This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.
Prominent Virginians are well represented in the myriad manuscripts housed at the Virginia Historical Society. However, documents by individuals who did not achieve fame, or notoriety, comprise the bulk of the society's collections. Among this larger, lesser-known group of people are children. Children's diaries, scrapbooks, and autograph books, although typically exiled to dusty attics or trash bins, now compel historians' attention as they study the world of young people in decades past.
Young authors described daily chores, longed for and savored trips, and reflected the influence of teachers and preachers—all without the internal editing that adults tend to employ. Consequently, scholars can gain insights into family dynamics, the effect of large political events on children, and how children internalized the moral issues of the day. Perhaps more importantly, for the families lucky enough to keep these diaries and scrapbooks, the volumes provide fond mementoes of days gone by. As one unidentified contributor noted, in Mary Virginia Early Brown's autograph book in 1840, "The Album is one of Friendship's dearest minions. It is the declared enemy of Oblivion. Its owner may well regard it as of inestimable value."