Tuesday, June 28, 2011

James Peter McPherson's Diary. 2011 June 28: A Chimney Sort of Question

I often engage in rather obsessive-compulsive behavior when I am on the research trail.  To me it seems rather normal.  So I have been squeezing in lines of the diary when ever I can.  I usuallys say to Self, "Self, you will only finish 1 week of entries."  And Self laughs uproariously --- "O yeah, just one week."  But sometimes, I find an oddity that I have to stop and ponder upon.  Now is one of those times:

James Peter McPherson and family arrived in Madison, Wisconsin in mid-May 1850.  The family was comprised of J.P, his wife Mary, three sons (William, Jabez, & James who was my great-grandfather) and baby daughter Ann.   I read with interest how he worked at cutting logs for his house in Springdale; fussed that the cold weather was coming on and he was just getting the thatch on the roof; felt like a housewarming when they moved in on December 2nd of 1850; and shivered in cold anguish when the thatch blew off in a biting, cold Wisconsin wind storm.  Neighbors pitched in, roof fixed, and I dinna think much about it.

Spring planting, turned into summer work and fall harvest --- and I just kept on transcribing in a voyeur-sort of way.  Then in late October of 1851, old J.P. writes about putting up his chimney!  Putting up his chimney?? What in the world was he using all the previous winter.  Then the true reality of life in 1850 in rural Wisconsin, where you built your home with logs and a thatched roof,  finally sunk in.  They had no chimney, any more than the sod houses on the prairie had no chimney.  A firepit for warmth and cooking and the smoke drifted out through the thatch.

At that moment, I realized that I have been watching the lives of pioneers unfold before my eyes -- but now, I had to put myself in that time and place, with no assumptions of what life was like for my great-great grandparents in that time and place.

I am so looking forward to all of the new wonderment to unfold, for the living history of this diary to tell me about the roots from which I come.


  1. Nothing like a diary to bring out the voyeur in us! I can feel your excitement when reading about the McPherson family in the 1850s, reading his actual words from 160 years ago--putting yourself in his cabin with his family, cutting logs, planting, harvesting. I, too, am in possession of numerous diaries, letters, artifacts -- dating back to the end of the 19th century--and that's what I'm sharing on my blog. So I totally identify with that inability to pull yourself away!

  2. Hi,
    I just found your blog from Google-ing my great-great-great grandfather's name: James McPherson. My great-great-grandfather was Jabez McPherson. Thank you for the information!!

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