Family Digs Up Old Grave to Find Family Bible and Claim Fortune

Over the past 50 years I have heard of many ways to source and document our ancestors.

Genealogists will “dig up” all types of sources but the solution that the Phillips family used has to be the most unusual.

I recently came across this, the most unusual genealogy sourcing story I have ever heard of. I found it in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 April 1891, page 1.

Records Found in a Tomb newspaper article from the Plain Dealer 15 April 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 April 1891, page 1

In 1891 the Phillips literally dug up their Family Bible that had been buried in the grave of a niece 25 years earlier.

This unusual story begins with Isaac Phillips (1766-1834), who was born in Easton, Massachusetts. He left his hometown in 1813 and moved to the South where he was “engaged in the slave trade and accumulated an enormous fortune.”  He kept his money—over $5 million at the time—at the Manhattan Bank of New York.

Isaac died in 1834, “his wife and only child having previously died.” For the next 70 years his relatives tried to prove their right to the fortune Isaac left behind. They had a lot of difficulty in tracking and documenting their genealogy and finally determined that the Family Bible had the answers.

But there was a problem: the Family Bible was buried in a cemetery. It seems that it was buried in the casket along with Isaac’s niece Susana Phillips, who died 4 June 1866.

The money was still safely in the bank, accumulating interest all the while. It was now worth more than $6 million—so the family secured permission to exhume Susana’s body and remove the Family Bible.

When they opened the grave the Family Bible was found and, although a little decayed, the family historyrecord [was] still perfectly legible” and gave them the information they needed to prove their genealogical connection and claim the family fortune.

Moral of the story: Keep an accurate and complete family history and preserve your documentation, like Family Bibles, that prove the record.

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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6 thoughts on “Family Digs Up Old Grave to Find Family Bible and Claim Fortune

  1. I'd agree that it was pretty sad to disturb the dead for money, but we are talking 6 million here! Not something I would want the state to finally claim if you couldn't prove your family connection. On a side note…why bury a bible with family information and sentimental value in the first place?

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