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Ancestors host Scott Wilkinson and experts David Rencher and Irene Johnson discuss the importance of keeping your own history.
Of all the texts in the world, handwritten or printed, few are treasured as much as diaries or personal journals. We enjoy reading the journals of notable people like George Washington and
Charles Lindbergh, and the famous diaries of obscure people like Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys. In family circles, we
cherish an old diary passed down to us by a grandparent or other forebear.
Diaries come in a variety of forms -handwritten and typed, legible and illegible, narrative and shorthand, tall,
tiny, thick, skinny, and of various colors of paper, ink and bindings. Their entries are impersonal, deeply emotional,
mundane, exciting, aloof, conceited, literary masterpieces, and barely literate. There are long and detailed entries
as well as brief ones, regular as well as irregular ones, and gaps and interruptions lasting days, weeks, or months.
Some diarists penned thirty or more volumes during a lifetime; others wrote only a few pages.
Two myths about diary-keepers are popular: first, that diaries are mainly the work of adolescents; second, that
journal-keeping is primarily a female activity. To the contrary, library lists of published and unpublished diaries
show more adult than juvenile diaries, and more men's than women's. Journals are personal thoughts penned by young
and old of both sexes. Anyone who can read and write is a potential diarist.
If you're truly fortunate, someone in the preceding generations of your family may have left such a trail. If not,
it's still possible that someone who knew your ancestors may have left a diary that makes mention of them or, at least,
gives a flavor of life in their time and neighborhood. To learn more about locating historical diaries, go to the
Obtaining Family Histories extra. Better yet, consider keeping a journal
yourself to leave a family legacy of your own. "We've provided some journaling resources
to get you started". You descendants will be grateful!"
The information contained on this page comes from a variety of sources, but relies heavily on The Everything Family Tree Book by William G. Hartley (Adams Media,
1998) and Ancestors: A Beginner's Guide to Family History & Genealogy by Jim & Terry Willard with Jane Wilson (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997).