The body of this volume presents the Journal of Dr. George Follett Wilson just as he wrote it. Though over the years a few people had actually seen the Journal and fewer still had read it, in general it had not until now been available for reading or research. Since the early 1920's it was in the closely guarded possession of William A. Wilson and his wife, who upon his death in 1957 took up the vigil. There was much concern throughout the family about the final disposition of the Journal. At Eastertime 1983, however, his widow brought the Journal and presented it to Kenneth S. Wilson. It had been the most frustrating missing link in researching the beginnings of the Wilson family in North Carolina. Its return to availability has made possible the telling of the story of George Follett Wilson as had until now been impossible.
Reconstruction of the past is a slow and tedious process. Much of our history was created by improbably circumstances and has survived by tenuous threads. Documents that would be pulsing ties between generations are lost, sometimes through lack of concern and misjudgment but often through accidents of fire, water, and exposure. Official records that affected and recorded the personal lives of our ancestors (wills, deeds, marriage bonds, and birth and death records) lay in Court Houses that have burned in many counties in North Carolina, as in other states. All the early records of Branch County, Michigan, where the Wilson family eventually settled, were lost to fire. Many federal records including most of the original 1890 Census Records were burned. I have been told that a trunk full of Virgil Angelo Wilson's correspondence was not claimed by the family and was burned. Doctor Wilson records in his Journal that he spent many days writing. One wonders what happened to the large volume of writing that he must have generated. It has even been told that the Journal itself was snatched from a pile of trash to be burned when the home of an elderly relative was being broken up. By such slender turns of events, Fate chooses the records that will survive.
Each useful bit of information is an exciting discovery. It comes in may forms and usually in bits and pieces from many different sources. Each bit adds its dimension to the whole. A cherished picture of a relative of long ago preserves for us an image frozen in a moment of that life, but it alone helps very little in knowing the whole person. Official records of vital relationships, as important as they are in documenting the past, provide skeletal structure and very little flesh and blood feeling of the life. When we are fortunate enough, however, to have available diaries, letters, or journals such as the one written over a hundred and sixty years ago, we are able to pierce the veil of time and achieve the fullest and clearest understanding of past lives and events. As we read the entries in such documents, the words assume vitality and immediacy. We meet the man. We enter his world.
A diarist is very different from any other writer. Very seldom does he anticipate publication; therefore, the writing is spontaneous, unedited, unrefined. His thoughts flow in a torrent of words. He does write of people and events, but his observations are directly influenced by his own biases and moods. He sometimes uses his journal as a catharsis and pours out his feelings of despair or frustration, joy or self-satisfaction. Thus we are allowed to become acquainted with Dr. Wilson probably more intimately than any of his contemporaries. He is no longer a frozen image or a statistic, but a breathing personality.