Diaries, Journals, Logs, and Blogs

Diary 1920A diary is a personal daily record containing experiences, events, observations and/or reflections. A person who does this kind of writing is often called a diarist.

A journal is also a personal record kept on a regular basis. Although diaries and journals are periodic records, many people don't make daily entries. Some people use their diary as a daybook recording transactions or factual information. The word log has been used by ship captains to record events of navigational importance. Logs are also used by aircraft pilots, maintenance workers, and computer technicians.

Although many people consider their diary private, an increasing number are posting their thoughts and reflections on the Internet. Electronic diaries or journals are sometimes called web logs or blogs.

Some of the oldest diarists were from Asian cultures. For example, women of the Japanese Court kept diaries. In addition, many people kept travel journals. Explore a list of Diarists from Wikipedia.

Working with Diaries

Although it's interesting to read a diary, it really comes alive when you start exploring the context and connections related to this primary source. What was life like when this person was writing? What did their clothing look like? What did they see walking to school or work? We purchased a diary and traced the process of this exploration.

Read the Louise Hancock Diary to follow the exploration of a diary from the early 1900s.

Digital Reproduction & Transcription

Although diaries may look sturdy, antique materials can be very fragile. Glue, string, and paper can easily disintegrate before your eyes. Before you begin working with an old diary, it's a good idea to create a digital reproduction. Then, store the original diary to keep it from becoming worn.

Use the digital reproduction to create a digital transcription of the diary. If you have difficulties reading the transcription, go back to the original. The digital reproduction and transcriptions can then be shared with the world!

Let's use the diary of Ruth West as an example. Below is a sample diary entry from 1920.

Ruth's diary entry
(Ruth diary entry, 1920. Click image to enlarge.)
  Sunday July 18, 1920
Mama went to Ethel's. Steve over
early & we went out in the canoe.
Wore my pink organdy dress & hat
Nearly rained & spoiled my clothes but
it didn't. Had supper at the casino
then paddled sown the canal to
Kohomo lake, over the river & home.


Examine the entire diary carefully and look for clues about the person whose life you are exploring. Background information can often be found by reading the entry pages and last few pages. Many diaries have a page containing personal information.

For example, let's analyze the diary of Ruth West. We knew nothing about this person when we acquired the diary. Be started our exploration with the personal information page show below. With only this information we were able to find out that she was born and lived in Detroit when the diary was written in 1920.

Personal Record
(Personal record page from the diary of Ruth West. Click image to enlarge and read the entire page.)


One of the most interesting aspects of working with a primary resource is annotation. It's sometimes necessary to include a note along with an entry. These annotations can be used to provide a clarification, explanation, or supplemental resource. Some of the following situations may demand an annotation:

  • People. Enter links or annotations regarding the full name and background of the person discussed. You may wish to explain the relationships among people discussed in the entry.
  • Places. Consider adding maps, distances, and other information about places that would help readers better understand the location in relationship to the entry.
  • Objects. Provide definitions or descriptions of objects or things that might be unfamiliar to some readers.
  • Events. Put an event into a context with information about related events.
  • Terms. Fads, slang, archaic words, foreign language, and technical terminology may provide a problem for some readers. Define words as needed.
  • Questions. Sometimes an entry spurs a question with an unknown answer. Include these questions in notes. It's possible that readers may be able to solve your problem.

Let's examine the sample entry from Ruth's diary. This entry provides interesting information and generates many questions.

  • People. Mama, Ethel, Steve
  • Places. casino, Kohomo lake, canal, river
  • Objects. canoe, pink organdy dress, hat
  • Events. canoeing, supper at casino
  • Terms. organdy, nearly rained & "spoiled" my clothes
  • Questions. Where is the casino, canal and lake? Is Kohomo lake actually Lake Takoma?

Many techniques that can be used to display these annotations:

  • Linked Notes. In a hypermedia environment, links can made directly in the text to pop-up windows, supplemental pages, or other information.
  • Endnote, Footnote, Symbol. For a linear environment, use a superscript number or link in the text with a matching endnote at the bottom of the section, web page, or on a linked page. In some cases symbols can be used to represent a standard idea. A linked asterisk (*) could be used for supplemental information at the bottom of a page.
  • Notes Following Entry. Notes can be placed at the end of entries. Be certain to use a contrasting type style to differentiate these notes from the original text. Sometimes a line is used to separate the entry from the note.
  • Sidebars, Columns. A two-column format can be used to display notes: one column for entry and one column (sidebar) for comments.


Once you've created a digital reproduction, written a transcription, identified the item, and developed an annotated file, it's time to decide what other interpretation might be interesting or useful. Some people choose to go back and expand their annotations, while others use the diary as part of a larger product that combines the diary with other primary resources to tell a larger story.

Scott FountainFor example, let's reflect on Ruth's diary entry above. We looked through our personal photo and postcard collection seeking photographs that reflect the place and time.

The photo on the left (click the enlarge) is from the 1920s and shows the Scott Memorial Fountain near the casino on Belle Isle where Ruth and Steve paddled down the canal.

Next, we explored online materials that might help tell Ruth's story.

  • Postcard
    In 1920, Detroit became the fourth largest city in the United States.
  • Belle Isle was a very popular island in the river and accessible by canoe.
  • The Strait of Detroit separates Detroit from Belle Isle.
  • Belle Isle is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
  • Canoes on lake in Belle Isle are very popular.
  • The Belle Isle Casino was redesigned in 1907 one of the finest casinos in the United States with ornate towers and a veranda for picnicker.
  • Check out a photo by William Henry Jackson along the Belle Isle Grand Canal.
  • Map of Belle Isle showing the location of the Lake Takoma and the casino.
  • Postcard from 1925 of the Casino from Canal at Belle Isle: Postcard 1
  • Detroit Publishing Company photographs
  • Organdy is a stiff transparent cotton or silk fabric for light weight apparel.

Use the following materials to locate resources that might be useful in your interpretation activities:

People. If you're seeking information about people, examine census data available every ten years. If you're unsure about names, consider the Connecticut State Library Listing of 18th and 19th Century American Nicknames page.

Places. Use the maps at the Library of Congress for place information. Read the article Entering Place in Time and Text by Robert Root to gain understandings about the "nonfiction of place."

Things. Use the search tool at Library of Congress locate photos of objects.

Food. Many diaries mention meals, food, and drink. Go to All Recipes or Historic American Recipes for ideas. Check the Twentieth Century Timeline of Edibles and Quaffables to see when food products were introduced.

Books. What were teenagers reading? Explore the following resources:

Time Periods

This section contains a listing of diaries that are available on the Web. Some are digital reproductions from the original diary and others are transcriptions. They are listed chronologically by date of first entry.

star means quality - Identifies an exceptional resource


Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan from University of Pennsylvania
Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi, with an introduction by Amy Lowell. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920, pp. 1-68.

The Sarashina Diary (A.D. 1009-1059) from University of Pennsylvania
Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi, with an introduction by Amy Lowell. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920, pp. 1-68.


Ralph Josselin's Diary - 1617 - UK
This resource contains an excellent set of associated resources and materials.

Diary of John Evelyn (1657+)
Diary entries from 1657-1688 are online. His archives are at The British Library.

Diary of Samuel Pepys (1660+)
This well-known diarist kept diaries beginning in 1660. Explore the background.

Historic Diaries: Marquette & Joliet, 1673
Follow the fascinating journey of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. This 36 year-old Jesuit and 27-year-old philosophy student/fur trader recorded their experiences as the first Europeans to explore the heartland of America.

Diary Links

Mid 1700s

American Notes: Travels in America: 1750-1920 from Library of Congress
Contains 253 published narratives recounting travels in America.

Indians Coming From War from Library of Congress
Diary entry by George Washington, March 23, 1748.

Late 1700s

Introduction to the Diaries of George Washington from Library of Congress
George Washington was a diarist. This collection includes background information and the diaries from 1741-1799.

Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860 from the Library of Congress
Journals include a court proceedings journal from 1741.

Archibald Thompson Diary, 1782
Transcription of diary.

Maclay's Journal from the Library of Congress
Explore the journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789-1791

Early 1800s

James Polk's Twenty-five Volume Diary from Library of Congress
Read four pages of the diary of President Polk (1795-1849).

Samuel F B. Morse Papers from Library of Congress
Diaries from 1805-1831 for Samuel Morse.

Library of Fur Trade Historical Source Documents
Many journals, letters, and diaries.

Journeys in Time, 1809-1822: The Journals of Lachlan & Elizabeth Macquarie
These journals posted at Macquarie University in Australia include full transcriptions, transcriptions with notes, and background information.

A Maritime Perspective on American Expansion (1820-1890) from Library of Congress
Includes logbooks and diaries as well as other primary sources on voyages and travels.

Diary of Patrick Breen
Explore the diary of a member of the Donner Pary in the 1840s.

Diary of James Madison Coon and Nancy Iness Miller Coone, 1847
Trip on Oregon Trail from Mercer County Illinois in 1847.

Diary of Susan Sherman of Brookfield, Connecticut, 1850-1851
Activities recorded include frequent trips to Hartford, Danbury, and New Haven; embroidering and quilting; her own engagement and a description of her wedding. Also includes recipes, mostly desserts.

Mormon Trail Diaries
Read diaries by James Armitstead, William Clayton, Eliza Snow, Hosea Stout, and Brigham Young. Also read re-enactor diaries.

Oregon Trail Diaries and Emigrant Biographies
Featured pioneers, biographies, and diaries.

Oregon Trail

Explore William Porter's Diary (1848), William Ashley (1825).

The Hudson Bay Co, 1842
Transcriptions of journal from Fort Nascopie.

The Diary of Alexander Machum Jr., 1845-1849
Alexander Machum Jr. 1819 - 1897 was the oldest son of Alexander and Mary (Carson) Machum who came from County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1819, settled on the Belleisle for five years and then moved to a land grant at New Jerusalem in 1824.

Trails to Utah and the Pacific: Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 from Library of Congress
Project includes 49 diaries from people on the trails as well as biographical notes for diarists. Also, find images, trail guides, and maps.

The Chinese in California, 1850-1925 from the Library of Congress
Illustrates nineteenth and early twentieth century Chinese immigration to California including diaries and other primary sources.

Diary of Mrs. Amelia Stewart Knight, 1853
Starting from Monroe County, Iowa, and ending near Millwaukie, Oregon Territory.

Diary of Elizabeth Cowperthwaite of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1857-1858
The first entry is dated "November 29th/57" and the last appears to be Thursday, December 2, 1858. The diary serves as a forum for spiritual reflection and self-evaluation, as well as for making moral resolutions. The weather conditions and daily activities are often recorded, and there are many commentaries on literature as well as anxieties about whether she will marry.

American Civil War Era

Diary of Mary Boykin Miller Chesnet (1823-1886) from Documenting the American South
Read a well-known diary.

Everett Colby Banfield, 1846
Diary from the first year at Harvard University.

Diaries of Fanny Ruschenberger of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1858-1881
Fanny, daughter of a prominent Philadelphia physician William Samuel Ruschenberger (1807-1895), was an unmarried sewing teacher. Volume 1 of her diaries is a copybook containing poetry and other excerpts; the remaining volumes record church attendance, family visits and activities, social and cultural events, local and regional trips, and her teaching experiences.

First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920 from the Library of Congress
Explore the culture of the nineteenth-century American South through diaries as well as autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives.

Diary of a Confederate Woman: Betty Herndon Maury from Library of Congress
Two pages from June 3, 1861.

Thomas Benton Alexander Diary, 1861-1865
Alexander (1839-1928) was a resident of Maury County, Tennessee

David B. Arthur Diary, 1862-1863
Arthur (1837-?) was a lead miner from Beetown, Grant County, Wisconsin. He served as sergeant and lieutenant in Company I of the Union army's 20th Wisconsin Infantry from 1862 to 1865.

Thomas J. Barb Diary, 1863
Though the author of this Confederate diary never identifies himself by name, the manuscript can be attributed to Thomas Jacob Barb (1842-1899), of Batesville, Independence County, Arkansas.

James Boardman Diary, 1863
Boardman (1833-?) was a resident of Salem, Olmsted County, Minnesota.

The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft (1861-1865) from the Library of Congress
Explore three manuscript volumes totaling 1240 digital images from Washington D.C. area through the eyes of Horatio Nelson Taft (1806-1888).

John Wesley Culpepper, 1861
Diary entries of a Civil War diary from Georgia.

Transcript of Diaries of Stephen A. Kinnear, 1862-1879
Transcription of diaries from Ohio.

The Diary of Private Joseph Allen Herrin, Company F, 1863
The diary of a private from Kentucky Cavalry.

Alice Williamson Diary: An Online Archival Collection from Duke University
Explore the 36-page diary kept by schoolgirl Alice Williamson at Gallatin, Tennessee from February to September 1864.

Civil War Diary of Edward W. Hotchkiss, March 12, 1865 to April 27, 1865
Transcription of handwritten diary. Includes the death of Lincoln.

Late 1800s

Camping with the Sioux: Fieldwork diary of Alice Cunningham Fletcher from Smithsonian
Diary of Alice Fletcher as she traveled in Dakota Territory in Fall 1881 to live with Sioux women. Includes a photo gallery.

Diary of Margaret T. Spaulding of Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, 1870-1874
Activities recorded include trips to New York City and West Point; piano playing; reading books and attending church services. Also includes poetry, a list of books read, and a record of personal correspondence.

Transcription of Diary Kept by Alfred Copley, 1874-1875
Transcribed diary from December 1874 to May 1875.

James Harrison Diary, 1878
Diary focusing on the Sailing Ship "Invercargill" from Liverpool to New Zealand.

George Q. Cannon, 1888 from Tutt Library Colorado College
Diary of a man imprisoned in Utah for polygamy.

B.B. French's Diary from the Library of Congress
Sample of diary of Benjamin Brown French (1800-1870) from December 25, 1891.

Theodore Roosevelt Papers (1759-1919) from the Library of Congress
Explore samples papers of Roosevelt including diaries and scrapbooks.

Theodore Roosevelt's Pocket Diary from Library of Congress
Sample entries from the 1880s of Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919).

Theodore Roosevelt Wrote in This Diary February 3, 1880 from America's Story at LOC
Sample diary pages illustrating the gilded age.

Helen Hunt Jackson, 1877 from Colorado College Tutt Library
Diaries from 1852, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1880, 1881, 1882, and 1883 from author and Indian rights advocate.

George Percival Scriven: An American in Bohol, The Philipines, 1899-1901
Transcription of his diary entries from March through May 1900 including the first days of the American occupation of the Philippines as part of the Philippine-American War.

Turn of the Century 1900

Wynne's Diary - the life and times of an edwardian woman (1895+) star means quality
On November 18th 1895, aged 16, she began writing a diary, and continued doing so until her death. There are 30 large volumes, a record of an ordinary life. This great diary includes photographs!

Robert E. Peary's Diary, 1909
Includes a transcription and image reproduction of the diaries and memo pad.

Wright Brother's Diaries (1888-1911)
Read diary entries including scans and transcriptions. Also check a sample at First Flight from Library of Congress.

The Philippine Insurrection Diaries of Karl D. White, 1899-1901
Digital reproduction and transcription of diaries of a private in Company K.

Diary of Margaret A. Eadie of Flushing, New York, 1901-1919
Kept by Margaret A. Eadie of Flushing, New York during her summer vacations near Saybrook, Connecticut. Eadie's family, along with five other families, owned cottages at "Chipmunk Hollow" on the Connecticut River near Saybrook. Her entries record the comings and goings of individuals in the group, which ranged in size from 35 to 40 people (not including their servants); excursions, particularly sailing; entertainments; and meals.

The Diary of Private H.E. Broun, 1916
Diary transcription of World War One soldier.

Diaries of Grace Gilchrist Frend of Hampstead, England, 1907-1941
Grace Gilchrist (1859-1947) was the daughter of Anne and Alexander Gilchrist, both non-fiction writers interested in the arts. Grace trained to be a singer and became an "average" contralto. In 1897 she married Albert Henry Frend, an architect, but the marriage lasted only twelve years and ended with a long and bitter divorce. Her diaries record these events, as well as her life-long interest in theosophy.

World War I Era

Soldier's Diaries from World War I
Diaries including servicemen and nurses.

World War II Era

Diary of Anne Frank Center
The Center for all information about Anne Frank.

World War II


Amy's Diary
Flash animations of Amy, a third grade diary from the 1977-8.

Diary entries during Blizzard of (19)'78
Diary entries from Winthrop, MA during blizzard of 1978.


Bosnia Buddha Home Page
Diary and scrapbook from solider in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Middle East

Middle School Teacher Diaries
Explore current diaries and blogs of middle school teachers.

National Deaf Children's Society

Read diary archives from current diaries worldwide including Vietnam, China, and Inca Trail.

Reading Rockets: First Year Teacher: Diary of a First Year Teacher
Barbara and Joseph journal about their first year of teaching.

Diary Collections

Experiencing War (Voices of War): Stories from the Veterans History Project from the Library of Congress
Explore war through oral history interviews, memoirs, diaries, and correspondence. Examples: Theodore Kohls

From the Home Front and the Front Lines WWI: Diaries, Bound Collection, and Albums from the Library of Congress
Excerpts from diaries.

Historic Diaries from Wisconsin Historical Society
Excerpts from historical diaries including Sgt. Charles Floyd (member of Lewis & Clark expedition).

Keeping Memories from Library of Congress
Excerpts from the diaries of Clara Barton (1889), Titian Ramsey Peale (September 1839), Christian Fleetwood (October 1 & 5, 1864), Alcott Farrar Elwell (1908), Walt Whitman (December 20-21, 1862), and George Patton (December 6, 1942).

Letters and Diaries Online from History Matters
Links to well-known sources.

General Diary Resources

General starting point for information about online journals. Favorite sections include Celebrity Blogs and Diaries, Prompt Collections.

Diaries, Journals, and Letters Related to Georgia
A dozen letters and diaries available.

Diaries, Memoirs, Letter, and Reports Along the Trails West
Links to materials.

Diary from Wikipedia
Encyclopedia entry on diaries.

This blog highlights interesting online diaries. Excellent website with many quality resources.

Melrose Mirror: Storms
Includes diary entries from all kinds of storms.

Samuel Pepys
Well-known diarist from the 1600's.

Weblogs from Guardian Unlimited
Articles about blogs.

Diaries and Journals in the Classroom

Diary Writing
Write a diary entry from the perspective of a character.

Interpreting Diaries of American South
This lesson for grades 6-7 English language arts focuses on diaries from 1865-1917.

Library of Congress: Collection Connections
There are many references to diaries and journals in the Learning Page.

Making Sense of Letters & Diaries by Steven Stowe at History Matters
Takes you step-by-step through understanding letters and diaries.

The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King from Library and Archives Canada
Diaries and learning activities for Grade 6-8 and Grade 9-11.

Using Historical Journals in the Classroom from the Vermont Historical Society
Includes ideas for working with specific journals as well as general ideas.

Printed Items from PBS History Detectives
Learn how to example letters and diaries.

Title III Technology Literacy Challenge Grant Project

Utah Education Network

What Kind of Historical Source are Letters and Diaries? from History Matters
Explores the nature of letters and diaries.

Diaries in WebQuests

Bernie Dodge describes the use of a Simulated Diary as a design pattern for WebQuests.




Books for Children and Young Adults

Dear Diary: Books for Teens
Diaries for teens.

Diary Fiction of Young Adults from Evanston Public Library

Diaries/Letters/Journals for Young Adults from Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library

Diaries, Real and Imagined from Berkeley Public Library Teen Services

Diary Stories for Teens from Los Angeles Public Library

Teens Reading Lists: Diaries and Letters
Young adult fiction diaries and letters.

Created by Annette Lamb, 12/04. Updated 10/05.