Do you know of a diary or journal of a pioneer ancestor that used to be in the family and no one knows what happened to it? Would you like to hold the original and see your ancestor’s actual handwriting? If you suspect you might have an ancestor who left a diary or journal you can follow the same steps I did to locate, view, and share it.
My ancestor, William Henry Kelsey, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1843 in England. During the 1850’s he traveled the area as a missionary. He kept a detailed journal /diary of his experiences and in 1976, two of his descendants transcribed it.
My mother made a copy of the transcription for me to read, but I really wanted to see the original. William Henry’s granddaughter, Effie Kelsey, had owned the diary but she died five months after the transcription was finished. What happened to the diary? My mother thought that it had been donated to a university or library in Utah, since Aunt Effie lived in Springville, Utah.
In my quest to find the diary, I did what anyone would do, I googled it! The fifth hit on the google results looked promising. I clicked on it and found this entry in WorldCat.
“WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information.”
Below the entry I found the library that holds the original diary – Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah.
Going to the Harold B. Lee Library online catalog, I did a search for William Henry Kelsey and found this entry:
I had located the diary, now how to view it in Special Collections. Clicking on the link gave me a map of the library, pinpointing the Special Collections area. It let me know that upon arriving I could pick up the item at the circulation desk.
On the appointed day, I took a trip to Provo Utah, parked in the visitor parking at Brigham Young University and proceeded to Special Collections of the Harold B. Lee library. Once at the circulation desk, I was asked to fill out a form detailing my interest in the diary. I had to meet with an official librarian who went over my form and asked a few more questions. I was approved and asked to leave my belongings in a locker before entering the viewing room. I could take in only a pencil, notebook, laptop, and cell phone. Once in the viewing room, a worker brought the William Henry Kelsey collection to the window where I got my first view of the diary.
I opened it carefully, after all it was over 150 years old!
Reading the words of my Great, great grandfather in his own handwriting proved to be an emotional experience. I felt such a connection to this pioneer. He emigrated with his wife and children in 1861. Starting a new life in a new country must have been hard but he persevered – a great lesson to remember.
I spent an hour or so reading through the diary then left with the hope of returning often. I took my 86 year old mother the next visit and she was thrilled to see it. I discovered that for a nominal fee of $30, I could have the diary digitized. Then I would be able to read it from the comfort of my home. I filled out the form, paid the fee, and about a week later received a PDF of the diary through email.
After all of this work, I wanted to share the diary so I decided to upload it to the Memories page of William Henry Kelsey on FamilySearch.org. The file was too large to be uploaded in its entirety, so I broke it into multiple entries. I uploaded each one and labeled it with the date and order. Now anyone interested can view it.
What am I going to do with the diary now? Enjoy it!
If you know of a diary or journal that your ancestor wrote, you can follow the same steps I did to locate and share it.
- Google your ancestor’s name, try putting quotations around the search to get better results.
- Follow the hits through until you locate the repository – library or historical society.
- Contact the repository and find out operating hours and protocol for viewing the diary.
- Make a visit to the repository and be prepared to take notes, pictures, or whatever is allowed.
- Ask the repository about digitizing the journal or diary.
- If you are able to get a digitized copy, upload it to your ancestor’s page on FamilySearch.org and share with the world.
Was this process worth it? Absolutely. As I read the words of my Great Great grandfather Kelsey, I wondered what legacy I am leaving my descendants. Are the experiences I am writing in my own journal faith promoting? Do they show how I overcome trials? Definitely something to work on.
Best of luck in your searching!