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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Diaries - A Glimpse to the Past
by Rhonda R. McClure

June 22, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Sometimes we get so caught up in the chasing of our ancestors that we concentrate too heavily on the names, dates and places. We forget that these individuals had lives. We forget that they struggled to tame the land or to raise their children. We forget the sacrifices they may have had to make, like leaving their family behind in the old country, to make a better life for themselves.

If you have any family diaries, then you will want to transcribe them so that you can preserve them. We may not always like to read some of the hard times that our ancestors went through, but I know that I would be devastated if I lost such a valuable piece of my family history.

Diaries offer a glimpse into the past.

Don't Throw it Away

When I first got involved in genealogy, my grandfather began sending down any and all papers he could find. It was through his diligence that I am now the holder of some wonderful pictures, letters and diaries. One of the diaries that is the most special to me is one that was written by my grandmother's sister - Caroline. Auntie Carol (as she was known) wrote a diary for my grandmother's first daughter from the day she was born until she died. I am sure that Auntie Carol didn't know that the diary would only be kept for four years.

Over the years I have found myself referring back to this and other diaries I am fortunate enough to have in my possession. It is through these diaries that I often get some insight into the livelihood and struggle that my ancestors withstood to begin a new land to their children.

A Look at the Past

My grandparents' first child, Shirley, was born 9 Dec 1928. The diary begins by welcoming her into the world. I get a glimpse into the uncertainties that all new parents go through with their first child. What a special treat that was to get a look at my grandparents in an earlier time, when they were young. Not many of us get this chance to pull back the veils of time.

Shirley was an all around good child and a happy girl. She would die 1 Nov 1932 after catching the flu from a neighboring child. The hardest part of reading this wonderful diary is when Shirley gets sick. When I finished reading the diary, my heart ached for my grandparents, especially my grandmother. Of the three children that my grandmother did have, she would see two of them die before her. Her son, David, my uncle, would die in 1972 at the age of 36 from cancer. I also have my grandmother's diary from that year as well.

In Conclusion

Diaries are a special link from one generation to another. If you aren't keeping a diary, you may want to reconsider what you could be leaving for the generations to follow. While I can't say that I write in my diary everyday, I do try to write often and to include information about my family and myself. I try to include stories about what has been happening, but then I also include things about my feelings and what is happening in the world in general. Share your world with your descendants. Even your children, who don't seem to have the time to listen to your stories now, will be glad to have them to read when you are gone.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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