The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story (“Twitter Updates, the 18th Century Edition,” April 13, 2010) about how the 140 character limit for a Twitter post would not have been a problem for diarists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As luck would have it, some Connecticut related examples have recently crossed my desk.
The Emmons, Foote, and Loomis diary collection (Ms 70822) consists of six volumes, written by four different people, all living in Colchester, Connecticut between 1854 and 1894. While Colchester has certainly changed in the past century, certain aspects of life have remained constant. People still record the weather and still prepare food.
In the example below, Alfred I. Loomis, was poetic about the warm temperatures on June 15, 1854. “Warm as you please, thunderstorm in eve.”
On September 14, 1860, Aaron E. Emmons, kept his weather entry short and to the point. “Weather pleasant.” Emmons, who authored two of the volumes, actually tended to write much longer entries.
Abigail Foote Loomis, mother of Alfred, always noted her baking. Bread and pies were in her oven on August 14, 1867. Loomis also noted her other housework. She “washed a great wash” on August 12. We all still have to do that from time to time, as well!
Certainly there were diarists who kept longer entries, though most of the volumes were not designed for such. The diaries ranged in size, most being approximately four or five inches long by three or four inches wide. The smallest I’ve encountered is shown below, with its accompanying pencil (unfortunately, it was not actually used as a diary). As the examples demonstrate, however, most of those choosing to write within the allotted space had to keep their entries short. The length would be just about perfect for a Twitter tweet.
Another way in which Twitter and nineteenth century diaries are similar, is their use of additional media to record events. On Twitter it is common for a user to attach a photograph to a tweet or provide a link for more information. With a diary, the author can place items between the pages. Lucy Maria Foote (the fourth author of the group, not shown) included a fabric sample from her mother’s dress. Aaron Emmons included, yes, hair.
How were all of these people connected? Would they be following each other on Twitter today? Possibly. Aaron Ely Emmons was the brother of Catherine Ely Emmons Loomis. Catherine’s husband, Caleb Loomis, was a distant relative of Alfred Isham Loomis, husband of Abigail Foote Loomis and father of Alfred Isham Loomis, Jr. Abigail Foote Loomis was also distantly related to Lucy Maria Foote. If you would like more specifics, you are welcome to visit our Research Center and make use of our genealogy resources!