Guide to the Joseph Skirm Journals Collection (1858-1911)

Overview +


Collection Number



This collection was assembled by Joseph Skirm circa 1858 – 1911.  It was donated to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History by Fred MacCarty in 1978.


Number of Containers:  Four (4) Box
Linear Feet:  2 Linear Feet


Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Archives
705 Front Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060


This collection consists of fifteen (15) journals handwritten by Santa Cruz County litigator Joseph H. Skirm. The contents of the journals include notes and observations on the temperature and nature of the daily weather, notes on cases and fees paid for legal services, notes about daily events such as planting crops on his household farm, and expenditures for his household.  The journals are handwritten in ink on lined paper, and are hard-cover. Most of the journals have attractive marbled ink covers in various colors.


The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz, CA

Preferred Citation

The Joseph Skirm Collection, The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz, CA

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the head of Archives at MAH.  Researchers may be responsible for obtaining copyright permission to use material not produced by museum personnel.

Process By

Renata McRee

Date Completed


Scope +

This series consists of Joseph H. Skirm’s handwritten journals. Subjects of the journals include notes on Legal Services and fees paid, his observations on the weather, and notes on household expenditures and Skirm’s account balance.

History +

Joseph H. Skirm was born in New Jersey in 1832.  Though said to be eccentric at times, Skirm was an intelligent man, learning five languages well enough to be fluent. He is also said to have been deeply interested in classical literature, of which he was often immersed in during his days as schoolteacher in Soquel (S.C. Sentinel 1975). During his period as schoolteacher, Skirm became interested in the practice of law.  His interest in law eventually led to a career, and Joseph Skirm was elected to serve as district attorney of Santa Cruz County. Skirm served as district attorney for two more terms, in the years 1858 and 1859, respectfully. In 1879, Skirm was nominated as a candidate for Superior Judge of Santa Cruz County (Source: S.C. Sentinel 1912). He is said to have been a brilliant, yet slightly eccentric litigator. His concern for the less fortunate folks whom sought his services were displayed through his dismissal of payment for legal services from such folk who sought his assistance in the seemingly ever-open door of his office on Front Street (Source: S.C. Sentinel 10/19/1975 and S.C. Morning Sentinel 2/18/1912). His genial, yet eccentric nature is best exhibited by two instances that occurred during his lifetime, and continued to astound in stories told even after his death (S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912, and S.C. Sentinel 1975). One instance concerns a mouse that Skirm kept in his office and allowed to share his lunch. The other is more romantic, concerning the firing of a bullet by Skirm at the suitor of a woman whom Skirm was enamored of (S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912). The young woman, the 18-year old, Mary Berger, was being wooed by John Elliot Jr. Skirm, not content with the competition for the lady’s affection,  fired a gun at Elliot, whom managed to escape, the bullet instead lodging in the side of the “Flatiron” building of downtown Santa Cruz. This bullet could be seen there until the 1989 earthquake (Source: S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912 and Marla Novo).  Joseph Skirm married Mary Berger shortly after.  He and Mary Berger had several children. Skirm’s productive life as litigator ended when he fell ill with pneumonia, and passed away a couple of week after his wife, Mary Berger. Joseph Skirm had many descendants and his estate fell to three of his children. His descendants included Harry, George, Mary Elizabeth and Charles Skirm, Mrs. C.B. Westover, and Mrs. P.M. MacCarty. He was preceded in death by his sons James and Joseph Skirm (S.C. Morning Sentinel 1912). Joseph H. Skirm is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz County along with his wife, in plot # 218 (Source: Evergreen Files, Joseph H. Skirm).

Contents +


Eight (8) Journals

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series consists of Joseph Skirm’s journals that contain notes of services rendered and payment received for legal services, deed drawn, receipts sent, and mortgages, among other services. The journals are labeled either “Legal Services” or “Legal Notes” and span a date range of 1858-1911.  Some excerpts include “Studied Clark’s case and drew up notice of examining him as a witness, and copy, and saw case discontinued [July 10th 1862],” and “Drew up and filed resignation of Josefa (illegible) of her guardianship of her husband Nicholas Dodero and drew Court order allowing such resignation [1862]”, “Received from Wilhelmina Harmon administration of the Estate of Oscar R. Harmon, deceased, two hundred dollars…[1901]”.

Box ID#: Folder ID#

Box 1:  5 Journals “1858-1894”
Box 2: 3 Journals “1901-1911”


Three (3) Journals

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series consists of three (3) journals labeled “Weather Journal”. Journal 1 spans the date range of 1876-1886, Journal 2 1886-1889, and Journal 3 1907-1911.  These journals contain Joseph Skirm’s observations about the weather. In them, he records the temperature, and the events he and his family did that day. Some examples include: “March 14—This morning 38◦. Yesterday opened with rain and clouds, cleared about ten o’clock with a north wind, and after that the day was pleasant”. Another excerpt: “March 21. This morning 52◦. Yesterday pleasant and warm. I worked a little in flower garden yesterday morning, and in the afternoon went with Joseph and James to farm, where I washed several trees, not well washed before, and the boys dug around some trees in new orchard, and Joseph killed a large gopher. The sun rose clear in this morning, but now sometime before seven o’clock a fog is coming in.” (From 1876-1886).  Another: “April 5th 1887.  This morning 46◦ fully and clear. The fog cleared early, yesterday and day warm and pleasant. The boys planted corn and peas yesterday before and after school. This day warm and pleasant. On Sunday afternoon last April 3, a heifer calf was born to Cherry”.

Box ID#: Journal ID#

2: 1 Journal
3: 2 and 3 Journals


Three (3) Journals

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series consists of three Journals labeled “Household Journal” or “Household and Weather Journal”. Journal 1 spans the date ranges of 1869-1876, Journal 2 1890-1898, and Journal 3 1898-1906.  The contents of these journals include money spent on food by Joseph Skirm for his household and other items such as medicine and “books for the children”, as well as professional and personal calls made by acquaintances, and money paid by clients for rent, loans paid, and balances of his account, and upkeep of his house. Some excerpts/examples include: “January 7th Santa Cruz 1869. Spent for oysters $.37 ½ Medicine $.75. Candy $.25. Balance on hand $514.12 ½ . Dr. Peabody made professional visit to children. House finished by masons downstairs this afternoon: and man commenced cleaning house for painters today” (From Journal 1). “Household and Weather Journals” contain observations about the temperature and sate of the day, as well as events done that day. There are some mathematical calculations on the front and reverse covers of Journal 2 as well as some personal notes such as “Lizzie and Annie went to a matinee today—Sept. 15. 1894” and “May is curling her hair today—Feb. 11”. There is also a receipt dated 12/24/1924 from Wood, Coal and Hay, Etc. The signature is illegible and it is unclear whom the receipt belongs to. Journal 3 contains mainly weather observations and notes on the plantings of crops and flowers, the temperature, wind, and time spent by Skirm in his office.

Box ID#: Folder ID#

Box 3


One (1) Journal

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series consists of a single leather bound record book.  This record book refers to Santa Cruz Pioneers including the Isaac Graham estate, William Moore, George Otto, Henry Cowell, John Porter, Hiram Imus, and others.  The date range for this record book is 1 November 1866 to 11 December 1876.

Box ID#: Folder ID#

Box 4