IRIS 42: Information and Research Instruction Suite for two-year colleges

Case Study #2: Records of Daily Life

Diaries, Letters and photos are Primary Sources

image of diary, old photos, handwritten recipe, and other original primary source materialWhen Sophie migrated from Ohio to Oregon in 1859 she took a diary and recorded all the details of daily life on the trail. She counted births, deaths, the weather and other details of their journey. One hundred years later, her great-great grandchildren found the diary in the attic, soiled, stained and falling apart. The journal is a primary source.

Sophie's writing was so eloquent and poignant that it has been written about and paraphrased in many books written about the Oregon Trail. Many scholars refer to it as a statistical record. All those accounts are secondary sources.

A couple of publishers reprinted the entire diary in collections of writings, but they fixed Sophie's spelling and grammar errors. (Sophie wasn't getting graded so she didn't worry about such things.) Because the original was altered, those books are considered by many scholars to be secondary accounts.

One publisher, Trulyoriginal, Inc. reprinted Sophie's diary exactly as it was written. Although they translated Sophie's handwriting into typing, they did not fix her spelling or grammar and they maintained the original formatting as much as possible. Whenever smudges or other damage made the original indecipherable, they included a note stating such. They even included scanned pages from the original diary. Most scholars would agree that this book is a primary source.

Do you keep a journal? Someday your descendents will thank you leaving a primary source documenting the times you live in.

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