MyCinnamonToast® Parenting & Genealogy

Keeping a Diary, Who--Me?

by Edna Katherine French

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

—Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

"Why should I keep a diary?" I can hear you thinking. "Nothing interesting ever happens in my life. And besides, I'm too busy; I just don't have time."

I visited my grandmother a few years before she died and asked her if she had a family Bible or papers with genealogy information. She had both and promptly told me where to find them. When I pulled out the musty papers, I almost burst into tears. There was a fragment of the personal history written by my great-great-grandfather. I could feel his personality leap from the pages, especially when he said things like, "On the 29th of December 1825 I was shot in the streets of Greensboro with four others while serenading a newly married couple with tin pans and such like instruments. This caused me to return to my plantation in the vicinity of Jamestown. There I stayed the year 1826 with my mother and sisters." He was an rambunctious 21 years old at the time.

His writing was so clear that I could read birth, death, and marriage information of important family members, including his second wife from whom I am descended. I held this treasure and felt such gratitude that he cared enough to write his life story. Your relatives, whether on your direct or collateral lines will feel the same sense of wonder, will know that you left them an invaluable gift as they hold your diary or journal.

What is a diary? Merriam-Webster OnLine - Dictionary defines diary as "a record of events, transactions, or observations kept daily or at frequent intervals". It defines journal as "a daily record of personal activities, reflections, or feelings ". In my opinion, any of these items are appropriate to put in a personal journal, plus your own poetry, quotations that you like, newspaper clippings, photographs, and almost anything else that you want to keep or share. I don't believe that one has to be autocratic about recording life events on a daily basis. It is enough to put the important things in a journal regularly enough that you can remember and record your feelings about them.

Samuel Pepys was an English official during the reign of Charles II and one of the most famous diarists of the previous two centuries. He wrote his Diary in a private code and pictured himself with perhaps greater honesty than he might have had he known that millions of people would later read it. He shows his own foibles with great humor--things such as kicking the cook, kissing his maid or giving his wife a black eye. And he records the larger events of the times--the great fire and plague in London. Yet there are also gems of genealogical value such as this one which tells his birth date.

This day I am, by the blessing of God, 34 years old, in very good health and mind's content, and in condition of estate much beyond whatever my friends could expect of a child of theirs, this day 34 years. The Lord's name be praised! and may I be thankful for it.
Diary, February 23, 1667

Ordinary people kept journals and diaries that became valuable to their descendants. Every year, my mother-in-law would open a fat, red book filled with blank pages and begin writing. I think that she made an entry for almost every day, even if it was only a weather report, or a count of how many jars of peaches she had canned. But she also filled her diaries with good genealogical data such as visits to christenings, weddings, and funerals.

Her husband's diaries were written in tall ledger books with ruled paper. He kept a record of prices of things bought and sold for the farm. Intermingled with this data, however, was a priceless unrecorded will.

When did these busy people find time to write? My husband often says that the trouble with life is that it is so daily. Writing in a dairy or journal has to occur in between the dailyness of life, perhaps at the end of the day, once a week or even a catch-up time at the end of the month. If you go much longer than a month, however, you will find that you will have forgotten many of the reflections or feelings about the events that occurred in your life. And those feelings are some of the most important things that you can ever capture in your diary. They represent what you have learned from the events themselves. The emotions, the reflections are your true treasures. So when do you want to write in your diary? In between the dailyness of life.

If you re-read the introductory quotation by Oscar Wilde, you get the feeling that perhaps he not only is reading his diary on the train, but is taking that time to catch up on his writing. There are lots of places to make journal entries, especially today when we have computers and modems. You can write from home, on airplanes, or the Metro. When traveling, you can use your laptop computer in your hotel room, restaurants, or while waiting for meetings to start. One time I even went to my daughter's house and typed my journal using her computer when my hard disk had crashed!

We have so many different ways to keep a journal today. When I first started my diary I used a pen and a cloth-covered notebook filled with lightly lined paper. When that was full, I switched to a ball-point pen and a spiral notebook. Today I love the svelte feel of a beautiful fountain pen gliding across good paper in a leather bound journal. And I am addicted to the ease of using a computer.

I start a new journal each year and a backup file for that journal. After two hard disk crashes in one year, I'm fanatical about backups of important documents, and believe me, my journal is one of my most important files. I don't write in it daily. I do have some interesting ways of getting out of direct typing.

In addition to diaries and journals, we know that letters are a great source of information about our ancestor's daily lives. In some families a series of letters and their answers were kept and passed on to descendants. This then, became a form of a journal or personal history. In my journal I often copy email conversations between myself and other family members. I copy MSN Messenger conversations so I don't lose them. I especially treasure the ones like this with my almost five-year old grandson. His mother typed it for him.

David Ruth says:
hi, i wanted to tell you i have a frog and some tadpoles
Edna French says:
Wow! did one of the tadpoles turn into a frog
David Ruth says:
yes, but this one was almost a frog when we got it and then it turned into a frog
Edna French says:
Oh my. That must have been exciting to watch. I wish I could have seen that
David Ruth says:
Mom-mom, you can't do that, it took a lot of days for it to turn into a frog, silly
Edna French says:
Oh, you didn't magic him into a frog?
David Ruth says:
hee hee, no
Edna French says:
ha, ha

I've used a tape recorder to capture thoughts and feelings during the bits and pieces of time in my life. When driving or stuck in traffic on the Beltway, I found that remembering and recording daily events to type into my computer later was a great way to restrain my frustration with traffic. I've enjoyed thinking and reflecting during my lunch walks and using a tape recorder to talk about my feelings.

Are you getting a glimmer of yourself yet as a diarist? When you take the plunge, keep in mind that you want to record not just facts and figures, names and dates--although those are important. Let your feelings and reflections flow onto the paper also, yes, and your own heart. You won't be able to do this all of the time, but your readers deserve your very best at least occasionally. And so do you.

A Selection of Journals

We have selected a few of the best journals from across the web. These beautiful journals are sure to inspire you to begin writing!

The 5 Year Journal

by Doreene Clement
THE 5 YEAR JOURNAL is an extended length journal with workbook sections,that can be started on any day of the year,and can be used for either personal or business use. Within this journal you can now capture 5 years of your experiences, feelings, ideas, thoughts, and dreams, all in one book. It can help organize you,reduce stress, set goals, while becoming a treasured keepsake.This book is an easy to use tool where you simply summarize your day. If you already journal, use this book as a support and companion to what you already are doing. THE 5 YEAR JOURNAL is a great gift to give yourself, family friends, and co-workers.

Related Books

by Samuel Pepys, Robert Latham (Editor), William Matthews (Editor)
The Diary records the personal voice of Samuel Pepys, who was an English official during the reign of Charles II and who had a notable career in the British Navy. It covers the time from 1660 to 1669, which includes the great fire and plague in London. His entries were written in a private code and it is believed that he intended The Diary only for his own enjoyment. He very humorously talks of music, the theater, and recounts anecdotes about both. He loved drinking, gambling, and the gay affairs of court, and wrote very frankly about the gossip and intrigues there.

The New Diary : How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity

by Tristine Rainer, Anais Nin (Preface)
Five customer reviews are posted on line for you to read. This book was originally published in 1978 and has become a classic, with friends giving it as gifts to other friends, but always keeping a copy for themselves.

At a Journal Workshop : Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Creative Ability

by Ira Progoff
This revised and expanded edition of the classic At a Journal Workshop, a self-published bestseller, offers the reader access to the most widely praised method of diary writing. This rich, insightful work is a treasure for all those involved in self-inquiry, artistic creation and spiritual renewal. Other books by Ira Progoff

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