The 1874 diary had been curated with an 1881 diary that was signed “Sadie Hilgedick” on the inside front cover. There is also a notation (in different handwriting) that reads “Birthday: April 1” which I assume was added later, perhaps by the person selling the diary. This notation is also supported by Sadie’s own entry on April 1 that states that it is her birthday. After briefly skimming Sadie’s diary I found mentions of her sister Lydia, and her brother (Alfred) Warren, and other family names. These entries confirmed that Sadie is Sarah Lissette Hilgedick who was born April 1, 1864 in St. Paul, Minnesota and died January 1, 1883. She is my great grand aunt – sister to my father’s grandfather.
I immediately ruled out Sadie as the author of the 1874 diary because Sadie would have been only ten years old in 1874. The handwriting in the two diaries was not the same, and it was too mature for a ten year olds hand. The diary mentions taking algebra, which, is too advanced for most ten year olds. I made the basic assumption that the diary writer was female because she discussed dressmaking. I wondered if the diary had belonged to one of Sadie’s sisters or cousins. Her sisters Emma and Lydia were 14 and 15 years of age in 1874 – and were initially my prime suspects. As I skimmed through the entries, I found mentions of other family names – Knapheide and Kassube which are the married names of Sadie’s aunts. Also listed was “Mr. Hilgedick.” This formal treatment led me to suspect that the mystery diary writer was not a direct (blood) relative. I changed course in my research. I checked the family tree, identifying the few women who would have been high school age 1874. There were not many, but they included Sadie’s cousins Sophia Knapheide, Louisa Hilgedick and Augusta Mansfield – the wife of Sadie’s older brother Edward.
I began transcribing the diary to identify people and places that would aid in my investigation. As I found names, I searched in the census data for the Minneapolis districts. The clues I needed to solve the mystery were recorded on the entry written on January 6:
Pleasant. Went to school came right back, hardly anyone there. Papa went over the river in the evening. Ollie Dey came to see me with her cousin. She looks like a lady now.
Listed in the 1870 St. Anthony census is John Dey, his wife Anna, daughter Olive, and son Harry. Olive was born about 1859, so she would have been 15 in 1874 – the same age as Emma and Lydia. Sadie’s family also lived in St. Anthony in 1870, as did the Kassube family. I started transcribing the census to find more connections. On page 8 I found my diary writer. Augusta Mansfield, born in November of 1858, daughter of German immigrants William and Theresa Mansfield.
Next week’s blog post will cover what I have been able to discern about Augusta’s life from historical documents and genealogical research, and how this research informs the development of the character “Gusta” in the book.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments about my research, please leave a comment below. Thanks!