Amish Diaries

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A recent article in the New York Times described the sale of several lots of Amish diaries. The author of the article posits what people choose not to write about is unintentionally revealing.

The sale was held at Horst Auction Center in Ephrata, PA, just north of Lancaster in the heart of Amish country. A dozen bidders spent $3,000 for all the lots, which ranged from 1850s day books and medicine and dessert recipes by one Christian Lantz Fisher ($130) to Sarah King’s 1930s-1990s annotations ($25) that the Horst catalog described as “weather, company for supper, visiting, quilting, baking, household chores, stitching rose chair cushions, painting door stops.”

The diaries did not describe the feelings of the writer, but instead noted each day’s rounds of chores and events, like collecting duck’s eggs, cleaning stables, boiling pear butter, taking a sleigh ride, or attending church.

Meticulous diary keeping “has been a fairly common practice since at least 1800,” said John Parmer, a historian in Akon, near Ephrata, who is writing a book about the Amish fraktur tradition of writing and illuminating family trees and religious manuscripts.

“I’ve never come across a single emotion expressed in the many, many that I’ve read,” he said. “And there is very limited contact revealed with the outside world. You do see mentions of local happenings that would send ripples through a whole county: barn fires, wagons being struck by trains, the floodwaters along a creek so high the doctor couldn’t get his buggy through to treat a sick baby and the family had to muddle along without him. You can sometimes read emotional content into the dramas, but nowhere does it explicitly say, “I was terrified,” or “I was crying.”

Read the whole article here.amish-diaries

It made me think of the times when I have kept a diary, most recently last year when I took a pilgrimage to Ireland with other members of my parish to follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick and St. Bridget. Each page is scribbles of what I saw or did that day, and includes at least one anecdote  about a person, event or legend associated with the place. Rereading my diary, I found the anecdotes usually captured the mood of the day or the character of the place better than any guide book.

What is unique about your diary?

5 thoughts on “Amish Diaries

  1. I keep two sorts of journals: one is a daily diary, mostly of events for that day, with the occasional rumination about those events. Then my second is a “reading jorunal” where I copy passages from books I’ve read and any thoughts or responses I have about those passages (the quotations in black ink, my thoughts in blue).

    I love the idea of keeping a dated journal. I love the old day books and pocket diaries like the Amish diaries described in the article. I’ve twice started using a datad diary, only to abandon it after a few months because I found I had too many days where I had more to say than the page would permit (and it’s not like I lead a particularly interesting life). But I may try it again some day now that I can move a lot of my longer ramblings to the reading journal, which is not so time-specific.

  2. I use a large Moleskine daily (sorry QV!!) but the Journal 21 is the same size and has a similar open layout on the page. The large size of the page makes it easy for me to fit in everything I want to write, and I just ignore the printed times at the side and use the lines like regular lined paper.

  3. I had never thought about a dated day-per page to use as a journal (always thought of that as a planner) but I could see, given Biffybean’s earlier blog entry, using the Notor for that purpose (esp. if you wanted to keep a journal about a specific activity: art, exercise, local politics, etc.). I don’t think diary entries have to be lengthy. I don’t keep a regular journal other than my planner, but my attitude or opinion about that day, if it was particularly good or bad, probably shines through.

  4. I actually keep two “diary” books: one large dated day-per page book that I use as a journal, and an Exacompta pocket daily that I use as my daily planner. In my dated journal, each page is large enough to write everything I want to, and the limit of one page lets me off the hook of feeling like I have to write for pages and pages. But the best part about a dated page per day is I don’t have to write in chronological order like I did with blank notebooks. If I’m short on time I can write in the basics, then a few days later when I have time I can go back and write in more detail. This is my second year in a row using a day per page as a journal and I really like it.

    In my daily planner, I write all the nuts and bolts details of my day, my lists, to-dos, etc. The little things really tell a lot about my life. I am an American living overseas, and even mundane things like grocery lists remind me of what life is like where I’m living. I love looking at my daily books from countries where I have lived in the past. It’s those little day-to-day things I have written that really help me remember what my life was like at that time and place.

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