Family Stories · Nancy's 1873 Diary

The English Orphans


In the back of my Great-Grandmother Nancy (Keith) Brown’s 1873 diary she had made a list of “Mrs. Mary J. Holmes works.” Assuming that they were books, I did a little research and came up with the following information regarding the author.

From Wikipedia: Mary Jane Holmes (April 5, 1825 – October 6, 1907) was a bestselling and prolific American author who published 39 popular novels, as well as short stories. Her first novel sold 250,000 copies; and she had total sales of 2 million books in her lifetime, second only to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Portraying domestic life in small-town and rural settings, she examined gender relationships, as well as those of class and race. She also dealt with slavery and the American Civil War with a strong sense of moral justice. Since the late 20th century she has received fresh recognition and reappraisal, although her popular work was excluded from most 19th-century literary histories.

Assuming that the check marks on Nancy’s list indicated which books she had read, I thought it would be fun to read a book that she had read 145 years ago (and which had been written 163 years ago in 1855). I did a little checking online and found that several people were selling these books on eBay, however, I decided to head over to the Woodstock Public Library where I explained my quest. After a little checking we found that some of the books at least are in the public domain and I was able to download The English Orphans from

So, am I enjoying the book? Yes, I am. It’s not a book that I can’t put down, but I’m enjoying the basic story line. I have to say I’m getting more pleasure out of the fact that this is a book that my great-grandmother enjoyed to the extent that she made a list of all of Mary Holmes’ books so she could read them all. And, yes, I’ll probably also try to find one or two more of Mrs. Holmes’ books to read.

2 thoughts on “The English Orphans

  1. Barb, that is such a fabulous idea…connecting with your great grandmother through books!

    Margaret Pryor Williams


  2. Thanks, Margaret. It was fun reading the book and wondering what it would be like to compare notes with her, coming from such different eras.


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