Maude Ora Merrill, the daughter of William Oliver Merrill and Frances Annabelle Nelson, was born in 1889 in Pomfret, New York. She and her older sisters–Celestia (b. 1881) and Amy (b. 1886)–were incredibly close (Maude was my great-grandmother’s, Beatrice Maude Peterson’s, namesake, after all), and there’s article after article in the Dunkirk Evening Observer about their visits to each other’s homes, the clubs they founded together and the times this sister beat that sister at cards. On September 24, 1914, when she was 24 years old, Maude married Ralph Earnest Hammond, the son of Joseph Oliver Eric Hammond and Martha Ellen Ford, in Brocton, New York. The couple purchased “the tourist home” at 295 West Main Street in Fredonia; Ralph worked as a fruit farmer, and Maude was a seamstress.
This week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompt is “unusual source,” and while a diary isn’t necessarily an unusual or out-of-the-box find, Maude’s diary, in particular, is different from the other journals and memoirs I’ve inherited over the years. Maude wrote every day in 1948, and she always shared a short sentence or two about the weather that morning, her husband’s job or the amount of laundry piling up. Mundane, to be sure, but a genealogy gold mine in its own right. It’s rare that I get a small glimpse into the daily life of my ancestors; to have access to a few of Maude’s thoughts, feelings and actions outside of that which she chose to publish in the newspapers is invaluable.
The inside cover of Maude’s diary includes a faint price sticker, and the ink is just dark enough to be read. Maude purchased the diary from the G. C. Murphy Company–a chain of five-and-dime stores throughout the United States–for 25 cents. Diary No. 2050, according to the price sticker, was printed by the Whitman Publishing Company in Racine, Wisconsin. Ralph and Maude were still living in “the tourist home” in Fredonia, and because it was such a small town, they had a three-digit phone number. The third page of the diary also includes spots for the writer to include their hair color, eye color, shirt size and driver’s license number (to highlight a few), but the only line Maude filled out was her weight: “157 in Dec.” Perhaps she was dieting or monitoring her health?
Maude’s diary begins on January 1, 1948, of course: “Icy and bad driving. Had tourist who had had a accident. Ralph went to work.” This tells me that in 1948, years after purchasing their historic home, Ralph and Maude were still allowing tourists to visit; however, there is no indication in the diary as to whether or not they charged visitors for a tour. January 3: “Saturday, ice still. Ralph got some more coal today. Ralph has gone to work and I am doing up my cleaning.” I also love Maude’s choice of words here; “doing up my cleaning” is not a phrase we commonly use anymore. January 4 was finally a “nice” day: “Ralph went to work and I washed my hair. Also cleaned our bedroom.”
Don’t worry, I won’t recount every diary entry here. The rest of the year was much the same, full of rainy days (that’s Buffalo for you!), work schedules, family visits, sewing and laundry. But my message is this: when researching your family’s history, don’t overlook the mundane. I love sharing stories here about my Mayflower ancestors and my distant celebrity cousins, and finding connections to royalty or our Founding Fathers always makes for a great read. I’d challenge you, though, to write the stories of your ancestors’ day-to-day experiences: the heartbreak and loss, as well as the joy and triumph. Stories about the young man who died in the mines a few feet from his father and brothers; about the mother who waited anxiously for her sons to return from war; and about the parents who traveled thousands of miles to provide their children with new opportunities. There’s clues in the mundane, and there’s always a story that deserves to be told; now start searching.