Alice, Dr. Sewall and childrenThis post was inspired by this passage from Alice’s 1880s journal.

After Aunt Kitty*—my grandmother’s sister—died of pancreatic cancer in 1988, her daughter Joyce was in the attic of her mother’s home where she found two journals wrapped in a quilt. The house had been her grandmother Edna Mae’s house before Kitty lived there, so it may have been decades that the journals had been waiting to be seen by family eyes again.

These journals were written by Alice Marshall Finch Sewall of Woodvale, Virginia. One journal—which I didn’t know about until decades later—was written in after the Civil War 1866 when Alice was still a teenager. The second journal—which Joyce read and transcribed into a spiral notebook with a more modern hand—found it’s way to me in 1989, the year I graduated from high school.

My task, it had been agreed, would be to type what cousin Joyce had transcribed on my electric typewriter so that the family could have an easy-to-read copy of Alice’s later journal.

It was Alice’s final journal—written between 1880 and 1890, after the Finch family moved from Virginia to Alabama, and then to Texas—I came to know well. It was in this journal where I had the first chance to meet my great grandmother, Edna Mae. I had seen pictures of her and had heard stories about her in old age, but Alice’s journal gave a new perspective of her, playing as a young girl with her brothers while her mother wrote in a journal under a tree.

Alice’s journal gave me a fresh view of what it was like to be a woman 100 years earlier. Just like any woman today, she fretted about household duties, late periods, and worries about her children and finances. She even berated herself about not writing more, just like I did as a teenager and to this day.

Her journal opened my eyes to her struggles, and made me see that we weren’t that much different. It made me see the bounty of my choices that I had 100 years after her death.

It was a gift to be a young woman, carrying this story from my family’s home and the end of my high school years into college. (I even wrote about the journal in my Freshman Composition class.)

I wore Alice’s story—my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother story—like a string of pearls as I set out to find out to discover the woman I would become.

* Kitty’s eldest son, Johnnie Johnson, passed away Sept. 17, 2017. (Also on Sept. 17, 2017, Alice’s great-great-great-great grandson, Braegon Foote is born.