Digging into Our Ancestors’ Lives: Finding Social History Records – Part 2, Diaries

I’ve always been very jealous of family historians who are lucky enough to have inherited diaries, journals or family ledgers.

I am very appreciative that I do have two early 20th century writings by my first cousin, twice removed, Bertha Stuart Eldridge, who wrote several typed pages about the life of her grandmother, my 2X great grandmother, Elida Hicks Stuart, and of life in the little village of Meddybemps at the beginning of the 20th century. I cherish both of these works. I know so much more about Elida because Bertha shared her memories of her grandmother.

The second best scenario would be finding a diary or journal written by a contemporary that describes their ways of life. For most of us, that is the reality, but it doesn’t make finding these resources any less meaningful.

Unfortunately, many diary and journal database collections are either linked to university collections, which require a log-in, or are on subscription sites, affordable only to libraries.

However, there are options online, which include diaries, journals, family letters, first-person narratives and business ledgers. (Business ledgers are great snapshots of daily life because the accounts list purchased items and the prices.)

A Confederate Girl’s Diary: Sarah Morgan Dawson

Camping with the Sioux – The Fieldwork Diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher

Diaries, Memoirs, Letters and Reports Along the Trails West

Diary of Mrs. William Thornton, 1800-1863

DoHistory – The diary of 18th century midwife Martha Ballard

Documenting the American South – This collection includes stories told by African Americans, women, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans.

First World War Memoirs & Diaries

Letter from an American Farmer – J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur 1782

Oregon Trail – Emigrant’s Diaries and Journals

Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters 1862-1912

Salem Witch Trials: The Diary of Samuel Sewall, 1674-1729

The California Diary of Faxon Dean Atherton, 1836-1839

The Narrative of Bethany Veney, a Slave Woman

The Valley of the Shadow – Reconstruction years through the eyes of Franklin County, Pennsylvania residents and inhabitants of Augusta County, Virginia

Trails of Hope: Overland Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869

Veterans History Project on Library of Congress

The best collections of online diaries, available for free, can be found on:

Internet Archive

Library of Congress – more geared towards well-known people in history

State Historical Societies – check individual collections available online

Women Working, 1800-1930

2 thoughts on “Digging into Our Ancestors’ Lives: Finding Social History Records – Part 2, Diaries”

  1. What a wonderful treasure to have a copy of your cousin’s memories of living with this ancestor. Having her first-hand account and seeing through her eyes is priceless.

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