A Journal Leaves a Priceless Legacy

Suckers Flat MO - Copy

These are my ancestors who settled in Sucker Flatts, Webb City, Missouri. My grandfather (born in 1884 in Kansas) is the young boy in the center of the picture standing next to the man in the chair. Unfortunately that is all I know. This picture is missing the identities of all my other relatives. It is missing their life story of how they traveled or why they settled in Webb City, Missouri. These ancestors would have left us a priceless legacy of how they were a part of history being made at that time if they had kept a journal describing their day to day life experiences

I was intrigued by a book I had read thirty years ago titled “Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey” by Lillian Schlissel. She had compiled journals dating from 1840 to 1870 and the struggles that these women faced confronting an open wilderness with the majority only doing it because they were willing to follow their husband’s wishes.

Schlissel shared the story of one woman who wrote, “On the first day of August we halted to noon in a beautiful grove on the bank of the Platte River. The children had become so accustomed to getting in and out of the wagons to lose all fear, and would get out on to the tongue and leap clear of the wheel without putting Father to the trouble of stopping the team.  On the afternoon of this day, in performing this feat, the hem of my dress caught on an axle-handle, precipitating me under the wheels both of which passed over me, badly crushing the left leg, before Father could stop the oxen.  Seeing me clear of the wheels he picked me up and carrying me in his arms ran to stop the team, which had become unmanageable from fright.  A glance at my limb dangling in the air as he ran, revealed to him the extent of the injury I had received, and in a broken voice he exclaimed, ‘My dear child, your leg is broken all to pieces!’”

Reading her journal entry illuminates what her lifestyle was like back in the mid 1800’s as she brings history to life for us. These 19th century diaries shared in this book are family histories, treasures meant to be shared like a Bible, handed down through generations, to be viewed not only as an individual’s story but as the history of a family’s growth and course through time.

We can do the same as each one of us is a part of history in the making in this 21st century. It would be intriguing in 175 years for our descendants to read our recorded life stories as we share with them our daily lives to see how we worked, struggled, and survived in our time.

Pull out your laptop or grab a pen and paper and start Keeping Your Memories of how your family settled starting with the questions below:

  • As a child, did you move often with your family?
  • Did your family travel cross country to set up home?
  • How did you set up your household?
  • Were there multiple families living under one roof?
  • When you moved away on your own, how did you feel moving away from your family?