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Cover of diaryLouise B. Hancock's Diary:
The Inquiry Process

In order to understand our enthusiasm about this project, you need to trace our (Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson) experience from the beginning. We think it's an interesting example of our thirst for knowledge, as well as the power of primary sources and the Internet.

We wrote about our journey within the context of the 8Ws.

Inquiry Process

Watching (Exploring)

We're avid readers and enjoy a wide range of books from historical fiction to mysteries. We enjoy browsing the Internet for current events as well as historical resources. Each day we explore the top stories at Reuters, USA Today, BBC News, New York Times, as well as blogs and other news services of interest. We both subscribe to various e-mailing lists. For example, Annette gets the live earthquake report emails from NOAA. We often check the latest findings at science and history sites such as Library of Congress, PBS, National Geographic, and NOAA. We also go to Amazon for new books and eBay for auction items.

November 17, 2004. Our journey began with a posting on eBay. Larry enjoys collecting postcards, maps, photographs, and other materials from his hometowns of Findlay, Illinois and Leslie, Arkansas. He was doing one of his periodic scans through the eBay listings when he noticed a posting for a diary. The description was intriguing.

Go to the 1916-1919 Girl's Diary Journal Findlay Illinois WW1 for the complete listing.

eBay listingebay listing
(eBay listing. Click image to enlarge.)

I picked this up at an estate sale between Findlay and Sullivan Illinois being held for a man named Carter who would have been 94 years old and lived on the same land his whole life. This is a journal kept by a girl and I believe she was in high school and the journal is dated from feb 1916 to sept 1919. Her name was Louise Hancock. The journal measures 13.5 inches by 8.5 inches. She filled up 40 pages. This is a very rare book giving a glimpse into the life of a girl in the early century and how such a dynamic time is reflected in her writings. She meets army boys at trains, her mother dies, the spanish influence goes thru and she has alot of suiters but falls for one and something happens.I believe she lives in Findlay Illinois because she mentions going into a store named Coventry's. Decatur Illinois is mentioned and Matton and several other Illinois towns. The Jefferson Theater is also mentioned. She also danced alot.m (J. Hudson from Shelbyville, Illinois)

We were immediately drawn to the diary. Larry thought it might contain information about the place where he grew up. Annette was fascinated by the fact that it was a teenage girl. We were both interested in sample pages that included a reference to the Spanish Influenza Epidemic.

November 23, 2004. The start bid was $24.95. Four people bid on the diary. Five minutes before the bidding was over, we bid $67 and purchased the diary from J. Hudson from Shelbyville, Illinois. After paying with Paypal, all we could do was wait for the diary to arrive.

Louise Hancock diary coverFirst page of diaryDiary entry Sept 19, 1919
(Louise Hancock diary cover, first page, and entry from 9/16/1919. Click image to enlarge.)

Wondering (Questioning)

We enjoyed discussing the possible contents of the diary. Would there be a mystery to solve? Would we recognize names or places? Would it simply be a log of events or a fascinating account of teenage life in the 1910s?

The few pages posted at eBay stimulated many ideas. What was the Spanish Influenza Epidemic? What was Louise's experience? We checked out the current flu situation from the CDC and read the Influenza 1918 website from the PBS American Experience.

Annette bought The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the 1918 Pandemic by John M. Barry from Amazon.com. This powerful book explores the collision between science and epidemic disease.

December 29, 2004. The diary arrived in the mail today! We spend the evening reading it aloud. We immediately began to list key people, places, and dates to explore.

As we finished the diary, we brainstormed some of the following questions:

  • Where did she live?
  • When was she born? When did she die?
  • Who were the other members of her family?
  • Who were her friends?
  • What did the Jefferson Theatre and Globe look like?
  • What did the cars look like?
  • Did the basketball team win?
  • What was Shadowland?
  • What kinds of dancing did Louise do?
  • Did Louise's mother die of the influenza?
  • What did the trains and street cars look like?
  • Who was in Company C? Where they coming back from Europe?
  • Where was the diary stored? Who were the other people who wrote in the ledger?

Webbing (Searching)

December 30, 2004. The initial excitement continued the next morning as we discussed strategies for locating information that might be helpful in answering our questions.

Our search began at Google. We search for:

  • Louise Hancock, Thelma Steele
  • Towns - Decatur, Findlay, Lovington, Mattoon, Pana, Sullivan, Shelbyville
  • Countries - Moultrie County
  • Jefferson Theatre, Globe Theatre - Sullivan, Illinois
  • Shadowland - 1915, 1916, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919

After both success and failure, Annette's parents arrived. The project was contagious and soon we were all asking questions and searching for answers. In addition to their expertise with genealogy, they also provided access to subscriptions to Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com that yielded many interesting results.

Nancy and Bill (Annette's parents) focused on tracing Louise's family through census records. They were able to locate family trees and census records with names, dates, births, deaths, marriages, and addresses.

Annette and Larry focused on specific historical events and diary entries. They connected references in the diary to specific local historical information. Then, searched for other information connected to the period such as maps and photographs.

Wiggling (Evaluating)

December 31, 2004 - Morning. Information continued to flow in the project. However it was amazing how many facts were based on flimsy evidence. The facts were clouded with contradictions. Where did Louise live? Shadowland could be many things including a book, record, sheet music, or idea. Louise could have died in 1924 or 1925. The C Company could have been headed for Mexico or getting back from Europe.

We needed to evaluate information and organize evidence. This involved comparing information and examining sources. In some cases, we may never know the truth.

Here are some examples:

  • Where did Louise live? We have a list of a dozen places that Louise visited with friends, but no way to know where she actually lived. Sullivan, Illinois is at the center of these places, but she never says she's from Sullivan. Of course there was no reason for her to state this fact because it was obvious to her where she lived. The best supportive evidence comes from the census data. We think she lived at 1304 Main Street, but the census record indicating the street is hard to read.
  • When did Louise die? It's likely that she married, so she may have been using a married name when she died. All we know if that she lived until at least 1919.
  • Did Louise's mother die of the Spanish Influenza? She died in October 1918, so it seems likely. However not everyone who died in 1918 died of influenza. We need an obituary or death certificate.
  • Where were members of C Company in 1919? We know they left in December 1918 but when did they return? We need to search local newspapers.

Weaving (Synthesizing)

December 31, 2004 - Afternoon. It's New Year's Eve and we're still obsessed with Louise. We've answered some of the big questions, but we still have some issues to resolve. Our brainstorms, printouts, diagrams, and digital files are all interesting, but they needed to be organized so we can begin to ask new questions and find the holes in our thinking.

Here are some examples:

  • We looked at the original eBay posting and it mentioned that the diary was at an auction for a man named Carter. This person's name is connected with Louise's friend Thelma in notes at the back of the diary.
  • The name Glenn Dolan appears in the diary. Could this be the Dolan family from Annette's family tree?
  • It appears that Don Miller went to WWI. Is that why they broke up? Or, did he leave before they broke up? What happened to him?
  • Louise and Glenn rehearsed for the class play together, so they are probably nearly the same grade. We need to check the class list to check his last name. It could be Cochrane or Dolan. Probably Cochrane.
  • It appears that Louise began college in 1917, but we're not sure where. She comes home on the train. She goes to the Big Bijou, Transfer, and Lincoln Square. Could she be talking about Millikin University?
  • Throughout the diary, Louise talked about working at the shop. This includes "making hats" and "putting up stoves." Was this her father's wholesale business or did she work somewhere else? She also talks about school, but she seems a little old.

January 3, 2005. We sent email requests for information.

We emailed an online volunteer in Ford County, Illinois to determine if there was death or burial information about Louise. We immediately got the following reply from Marilyn Ames, a "lookup volunteer":

  • Listed in the Glen Cemetery in Paxton, Ford Co, IL is: Louise Overstreet 1898 - 1924.
  • Death records are available for $9 from the Ford Co. Clerk, Courthouse, Rm 101,  Paxton, IL 60957
  • I also checked the list of Ford Co, IL Marriages 1859 - 1915,
    but the only Overstreets listed were Walter and Gordon.
  • If there was an obituary for Louise in the Paxton Record,
    you might want to send a few dollars to the Library to see if
    someone might have the time to search microfilm and send
    you a copy. The address is: Paxton Carnegie Library, 254 S Market St,
    Paxton, IL 60957

This evidence led to new assumptions and speculations:

  • Louise is buried in Glen Cemetery in Paxton, Illinois.
  • Louise probably died in Ford County.
  • Louise was probably living in Paxton when she did.

This led to new questions:

  • Where was Louise living when she died?
  • Why is she buried in Paxton rather than Sullivan?
  • What happened to her husband and grandmother after she died?
  • What happened to her childhood home?

Items for the To Do List:

  • Write for death record
  • Write for newspaper articles from Paxton Record

Next, we emailed Millikin Alumni Association asking if they had a student named Louise B. Hancock between 1917 and 1924.

January 4, 2005. Carla Freeman from Millikin University emailed me back. She stated "Only found her in one yearbook ... 1918. She was a freshman and considered the Class of '21 but never found anything farther than that...."

This evidence led to new assumptions and speculations:

  • Louise attended Millikin University for at least a semester in 1918.
  • Louise probably graduated from high school in 1917.
  • Louise may have dropped out after her mother died in September 1918.

This led to new questions:

  • How long did she attend Milliken?
  • Why did she quit?
  • Did she live in Decatur for a while or commute on the train?

January 6, 2005. While visiting Larry's dad in Clarksburg, we spent an afternoon in Sullivan. Our adventure began by using the digital camera to document locations discussed in the diary. We photographed Wyman Park, the schools, library, and downtown area. While Larry photographed the downtown area, Annette checked with the County Courthouse. The birth and death records were simply typed lists and didn't provide any interesting insights. We couldn't find the house. It appeared that the street numbers were probably changed at some point using the Courthouse as the center of town.

Next, we stopped at the Sullivan Library to ask about local history resources. Although they had microfilm of the local paper, they recommended a trip to the Moultrie County Historical and Genealogical Society. Although the society building was closed, Susan Wood, the librarian assured us that the local volunteers would been happy to meet us. We used the library phone to contact Kay Webb who was happy to meet us at the Historical Society building.

We hit the jackpot at the Moultrie County Historical and Genealogical Society. In addition to the wonderful documents, the volunteer provided answers to many of our questions. Below are a few insights provided by a lifetime resident in her late 50s.

  • She had yearbooks containing Louise's photo.
  • She knew Cecil Steele. The diary was purchased at his estate sale. She even had his photo as well as a collection of items his daughter donated to the society.
  • Jefferson Theatre burned down in the 1920s. It was located next to the Masonic Temple.
  • "The Greeks" referred to an ice cream store called "Jimmy the Greeks".
  • There were two places call "Candy Kitchen" but the one in the diary was probably the one next to the theatre.
  • The old library is across the street from the Historical Society.
  • The streets were renumbered.
  • Sullivan has been devoted to high school basketball from the beginning of time.
  • O.B. Lowe was a teacher and superintendent.

The following resources were the most valuable:

  • Sullivan High School Yearbooks (except 1917 was missing)
  • Cemetery plot records (Louise's parents and grandmother)
  • Court records (Louise's father's court case)
  • School records (brochures, lists, booklets)
  • Sullivan Progress newspaper microfilm (except 1917 was missing)
  • Family folders (clippings for Hancock name)
  • Jefferson Theatre folder (programs, newspaper clippings)
  • Obituary file (clippings for Louise's parents and grandmother)

As we began to worked our way through the materials we encountered new questions. These questions will need to be addressed during another trip to the society.

  • Are there articles about the opening of the Jefferson Theatre?
  • What year did she teach? Look in the Yearbooks for 1919 through 1922.
  • What land records exist on her home in Sullivan? Would the diary had been in the house at the time of her death?
  • What does Thelma Steele's daughter know anything about the diary?
  • What ads in the back of the yearbook might match the diary? We currently have Jefferson Theatre and Rexal.

In writing her life story, the following facts need to be checked:

  • Was she listed in the 1900 census at 1304 Main Street? When did she move to this address? We need land records
  • When and where was she born, exactly? We need to get her birth certificate - December 3, 1898. Check the Sullivan Progress
  • When was her sibling born and when did he died? We need birth certificate and dead certificate. Check the Sullivan Progress
  • Where is her marriage certificate? She was married October 26, 1922.

We found additional evidence to support or modify our ideas:

  • Was Louise a teacher?
    • Initial Thoughts - Louise's mother's obituary indicates Louise was a teacher. When she talked about school being dull, was she talking from the point of view of the teacher?
    • Revision with New Evidence - Louise graduated from high school in 1917 and went to college in 1918. She was in college in 1918. She taught sometime between 1919 and 1923. Her comments were from the perspective of a student.
  • Did Louise's mother die in the influenza epidemic?
    • Initial Thoughts - The timing was right. She died at the height of the epidemic was in October 1918.
    • Conclusion based on Evidence - Newspaper accounts indicate that she died from a tumor.

January 30, 2005. I'm finally back to work on the diary. Many new questions are surfacing as I explore 1918-1919.

  • Check facts
    • How old was Glenn Dolan in 1919? Could this be my relative?
  • Look for news articles for the following topics:
    • Spanish Influenza Epidemic (Fall 1918)
    • Selling tags or Tag Day
    • Company C boys return to Sullivan (May 31, 1919)
    • Storm (June 3, 1919)

Wrapping (Creating)

January 1, 2005. Although there's more work to be done, we're ready to start building a digital environment for sharing our experience. These web pages will include both process and product.

Here are some of the elements:

  • Inquiry Process
  • Original Diary (i.e., scanned pages, transcripts, excerpts)
  • Connections and Context (i.e., places, activities, special events, friends, family)
  • References
  • Related Diary Resources

Waving (Communicating)

January 1, 2005. We want to share our enthusiasm for this project with the world. Of course, the first thing we need to consider is posting it on the web. Rather than just sharing the diary, we also want to share the process with our graduate students.

Wishing (Assessing)

January 4, 2005. This project was so cool! We learned a lot and enjoyed sharing the experience with our family.

Annette - When it was discovered that Louise died just a few years after the last entries in the diary, it seemed sad to think that she might not be remembered. Her parents and sibling were dead. She had no children and her husband soon remarried. I really wanted to tell Louise's story in a way that people today could understand. I also felt that this was a way for Louise to live on in the memories of others.

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Created by Annette Lamb, 1/05. Updated 2/05. All Rights Reserved.