Transcribing History

For almost a year, I have been working on a unique project.

I am transcribing several journals of an early (circa 1900) Canadian, Mrs. Robert Simpson. Written in ink, in small notebooks, every line is full from one side of the page to the other; there are no margins at all. Her script is clear and tidy- there is hardly an error that she corrects, and if so, there is a tidy single line through it. The grammar is poor and run-on sentences abound. Yet these are remarkable because according to Simpson family lore, the author had no formal schooling.

Julia wrote these journals around the turn of the 19th century. The second wife of Mr. Simpson (his first having died), she had eight children with him, two of whom died in youth, and one who died at age 31 (childbirth?).  Her husband was of Irish descent, and perhaps she was too.

These journals are unique, because they are not a diary or a re-telling of daily events. Rather, they are fiction. “Lillian Angroves Choice” is the title of one of her stories, another is called “Bessie Heath’s Courage”.

Another journal is all poetry, exclusively memorial poems for those who have passed away. They all have the same heading: “In Memory of (name), who died (date), aged (number) years. A particularly poignant example is:

In Memory of Clara Evelyn Simpson, Died June 16th, 1912, Aged 13 years, 2 months and 12 days. 

This was Julia and Robert’s youngest daughter. One year later, she wrote another poem about Clara called “Not Forgotten”.

Another interesting and very valuable part of the journals is the family records Julia wrote on the inside covers of the them. She lists her own birth family- parents and siblings- with all their dates of birth and death. She lists her own children too.

This is a bit of a pain-staking project, but marvelously intriguing too. I so wish I knew more about her life. These journals are so tantalizing!


6 thoughts on “Transcribing History

    • Hi Curious!
      These journals belong to a former co-worker who has been very gracious and trusting to let me have these in my care this long! I am doing it mostly as a favour to him as we both share a love of history. He also finds the journals hard to read, so this is one way for him (and other of his family members) to read what his ancestor wrote.

      I am not sure what will happen to the journals after that. I feel they would be a valuable addition to local history archives, especially the memorials. But they don’t belong to me, and I can’t make that decision.

      I have also thought of doing a non-fiction book about her and other women from that time period, but I do not know where to start… I really hope to take this a step further than just transcription… thanks for asking!


      • I’m not a history buff, but just the thought of having a personal journal from that time period gives me goose bumps.
        I bet you could even write a novel on that character. I’m sure once you’ve finished the transcription you’ll know her inside and out.
        Food for thought.
        Keep me posted.


  1. This sounds like so much fun. Old stories and poems can really provide a window into the past. I’ve never previously heard of a book of memorial poems–but what a wonderful way to remember those who have died.


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