Question of the Week: Have you found any diaries or journals written by your ancestors?

+30 votes
Who wrote the diary? How have they helped in your research? Did you discover any family secrets?
in The Tree House by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (38.1k points)
retagged by Abby Glann
Yes. I found my great grandfather's Journal/Work log in my grandmother's attic. Written in pencil;-(

He had written all of their 15 children's birth names and birth dates. That helped quite a bit. My father (now 92) helped sort out all of the aunts and uncles because very few of them went by their birth name.

It was interesting to see the Grosse Pointe names from the 1800's. I sore it in my safe.
This question is literally the reason I am answering this question.

I inherited a small bundle of ancestry information and just dug it out of a box about a month ago. In the bundle was a paper  written by Joe O. Saville Jr. entitled "The Saville Family 1740 to 1961 Six Generations". It is 13 pages long, but it has more than simple facts (there are no sources cited). It is a story that is a great place to start and document as I go along.
I've just spent hours pouring over a journal I found online. I was at a complete dead end. I had the name of the daughter, Adelia, her birth and death date and the name of the man she married (John Godown). All from a secondary source. I kept trying all sorts of ways to find him or her and was ready to give up.

Finally I did a search with husband name and and her last name only. Eureka of sorts!  I found a reference to Mr.and Mrs. or the Godowns in a diary from 1862. My Adelia was already dead. But it turned out to have a lot of references to all of the family. The diarist was best friends with John and Adelia's daughter Jane and son Joseph. The diary confirmed that as it mentioned Adelia's brother, and another brother's child. I found the diarist in the census. I searched for John again via her location in 1860 and found him as John Goodown.. Then other pieces started to fall into place.

So I was able to confirm .husband's name and his second wife, 2 children who grew to adults and one who died under 5, 3 step siblings.
Goofing off on Google and searching names garnered a diary for my fifth great-grandfather, James Parker of Shirley, Mass. I came across a weather study done by a professor based on info from colonial farmers. I emailed him to ask where he got the information and his wife kindly replies and said a diary at WEHGS. I knew it meant NEHGS and checked and found the diary, which he kept for almost his whole life. It's amazing and includes mostly farming talk, but lots of personal information, some historical references and info on his neighbors. I always tell fellow genealogists to look for diaries of neighbors if they can't find one by an ancestor.
My Mom kept a journal........really fun if you want to know what the weather was where they stopped for the night.........and not much else, sometimes not even the town.  I think we are not a journaling family.
I have a book given to me by my mother about our Iveson Family, called, "On Liberty's Shore." A great portion of the work is the journal written by John Iveson during the family's trans-Atlantic trip from Liverpool to New York City. Their embarkation is dated Wednesday, 28 May 1817.
A cousin of mine gave me our g grandmother's journal.  It is only a daily journal with mostly notes about the weather and who came visiting.  She sometimes noted about how her husband hadn't come home and her suspicions.  However, she noted the death of her neighbor Mrs William Spade and a week later she noted her husband missing again and 2 days later his body being found at the fairgrounds dead from chloroform poisoning.  She then went on for several weeks noting in her journal her lamentations and how she wanted to die, but she had her children to care for.  It was pretty rough to read.  However, a happy ending came about as she also noted about visits and help from William Spade who eventually became her 2nd husband and had more children, one of which was my grandmother.

I have some of my grandmother and grandfather's letters, exchanged when he was in the service in 1945. They have been wonderful to read and have even inspired the title of my creative non-fiction book about family estrangement, which is called Same Moon Shining.

Yes, I have my grandfather's letters he wrote while in the Army during the Korean war from 1950-1951.

I also have my 3x great grandfathers letters to his wife while he served in the civil war.

Not an ancestor of mine but one I have been researching Captain James Duncan ( [ Diary of Captain James Duncan Yorktown Campaign]

41 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer

I know this question was asked a while back. Nevertheless, I would like to make my G2Gers aware of The Revolutionary Journal of Col. Jeduthan Baldwin 1775-1778. I have the Reprint Edition published by Ayer Company Publishers, Inc. North Stratford, NH. [ISBN 0-405-01223-3]. LC# 73-140853. It was originally printed for the de Burians in 1906. The book contains a reproduction of a letter sent by Col. Baldwin from Ticonderoga in 1776 to his daughter, Betsey. It also has a photo of the old Baldwin House in Woburn, MA. The book also had daily accounts of Col. Baldwin's work at Mt. Independence in Orwell, VT. 

This book is an "Eyewitness Account of the American Revolution. It was kept by my 4th great uncle, Col. Jeduthan Baldwin. His youngest brother, Pvt. Josiah Baldwin, is my 4th great grandfather, who served as an artificer at Fishkill, NY during the Revolution.

This is a very fine book for anyone (historians, genealogists) interested in an 'up front' account of day-to-day activities (including dining with Gen. Washington) during the Revolution. Thank you, Carol (Baldwin-3428).

by Carol Baldwin G2G6 Pilot (562k points)
selected by Dan Bacon
+16 votes
Our family has some diaries, journals, letters, receipts for land etc.  My dad was always interested in history, so most of the family papers were given to him. This paper work pertained to my mother's family.  I'm still using the family papers to help with my WikiTree work.
by Becky Syphers G2G6 Mach 3 (35.8k points)
Hey Becky! Besides grabbing the information and integrating it into profiles (thank you!) are you scanning or photographing any of the pages? Sometimes it's neat just to see samples. I know I'd like to.
+15 votes
My great-grandfather's brother was a teacher in Yates County New York circa 1870. He kept a journal. It was filled with his poetry (mostly uninteresting), things like I'm staying with the smiths this week, and his philosophical thoughts. He hardly ever mentions his family, but we have gleaned from it's pages and his thoughts on "demon rum" that perhaps his father was an alcoholic. He never comes right out and says it, but it's there between the lines

A many greats aunt, kept a diary in Nashville after the Civil War. She's lonely and has a really bad case of Empty nest syndrome. Towards the end of the journal, she joins her daughter and General Georg P. Buell "out west" where he's holding down the fort and fighting Indians.

I also have some of my mother's diaries. She loved to eat and loved to hear from her children.
by Anne B G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
+16 votes
My 2nd great grandmother, Grace Beatrice Berry, kept everything!  I am currently in the process of scanning some letters from 1909 that were between her and my 2nd great grandfather when they were dating (they're each between 5-10 pages long and there's around 50 or so letters).  She also kept every postcard ever sent to her, and I have 2 or 3 shoeboxes full of them. The letters and postcards really add another layer to learning about my ancestry, and give me some insight into their day-to-day life and who they were as people.  It's nice being able to see parts of their personalities come across in their writings, and also see just how much my great-great-grandparents loved each other.  I also have a lock of her hair, which was kind of creepy to come across.
by Summer Thompson G2G1 (1.3k points)
+15 votes
This is from a cousin who is not a direct ancestor. The title is "A Journey to Ohio in 1810. "  It was written by Margaret Van Horn Dwight, as a confidential journal, but due to the interest in the content after 100 years, it was made into a book. The Western Reserve Historical Society has a copy of the book. There were not a lot of bridges across rivers between Connecticut and Ohio, so crossing was difficult and dangerous.
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
+16 votes

After my Dad passed last year, I got my grandmother's photo album, and my mom's wedding book. The photo album had a few handwritten notes, not many, but it did help clear up a little confusion with a few relationships.

But my mom's wedding album was special, because she died when I was very young and I didn't really know her. Not much written in it, but this one line was very special to me:

How We Met: In Sunday morning Bible class, Tommy led singing, and grinned at me. After class we got acquainted.

She was 18 years old. They were married less than 6 months later.

by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (537k points)
what a wonderful find! I'm so sorry for your loss, but that one line is heartwarming to the max!
+14 votes

my mom's great-grandfather, William Hamilton Watkins, was an early Methodist minister & wrote his memoirs. So lucky to have a copy!

by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (473k points)
That sounds like a good one Liz.
+13 votes
I have a wonderful document written by my grandfather which includes information about his time in WW1 and at Gallipoli.  As far as his early life goes he mentions some fascinating stories, but dates, names and places or anything factual to help me find out more if missing.  Always was one for the big picture, not the detail!  Never mind, at least I have it!  Where would the fun be if it was easy!
by Veronica Williams G2G6 Pilot (148k points)
My father's older brother who died August 1918 during WWI in France sent postcards home to his family in Canada. I will scan them into his page on Wikitree as soon as possible. Perhaps, after the Xmas 'rush', as family is expected soon.
+12 votes
A ledger from the local store. Family bought supplies once per season including 2 slaves (according to the entry in the ledger). My Grandmother(maiden name Lee) passed it to me when I started looking into the family story of a connection with Gen Robert E Lee.
+11 votes
One year (1854, the yr her father died) in the life of my 2nd gr grandmother, Abigail Colburn Adams in Moriah, Essex, New York, written in pencil in a poetic style.

Even more treasured than her diary are 2 sensitive betrothal poems written to and responded to by Newell Adams. These are in pencil on lined paper and were folded into tiny squares that could have been carried in Abigail's pocket (literal) book.

They were loaned to me by another descendant who was unable to make out the script. I could read the script and transcribed all for both of us and later generations...
by Marj Adams G2G6 Mach 4 (40.4k points)
+12 votes

Unfortunately, not much. After my grandmother's death in 2009 (my grandpa died in 1998), my dad and stepmom started going through the house to see if there was anything they/we/the family wanted to keep. My grandmother kept everything. She had my dad's and my aunt's report cards from high school (1960's).

But her habit of keeping everything meant she also saved her maternal grandfather's naturalization papers and some papers listing my grandfather's siblings, their birth dates, and death dates for a few (maybe used to be kept in a bible?). My dad sent me cell phone pictures of birth/death dates listing - not all of the dates appear to be correct, at least according to what those siblings used on other paperwork, so I think it must have been written long after the fact. We're not sure who wrote it all down, either. My dad has yet to send me pictures/scans of the naturalization papers.

And then my aunt got very impatient (according to my dad) and had junk haulers empty the house. My dad and my aunt don't seem to get along all that well...

by Leah Worster G2G3 (3.0k points)
+14 votes

I had very little information when I started genealogy.  In one line, I started with the information that perhaps there was a Palmer in PEI.  With very little knowledge / experience, I went to the FHL in Salt Lake.  After about 5 days, on my last day or so, feeling disappointed, I was flipping through about 90 issues of a PEI historical journal, The Island Register, when a drawing caught my eye, and I began to read the article.  It was about the diary of Lucy Palmer and included a list of her wedding gifts.  In that list was a gift from her sister, my great grandmother!  After that, I found another article written about a second sister's diary (Lilla's).  (Their diaries were in family papers kept by the archives in PEI - a place I've never been, unfortunately.)  Lucy's diary unlocked a path for me, and feels like the place I really became interested in genealogy (and history, actually).  

Then, about 5 years later, I was very surprised when my mother produced, from some secret place, a notebook which was the diary kept her grandmother, Mary, who was Lucy and Lilla’s sister, In the notebook, Mary writes about her life at home, with her sisters (of which she had 7 and one surviving brother).  It's very sweet and enchanting.  They are all very busy with one another and friends, and keeping their father’s home.  She writes about her courtship and marriage at 30, and then happy little notes with her first child, and bit about her second, and so on, and eventually the notebook goes silent. In the course of her early marriage, she often writes that Henry (her husband) is at a church service, or function, or social, and she is home with the children, confined, I realized by pregnancy.  Eventually, she and Henry and their children moved to Vancouver, away from her sisters.

My mother said her father told her (referring to the family into which my mother was marrying), "Don't let them make you a farm drudge".  When I finished reading my great grandmother's journal, I heard his words to my mother very clearly in my mind.  I think he must have found his mother's notebook in her papers when she died, and reading it, was saddened by her transformation from a sweet happy adolescent girl and new wife into the woman he knew as his mother.

by Janice Tanche G2G5 (5.6k points)
+8 votes

Waaaaaah  .. No .. not a shred .. I will ..


C'est Bon 

by Gerald Baraboo G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+11 votes
We have found a diary written by our ancestor William Corbet. He was born in 1740. The diary is mainly about what life was like in his times, natural phenomena, cost of food etc. He lived till 1832. It is written in a beautiful copper plate handwriting which l presumes means that he had a good education. He was a cordwainer by profession. We also have his will and other items. It is very interesting reading and lets one know more about the life and times of people in the 18th century. He lived in Belton and then Shepshed in Leics.
by Ann Tippett G2G2 (2.0k points)
+10 votes
I have my maternal grandfathers travel diaries, from when he and my grandmother went to England (from Australia) in 1950.  They are all in about 5 old exercise books, and accompanied by all sorts of other items such as maps, postcards, pamphlets etc.

My grandmother was English and had been back by herself several times, but this was my grandfathers first, and only trip abroad.  He was born in Australia, but both his parents were born in Cornwall, and he does visit an aunt and various cousins but unfortunately it is very short on important detail, like how they were related, or even names sometimes.

It is fascinating though as a picture of England, 5 years after the end of WW2.  As visitors they were given an extra sugar ration, so they could buy sweets.
by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (489k points)
+9 votes

I did find a diary/journal of who I think it my 4th great uncle James Chittleborough which is housed at the South Australia State Library . My family paid to have a photocopy of it sent across. It is interesting as it documents an overland and river journey between Kiandra, N.S.W. and Adelaide.

Sadly another diary I had heard about documenting my great uncle's times in Changi concentration camp has been lost in the intervening years. It would have been a really interesting read and is so sad as he managed to keep it all the time in camp but it got lost in someone's house move it is thought. 

by Shelley Heath G2G1 (1.0k points)
+9 votes
Yes, I found "As I Recall" Written by my Grandfather Robert Earl Zimmerman and "The Randle Family - A Living Workbook 1500's-1900's"

Very helpful, but hard for me to use.
by Larry Mummey G2G Crew (660 points)
+10 votes
My great-grandfather, Branson Coltrane kept a diary during the Civil War. It mostly names locations where his regiment moved to and dates.  It was written in pencil and thankfully, my sister copied it down in the 1960's so at least the words and dates are preserved.
by Elizabeth Coltrane G2G6 Mach 2 (20.5k points)
+10 votes
One of my mother's maternal aunts had given her a neatly typed few pages of family history.  It was written in the 1950s and included stories from her mother born in 1859.  One of them was from being home when Union soldiers came to their Tennessee home looking for food.  It helped give me some direction for finding my initial Revolutionary War patriot.
by Joy Harrison G2G6 Mach 1 (12.3k points)
+8 votes
I found my mother's college scrapbook (she died in 1970, I was born in 1969); * short background - my father remarried and when they recently moved I helped them clean out the attic and my natural mother's college scrapbook was one of the treasures we found. Years prior, I was given a silver bracelet that belonged to my natural mother, on one side it had her name and on the other it had another female name with the dates "1960-61" it wasn't until I found that scrapbook and looked through it when I discovered who this other female was, my mother had written about the silver bracelet and that the other female's name was her best college friend. So that solved that mystery.
by Keith Cook G2G6 Mach 3 (37.9k points)

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