Worrying about the health of family members? Fretting over school and work? If you are, you may write about these concerns in a diary. People have kept diaries, and have written about the same kinds of subjects, for a long time. Diaries are special that way—they are records of daily life. For researchers, they contain a wealth of information about a person, their activities, social interactions, community and private affairs.
So when we began working with the Baines Family Collection, we were pleased to find—in addition to correspondence and literary materials—a bevy of diaries. 47, to be exact.
George Washington Baines Jr. was the son of George Washington Baines, Sr., Baylor University’s third president (1861-63) and great grandfather to Lyndon Baines Johnson. George Jr. was born in Louisiana in 1848, and soon moved to Texas and attended Baylor University in Independence, Texas, where he graduated in 1875.
He became a fourth-generation Baptist minister and served at several churches in Texas. Baines was also a missionary to El Paso, establishing the First Baptist Church in El Paso, was Dean of the Bible Department at the San Marcos Baptist Academy, and was on the Baptist Education Commission of Texas.
Baines’ diaries span 1861-1912, but not consecutively. They contain small diaries and notebooks—some no bigger than a deck of cards—full of entries, pastor notes, sermons, diaries of churches where he preached, and places he visited.
For example, Baines’ 1890 diary, the marbled one on the top row of the photo below, contains a wealth of information, from Baines’ life to insight into the times. The beginning of this diary contains information similar to what we find in day planners today, but with some twists: a calendar, train time tables, interest tables, pages with the value of foreign coins, dates for eclipses, wind direction and velocity signals, and territorial statistics.
Later entries recount daily thoughts and activities. In the 1890 diary, Baines expresses concern about his schoolwork at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky:
Was examined in Homiletics today. Sat from 9am to 5:30pm. Ate no dinner. Hard work, and it came near to flooring me. Tonight I feel nervous. Head feels like a balloon. I can’t stand much of this. Fear my paper will be a poor one.
Another entry from the same diary reads:
At home all day. Janet had high fever this afternoon. We feel quite anxious about her. William is about well, so is George. But Janet’s condition is very serious.
Both of these entries could be seen in a modern seminary student’s diary! However, the collection also contains diaries dedicated to specific events. The “journal of a buffalo hunt in December, 1871,” for example, might be quite interesting indeed.
Though sometimes hard to read (old-fashioned handwriting trips up everybody), diaries and journals help us understand the lives and circumstances of people in other times, and valuable information on that day and age. Diaries can inform, inspire and delight. They can contain affirmation, negativity, and anything imaginable. As research tools they are very valuable. Come see us at The Texas Collection to research or if you just have an interest in diaries. We will be more than happy to show you our treasures.
Photos by Ann Payne