Monday, August 7, 2017

Crowd Sourcing Nana’s 1920 Diary

Gertrude Matilda Hitchings (1905 - 2001)

Last year my Auntie Diane gave me my grandmother’s diary, written in 1920.  It was a tiny three inch book, with every day filled in with tiny script.  I was very touched that my Aunt thought of me to be the guardian of this little treasure.  I recognized Nana’s handwriting right away, and missed her immediately as I read through the journal. Even though the little entries were short and sweet, they reflected her personality and her interests that she had as the elderly woman I knew.  Nana, Gertrude Matilda Hitchings (1905 – 2001), was only fourteen years old when she started this diary. She was living in Beverly, Massachusetts, where I grew up, too.

I started to transcribe the diary last year, but I ran into a lot of puzzles and problems reading names, places and long gone traditions.  I decided to post a few pages every Monday on my blog for “Amanuensis Monday” and use the public to help me discover the life of a young teenage girl in 1920 Beverly.  I’m a member of several genealogy groups on social media, as well as several local history Facebook groups such as “The Beverly Heritage Project” and “Historic Beverly”.   Many people followed the diary for months, and made comments, sent email, and left messages on Facebook pages that helped me to transcribe Nana’s journal.

I posted the first few pages from the diary on 5 December, 2016.  This fragile little journal had lost the first few leaves of paper, so Nana’s diary starts of 7 January 1920.  In the first entry I transcribed she wrote about going to school, “Skating down to Crosby’s meadow at half past four”. She also wrote about “After supper went down to the shoe” which could be a mystery for anyone who had never lived in Beverly.  I knew what “the shoe” meant – it was the local slang for the United Shoe Machinery Corporation, where Nana’s father worked (my great grandfather Arthur Treadwell Hitchings).  I once lived a few blocks from “The Shoe”, where my other grandfather, and other great grandfather once worked. My own father once worked there as a security guard during college.  My other grandmother worked there during World War II as a “Rosy the Riveter” when the shoe making machinery was switched over to munitions and war supply materials. My family is very familiar with “The Shoe”!

The second blog post was published on 12 December 2016, and the diary entries were from 16 January 1920 to Saturday 24 January 1920.  Gertrude mentioned lots of fun things of interest to a teenage girl – school, a sleigh ride, playing baseball, her little sister having the mumps, sledding down Prospect Hill (where I went to elementary school!), and a mysterious fire at the “Swiche’s” farm [sic].  I knew that I had misread this name because I couldn’t find this family in any Beverly directory or census. 

After publishing this bit of the diary with my questions about the family name at the burned farm, I received a flood of messages.  Lots of people from the town of Beverly wrote in.  Genealogists jumped online and started to research the date of the fire, the history of the fire department in Beverly, and other resources.  Within two hours of posting this blog entry a reader found that the family was named ZWICKER, and the farm was located just over the Beverly line in the town of Danvers.  From there I was able to update the blog post with news stories and insurance information on the loss of buildings and animals in the fire. I was amazed that so many people were reading Nana’s diary.

Gertrude and her best friend, Bea Wilkins,
who is mentioned in the diary many times.

I continued to publish a few pages of Nana’s diary every Monday during early 2017 and the last entry appeared on my blog 12 June 2017.   There were many missing pages from the month of December 1920, and the remaining pages were very tattered, but I was able to figure out most of it with the help of Beverly resident Laurie Stevens (who was also very helpful with place names during the whole project).  By the time I published the last pages I had hundreds of new followers reading the blog, and many of my cousins were reading along, too.

I decided to thank my Aunt Diane with a book containing all the blog posts.  Each post had the scanned images of the diary pages, my transcriptions of these pages, photographs of Gertrude (my grandmother) and her family, relatives, and Beverly from the 1920s.  The book was published by the online site Blog2Print and I made a copy for my own mother and myself.  My mother had followed the project online, too, and was extremely interested in the diary, and very helpful with additional stories about the Hitchings family and the places Nana mentioned.

The book of all 27 blog posts about Nana's 1920 Diary

Thank you Auntie Diane, Mom, and most of all to Nana Gertrude for this project.  And I cannot say “Thank You” enough to all the genealogists, blog readers, The Beverly Historical Society, Beverly residents and ex-Beverly residents who helped with comments, messages, research and even anonymous comments.  I couldn’t have finished this project without each of you.  I think Nana is smiling somewhere right now-  knowing that so many people enjoyed reading her little journal.

You can still read Nana’s diary online!

The first diary entry is at this link:

You can find all the diary entries at this link (out of order):

There were 27 blog posts each posted on a Monday from 5 December 2016 until 12 June 2017.  


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, “Crowd Sourcing Nana’s Diary”, Nutfield Genealogy, posted August 7, 2017 ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. I like the layout with the tiny pages on top.

  2. Such a wonderful family treasure to share with all of your family members.

  3. Great idea to turn it into a book, and a great story about the power of blogging.