Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sepia Saturday, 2013 July 27th: Old Things, A Diary and A Box of Letters

"What is precious, tattered, torn and handed down?"  Wowser!  Those words spoke to me.  I have some rather old photographs, but it is the "handed down" that grabbed me -- items that were written by, held by, tended by those people of my past.  So Thank You, Sepia Saturday, and a special thanks to Kathy, Martha and Marilyn for the prompt picture. 








THE DIARY OF JAMES P. McPHERSON
Sometime around 2001, I was re-reading an old letter written by a daughter of my great-great grandparents, James P. and Mary Burns McPherson.  I had read the letter several times over the years, but this time the words jumped off of the page and in my face!  She told about her father keeping record in his diary of the marriages that he had performed as the Justice Peace in Springdale, Wisconsin.  The letter was unsigned and undated -- good information about the great-greats, but not about the writer.  That was the beginning of nearly a decade-long search for the diary.  Research at the Wisconsin Historical Library in Madison, as well as the very helpful folks at the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society, helped me to narrow the author of the letter to the youngest daughter of the great-greats.  Then it was the search of her descendants to locate information about the diary, and finally the diary itself.  Then it took another three years to come to how I could obtain a copy of the Diary.  In November, 2010, I traveled half way across the country to Madison, Wisconsin where I had a great week with McPherson cousin-types that I had never met.  We photographed the diary, scanned pictures, told stories and made lasting bonds with the now far flung family members.  A wonderful week!

Now I am in the process of transcribing the diary.  James P. McPherson wrote with a fine hand, but many times the letters looked far different from the cursive I learned as a child.  In addition,  his word useage was sometime unfamiliar, which took some time to get used to how he spoke and wrote.  Although, I took a year long hiatus in the transcribing  -- had to finish a book of letters -- I am again transcribing the Diary, and in doing so I have a wonderful window into the lives of James P., his family, and the folks that lived in and around Springdale in the middle of the nineteenth century. 


Tattered and worn cover to the Diary
of James P. McPherson
Front Page of the Diary for the
Years, 1850 through 1880


1850 Diary Entry from May 21st through June 14th



LETTERS WRITTEN BY MY UNCLE, RALPH JABEZ McPHERSON
During a trip to visit the last suviving McPherson aunties, the sisters brought out shoe boxes of letters written by their oldest brother Ralph, when he lived in Escondido, California and they in a small northern Californian town.  I thought that I had found the "mother lode", and indeed I did.    Ralph's letters meandered throught family history in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California and Oregon and covered over a century's worth of stories told and retold in the family.  The family history was intersperced with current events, weather and road reports, and scads of newspaper clippings.

I spent several years transcribing the letters, partially because in the beginning I just was gleaning family history.  It was only into the second year, that I realized that each letter needed to be transcribed in its entirety, so I had to start over.  Not an easy task.  There were 156 letters written over five years; each letter was several pages long -- his average letter was about six to eight pages, some were twelve pages or more.  He didn't want to waste paper or postage, so he wrote top to bottom, side to side AND on both sides of the paper.  As the cost of postage went up, he wrote his letters on onion-skin paper, which made transcribing very difficult and time consuming.  During the transcribing period, I wrote a poem, My Uncle Ralph Never Wrote To ME , which might be of interest.

Today, nearly a decade after I received those shoeboxes, with the help of my sister and a friend of the family, a book of my Uncle Ralph's letters is nearly ready to send off to the printer.  A endeavor of love and gratitude to my McPherson family.


A Shoebox of Letters Written by My Uncle,
Ralph Jabez McPherson to His Sisters,
1980 through 1985


A Page of A Letter Written By
My Uncle Ralph


These are my treasures, now check out the treasures of our fellow Sepians.

~ ~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

29 comments:

  1. I don't know where she got the idea, but my mother saved all the letters I wrote to her & my dad after I married, moved 400 miles away, & began birthing their grandchildren. Many years later she returned all those letters to me & every so often I get them out & read a few more. One day I'll pass them along to my youngest daughter & her family. I'm not sure about sharing the love letters my husband & I exchanged before we were married, however? Maybe. But they did get rather personally descriptive. :[] I have saved all the ones he sent to me & come to think of it, whether I choose to share them or not, unless I throw them out - which I will never do! - they'll be around for someone to find some day. But by then I probably won't be around to blush. :->

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    1. After my mother's death, I found a folder marked "Joannie" which contained all of the letteres I wrote to her during the 4 years we were at WSU - a great time for us as a family as we had three children (ranging from three to eight years in age when we arrived at WSU). One day I will scan those letters and give a copy to each of my childre. Thanks for reminding me of more recent letters.

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  2. Excellent work Joan. Your remarkable success at locating the diary and letters is one thing, but your effort and hard work at transcribing them is something that I applaud, knowing how much one has to be devoted to the task not to give up or ket it fall by the wayside.

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    1. Thanks, Brett. You know how these obsessions go. It's like a puzzle you can't put down until it's finished. Crazy making, eh?

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  3. Transcribing a diary sounds awesome and so worthwhile. The photos ooze mystery and charm!

    Hazel

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    1. When I transcribed the letters of my Uncle Ralph, I found that after awhile it seemed as though he was talking to me (as well as his sisters). When I finished I missed his "voice" in my ear. I have much the same feeling about the diary -- I know J.P.s cadence, and how "loud" his unstated thoughts are. Curious, eh?

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  4. That was some tracking down you did to find the diary. Well done. It sure will be an interesting job transcribing it.

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    1. I also had quite a time getting the "family" to letting me have access to the diary, but the trip to meet them was great. Worth all the angst.

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  5. Just beautiful. You reminded me that I have my mother's letters to her father which make for fascinating reading. I must do the same as you and transcribe them.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Alex. For me, I felt that if I dinna transcribe the letters (and the diary) those wonderful words, thoughts and images (and lives) would die unknown in yellowing crinkles of disintegrating paper.

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  6. What a fabulous find that was. You are so lucky to have such a rich resource of first hand documentary family history. thanks for sharing it with us.

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    1. Yes, Alan, I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to read and transcribe the letters and the diary. A gift that found its way to me.

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  7. The amount of work you have put into this must be enormous - a true labour of love indeed but well worth while.

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    1. Indeed, Bob, it definitely keeps me from other pursuits --- who knows, without the letters and diary, I could be out kicking up my heels with other old folks playing canasta or some sort of thing.

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  8. A fascinating story. How lucky you are that your antecedents loved to write and keep records. Perhaps our blogs will do the same thing in years to come.

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    1. All of us should have relatives who were/are letter & diary writers -- and we should NEVER delete our emails and blogs.

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  9. What an amazing discovery brought about by your persistence. But you didn't just leave it there and just read it. Instead you're leaving an heirloom that can be shared by many. ..

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    1. Pauleen, it is a gift of love -- to me from those who went before -- and from me to those who follow me. That's how it should work, I think.

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  10. Wouldn't the authors of the old letters be amazed that we are so interested. I transcribed the letters that my husband's grandfather wrote from England and France to his girlfriend (later wife) during WW2 - pages and pages of fascinating information that could have been lost so easily.

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  11. When I first started I was only interested in the family history, but then as I heard Ralph's voice in my head, I knew that I was seeing his life and times through his eyes and words. The baseball and football reports took on new meaning, his take on current events was sometimes that a man rooted in his past, and sometimes modern beyond his years. Couldn't leave a word out, and so glad I made that choice.

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  12. I am full of admiration for the work you have done here. Transcribing is a difficult task, especially with the vagaries of handwriting and langage usage - very well done.

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    1. Truly a work of love -- and transcribing is often like a puzzle, so it is fun as well.

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  13. An impressive amount of work there. You should be proud.

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    1. I am pleased with the work -- and have thoroughly enjoyed having the "voices" of my Uncle Ralph and the great great talk in my mind late at nite as try to make sense of their handwriting.

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  14. What wonderful treasures you have. It will take forever to transcribe it all. But you've got a great start.
    Nancy

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  15. Thank you, Barbara and Nancy. I probably spend nearly two years on the boxes of letters. Not knowing what I was doing or what I really wanted from the letters made for a couple of false starts -- rather some extensive "do overs," but worth the time and effort.

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  16. "don't hear from the rest of them much..."
    I guess he realized that there are writers in this world,
    and readers...
    Clearly he was a writer!!!
    I dare not imagine the amount of work you had to face,
    but you must feel so content that it has reached fruition.
    A nice legacy!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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    1. WOW, I am astounded that you actually read the page of the letter that I posted of Ralph's --- and very appreciative. He was a faithful letter writer and thankful I am that he was, cuz it is indeed a legacy.

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    2. Of course I read it!!
      You show, I look!!!
      :D~
      I used to write but felt unappreciated...
      so gave that up, eventually...
      People even used to come up to me to write something for them in cards and such, asking me how I'd say one thing or another.
      I was THAT inspired, and my French was good, very good!!
      So I can appreciate a considerate writer.
      As I appreciate a considerate Blogger!!!
      :)~
      HUGZ

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