This is a five year diary started by a girl named Anna Ireland in 1936. I found it tucked deep into a shelf full of forgotten, bad fiction in an antique store in the mid 90s. As with many of my thrift & antique store purchases of that time, I bought it to protect it.
Anna wrote in impossibly tiny script in order to save enough room for her future entries. The lines are challenging, but mostly legible, and the pages are in decent condition. The book must've been tucked somewhere safe and dark for a lot of years.
She wrote every day from January to mid March of 1936. After that, only major events were recorded. The back of the book contains the addresses and birth dates of her friends and family.
For as few entries as there are, it's a dramatic book. The first few weeks of entries consist of bland updates about her home life interspersed with many pained lines about someone named Jack, who doesn't pay her as much attention as she'd like. She wishes she didn't like him as much as she does.
Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1936. First entry.
Well here I am. Last night was our first New Year's Eve and it wasn't so good. We were up until 10 in the morning. I was terrible disappointed because Jack didn't come after me or call. I do like him so much, we didn't get up until late & mama slept with me. Tonight the place was dead, hardly anyone there. See you tomorrow.
Inferred from the entries, Anna works with some kind of theater group and gives music or dance lessons to children. Jack works in a drugstore where Anna hangs out.
Sunday, Jan. 26, 1936
Well I didn't sleep all night as my back & sides pained so but I got up at 11 and waited for Jack. He came at 12:10, his car was frozen so he had to go on the streetcar. Still we went & oh I was so glad. My back hurt so all through mass I could hardly sit there but as Jack was there, nothing could keep me from staying. We came home & had coffee, he went as soon as the folks got up. Well he was at the cafe tonight and made me wrap something around me. He was drinking quite a bit. John the barber was there also so he drove us home and I made them stop in & have some coffee, then they talked to papa a long time. They just left, I hope I see Jack soon again, I will miss him.
Business as usual for the next month. Anna begins each entry with "Well," and complains of sickness and pains a lot. Endometriosis? Whatever it is, she tries to conceal from Jack how often she is ill, and lies to him when he asks her if she's feeling badly one day, then feels "rotten" for lying. A mention of how much she misses & would like to see Jack goes at the end of each entry. Eventually I may transcribe them all, but that tiny script, man. It's tiny.
Saturday, Feb. 22, 1936
Well I got up at 6 & wasn't tired & oh the trip was terrible. The fog, I have never seen anything like it. It was terrible, there was so many accidents. I wanted to turn back but we went on. We got home O.K. I sure am tired. I went right out to the place as the 15 cent charge went on and we packed them in. The show lasted one hour and everybody said it was great. Jack came up & I am worried about him as he was sick. I hope & pray he will be all right. I am going over to his home tomorrow. Oh dear god have his folks like me, it means so much. I am afraid to go in a way, I guess I am a coward but I am afraid they won't & I couldn't stand that as I love him so.
There are no entries after mid March, until this:
Aug. 16, 1936
I was married today. Jack and I are so happy. I pray to god to keep us always that way. "I love him so."
Then she only updates on their anniversary date.
Aug. 16, 1937
Today is our first year of marriage and I am happier than ever. We are at Bald Eagle Lake. We still haven't had our first fight.
Aug. 16, 1938
Today is our second year and I love him more only he is very sick, his heart is very bad. I pray to god he will get well. We are in the trailer at New Baltimore.
Aug. 16, 1939
Today is our third year, somewhat better than last. Jack is working at Kinsels & a little better. We lost our darlings last year. I hope god will give them back to us before many years.
The only other entry after 1936 that isn't a wedding update refers to the loss of the children.
June 12, 1937
I lost my darlings. I had twin girls. Why, oh why. What did I ever do to have a thing like that happen. I lay awake and try and think but can't. Oh please god take them and keep them for me & please, please god have Jack love me.
Such private pain and feelings that I hesitate to even record that here. Still, real life.
When I first read through this, I was desperate to know what had become of Anna. It was considerably more difficult to research people (from home) back then, and since she had lived in Detroit, it seemed impossible. Since then, I have become skilled at getting all up in dead peoples' business, and have finally gotten around to finding out some more about her.
My findings are still pretty sparse. Fortunately, you can find just about anyone in the census data, so I see her in 1920, 1930 and 1940. There are several Anna Irelands out there of the same age, but our Anna had immediate family members with unusual names which make it easy to pick her out.
What I found:
She was born in 1913. Happy centennial. This makes her a little older than I had originally assumed. She is 23 or 24 at the start of the diary. Her middle initial is H. Probably Helen. Not a lot of H names out there.
She was born in New York. If I knew what county, I could possibly find her birth certificate. Both of her parents were born in Ireland so I wonder if they got their last name at Ellis Island, in which case, wth? I know people were sometimes re-named after their point of origin, but considering the amount of people coming from Ireland at the turn of the century, it seems a little strange.
In 1930, her father identifies his occupation as a stage producer, which also helps to confirm that I have the right Anna. The real confirmation was thanks to her address book, which lists the names of her family and boarders who appear in the census record with her. Exciting! Unfortunately, this is where the Anna info ends.
Again thanks to the address book, we have Jack's full name: John Connelly. I found him in the 1930 and 1940 censuses, too. He was 13 years older than Anna, and had emigrated from Scotland in 1929. He had also been married before, but we don't know what happened with that, only that the prior marriage was in 1924. In 1940, he is shown living in Detroit with Anna. His occupation is druggist, and the census indicates that he has a college education. No children. Anna is listed as a housewife.
There are ship passage records for several John Connellys, so we don't know which is him, but it's not that important. It seems like his family followed him here as the 1930 census shows a single woman named Helen Connelly living in John's rooming house, but she can't be his wife as he is listed as married. Anna refers to his folks in the diary, so they must have come after that. Yes, I do enjoy the speculative moments in historical research, thanks for asking. More of that: did Jack go through the trouble of getting divorced, or did he just leave the ex in Scotland? Did Anna know about her? Other children?
I see a number of death records for women named Anna Connelly, and it is impossible to know which, if any, is her. There is one Anna H. Connelly buried in Ohio that may very well be her. Same birth year. How to know, though? Same for Jack. On ancestry.com, you can look through digital family trees created by others, and I noticed that Anna is featured in only one tree, with a very bare entry. It's for this reason that I don't think they had any more children as one would assume they would be appearing in more trees if they had. For someone who lived semi-recently and came from a large family, it is strange that she is not in more. One option is to research her siblings and see where that takes me. It might give me access to living relatives of hers, which could solve all of my questions.
And anyway, how the hell did her diary end up in an antique store in Arizona?
To be continued, possibly.
Fun facts: You can find census data for free instead of paying for it on ancestry.com here: familysearch.org. Only difference is you can't see images of the handwritten pages, which are helpful to view given the frequent (frequent) errors made in their transcription.
County and state archives have tons of information that ancestry.com does not have. Only some of them have put portions of their records online, unfortch. Also, they want you to pay them to even look and see if they have your record. & don't rule out the county recorder. There's all kinds of historic data in there, providing they put it online. Oddly, Maricopa county was really good about this. Wayne county not so much.
Findagrave.com. Actually useful.
Fun observations: Maybe I'm missing something here, but I think 70 years is a little long to wait to release census data. What exactly are we protecting that people alive in 1950 wouldn't want anyone to know? Who lives in the same place they did in 1950! What other info does the census reveal that is so personal? Annoying. Not to get all ~NSA~ up in here, but cmon.
hashtag amateur genealogist.