How Should Offensive Language in Diaries be Handled?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:     

Saturday, June 8, 1912:  The high lady here wanted to make a certain kind of cake, and so I walked to the neighbors to get an ingredient. I truly am the n_____  around here. I am getting that color as I and the sun’s rays often meet and collide.

Recent photo of a neighbor’s house

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Most days I look forward to writing a post—today is not one of those days. I’ve known that this entry was coming up for several weeks and I’ve dreaded it.

I need help. How should I write about this diary entry?

Grandma probably used language and expressed sentiments that were typical of those in her community. I don’t think any less of Grandma because of what she wrote—yet I’m troubled by this entry.

As family historians, how should controversial text in family documents be handled?  . . . use it verbatim?  . . . edit it?  . .  don’t include it in family histories? . .  . .include additional historic contextual information? . . .

Is it important to accurately report what the original document said?  . . .or do readers of family histories want to feel good about their ancestors and not read upsetting things? . . .

Grandma’s Parents 28th Wedding Anniversary

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Wednesday, May 29, 1912: We teased her about her anniversary, as it was just twenty eight years ago that she was wed. Miss Carrie was over this evening and we did some planning.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

May 29 was Grandma’s mother’s 28th wedding anniversary.  The previous year, Grandma had written in the diary on May 29, 1911:

My mother’s wedding anniversary. 27 years ago. . .

I recently found an old newspaper clipping  from the Watsontown Star and Record for 1909 that included a mention of the wedding in its 25 Years Ago column. It was one of the clippings in the small group of photos and clippings that were found in Grandma’s house after she died. It’s kind of cool that the clipping has survived all of these years.

Miss Carrie referred to Grandma’s friend Carrie Stout.

Ruth and Bill’s Obituaries

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, May 23, 1912:  Miss Carrie was over this afternoon. I was on duty when she came—namely watching cows. Gee, but I don’t like it.

Ruth and I went down to one of our neighbors this evening.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Whew, another post about watching the cows. Sounds like a boring job—especially when a friend comes to visit.  Miss Carrie referred to Grandma’s friend Carrie Stout.

Since this post is fairly self-explanatory, I’m going to finish the series of photos and documents that I’ve been posting on Grandma’s sister Ruth and her husband Bill Gauger.

The small  group of photos and clippings that were found after Grandma died included Ruth  and Bill’s obituaries. Grandma was in her 80’s when they died and not in particularly good health herself. I’m a little surprised that she saved them, but very glad she did.

Two Elderly Sisters Remembering

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Wednesday, May 22, 1912: And leave it blank.

Left to right: Ruth (Muffly) Gauger, Helen(a) (Muffly) Swartz, circa 1975

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma wrote next to nothing a hundred years ago today—though she obviously felt compelled to write something—I’m going continue sharing pictures.

This is a photo of Grandma and her sister Ruth that was taken very late in their lives. Ruth died in 1977 and Grandma in 1980, so I’m guessing that it was taken in the mid-1970s.

In some odd way I think this photo is one of my favorites.

After a lifetime of good times and difficult times, it’s fun to see the two elderly sisters sharing stories and reminiscing.  Regardless of age, life is good!

40th Wedding Anniversary

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, May 21, 1912: Ruth was away nearly all day. I’m getting so tired on my repetition. One that seems to never have an end.

Seated adults (left to right): Ruth (Muffly) Gauger, Helen(a) Muffly Swartz, Raymond Swartz, Bill Gauger

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Many of the pictures that I recently found were from time periods more recent than the diary, but I think that you’ll enjoy some over them, so I’ll share a few over the next couple days .

The picture today was taken in 1961, about 50 years after the diary, at the 40th wedding anniversary party of my grandparents.

Both my grandmother and grandfather graduated in 1913 from McEwensville High School; however, I don’t think that Grandma ever mentions him in the diary. It always seems really odd to me that she never mentions the guy she ends up marrying since they attended an extremely small high school. (There were six people in the graduating class).

Classmate and Future Husband: Raymond Swartz

I think that the reason may have been that Grandpa was 3 1/2 years younger than Grandma. He apparently skipped several grades and probably was considered the smart little kid in the class—but was not part of Grandma’s social set until sometime later.

Ruth Muffly

The husband of Grandma’s sister Ruth, Bill Gauger was a few years older than Grandma and was mentioned in the diary.

Bill (William) Gauger

Photo of Jimmie

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:   

Monday, May 20, 1912: There’s nothing doing.

Jimmie Muffly, circa 1913

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’m going to share a recently found photo of her little brother Jimmie.

Is it just me or is he the cutest kid ever?

Found Photo of the Four Muffly Siblings!

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Wednesday, May 15, 1912: Besse was out this afternoon. We had sort of a sewing bee. Ma worked on my dress and Sis brought several along.

Left to right: Helena (seated), Besse, Jimmie, Ruth (circa 1912)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Yeah! I finally know what Besse looked like. I recently found a picture of all four Muffly children.  I think that it was taken about the same time as the diary. In 1912 Jimmie was 6-years-old, and I think that the boy in the photo looks about six.

This is the first picture that I’ve seen of Grandma’s oldest sister Besse. It’s fun to finally be able to picture what she looked like.

It’s also fun to see what the path toward the barn (or maybe some other farm building) looked like–and how the siblings arranged themselves for a group photo. It’s interesting how Jimmie is clinging to Besse, who was married and not living at home. She must have made a fuss over Jimmie when she visited. In April 1912 Besse had a baby who died shortly after birth. Maybe she transferred some of her maternal feelings to her little brother.

It’s also interesting how Ruth is standing a little separate from the others and has her hand on her hips. It reminds me of the times in the diary when Grandma refers to Ruth as “her highness.”

An aside–My brother helped me locate a small group of pictures (including this one), some old newspaper clippings, and related items that had been found in Grandma’s house after she died.

I’ve really been enjoying the newly found items, and look forward to sharing some more of the pictures and clippings over the next few weeks.

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