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  • Writer's pictureKristin Wenger

Through the Eyes of a Child (#52Ancestors week 37: Closest to your birthday)

If I had asked my 12-year-old son to keep a journal of his daily activities this past summer, what do you think it would have looked like?

I give my kids chores (more than any of their friends, of course, being the “mean” mom that I am). I try to get them outside for physical activity. We plan some experiences to encourage their educational and spiritual growth. But, it seemed the only thing he wanted to do was stare at a screen and play video games. Or watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games. It drove me nuts and I often wished the constant battle could be removed by going back to a time in which screens did not exist.

As it turns out, my mother-in-law gave me a glimpse of just what childhood looked like in the past when she shared her grandmother’s diary with me.

Anna Maria Rohrer (1894-1968) [1]

When this young lady was 11 years old, she decided to keep a diary. She wrote daily entries from the 26th of April 1905 through the 31st of May.

The front cover of the tiny book Anna used as her diary [2]

I love these precious details about her height, weight, and even her shoe size!

Curiously, there is no mention of attending school. From her nearly flawless spelling and cursive writing, she obviously was receiving an education. I presume the school term may have just ended when she began keeping this diary. My kids would be thrilled to have a shorter school year…until they found out how their great-great grandmother spent her days as an 11-year-old!


It seems she spent about 95% of her time working. Here are some of the tasks Anna reported doing:

  • Wiped dishes (usually three times a day, every single day)

  • Swept the porch, swept the kitchen, swept the steps

  • Milked cows (Bess and Daisy, Nell and Baby)

  • Hunted eggs and penned up the chickens

  • Washed and ironed clothes

  • Helped with meal preparation (set the table, peeled turnips or potatoes, made ginger cakes, helped Mama to make breakfast, helped to knead the bread)

  • Wiped and dried the lamp globes (my kids would not know what this means…)

  • White-washed (for many hours at a time – it seems there was always another fence or wall she could white-wash!)

  • Mowed the yard and dug up dandelions

  • Went fishing and cleaned the fish herself

  • Shelled peanuts

  • Scrubbed the water-closet

  • Pumped buckets of water or washed the buckets and crocks

  • Helped to bring in the steers

  • Worked in the garden (covered tomato plants, planted potatoes)

  • Caught two mice (my daughter would flat-out refuse this job)

  • Scraped a hog tongue (ditto!)

May 17, 1905 - a typical day

Anna also reported her daily wake up time and bedtime. For example, the very last entry reads:

"May 31, 1905. Got up at five o’clock."


Although most of the entries reported fairly mundane tasks, Anna also mentioned specific people and places that give us details about her family relationships and excursions from home.

  • “Went to Grandma Rohrer’s to get a kettle to fill with buttermilk”

  • “Mama and Alice cleaned the little room and Martha’s room today”

  • “Papa and Frank were down at Camargo to help Ross”

  • “Big Frank’s horse died about nine o’clock this evening with kidney trouble”

  • “Alice and I went to Paradise, Leaman Place, and then to Strasburg. I got my shoes today at Esbenshades store.”

Older sister Alice, pictured here with a young Anna, was frequently mentioned in the diary.

  • “Alice and Ella Rohrer were invited up to Stella Landis’ today.”

  • “Mr. [?] came to clean the organ."

  • “Annie Ellis came along with Aunt Lizzie Bachman, so I entertained her.”

  • “Went along with Martha over to her home.”

  • “Alice scrubbed her hair this evening.”

  • “Aunt Ida, Edith, and Mary Mellinger were down at Grandma’s this evening.”

  • “Took Aunt Ellie’s milk down.”

  • “Went to Paradise Sunday School.”

  • “Cousin Sarah, Mr. and Mrs. Ranck were here for supper.”

  • “Mama went to Lancaster.” “Papa was down at Philadelphia.”

  • “Lizzie worked here today because Martha had a sore finger and could not work.”

  • “A year today since we shot Bob.” (I certainly hope Bob was one of the farm animals and not a human!)


Among all the everyday occurrences, Anna recorded two special events in her diary.

The first was the marriage of her older brother Ross.

“May 11, 1905. Went to Ross’s wedding. They got a fine lot of presents [proceeds to list as many as she can remember]. Noah Hess married them. Ross and Anna took a trip out to Missouri and Illinois, and then to Niagara Falls. They threw more rice than I could eat.”

The second event is the reason I am featuring the diary this week. The #52Ancestors topic was “Closest to your birthday.” On the page below, Anna wrote on May 2, my exact birthday:

May 2, 1905. Florence’s baby was born.

That was all Anna wrote. No name for the baby. No mention of if it was a boy or a girl. Not even a last name for mother Florence. But, it was primary information recorded at the time of the event in the year BEFORE Pennsylvania started keeping birth records. I was intrigued and decided to see if I could find out who this child was who shared my May 2nd birthday.


After striking out on the name Florence among Anna’s older sisters or sisters-in-law, I turned my attention to others she would know: neighboring families or church members. I very quickly found Florence May Shaub. In 1900, five years before the baby’s birth, she was a 16-year-old who worked at a cotton mill and lived with her parents and nine younger siblings on the farm next to the Rohrers.[3]

On 10 November 1904, 20-year-old Florence married James W. VanBuskirk. [4]

Six months later, Anna recorded the birth of “Florence’s baby” on 2 May 1905. That baby was a boy and his name was James Westervelt VanBuskirk, Jr. [5]


So what happened to baby James VanBuskirk, Jr., who shares my birthday?

He had one younger brother named Charles. [6]

Birth certificate for Florence's second son, Charles, born 1909

James, Sr., Florence, and their two sons lived in Lancaster City. By age 14, James, Jr. had finished school and was working as an office boy at an umbrella factory. [7] At age 19, he married Beatrice E. Afflebach. They had one daughter, Jean Alvera, born in 1928. [8]

Census records show that James worked for the umbrella factory for many years as a bookkeeper and then a supervisor. [9] However, Lancaster City directories from various years consistently give his occupation as either sketcher, sketch artist, or artist. [10] It’s likely that art was his true passion, but he needed regular employment to pay his bills, especially in the years of the Great Depression. The Lancaster City directories also provide exact addresses and show that James and his parents often lived together (even during his marriage) and rented many different homes in the city over the years.

By 1940, James and Beatrice were divorced and he was living with his parents.[11]

James later married a second wife named Lucy and died in 1974. [12]

Take-aways for your family history:

Don’t discount sources like this diary that may be hidden away in your attic. At first glance, the daily entries may seem mundane, but they provide an excellent window on everyday life during the time period. A simple statement like “Florence’s baby was born” might be the only record that leads you to an entire life of a formerly unknown individual.

P.S. The front matter of this little book was also interesting reading. Check out the pages below:

I wonder how these exchange rates compare today... no Euro.

A lot has changed...

Drink strong mustard for bones in the throat.

Watch out for mad dogs, snake bites, and suffocation by illuminating gas.

Anna Maria Rohrer, author of the diary, as a young woman


[1] Anna M. Rohrer, undated photograph, shared by Alma (Becker) Wenger (her granddaughter), 12 September 2018.

[2] Anna M. Rohrer, diary, 26 April 1905 – 31 May 1905, shared by Alma (Becker) Wenger (her granddaughter), 12 September 2018.

[3] "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 September 2018), Florence Shaub in household of Abner Shaub, Paradise Township, Western District, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 94, sheet 3A, family 51, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,425.

[4] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Marriage License Docket Book B3-C3, 1904-1905, no. 765, James W. VanBuskirk and Florence May Shaub, 10 November 1904;Orphan’s Court Office, Lancaster; digital image, "Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950", database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 September 2018), image 145 of 504.

[5] For index entry of delayed record of birth, see Lancaster County, Pennsylvania ( : accessed 11 September 2018). For James living with his parents, see "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch( : accessed 11 September 2018), James W Banbuskirk in household of James W Banbuskirk, Lancaster Ward 6, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 76, sheet 7A, family 139, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1354; FHL microfilm 1,375,367. For exact birthdate, see "United States Social Security Death Index," database, FamilySearch ( : 20 May 2014), James Vanbuskirk, Dec 1974; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).

[6] “Pennsylvania, Birth Certificates, 1906-1910" database with images, Ancestry ( : 11 September 2018), entry for Charles Abner VanBuskirk, 29 August 1909; citing Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Birth no. 127037, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.

[7] "United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 September 2018), James W Vanbuskirk in household of James W Vanbuskirk, Lancaster Ward 6, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States; citing ED 66, sheet 7B, line 90, family 152, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1583; FHL microfilm 1,821,583.

[8] "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 September 2018), James W Van Buskirk, Lancaster, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 64, sheet 13A, line 49, family 323, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 2057; FHL microfilm 2,341,791.

[9] Ibid. Also, 1940 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Lancaster City, ED 36-79, sheet 5-A, household 23, James VanBuskirk, Jr.; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 11 September 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 3531.

[10] “U.S. City Directories 1822-1995,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 11 September 2018), search for “James Van Buskirk” in “Lancaster, Lancaster, Pennsylvania”, years 1924-1933.

[11] 1940 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Lancaster City, ED 36-79, sheet 5-A, household 23, James VanBuskirk, Jr.; digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 11 September 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 3531.

[12] Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 11 September 2018), memorial page for James W Van Buskirk (1905–1974), Find A Grave Memorial no. 85232093, citing Saint Josephs New Roman Catholic Cemetery, Bausman, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Donna Butler Sheaffer (contributor 46777676) .


Oct 05, 2018

So very fascinating!


Kristin Wenger
Kristin Wenger
Sep 22, 2018

Thanks for your comments! I also appreciate the authenticity of "ordinary" people. That's why I love discovering and sharing the stories of those who were not famous. Many times, those with a humble, genuine spirit are the most extraordinary of all!


Sep 22, 2018

I love this. Ordinary people going about their ordinary days, becoming the object of fascination many years later. There's nothing contrived about this diary. The obits you included in a previous blog entry were for the community, not for posterity. But they're so meaningful to those who care generations later. I can't help but compare those to autobiographical puff pieces by people who are determined to leave a legacy. I much prefer the genuineness in the ordinary.


Sep 18, 2018

How wonderful to have a journal written by an ancestor - and you did well transcribing Florenc’s handwriting.

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