Transcribing a manuscript journal can be a big undertaking, but there’s nothing like the discoveries you make while doing so. After you get accustomed to the diarist’s handwriting, you become engrossed in descriptions of daily life, wondering what will happen next in a unique story. If you can link artifacts and photographs associated with the author of the manuscript, it makes for an even better tale.
The January 2011 issue of Common-place: Tales from the Vault includes “Beyond Words: Sylvia’s Diary,” curator Alden O’Brien’s account of transcribing 30 years’ worth of diaries kept by a 19th century lady from Connecticut and Western Reserve Ohio. As I read her descriptions of tracking down everything from a tavern sign to a skein of silk associated with her subject, I itched to get my hands on another one of those red-rotted leather-bound diaries that archivists treasure.
The article got even better when I read that both the curator and those diaries can be found at the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. I’ve visited Washington countless times, but I didn’t find my way to the elegant headquarters of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution until one sunny Saturday morning last November. Now, it’s firmly placed on my list of favorite Washington destinations.
Introducing my coworkers to genealogical research last year, I made my first great DAR discovery: American Spirit, a magazine covering American history, historic preservation and genealogy, and promptly subscribed. Next, I read American Treasure: The Enduring Spirit of the DAR. Then, I decided I had better get to Memorial Continental Hall and see its museum, library, period rooms and shop for myself.
That place truly is an American Treasure – especially its period rooms. Sponsored by 31 states, the period rooms feature a variety of furnishings illustrating different periods, locations and activities from American history. The Maryland Room hooked us right away, with its glass armonica and handpainted scenic wallpaper. Nails liked the stenciled Texas Room, representing the Westward migration of German immigrants. CLF appreciated the Ohio Room, with its well-appointed 1920s Colonial Revival style. But I nearly swooned over the New Jersey Room. Its paneling and furniture were made from oak salvaged from the British ship Augusta that sank off the New Jersey coast during the American Revolution. Samuel Yellin, the famed blacksmith, made the iron chandelier which features ships, dragons and sea serpents. Stained-glass windows depict scenes from New Jersey’s history.
I think it’s time to begin working on my “Betsy Shed” reproduction sampler from the DAR Museum’s collection.