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Connecting The Past With The Present Through Diaries

Sarah's grandmother, Pattie Anne Watkins, at age 16 in 1941
Courtesy of Sarah Simpson
Pattie Anne Watkins, Sarah's grandmother, in 1941. She was 16.

Sarah Simpson wasn’t interested in history or her ancestry until she inherited a box of her late grandmother’s diaries from the 1940s, when she was in her late teens. Reading those diaries gave her a different perspective on “Grammy” and helped Simpson realize the similarities between the two of them, especially when she went back and read her own teen journals. 

Comparing her writing with her grandmother’s inspired her to create the website “Parallel Entries.” The site catalogues the journals of many different people by date, connecting people across the centuries.

Simpson is the curator and editor of “Parallel Entries.” She is also a licensed professional counselor associate in Asheville. She talks about the website, explains the psychological benefits of journaling, and shares tips for those who don’t know where to start with guest host Anita Rao. 

Interview Highlights

On the sacredness of diaries and journals:
I know a lot of diaries just get destroyed or lost. And I think that's a real shame. I think these are holy documents even. They're kind of bibles that we can learn from and feel more connected to each other through.

On the benefits of diaries and journals:
Studies have shown that expressive writing improves immune function because it reduces stress. Immediately after writing, heart rate and blood pressure have been shown to drop. While people write, the sweat on their palms reduces. The benefits can be immediate. People heal from actual physical wounds faster if they're writing about emotions or what James Pennebaker calls "expressive writing."

Two old pictures of Patti Anne Watkins, Mary, and Ted the dog from 1941.
Credit Courtesy of Sarah Simpson
The two photos referenced in Patti's diary entry, with Ted, the neighbor's dog.

An excerpt from her grandmother’s diary, from August 1, 1941, when Pattie Anne Watkins was 17:
Dear Diary -- August has started off beautifully. The sky is so blue, it is warm, and there is a heavenly breeze. The minute Mary and I got up we decided to go for a hike up the shore. So we rushed through the dishes, beds, and to the store and back. Mother fixed our lunch and we were off, clad in shorts and halters, with our bathing suits in a rubber bag. Just as we were leaving, we decided to have Mother take our picture. Ted came over just then, and we lured him into one, but couldn’t get him into the second one.

Amanda Magnus grew up in Maryland and went to high school in Baltimore. She became interested in radio after an elective course in the NYU journalism department. She got her start at Sirius XM Satellite Radio, but she knew public radio was for her when she interned at WNYC. She later moved to Madison, where she worked at Wisconsin Public Radio for six years. In her time there, she helped create an afternoon drive news magazine show, called Central Time. She also produced several series, including one on Native American life in Wisconsin. She spends her free time running, hiking, and roller skating. She also loves scary movies.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.