Posts Tagged ‘searching for handwritten diaries’

Searching for Handwritten Diaries

January 21, 2011

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.

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