From Diaries to Journals to Blogs…

I’m just going to ignore the dismal subject of politics for now and jump into a new subject, journal keeping! The topic of keeping diaries, journals or more modern blogs has been on my mind lately, and so I took the time to reflect on this a little. Realizing that journal keeping had been part of my ancestry, on both sides of the family gave me pause. Interesting! Both my material grandmother, her sister and their father kept journals quite regularly. And several years ago,  I was delighted and fascinated to learn my Great Great Grandfather on my father’s side had kept journals as well!


Elsie (on left), and Mae


My maternal grandmother Elsie Winter Sproul and her sister Mae Winter both kept journals, I’m not sure how consistent they were, but the journals I have in my possession date back to the 1950s. They both “repurposed” daily calendars, small leather bound promotional calendars given out by insurance firms, some had been made into five year journals. Mae lived with Elsie during these years, as her health was quite bad due to the after effects of a bad car accident which ended her career as a school Principal in the Midwest. Typical content from both women ranged  from noting visitors to the house, recently send correspondence,


Elsie and Mae’s Yearbook Diaries


recent cultural activities they had attended, special meals and gatherings and always a note of the weather.

Diary entry
My birth, briefly noted in my maternal Grandmother’s diary

My own birth is noted in my grandmother’s journal — briefly as was her custom, but it was fun to find it there. I was born two years after her beloved sister died, and hope my presence brought her new focus and comfort after such a loss.

F.W.Winter Memoranum 1977-78
F.W. Winter’s “Memorandum” from 1877-78 and photo as a young man.

Mae and Elsie’s father, my Great Grandfather Frederick W. Winter was an avid journal or “Memorandum” keeper. He was also a homeopathic doctor in Nebraska and Wyoming.  I have one early diary/scrapbook he kept from around 1877, and several from the end of his life in the 1930’s. Frederick read and wrote English and German, and was very interested in literature and music, religion, modern culture and medical advancements. It’s hard to make out the writing, and I need to spend more time trying to decipher the content of both of these journals.

F.W.Winter's journal
F.W.Winter’s journal from 1935, written in a physician’s appointment book.

The notebook from 1935 does start with an entry about attending the Pasadena Rose Parade in Southern California with my Grandparents who he was living with at the time.

My own mother, on the other hand, was a spotty journal writer. She kept a diary in her junior high years, but it was very superficial, probably because she feared her mother would look at it!

She did keep a journal off and on when I was young, and more consistently after my Dad died in 1999, which I found and kept after she left us in 2010. It is hard to read, raw and wrenching, but it does show her path of accomplishment as she tackles the tasks my father used to handle, specifically financial management and car maintenance! It was good to see her growing pride at handling tasks that she hadn’t had to deal with before. She also mentions friends, politics, books, music and travel — but throughout, her loss looms large and never abates.

Family photo
My Great Great Grandfather William Gardner, taken when he was in his 60’s.

Another family journalist, and most recent “find” was my Great Great Grandfather on my father’s side, William Gardner. Through the magic of, a small Gardner side family reunion was gathered several years ago, and I learned of his journals. My cousin let me borrow the two she had (we suspect many had been lost through the years), and I photographed the pages to keep before returning them to her. William was born and married in Hudson, New Hampshire, then began to move his family west, farming for a time in Utica, Indiana and Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and eventually settling in San Jose California around 1872. In San Jose he owned a grocery store, owned land and help settle people into downtown San Jose, and was instrumental in starting a new school district for the children of people moving into the area — the Gardner District still bears his name. His son George W. Gardner was an fruit grower, his daughter, my grandmother Dorette grew up on a ranch to the west of Bird Avenue in Willow Glen.

family journal
Advice to my children… W. Gardner

One of the last pages of the journal from his later years says “Advice to my children, never to leave Cal. on any condition or under any circumstances…” It was “the best place in the world to live or die” (not a dramatic bone in his body!). He did say this with some authority, for he had traveled extensively throughout the U.S., British Columbia, even visiting the “Sandwich Islands” and undergoing the onerous overland crossing through Panama before the canal was built. One interesting note for me, as I now live in Oroville, CA, in Butte County — he once camped at the foot of the Sutter Buttes which I can see from this area on a clear day!

My own journal habit was first inspired by reading the “Harriet the Spy” books, and I admit at first they were definitely “spy notebooks”. They evolved over the years to be more of a personal diary, and probably took the place of years of therapy! Much less expensive, but definitely a place to pore out thoughts and feeling, fears and hopes. I’ve always kept to the format of a notebook, preferring a large capacity spiral notebook like students use (or used to before tablets and laptops).

Pile of notebooks
My pile of journals, dating back to the early 1970’s! Not as elegant as my ancestors…

Looking forward, I’ve been interested in the new form of journaling called “bullet journals”, which are part journal, part “to do” list, and part long term goal setting. I love how the need to document our thoughts and reflect on our lives, grows and evolves with each new generation.

Do you journal? What is your format and how do you use it in your life?


4 thoughts on “From Diaries to Journals to Blogs…

  1. Barbara, what a treasure trove! I’m always intrigued by the slant of the writing from days passed, and what sorts of things people thought were relevant. To have all this written history passed down to you is really something. My dad kept photo albums with captions but I only now of one diary and I’m still unable to look at it. My dad kept it in the year he was dying, then my mom took over and wrote it in after he died. She gave it to us one hot summer day, but all I could do was look at the cover and sob. My sister, Sharon has it now. I don’t know if I’ll ever face it.

    You were brave to read your mom’s journal. As for me, I kept volumes for years, then chucked them all just before I got married. They were so personal. I just didn’t want anyone to read them but me. I have a couple of travel journals from 1989.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Alys! I am fascinated by journals & memoirs, and was so amazed to read the Gardner one particularly because he was a real “adventurer” at a time when things were so undeveloped out here.
      Maybe one day you will be able to read your parents words, you may find something surprisingly uplifting that you weren’t expecting, you never know!


  2. Wow! How fascinating! Great photos! I’m sure this will inspire others to start journaling. You are right, it is an effective and less expensive means of therapy. Keep it up!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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