Finding Isaac's Journal: A Treasured Family Heirloom

| 3/16/2012 2:39:30 PM

Isaac's JournalThis story is from Lyn Fenwick, submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear 

When I learned that my deceased cousin had owned a homesteader's journal, I began asking questions, starting at the museum to which my cousin, Lucille, had bequeathed many of her possessions. Unfortunately, no one seemed to know anything about the journal, but I was invited to look through the unsorted boxes of my cousin's possessions stored in the basement of the museum. Like many small town museums, the Lucille M. Hall Museum depends on volunteers, and I felt selfish searching for the journal when it was obvious that they needed help sorting. I made a compromise with my conscience. As I began opening boxes, I sorted contents and identified pictures that I recognized, but I chose boxes that looked like they might contain the missing journal. When the last two volunteers came down into the basement where I was sorting to let me know they were leaving for the day, they told me I was welcome to stay and continue looking. I wasn't too keen on staying alone in the basement of an old building whose creaking and dripping sounds were not familiar to me. I left with them.

The next day, a volunteer went into the storeroom where I had been working and opened the box next to the one I had been sorting. It was the last box on the shelf, and inside was Isaac's journal. If I had stayed to work only a few minutes longer, I would have found it. The important thing, however, was that the journal had been found — and what a discovery it was!

Every day from August 1884 until June 1891, Isaac wrote in this large, leather-bound journal. Two inches thick with pages 10 inches wide by 15 and a half inches tall, containing 480 pages — it's the kind of legal journal in which records at the courthouse are kept. In the front pages of the journal are entries from 1870 and 1871, when Isaac was a young druggist in Rossville, Ill. With no explanation for a 13-year interruption, the journal resumes during Isaac's years as a homesteader in Stafford County, Kan. Knowing that I wanted to use the journal for research, the museum board allowed me to take it home to do the work.                                                                                                                  

In order to organize and index all of the information the journal contained, I quickly realized that I needed to transcribe it. Isaac's penmanship is actuallyisaacs open journal quite good, but he filled the pages from edge to edge in a fairly small script, and at my best, I was able to type only about one page every 45 minutes. I wasn't sure I could complete such a project. After two weeks, I called one of the board members and told her what I was trying to do. She said not to worry about how long it was taking, since without my inquiry, the journal might have gone undiscovered for months or even years. The task of transcribing took me 11 months, and involved one crashed laptop and a trip to my optometrist!                               

Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad: "At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at his work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest."  Twain goes on to say that such enthusiasm only lasts about 21 days; however, Isaac's commitment lasted far longer, and it is a historical treasure. The front page identifies the journal as "Vol. 5th."  Sadly, the whereabouts of Volumes 1 to 4 are unknown.

Lyn Fenwick
9/23/2012 2:15:27 PM

Julie, I hope you are following my blog at where I write about things I discover as I research Isaac, his neighbors, his community, and the populist movement. Yes, his journal is a historical treasure, and I have transcribed, annotated, and indexed it. I hope it can be published in some manner so people like you can share Isaac's journaling. My book is in manuscript form at last, and I am beginning the process of finding a publisher.

Julie Windham
4/13/2012 1:11:06 PM

oh my,i would love to sear down and read this Issac's journal,bet you can learn alot.

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