Sunday, January 25, 2009

Keeping a Journal

Today Steven, who posts on the blog, Projections, wrote the entry in Ronni Bennett's blog Time Goes By.
His subject was on writing a journal and that has prompted me to write my own thoughts on the subject.

It's strange where inspiration comes from, isn't it? I would never have thought of this subject had I not read Steven's post.

Currently, I am wading through a Journal that my Great Grandmother wrote. I believe she had not been married long when she started it because her five children are never mentioned. It is slow going because, although her penmanship is beautiful, the ink has faded to a pale brown and some entries are gone and can never be recovered. Even the entries that are legible are straining my eyes as I try to decipher them. The other thing that makes it difficult is the size. The Journal is about the size of a deck of cards and the writing is very small. I am making good use of my magnifying glass.

It would be worthwhile to surmount the reading difficulties if I were discovering her thoughts and learning about the events of her life. Unfortunately, she was writing it for herself without any thought to posterity. People are never identified and places are left to the imagination.

As an example, she tells about visiting Brother Al and Carrie being very ill. Since I know that her oldest child was named Carrie (my Grandmother) I was puzzled as to why Carrie was living with Al. Carrie eventually died from whatever her ailment might have been. At that time the Journal sadly explained that Carrie was a child. She was, therefore, not my Grandmother. (Was my grandmother named after her?) I then assumed she may have been Brother Al's child. That would make her my Great Grandmother's Niece . Later on in the Journal I discovered that Al came to live with my Great Grandparents for a time and he was only 19 years old. So my assumptions had to be adjusted once more.

The daily entries usually start out, "This was a pleasant day." or "Today was not pleasant." This is normally followed by her activities of the day as, "I cleaned house this morning and sewed on Carrie's dress this afternoon." In other words, the Journal is a diary and not at all illuminating about the people mentioned. I learned that a child named Clyde died shortly after they held the funeral for Carrie. These sad events are related without knowing who Clyde was and whose child he was. Was he a neighbor's child, a relative, a friend's child? What did he die from? The Journal provides more questions than answers. I am at sea about the relationships of the people named except when they are directly related to my Great Grandmother. She mentions going to see Ma and Pa, but does not tell where they lived.

Anyone who write their memories should write them as if they were explaining the events to a stranger. It will be strangers who read them, even if that person is a descendant of the author.

This has made me think I should go back and edit the Memoirs I wrote years ago. Would the person reading them know who I was talking about and where the event took place? I know who the people are, but will someone 100 years in the future?

I am also going to add photographs to my Memoirs so the future reader will have a better picture of the people I am writing about. I also need to investigate how to archive my Memoirs so they will endure.

It is a daunting task, but one I owe to my family. Even my children may find some surprises when they read my story. At least I hope they don't say, "Mom, we've heard that story a zillion times. (" One of the Beatitudes for Seniors is, "Blessed are they who never say, you've told that story twice today.")

It is true that when an elder dies, a library dies with them. Lets not let it happen to our children and grandchildren. Log on to your Word Processor and get busy!


20th Century Woman said...

I hear what you say, but it's hard to do. Consistency has always been a problem for me. I tend to keep journals for a week or two and then lapse. I'm hoping my blog will keep me disciplined, and I always keep hard copies. I don't trust the ether.

kenju said...

I have never kept a journal, but I began to wish that I had about 10 years ago. It must be wonderful to have the journal of a grandparent; I wish I had something like that to read and learn about my forbears.

donna said...

I found the same kind of things reading my mom's journal after she died. It was kept when she was 19 and includes the day my dad proposed to her. That is all that's mentioned, with no emotion whatsoever. It's just weird to read things like that with no emotional overtones at all. Maybe it's just how they wrote diaries then.

Darlene said...

20th Century Woman, I didn't keep a daily diary, either. I just started writing my Memoirs in my Word Processor and when I thought of something I would add it. I edited it as I went along and it really wasn't too hard because I didn't push myself and did it as the mood hit me.

Kenju, I wish my GG's diary helped me learn about her but so far I find it repetitive and frustrating.

Donna, I have read a few pages beyond where I was when I posted this and did find that my GG took the death of Carrie very hard. It was refreshing to find some emotion after all. Now if I only knew who the child Carrie was. Sigh!

Rain said...

Boy, I write my journals for me and never intend anybody else would read them. I even put a warning in the first page to that effect. I guess the earlier ones, when the kids were growing up might be okay for others but today's I should burn if I know I am going to die :) They are where I am most totally me and don't write in a way that I'd want anybody else coming across.

Anonymous said...

It is wonderful that you are enjoying the legacy that your great grandmother left behind, however unwittingly. For my part, if I wish to read an entertaining story, I go to the library.

There are different philosophies on diaries. Several years before she died, my own mother destroyed her life's diaries and I, in turn, have destroyed mine. If there was something that our kids should know, we should have told them. Otherwise, they have no "need" to know. When they read words after we die, there is no chance to explain something that they might perceive as hurtful--no chance to correct misperceptions.

Too, in the last few months I have begun going through my lifetime accummulation of letters and cards, of which I had kept all. Facts and dates, I am recording in a database; but, the letters are being destroyed or returned to sender (if still living). I know how hard it is to throw out a parent's "stuff", so I am trying to make it easier on our kids.

As you and I have oft said, "To each her own!" ; )

Anonymous said...

Oops! 'Twas I.
Cop Car

Lydia said...

So interesting! The mysteries of your relative's journal are sad, but it's still fascinating stuff. My uncle made tapes of his memories of his mother and father (my gmother and gfather). He had a marvelous voice, a great story-telling presence, and a fabulous memory. Being the eldest child he relayed info that preceded my mother being born. She treasured the tapes. After her death they became mine and my husband and I decided to make a family project out of them. It turned into a year-long process of transferring the tapes methodically to three discs, with separations of stories that had chapter titles. I scanned about every photo from the trunk and out of that came a separate photo cd. In one chapter he talks about a train trip he took with my gfather and the fine hotel they stayed at. In the dining room a quartet played a song that my gfather loved, so he sent up cigars to the quartet and they played it three more times. The name of the song was "Every Little Movement Has a Meaning of Its Own." I found that it was sung by Judy Garland in an old movie. Long story short, I communicated with a vice president at Warner, and by way of the company's legal department a permission was given for me to use the song in my family project and in no way for profit. I had to pay $100. So right after the chapter where my uncle tells the story up comes the song. It is absolutely thrilling! and a huge tie for me to my grandfather who died decades before I was born.

Boy, you really got me going! Anyway, I, too, now worry about archiving this family project. I should make copies again soon. We sent the 4-disc set (3 oral history and 1 photos/documents) to 27 people in the family. Funny, how I, one of the few who didn't have children, became the family historian of this generation in my family......

Marylou said...

"Anyone who writes his/her memories should write them as if they were explaining the events to a stranger. It will be strangers who read them, even if that person is a descendant of the author." This comment grabbed me by the throat. If you happened to notice,by wandering through my blogs, I am in the process of "translating" the memoirs of my ancesters into an historical novel.aka, CUSHING. But I realize that, unwittingly, I am taking some of the details for granted, as being fully deciferable to my reader...because I understand, my mother understands, my grandmother would understand, but you, reader, stranger to the idiosyncracies of my world and my family, deserve more detail...So thank you, Darlene...

Anonymous said...

It is so neat that you have that journal. I believe everyone should write down about their life. I am a published writer and working on a book about my dad.If I had a journal from him it would be great. Back in the 1900's people were publishing books about thier family line. A tiny thing to us written down could mean a vital connection for someone 100 years from now. I believe very strongly about someone keeping a journal. thanks Darlene for sharing.