19    Sep 20103 comments

Diaries: A family history source

keeping a journalTake it from a writer: The more you write, the easier it becomes. Why not keep a journal or diary?

Journals and diaries are excellent resources for family history research.

Don't you wish your ancestors had recorded their daily lives and thoughts in a format that has come down to you as a treasured keepsake through the centuries?

I know someone whose ancestor left a journal written several hundred years ago. The writer describes the family's everyday life in difficult new surroundings, how they celebrated holidays, the writer's wishes for her descendants far in the future and much more. It is as if the writer knew it would be treasured and passed down through the generations, as it has been. It is a priceless heirloom.

Put yourself in the shoes of a great-grandchild who finds your journal. What do you think will interest him or her? What is happening in your life now that you want future generations to know about? Do you want to include advice for future generations?

Can you name some famous people whose diaries are still read and studied today?

Anne Frank ("Diary of a Young Girl") and Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) are two of the most famous diary-keepers.

Keeping a journal or diary can help someone clarify his or her thoughts, record his or her ideas and achievements, and focus on what is important to the writer. It doesn't need to be an expensive book. People do keep journals in word documents on a computer or on a private (not public) blog.  

However, look around you: writing on paper in permanent ink (or even pencil) can stand the test of time, through the centuries. Recording in electronic media means it can be lost or cannot be played back in the future. It may be harder to write in longhand for those who are computer-dependent, but paper and pencil will always last, as electronic media may not.

"What is a diary as a rule? A document useful to the person who keeps it. Dull to the contemporary who reads it and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it."  - Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), Scottish novelist, poet, historian and biographer.

"Keeping a journal is so important," writes Jim Rohn, "I call it one of the three treasures to leave behind for the next generation. In fact, future generations will find these three treasures far more valuable than your furniture." The other two treasures are your photographs and your library.

Here are a few more of his journal quotes:

-- "Be a collector of good ideas, but don't trust your memory. The best collecting place for all of the ideas and information that comes your way is your journal."

-- "The reason why I spend so much money for my journals is to press me to find something valuable to put in them."

-- "Don't use your mind for a filing cabinet. Use your mind to work out problems and find answers; file away good ideas in your journal."

While picture taking and buying books are easy, writes Rohn, journal writing is more serious and more challenging. Take the time to keep a journal.

Doreen Clement ("The benefits of keeping a journal") writes:

When keeping a journal, you record your experiences, dreams, ideas, desires, thoughts and more, for reflecting on now, and in the future. You are telling your story to yourself. Can better understand and accept yourself and others - Whether you re-read your journal or not, you can gain benefits from writing down your story, and your thoughts. You are writing about how you see and experience life. You can compare and explore the times of your life - Awareness of the past can teach and support your future. Creates a good personal reminder - As you journal the times of your life, if you are still writing about the same things over and over, it can help support your idea of what is working in your life and what is not. You are creating a record, and with that record in hand it is easier to see patterns, changes, and shifts. You can always ask yourself, "What do I want to carry with me?"

What do you want to share with your descendants?

Some studies indicate that journal-keeping is psychologically beneficial and a stress reducer.  A SUNY-Stony Brook study showed that people suffering from serious traumatic problems (such as cancer) experienced short-term benefits  as well as less pain.

On the other hand, some - like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - say "I want to live my life, not record it."

Can't we do both?

Just starting may be a problem. It depends on what you think you want to do or accomplish. Do you want to record the mundane, everyday activities for posterity -  future generations? Do you want to record current events and your reactions to them? What about today's culture, music, films, books? What is it you really want to say?

Here are some quotes about diary and journal-keeping which may inspire you to get started:

Without doubt, keep a diary. From the day you're born, keep a diary, because we all forget things so quickly.  -  Jill Cooper

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in a train. - Oscar Wilde

In our family an experience was not finished, nor truly experienced, unless written down and shared with another. - Ann Morrow Lindbergh

Yes, there is no doubt that paper is patient and as I don't intend to show this cardboard-covered notebook, bearing the proud name of "diary," to anyone, unless I find a real friend, boy or girl, probably nobody cares. And now I come to the root of the matter, the reason for my starting a diary: it is that I have no such real friend. - Anne Frank

It's the good girls who keep the diaries; the bad girls never have time. - Tallulah Bankhead

Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us. - Oscar Wilde

Keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you. - Mae West

What is your favorite journal or diary quote? Share it with us here.

Go out now, get a journal or notebook, and start writing today! Your descendants will thank you.

Search for your ancestors:

Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Iam 64 years old this month. I have seen so much
    history that effects my thinking on present and future
    events . People are incensed by the price of gas in
    2011. However, I remember when there were gas shortages
    and cars were lined up around the block during the
    70's. It helps to give me perspective to remember those
  2. hello - is it just me !! can any one explain why when i type in the yahoo browser "genblog.myheritage.com" i get a different site yet whe i type it in google its ok? could this be a bug in my system or is any one else having same probs ?
    alfie saden
  3. Hi, Alfie

    We have incorporated the Genealogy Blog at My Heritage into the the MyHeritage Blog. Please go to http://blog.myheritage.com for our English blog. The Genealogy Blog is no longer updated.

    Best wishes,

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