The bulk of the collection consists of eight volumes of McFarland's diaries (1909-1934) which generally provide daily entries chronicling the day-to-day routine for himself and his family. Although McFarland's routine remained relatively constant over the years, the most noticeable change arose from the development of his importance in the mission hierarchy and his change of roles from itinerant preacher to administrator/educator. Typical entries concern Bible study, study of Arabic and Turkish, preparation and delivery of sermons, leadership of Sunday schools, teacher conferences, mission school classes, church services and sacraments, mediation of quarrels and payroll problems, charitable activities, preparation of budgets, and oversight of building renovations and mission workers.
The early diaries describe pre-World War I massacres of local Christians, primarily Armenian and Greek, in Cicilia, Syria (April-May 1909); subsequent Armenian refugee movements; and efforts of the Latakia mission to shelter refugees (1909). McFarland's diaries document local Fellahin (peasant) ceremonies and Moslem feast days (July 1909) and discuss local agriculture, trade, and food. Mention is made of the number of workmen used for building projects (1914, 1924), time to completion, and salary per each job. Views of the buildings and architecture of the missions, as well as depictions of the native inhabitants in their local dress, are found in the collection's photographs.
Also included in McFarland's papers is a 1921 reminiscence collection by another missionary, Miss Margaret "Maggie" Edgar, in which there is a long description of the Latakia mission and the plight of the Armenians. Miss Edgar's writing provides in-depth sketches of native religious beliefs and customs, family life, and the treatment of women.
World War I is a prominent diary topic and McFarland wrote vivid commentary on the social, economic, political, and military situations in the area from Mersin, Turkey, before, during, and after the war. Subjects addressed were war rumors and their validity; eyewitness accounts of military activity in the Ottoman Empire; battles and ship bombardments (January 1915); aerial bombings (December 1914 on); and troop mobilizations (August 1914 on). The development and course of the war in Turkey was shown from the point of the evacuation of the "belligerents" from the country: the British and French (October 1914) and then the Americans, including all mission personnel except adult males (April 1917). McFarland noted the renewed persecution of Armenians (July 1915) and their subsequent expulsion from Turkey (August 1916 on). Further details in the diaries include threats of arrest for espionage for doing relief work (December 1917); arrest and execution after military conscription (May 1915, October 1917); curtailment of mission activities by the local government through confiscation of goods and property (June 1915), and by the use of a mission building (January 1918) as a military hospital. Also noted were the censorship of communication (December 1914) and the eventual halting of it (1918); scarcity of food and goods; inflation and devaluation of the currency; and restrictions on feeding and clothing beggars coming to the mission (December 1917). The diaries also include the local reaction to the war's end and demobilization (November 1918); British military presence and the movement of British prisoners-of-war (November-December 1918); charitable efforts of the Red Cross, YMCA, and missions (1918-1919); and changes in local politics as the Ottoman Empire crumbled (1918-1924).
The diaries also provide information about missionary social life, and frequent mention was made of the observation of American holidays, teas, luncheons, picnics, dinners, tourist excursions, musical gatherings, and tennis and croquet matches. Prior to the war, strong social ties with British and German residents were noted, particularly those in the diplomatic, missionary, and medical professions. After the war, ties with the French were mentioned, but appear to be concerned more with formal gatherings.
McFarland's writings present a limited view of mission family life. Included in the topics he discussed were the role of women within the family structure; interaction with his daughter (1909-1917) and a description of her education and the role he and other missionaries played in it; and his wife's activities as a nurse (January 1914), her primary activities of account-keeping, preparation of quarterly financial reports, management of the employee payroll, teaching at the mission school, and leading prayer meetings.
Travel commentary in the diaries provides descriptions of frequent destinations such as Jenderea and Kissak in the province of Iiel, Syria, and Adana and Tarsus in Turkey. McFarland's daughter attended school in Beirut, Lebanon, and he visited there frequently, often noting the road conditions. McFarland's other destinations included Jerusalem (July 1911, April 1929), Egypt (August 1912), Greece (September 1912), and Italy while en route to the United States on furlough (1911-1912, 1920-1921, 1930-1932). Early accounts of travel by horse include details about the physical hardships endured during these trips. The introduction of the automobile (1920s), with its associated accident problems and repair difficulties, was also discussed. Travel by sea and train provides detail about quarantines of ports (September 1912), reliability of schedules, difficulty of obtaining visas and passports from local bureaucracies, sea conditions, and entertainment aboard ship (September 1911, February 1920, May 1930).
Medical topics frequently discussed include health problems suffered by missionaries such as fever; diarrhea; disease prevention; incidence of illnesses such as smallpox, typhoid, cholera, and measles (1913, 1917, and 1929); and practices of quarantines and immunizations (April 1913). Dental care was a particular problem and many visits to American dentists while on furlough were noted. An account of Mrs. McFarland's suffering a stroke in 1932 and her slow recovery (1932-1934) was traced as well.
Miscellaneous materials include a list of the contents of Margaret Edgar's house after her murder in 1932; a pocket New Testament in Arabic; financial information and an expense book (1932-1938); diplomas and biographical information; family and mission photographs; post cards from Europe and the Far East; a nursing commencement address (1896); and a 1935 map of Nassau County, New York.