Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesdays With Rita: Old Journals and Diaries

I am part of a book discussion group that meets at the local Barnes & Noble every month. Our leader, Phyllis, gathers a list of books and we vote on the ones we would like to read (along with her other book groups.) From that she puts together a list for the next six months.

The first book for 2011 was The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel. Lily is a young journalist in New York City who returned to her apartment building one evening to find they had cleared out the basement of belongings left there by former tenants. There were trunks, clothing, and other items dating back to the early part of the 20th Century. Sadly most of the belongings ended up in dumpsters. Lily got her hands on a small red leather diary with a metal clasp.

She read the book and felt a connection to the teenager who had kept the diary in the late 1920s. Little did she know as she read and reread passages in that journal that she would one day meet that girl as a woman in her 90s and that there really would be a connection between the two of them.

The discussion group is made up mostly of women from their 30s to their 80s with all different backgrounds. When Phyllis asked us if any of us kept a diary only a couple of us raised our hands. We talked a bit about how most people in times gone by kept detailed journals. We've all heard about or even read the published diaries of pioneer women, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and various Civil War soldiers. 

We talked about journals kept by our families and many wished they had one from a great or second great grandparent. There aren't any such things in my family. If great grandmother Nellie kept a diary it didn't survive. How I would love to find something like that. I do have a transcription of the journal kept by a neighbor in the 1880s. It is a treasure. Nellie is mentioned a few times in the day-to-day life of the woman. It helps me picture Nellie at that time.

This photo is of Nellie when she was a young school teacher in Southwestern Kansas. It is one of the few photos we have from that time. In her hand is a book and a bell.

Do you have a diary from one of your ancestors? Are you keeping one for those who follow you? (I mean a physical diary that they can hold in their hands like Nellie is holding that book in the photo.)


  1. What a treasure that you have a diary kept by Nellie's neighbor!! We don't have any diaries in our family. I am going to get that book from the library.

  2. Wow! How awesome that you actually have a journal that references your family!
    Alas, I have nothing from my family's past. I barely have childhood pictures to share with my children.
    Dad's side of the family... when my gramma was still alive, she told me that her uncle was one of the first photographers in Massachusetts. Her mom used to be his favorite subject... with her pet chicken! I saw pictures years ago, but when gramma died, they disappeared. No one will let me know who has them! : (

    As for me, I carry an art journal with me everywhere I go. I doodle, paint, collage, add day to day thoughts, weather, etc. I intend to keep one til the day I die. That way my children will have something to share with their children and on down.

    A funny, weird thing I did recently, was take a strand of my hair and enclose it in a tiny ziplock bag. It measures 41.5 inches... LOL! Proof that momma had (has!!!!) long hair!

    YOu can see a glimpse of my sketchbook/doodle book at my blog if you'd like to see!
    Take it easy

  3. fantastic and just goes to show how important diaries and journals are. I keep meaning to start one but guess i am a bit long in the tooth for that now ... although i could enter past memoirs into it ... now theres an idea lol. great post thanks my friend
    Also i wanted to let you know there is a freebie on my dezinaworld blog today. its just for one day.
    have a wonderful week
    hugs June


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