I adore old journals, diaries and scrapbooks. Just like that record from the WWII soldier – see my first blog post for more on that – these glimpses of the past through first-hand written accounts are what keep me hooked on history. Yet I have mixed feelings when reading through them – delighted to read about someone’s life in their own words, sad that these journals somehow ended up with strangers and sold in antique shops or on eBay, and a bit mischievous at doing something rather forbidden – reading someone’s diary. You could argue that most diaries and scrapbooks were written or put together for someone other than the author to read; never meant to be secret or under lock and key. Otherwise, why would they have bothered to keep a diary, right?
Still, there’s always that chance that the personal journal I'm reading was really just meant for the writer’s eyes and I'm intruding in a past life.
To publish or not to publish
I've been working on transcribing and editing some travel diaries written by Sarah Van Hoosen Jones. I hope to publish this project someday, but wondered, at first, if I should publish her words. I thought of how a teen-ager would respond if I told her I was publishing her diary. I could almost hear a faint gasp from the past.
But if you know anything about Sarah Van Hoosen Jones you know how much she valued history. At the tender age of seventeen, Sarah travelled to Europe and northern Africa with her mother, aunt and grandmother -- all remarkable women in their own right -- for an entire year from 1910 to 1911. They sailed to Scotland and visited Austria, Hungary, Algiers and even the Sahara Desert among other fabulous places. They met people, attended social events and enjoyed new experiences in foreign lands.
Sarah went on to become a highly successful female farmer and one of only two women in the United States to be named Master Farmer, a title she earned in 1932-33. In addition, she was the first woman in the U.S. named Premier Breeder of Holstein cattle, which she raised on her family’s farmstead – Van Hoosen Farm -- in Stoney Creek Village in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills), Michigan. In the 1930s and early 1940s, the farm was a major supplier of bottled milk in southeastern Michigan, and all under Sarah’s direction.
Throughout her life, Sarah supported a number of programs highlighting local history, including the Double Jubilee in Avon Township, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the township’s founding along with the 100th anniversary of Michigan statehood.
Sarah also understood her and her family’s contributions to history. After her death in 1972, Sarah's books and papers were kept by longtime friend and companion, Alice Serrell. Sarah never married or had children. Her legacy was preserved in her work and in her words, including a book about her family's life on the farm titled Chronicle of Van Hoosen Centenary Farm.
I believe Sarah would've approved of people reading about her travels abroad as a young girl. As a much older lady, Sarah took several more trips to Europe and documented those excursions in countless photographs.
I’m not sure when I'll finish this project, but for me, it’s the journey that’s the most exciting. Reading the words from 1910 and imagining the scenery Sarah described is mesmerizing.
Now if only I had all the time in the world to be mesmerized.
Thanks for reading,