It has been 50 years since Nancy Milton has shared her thoughts and feelings with loved ones. Milton died at 19 from a brain tumor in 1970, leaving behind only a journal written in a dead German language.
Recently, thanks to sleuthing and a little help, Bay Village resident Janice Blanton has “heard” her sister’s voice.
“Life is like a mist; you can’t grab it or hold it. When it’s over it’s supposed to be gone forever,” said Blanton, 65. “I believe loved ones can live on through us and that’s why I’m translating this journal.”
The retired emergency department nurse began deciphering her sister’s journals in 2008 after a series of dreams compelled her to do so. She wanted to better understand who her sister was.
Her biggest obstacle was finding someone who could interpret the shorthand known as Sutterlin, now considered a dead form of the German handwriting. Milton studied at Cleveland State University to become a psychiatric social worker with plans to work in Germany, so she studied the language for seven years.
It took Blanton nearly 10 years to decipher the shorthand that used a mix of different markings to represent letters and words. On her dining room table, a collage of papers and photos lay next to four thick binders of notes breaking down each page of the journal.
She tried to have the writings translated from a slew of German speakers, even contacting Baldwin Wallace University's German department for help. However, each time she handed the binders off, she would get them back with no progress made.
That is until she met Kay Haneline, an 82-year-old retired secretary, while studying sign language at Westlake Porter Public Library last year. Haneline, a German native, offered to translate the journal for free.
“This is my good deed. You’ve been through enough in your life and I want to help you out,” Blanton recalled her saying.
After looking at it for just a few weeks, Haneline deciphered more than half of the journal. Through this, Blanton learned about her sister’s obsession with rock music and her travels to Rocky River and Put-in-Bay.
Blanton was adopted when she was 5 by her Uncle Harold and Aunt Jane Milton after her mother died of leukemia. Their daughter, Nancy, welcomed Blanton with open arms, emptying out two drawers of her dresser so that Blanton had somewhere to store her belongings.
“She was my greatest role model,” Blanton said while trying to fight back tears.
In 2017, Blanton published nine books written by her uncle, a former upholsterer for White Motor Co. The books covered a wide range of themes, including ginseng hunting in the hills of West Virginia and an explainer on religion. She discovered them in 2000 and published them to honor him.
But Blanton has no plans to publish her sister’s journal. Instead, she will keep it for her personal use whenever she misses her sister.
“My time with Nancy is frozen in time,” Blanton said. “She keeps knocking on my mind. I want to inspire others to not let these things lay around and to preserve their history no matter what.”
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