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Junior Historian: Journals—Writing to Remember

Issue #4

Audio file

A primary source (pry-mary sors) is a record of an event, a life, or a moment in time created by a person who was there. Letters, photographs, and journals are all examples of primary sources. 

Historians like to use journals when they study a person or event in history. A journal, or diary, is a record of daily events. People like to record who they talked to or what they did in their journals. That information helps historians understand what life was like during different periods of time. 

Not every event in a journal is exciting, but we can still learn from details that don’t seem very important. The journal on this page was written by a soldier (sohl-jur) during World War I. William Manning wrote in his journal every day from October 13, 1918, until February 9, 1919.

William never fought during his time in Europe. Yet his writing helps people learn what life was like for some soldiers during World War I.


This story was written by Amy Bradfield. Amy works at the Historical Society of Michigan. William Manning is Amy's great-grandfather. 
All photos are from the author.

What did you learn about William Manning from his journal? What would you write about in a journal? 

An Armistice (ar-mih-stis) is when armies agree to stop fighting. The “Y” is the Y.M.C.A. or Young Men’s Christian Association. 
That group set up areas for soldiers to relax, play games, and rest. Drill is another word for training. 
You can also see that journals sometimes have spelling or grammar mistakes.

william manning headshot in uniform

The picture above is William Manning. William wrote about the end of World War I on this page in his journal.

page from william manning's journal

The journal page above says: Monday - Nov. 11th- Armistice signed with Germany at 5:40 A.M. Hostialties ceased at 11 o’clock, was on guard until 5 P.M. went to the “Y” with Carl Bock in the evening, got back at 8 o’clock and wrote a few lines to Mother and Myrtle