08 March 2012

The Diary

Last year I was entrusted with a family collection of photos, letters, documents... even one reproduction Civil War medal. You know how this works. You get a huge box of unidentified memorabilia, some of which is garbage, some of which you already have (somewhere) and some of which are pure gold. As in, "this should really be in a museum but I'm probably going to keep it for a while anyway" gold.

The Diary is one of those pieces of gold.

The "Carlyle Collection" as I have named it all came to me from my great grandfather's sister's family. Carrie Brown, daughter of Oscar and Frankie (previously mentioned in several other posts) married Adam Carlyle, and Carrie was good at saving things. So were her daughters. I have certainly gained the honor of becoming the family curator, and eventually the collection ended up in my lap. A title I will gladly carry through to the end. The collection had been organized, to my great delight, to a certain degree by a member of the Carlyle family more recently. He even labelled some of those unknowns for me, which is nearly unheard of.

But no one told me about The Diary.

I had spent days documenting, digitizing and doing my best to filter through the collection. It came contained in seven binders and several other collection devices: boxes, plastic bags, loose pieces. The process had been long and tedious - and I still had to go through and translate all those letters, find where all those pieces belonged. I was really just beginning, but the cataloging was dragging on and on, until I was just done. Done.

Then I found The Diary.

In a very plain looking brown bag. On the front was written, "Diary of Carrie E. Reid 1895 Given to Lizzie Christie (1),  Jean Mouat (2), Helen DeVries (3)." In the top left corner a address label was placed for William DeVries of Bellingham, Wash. (Can you say 1940 US Census?) The back of the bag had a printed label for "PayLess: We're Your Mall in One... We've Got It All Together." Obviously, a modern addition to The Diary. The handwriting on front I recognized from some of the photos I had seen in days previous. Even the pen used was the same. One of the names, Helen DeVries, was familiar, but other than that, I had nothing.

Carrie E. Reid wrote The Diary.

Inside the bag was a dictation notebook, similar to the commonly used white and black notebooks seen across colleges everywhere. The front cover, brown with black and gold embossed lettering, reads "Cyclopedia Book, Exercise and Dictation". The back and inside covers are littered with helpful information, such as "How To Tell the Age of Any Person", in chart form, the "Strength of Ice" and "Origin of the Dollar". Held together with a piece of blue tape along the spine, obviously an attempt made several decades ago. The first page entry is dated Tuesday, Jan 1, 1895, by C.E. Reid, "Diary".
               "This being the 22nd Anniversary of Mother's and Father's wedding we 
                  wished to have some enjoyment so we decided on having a little party."

I was immediately obsessed.

Inside were a few items, other than the script of Carrie Reid. She appears to be writing from somewhere in Canada, so a program from the Grand Opera House in Ottawa (Canada), for Tuesday, February 18th, highlighting Madame Albani in performance, made sense. A color print, on thin paper, slightly torn in the corners, of "The Doctor", published by J.A. Austen & Co., Chicago. A small scrap of paper, written in pencil, "July 4th, 1896, Saturday night..." along with a very fragile sample of hand crocheted lace, folded several times over. The last entry is from Jan. 1st, 1896, "Leap Year".

I hope to find out who Carrie E. Reid was, and where her family ended up. How is she related to me? How did this diary, this very precious item, end up in my hands? The trust my family places in me... wow.

Some of the entries are long, involved stories. Some are very simple, one sentence, maybe two. The transcription will hopefully be completed this year, and the storage of this item for preservation carefully considered. It is a treasure, a family heirloom, yes. But more than that, it is a historic artifact. One for the museum, perhaps.

The Diary.


  1. Well, talk about pure gold. What an exciting find. There is nothing quite so precious, in quite the same way, as a personal handwritten document from a family member from long, long ago. And this is 100 years ago. When I found my grandparents' courtship letters from 1894 to 1897 (discovered in my parents' attic about 10 years ago, now), it took my breath away. It still does. I hope you can savor every word.

  2. What a wonderful find! I can't wait to read your transcription and see images of the pages. It sounds like a combination scrapbook/diary/journal all rolled into one. Best of luck with your new adventure. Keep us posted.


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