Secrets Found In Great Grandmother’s Notebook

“In taking the measures of any person, always allow two inches extra for around the arm and two inches extra for around the hips” -Leta Grace Clark
This past summer we inherited stewardship of the Rightmeier trunk containing the relics, secrets and artifacts of the Lewis Rightmeier branch of the family tree.  One of the many precious items found was a navy blue hardbound notebook belonging to Leta Grace Clark.
She is my great grandmother on my mother’s father side of the family.  I have a faint memory of her, very faint as she died in August 1959 when I was only five years of age.  Finding this notebook. dated 1899, is a peek into the life of a young woman and the things that occupied her day to day life.
SecretsIt is not a written journal, as such, recording thoughts, desires and dreams, but rather an accounting, literally of realms of activity she was occupied with.  These were:
  • dressmaking
  • tending to chickens and the eggs they produced
  • giving piano lessons
The notebook was kept between the years of 1899 and 1901.  Her age when the notebook was started was 18 and goes until she was 20 years old.
She married on Christmas of 1902 at the age of 21, so this notebook records her occupation and earnings during the years just prior to her marriage to my great grandfather, Lewis Rightmeier.
Dressmaking Secrets Uncovered
Most of the book contains dressmaking patterns, sketched in her own hand.  There are pages with:



  • Front and back of a ladies basque (bodice)


  • Plain and high top sleeves, small sleeves
  • skirt gore panels of various sizes
  • circular skirts
  • Girl’s blouses
  • Tea gowns
  • Shirred Yokes
  • Men’s shirts
  • Various styles of collars for men and women
  • Ladies French Bias Dart fronts
  • polonaise styles
  • and yes, peplums for for the bottom of ladies waists.
She had an entire section with patterns sketched with her own measurements.  There were also measurements of several others:
  • Lizzie Clock
  • Della Leibhart
  • Edna
  • Rosie her sister
  • and her mother, Nancy Jane Rhinehart Clark, my great-great-grandmother.
Fascinated By Secrets
As I leaf through this simple notebook, I am sure my great grandmother would be surprised at my fascination.  I am fascinated with her applied skills, of both math and art.
The age of Simplicity, Butterick, Vogue and McCall’s dress making patterns which existed during Leta’s time, presided in my sewing world.  I still have some of the classic patterns, although I have not used them for some time, the markings on Leta’s sketches and those used on these pre-made patterns overlap.
How available dressmaking patterns were in rural Kansas, I do not know.  There was a cost, probably about 5 cents, but pennies were precious as one can tell by her careful accounting in the same book.
Instead, Leta took measurements, and using basic math and some sketching skills, turned them into patterns which were customized and used to make all manner of clothing.  A person with proper training could use these same “patterns today”.  So math and art came together into practical application.
A Personal Secret Found Out
SecretsThis is the real secret revealed to me from this notebook.  In the DNA realm, thoughts, tendencies, and skills are passed down.  I now know where some of my ability to put things together came from.
From sewing to airplanes, I come by the practical application of knowledge quite honestly!  The skills had to be developed, but I owe the predisposition to these things, in part, to my great grandmother Leta.
What tendencies do you owe to your ancestors?  Have you been able to trace them to anyone in particular?   Please share in the comments.


I am a former air traffic controller, pilot, Aircoupe owner, married 42 years to a great guy. We live in a 125+ year old historic Victorian, enjoy cats, vintage anything, precious friends. My passion is Giving Lost Stories A Voice – Giving Found Materials Fresh Form and Purpose!

2 thoughts on “Secrets Found In Great Grandmother’s Notebook

  1. I enjoyed hearing about this very, very much. I had no idea Leta played piano, as my mom always said it was Nancy Jane that ensured little Leona had lessons, plus gave her a piano. The timing of this is especially poignant for me as I am in the middle of other deep and sometimes painful family research. Thank you so much for this post! Pleeeese post more from that wonderful Trunk! -mj

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