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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
Southern Ties

By Paige Gardner Smith


There may be a valuable resource for discovering your family history as near as your bookshelf or attic - the family Bible. The family Bible or prayer book is an important possession among families. Not only was it a source of inspiration for many of our ancestors, but also a place to record birth, deaths, marriages, and other special events.

Most old Bibles will have a registry page in the front, between testaments, or in the back where hopefully some-one recorded the names and dates in relation to each event.

Although not all families maintained a family Bible or the records within, it's always a good idea to ask around among your relatives. If you are lucky enough to find one (or more) among your kin, it may contain information un-available from other sources. Before this century, official birth and death records were rarely kept. When you find this information in an old family Bible, you have found a treasure indeed.

As with any family record, however, your detective instincts will come in handy. If the name and dates appear to have been recorded all at once or all in the same hand-writing, this may indicate that the names and dates were copied from an earlier Bible. It may also mean they were recorded from someone's memory. If the publication date of the Bible is later than the earlier dates on the registry page, this may also show that some or all of the vents weren't recorded as they happened. Use these clues when you decide how much authenticity you lend to the names and dates recorded in these heirlooms.

Occasionally, very old Bibles contain records of significance to people not related to or descended from the Bible owner. For example, the Harrison family Bible of Franklin, Tennessee contains all the family data from the mid-nineteenth century on its registry pages. It also contains the name and age of each slave and servant in the household, plus their ages, written inside the front and back covers. This is a gold mine for many black genealogists!

Although family Bibles are often very treasured heir-looms, many times they become damaged, lost or destroyed. This results in not only the loss of the book itself, but the genealogical information as well.

To avoid the loss of these special records, several organizations collect and preserve Bible record information collected from the general population. For example, The National Genealogical Society actively solicits photocopies of Bible records to include in their archives for everyone's use. I encourage you to send you Bible records to NGS, your local historical society, or other organizations which will take an active interest in the safekeeping of your sub-mission. Although you may not intend to actively seek your roots, your children or grandchildren may one day be thrilled to find their ancestor's name and history preserved for them through your initiative.

If you would like to ensure that your own family history as recorded within the pages of your Bible is preserved, send photocopies of the registry pages and title page of the Bible, as well as a typewritten transcription of the information to: The National Genealogical Society, The Glebe House, 4627 17th St. North, Arlington, VA 22207

Return to Oct/Nov 2002 Index Page


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