Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Homeward Bound Bible

A.K.A. Family Bibles in Crisis....

About a year ago my Aunt contacted me concerning a recent trip she had made to Columbus Ohio. She had been visiting with a cousin of ours from my Grandfather's side of the family. This was one of those "many times removed" types of cousins as they were from one of my Great Grandfather's siblings' branches - you know, one that makes you cross your eyes when you try to figure out the relational designation. Despite the relatively distant nature, this cousin had remained close to my Grandfather over the years, and therefore somewhat close to our family. While visiting with this cousin, they informed her that the Family Bible in their possession needed to find a new home as their closer family members did not express any interest in maintaining this family gem. So, Aunt Becky was glad to take it, knowing she had a family history nut (niece) in our branch, or as they like to call me, keeper of the family stuff.

To make the transfer of this newly acquired hot family contraband, we chose an inconspicuous place, where no one would suspect transfer of valuable family heirlooms: The Graeter's Ice Cream parlor on Colerain Ave! It was quite the scene, as all of us were very excited about the ice cream, and yet I was trying not to get excited about the Bible until everyone was finished with the creamy sugary goodness on their hands. There was another reason I was excited.....

I had been told that this was Madison Daniels' Bible. He happened to be my Great Great Grandfather and Civil War Veteran from Gallia County Ohio. Under normal circumstances, this would excite any history buff, but this Bible had been "missing" from the family ranks for years. In fact, my Father had been given the Family entries or pages from a similar Family Bible, also from the Madison Daniels branch, many years ago. You can see this previous post to read the pages given to us from another side branch as represented by Great Aunt Mattie Daniels Townsend.

The pages passed to my father consisted of 4 pages of Family entries - beginning with Madison's parents -  plus the title pages and publication information from a large Bible - published in 1879. When I was about to receive "Madison's" Bible at Graeter's, I was intrigued, thinking it impossible for this to be the Bible that the loose pages came from. I was thinking it might have been a smaller personal Bible that came from Madison later in life as I had seen that occur with both sets of my Grandparents.

To my surprise, the Bible brought to me that night in Graeter's was the correct size to be the missing Bible. Appropriately, it was missing its Family record pages and its publication pages - this had to be it! To confirm this theory, there was one hand written entry in a leftover blank page at the front that read "Madison Daniels & Family, May 1st, 1879, compliments of N.B. Sisson." To have that entry with the date of receipt that matched the date of publication meant a slam dunk......

......and then I started reviewing the entries from the family pages. While the publication pages fit perfectly within the binding, the family pages seemed shorter and of a different paper consistency. I also noticed that the family entries only covered Madison's family, from his parents, grandparents and siblings. Since Madison had been married for over ten years by the time he had received the Bible, it was odd that the entries did not include his new family unit. I finally came to the conclusion that the four Bible pages that detailed the family history of one side of the family, had come from an entirely different and still "missing" Bible.

The pages outlining family members' births, deaths, and marriages included events as early as 1804 and concluded with the death of one of the ten children born to John and Delilah Daniels in 1845. There were no entries near the 1879 date of the full Bible I received. Sadly, this tells me that there is still a "missing", and perhaps "lost" Family Bible that had been owned by John and Delilah (Estle) Daniels.

Not an Uncommon Occurrence:

Sadly, this is not a unique story. There are many Family Bibles in precarious or discarded states. Just think about how many of these Bibles are for sale within antique stores or online. With all of the many family heirlooms passed down, it seems as though the Family Bible does not rank among the most valuable of items when viewing things in comparison. Why would this trend take hold within families? I have a couple of theories.

First: The size of many of these Bibles is just not practical. The large, Victorian style Bibles were meant to be a focal point somewhere in the house. They were not only central displays of a family's connection to religion and Church membership (many were presented as gifts to members on a special occasion, or from a local Church neighbor/friend.), but they also became a place to openly preserve precious pieces of family ephemera. (The Bible I received at Graeter's that night also included locks of hair and little sentimental paper tidbits from Madison, his children and even his parents) Our 20th/21st century families have changed considerably. This tradition of prominently displaying a giant Bible full of precious family mementos has faded to almost non-existence. Plus, the rate of family ephemera production has increased a thousand fold - which requires we file or box things away - too numerous for the pages of a Bible.

Second: While many of us are still faithful Church goers, or dedicated to a religious walk, many of us are not. The family unit has continued some traditions, and discarded others. As the faith of America has declined over the years, so too has our value of those family heirlooms that reflect or represent the deep faithful history of our ancestors. For many who have decided that religion is not something they want to incorporate into their own lives, they can sometimes fall into the trap of losing respect for those things that held religious importance in the lives of their ancestors.

This is a trend that I think has become a great tragedy. Despite any current personal believe system or perceived "evolution" from the pitfalls of religious belief, these belief systems were highly important to our ancestors and should be valued as a part of their existence. I am very opposed to religiously censoring our ancestors or historical figures. Despite what we may think today, we must include their religious beliefs in our Family Histories, or we cannot truly understand the motivation behind many life decisions that shaped their history.

Then there is the combination of both theories into the biggest reason behind the Family Bibles in crisis: APATHY. The darned things are so big and cumbersome, almost impossible to store or easily pass on to future descendants. Which has meant an influx of donations to local historical societies or archives. While the intent behind such a donation is admirable, just think about what happens when those institutions try to store these precious, but giant, family heirlooms. Despite the overall impressions, institutions are strapped for space as well. You think it's hard to find a space in your house for your Family Bible - try housing hundreds of them. To compensate for this storage issue, many institutions are removing the family specific pages/entries and storing those in files, only to destroy or give back the Bible itself due to space crunches. (Of course there are exceptions if the Bible itself is a historically significant one based on publication specifics or dispersal of information throughout)

Tan TrueCore FlipTop Document Box, Letter StyleSolution to this problem? Please reconsider the value of the Family Bible - yes, the awkward giant one. These giant reminders of a giant faith are getting older and older with each decade that passes. Some are even getting ready to pass into the 200 year age range. So, how does one keep it and preserve it properly? Easy peasy, just get one half cubic foot archival storage box, wrap the Bible in acid free/archival tissue paper and place it in the box, spine side down. The box can then be stored standing up or lying down in a part of the house that has even temperatures - no attics or basements. In the grand scheme of household storage and our thousands of chotchkies we always seem to make room for, please make a little room for a priceless family heirloom that will someday speak volumes about the religious freedom enjoyed by Americans - both early and later generations.

BTW, this post does not just apply to Family Bibles. Any religious artifact handed down in the family should be revered and properly stored for future generations - even if it only plays the role of a multi-generational conversation starter! Don't forget - the printed book is fading as we download more and more titles. Just think about the impact on younger generations 30 years from now when you go to the closet and pull out a GIANT printed Bible! History hooks at work!
Vaya con Dios, folks!



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