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

+30 votes
1.1k views
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 (38.0k 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 https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Wing-400 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 (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Duncan-4659) [https://www.fold3.com/browse/1/h9Y02Zdgui3rN46E8DsXLjh_F91S2TsIh Diary of Captain James Duncan Yorktown Campaign]

41 Answers

+9 votes
I found a brief family history filed with the LDS  I was able to order the microfilm and obtain a pint of he family record.
by Marion Spohn G2G1 (1.2k points)
+8 votes
One of my distant cousins recently found a "traveling pants"-type diary that was passed around between my great-great grandmother and two of her sisters.  It had recipes, poetry, and songs that they'd all written!  Really gave me a new perspective on who she was.
by Vicky Majewski G2G6 Mach 7 (76.0k points)
+7 votes
We have a "Family Record" on our maternal side that was composed, starting in 1840, by a foresighted forebear, Rep. Samuel Jones.  (One of 5 generations of Samuels in a row, so for starters, it helps ID which Sam'l was which.)  It was transcribed some years ago via typewriter and we now have it in electronic form so it can be shared around the family, and it's been a tremendous help with about a dozen profiles... mostly confirming information that did exist elsewhere, but sometimes providing dates -- or confidence in dates -- that we did not have before.

I also have, courtesy of my sister, a stack of notes and letters from/to my maternal grandfather and several of his siblings that are a) fascinating [e.g., the note his youngest brother evidently left at their mother's bedside while she slept, joyfully announcing his engagement], and b) helpful in confirming dates, place names, and nicknames, and more.  I need to dedicate a day to scanning all of these... and apparently there are "more where that came from"...
by Christopher Childs G2G6 (9.8k points)
+7 votes
I have found 2 short pages hand-written by my mother when she emigrated to the USA from Canada in the mid-1930's. They have been scanned to my computer; this is a reminder that perhaps I should upload them to Wikitree?
by Jeannette Saladino G2G6 Mach 1 (12.6k points)
+7 votes
I was searching through Lutheran church records for my German ancestors and suddenly found I was in the middle of Emma Ogborn Jones' Diary! She was a Quaker woman who married her husband in 1865 and kept a daily journal of her life near Hanover, PA, for nearly 30 years, until she died. She was her husband's second wife, and helped raise her step children as well as giving birth to two daughters of her own. Alas! Her own daughters never lived to marry themselves, and she was consigned to oblivion as a family "dead end."

I found her journal amazingly full of riches: succinct descriptions of her daily life and of the Friends' society, of her moral imperatives, of her sins and sorrows--a complete and fascinating picture of her life and times.

I was so moved by the journal, I began to transcribe it, but then realized it was not mine to do. I alerted the descendants of her husband and shared the address with them. I hoped they would read it. I created her and her family's profiles on WikiTree, so that she wouldn't be forgotten and despite being a "dead end" genetically, her rich observations might be enjoyed by others.
by Alexandra Florimonte G2G6 Mach 2 (21.0k points)
+6 votes

I discovered that my 4th great-Aunt, Lydia Casad Sexton, wrote her autobiography before her death in 1894. She was one of the first female Christian evangelists in the United States and she was important to the founding of the Brethren Church. It is entitled The Autobiography of Lydia Sexton. It took me years to find a copy. Now I believe that it is available digitally on the net and free. I learned a few surprising family stories dating back before the Revolution. She has a remarkable personal voice in her writing. After reading it, she and her brother Anthony Wayne Casad, who is my 3rd great-grandfather, seemed very real to me in a way that they never had before.

by Leila Schutz G2G2 (2.8k points)
+6 votes
I inherited a stack of v-mail from my uncle Roy Fagan  (Fagan-486) to his mother and father while he served in WWII. He was killed on Aug. 13, 1944 in France and is buried there. The v-mail is hard to read because of its size so I have transcribed them onto Wikitree. In the pack of letters was also a letter from another soldier asking my grandfather how Roy was doing, since this soldier hadn't heard from him. Since I never met him, these letters have given a voice to him for me.  [https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Fagan-486]
by Nikki Byer G2G6 (8.5k points)
+6 votes
In 1837 my 3rd great grandfather who was living in upstate New York, wrote a letter to his son who had moved to Ontario, Canada. It included comment on how difficult it was to get good prices for crops at that time.

This was a difficult year for the American economy known at the "Panic of 1837."    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_of_1837
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.2m points)
+7 votes
Yes.  My great-great grandfather James Madison Pruett (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Pruett-447) was a physician and kept journals.  His father, Jehu Pruett emigrated to Oregon in 1848 from Missouri.  James went to visit his father's home in Missouri in 1875 and wrote a journal about his experiences.  He lists all of this father's brothers, sisters and their families giving great detail on the births, marriages and deaths in the Pruett family.  He also wrote about his father's journey to Oregon.  The  memoir is attached to his profile Pruett-447 if you are interested in reading.

Best,

Caryl
by Caryl Ruckert G2G6 Pilot (190k points)
+5 votes
I am fortunate enough to have available personal writings, diaries and Bibles with notations that have been entered in them.  Some of these documents date back to the early 1850's.  One such set of documents include an ancestor's trip overland to the California goldfields and his return home by sailing ship and via the Isthmus of Panama.  His diary is brief but includes a great deal of interesting information as well as names of fellow travelers.  

Hopefully before I die I will be able to finish some of the books I hope to write about their varied experiences.  Along with the writings are a large number of family photographs which I will be able use as well.

I love this question
by Judith Ancell G2G6 (10.0k points)
+5 votes
Yes, my great great grandmother wrote to her son that went to Alaska to participate in the Gold Rush in Alaska.  My uncle wrote various letters during WWII in Europe that are quite delightfully full of his sense of humor in ridiculous circumstances, i.e., to a Commanding Officer why he should be allowed to grow a beard.
by Terri Crowell G2G5 (5.4k points)
+6 votes

I have created several WikiTree Free-Space pages for Diaries, and Tagged each with the tag "Diary". You can search for this Tag using a Tag/Surname search, or by clicking on this link: https://www.wikitree.com/genealogy/Diary All these diaries are available for free online.

by Rick Pierpont G2G6 Pilot (114k points)
+4 votes
My mother accumulated many letters and pictures from her ancestors and relatives. She put them all in a footlocker and kept as shen traveled far and wide as an Army wife. When she died they went to my sister, who organized them very neatly into separate manila envelopes. My sister died recently and my niece, her daughter, asked me if I would take them. I said yes, and she sent me four or five boxes. I probably should have said no, as I was in the process of downsizing from a large house to an apartment, but I was fascinated by the material and currently act as the family genealogist. I am hoping to find someone in the next generation (Baby Boomers) or the one after that (Gen X) to take over, but so far no luck. Meanwhile, I am slowly going through this cache. I found the letters that my mother and father wrote to each other while he was on Guadalcanal in WW II, and she was in Massachusetts with me and my sisters. It is wonderful for me to realize the love that they had for each other, and the steadfast way that they accepted the trials they were going through.
by Henry Chadwick G2G6 Mach 4 (48.4k points)
+3 votes
My paternal Grandmother recently passed. I inherited her scrapbooks as well as several diaries kept by her mother, my Great Grandmother. I’d love to read them but alas I cannot as they are all in Norwegian. Project for another day.
by Christa Kriesel-Roth G2G Rookie (290 points)
+3 votes
I have the letters my granddad wrote to my grandmother during WW II and the letters my grandmother wrote to her sister in the 1960s and 1970s.
by Jelena Eckstädt G2G6 Pilot (648k points)
+3 votes
My husband's family left quite a lot of paperwork. Father in laws bird watching diary that he kept for decades even during his war service, destined to go to RSPB when we pass on as there's nothing personal in it. His father's diary notes kept on sheets of foolscap. Sketch book kept by his brother when he went to the Sudan as a journalist. Sketchy notes from their father and mother. Best of all we didn't find, it's the diary of an ancestor kept while at sea before and during the Battle of Trafalgar. That's at Greenwich museum but we now know his wife used to do his laundry and ship it to him. Several others. Found some lovely letters written by a 16 year old home to his younger brother advising him that if he's fed up with his Chemistry projects he should make fireworks. Sadly his last letter was actually his last will and testament before he died aged 16 of typhus.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (260k points)
+3 votes
I know my uncle who started my mother's family research has some journals/diaries that belonged to his uncle. I need to scan them next time I get a chance to visit. Fortunately, his part of the family are interested in our history so they should get a safe home when he is no longer with us.
by Hilary Gadsby G2G6 Pilot (147k points)
+4 votes
My maternal grandmother's father (my great grandfather) kept a journal of a scouting trip from East Texas to west of Ft. Worth Texas in the late 1800's. I only have an excerpt from it as a distant family member absconded with the original journal. Ezekiel kept detailed notes about their travel by train to Fort Worth and then by horseback. It gave insight to his literacy and maybe the wanderlust in his soul. He had moved his family from Georgia in 1871 to East Texas. Maybe he was thinking of moving again; that did not happen!!

I would have loved to read the entire journal and it made me wonder if he had kept one on the move from Georgia and maybe from the Civil War.
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (596k points)
+2 votes
I am listing my 4X Great Grand Uncle, Col. Jeduthan Baldwin's wikitree ID (Baldwin-9142). This site provides information on his participation in the Revolutionary War. Importantly, he kept a concise diary of the Revolution from 1775-1778, along with meetings/dinners with Washington, family and day-to-day activities of a soldier during this time period. His profile contains a cover photo of the latest edition of his diary. It is not just important to me and my family, but historically and for genealogists who wish to add history to profiles. Thank you! Carol (Baldwin-348)
by Carol Baldwin G2G6 Pilot (435k points)
+2 votes
No journals, but my grandmother hoarded letters from her family dating to the mid-1800's including ancestors who were at the Ballarat Goldfields, and one who became a policeman in Norseman, Western Australia.

They have proven invaluable in sorting out the family tree.
by Rob Judd G2G6 Mach 9 (93.3k points)

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