Dear Diary: Looking for Dorothy Richmond

Did you know Dorothy Richmond? Born in 1927 and died in 2011, she lived in Blackpool and likely never married. American actor Kendal Brenneman runs The Lost Diary Project and calls on locals to help her return Dorothy’s home.

Dorothy May Richmond was born in 1927 and lived on Rosebery Ave in South Shore. In post-war Blackpool, teenage Dorothy dreamed of travel and owning her own home, if only she could stop spending the small income she earned from her work as a book keeper.

Kendal Brenneman tried to reunite diaries with their owner’s families

Kendal Brenneman doesn’t know if Dorothy ever got to hire a caravan or buy a sailing boat. All she has is a snapshot of her life, in the form of a diary written in 1943, and scraps of research that have revealed that Dorothy likely never married and died in 2011 in a care home in Lytham.

Determined to return the diary to Dorothy’s family, Brenneman, an American-born actor who runs The Lost Diary Project, tells us how she came into position of Dorothy’s diary and calls on anyone who may have known her to come forward with information.

Tell us a bit about you and how you came to find and research old diaries?

Back at the beginning of the pandemic, I somehow stumbled upon a girl on YouTube reading out of a Victorian diary. As someone who loves history and keeps a diary, I found this intriguing. I’d never thought of looking for old diaries before. So I went to eBay and bought two. I got lucky, as they weren’t very expensive and they had a lot of writing in them. I read through both. One had a name on it, the other did not. So I had to look for clues in the diary to figure out who she was. I just kept going with the research, and after reading it aloud on YouTube, other people also pitched in, and eventually I even ended up with a photo of her, and the addresses of the homes she lived in.

When I started researching the name on the other diary, I quickly found someone I believed to be a relative of the writer. I decided the right thing to do would be to contact them and soon mailed the diary back to them. They had no idea it existed, but we were all excited, because they had the photo album that went along with this travel diary! I decided at that point that this would become my goal – to reunite the diaries with their families.

How did you come across Dorothy’s diaries?

I didn’t actually buy Dorothy’s diaries! I had purchased a set of other diaries from someone in England, and I suppose as a little bonus, he sent along Dorothy’s as well.

What do the diaries contain?

Dorothy seemed to be a bit of a dreamer. She was always looking towards the future and making plans for the war’s end. She wrote frequently about what her dream house would be like, or how she wanted to travel all over England, buy a boat and sail around in it, or have a caravan complete with a horse (and of course, how she would decorate that). She writes about having to find a job, and learning shorthand and book-keeping. She updates us frequently on how much money she’s managed to save towards her travels, but laments about her spending habits.

What are the facts we know about Dorothy that might spark recognition in readers?

Well here is some of what I know so far. Dorothy was born to Bertha Hindle and John R Richmond on May 12 1927. Her father passed away in 1946, sadly. Their address in 1943 was 26 Rosebery Ave, Blackpool. She had a Grandma Edmondson, a Grandma Margaret Hindle, and someone she called Aunt Emma, who I believe was Margaret Hindle’s sister. She had an Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Hilda with a daughter named Doreen Mary Hindle who was born in 1930 and later married a John B Walker. She had an Uncle Henry and Aunt Jane living in Burnley, and a relative of some nature named Dora Royle who lived with them but who was from Altrincham. Dorothy herself seems to have never married, and passed away in 2011 in a care home in Lytham.

What would you like to find?

I would love to find a relative of Dorothy’s who would cherish these diaries and bring them back to the family, and I would really like to hear about the rest of Dorothy’s life, and whether or not she made any of her dreams come true.

Saturday 2nd October 1943: Dorothy describes going to town to see Random Harvest at the pictures. She thoroughly enjoyed it but the “glaringly obviously false” scenery spoiled it. Still, she writes, she loves actor Greer Garson. The following day was too windy to go out and Dorothy had a “thoroughly lazy day” before contemplating making “mummy a raffia work basket for Christmas”.
Have you had much success with other diary research projects?

It’s gone pretty slow with researching the genealogy on each of them, but I’ve managed to return three diaries so far, out of the dozen or so that I’ve read. I have so many now that I have to keep a good weekly schedule of the readings I post in my BuyMeACoffee page, so I end up researching more than one at a time. Some are easier than others. As for the successful ones – one of the first diaries I bought fortunately had the man’s name on the cover, and I found his nephews. He had gone on to become a priest, and so, naturally, had no children. The second set of diaries to find their way home belonged to a young girl in Colorado between 1917-1919. I bought those because I wanted to see what her life was like during the Spanish Flu. She did bring it up several times, along with the war. Those diaries had gotten into the wrong boxes when she passed away, and ended up being sold at auction. Now they are home again. And the third diary belonged to a young girl named Twila in 1946 Idaho. During my research, I had a difficult time because her name wasn’t showing up on Ancestry. I eventually suspected that she might still be alive.

I mailed the diary as quickly as I could, but found out soon after that she had actually passed away on the day I sent it.

I found addresses, phone numbers and emails, and I tried writing some letters and sending emails, though I didn’t try calling. Phone calls make me feel anxious and feel more intrusive, I always fumble when I’m on the phone so I put that off. I reached out to someone running a family tree on Ancestry a year or so ago but didn’t get a response. This summer, when my current subscription was ending, I decided to try again, and this time her son-in-law responded. He said the diary was most likely stolen in a burglary over 20 years ago, and that Twila was still alive, but going into hospice. I mailed the diary as quickly as I could, but found out soon after that she had actually passed away on the day I sent it. I still kick myself for not trying harder to return that one sooner.

I immediately went to my drawer and pulled out the most recent diaries to do some quick research, in case anyone else might still be alive, so those diaries would be prioritised (there weren’t any). I’m very happy at least that the diary did find its way back to the family. I am honoured to be able to facilitate these returns. When I look at any diary, I don’t see it as my own property, really. I’m just the caretaker, the guardian, the escort.

Do you keep diaries, and do you ever wonder what might become of them If so?

I do, and I hadn’t really thought about it until recently. I kept them for myself to read later in life, because I always knew my memory was faulty and I’d need reminders of the events of my life. I got a bit lax at some point, and frequently use it more as a way to express frustrations rather than the day’s events, but I’ve gotten more on track these days, thanks to an idea I got from one of my favourite diarists, which is to keep a notebook for quick notes about each day to jog my memory later when I sit down to write. But my diaries are a mess compared to some I’ve read. I don’t make the effort to tell stories or be overly descriptive, the way one would if you were writing for an audience. I don’t have children so I don’t have anyone to pass them on to, so I really don’t know what my plan is. I don’t particularly want them read publicly, at least for a couple of decades. But I recognise the value of diaries and also don’t want them to be lost or destroyed. It’s something I still need to figure out!

If you think you can help Kendal Brenneman with information about the Dorothy Richmond, please email us a [email protected] or message us via social media. And if you are in possession of any historical diaries relating to Blackpool we’d love to hear more about them.

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    Antonia Charlesworth Stack is a journalist and editor from Blackpool. She was deputy editor of Big Issue North magazine and is editor of Blackpool Social Club. Antonia is also the founder of Reclaim Blackpool, a women's safety campaign that began life as an article she wrote for Blackpool Social Club. She's a contributing author to the Lancashire Stories anthology with her story about a Blackpool performer, The Call of The Sea. The book is available for free in libraries across the county.

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