Journals are records written of a life as it is lived; entries might not be daily, and there is no limitation on the amount written. Usually they are found in notebooks. I have transcribed two of this kind, one of which set me thinking about the nature of the enterprise. There will be more about these journals in later posts.
And then there are diaries. As a child I was given a five year diary, a small book with a minuscule lock and key, showing five years of a given date on each page. I believe I wrote in it most days for a time, but I didn't keep it up. I think now that I understand why.
My Aunt Elsie's diary was of the latter kind. This and the two journals mentioned have given me some insights into the ways people can record their lives. Reflections upon these insights will be recorded here another time, under the "Family History" rubric.
Aunt Elsie was my father's younger sister. The evidence in hand tells me that she began her diary-writing at the age of 19, and it was of the journal kind rather than a five year diary. In 1923, at the age of 19, she spent a year away from her home at Valley Springs Ranch in Saskatchewan, visiting her older sister Winnie who was married, living in Iowa and expecting her second child. After that there is a break of twelve years; her diaries - of the five-year kind - apparently resume in 1935. I say apparently because when they do resume it is clear that the writing patterns and the habit of daily entries are well-established. It seems that for unknown reasons the diaries of the intervening years were not preserved. The five year diaries then continue until 1988, at which time Aunt Elsie, well into her eighties and with arthritis and failng vision gave the collection of little volumes to her niece in Iowa. She felt a special bond with this niece, who had been born the year Elsie spent in Iowa. The niece, learning of my interest in family history, sent the diaries to me, to make of them what I could.
What I made of them was that they were a family treasure, and further, a treasure of the history of Saskatchewan. Over the ensuing years my sister Mary Crane and I transcribed the first five years fully, the next five partially and the following years very selectively, transcribing only her entries for major family events. Even this limited transcription became about 500 pages. The process of transcription was laborious; the the small space allowed for each day, the abbreviations, the elegant but often inscrutable handwriting, the disintegrating tiny books meant that sometimes an hour's effort - Mary deciphering, I typing - would generate only a few days' entries. The need to include footnotes to help the reader also kept the pace slow. In five years, working about two hours on most Tuesdays, we finally completed our task in the spring of 2008. We added the transcription of the 1923 journal, a few other items and some illustrations, then printed and bound several copies, one for each of the branches of the family who had known Aunt Elsie. Several people in addition received the text as an email attachment. The originals along with a paper copy, on the recommendation of Elsie's son, were sent to the Saskatchewan Archives Board, which received them with considerable excitement.
Status: This family history project was completed in spring 2008. Comments have come back from several recipients. Special acknowledgement is made of the contributions to the footnotes by Frank Saunders, our second cousin, who helped us make the farming and ranching references accessible to our urban children and grandchildren.