Researching your family’s history is fascinating and a bit frustrating. No matter what information you can gather, there are always untold questions and dead-ends. Even when you find a name in a census, its just a name on a piece of paper: proof that someone existed, but nothing about who they are.
I feel extremely lucky that my family has a small treasure here. My great-great grandmother had a diary that survived through a cousin. As an adult Mary Jane (Ladd) LaPlante wrote of her memories as well as her day-to-day life. Through her writing, she became a fully dimensional human being to me, not just the name of an ancestor. Mary Jane’s stories have not only introduced me to a strong, fascinating woman, but have also brought a story of American life in the late 1800s. Even though its a personal story for me, I think that it holds greater interest.
Diary entry concerning late summer or fall of 1880, Mary Jane remembering spending a week with her paternal grandmother (Ladd) who died in 1904.
” Grandmother must have been cleaning house, for those are some of the things I remember. A bed with no paint or varnish, the bed rails were large and round, and had pegs rather stoutwood ones. And, I remember grandmother winding rope over and back to make the ropes into what we now use as springs. The ends had spindles to hold the pillows up. Then a nice clean tick filled with clean corn husk. And the husk was torn apart into ribbons then on top of that she placed a nice feather bed, and how she patted them to make it level. Then the clean white sheet, and two nice quilts, pieced ones. Then two large geese feather pillows, with snowy white cases, and I slept with her that first night.
The next day she made soap. She had a huge brass kettle, and my uncle fixed three sticks so she could hang it from the center, on a hook make of iron or wire. In this kettle she placed a large amount of fat she saved for months. She put in either Lewis Lye or wood ashes and then she made fire under the kettle and boiled it all afternoon, or so it seemed to me. Then, after it was done she poured it into a large shallow square pan, and put it up in the attic, or up stairs, and left it to harden. She took a huge butcher knife and cut it into bars for future use.
Up in the attic she had a large candle mold. She always made candles for their own use. I did not see her make them, but did see a big box of candles stored away up stairs. However, they did have one kerosene lamp, and how nice it seemed to sit by it. I was continually warned not to get too close, for fear of tipping it over…
I can remember Christmas in those days. A nice dinner, a new pair of mittens or stocking knitted by mother or grandmother.
I love my grandmother. She was tall and straight with soft brown eyes and dark curly hair and was combed straight back and lay in close waves on her head. A very self reliant woman, always alive and active. She died at the age of 84, in the year 1904, and in her will left me $200. “