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How Will Your Diary Help Historians?

Do you keep a diary, journal or daily blog? I often think about how researchers hundreds of years from now will use these items to document what life was like during our time. 

When I was young, I briefly kept a diary and although I don’t think historians will consider who I had a crush on in the sixth grade as historically significant, these first-hand accounts can be a goldmine of information.

For example, on this date in 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. This event has been the topic of hundreds of books written over the years.  However, I think looking at the diaries and letters from people at that time can often show a unique perspective. I took a peek at some our diaries and letters on this date (click on them to see the full-size image):

In this April 10, 1865, letter, N.B. Tower describes the rejoicing on the streets when the news reached Fort Wayne – cannons firing, bells ringing and 'jolification.'


John Sherwood was serving in the Indiana 66th Regiment when he found out the news. According to his diary, he found out three days after the event.


Marie Brandt documents the news reaching Madison, Ind., on April 10.





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Comments (2)

1. Robert Stevens says

April 18, 2010 at 11:41 p.m.
Hi. Please keep laughing loud! I saw this blog about the diary entries. I am writing a book about the Bracken Rangers, a cavalry unit of men from Indianapolis. In my research I came across a diary that does include an entry from April 10 that describes Grant at the front lines after the surrender. I'd be glad to share if there is interest. Is the ISHS planning any 150th commemoration publication, events, displays? My research covers the Bracken Rangers from muster in July 1861 through muster out June 1864 (of the original volunteers, later recruits were mustered out in the Summer of 1865). I am eager to share the book, or at least some of the info and photographs, since the focus is on local Indinapolis group of me. I even found a newspaper article about a reunion in 1911 of a few remaining members. Robert Stevens

2. Marti Schrock says

Feb. 2, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.
Suzanne, Thanks for posting about journaling. My father has kept a journal since 1955, & I have them all lined up on a shelf in my home. I, too, keep a journal & write a lot of letters. Preserving hand-writing is also important to me.