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Diary stashed in attic for years proves historically significant

June 9, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

At first glance, Alpena native Yvonne Rajala Shultis had no idea what a treasure she'd unearthed while sifting through her mother's possessions after she died.

She simply knew that she'd found a tattered journal with fading ink stashed in the attic. The journal had been kept from 1888 to 1891 by a young girl named Nellie A. Hayes.

"I had never heard of Nellie Hayes, and to this day I have no idea how her little daybook came to be in Mom's desk," Shultis said. "All I know is that Mom was a 'keeper of things.'"

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Shultis began reading the journal and soon found herself transported back in time. Eventually, she came to realize that the couple whom Nellie wrote about frequently in her diary and in whose boardinghouse she worked as a servant were none other than Alpena's first permanent white settlers, Daniel and Sarah Carter.

As such, Daniel Carter is credited with being the area's first postmaster, first treasurer of Alpena Township and first justice of the peace. His wife acted as the town's first physician. The couple's only child, Mary Lavina Carter, was the town's first school teacher, and her marriage to George B. Melville was the first wedding held in the town. The Carter home also became the first hospital, the site of the first Bible study group and a boarding house.

"Not only did Nellie know the pioneer Carters, but she also knew many of the other movers and shakers, molders and shapers, and quite literally, even the butchers and bakers," Shultis said.

According to Shultis, Nellie's diary entries provide a close look at the inner workings of the Carter household at a time when Alpena was a bustling lumber town. The entries showed how the Carters and Nellie interacted with many of Alpena's early residents in their day-to-day activities.

Because of its historical significance to Alpena, Shultis decided the journal needed to be preserved for posterity's sake. She took charge of transcribing the fading words, conducting additional research on Nellie's life, adding editorial notes where necessary and having the journal printed by Sarge Publications in Alpena.

"The book I held in my hands was a record of historical significance, and I knew I had to transcribe and preserve it," she said.

Just like her subtitle indicates, this newly published work called "The Diary of Nellie A. Hayes" provides a glimpse into the everyday lives of Alpena's first permanent white settlers as well as many of the people and places they knew.

The 209-page softcover volume also contains an extensive and alphabetized list of all the names or places found in Nellie's journal. Additionally, Shultis, a resident of Marysville, Ohio, who considers doing family genealogy her passion, put together family trees for Nellie, the Carters and several others, and presented profiles on each of the Carters.

Recipes from Nellie's journal are contained in the book too, and are typical of more than a hundred years ago, when cooks didn't always provide the exact measurements or explicit instructions that modern cookbooks today offer. Among the recipes are a variety of cakes like Blackberry Jam Cake and Molasses Cake, and pies the likes of Prune Pie and Sour Cream Pie.

Also listed from among Nellie's writings are a number of medical, cosmetic and household remedies such as a liniment for rheumatism and a hair restorative compound. The lyrics to a few songs of the day are included as well.

Even with all of the time, trouble and expense that Shultis has gone to in seeing this project through, the life of Nellie and how her diary came to be in her own mother's attic still remain a mystery to her.

Copies of "The Diary of Nellie A. Hayes" currently are available for sale at Alpena County Library. Cost is $19.95 per book.



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