Searching for Handwritten Diaries

I think now that anyone searching for old diaries might have better luck in heading for eBay than estate sales, although the price tag may be drastically different.  I have searched garage sales for 28 years and never found any diaries.   For my solstice/birthday present this year I asked for original handwritten diaries and low and behold I now have two more.

Prior to the holidays I scanned the items for sale on eBay and my hopes plunged as common things were bid over $50.

There was a set of diaries from a Michigan woman, late 1800s-early 1900s.  She visited Detroit (where I grew up) and Belle Isle and other locations I would be familiar with.  I thought it spoiled the historic value for the seller to divide them up.

There were diaries from New York from the 1800s.   The best of those was the diary of a housewife who was something of a busybody, but that trait made for great reading as she seemed to know everything that was going on.  The bidding rose to $180 and then I lost track of it.

Those diaries from the late 1800s and early 1900s vividly depicted how close life and death were back then.  Once a week, a death to report from accidents, childbirth and disease.   Sometimes Death just ran through a whole family.

I was also stunned to read about a horrific murder where someone broke into an old couple’s home and killed them, cut them to pieces, then set their house on fire.  I just didn’t think that kind of crime  happened back then.

I read parts of a diary from WW II — a soldier with a low opinion of the military who was offended by drunken soldiers, swearing, prostitution (especially a married commander sleeping with a girl), and appalling warnings about syphilis.

There was a sketchbook/journal from the Civil War.

There was a 1936 diary written by a 16 year old girl who had an insider’s view into the world of British diplomacy and the roots of terrorism in the Middle East.   The bidding on that one was up to $435,000 when I quit my search.  Obviously she had a reporter’s sense of history.  When I assume that there are enough people writing about local, national and international events I forget the value of an insider story.   I once had the chance to record a social phenomenon I was a part of and did not have the sense to do it.

The new diaries I was given will become a part of the diary archive.  The first was written in 1880 by Josephine Conklin of  Mount Morris, Livingston, New York.  She was born in 1850.  It is only 3 by 5 inches.  There is a lovely tintype and a photo with the diary.  The second diary was presumably written by Mrs. Herbert Abbott of Coloma, Michigan in 1934.  It is nearly 4 by 6 inches.



25 Responses to “Searching for Handwritten Diaries”

  1. Mark DeLorme Says:

    I am a bit confused with this site. Are there diaries archived here somewhere? The reason I am curious is that I just purchased a diary written in 1884 by Josephine Conklin of Mount Morris, Livingston, New York. Looks like you have an 1880 version. Cool! Email me please.


  2. cynthiamanuel Says:

    I have written privately to Mark. Essentially I have begun the archive with my own collection plus two gifts I received during the holidays. Someday I hope to make the archive a non-profit organization.

    Though it was exciting to discover that there are more diaries by Josephine Conklin, now I understand that both of the diaries I was given were each a part of a larger collection of that person’s work. I am furious that the eBay seller would divide up these diaries. What if you had a series of Civil War letters from one person…would you sell them separately? This is a crime! I am hoping that each person who buys one of Josephine’s diaries will eventually transcribe it and share it with others so that her work can remain whole.


  3. john Says:

    i have two of the dairies from the conklin’s


  4. cynthiamanuel Says:

    Meant to ask you earlier if you plan on transcribing your Josephine Conklin diary and putting it on the internet. What do you think of her life’s work being sold one at a time (and described as “one of a kind”) and dispersed all over the United States? Was this a random purchase or are you also a collector of diaries/journals?

    I hope to put the Conklin diary that was purchased for me on the internet. Don’t know when I will have the time.


  5. Linda Carrier Says:

    I just found this site and I am amazed at the number of people who collect diaries. I started buying them on eBay to use for historical research. I purchased one of those diaries by the lady in Michigan and later resold it on eBay. I too believe it to be a shame that the collections are split up. I wonder if anyone is willing to share where these diaries can be found? Years ago when I was younger, i went frequently to auction houses and yard sales. Never did I ever come across diaries. I sometimes found letters which are also interesting archives–if they are kept together. I sold two of my diaries to universities, so that is a good place to look for information if you only need info and don’t want to keep the diaries. I agree that it would be nice to have a place where the diaries could be transcribed by those willing to share the information. I am particularly interested in WWI and WWII and also shipboard and travel diaries. I never thought of asking for diaries for gifts, but I will now!


  6. john Says:

    i bought the two dairies because i’m from mt. morris ny.. i did nto know seller had more than one. i would have but the whole set to keep together. it sadden me that there were more. josephine is much more detailed than husband.


  7. Kathy Says:

    I have old diaries from the 1800’s with one of them talking about the day Lincoln was shot. My Grandmother told me to hold on to them, that they would be very valuable someday. Does anyone know what they would be worth?


  8. tonya mercer Says:

    I have a journal dated 1884-1885 hand written by SJ Parker. This journal is from the New England area, Boston, Petit point, Millbridge and a hurricane in February. Someone wants to buy it from me and I was wondering how much I should ask for it. Could you please help me out?


  9. Kathleen Chafey Says:

    Kathleen asks: I would like to find who, or what entity, purchased a diary written by my great-great grandmother Sophia Chafey in 2007 on e-bay. Anyone have advice on how I find out?


  10. Kathleen Chafey Says:

    I just read my Dec. 6th post and find it to be in need of editing. My g-g-grandmother (Sophia Williams Fuller Chafey) wrote the diary in 1864. She and her family moved from New York to Wisconsin during that year. The diary was sold via auction on e-bay in 2007. I have been working on this line for 15 years and I’m certain the diary would be an enormous help. Would offer to buy or just read if I can find it. I would travel to the owner’s location if the latter is an option.


  11. Cynthia Manuel Says:

    Good luck in your search, Kathleen. It would be wonderful if all “lost” diaries and all of the split up volumes of one person’s diaries could be found and gathered into one archive. This is a goal of mine and I hope to begin work on the project once more in 2013.

    Have you googled your ancestor’s name to see if there is a link to the eBay sale? Maybe you could then contact the dealer who might be willing to act as a liason between you and the purchaser.



  12. Kathleen Chafey Says:

    I contacted the help desk at e-bay but she only had access to the records of sales during the last three years. This truly is like searching for a needle in a haystack


  13. susan Says:

    I too love collecting old hand written diaries. I have been collecting them for about 15 years. Most are in the early to mid 1800’s but I have maybe 10 that are in the early 1900’s. In total I would say I have about 100.


  14. Cynthia Manuel Says:

    That’s a fantastic collection. You are lucky to have found so many. Do you have plans to put them online as Sally’s Diaries does?


  15. Anna R Says:

    Hi there – amazing blog! Any chance you would be interested in purchasing a series of completed journals dating back to 1997 until present-day? This would be coming from the perspective of a girl growing up in a small town in Maine.
    Let me know if this interests you at all, or what you’d recommend as selling price on eBay?



    • Cynthia Manuel Says:

      I seem to remember a girl’s diary from 1951 selling on eBay for around $50. I think that’s a bit ridiculous, but you never know. What I’d be willing to pay for a diary would be based on these things: how old it was, the age and maturity of the diarist, what condition it was in, the subject/theme of the entries, how deep and introspective it was, and how readable it was – (neat handwriting?, typed?). Teen-agers don’t interest me much…but if someone were doing a study on teen views, that would be another matter. If it was a teen-ager’s diary from1860, I’d be very interested. If the subject of the diary was raising dogs, social activities, or culinary experiments, I would not be interested…but someone else might. If it recorded daily activities in 1860, I would want it. So, to answer, you will have to make a judgment yourself as to how much someone would be willing to pay. You could ask your friends what they would pay. You could also watch the sales on eBay and see where the bidding takes each diary and try to understand why. I cannot buy any now as I have no budget for it. However, I would accept donations for the National Diary Archive. If the diarist is still alive then we would have to sign papers as to when the diaries would be available for public viewing.


  16. Steve Burden Says:

    I have read all the replies and I am hoping someone can help me or lead me in the right direction.

    I have been hand writing my life for 9 years now and I am currently approaching 40 years of age. I have recorded every little detail in that time with all my inner thoughts and feelings. My diaries have all my history and every passing moment. I have some wonderful moments listed but some that I am not proud of (life battles lets say). All my relationships, careers, views on the world and secrets are openly written.

    I am writing on average for approximately 2 hours a day and currently have 54 completed diaries. Some of those diaries take approximately 1 month to complete and others 6 months plus. Included in the diaries are every photograph that I have had taken and it is also a scrapbook of my life.

    I would like to think that my hand writing is quite readable (not perfect) but I write in block capitals so that may help. All my diaries are dated on every page and dated and titled on the back. I am also a modern day poet and all the poems are recorded (100’s of them).

    I am concerned that my diaries are vulnerable at home on my shelf where they could be stolen or damaged (eg fire). So I am looking to re-home them somehow. I would be willing to sell them if there was any interest or have them housed somewhere safe. I am not sure about having them published yet.

    Can anyone help me at all. I am willing to discuss this further with anyone that is interested. For now I am going to handwrite this post in number 55.

    Kind regards

    Steve Burden


  17. Woodswoman Says:

    I’ve been keeping journals since I was 8 yeas old. My parents gave me a 5-year diary (the ones with the little gold key) for Christmas that year. Though I don’t have that diary anymore, nor every other one I’ve written in, I have a few from junior high and high school (maudlin), some from the 60’s, and everything for the last 30+ years, all in boxes by date. No historian, these are simply the trials, tribulations, musings and insights from my own life as a girl/woman.

    I think I’ll make a note in my will that if my children don’t want these journals, or after they’re finished reading them, appalled and amused by their mother’s foibles, they will make sure to sell them as a complete set. Again, no history will be rewritten by anything in my journals, but they kept my body and heart together for many years. Documented my most important relationships. Documented the early lives of my children.

    Sad to say that though I write on the computer now, I don’t keep a daily journal anymore. Heresy for someone who taught reflective/journalwriting since 1988. Thanks, Cynthia, for keeping the journal interest alive.


  18. Jean Kert Says:

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing


  19. Elizabeth Susan Carter Says:

    I am a artist who has kept journals for large portions of my life

    As part of the estate planning for my art

    I feel it necessary

    To also find a new home for my life’s collection of personal thoughts, trials and tribulations

    Any feedback would be appreciated


  20. Carolinda Carlson Says:

    I have a diary, written by a boy student from St. Paul’s school , dated June 1889 through September 12… a summer in Europe
    with his older relatives…89 pages of beautiful cursive writing…very readable.
    He details all the cathedrals, palaces, concerts, churches, and other sights, even the
    dungeon in Venice at the end of the Bridge of Sighs (yes, you
    could go in there back then!) He ran into other boys from St. Paul’s who were touring Europe. On the boat over were the Carnegies and Benjamin Harrison. Make offer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: