Thursday, July 01, 2021

Grampa’s gift

Recently I discovered another piece of history—another treasure—when I was given a few diaries that my paternal grandfather, Grampa Copley, had written. I’d heard he kept diaries but thought they’d all been lost or destroyed. 

The treasure is a diary from 1934, a summary of diaries from 1912 to 1969, and a scrapbook from his young adulthood. 

Burr Copley was born in Unadilla, New York, and graduated from Cornell University in 1913 with a degree in agriculture. He used his knowledge to run a successful farm and grain, feed, and turkey business along with Marion Lowry, whom he married in 1917. Grampa Copley loved his family and valued education and faith. 

What we know—or think we know—of family is sometimes challenged when we read primary sources that document what actually happened at the time it occurred. For example, I thought my grandparents had always lived in their large, rambling farmhouse with its barns and sheds and coops and generous land. But in the 1934 diary, I learned that the family, which by then included five children, were renting a home in another part of town. Grampa spent much of that year scouting out a permanent home to buy. 

I also learned about how they managed the farm, from both domestic and business prospectives, which has given me the details that will give my current middle-grade manuscript the authenticity it needs.

The summary diary records highlights of each year, which, judging by the quality of my grandfather’s handwriting, he wrote from either existing diary entries or from memory later in his life. Although it doesn’t have the immediacy of the 1934 diary, it provides important dates and events.

And the scrapbook includes photos of my fun-loving great aunties, whom I’d known only in their middle and late years, as fun-loving young women.

Having these treasures has given me insight into my grandfather as a young man, a young father, a successful business person, and a grandfather. They’ve also added to who I am; knowing more about my family helps me understand more about myself.

Writing in a diary takes only a few minutes of your day, but it will be an unending gift to your family for generations.

Happy writing! 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A bookcase of days

bookcase of diaries
I’ve written about my great-grandmother’s diaries—how they’ve provided insight into my family, how I’ve used them as research for some of my historical fiction, and how they influenced me to begin my own daily diary-writing practice 25 years ago. 

For many years my mother was the keeper of the diaries. Whenever I visited her, I’d spend several hours reading through them. And when my mother prepared to move out of the house I’d grown up in, she sent the diaries to me. Now they’re displayed in a bookcase in my bedroom—which, until our young-adult children leave the nest for good, is also my writing space.

There, they’re just a reach away, so I can research and immerse myself in historical New England. When I was writing Full Cicada Moon and wanted to know the weather each day in 1969, I turned to her diary. As I’ve been writing the middle-grade novel Family of Ghosts and wanted to understand how women’s suffrage, World War II, and the influenza pandemic affected her and her small New Hampshire town in 1918, I turned to her diary. As I wrote the adult verse novel The Women of Shunem and needed details about the death of her son, I read her 1937 diary. And as I’ve been writing the adult novel Restored and wanted to know anything about the inn that was once a birthing hospital, where my mother and uncle were born, I read her diaries from the 1950s and ‘60s.

When I find a bookcase for my own diaries, I’ll post a photo of them.

Happy reading and writing!