The Joseph Travis diary and account book contains 105 pages of brief, usually one-line diary entries, covering January 1, 1853-December 31, 1861, and 35 pages of financial transactions for the same period. In the diary, he primarily documented the work that he performed for others, including painting and paint-making, wallpapering, and woodworking. He also recorded his visits to friends and clients, his church attendance (including occasional references to particular preachers), and political rallies and events. Beginning in 1860, Travis wrote somewhat longer entries, and occasionally noted his support of Stephen Douglas, and his attendance at temperance meetings and pro-Douglas political rallies. He also commented on a Confederate sympathizer in Illinois (May 26, 1861) and the high spirits of soldiers leaving for war in Chicago (August 9, 1861). By the end of the diary in December 1861, Travis had not enlisted in the war.
In the back of the book are two sections of accounts, one incoming, and the other outgoing. These provide further insight into Travis' work, including the prices of various services, the supplies he used, and his movements around Illinois