Tuesday, June 11, 2019

52 Ancestors - DIARY: The Next Best Thing

I keep hoping a tell-all diary will find its way to my “gene cave” with answers to all my questions:
  • James Jollett, was Thomas Jollett your father? If so who were HIS father and mother?
  • Nancy Walker Jollett, who were your parents?
  • John Fleming Walsh, are you SURE your father was named Patrick, not John?
  • Margaret Slade, were you sneaking around with John Calhoun in the 1850s?
  • Stephen Slade, what made your mother pick up roots and leave Florida for Virginia?
  • William Boyd, we got your number. We know you were really William Jollett. What was that unspeakable crime that set you on the run and made you hide the truth?
  • Frank Rucker, so which line should I follow - Jarvis or Angus?
  • And so on and so on.

Although apparently none of my ancestors left behind a diary, several kept wonderful scrapbooks that serve like a picture diary.

My grandaunt Velma Davis Woodring kept a scrapbook during her freshman year at Harrisonburg Teachers College (now James Madison University - Go Dukes!). It is filled with wonderful photos of classmates, campus covered in snow, her dorm exterior, her room which she shared with two others, the hockey field, and the “new” swimming pool.

One of the best entries in the scrapbook though is a story about a hike up the Massanutten in October 1924. Probably the most recognizable physical feature of the Shenandoah Valley is Massanutten Mountain. People often say it looks like an elephant’s head and trunk.  

Massanutten Mountain
Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
Velma and her friends were accompanied by the college president, Samuel Duke. 
Samuel Duke and Massanutten Hike October 1924 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Samuel P. Duke
College President from 1919-1949
Here is a transcription of her report along with the photos she took to remember that day. I had to guess what Velma wrote in some places where the white ink has faded. Impressions in the paper helped.

One Saturday about 250 girls went to the station at H.T.C. and went to the foot of the Massanutten Peak on the train. Here we all got off and started on our way up the mountain. About every five minutes, when climbing the mountain, we would stop and rest. We got to the top about one thirty. We stopped and ate our lunch and walked over to the peak as we wanted to. 

Massanutten Hike October 1924 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com

Massanutten Hike October 1924 https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Thelma Hockman and Velma

Then at three o’clock when everyone was tired of looking around at the beautiful Valley we started down the mountain. We got to the station about four o’clock and had to wait a while for the train. During the time we were waiting we found many ways to amuse ourselves. We got back to H.T.C. just in time for dinner.
Velma captioned this photo

Oh how I wish Velma had revealed how they amused themselves. That would surely be diary-worthy.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. This scrapbook is incredible, so full of detail about that year's activities...and in her own words!

    1. There is something magical about reading a relative's or ancestor's own words and seeing their handwriting.

  2. Super to read about this scrapbook. I've found one at the museum, where I'll be docent tomorrow, so will get some details from it. Not a relatives, but still interesting reading, and the photos are of this area (I think.)

    1. People's scrapbooks are just interesting for WHATEVER they included, usually things you won't find in public records.

  3. What a great day they had! It must have been a pretty sight to get to the top of the mountain. I can't imagine hiking in dresses though! I too would have wondered how they amused themselves. Now the question is, are you keeping a diary? (in a way I'm sure you are at least with your blog with ancestors).


    1. I had a diary as a kid but didn't keep at it very long. I'm not sure why. The closest I've come since then was a focus on myself during an A-Z April Challenge. And I agree with you - the dress for hiking AND for basketball, if you saw any of those photos on my blog - are far removed from how we'd dress today.

  4. I'm struggling with what to write this week as I've already written about my grandmother's "little diary". I also have scrapbooks (written about already). But I have about 1,000 letters from various people so I might try to figure out a way to mold that into the prompt. Good job!

    1. I struggle too - I feel like I've said it all, so sometimes I just have to rework old stories. It's not so bad when I told the story 5 years ago because it's a good chance no one saw it and certainly won't remember if they did!

    2. Haha! Sometimes I even forget what I've written about.

  5. A diary with pictures! Can't beat that!