Photo of 1862 Diary
Diary 1862

Diary 1862, Part 1: Who?

Through much of 2017 and 2018 I helped my mom pack up her house and get ready to move. In the process, we found this little diary among her mother’s things.

Whose was it?

Photo of diary flyleaf
Flyleaf of 1862 diary

The flyleaf says “Catharine Siglin Book.” The obvious conclusion: this is Catharine Siglin’s book. But who was she?

Thanks to my grandmother, Cleo Smith, who did a lot of research on the histories of both her family and her husband’s family, I recognized the name. Catharine Siglin was my mother’s father’s mother’s mother – my great-great grandmother. I’ve seen her tombstone in a cemetery near Paw Paw, Illinois, where my mom’s father was born, so I know she was born in 1833 and died in 1915. We have a portrait of her.

Portrait of Catherine Siglin
Catharine Sutton Siglin, around 1890

At first glance, she looks forbidding. But her eyes are sharp, alert and curious, and I think I detect a hint of amusement around the mouth.

Her collar appears to be beaded lace – a luxury item then as now.

In addition to doing genealogical research, Gramma Smith took very good care of family valuables. So, again thanks to her, I happen to have some pieces of Catharine Siglin’s good silverware.

Catherine Siglin's spoons
Catharine Siglin’s spoons

In 1862, when the diary was written, Catharine was 28 years old, living with her husband Amos and their three children on a farm in Willow Creek Township.

I started reading. There were quite a few entries that didn’t fit with my preconceptions about ladies who wore beaded lace and owned fancy silverware.

brout one loade of wood from malugins
clear beautiful slaing [sleighing]
hitched the colts
brought the childern from school

MONDAY, JANUARY 6

Avery [a very] cold blustery morning sawd wood in the shop

FRIDAY, JANUARY 10

brout aload of wood from alens grove
Skined acalf
had bet [Bet? the name of a horse?] shod

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1

worked at the porch
John helped Father
split posts all day

THURSDAY, MARCH 27

broke prarie

MONDAY, JUNE 9

broke prarie

TUESDAY, JUNE 10

Is it possible that the inscription in the flyleaf was wrong, and the lady who owned the pretty spoons was not the writer who noted down that they skinned a calf, sawed wood in the shop, and broke prairie?

Or am I making a mystery where none exists, because of my own prejudices?

More to come. Meanwhile, if you enjoy mysterious historical diaries, check out my friend Pei-Lin Yu’s investigation of a diary found in a Montana antique store.

2 thoughts on “Diary 1862, Part 1: Who?”

  1. What an amazing find!! Mrs. Siglin appears to be a woman of parts: silver spoons, beaded lace, and although they don’t appear in the photo, probably considerable muscles.

    PS I can see where Cleo got her eyes, and her jawline!

    1. You know what’s uncanny? This lady is no blood relation to Cleo. This is Cleo’s husband’s grandmother. I wonder if Cleo reminded him of Grandma Siglin and that was part of her appeal…?

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