To make history, write it down like Roger Ward

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published August 10, 2005 in The Suburban Life, added August 12, 2018.

Roger Ward reads from a Civil War era diary and journal written by John Walters.


If you ever have an urge to preserve your family’s history, you’d do well to take a lesson from Roger Ward.

Roger, a fifth-generation member of a well-known Madeira family, is the youngest son of Russell Ward, one of Madeira’s most revered and respected former police officers.

At a recent Madeira Historical Society meeting, Roger presented a program about his family, and he brought artifacts ranging from ornately framed photographs to love letters and a family diary.

He presented a slide show of old family photographs that he has put together.  Many of these are some of his favorite relatives – Roger’s great-uncle Wilbur Kennedy, his wife, Nellie, and their daughter Evelyn, the oldest of their three children.

The Kennedys lived on a farm in Blue Ash.  The Wards would often go there to visit, and Roger has many pictures of the old farm.  He remembers that Wilbur would not be disturbed on Sunday for anything, except a baseball game.

Roger brought and read aloud from love letters that Wilbur had written to Nellie, which have been carefully preserved.

Evelyn Kennedy, their daughter, was both brainy and beautiful, Roger said.  She graduated with degrees from Johns Hopkins and M.I.T. and received a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati.  During World War II, she developed an invention, a Radio Proximity Fuse, which was important to the war effort.  It allowed bombs to explode before contact with the ground.  After the war, she received a citation for this.

She wrote two textbooks on surveying and then went back to New York where she became an actress and had a successful acting career.

The highlight of the evening, by far, was a Civil War vintage diary from which Roger read aloud.  The journal was written by John Watson, who married the great-aunt of Russell Ward.  The book itself is modest looking, a book with blank, ruled pages, originally intended as a record book.  Watson started it as a record of his work and his earnings.

“Worked six days for Samuel Druce husking corn at one dollar a day,” he wrote.

He also wrote about working on the railroad.  “It’s a dog’s life.  A hurry scurry kind of work and very dangerous.”

He was obviously a hard worker and worried about making a living.  He noted days he was sick and couldn’t work.

Then he started to have fun with it and turned the book into a diary, writing about the people and daily life in Madeira, which was somewhat the way it is today.

He wrote about the school and the school board fights and about elections.  He wrote about church and about his feelings about what happened there.  He wrote about a preacher “who lacks a good bit of knowledge, and he’s too young.”

He wrote about people around town that he saw every day, describing them down to the color of their hair.  He dropped all the big names in Madeira and gave his opinion of them. “Madeira is a cranky place,” he wrote.  “When they all come in contact with one another, it’s what I call the devil to pay.”

He dated every entry.  John Watson probably didn’t realize it at the time while he was writing it, but he wrote an important history book of this town.

It’s easy to follow his example.  Just grab yourself a pencil and a notebook and start scribbling.  You, too, could produce an heirloom book that will someday be preserved and cherished, one to be read as a history of an era.