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Bibles provide continuing legacies of family membersí births, deaths, marriagescomment (0)

December 7, 2006

By Carrie Brown McWhorter


In a world where birth, marriage and death records are stored in computer databases, keeping handwritten records in a family Bible may seem antiquated and old-fashioned.

Although the tradition has faded in recent generations, Elizabeth Wells believes the family Bible is a tradition worth continuing.

In today’s families, it is not uncommon for every member to have at least one Bible, and very few families start out with a family Bible for record keeping, said Wells, who works as a special collection librarian at Samford University in Birmingham.

This was not the case in the past, however. "In the old days, we didn’t have the Baptist bookstore down the street. We had one Bible at church and one Bible in the home," she said.

Through her work, Wells sees the importance these Bibles have had to families of the past.

And as the administrator of the library’s collection of family Bibles and family records, she assists those individuals who want to preserve both their family Bibles and the records contained within them.

She has seen Bibles where notations of births, deaths and marriages were made carefully in the family pages in the center of the Bible, sometimes in the same hand, other times in different handwriting.

She said it is not unusual to find locks of hair, pressed flowers, photographs and letters stored between the pages of family Bibles.

"Families today have different traditions and different ways of coming together," Wells said. "But the family Bible apparently had a very special place in the homes of the past."

Family Bibles also offer a record of the past that is important to tracing a family’s history.

Frazine Taylor, archivist for the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH), regularly works with genealogists searching for family members from the past.

Though the ADAH no longer routinely accepts donations of family Bibles, the department has many Bibles in its collection, and it continues to accept copies of the family record pages from family Bibles.

Taylor said these records provide an interesting look at family history and can provide clues about family names and important dates in the family.

"Family Bibles contain records of births, deaths and marriages, and when you start tracing family history, that’s what you are looking for at the very beginning," Taylor said. "In some cases, that listing of the siblings and who they married is the only thing people have to begin with."

Shirley McCreedy, a volunteer at the ADAH, regularly helps people search family Bible records. She recalled one instance in which a researcher was trying to find information about an ancestor known only as "John."

The researcher found a notation in a family Bible from the late 1600s that "John" had died.

"The note helped us connect the fact that there was a John in the family and that someone had taken the time to put that information in a Bible," she said.

While their professional work involves keeping historical documents, both Taylor and Wells have personal family Bibles they treasure.

Taylor, who keeps a family Bible herself, has her grandmother’s Bible, which has records of her grandmother’s father and family.

Wells has her grandfather’s Bible, which her mother said he read every day.

Wells has continued her grandfather’s tradition of daily Bible reading with her own children and believes that the time spent together treasuring the Word of God is a connection between generations.

"The family Bible was an important part of a family that loved the Lord and read the truths of the Bible," she said. "It is a reminder of (my ancestors’) spiritual tradition, which has continued in our family."

Wells believes the family Bible can be a unifying tradition in modern families because it reminds them of their connections to family as well as to the family of God.

"The treasure of the Bible, the words within it, makes the tradition of Whose we are really come alive," she said. "Perhaps that unification of the family is what we’re missing and what we can rekindle by having a family Bible."

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