The Day After

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

Thursday, April 24, 1913:  I had no idea that I would be so tired. I guess last night was not too much for me. Went up to McEwensville this morning, but not to go to school, for that indeed is past for me. I got home just in time to see the girls off on the train. My presents still seem to be pouring in. This morning I got a dress by parcel post.


Source: Ladies Home Journal (December, 1912)

Previously mentioned gifts included a gold hat pin and a handkerchief

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

Grandma might have been surprised that her graduation ceremony exhausted her—but I’m not. Major events are tiring!

Grandma’s two cousins came the previous day to attend the graduation—and now were returning home.

Who gave Grandma the dress as a graduation present?  .  . . a friend? . . .  relative?  Was it handmade   . . . or “store-bought”?

No Smallpox–Just Reading, Moping, and Doing Nothing

15-year-old Helena wrote a hundred years ago today:

Saturday, January 21, 1911. Spent most of the day in reading and moping around doing nothing. Mother is reading tonight, while I make my entry, but she doesn’t know what I’m writing, for she has her back turned.

Local Front Page News Exactly 100 Years Ago Today:

More Smallpox: Three More Cases Have Broken Out In Montour County

Two at Mausdale and One at Washingtonville: All Are Traced to Lumber Camp

Milton Evening Standard, January 21, 1911 

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

When I dug into the old 1911 Milton Evening Standard  microfilms at the Milton Public Library, I was shocked to discover that smallpox still occurred in central Pennsylvania a  hundred years ago. This means that there was smallpox less than fifty years before my birth. I had thought that the smallpox vaccine had wiped the disease out much earlier.  But, even though the victims lived only 15-20 miles from Grandma’s home, it  apparently was a world away from Grandma’s concerns when she wrote this diary entry. (Sometimes the slower pace of 1911 sounds wonderful, but there have been some very positive changes in the last 100 years!!)

Grandma probably wrote this entry sitting in a house illuminated with at least two gas lanterns—since it appears that she and her mother weren’t sitting close together. Maybe Grandma was huddled over the table in the kitchen but could see her mother sitting in the living room through a doorway.  Why did she mention that she won’t want her mother to know what she is writing? There’s nothing very earth-shaking here—except maybe yesterday’s spelling fiasco.

How Do You Spell ‘Man’?

15-year-old Helena wrote a hundred years ago today:

Friday, January 20, 1911: Brought home some maps I drew at school last year. They were very excellent specimen’s of drawing, so I thought it would be worthwhile to save them and exhibit them to my friends if I ever have an reason to. Perhaps I shall not. Missed the word (man) in spelling. Now looked surprised, anyone else might have missed it too under the same circumstances.

Her middle-aged grand-daughter’s comments 100 years later:

Recent Photo of McEwensville High School

It was just one of those days with a high point and a low spot. Today’s five sentence diary entry gives lots of hints about Grandma:

  • She’s proud of her drawing ability (or at least her map-making skills).
  • She wants to share her successes with friends, but seems to hold back and feel uncertain about how they’ll react. Grandma so wants affirmation that the maps are good but fears that maybe her friends wouldn’t think the maps were as cool as she thinks they are—and then she’d feel bad.
  •  And, I guess she wasn’t much of a speller. (That trait seems to have carried down to my generation–though I can definitely spell man.)  Was there a spelling bee?—Maybe it was supposed to be a fun way to end the week on Friday afternoon.  Did Grandma really mean that she misspelled the word “man”? What were the circumstances? Was she horsing around with friends instead of paying attention? . . . Daydreaming? Did she feel humiliated when the class laughed? . . . or did she enjoy the attention? 

A Birthday Tradition

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

Thursday, January 19, 1911: Pulled Miss Muffly’s ears first thing this morning, whether she liked it or not. Bout all I can do to fish up enough things to knock down. My life has reached an uneventful state or period with all its calm ripples. I almost forgot, I got a new pair of rubbers today which I needed very bad.

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

I’m guessing that Miss Muffly refers to Grandma’s sister Ruth. And, that January 19 was Ruth’s birthday. According to the 1900 Ruth was born in January 1892, so this must have been her 19th birthday. Grandma probably woke Ruth by pulling her ears.

When I was a child my parents told me that in the old days people used to pull the birthday person’s ear lobes one time for each year, but that I shouldn’t pull ears since it might damage the person’s hearing (which, of course, gave me the idea that it might be fun to pull ears—but that is another story).

The Weather Today

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

Saturday, January 14, 1911. Here’s to another monotonous day. It rained instead of snowing. I like things to come in some kind of order, but things won’t always come as you would want them to.

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

Weather Underground forecast for McEwensville for today, January 14, 2011:

Low: 11; High: 29; partly cloudy

Grandma’s Parents

Tuesday, January 3, 1911: Missing Entry (Diary resumes on  January 12)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later

The 1900 census image for the Muffly family on the Family Search website provides a few interesting clues about Grandma’s parents. Her father Albert Muffly was born in Pennsylvania in November 1857. He was a farmer. Her mother Phoebe (called Febia on the census form) Muffly was born in Pennsylvania in August 1862. At the start of the diary Grandma’s father would have been 53 years old and her mother was 48.

(An aside: According to the Family Search tool the spelling of Muffly also shifted on census forms. On the 1900 census Muffly is spelled Muffly–but on the 1910 and 1920 ones it is spelled Muffley. I’ve also occasionally seen the spelling that includes an “e” on other documents but “Muffly” seems to be the preferred spelling.  I guess the importance of consistent spelling for future family genealogists wasn’t considered back then. But onward–)

It is also possible to figure out that Grandma’s father was 38 years old when she was born and that her mother was 33. Grandma’s oldest sister Besse (called Bessie on the census form) was 6 years older than Grandma; her other sister Ruth was 3 years older. (By the time Grandma was writing the diary she also had a brother Jimmie who was about 9 years younger than she was. Grandma’s mother must have been about 42 years old when Jimmie was born which seems quite old for that era.)

I had always heard that Grandma was the third child (and third daughter) in the family. According to the 1900 census form her mother had had 4 children prior to 1900—and 3 were still living. So Grandma must have had another sibling who apparently did not live very long.

John and Sarah Derr Family. Taken about 1900. L to R. Front Row: John, Annie (Derr) Van Sant, Sarah. Back Row: Miles, Fuller, Alice (Derr) Krumm, Elmer, Phoebe (Derr) Muffly, Judson, Homer. Phoebe was the mother of Helena.

In the early 1900s prominent citizens in a county were sometimes invited to submit biographical sketches that were then compiled into county history books. The individuals were also required to pay a fee if they wanted their sketch included the book. Some of these books are now available online. Two of Phoebe Muffly’s brothers have sketches in county histories and I was able to glean bits of information about Phoebe from them. Historical and Biographical Annuals of Columbia and Montour Counties Pennsylvania (Vol.  II)   had an entry about her brother J. Miles Derr (pp. 753-4) and Bell’s History of Northumberland County  had an entry for her brother Fuller Derr (p. 1085).

Grandma’s mother Phoebe Muffly was one of nine children born to John F. and Sarah (Houseknecht) Derr.  As an adult Phoebe had brothers living in South Dakota (Homer) and Baltimore Maryland (Elmer). Another brother (Fuller) was a physician in Watsontown; while  Miles was a teacher at Limestoneville. One of Phoebe’s sisters (Annie) was married to a physician in Turbotville.

When Grandma Helena began keeping the diary her maternal grandparents John and Sarah Derr were retired farmers living  in nearby Turbotville Pennsylvania.

Helena, Helen, or Grandma?

Monday, January 2, 1911: Missing Entry (Diary resumes on  January 12)

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

There are only a few days of missing entries in the entire four-year diary, and most of them are here at the very beginning of the diary.

Since there are no entries for the next several days–and since I’ve found some interesting contextual information as I’ve worked on this–I’ll periodically post background information over the next week or so. And, then the diary postings will really get going on a daily basis on the 12th.

Grandma’s Name

As I work at posting this diary I’ve struggled with what name to use when referring to the diary’s author.

The diary’s 15-year-old author called herself Helena. My grandmother called herself Helen. I grew up in the farmhouse where my grandmother had lived when my father was a child. When I was a teen I found Helena Muffly’s high school diploma in the attic.

I saw Grandma the next Sunday, and after church I asked her whether her name was Helen or Helena. She said Helen. When I told her about the name on the diploma. She replied, “Oh, that was just kid stuff.”

My cousin Stu did a little research on Grandma’s name using the Family Search tool that the Church of Latter Day Saints has on their website. He found that her name is listed as Helena in the 1900 and 1920 censuses–but that it is Helen in the 1910 one. For the 1900 census the image of the census page is even on the website.  (When I replicated his search, I had the best luck when I used Northumberland County Pennsylvania as her address.)

Helen? Helena? Grandma? It seems strange to call a 15-year-old Grandma, but that’s how I think of her. Maybe I’ll just call the author Grandma when I write about her even though she was many years away from becoming my grandmother.

Ruminations About Why Grandma Didn’t Post for Several Days

 Maybe Grandma had writer’s block and found it difficult to get the diary doing. Maybe she was sick and didn’t feel like writing.

Or, maybe I somehow missed copying a page in the early 1980s when the diary was circulated amongst family members. But how could I have missed copying page 2 of the diary?!?!?

More likely a page or two was removed from the diary. Maybe Grandma herself—or someone else—didn’t want others to read something that she wrote.  What could she have possibly written that she wouldn’t want others to read? . . . a fight with her mother?  . . . a description of potential beau? . . . .or maybe the 15-year-old wrote something that she feared would get her in trouble and tore the page out?  . . . .or maybe her sister read the diary and didn’t like an unflattering comment and tore it out? . . . . or . . . .?