Journals: A source for family history discoveries

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Journals and diaries are where we write our memories, secrets and daily thoughts. As such, when we find an ancestor’s journal, it can provide a wealth of rich information about his or her personal life and is a great source for discovering even more.

I recently stumbled upon my great-grandmother’s journal while helping my grandmother organize her house. It was incredible to see how intact the journal was despite many years of being stored in a box filled with other family treasures such as photos and documents.

As I turned the pages and read, I began to see her life as it was, and all the stories I had heard about her growing up became more “real.” There were anecdotes about holiday adventures, when she first met my great-grandfather and also insights into how life was back then.

To a genealogist or anyone starting to learn more about their family history, journals are a priceless heirloom. They provide a deeper look into the lives of our ancestors and a glimpse into the world and generation in which they lived.

Finding an ancestor’s journal or diary is a genealogical gold mine of personal stories. Some may document daily life, others tell a soldier’s war story. Often they contain the missing pieces of our own family research including dates, locations and other family members.

If you find such a journal, take the time to read it and learn more about your ancestors’ lives and see history come to life beyond just the facts. Enrich your family tree by adding stories from the journal into family tree profiles on your online family tree.

Do you keep a journal or diary? What would you want your descendants to learn about you from yours? If you haven’t begun to write one, start now! It’s an excellent way to preserve your own personal history for future generations and permit your descendants to learn more about life today.

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  • David Allen Navorska


    October 12, 2014

    Your journal does not have to be daily. You do not need to use good grammar. Your spelling could be inventive. Copy out letters, Make drawings. Write poems. Give a blank journal to anyone in the military going overseas. They are nice gifts to family members and members of the clergy. Ask a toddler to write on a page. Always put a date & place on each page. Staple memorabelia to a page, e.g. funeral cards, tickets to a show, airline tickets. Use acid-free paper and acid-free art pens when possible.