Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

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More Handwritten Treasures

No photographs exist of my great great grandparents when they lived in England in the early 1800’s. So, when I opened the autograph book of my grandmother’s sister, Lizzie, I knew I had found a treasure. Instead of a picture I had a sample of my great great grandfather’s handwriting and what was on his heart to tell his granddaughter.

In 1883 Richard wrote her: “My advise is to walk in wisdoms ways. The fear of the Lord is the beging of wisdom and understanding have thay that love to walk in wisdom. May the blessing of God go with you and gide and protect you and keep you from all Sin is the Desire of My hart.”

This was written by a man who could only place an X on his marriage certificate in 1832 because he was illiterate. I don’t know if he learned to read and write before he immigrated to America or after, but I do know he became quite proficient at both.

My great grandmother’s four lines in 1885 read: “May flowers of love Around thee be twined And sunshine of peace Shed its joys are thy mind.”

In 1888 Lizzie’s best friend Martha wrote: “A handsome woman pleases the eye; but a good woman pleases the heart.”

If you have handwritten treasures you’d like to share with readers, please click on the comment link above and I will post them.

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Handwritten Treasures

(Last of five parts. Go back to “Grandpa’s Diaries” for the first.) 

penmanship2Recently, a friend showed me a beautiful keepsake recipe book she designed for her family. Divided into sections like party time, dinner time, dessert time, each page pictures a relative, her favorite recipe and sometimes the food. What makes the book special is that the recipes are presented in the familiar writing of their loved ones.

Handwriting identifies a person by a unique style. Have you ever received a handful of mail and singled out a particular one because you recognized the writing of the one you were anxiously waiting for? Even people who lived a hundred or hundreds of years ago may be identified by their handwriting.

Did you ever gather signatures of classmates in an autograph book or yearbook? Did you push through a crowd with a scrap of paper or program to get the autograph of a celebrity or VIP? 

Why do people desire autographed books?  Shouldn’t we be satisfied with an ink stamped signature? Of course not! An autograph is a real signature. It gives value to a book, a letter, a scrap of paper. Even if it’s only sentimental value.

Handwriting is romantic. I’ll let you ponder this from your own experiences.

America’s Golden Age of Penmanship extended from 1850 to 1925. Penmanship used to be a subject for which students received grades. Teachers prompted them to draw circles like a Slinky across lined paper. My mother learned the Spencerian script with its ornamental flourishes. Even after the typewriter became popular, people valued Mother’s ability to elaborately script names on certificates, invitations, in books and Bibles.

Dad did not have Mother’s beautiful cursive writing and he did not write many personal letters or notes like she did, so I treasure the few I have. A few days ago I opened an old scrapbook and found one. He had written it on a scrap of paper at the airport just before my parents saw me off to Africa for the first time. He must have sneaked it into my purse for me to read once I was on my way. I’m sure it was an emotional time for them as it was for me when I discovered that precious treasure.

Children today learn to type before they can hold a pencil. We’ve even succumbed to the electronic signature. Penmanship has been devalued. 

In the future will we view a framed signature or letter on the wall and declare, “Isn’t that a beautiful piece of art?”

The Thought That Counts


I appreciate having a computer. Without it I never would have written a novel. And e-gadgets bring distant family members close when we share photos, skype and text. 

Electronic communication does not need envelopes, stamps or mail boxes. E-mails, e-cards, and texts are easy to store, easy to trash, easy to read, quick to type, quick to send and receive, easy to correct or change, and inexpensive. There are choices of fonts, emotions and colors. The minute a person comes to mind, I can pop a letter to her and with one click she receives it thousands of miles away. I love that I can stay close to family and friends around the world. Quick is good.

 Who cares that every email looks pretty much the same – stark and impersonal? Isn’t it the thought that counts? 

 For all its advantages, do we sometimes relinquish something precious by our use of e-communication? Could it be we forgo “that special touch?”

Keeping In Touch

“Keeping in touch” means “maintaining communication with someone.” That definition seems more impersonal than the idiom implies. Have letters become merely functional – to be read and disposed of rather than treasured? Touch involves physical contact. It is personal. Letter writing (as in paper & the postal service) takes time, care and touch.

 Letter writing used to require paper and pen or pencil. The writer needed to choose the most appropriate paper, perhaps one with letterhead, or bordered with flowers, a vellum, fragranced sheet, or note card. Or decorated with something to add “a special touch.”

 The writer attended to her best handwriting. More on this vanishing “art” in my next post.

 The writer gave thought to the right words without edit, thesaurus, spell or grammar check or the ability to correct. It took time. 

 Finally, the writer addressed and licked the envelope (or sealed it with wax) and affixed a stamp. She sent the missive by messenger or mail service, then waited and waited for a reply. 

 Imagine how a young woman might have felt when she was handed a letter and her eyes fell upon the familiar handwriting of the one she loved. Personal notes and letters used to be cherished, to be read and re-read, stained with tears. Or blood. Or coffee. Bundles of yellowed love letters found in old trunks still spark our imagination and evoke emotion. 


 Recently I found the cards sent to my parents celebrating my birth because my mother pasted them in a scrapbook. Why did she do that? And why do I keep them?

 There is something special about touching a letter that has been written by a loved one or someone from the distant past. What does “keeping in touch” mean to you?

 I will continue to use a computer and welcome e-cards and letters, but I will cherish the handwritten notes. One day I will bring the special ones I’ve saved out of storage and remember when it was more than the thought that mattered. 

 And now, I’m going to take pen in hand and write a note to someone I love.

Letters from Africa

IMG_2871_web2When I first arrived in Africa I started a journal which, in a short time, fell by the wayside. Instead, letters sent home became a kind of diary because Mother saved and numbered every one that survived the long journey. Twenty years of letters fill a box, waiting for Someday.

Back then, without phones or computers, letters were our only connection to home. I bought stacks of pre-stamped aerogrammes that folded into themselves to make a tidy letter. They remind me of past centuries when letters were folded and made into their own envelopes.

The writing was tedious and so was the waiting. Mail by boat took months, by air a week or two. Sometimes packages and letters did not arrive at their destination.

Receiving letters was a highlight of the week. When the mail bag arrived we spent the rest of the day catching up on news from home and delighting in months old magazines. We welcomed any news to keep us connected, but what Proverbs 25:25 says is so true. “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

My Diaries

IMG_2868_web1My first diary was a gift for eighth grade graduation. Through high school and university I faithfully filled its pages and started another. Like my grandpa, who kept diaries a century before (see previous post), my entries focused on people and events rather than reflections.

Recently I found my diaries buried in a picnic basket of memorabilia. After a glance at a few entries I upgraded their position to the top of the collection and shut the lid. For another day.

Grandpa’s Diaries

harvester with old RaveGrandpa was a farmer. In the 1800’s he grew wheat where sheep grazed and it was not long before others started to plant grain. He bought land on the other side of the river and planted almond trees. In a few years, the hills came alive with pink blossoms in spring and the town became the “almond capital of the world.”

Grandpa came from northern California to the central coast when he was 25 years old. By the time my dad was born Grandpa had moved the family from the farm into a two story Victorian in town. He ventured into business selling farm implements, and when Ford started to mass produce cars he opened one of the first dealerships.

I only knew Grandpa as an old man with a full head of dark hair who sat me on his knee to tease and give me pony rides and who made sure I was quiet in church. I don’t remember any of it because Grandpa was buried when he was 91 and I was only three. Photographs and stories my Dad told were my only connection to Grandpa. Until I found his diaries.

I can’t sit on Grandpa’s knee and listen to his deep voice or hear his hearty laugh. But he speaks through his faded penciled words.IMG_2866_web1

The first entry is dated Oct 25, 1886 and the last July 4, 1906.
Random entries:
Trim trees. Kill little pig.
Plow in pasture 1 team sold heifer to Dick N.
Sunday at church.
Mr. Smallman, wife and baby came out, staid all night
Rain at night
Plow 2, 10 horse teams

He wrote of deaths including this poignant one:
Went to ranch after milk in afternoon… Had supper, put Lizzie (his wife) to bed at about eight o’clock …Went to bed about nine thirty. Lizzie awakened me at fifteen minutes past eleven with a hemorage which “drowned” her in about five minutes.
A month later he wrote Ma unconscious all day. Died at six o’clock.

Sometimes I’ve learned about him by what he did not include in the diaries. In 1905 he wrote:
Oct 18 Joe tore old paper out of two rooms
Oct 19 John is burning trees on summer fallow.
Oct 20 Joe is papering. Baby boy was born half past four.

Grandpa recorded the time of birth but not the name of his only son, my dad. There don’t seem to be any more entries about him. Farming was what Grandpa did. He left the babies to Grandma.

For now Grandpa’s diaries sit on my bookshelf. Someday I will learn more about farm life in the 1800’s and more about Grandpa.