal grandmother in an old family bible.
by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (3.2m points)
Dieter, I find that even all those old letters (that no one else wanted, but I now have) are extremely important to making our ancestors come to life. Those you have are real treasures!
You are absolutely right Pip; these letters are great.

There is, for example, a letter that my mother's father wrote from the war front and that only arrived home when he had already fallen in 1944. Or a letter from a relative that she wrote to her family while still on her deathbed. In a telegram, my wife's paternal grandfather writes that he is coming home from Russian captivity in 1950.
Many of the letters are very sad, but bring the ancestors back to life and give insight into life at that time.
+14 votes
My great-grandfather kept a diary most of his life. I am fortunate to have the ones he kept through the Civil War as well as some later ones.  Mostly just ordinary comments on the weather or people he talked to, but he was also present at Fort Stevens when Lincoln came to see the battle.
by Kathie Forbes G2G6 Pilot (904k points)
Kathie, even those small events and people can really provide some insight into the life of your great-grandfather.
+14 votes
Yes. My paternal grandmother. On one page she gloated that the "love of her life" had died in great pain. (Some "love." He got some other girl pregnant, a shotgun came into play, and that was that.
by Carolyn Comings G2G6 Mach 5 (57.1k points)
That certainly was that, Carolyn!
+14 votes
I have a copy of the published diary of my distant cousin Athanasius Raczynski, but I have memoirs that were written by my maternal grandfather and his mother.

Close to that, I have all of the letters that my grandparents wrote each other while he was overseas in World War II, as well as copies of all the action reports for the field artillery battalion that he commanded in Sicily and France.  I can literally tell what he did every day.
by Roger Stong G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
You jogged my memory, Roger. I have the letters my late father-in-law wrote to his wife during WW II while he was various places, but mostly n the Pacific. I really need to get those in order.

                 I have the same thing on my ever-growing list.

+12 votes
My wife's ancestors were prolific diary writers. She has about a dozen, some written in the original german, most translated into english. The oldest dates from 1852. Several of her ancestors wrote autobiographies based on their diaries.
by David Carlson G2G6 Pilot (389k points)
1852 is much further back than any of the diaries I have, David. How wonderful it is for your wife to have come from a family of diarists.
+16 votes
Pip mentions that diaries; personal writings are where people become real.

The other day , I found a notebook containing a   diary written by my mother.  The first entry was for her 60th wedding anniversary and the receipt of the  card from the Queen.  She'd obviously started the diary in a blank notebook  to practice her handwriting .She  added  her signature  after many entries.   Some  entries were  followed by  word puzzles . Over a year, her motor control and sadly her  cognitive function  diminished . A year later her signature was unrecognisable. She had  Parkinson's disease. It was not diagnosed when she started the diary. She knew, though never admitted it.  She'd nursed patients with Parkinsons for years at a specialist hospital. The changes over just one year  were  so very clear and for me very upsetting to find. It certainly reveals real life, the fight  she had to retain her fine motor control and her mental faculties.  Do we as family historians  keep and even publish such  records for our descendants?
by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (484k points)
edited by Helen Ford
Helen, what a treasure, though I know that it also brings some sadness.

Keep and publish? I would say, "Yes." As we well know, paper documents can be lost or damaged beyond reading.
+13 votes
I took a tour group through the state archives, and I told the guy leading the tour, who one of my ancestors were. He immediately responded, Oh, we have his work diary here, it is about to be released from the archive. They were looking for some other history keeping location to keep it.
by Ben Molesworth G2G6 Pilot (166k points)
Ben, have you been able to see the work diary yet?
No. I'd have to book a time to go into the public records office, and have a look at it. Of course, with the current lockdown, which has been going for the last 18 months, it hasn't been possible.
I know you are chomping at the bit to see it, Ben.
+13 votes
Yes, many kept by my mother, and one by my paternal grandmother dated 1945; her daily notes about the weather and its effects on daily farm chores, interrupted just once: “ “they set off a bomb over Japan today.”
by Alma LaFrance G2G3 (3.0k points)
Weather and farm chores? What a great window on the way life was for your grandmother, Alma!
Thanks.  Curiously, throughout my grandmother's  1945 Diary, she never  mentioned the WAR ...except that once:  '"they set off a bomb over Japan today," even though two of her grandsons were serving in the War.
+10 votes
Not exactly a diary, more an account book.  It was written in German script, transliterated to English.  I regard it as a wonderful family document, and will always be grateful to Dieter Lewerenz, for his work deciphering it.
by Mark Weinheimer G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Mark, I also have an account book that belonged to my great-grandfather. He ran a small grocery store in Charlotte. Some of the entries involve purchases by kin.
+12 votes
I have a diary written in the mid 1890s by my grandmother’s cousin Flora Bristol.  She was 19 years old at the time and travelled by train from Massachusetts to Angel’s Camp California to visit an uncle who was a gold prospector!

Along the way she visited a brother in Chicago who worked for Marshall Field. Flora wrote at length about the plays she saw, the events she attended, the people she met on the train and the countryside.

She tantalizingly mourns a lost love to the Spanish American War and talks about lost chances that never return.

Then she returned home and died within a year from “Gastralgia” whatever that might mean.

I hunted around and finally found her gravestone and put a flower on it.
by Kim Williams G2G6 Mach 6 (63.9k points)
What a touching story, Kim. And, what a kind act on your part to remember Flora.
Gastralgia is abdominal pain. It can be anything from indigestion to appendicitis or perforated diverticulitis.

Given that she died, probably appendicitis.
Thank you!! Makes sense as she was so young to die. Appreciate the info.
+12 votes
My husband's family has a lot of diaries. One set was kept by his great-great-grandfather from 1868 until his death in 1896. Then his wife did off and on until her death in 1919. Their son kept one from at least 1872 until his death in 1953!  I have transcribed the first two sets and some of the latter, though those are less interesting and harder to read the handwriting. I made separate note of where "vital records" are mentioned - who was born, died, married, etc. in their small town, and put those on my website.  Example:

I also have several diaries from my grandmother, which she kept after her husband died. These overlap with my own life, so I find my mother, myself, and my siblings mentioned as kids.
by Virginia Peterson G2G6 (7.4k points)
edited by Virginia Peterson
+11 votes
We found a record book where my mother kept track of my father's truck farm sales during their "honeymoon".  They semi-eloped in Jan. 1933.  We found where they themselves were making purchases and plans to go to Florida before. They departed home with marriage license in the car.  Typically of the penurious situation they were always in, they had a flat  on a very old tire and had to spend the night 30 miles from home.  They looked up a local minister and got married!  They continued on to Florida, where more family lived, and truck farmed during the winter.  My father ended up selling string beans by the hamper, through a broker who took a 15% commission, to
New York City.  He received less per full hamper than it
cost him to buy the empty one!  He ended up returning to the home farm and milked cows for the remaining five years of his life.  He, at 50, left a wife and four children ages 6 months, 22 months, three years, and the oldest three months short of five years old.  I was the 22 months.
by Beulah Cramer G2G6 Pilot (579k points)
edited by Beulah Cramer
+12 votes
My uncle has his uncle's diaries and I do have some family letters but I don't think we had any other family that kept a diary.

I have my aunt's autograph books which I scanned for Scan a Thon.
by Hilary Gadsby G2G6 Pilot (325k points)
+12 votes
I inherited my paternal grandmother's five 5-Year diaries. The first entries start in January of 1925. She talks about school, family, friends, and seems very interested in a fella she calls Bur.

Over the ensuing years the entries continue and include her graduation from college, her marriage to Bur, the birth of two sons, and many entries about her heart condition.

On June 29th 1953, the handwriting changes to my grandfather's. He writes "Doris left us this morning..for her home above."

A little over two months later, he writes of my arrival at 2:05 pm. "A very nice looking baby. Dear Dotty is doing fine."

The diaries are filled with information on birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, marriages, and of course deaths.  Nothing like a primary source.
by Nancy Woodward G2G4 (4.6k points)
+12 votes
Yes, Solomon Morgan Brian of East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, the brother of my 3G-Grandfather, left behind at least three volumes - I have a photocopy of the volume covering the period from 1860 - 1864.  It's a fascinating look at daily life in Louisiana during the Civil War.
by Carla Bergeron G2G Crew (560 points)
+12 votes
I am honoured to have the original diary of my Great Great Grandmother, Henrietta Ann Foott (Lumsden-960). This covers a period around 1850 about which she wrote a book called "Sketches of Life in the Bush". This was a transition from owning a castle in England, bankruptcy, to moving to Australia with nothing but her family. Unfortunately I can't read her writing, which is very frustrating.
by Mark Bowman G2G1 (1.0k points)
+12 votes
In an old box of family photos, I came across a diary of my great-grandfather, handwritten in 1916, which describes his grandparents' journey from Virginia to settle in (and build a log cabin in) the new state of Ohio. It gives great details about the family, dates, marriages, children, grandchildren and even describes daily life with chores and much geographic information to rival an encyclopedia. It's a great treasure!
by Jennifer Bello G2G6 Mach 1 (18.3k points)

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