Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An incredible find

A while back someone I know the next county over called me and told me he had found a small notebook at an auction.

It appeared to be a diary of a teenage girl, he said. He could not find a name of the writer but told me that the diarist mentioned folks by my last name quite a lot, so he wanted me to have the little notebook.

I picked it up yesterday. The notebook bears the date "1904" in pencil. It is a corporate hand-out of some kind, with a light brown cover. It is inscribed:
F.W. Brown, Dealer In Hardware, Cutlery, Plows, Farm Implemen (torn here), Paints, Oils, Glass, Putty, Re (torn here), Twines, Leather, Carpenters' Tools, Pipe and Fittings, Plumbers' Supplies, Etc., 11 Jefferson Street, Roanoke, VA. See Back Cover.

On the back it says:
McCormick Harvesting Machines, Steam Engines, Threshing Machines, Saw Mills, Engineers' Supplies

For me, history buff that I am, that would have been enough, really, to have found a small notebook that shows such a diverse hardware store from the early 1900s.

But inside? Oh wow.

Last night I read the little diary out loud to my husband. It is about 80 small pages, the paper being a little under 3" x 6", to the reading only took about a half-hour.

I believe the young woman's name is Carrie, but I don't know her last name. She lives with an aunt, an uncle and her brother, Grover. Her parents are both dead but it does not say how or when they died.

The little diary goes from September 28, 1904 to January 13, 1905. This is when she runs out of notebook and actually turns the diary to write up the side of the page.

She wrote it all in pencil and it is remarkably legible.

The family lives somewhere close to where I sit writing this blog. She talks about Fincastle, Trinity, and Woodland (which is less than a mile from me). She goes to the fair; she agonizes over her work, her relationship with her aunt (which apparently is not very good) and her brother's long absence when he leaves for Craig and Alleghany Counties to visit family.

She apparently is not a very good cook for she mentions failed recipes on several occasions, noting that some of her creations are completely inedible.

She writes about her efforts to be Christian (apparently this is very hard for her) and she is sick a lot with headaches and a pain in her chest. Apparently she is not bedridden for she talks about carrying water from the spring and visiting folks on occasion.

A song she wrote has found its way somewhere via an advertisement in a magazine, but it appears the folks she sent it to want money from her to do something else with it. Perhaps some kind of publication scam? She also replies to ad in a magazine that asks for someone to write letters. She hears back but must send in a dollar, which she does not have. She says she will not reply to any more advertisements in magazines after this.

During one entry she notes it is her birthday, and she is now 20 years old. She is also penniless. At Christmas she says all she wants is a writing tablet, which she does not get.

Best of all for us, one of the people she talks about seeing at Christmas is Guy Firebaugh. This is my husband' great-grandfather.

She mentions many other Firebaughs as well, all of whom must be great-aunts and uncles.

I will work this week to see if I can find an older relative who might know a little more. Perhaps I can learn this young woman's identity. If nothing else, this little diary has brought a piece of my husband's great-grandfather's life into his.

This has been the most incredible find.


  1. This is fantastic! Perhaps she's mentioned in the 1900 census when she'd be about 16. How many Carries of that age could there be in a small area? And if Grover lived in the same household, that narrows the field more.

    I can't wait to hear how your research goes.

  2. This is intriguing and exciting! I'm sure this girl never dreamed what future was in store for her little diary.

  3. A true gem of a find. So nice of the man to call you and see that the diary fell into your hands.


  4. Whoa, that's cool!!! If you find out more about this let us know!

  5. I'm so glad you got such a treasure. It should be fun to research your family to see if you can find out who she was. let us know if you do.

  6. That is a great find. I love diaries and could only imagine how thrilled you are since there's a link to your husband's family as well. Keep us informed!

  7. Wow!!!! How exciting!!! Please keep us posted about what you find out.

  8. And I just let my subscription to Ancestry,com lapse!! I highly recommend - it is $19.95 per month and you can cancel anytime. Loads of resources and you can search the 1900 census online. You may also find others who are researching the Firebaugh line. Try it, you won't be disappointed!


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