Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Madness: T'is Mine - Again, J.P.McPherson's Diary is Driving Me Crazy

Mad-crazy screaming is what I want to do!!  I am cruising along, transcribing on my nifty dual screen set up, then  the  diary stops mid-page, on October 1, 1858.  The next page starts in mid-September 1859.  I think my eyes have given out with all this peering into to the computer screen(s).  But no,  that is what the diary says, and  continues on for a few more pages in 1859.  Then J.P stops writing in the diary just before Christmas 1859 and doesn't pick up the pages again until March of  1860, three months later.

Not only is there more than year missing in the diary pages, but there are some major differences in his writing style, as well as in content.  His usual exaggerated flourishes on capital letters sometimes gives way to a nearly print form, especially on the letter "H".  There is nothing in my files to indicate a death in the family, so I wonder if he or other family members have been ill?  What other stressors might affect his handwriting?  Crop failure?  Family problems? Problems at the Poor Farm?  

I did notice that his handwriting is back to his usual handwriting form in 1860, but I also noticed things that brought questions to mind.  One of the most noticeable changes centered around the roles of  his sons.     Previously, J. P. increasingly depended upon  Billy to sow and harvest crops, clear  land, chop wood, go to Madison for supplies and to sell crops; now it is Jim, and sometimes Jabez,  that perform these chores.  

For pages, there was no mention of Billy.  Then, one day there is a notation, "Jim at Billy's place."  Billy's place?  What does that mean?   I know that in 1860, Billy is just 17 years-old;  he doesn't get married until 1866; doesn't join the Union army until after 1862.  So the easy answers of getting married and/or joining the army are eliminated.  Back to rooting around for answers.

The second issue revolves around J.P.'s political life.  Up until October of 1858, he was very involved with the Poor Farm, the Board of Supervisors, positions of Clerk and Superintendent of the town of Springdale;  he was visited regularly by neighbors, near and far, to draw up deeds, mortgages, file land patents, negotiate suits between individuals in and around Springdale, Mt. Vernon, Verona, Primrose, Black Eath, and other towns and villages in Dane County.  Now in 1859 and up to mid 1860, there is no mention of these activities.   Why?

The third issue concerns family dynamics  --- Billy's absence might also be a part of this issue.  What do  I know about the family?

I know that in September of 1858, J.P. makes a DOUBLE UNDERLINED notation:  Recd. letter from Grandfather.   Grandfather would be his wife Mary's father, William Gibson Burns.  Mary's father visited the family in Springdale in February, during which time he went to Madison twice with J.P.    W.G. Burns was politically active in England, especially in the Chartrist movement.  While he was in Wisconsin, Grandfather Burns lectured at the Court House in Madison, as well as in the School at Verona.

In 1859, and 1860, it appears that "Father and Mother" live with J.P. and Mary.  It is "Father at Madison", "Father not coming home" and "Father at home".   At first I thought J.P was talking about himself, but then it became clear that was not the case, it had to be William Gibson Burns.  An oddity,  more rooting around, I guess.

Also, I have mentioned in early posts, the relationship between the Adamson family and J.P.'s family.  Now it is very clear that Ann Adamson is the aunt of Mary or J.P., but still not sure of the exact relationship.  J.P. takes the role of her "protector," rather like he is the uncle.  He has corresponded with her to encourage her to come to Dane County;  she stays with them often;  he fetches her furniture (from where and taking it to where, I dinna know).  By 1858, Ann's husband Tom (or Uncle) is working on J.P:'s land, and appears to be building a house on McPherson's land. 

However, it is clear that by April of 1860,  "Uncle, Aunt, Father and Mother" have taken over primary roles in the family dynamic.  Dinna know why or how.

T'is driving me crazy, screaming mad-crazy.  But even so,. a plan of attack  is forming to resolve these maddening issues.


  1. Very intriguing - might there have been another relative named Billy?

  2. You wonderfully described why diaries can be so frustrating--yet so incredibly fascinating. I often wish that diary authors would have a window into the future and know that they needed to provide more details for those of us who are trying to decipher the meaning years later.

  3. Today having an ancestor's diary seems less like a blessing....Perhaps JP was just like the rest of us, his work took over his life and the diary went by the board? Was he on the political trail? Or perhaps for some reason he wrote up that year in another book that's gone AWOL?
    Was the issue with Billy some sort of dispute or had Billy somehow bought land or settled elsewhere.
    The Ann Adamson problem is perhaps less confusing since women "needed" to have a male protector despite the age/role reversal.
    Look forward to hearing your strategies on this one!