Two Rockford women say old diary inspires them to track down author’s surviving relatives

Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 9:04 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - A long lost diary waiting nearly a century to be rediscovered could find its way back home, after two Rockford women team up to track down the author’s surviving relatives.

While rifling through the drawers of her late father-in-law’s filing cabinet, something caught Melanie Sparacino’s eye.

“Underneath a bunch of papers in the back tucked away, is this nifty little five year diary,” Sparacino said.

That diary dates back to Christmas 1932. From what Sparacino could make out from the faded, cursive handwriting, the journal belonged to a young woman named June Baber. She was 14-years-old and a student at Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School in Rockford.

“Reading through it, I asked my husband who it could’ve been,” said Sparacino. “Like an old family member or something, and he was totally clueless.”

On a whim, Sparacino logged onto the Nextdoor app, hoping to find a key to unlock the mystery of this woman. Instead, she found a community of amateur sleuths, who opened doors she didn’t even know were there.

“I said, hey, I found a 1930 era diary and was wondering where I could go from there to locate the descendants,” Sparacino said. “I got quite a few comments.”

The post immediately caught the attention of Marsha Hosfeld, who sits on the board of the Winnebago and Boone County Genealogical Society.

“Well, anything that has to do with genealogy or tracking people down is interesting to me,” Hosfeld said. “I had the time at that point, so I thought, I’m going to follow up on this.”

The women’s searches on Ancestry, GenealogyBank and old newspaper articles shed some light on June’s life.

“And then when I started looking at the newspaper, I found the obituaries. It’s kind of a sad story,” said Hosfeld.

Mary Jane June Baber, known as June to everyone she knew, was an only child, born in 1917 to Thomas and Margaret Baber. She never married or had children. June died at age 59, sick and alone in her home on North Church Street. Her obituary said she was dead for several days until someone found her body.

“And I was just looking through things in the diary, and it’s really sad, because it says she likes this boy, but he said this, and maybe it’s because she’s too heavy or too shy,” Hosfeld said.

June’s Father, Thomas, moved to Rockford from Virginia in 1908 to pursue work as an optician. That’s when he met Margaret. The couple got married in 1916, and gave birth to June the following year.

“And then came the 1918 influenza epidemic, and both of her parents were ill,” said Hosfeld.

Thomas died that year from complications of the flu. He was only 34-years-old.

“They didn’t tell her mother immediately, because they thought she was too weak to handle the shock,” Hosfeld said. “Her mother did recover.”

June tried to shake the tragedies of her past. She worked as an Assistant Buyer for Rockford-based Weise’s Department Store, and tried to find the fun in life.

“I did see some article about the group she belonged to that might’ve been women she worked with at Weise’s, or other women that she knew who were single and they would have parties,” Hosfeld said.

Now that the women know more about June, they’ve added one more leg to their journey. A quest to find her relatives, and to place this piece of the past into the hands of the future.

“You’re nothing without the people before you,” Sparacino said.

“When you have something like this that’s a piece of a person’s history, you want to see it find a good home,” said Hosfeld.

Both women continue checking into leads on some of June’s surviving relatives, with possible descendants living as close as Rockford, and others as far as California. They’re waiting to hear back on social media. If they respond, 23 News hopes to speak with the family about their reactions.