Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Diary Project Continues - Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, Maine

Last spring I found a diary in an antique store. (You can read my early posts about it if you search for "diary" on this blog.) 

I needed to take a hiatus from traveling during the second half of last year, so I spent some time doing online research. My diary is from Maine and after a little deductive reasoning and research, I was able to determine that it is from the Kennebunkport area. I located nineteenth century newspapers and directories of Maine businesses that listed some of the names that I found in my diary. 

Today I did more research at the Kennebunk Public Library and briefly talked to the folks at the Kennebunkport Historical Society. I will make an appointment at the Historical Society during research hours because I think that is where I will find more of the information that I need. I am now as close to one-hundred percent certain that the writer of my diary is from that town as I can be without knowing who the actual writer is. The names I have been able to find so far were all Kennebunkport residents. 

The director of the Historical Society clued me in to a diary at the Kennebunk Library written by Andrew Walker, so I spent time with that today.

Local History section a the Kennebunk Library
Andrew Walker's diaries cover a good part of the 19th century. Like my diary writer, Walker was active in local politics and worked in a local shop. For a very brief moment, I thought perhaps my diary was written by him too. I have been carrying around a diary transcript and not the original. I had my husband take photos and text me pages in my diary to compare the handwriting to Walker's. They are not the same writing. After closer examination, I also realized that Walker's diary did include the first six months in 1882 that my diary covers, though the contents page of his transcript did not make this clear at first. I photocopied the pages from the overlapping dates and will review them to see similarities from the comfort of my living room. At a quick glance, I noticed that Walker covers the same train crash as my diarist. I want to see what other events overlap. Here I'll get insight on two different men in neighboring towns watching local events unfold. 

Some of the names in my diary were located in the index of the Walker diary. He sometimes recorded happenings in Kennebunkport as well as his own town. I checked off names that appeared in both indices. (I had made a name index of my diary as soon as I got it.)

From the diary of Andrew Walker (1808-1899)
I am not positive yet where this research work will take me, but my main purpose for this project is to show the value of personal records for revealing local history and communities. I now have a clear way to show how local records reveal overlapping communities in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. My daughter is helping me with the project and a second layer to this is showing how such materials can help get children excited about history. I can't wait to share what I've found with her today!

Here are some interesting quotes from the Andrew Walker diary, which are recorded in the introduction to the diary transcript. It is worth noting that he had a clear idea of why he was writing this. I have written extensively in my blog about the value of keeping a diary. It is interesting to see how someone over 150 years ago had similar ideas...

January 1, 1851

"I Andrew Walker propose to write a short diary in this book of such events in this quiet village and vicinity as come to my knowledge. By the term events I include whatever may be suggested to my mind at the time of writing, whether of a private or public nature, my own thought or the thoughts of others. In short whatever may come uppermost, that I shall try to express. How long the diary may continue remains to be seen."

April 19, 1852   

"On the first of January 1851 I Andrew Walker, commenced a Diary and have continued it until the present time. The principal objects I had in view in keeping this diary were,...
"First, in order that I might by constant practice acquire a greater facility in expressing my thoughts on paper.
"Second, noting down many events in this vicinity that now seem of importance but will presently dwarf into mere littleness, other events now insignificant in our eyes, but one day will assume an an (sic) air of important magnitude.
"Third, the pleasure of information to be derived in subsequent years in knowing how events were considered at the time when they transpired and what my opinions were at that time. I recollect of reading somewhere, 'As a woman likes to view herself in a glass, so a man likes to see himself in his diary.'"

 Andrew Walker kept eleven volumes of diaries, covering the years 1808-1899.


  1. Such noble aspirations! And what a great concluding quote! Andrew Walker certainly did end up demonstrating quite a bit of consistency--something I've noticed people find quite hard to master nowadays.

    What a fascinating project you have going. Looking forward to more. It just intrigues me to hear you found your diary through an antique shop. Makes me wish one--just one!--of my ancestors' effects could be found somewhere...

  2. What a great project! I'm so impressed! You are a true detective! This could lead to another fabulous book!

    Your project continues to prove my point in my post: http://the-past-to-the-present.blogspot.com/2012/01/is-art-of-journal-writing-lost-forever.html about the lost art of writing diaries!

    Jacqi, don't give up hope of finding what I call Stored Treasures! The appear in unexpected places! Keep digging!