Old diaries can be delightful windows onto the past, with descriptions of the day-to-day activities of a bygone era. They can also be useful tools for researchers, providing key data needed for their analyses, such as weather information or social interactions. The historical value of these records becomes limited, however, when we don’t have information on their authors. It can be disappointing when lovely old records, such as diaries, photographs, etc., are missing key information about who created them.
One curious case of a group of diaries with no author found their way to the ETRC some years ago. They were a splendid (and legible!) set of diaries spanning from 1920 to 1948, filled with daily entries on a variety of subjects and lists of household expenses. The one thing missing from these diaries: an identification of their author. No convenient “this book belongs to…” The silver lining? Instances such as this one are when the archivist gets to turn into super sleuth.
After making lists of the people mentioned with full names and of all the places named, along with some creative searching of the Canadian census returns, came the satisfactory and sweet feeling of success. The author of these diaries was Delbert R. Holsapple. Delbert, son of David E. Holsapple and Elizabeth Russell, was born and raised in the St. Armand West area. He married Lizzie Adams in 1891 and together they had a daughter, Elfrida. Delbert spent most of his life farming near Morse’s Line, selling produce and was active in the local community.
Even though Delbert’s diaries do not include his feelings about his life events, reading them begins to form a story that lifts from the yellowing pages. They are a record of the rhythms of farming but also the relationships with neighbours and community events, such as the Catholic chicken pie supper (which, for those curious, cost 35 cents for two people in 1933). In particular, these diaries span the Great Depression and the Second World War and are an interesting perspective on what it was like in the Townships during this time.
Perhaps you have some old family diaries and journals hanging around in the recesses of your closets or drawers. If so, this could be the perfect time to dig them out and peruse them. You never know what might be held within their pages.