Finding Family Clues in Digital Letters and Diaries – Follow Friday

Once upon a time, acquiring access to a personal correspondence collection required an in-person visit to a specialized library, state archive, or a national depository.  Diaries and Letters give a first person account of daily life, and divulge an individual’s circle of friends, chores, schedules, thoughts, and to various degrees – feelings.

This type of research has its pitfalls.  While many letters, diaries, and other personal correspondence have been digitized and record a sender and receiver, the genealogical hidden in each document are uncovered by personally reading each item carefully.  Understandably, this is a time intensive project for researchers, but the availability of these collections online make up for the time spent traveling to browse  items in person.

Let’s take a look at a few of the online archives which feature digital diaries and letters:

Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org)

Sam Kimble DiaryThe personal diary of Sam Kimble, a resident of Manhattan, Kansas is a highly readable account of daily life on the turn of the century prairie.  Kimble describes the weather, crops, livestock, town life, local politics, as well as the tasks of building a home and attending to household matters.

Kimble even found time to paste a picture of his ideal finished home ‘Castle Kimble’ in his diary entry for Thursday, May 17, 1894

 

The diary of Caroline Belcher Abbott chronicles life in the area around Kennebec County, Maine from 1834-1859.  Some of her entries are very short, no more than one line about events that happened during the day.  Others are a few paragraphs, describing her visits to Boston, and the people, places and information she acquired during those trips. As an interesting note, the sabbath days are clearly marked and noted in her writings.

The Diary of Daniel Coker a Methodist Missionary at Fourah Bay, near Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa from April 21 to September 21 1821

daniel coker diaryThe diary pages are photocopied from the original document, but the the contents make for an engrossing read.  Coker documents fever outbreaks, prayer services, visits to individuals and families, and daily reflections of his missionary work.  The script is flowing and relatively easy to read, but due to the nature of the photocopy job, the side margins where Coker placed notes and additions are sadly garbled.

 

University of Iowa Digital Civil War Diaries

The Iowa Digital Library hosts a collection of 20 handwritten letters and diaries of Civil War veterans.  Spanning a period from 1862-1960, this collection offers large, readable images of original items.  The interface, which allows users to pan around a page or download each item to a computer.  One of the best features is the ‘Text’ tab, which allows you to read the page side by side with a typed transcription.  If you’re interested in solving a mystery, there are two diaries which are listed as ‘Author unknown’.  You can read them here:

American Travel Diary of an Unknown Englishman, 1864

englishman

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Civil War Diary of an Unknown Soldier, 1862-1863

Tuesday 26 Started at 5 AM in a dense fog. Lost the road going to far to the left went 10 miles out of the way & had to come back Capt pd (paid) Spaniard $2,50 to pilot us to right road went through the canon to Rancho Del Charro. & camped, Travailed 35 miles to day  Wednesday 27 Broke a box in one of the wagon hubs and  (Vertically, from bottom left:-)  Distance to day 21 miles. no good water

Auburn University in Alabama also has an excellent collection of digitized Civil War diaries.  Using the same interface as the University of Iowa’s digital library, Auburn’s collection also contains an unattributed Federal Soldier’s Diary (1862-1863).  According to the description, the  is dairy believed to have been written by a soldier of the 44th Massachusetts from December 11, 1862 to February 8, 1863.  The early pages of the diary include numbers of casualties, for the Battle of Kinton on Dec. 14, 1862, and an account of the solder’s wartime activities.

If you need help deciphering American handwriting, I recommend  Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry.  However, if you’re looking for an online tutorial in paleographic exercises in general, I also recommend The National Archives’ practical online tutorial on Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500 – 1800, and Bringham Young University’s online Script Tutorials.

What online diary collections are you looking to find?  Share your thoughts and ideas in then comment section!

See you at the Library!

Debra

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About Fountaindale Public Library District's Genealogy Blog

The Fountaindale Public Library Genealogy Blog transmits research tips, notes, and other useful information for genealogy, family history, and local history researchers. This blog is maintained and authored by Adult and Teen Services Manager Debra M. Dudek, and contains publications and postings by Circulation Manager Theresa Hildebrand, Children's Services Assistant Cathy Gonsowski, and School Program Associate Laura Didier. The Fountaindale Public Library District offers numerous resources for the public, including books, materials, database access, a monthly genealogy club, and free programming. The Genealogy Club also offers volunteer research assistance by appointment. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the library at (630) 685-4176 or by e-mail at genealogy@fountaindale.org
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2 Responses to Finding Family Clues in Digital Letters and Diaries – Follow Friday

  1. Griff says:

    Though I informed the University of Iowa Arrchives many months ago that I discovered the author of the “unknown Englishman” mentioned in your blog, they never responded and they have yet to update their on-line records. See: http://englishmanvisitsamerica.wordpress.com/about/
    The diary was written by Edmund William Holland (1841-1900) of London. His traveling companion was Yarburgh George Lloyd (1840-1828) who also kept a diary which is housed in the Hull History Centre in England. Side by side transcriptions of both diaries are published on the blog I created to capture their remarkable journey. The key to solving the question of their identity turned out to be the hotel register at Niagara Falls. — Griff

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