Rescue Mission: 4-Step Plan for Preserving Family Bible Records

In your genealogy work, are you looking to give back to the community? Are you willing to pitch in and help preserve original family history records?

Why not help rescue old Family Bibles, by digitally scanning them and putting them online?

National and local genealogical societies, libraries, and individuals have all worked at this.

It’s time for us to do more to preserve our family records. We have all the modern tools—let’s do this.

Here is a genealogy preservation project that you can tackle yourself or accomplish as a group: a rescue effort that genealogical societies should start working on with renewed effort—today!

photo of a Family Bible

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Today’s families are often overwhelmed with caring for the accumulation of so many things gathered over a lifetime. Our elderly friends and relatives are leaving behind important family records as they downsize, move into assisted living, or pass away.

Modern families have to make quick decisions about which records and items are valuable and which can be given to Goodwill.

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Family Bibles can range from oversized, heavy tomes that are protected with large brass clasps, to slightly smaller versions—that can be nearly as heavy—and all are worn with age. Today’s families just might not be aware that these old copies of the “Good Book” likely contain more than the old gospel messages: each might contain a firsthand, handwritten account of their family’s genealogy.

Often these old Family Bibles have records from the 1700s to the 20th Century. Information that might not be easily found anywhere else.

Let’s get the word out and let everyone know just how valuable the family history information in these old Bibles really is.

4-Step Family Bible Rescue Mission Plan

1) Reach out through your clubs, churches and to your neighbors. Use social media, radio talk shows and events at your public library to promote your “rescue effort.”

2) Arrange with your local public library to host a “Scan It Night,” and encourage local residents to bring in their Family Bibles so that the information can be scanned, put online and preserved.

3) Scan the Family Bibles to create digital copies. Use your ingenuity to see what you can accomplish. Here’s one approach:

  • Scan the front and back of the two title pages found in most old Bibles: at the front and at the New Testament.
  • Scan all of the family registry pages, including the blank pages. That way future researchers will know you didn’t miss a page.
  • Then transcribe and type up the family information.

4) Put the digitized Family Bible records online to preserve them and make them easy to find.

  • Add the scanned pages to the online family tree sites—that way the information is permanently linked to the person.
  • Put the images on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, or Flickr.
  • Create your own blog and put this information online.
  • Assemble the images and your transcription in a Word document, save it as a PDF file, and upload it to the free site Scribd.com.

There are many approaches that you can take to make sure your family’s past is preserved for future generations. Find the best one for you.

These old family records need to be preserved.

Let’s each do what we can to make sure these old genealogy records are not lost.

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Frakturs & Family Bibles Can Provide Proof of Marriage

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about using family Bible records and an interesting folk art called “frakturs” to document early family history.

I was recently asked to be part of a “Brick Wall” genealogical panel, whereby researchers submit a series of questions regarding their seemingly unsolvable ancestral proofs.

Many family researchers get stuck at dead-ends due to the loss of church and civil records, and don’t know where to turn next in pursuing their family history.

So if you can’t find an official genealogical proof document, what should you do? One good solution is to look for a family record, such as notes recorded in family Bibles. Another good genealogical resource is a fraktur, a type of folk art, mostly created to commemorate births, baptisms, and marriages.

Frakturs (or Fraktur Schrift) was originally an early type of black letter printing (or calligraphy) found in Germany. Later it expanded into a delightful type of decorative pictorial or manuscript art, popularized by Pennsylvania Mennonites at Ephrata, as described in this 1955 article from GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

The Art of 'Fractur' Made Pennsylvania Walls Bright, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 October 1955

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 October 1955, page 38

Fraktur examples are often found in museums, and are advertised for high amounts on popular auction sites such as eBay. Numerous artifacts are in private collections, such as this framed fraktur which was given by one of my ancestors to her spouse in commemoration of their marriage.

photo of a marriage fraktur

Framed marriage fraktur

Beyond delving into family collections, how might one locate family Bibles and frakturs?

An easy method is to search military pension records. If a spouse survived her veteran husband and wished to collect a pension, proof of marriage was required.

Typically, a widow would submit a church record or a letter from a town clerk certifying a civil registration. In this example from 1840, James P. Terry of Somers, Tolland, Connecticut, certified the marriage of Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel on 25 October 1795.

marriage certification for Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel 25 October 1795

Revolutionary War Pension File W.1888, page 10

However, if a civil or court record was unavailable (perhaps lost to fire or other disaster), the surviving family member might resort to submitting original pages from the family Bible or a fraktur.

A few of these proof-of-marriage document submissions were returned to the families—but many were not, and numerous examples still exist within the National Archives. Most are digitized (generally in black and white) within pension files, such as this one for Revolutionary War soldier John Tomlin and his wife Jane Chamblin.

marriage fraktur for John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin

Fraktur commemorating the births and marriage of John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin. Revolutionary War Pension File W.6302, page 18.

As descendants find their ancestors’ frakturs, they are often posted on websites. You can find these posted frakturs using my “visual” method.

How to Find Your Family’s Fraktur

1)      Open your favorite search engine (mine is Google).

2)      Search for “fraktur” or “Bible” followed by a keyword such as a surname, or a phrase such as “Revolutionary War.”

3)      Click on the “Images” tab at the top of the resulting search results page—and voilà: pages and pages of images of frakturs appear. Some will be links to books and references, but most will direct you to digitized images. (Note: if using Google Chrome, you can explore additional searching options under the “More” or “Search Tools” options.)

4)      Bookmark the images you are interested in for later reference, or add them to a Pinterest.com board. Pinterest is a “content sharing service that allows members to ‘pin’ images, videos and other objects to their pinboard.”

Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

Search results for family “Bible records”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records"

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records”

You can search Pinterest for genealogy links, such as GenealogyBank’s Pinterest boards at

http://pinterest.com/genealogybank/, or my recently established Frakturs and Family Bible Records Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/compmary/frakturs-and-family-bible-records/.

For more information on frakturs, visit the Ephrata Cloister website.