About – The Diary Years

Hello, my name is Sheryl Lazarus.  One quarter of my genes come from the woman who wrote this diary. I’m seeking to learn from the past and gain insights that will lead to a better future. I’m posting the entries because friends and relatives might also be interested in the diary.

As I read the diary I find that many of the entries spark questions and that I search for answers.  If I find answers—or even if I’m am just reflecting on an entry—I’ll share them with you.

 Why I Decided to Post the Diary 

In 2009, I compiled a  family cookbook. Some of the recipes had originally been recipes of my mother and grandmothers. I included some family photos in the book. One of them was a photo of me walking through a doorway at my bridal shower. Sitting on the couch in the photo’s foreground was my 82-year-old paternal grandmother.

When I gave the cookbook to my children, my daughter asked who the old lady was. I told her that it was her great-grandmother. But her question jogged my memory about a copy of an old diary I had —

After Grandma Swartz died in 1980, her children went through her belongings. One of the items they found was a diary that Grandma had kept from January 1911 through December 1914.

Her children circulated that diary amongst family members. While I had it, I made a copy before passing it on. The copy laid in a paper bag in the bottom of my hutch for more than 20 years until I pulled it out in January 2010 and started reading.

My memories of Grandma Helen were of a feeble, elderly woman—Helena (the name she used in the diary) was a fun-loving, self-absorbed teen. Helena wasn’t an Anne Frank—and most days she only wrote three or four lines. Some days she wrote that “nothing of importance” had occurred. Yet as I tried to decipher the handwriting a fascinating young woman emerged, and I wanted to learn more about her and how she evolved into the grandmother I remember.


Preparing Grandma’s diary entries has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with relatives, neighbors, and friends. I would like to thank the many people who have shared information with me about my grandmother. I’d especially like to thank my father  for all of the wonderful stories, and my aunt and uncle  for the photos of Grandma as a young woman.

203 thoughts on “About – The Diary Years

  1. Hi I came across your blog through My Journey Back and its fascinating. Look forward to reading. I am new to blogging and not sure how to go about following you, can you please tell me how? Susan

    1. It’s always nice to hear when someone enjoys this blog. There’s a new post every day so you can just check back daily. I think that you can also click on the entries rss feed in the header to get all of the updates–but I must admit that I don’t completely understand how all of that works.

  2. Hi there. I just want to tell you how much I enjoy reading about your Grandmothers diary and the comments you include at the end.

    It is so very interesting. Thanks for sharing. You have a treasure in her diary that is for sure.

  3. I really enjoy your blog. I found it while looking up some of my ancestors names. I do believe I am related to the Gauger’s your Grandmother mentions. Do you have the first names of any of them?

    1. Grandma’s sister Ruth married William (Bill) Gauger. They lived on a farm just north of McEwensville, and had two children William Jr. and Shirley. (They also had a child who died in infancy.) The tombstones for Ruth, William, William Jr. and the infant are in the McEwensville Presbyterian Cemetery.

  4. William’s older brother, George Anthony, was my great grandfather. George’s daughter, Miriam, is my grandmother and is 93 and still alive. I will have to ask her about her Aunt and Uncle as well as your Grandmother. I am sure she knew them. Everyone knew each other back then.

    1. It’s cool that your great grandfather is related to some of my relatives. I’d love to hear your grandmother’s stories. I don’t know much about that branch.

  5. What an incredible journey. What a blessing you have to be able to “walk” with your grandmother as a young girl. It’s something so many of us would like to do but, alas, don’t have the written record to help. I look forward to getting to know your grandmother (and you!) better.

  6. What a fantastic idea and wonderful project! I just stumbled upon this today, I look forward to reading earlier entries. Your grandmother and you both have a wonderful way with words!

  7. I’ve been following your blog since I discovered it, but that’s only been a few months. I didn’t realize that you began at the beginning of 2011. I think you should try to publish your blog and your grandmother’s diaries as a book. (Did I already suggest that?) I would love to be able to sit down with it and read through it at leisure.

    I love the photo of your grandmother on the couch. With that photo and the one at the top of the blog side-by-side, it’s easy to see how she aged. Some older people don’t look like their younger selves, but your grandmother definitely does!

    Thanks for sharing. It’s such fun to read her entries and your thoughts.

    1. It is fun to look at the photos of my Grandmother and see how she aged. When I first thought about doing something with the diary I thought of doing a book, but it seemed like too daunting a task. I’ve found it easier to research and post short entries in the blog. It almost seems like each day’s post is a piece of the story, and that maybe someday I could re-organize it into a book.

  8. Yes, I think doing it little by little the way you’ve been has been wonderful. Still, I’d love to see your posts compiled into a book. Have you seen the WWII London Blitz Diaries at http://womanlondonblitz.blogspot.com/? They were written by an adult but I’m pleased that they’ve been turned into books.

    All the best to you with whatever you do, Sheryl. I’m enjoying reading both your grandmother’s diary entries and your thoughts.

    1. I hadn’t seen it. Thanks for sending me the link. I quickly glanced at it and it looks really good. I look forward to digging more deeply into it.

  9. Hello Sheryl,

    Along side your grandmother’s diary you have created yet another treasure for your family. I thank you for sharing it with us also.

    I’m late to the game. My family has been active in preserving our family’s history for years. Bless their hearts, now that I’m interested, the information is there. Life was sure different 100 years ago.

    Blessings…. ellen

    1. Thanks for the nice note. Like you I only started doing genealogy relatively recently. I’ve found it to be one of the most rewarding things I do.

  10. What a great idea! I thought about collecting recipes, but never did it. i love that you did it. And, what a time capsule the diary is. As you say, your memories of an old, frail lady belie the fact that she was once young, What a message for children and grandchildren.

  11. Have just discovered your blog and am going to love reading it!!! ~
    So, so wonderful to have your Grandmother’s Diary and to show her descendants that she wasn’t always an old lady 🙂
    After researching my Family’s History for a very long time, am now focussed on bringing some meaning into all the dates etc., and helping others to see the Ancestors as I see them: living, loving, hurting, laughing human beings.
    Thanks for “liking” one of my stories through which I discovered the delight that is your Grandmother’s Diary.
    Cheers, Catherine

    1. Thanks for stopping by. It’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys this this blog. Like you, I feel that it’s very important to bring meaning to all of the dates, etc. The stories and context are what brings the past to life.

    1. Thanks for stopping by–and for telling me about your site. I went to it and had a wonderful time exploring it. I’m really impressed by the wonderful design and organizational elements. I’d thought about using Dreamweaver when I started my blog and decided that it probably was beyond me. It’s really fun to see how someone else used Dreamweaver for a family history blog.

  12. Sheryl, this is wonderful! How fortunate you are to have a copy of your grandmother’s diary.Just this year I started up another new website (I have four blogs, all for different purposes) to record my family history and to publish old photos. I’ll be back to read more of yours and Helena’s diary enties! 🙂

    1. I really enjoy doing this blog and It’s always nice to hear when someone enjoys it. I visited several of your blogs and enjoyed each of them. I like the way each has a distinct purpose and feel.

  13. Thank you for taking the time to visit my world Sheryl. I am really so pleased twe have met, and we have so much in common with our love of old photos and family history. 🙂

  14. Sheryl, what a wonderful treasure you have with your grandmother’s diary! I run across old photos in the local antique stores and always wonder why someone would throw them away. How sad it is that no one wants them.

    1. I am so very fortunate to have the dairy. It is a wonderful way to get to better know my grandmother.

      I also often see old photos at antique stores and flea markets–and, like you, I always wonder how they ended up there. It does seem sad.

    1. We are very fortunate. I don’t have very many pictures of my grandmother when she was young; and I really wish that I had more, but your comment makes me realize that I need to treasure what I have.

  15. There’s something going on recently about taking old pictures and going back to where they were taken, holding them up in front of the scene and taking a picture of what it looks like now,, compared to the scene in the picture. Have you heard of that? The fact that you have pictures makes this seem a natural.

  16. I read about this blog on the NEHGS newsletter, The Weekly Genealogist. I am glad that I checked up on this article. You are providing a great idea to the rest of us that are not satisfied with a published genealogy. They can be so lacking of the personal lifes of our ancestors.

    I, too, put together a cookbook for a nephew and his new bride. He grew up 1000 miles from the family center & therefore did not know much about us or his ancestors. I have a small notebook of handwritten recipes from my mother’s father’s mother & her mother. I copied those & added family stories connected to the recipes. They treasure that gift. I asked him to add his favorite recipes & stories to the book & give it to his children.

    The way you add information and bring the experience forward takes alot of time & trouble. I can appreciate your work. Thank you for providing such an excellent blog.

    1. Thanks for the nice note. It’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys this blog. I really enjoy doing the research. It helps me better understand my grandmother and her times. The process of doing one day at time a time encourages me to think more deeply about her family, what houses and farms were like back then, etc.

      The cookbook that you did for your nephew and his wife sounds awesome. I’ve also found that my children and other relatives have really enjoyed the family cookbook that I did.

  17. This is a really fascinating blog…thanks for sharing this diary with us. I am especially interested in reading it since I too am from Central PA – I live in Williamsport, only a hop skip and jump from the Watsontown and Milton areas. It is so neat to read what life was like for a hometown girl 100 years ago. Blessings neighbor! ~Patty

    1. Thanks for the nice note. I have a lot of fun doing this blog, and it’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys it. I no longer live in the McEwensville area, but enjoy getting back there whenever I can.

      1. Isn’t HOME a nice word!! I am sure you still think of the McEwensville area as home. Blessings! Patty

  18. What a wonderful historical treasure to share. In my family, I have a great great grandmother who kept lots of journals throughout her life, so I know how important they. Thanks for sharing them. 🙂

  19. Hi Sheryl. I don’t know if you accept awards, but I am nominating you for the One Lovely Blog award. I think your blog is very well done and a unique approach to sharing your search for family history. You can pick up the logo for your award at my next posting (August 3, 2012). Jane

  20. Your blog makes me feel like I am getting to know your Grandma a bit, myself. I hope that doesn’t sound presumptuous. But I do think it’s an honour to read it and I thank you for sharing her diary.

    1. Thank you for the very kind comment. I hope that others feel like they are getting to know my grandmother a bit as they read the posts–and it’s nice to know that you feel that way.

  21. Hi there! I just happened to come to your blog by chance but I’m really glad about it. Your blog gives me a nice warm feeling.. way to go 🙂

  22. What a fantastic idea! I can’t wait to read more each day. My grandmother (Nana) has been keeping journals for years, decades, and I can’t wait to read them. The only reason I am being patient is because I will probably cry through them because I love my Nana dearly and will miss her when she is gone. She is 92 and going strong right now though!

  23. Sheryl: I found your blog exciting, intelligent, creative, and brim full of love. I will return to it day to day to see about you and Helena. I will share your lovely writings with my Memoir Writing Class. Thank you!!
    Sheila Clapkin

  24. You are so lucky. I have one picture of each of my grandmothers (one died prior to my birth and the other when I was 3) and not much else. My parents, aunts and uncles are gone so I will never know who they really were.

  25. So lovely that you have your grandmother’s diary. I have my grandmother’s handwritten recipe book, wihich I treasure, but alas…no diary. And isn’t it interesting that some days she has nothing to say? I’m like that with my blog — I certainly don’t want to bore people with ramblings of nothing — yet wouldn’t we like to know what really went on in her days of “not much happened today.” ?

    1. I always wish that Grandma had written about the “boring” things on the days when she had nothing to say. What did they eat for breakfast? for dinner? . . . How did her family do their laundry? . . . Did she milk the cows every day (or just occasionally)? . . What about gathering eggs? . . .

  26. I truly enjoyed my visit at your blog today. If only I had ancestors who would have left a diary as detailed as this . . . you are truly blessed to have such a wonderful gift. Happy New Year to you and yours!

  27. I find your blog so fascinating! Thanks for sharing your history, your stories with all of us. I’ve nominated you for a Reality Blog Award. Go to my blog for all of the pertinent details. -Ilene

  28. Hi Sheryl,

    It looks like we both had chronicling grandmothers, and you’re right, I find the entries spark so many unanswerable questions and intriguing hints. At times I suspected my grandmother kept a secret expanded diary (wishful thinking perhaps) but I have never come across it. Your blog is great.

    1. Thanks for the nice note. It’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys this blog.

      I also like your blog. It’s fun to read another diary from the same general time period.

  29. I find it quite admirable that you are able to keep and share your family history. I wonder if anyone would do the same with what I pen. Most of what I have written remains unread. I only started blogging about two years ago.

    Continued success. You encourage me to look into my family hers and history.

    1. I’ve enjoyed asking my father about some of the things in Grandma’s diary. (She was his mother.) It’s been a great conversation starter for the two of us.

      1. I am so sorry I cannot ask my grandfathers anymore. I am glad I could spend a lot of time with one of them and learn about a ‘black-smith’ and art. Maybe that’s why making jewellery attracting me – ‘small black-smith’ ;-).
        I am very pity I could not spend enouth time with my other grandpa who was a tilor – great my mom could tell me a lot about him.
        Yes… you are really right writing all down… I will probably start new blog… Thanks a lot!

  30. Wow I keep a diary that must be such a gift to you, reading about her life, I would love this connection with my grandparents which I can hardly remember. What a great tribute to you Grand mother.

  31. Hello Sheryl,Your blog is so interesting and beautifully done! I going to browse around this weekend and enjoy reading this all. Thanks for sharing, Johanna.

  32. Your blog is delightful. As you share your grandmother’s diary, you, in turn, are creating a lovely legacy for your family, and all readers.

  33. How exciting to find a dairy like that! I don’t think my grandmother wrote a diary, but I found a stack of love letters that my father sent her. The amazing thing is that he wrote the love letters after they had been married long enough to have four children! They were in love with each other throughout their marriage. Anyway, congrats on finding the diary. what a treasure!

  34. What a great idea! Love the companion site also. Looking forward to taking more time to read and explore. Shandra

  35. I’m enjoying your blog! I grew up just over the hill past your Grandma’s house and pass it quite often as my parents still live on the next farmette (toward Oakes’). I remember visiting Grandma Oakes (as we called her) and the Hesters when I was very young.

    1. Thanks for taking a moment to write a note. It’s awesome that you knew the Hesters and “Grandma” Oakes. I think that the area where you grew up is such a beautiful rural setting.

  36. In response to Brooke’s Sister’s nominating me for a Super Sweet Blogger award, I’m extending a nomination to you as well. You’re free to decline, of course. Or should you accept, there are five requirements. Either way, thanks for all the fine posts you’ve been sharing. Tootles!
    1. Thank the Super Sweet Blogger who nominated you.
    2. Answer 5 Super Sweet questions. (See below.)
    3. Include the Super Sweet Blogging Award in your blog post. (It’s the cupcake illustration.)
    4. Nominate a baker’s dozen (13) other deserving bloggers.
    5. Notify your Super Sweet nominees on their blog.
    1. Cookies or Cake? Both?
    2. Chocolate or Vanilla?
    3. Favorite Sweet Treat?
    4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things the Most?
    5. Sweet Nickname?
    Here’s hoping you accept.

    1. Jnana–Thank you for nominating A Hundred Years Ago for the award. I am honored that you think it is worthy of it, however, I will need to decline. Thanks again for thinking of me.

  37. Your blog is wonderful!
    What an excellent way to share and honor your grandmother. I am so glad that I found you. Can’t wait to read through all the posts I’ve missed and get caught up.

  38. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated A Hundred Years Ago for a Sunshine Award. I enjoy reading your work and feel that it embodies the spirit of the Sunshine Awards. You help your readers appreciate not only their immediate past, but the past of ancestors long gone. You’re helping us all to “light up the dark corners of our minds”.

    To learn more about the Sunshine Award and your fellow nominees, please visit:


    And, thank you for all you’re doing to make our world a kinder, more thoughtful one.

  39. What beautiful countryside in your header photo and to think you family has been there for generations. I love family histories and you’re lucky to have so many photographs and so well documented.
    This is a wonderful project!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoy the blog. One thing I should clarify–relatives no longer live in the home where Grandma grew up; but fortunately the person that currently lives there takes wonderful care of it.

  40. What an incredible opportunity to learn about your family history as well as sharing classic recipes with us all…and giving us a glimpse of life back then. Wonderful blog.

  41. Neat! It is fascinating to read such diaries, it gives an insight that just can’t be found anywhere else. The few posts I have read already, I have enjoyed your expansion on the topic.
    My blog started out mostly working off of a set of letters, and posting excerpts from them, then it drifted to gardens, I shall have to get back to the letters.

    1. I like the way diaries can provide candid, dynamic snapshots of everyday life. They also provide an intimate glimpse of the author–and share the writer’s hopes and fears.

  42. Hello Sheryl. What a wonderful idea to share here in your blog about your grandmother from her diary. I was led here by Tracy and I’m so glad that she shared your link. Funnily enough, I was just talking to my mother recently about putting together my dear Granny’s recipes and making a book out of it, together with family photographs. She lived to be 94 and died in 2002. Reading about you and your grandmother here gives me great inspiriation! It is lovely to meet you 🙂

    1. Several years ago I really enjoyed pulling together the recipes, etc. for the family cookbook that I did. My children and other relatives use it regularly–and it was a really rewarding project. I think that you’ll also enjoy doing a cookbook with your granny’s recipes..

  43. Just read your blog and am thrilled for you to have found your grandmother’s diary. What a treasure it must be to you and other members of the family. I too have very fond memories of my paternal grandmother – only grandmother I had as my mother’s Mom passed before she married. Anyways, I have a few of her recipes also and will always treasure them.

  44. I have nominated your blog as the most influential blog. If you wish to accept it (and I understand if you cannot), here is what you do:

    1. Display the Award on your Blog.
    2. Announce your win with a post and thank the Blogger who awarded you.
    3. Present 10 deserving Bloggers with the Award.
    4. Inform those who you nominate via Comment in their Blog. The Comment should contain a link back to your blog so they know who nominated them.

    You will find the award posted at my blog:http://mholloway63.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/most-influential-blogger-award-nomination/

  45. Interesting idea for a blog – and interesting to read it too 🙂
    How lucky you are to have the diary ….. I have been researching my family history and how I wish they’d kept diaries!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoy this blog. Different people leave behind different artifacts–and it’s fun to try to put the pieces together. I am very fortunate to have the diary.

  46. My grandmother kept diaries for years; unfortunately, I never got to read therm. I would love to know what her life was like. I will read your entries with interest.
    Do you have from her an old time sugar cookie recipe? I have looked everywhere for my mothers but alas, I cannot find it.

  47. At this very moment I am looking at the “Program of the 101st Annual AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) Meeting” which took place in Chicago in July of 1964. James A. Muffly, V.M.D. exhibited his invention for charging magnets which were used to remove metal, such as nails and bailing wire, from the stomachs of cattle.
    I remember Dr. Muffly. My father, John Vandeven, D.V.M., worked with him to develop the design for the Muffly Magnetic Retriever and helped him market it. I also remember seeing my father use the retriever on dairy cows.

    1. Wow, it’s awesome that you knew Jim Muffly–and it is really exciting that you have an AVMA program that mentions the presentation of his invention. I knew that he was known for his expertise in using magnets to remove hardware from cows, but hadn’t realized that he and your father had invented a specific tool.

      If you haven’t already seen it, you’d enjoy a post that I did on him:


      I have some pictures of Jim Muffly as an older man using the magnetic retriever to treat a cow that my mother took. The one picture in the post is from that day, but it doesn’t show the tool.

      1. Hi Sheryl, I have attached (1) the flyer for Dr. Muffly’s retriever, (2) the cover of the July 1964 program, and (3) Dr. Muffly’s listing in the program. My father considered Dr. Muffly a very good friend. The impression I carry of Dr. Muffly is that of a kind and gentle person. It’s just fantastic that you have this lovely blog and that the wonder of the internet can bring people together! Thank you so much!

  48. This is a fascinating idea. Within the next year, I plan to begin a blog – possibly for the eyes of my family only – to record the family history I’m aware of. Once I go, the memories of my mother’s family will otherwise be gone forever. How wonderful to have a diary.and to use it as a jumping off point for further research. I look forward to reading more of the posts that you have alrerady written, as well as future entries.

  49. This is really a cool idea. A hundred years ago seems like a very long time when you say it, but when you are over fifty, you realize not so much time has passed. Times have changed dramatically, and yet the emotional experiences are so very much the same. It is interesting to see the minutiae of every day life that a diary so well illustrates. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I’m glad you enjoy it. Thanks for the information about the Association of Personal Historians. Until I read your comment I’d never heard of it. It looks like a wonderful organization. As the diary winds down (it ends in Dec. 1914), I need to think about next steps and how to preserve the information.

    1. You can click on the Entries RRS feed just below the picture in the header. . . . or if you click on “follow” it will appear in your WordPress reader.

  50. I love what you are doing here. The contrast and connection between the diary entries and your comments is fascinating. I am a rather reluctant historian, but this kind of personal narrative I find really engaging. My research is in a different time period and geographical-cultural area, and I would love to find a journal detailing the daily life and thought of someone but it is unlikely – oh well – I can read your blog – thank you for publishing it.

    1. Thank you for taking a moment to write the kind note. I have a lot of fun doing the research for this blog, and it’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys it.

  51. What a wonderful blog! I smiled as soon as I read your latest post–this is such a treasure. Thank you for sharing with all of us. I look forward to reading more….

  52. Dear Sheryl, greetings,

    I’ve always been very attracted to our culture before the first World War, and love to read about how people lived and thought. A favorite model novel is “Courting Emma Howe” by Margaret Robinson, and the turn of the century blockbuster “The Harvester” by Gene Stratton-Porter. Both are set in 1910. “Harvester” was actually a favorite book among the Doughboy troops in Europe! And certainly Sarah Orne Jewett’s beautiful classic, “The Country of the Pointed Firs.”

    But back to you.
    The honey candy sounds delicious, the health statistics on height and weight and such make such good reading; there is a lot here to read and savor.

    Most of all, it’s delightful to read your great affection and warmth for your dear ancestor and the people in her culture.

    This is a welcome interlude, and I’ll be visiting to read the rest.

    Many thanks for all your hard work,

    1. Thank you for the kind words. The books sound good. I’m going to add them to my “to read” list.I enjoy reading old novels. I’m currently reading Daisy Thornton by Mary Jane Holmes.

    1. Thank you for the nomination! And, it is a pleasant surprise that my posts motivated you to post your own grandmother’s diary. I have a lot of fun doing this blog, and it’s nice to hear when someone finds it interesting and useful. .

  53. Love what you’re doing with your blog. Old diaries–especially those of an earlier generation–are fascinating. What a wonderful legacy you are leaving for your Grandmother.

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