I am drawn to the past. I can’t fully explain why, but I’ve always had an interest in history – especially that of my family. Perhaps it is due to having Grandparents from the Greatest Generation (who don’t want to boast or share too much about years gone by), but our family past seemed a bit esoteric, uncovering a clue here or a glimpse of a photo there. It has been a treasure hunt of sorts.
Early in my marriage, I received a huge windfall of family history – the daily journals from my husband’s great-grandmother. For over 25 years Nellie Daniels kept journals, tucking in them newspaper clippings and greeting cards. By the time they passed into my hands, they were an intimate glimpse into the life of a woman I had never met, but was instantly connected to.
Reading about her day-to-day life in a small Iowa river town has been fascinating. There was a joyful simplicity to life; not an easy life, but a straightforwardness to it. She washed on Mondays, ironed on Tuesdays. She scrubbed the house from top to bottom every season. She cherished letters when they came by mail and listened to radio programs in the evenings or played cards with friends. She traveled and was interested in a variety of issues, including literature (which also makes my heart sing). She wrote mainly about simple details – the weather, friends and family who stopped by, the local high school basketball score. However, on a few occasions she did write of the anxiety of having two sons away at war or of sadness in the loss of a family member.
These handwritten journals and keepsakes speak to my soul. Her story matters, the stories of so many before us have been lost.
The women of my family tree were perhaps typical of the time, but it doesn’t make them any less extraordinary.
To know their stories is a way to honor their lives and more fully understand where I am today – the context of my own life. This connection to the past is vital – it helps me to have a deeper sense of who I am. Life can be so disconnected these days – so few of us still live in our hometowns or the hometowns of our relatives even back one generation. It is common to move for job opportunities, leaving behind a sense of permanence and family roots. While I am grateful for the adventures I’ve had living various places, this reality adds even more value to these connections to the past, to the lineage before me.
My challenge now, 13 years since receiving them, is the process of cataloging these journals and their contents ranging from 1938-1963. I will be sharing more insights and amazing vintage cards in posts to come as I work my way through. I am grateful to Nellie, who unknowingly, in her daily ritual of writing and keeping memories over 80 years ago, has reached through time and is now a dear friend. Her story is not lost, I am honored to bring it to light.
What treasured keepsakes do you have? Do you know where they are at this particular moment? I encourage you to seek them out, ask questions of those who might have stories rarely shared. By learning more of your past, you in turn, can develop a deeper understanding of your own life.