Researching Family History: Journals verify information, provide valuable stories from ancestors' lives

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

James Buchanan Gallacher

Susan McKinney Raymond, findagrave.com

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“James, I'm going to leave you. Never do anything that will disgrace you or your family. You have been a good husband to me … look out for a wife to your mind and one that will be good to my children.”

These are some of the last words Janet Robertson Gallacher said to her husband, James Buchanan Gallacher, on the evening of Nov. 5, 1859, the night before she passed away at their home in Glasgow, Scotland.

Janet had consumption, now known as tuberculosis. Her loving husband had taken her to doctors to get help and treatments and an iron-clad diagnosis of her health difficulties. The doctor's official pronouncement was consumption, and it had advanced too far.

James was a baker who owned his own shop near Glasgow. He would rise early in the morning and work until late at night baking goods that would be delivered to those who bought subscriptions for them.

After his wife's passing and the funeral, James continued his stringent schedule of getting up early and going to bed late. About one month went by. When he came home one day and found Janet's and his clothing missing, he wrote the following in his journal:

“I came home from my work and found Bella (a servant), but some of my clothing away (was missing) and my wife's good plaid (clothes): and some of the (other missing) things I cannot tell of myself. But when I went and inquired at two pawns (shops), and one of them told me ... a woman such (as) I described had pawned a coat today and there lifted it again, which was my top-coat and I find a few more things away (that were missing) ... and I am determined not to allow her to remain another night in my house ...”

James had to do something, not stand idly by watching everything else disappear. He took matters into his own hands and went to the local police. James wrote in his journal:

“I secured the services of a policeman and told him to wait for me (at) the door till I (questioned) Bella. When she saw I understood (what was going on) ... she confessed to have taken my wife's plaids to the P-n (pawn shops) and the petticoats. ... So I called on the policeman and took her to the office ... and when she was searched, we got 15 pawn tickets in her possession and a good many things that I did not know of ... so she was locked up and remitted as she has been three times already.

"I afterwards went to Rutherglen (suburb of Glasgow) and got Andrew Caggie ... to accompany me ... and wakened Jane Isatt out of her bed. (S)he came out and I told her my tale with a heart so full ... like to break. (S)he cheered me up and comforted me and told me she would get her cousin Maggie ... to come out and keep my house.”

I love journals written by ancestors. They give us a window into their lives through which we can glimpse details we couldn't learn any other way.

Doing typical research, for instance, we could find census records, parish registers and perhaps a civil registration record showing Janet's cause of death. But we could not get the valuable story about the tender moment when Janet expressed her heartfelt feelings for her husband's kindness and care toward her.

We may see Bella listed in a census record in James' household as a servant, but it would not show anything about her nefarious activity in the house. Without the journal, and in the absence of court records, we would not learn what happened with the clothing and why Bella was discharged.

Salt Lake City attorney Randon W. Wilson knows these personal details about his ancestor James Gallacher and his first wife because of this journal, which is at the Family History Library. Information about is also available on www.findagrave.com.

Perhaps you have a journal or history written by your ancestor relating some interesting experiences which took place in their life.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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