Constable: Geneva man has kept a journal for 30 years, and he's still making history

  • Adam Gibbons of Geneva has recorded his personal history in a daily journal for more than 30 years.

    Adam Gibbons of Geneva has recorded his personal history in a daily journal for more than 30 years. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A history buff who has written books on local history, 45-year-old Adam Gibbons of Geneva also has been recording his personal history in a daily journal since he was 15.

    A history buff who has written books on local history, 45-year-old Adam Gibbons of Geneva also has been recording his personal history in a daily journal since he was 15. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The entries Adam Gibbons has been making in his daily journal for 30 years range from boring to monumental.

    The entries Adam Gibbons has been making in his daily journal for 30 years range from boring to monumental. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The 30 years' worth of daily journal entries by Adam Gibbons of Geneva account for about 3.5 million words.

    The 30 years' worth of daily journal entries by Adam Gibbons of Geneva account for about 3.5 million words. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/23/2021 4:53 PM

Most of us trapped in this pandemic lifestyle can't remember what we did yesterday, let alone what we did last Sunday, or on this date last year, or on this date 30 years ago.

Adam Gibbons knows. The 45-year-old Geneva man has been keeping a daily journal of his life since 1991.

 

"I'm at somewhere in the neighborhood of 3½ million words, and counting," says Gibbons, who is on track to record his 11,000th consecutive daily entry on Feb. 12. Not that he ever set any goals for the effort.

"My mother got me the 1991 journal as a Christmas present. I had kept journals sporadically prior to that, so I thought maybe I'll write an entry and see how it goes," says Gibbons, who was 15 years old at the time. "That was January 2, 1991. The next day, I figured, I did one, might as well do two. And I got into sort of a pattern. I found it was good for the mind."

The days turned into weeks, then months, then years, then decades.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Gibbons continued documenting his life in the lined pages of the red, hardcover, bookbound Standard Diary when he went off to college at Northwestern University, where he thinks he was the only student with a major in history and a minor in physics.

Gibbons makes his living as a tutor, helping kids and adults do better in school and on standardized tests. Many people hire him for his math and science abilities, but his passion is with history. He got his master's degree in history from Wake Forest University and later met his future wife, Heidi Bartel, while they both worked at The Princeton Review.

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He remembers the first time he saw her, but if he didn't, he could always look up the journal entry he wrote on Aug. 31, 1998: "Met Heidi. She's nice and is sort of tall, with very curly blonde and brown hair. (It's dyed, I'd say.)," he wrote.

"She's never dyed her hair," Gibbons says with a laugh, noting that the summer sun gave her highlights that he wrongly attributed to a hair product. But there's no going back to correct the entry because that is what he was thinking at the time. They had their first date a couple of months later and were married in 2001. But it's probably not the first interaction between their families.

"Her ancestor and one of my ancestors happened to be on the same boat," says Gibbons, who discovered them on the 1727 passenger list for the ship "Molly," one of the vessels that helped transport German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 18th century.

Gibbons' fervor for history began with his grandmother, Helen Elizabeth Casey, who was born in 1907 in a house on Casey Road in East Amherst, New York, near Buffalo. Her grandfather, Gibbons' great-great-grandfather, Martin Raquet, fought in the Civil War. Gibbons' mother, Lois Daniel Gibbons, who started him on his journal pilgrimage, lives in Glenview.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gibbons' interest in local history has resulted in his writing books: "An Illustrated History of Campton Township, Kane County, Illinois" in two volumes, "Wasco, Illinois: A History," "The Founders and Early History of Geneva, Kane County, Illinois," and a still-in-the-works book on the history of St. Charles.

In addition to handwriting daily entries in his journal for nearly 11,000 consecutive days, Geneva historian Adam Gibbons also adds tiny drawings to help him remember the day.
In addition to handwriting daily entries in his journal for nearly 11,000 consecutive days, Geneva historian Adam Gibbons also adds tiny drawings to help him remember the day. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

His journal entries aren't meant to be published and can be pretty boring, Gibbons says. Many of his early posts were juvenile ponderings about cute girls. He creates simple drawings in a bottom corner of the page to serve as a "cue" to remind him of his mood at the time. On Jan. 6 of this year, he was so angry about the insurrection at the Capitol that he included a drawing of a U.S. flag on fire.

"I wrote it down because it's part of what happened. Part of the benefit is I don't have to censor things," Gibbons says.

His wife, an acceleration and enrichment teacher for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Geneva's Western Avenue Elementary School, doesn't feel the need to add her two cents' worth.

"I bought her a journal one year," Gibbons says. "She made it until January 13 and then petered out."

Their children, Evelyn Elizabeth Gibbons, 13, and Tobias Clarke Gibbons, 10, sometimes show an interest in the journals if they pass by their parents' bedroom as he's writing. He always writes at the end of the day in his bed, the antique full-size bed he slept in as a boy. His kids also have beds that have been in the family for decades. Even their home, the historic McKinley-Adams-Joy-Snow homestead, dates back to 1838.

Gibbons finds value in everyday history.

"I write down all significant events that occur in my life during the course of the day, including observations on significant local and national events, people with whom I've spoken, what takes place at home or on vacation, stories about family members and pets, significant weather events, birthdays and anniversaries, work-related stories, amusing anecdotes I've heard, comments on books I'm reading or movies I've seen, and more," he says.

If you read 300 words a minute for eight hours a day, it would take you five weeks to plow through Gibbons' journals. He doesn't expect anyone to do that, of course, but he does wish that he could jump back in time on some days to see what his ancestors were thinking. Future generations of his will be able to see what Gibbons was thinking -- today, 30 years ago, and probably 30 years from now.

"Some days I wanted to stop," Gibbons admits. "But I'm awfully stubborn."

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