One of my great-grandfathers, Thomas Lee Dulin, kept a daybook almost every day from 1891 until 1914. Perhaps the roots of my desire to be a writer can be found in that part of my gene pool. Being born in rural North Carolina in 1842, Great-Grandpa did not have benefit of a great deal of education. For that reason I especially admire him and appreciate the fact that he sat down with his pencil and ledger and wrote nearly every day. He seldom used punctuation and his spelling was not perfect, but he probably did not have a dictionary. He made the effort almost every day, and by doing so left a great example for me to follow suit.
Great-Grandpa wrote about the weather (which was of utmost importance to him as a farmer) and what was being done on his farm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He noted the going price for a pound of cotton in Charlotte and surrounding markets because cotton was his main cash crop. If a neighbor stopped by to visit, he made a record of that.
According to official records, Great-Grandpa enlisted in Company H, 35th Regiment, North Carolina Troops in 1861. He gave his age as 21, although he was just 18. As a veteran of our country’s civil war, he made note of the anniversaries of the two main battles in which he participated – New Bern and Richmond. He was wounded in the left shoulder at Malvern Hill in the seven-day Battle of Richmond.
Some years ago, my mother and sister painstakingly hand-copied Great-Grandpa’s daybooks. Without realizing that today was the 154th anniversary of the Battle of New Bern, I checked that transcription to see what was going on in Thomas Lee Dulin’s world through the years on March 14. It was sobering to read his daybook entry for March 14, 1899: “37 year today I was in the Battle of Newbern, N.C.” Although in the interim he had married, been widowed at the age of 38, and left to raise his six surviving children, March 14, 1862 was forever engraved in his memory.
As the years went by, Great-Grandpa almost never failed to mention on March 14 how many years it had been since the Battle of New Bern. Oral history is valuable, but sometimes the stories get changed as they are passed down from one generation to another. The written word, especially when kept daily in a daybook, journal, or diary is a powerful record that we can hold in our hands and refer back to in order to make sure we get the facts right. My great-grandfather’s daybooks are a family and local treasure housed in the North Carolina Collection at the main branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.